Fabled, Golden Ages, such as Atlantis, Arcadia and Camelot, recall epochs when man’s destiny was favoured by the divine, and veneration of occult objects and adherence to esoteric principles brought good fortune. Today, these accounts are regarded as fictionalised utopias or, at best, romanticised periods of pseudo-history. Nevertheless, there was a movement within the last century that drew upon these remarkable legends and which justified its ambitions without a trace of conscience. I speak of Nazi Germany and an occult agenda predicated on proving that its heritage was more ancient than anyone else’s, and that this afforded them entitlement. I recently travelled to Germany on an expedition with the National Geographic Channel and learned how close this misguided occult fantasy actually came to succeeding.

1933 was a formulative year in the Nazi occult agenda. Adolf Hitler was ruler and many believe his accession was due to his quest to obtain the Spear of Destiny, the lance used to pierce the side of Christ on the Cross and which was used as a talisman by numerous conquerors. The historian, grail hunter and reluctant Nazi recruit, Otto Rahn, wrote his first book, Crusade Against the Grail, and, thanks to his exemplary research in the South of France, would later inspire Stephen Spielberg’s famous treasure-hunter film icon, Indiana Jones.

1933 was also the year in which the Nazis initiated the systematic plundering of the world’s most sacred artefacts. Official government departments were established for the sole purpose of acquiring treasures from all corners of the globe. Increasingly, the focus turned to looting Jewish art, and from the most elite families in Europe, such as the Rothschild’s. Some of the objects were earmarked for Hitler’s never-realised Führermuseum, some objects went to other high-ranking officials, such as Hermann Göring, while other objects were traded to fund Nazi activities. By the end of the war, the Third Reich had amassed hundreds of thousands of cultural objects from around the world.

Unbridled ambition was rampant in 1933 and the Nazi grandees set about establishing their own fiefdoms, among them Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS. Himmler was not interested in relics per se, but rather longed for an ideological centre for his organisation; one that would revitalise and pay homage to his real, and imagined, Germanic past, replete with the legends of Parsifal and the Teutonic knights, something for which a castle would be best suited. This led him to Wewelsburg, a dilapidated castle built at the turn of the 17th century in a forest in Western Germany, in the province of Westphalia.

Himmler was impressed with Wewelsburg Castle’s triangular shape and non-Christian, north-south axis, and would have been aware that it had once served as a torture chamber for women accused of witchcraft. In 1936, after he was named Chief of German Police, he announced his plans to expand the castle to become the ideological heart of the SS and the occult “Centre of the World”.  When I visited the castle I could understand why Himmler was enamoured with its austere design and secluded location, for it retains a sense of foreboding even today.

The Nazi Occult Agenda

Wewelsburg Castle: epicentre of the Nazis’ occult agenda © Andrew Gough


The Nazi Occult Agenda

A statue from Himmler’s 1934 restoration of Wewelsburg Castle © Andrew Gough

Karl Maria Wiligut, known as Himmler’s Rasputin, was one of the most enigmatic figures of the Nazi Party. Himmler was impressed with Wiligut’s extensive knowledge of Germanic history and increasingly relied on his expertise.  In 1933 Himmler invited Wiligut to head up a Department for Pre- and Early History, yet unbeknownst to him, in 1924 Wiligut had been taken into custody while sitting at a Salzburg café and subsequently placed in an institution. One minute he was savouring a coffee and a cigarette and the next he was being forced into a straight jacket, administered by attendants, who had arrived on the scene in a speeding ambulance. He was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia and declared to be legally incompetent. While there were also accounts of domestic violence, the main reason for his internment, as cited in a report a year later, was his radical accounts of pre-history and his insistence that he had traced his ancestry back to the ancient god, Wodan, the Germanic counterpart to the Norse god, Odin.

The Nazi Occult Agenda

Karl Maria Wiligut: the esoteric catalyst for the Nazi occult agenda

Wiligut was released in 1927 and his calling in the Nazi Party was soon heralded. However, it was not until 1938, when Karl Wolff, chief adjutant of Himmler’s personal staff and the second-highest ranking officer in the SS, visited Wiligut’s wife and learned of his prior condition. This proved an embarrassment to Himmler, who had promoted Wiligut to his personal staff and transferred him to Berlin. Here, Wiligut reiterated his claim that he was one of a long line of Germanic mystics reaching back into prehistoric times. As I walked the streets of Munich I thought, “had Wiligut’s mental instability obscured our appreciation of his research?”

