Fantasy The Nazi-Occult Rabbit Hole

Down the Nazi Occult Rabbit Hole

Have you ever noticed how fascinated Speculative, SciFi/Fantasy, and Paranomral Thriller storytellers seem to be about Nazis?

From Marvel’s Hydra to PKD’s The Man in the High Castle, from Indiana Jones to Wolfenstein, from The Boys from Brazil to Arrowverse’s Earth X to…you get the idea.

You could spend years working through that reading list.

And to be honest, I have.


Recently, while researching my own W.I.P. (which, yes, involves Nazis) I came across a cool article titled Real places that look like they belong in fairy tales. Of the places listed, the only one I’ve actually been to is Neuschwanstein Castle in Alpine Bavaria, built by Ludwig II (“Crazy Ludwig”) in the late nineteenth century. Ludwig intended the place as a sort of “Grail Castle” in honor of Germany’s leading musical interpreter of Arthurian and Norse myths, Richard Wagner, so famously beloved of Hitler.


Musing on this, I began to proceed down one of those familiar intellectual rabbit-holes that have marked so much of my W.I.P.’s research.

To begin.

“Grail Castle” instantly made me think of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal, Wagner’s take on the Grail Quest, coupled with the legend of the Spear of Destiny, the spear thrust into Christ’s side on the Cross. (Arrowverse, anyone?)

An aside: I’ve had a hard time warming up to–nay, tolerating–Wagner, at least when not performed by Bugs Bunny, but this Met Opera production starring Jonas Kaufmann as Parsifal really helped. (Pardon my affiliate link.)

Back to the Grail and the Spear: Like the Grail, the Spear is another powerful “magical talisman” for those so inclined.) Hitler actually possessed the Spear after the annexation of Austria in 1938, where he took it from the Hofburg Palace in Vienna. But I digress.

Anyway, that reminded me that Wagner’s opera was largely built on the version of the Percival/Grail stories served up by Wolfram von Eschenbach in his High Medieval romance (we would now call it “fantasy”) Parzival (another affiliate link), published in the first quarter of the 13th century. This was a generation after Chrétien de Troyes got the whole Grail thing rolling in France with his medieval romances/fantasies. It was Chrétien, in fact, who attached the Grail to the Arthur legend, while Wolfram added the bit with the Spear.

The Arthur/Grail/Spear legendarium was symbolically exploited, many centuries later, by Nazi propaganda in its ceaseless effort to elevate Hitler’s regime to quasi-mythical status.

But I digress again. Which is easy enough to do when one starts pondering these impenetrables.

To continue:

Dr. Walter Johannes Stein
Dr. Walter Johannes Stein


Wolfram’s Parzival, it falls out, was also the subject of Dr. Walter Johannes Stein’s The Ninth Century and the Holy Grail. (And another affiliate link. Sorry.) Published in 1928 in German as Weltgeschichte im Lichte des Heiligen Gral. Das Neunte Jahrhundert, Stein’s book was intended as the first in a series on world history in the light of the Holy Grail, but Herr Dr. Stein never got beyond the first book. Possibly because, as a Jew, he was soon too busy trying to stay alive in the midst of Nazi genocide.

A student of Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy and a teacher at one of Steiner’s Waldorf schools, Dr. Stein examines Wolfram’s work through an overtly esoteric (Steinerian) lens. As I read him, Stein sees the Percival/Grail story as something of an allegory, if that’s not too strong a word, for the soul’s journey towards initiation and spiritual enlightenment—a popular notion to this day, and one later picked up by the likes of Carl Jung, his wife Emma, and Joseph Campbell. I myself got almost three-quarters of the way through The Ninth Century before I decided I’d best first go brush up on my Steinerian Anthroposophy if I ever hoped to understand it. Having done some of that, I’ll be heading again into the ninth century anon.

But I digress again.


Anyhow, it turns out that Dr. Stein played a pivotal, if unwitting, role in turning the subject of Occult influence on Nazism into a cottage industry and popular trope.

In 1973, Stein’s fellow Anthroposophist, Trevor Ravenscroft, published The Spear of Destiny

Based in large measure on Dr. Stein’s alleged reportage to Ravenscroft of his encounters with a young penurious street artist and wannabe Dark Wizard in post-WWI Vienna, the book was a rousing success. To this day, it is likely the first book the unwary reader comes across on the subject of Nazis and the Occult.