Why Welwelsburg?

It would appear that Wiligut introduced Himmler to Wewelsburg and persuaded him to adopt the region as the nucleus for his occult agenda. Symbolically, the province was esoterically perfect. This was the land of the legend of the Battle at the Birch Tree, a prophecy of a “last battle at the birch tree”, in which a “huge army from the East” would be beaten decisively by the “West”. Wiligut convinced Himmler that Wewelsburg would be the “bastion” for this event, and both men expected the conflict to be between Asia and Europe, with Germany leading the West to victory. Ironically, the prophecy did indeed come true, although it was the West, led by the Allied Forces that ultimately defeated the Germans in the East.

Another reason why the region was symbolically important to Himmler was the account of Hermann, a German chieftain, who led his people to victory against a far greater Roman army in 9CE. The victory became known as the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest and is commemorated with a gigantic, 368-metre tall statue called The Hermannsdenkmal. Hermann’s achievement had a far-reaching effect on the nation’s psyche, for it marked the last advance of the Roman Empire on German soil.

Christianity, Himmler believed, was one of many subversive elements responsible for the degeneration of western culture and his hatred of Christianity eventually led to his recruitment of Muslim legions into the SS, reflecting his admiration of Islam as a masculine, martial religion, based on the SS qualities of blind obedience and readiness for self-sacrifice, untainted by compassion for one’s enemies. He believed that German sovereignty could only be re-established through a deeply-rooted cultural awakening of the ancient Aryan traditions.

The Nazi Occult Agenda

The Hermannsdenkmal: site of Germanic heroics © Andrew Gough

Thirty miles from Wewelsburg Castle is another site of great historical and esoteric importance: the Externsteine, an ancient centre of pagan pilgrimage and religious activity, whose name is derived from the words ‘Ecce’ (Mother) and ‘Stan’ (Stone).  Once occupied by the Teutonic peoples and their pre-Christianity predecessors, the Saxons, the complex is spectacular and I found myself spellbound by its natural beauty, especially the dramatic rock formation that rises abruptly from the surrounding woodland and nearby lake. I was also drawn to one of the most intriguing elements of the complex, a pagan winter solstice temple perched stoically atop the central tor. It is easy to understand why Himmler, and countless generations of Germanic people before him, were drawn to the site. It is a magical place.

The Nazi Occult Agenda

The spectacular Externsteine © Andrew Gough

The Nazi Occult Agenda

The winter solstice temple at the Externsteine © Andrew Gough

Over the years archaeological excavations of the Externsteine have uncovered stone tools dating to 10,000 BCE, as well as an inscription that suggests that the Bishop of nearby Paderborn consecrated the site’s grotto as a Christian chapel in the early 12th century.

However, there is one aspect of the site that would have been especially alluring to Wiligut, and that is a relief of an irminsul.

At the base of the tor is an ancient series of carvings, whose meaning remains a mystery. The upper relief is believed to have been carved in the 12th century and the lower relief some time earlier. Here we find a carving of a toppled irminsul, a peculiarly shaped design, which many believe to represent the world tree. The word ‘irminsul’ is Old Saxon for “mighty pillar”, “arising pillar” and the “All-Pillar that holds up the Universe”. One school of thought is that the irminsuls were the true Pillars of Hercules and that their presence in the region’s forests, fields and churches, suggests that Atlantis was in the North.

The Nazi Occult Agenda

The toppled irminsul at the Externsteine – middle right of relief © Andrew Gough

Regretfully, Charlemagne destroyed the pagan-looking irminsuls during his war on Germany in the late 8th century. Whatever their purpose, irminsuls were important to the Nazis because they linked the region to Germany’s ancient religion, the Irmin Belief. The name of the Germanic god, Irmin, comes from the word ‘Irminsul’ and he was thought to have been the national god of the Saxons. The Irmin Belief included some pretty strange concepts, including the notion that Germany’s heritage reached back to 228,000 BCE, a time when the earth had three suns and was inhabited by giants, dwarfs and other mythical creatures.

Despite the many wonders of the region, Wewelsburg Castle was, in fact, the main reason the Nazis were keen to found their ideological centre in Westphalia.  Himmler signed a 100-year lease in 1934 and established Wewelsburg as the centre of learning for archaeological excavations in the region. The pressure to support Himmler’s vision of an ancient Germanic past was mounting. Jews were banned from visiting the historical sites around Wewelsburg, especially the Externsteine, and German archaeologists were forced to suppress their conclusions that, in fact, there was no evidence of an Aryan heritage in the area. Even Rahn had resorted to sending back photos from the French Pyrenees of Cathar caves adorned with fake Aryan images in order to please his funders.

Himmler’s renovations reflected his esoteric obsessions and transformed Wewelsburg Castle into a strange sort of Nazi Camelot. He introduced an SS Court of Honour, as well as the ‘Obergruppenführersaal’, a stone-lined chamber, complete with an Arthurian, oak, round table where the 12 most important members of the SS convened. The castle became known locally as Valhalla and many of its rooms were renamed along esoteric themes, such as ‘Grail’, ‘King Arthur’, ‘Aryan’, ‘Henry the Lion’ and ‘Teutonic Order’.

Himmler also designed and commissioned the construction of a subterranean ritual chamber beneath the north tower. The circular room included 12 seats centred along the wall beneath a beehive-shaped dome, where flames from ritualistic fires once scorched a large swastika in the centre of the ceiling. The chamber was designed by Himmler “in memory of the beehive tombs of Greece”, a region that adjoins ancient Arcadia. Like so many of the sites I visited, the ritual chamber at Wewelsburg Castle felt charged, but, unlike the others, it seemed dark and unmistakably sinister, as though unspeakable rituals had left an indelible imprint in its masonry.

The Nazi Occult Agenda

The 12-seated ritual chamber beneath the North Tower © Andrew Gough

The Nazi occult agenda accelerated and a think tank, known as the Ahnenerbe, was established in the summer of 1935. The group served as a “study society for Intellectual Ancient History” devoted to “German greatness and the German past”. Its aim was unambiguous: to research the anthropological and cultural history of the Aryan race and prove that prehistoric and mythological Nordic populations once ruled the world. The organisation provided the vehicle for Himmler to explore legends of ancient Germanic renown in the far reaches of world, including Tibet, China, Japan, Iceland and South America. The quest to validate the Nazi occult agenda knew no bounds and appeared unstoppable.

Utopia Without Conscience

Himmler’s plans for Wewelsburg Castle became increasingly grandiose and included the creation of a circular pit with an incredible, 450-mile radius – a kind of Nordic Vatican. The project was to take twenty years, and while the German elite were relishing their esoteric delights in the lap of luxury, the village of Wewelsburg was being torn down and its population re-housed in a nearby concentration camp, whose slave labour provided the workforce for Himmler’s restoration. Wewelsburg had set out to be a utopia, but had quickly degenerated into hell on earth.

Once fully restored, Himmler began to populate the castle with relics and emblems of the Germanic past, many of which were reproductions of original Saxon artefacts. This went on for several years and then, in 1945, as the end of the war approached, it was ordered that over 9,000 death’s head rings should be placed in a chest and returned to the castle, where they would be commemorated. The end of the Nazi occult agenda was rapidly approaching, and it was around this time that one artefact that had been displayed at Wewelsburg was deposited, in the true tradition of a Celtic, votive offering, in a Bavarian lake. Here, it would remain hidden for the next 65 years. This leads us to a fascinating piece of history, and the subject matter of the documentary I was in Germany presenting.

The outbreak of World War II halted Himmler’s expansive plans for his Germanic Aryan revival. Germany was about to fall to the Allied Forces and Hitler instituted a scorched earth policy to ensure that everything that may be of use to the enemy be destroyed, including Wewelsburg Castle. Reluctantly, on 31 March 1945, SS-Sturmbannführer Heinz Macher led a group of specialists to blow up the castle and ensure that any and all devotional objects were confiscated. Luckily, a lack of explosives ensured that only the south-east tower, arguably the least significant part of the castle, was damaged. Two days later the US Army arrived and the liberators and locals helped themselves to whatever spoils remained.