Oh, by the way, that penurious street artist in Vienna that Stein supposedly encounterd? His name was Adolf Hitler.

And that’s probably the last thing I can report about the whole business with any confidence of factuality. Ravenscroft’s reportage is incredibly controversial, not the least because Dr. Stein’s papers, if they ever existed, are nowhere to be found, and Ravenscroft, according to investigative reporter Eric Wynants, later admitted that his “contact” with Stein was purely psychic in nature.

For real.

Such are the bunny trails one follows when one takes up this subject. It’s rather like being a character in an Umberto Eco novel.

Be all that as it may—back to Neuschwanstein—here’s a wonderful BBC documentary entitled, Fairytale Castles of Ludwig II:


Epic Storytelling at 10 Cents a pop

My family home was a boxy old turn-of-the-century three-story-turned-student rooming house two blocks from a lively state university campus—Pig Heaven for a shy introvert who craved intellectual stimulus and some elusive beauty amid the drab and the ordinary surroundings of a working class upbringing.

So it was that I spent most weekends at the movies, or in campus bookstores and record shops, or checking out the latest DC and Marvel comics at the corner drugstore.

Comic books were a dime in my earliest youth, then maybe a quarter, back when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby scribbled and sketched their way through a revolution at Marvel. Little could I know that my chiefest guilty pleasure was entering a >Golden Age that would forever alter popular storytelling, for both better and worse.

If only I’d hung on to even a small stack of the classic (especially inaugural) issues I once owned! It grieves me to think of those fragile treasures now decomposing in the local landfill, when an X-MEN #1 from 1963, which I once owned, can fetch $50K on EBay.

But a Movable Life gets in the way of Collecting.

Still, my money was well spent. For what I didn’t know then was that those dime comics were teaching me, issue by issue, how to tell the kind of “epic urban fantasy” stories I’m now, in my more mature years,  passionate about writing—stories sprinkled with faery dust, to be sure, but also molded by an observant life rich in the experience of many classic themes: Good vs. Evil, of course, the hoariest chestnut of them all, but also…

  • The tendency for Power to corrupt
  • The perils of Us vs Them thinking
  • The costs of Technological Progress
  • The human heart’s capacity for Growth and Evolution
  • The human heart’s capacity for Corruption and Degradation
  • The eternal lure of the Quest for meaning and something larger than self

Not a bad education, that.

Children's Fantasy

The Day I Fell in Love

January 18 is Winnie-the-Pooh Day…Huzzah!

I’m one of those folks who remembers little of early childhood. I have, however, one sun-bright memory of sitting rapt at my school desk in Mrs. G’s second grade class, aged seven, as she read aloud, over a period of several weeks, A.A. Milnes’ House at Pooh Corner.

That was the day I first fell in love.

With books.

And now that I think of it, with fantasy literature as well.


It seems fitting, then, that my first published post on should be an expression of devotion to my erstwhile Secret Sharer, Pooh Bear.

I loved Pooh so ardently, back in second grade, I begged for him for Christmas. Santa kindly came through with the hardcover edition of The World of Pooh, which contains both volumes of Winnie the Pooh and House at Pooh Corner.

Unwrapping the magical hardcover that morning, I remember not only my delight at the gift of being able to relive those beloved stories whenever I wished, but also the smell of the crisp new paper, the weight of it in my chubby little hands.

That was the day I felt the first twinge of that lust—to possess books—that fills shelves and empties pockets.

The Author, A.A. Milne

A.A. Milne, his son Christopher Robin, and Pooh. By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use,

Alun Alexander Milne was born this day, January 18, in 1882. Like so many of his fellow twentieth-century fantasists, Tolkien and Lewis to name two, he served in World War I.

While the thought that the horrors of modern warfare helped build the foundations of modern fantasy might seem counter-intuitive, it serves to remind us, as Tolkien pointed out on several occasions, that so-called “escapist” literature has had a bad rap: sometimes the world we wish to escape damn well needs escaping.

*NB: Dear Reader, this post includes affiliate links. Thanks for your helping to keep Dana Rail on the air!