Things unraveled quickly for the Nazis and on 30 April 1945 Hitler and his bride, Eva Braun, committed suicide, as did Himmler three weeks later. Fortunately for Europe, Hitler’s scorched earth policy was mostly ignored and cultural centres such as Paris were spared. But what became of the treasure hoards that the Nazis had accumulated? A recent discovery provides a remarkable clue.

In 2011 a Nazi inventory dating to 1945 was discovered in the attic of a Bavarian home once owned by a woman with romantic ties to Nazi SS Lieutenant Colonel Hans Jochum Von Alten, a shadowy figure of whom little is known. Bizarrely, the list was discovered in a box of artefacts belonging to Himmler and included a crystal skull that, according to notation, appears to have been discovered by Rahn. Coincidentally, this was not just any crystal skull; it was the thirteenth crystal skull to be discovered, which, in the world of alternative history, marks the final skull required to ward off the end of the world.

Only part of the treasure list has been released, but one of its listed relics includes a gold, Celtic cauldron from Wewelsburg that was manufactured by Otto Gahr, a preferred jeweller of the SS, who had also made the death head rings. The contents of the inventory were entrusted to the care of Von Alten, who was tasked with transporting the treasures from Augsburg, in Bavaria, to Strakonitz in southern Bohemia, in the hope of hiding them from the Allied Forces. The implication is that the cauldron had been kept on display in Wewelsburg Castle and had been moved to Bavaria shortly after the scorched earth policy was enforced.

The Nazi Occult Agenda

The Treasure List, including item # 22 – the ‘Goldkessel’ © Andrew Gough

The inventory states that the Nazi treasure was protected on its journey by a specialist SS group, whose job it was to secure Germany’s most coveted artefacts, and evidence suggests that the guardians were the SS division known as the Nibelungen, a group formed by Himmler in 1945 from the staff, and students, of an SS Officer Candidate School in Bad Tölz. The name, Nibelungen, was bestowed upon them by Himmler, who had been inspired by a medieval German poem of the same name, about the keepers of a mythical treasure hoard. The poem also inspired Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle, a favourite of Hitler.

Come the spring of 1945, Nazi Germany was chaotic and panic stricken and the Nibelungen were desperately trying to hold off the Ally advance. They failed, and by 2 May were forced to retreat to Lake Chiemsee in Bavaria. Here, six days later, the guardians of Germany’s treasure hoards surrendered. But this is not the end of the story. In 2001 an amateur diver discovered a gold cauldron embossed with a frieze of Celtic figures in Lake Chiemsee, 200m off shore. The artefact, which dates to circa 1930, was later misrepresented as being Celtic and its former owner was sentenced to prison. In hindsight, it appears as though the cauldron was created as a gift for an important member of the Nazi Party and, despite not being Celtic, its images were revered, for they represented the Nazis’ cherished, albeit imagined, Aryan past. This is why the cauldron was afforded a place in Wewelsburg Castle and confirms that images of esoteric significance were once showcased there.

The Nazi Occult Agenda

A German newspaper reports the discovery of the Chiemsee cauldron

The Nibelungen’s detour from the refuge of Strakonitz was unforeseen, yet their decision to retreat to Lake Chiemsee was no accident, for on the very spot where the cauldron was discovered in 2010 once stood a village whose name ended with ‘-ing’, which the Nazis interpreted as having been Celtic in origin. Intriguingly, the Nazis had planned to build a spectacular educational centre there – a sort of Wewelsburg of the South – but these plans, like so many others of the Nazi’s were abandoned after the war.

The Nazi Occult Agenda

Proposed Nazi Educational Centre on Lake Chiemsee


As I stood by the shore of Lake Chiemsee, I wondered if the Nibelungen had hidden other relics nearby.  I suspected they had, and that elsewhere hundreds, if not thousands, of looted artefacts are waiting to be rediscovered. “I hope we find and return them whence they came,” I thought. In the process I hope we remember that while the occult and its objects of veneration are of great historical and possibly even spiritual interest, no inanimate object should ever be valued more highly than dignity, love and human life.

Andrew Gough appeared in The Nazi Temple of Doom on Channel 5 / National Geographic in the autumn of 2012.

This article first appeared in the 2012 summer edition of New Dawn Magazine.