Letter from Germany No. 2

by Frater U.'.D.'.


In these letters I am taking a diachronic look at German occultism past and present, mixing current news with historical titbits illustrating among other things the strong relationship between German magic and the Anglo-Saxon world. (For linguistic reasons as well as for convenience's sake I will generally include Swiss and Austrian occultism under this heading - no imperialist takein intended!)


The accentuation of this second letter will lie on the more contemporary aspects of magic in the German speaking countries. The pre-war magical setup had been a very lively affair: a colorful hotpotch of irregular freemasonry and theosophy; yoga; astrology (of an intellectual calibre never surpassed internationally since, if we can trust an English expert like Ellic Howe); Mazdaznan, a quasi-yogic religious cult originally founded by Otto(man) Hanish in the USA, with its myriad of dietetic rules and a strong emphasis on physical exercise and pranayama, purporting to have derived from Iranian Zoroastrism and still rumored to be extant in some of the more obscure corners of the Western world; thelemic lodges of the O.T.O., and other Crowleyites; the Fraternitas Saturni (FS); the Order of Mental Building Masters (under Ra-Ohmir Quintscher), which later fused with the FS; a variety of groups (often quite tiny organisations with a cultural impact reciprocal to their actual size) of the "blood and soil" flavor espousing runic lore and racial/Arian mysticism, the most notable being the Guido von List Society (which included the Armanen Order) and JĒrg Lanz von Liebenfels's ariosophic Ordo Novi Templi (Order of the New Temple, ONT); plus the usual riffraff aspiring to more or less vaguely defined "spiritual" or "esoteric" goals with a strong Eastern bias, to name but the highlights of this era.

With the arrival of Hitler and National Socialist rulership all "secret orders", whether genuinely clandestine operations or "secret" only by claim, where banned along with political parties (barring, of course, the NSdAP) and where consequently deprived of all publicity. This process was basically completed by 1935 with the exception of the astrologers' associations, which in 1937 even became part of the workers' union temporarily, until they, too, were abolished and persecuted in 1941 following Rudolf Hess's misguided flight to England which was purported to have been incited by his personal astrological counselor. In a later letter I will cover the question of Nazi Occultism in a more comprehensive manner. Suffice it here to state that the magical scene in Germany and Austria was practically defunct from 1935 at the latest and was unable to recover until well after the war when the more dire material needs in these devastated countries had been coped with.

Gregor A. Gregorius (1888-1961), the Berlin bookseller whose conventional name was Eugen Grosche, had founded the FS in 1928, as mentioned in my Letter from Germany No. 1. He had been a communist of sorts with a one year arrest during Nazi dictatorship to prove it. (He had even moved into Swiss exile and later went to Italy where he was arrested by the fascists and turned over to the German authorities on their categorical request. Interestingly enough, his Gestapo arrest warrant declares his "contacts with the internationally renowned Freemason Aleister Crowley" as one of the prime reasons for his internment.)

Immediately after the war he became a "cultural commissary" of the German Communist Party in the then time Soviet Zone (the - Eastern - German Democratic Republic was only founded in 1948, as was the - West German - Federal Republic of Germany) but was later expelled on reasons of "bourgeois tendencies", a standard accusation in Stalinist times.

He next moved to West Berlin, where he set up a bookstore and renewed his international contacts, getting together a number of pre-war members and re-registering the FS as a formal institution in 1948. In 1950 he started publishing the monthly BlĄtter fĀr angewandte okkulte Lebenskunst ("Magazine for Applied Occult Arts of Life"), a curious title veiling the most comprehensive, extensive and encylopedic periodical on the magical arts in Western history. While openly sold in bookstores, it was the official organ of the Fraternitas Saturni and included inlets (handed out to members only) covering internal affairs such as graduations, membership lists, syllabi.

The publication mode of this foretime monthly magazine was later changed to bi-monthly appearance and it existed till 1963, totalling 164 issues of some 3,500 pages of text and illustrations. Gregorius retained editorship until his death and it was only in concurrence with internal squabbles and schisms within the order itself that it ceased publication two years after. It has never been published in English (or any other language apart from German, for that matter), though Stephen Flowers quotes extensively from it in his excellent Fire and Ice (Llewellyn Publications).


The English speaking world would really be in for a surprise or two should this magazine be published in translation one day. True to say, the general tenor of its articles is biassed towards the more traditionalist approach to magic and the majority of essays may well be considered to be somewhat pedestrian, as magazines generally go; but then again never before (or after) has Western magic produced such a treasure house of knowledge surpassing even Aleister Crowley's famous Equinox in scope, practicability and diversity. There is many a pearl of wisdom to be found here for anyone interested in the conventional mode of magic, and it is to be hoped that some American or English publisher will be bold enought to take the risk of publishing it in translation one day.

Nor where the BlĄtter the order's only publication. Well before the war Gregorius edited the magazine Saturn Gnosis, which was taken up again after the FS's post-war reconstitution and is still being published on an irregular basis; other magazines included *Vita-Gnosis* and *Der magische Weg* ("The Magical Path"). However, these periodicals were strictly promulgated for members only and are very hard (and costly!) to come by for outsiders.

Today, order membership has decreased considerably compared with the fifties, but this is not, as one might suppose, due to lack of interest. On the contrary: while fluctuation in the order's purported heyday used to be exorbitant (appr. 50% per year!), it has been reduced to almost nil now due to its rigid initiation policy. For unlike the O.T.O., the FS is not obliged by its own constitution to accept any candidate willing (or purporting) to give it a try. Consequently, only very few applicants ever make it into the order's august ranks, and it is safe to say that the Fraternitas Saturni still constitutes the paragon of traditionalist, conventional magic in the German speaking world of today.


However, magic comes in many masks. Especially the younger generation amongst today's magicians has lost interest in the dogmatic and traditionalist approach or is, at least, striving to incorporate more modern techniques and beliefs as well. This is mainly the doing of what I have named the "Bonn Group" of magicians operating between 1979 to 1981 in a formal framework and individually actively contributing to the advancement of magical theory and practice ever since.

When I founded the Horus Bookshop with two partners in Bonn, in 1979, the current wave of esotericism had not quite begun yet, and while interest in the occult arts was undeniably mounting, business then was sluggish enough to provide ample time for other activities. Thus, a group of some fourteen people (male and female) interested in practical magic assembled in the bookshop's backroom every other week or so to constitute what was tentatively termed the "Working Group for Experimental Magic". Most of us were then still studying at university (as did I beside my career as a not yet quite successful entrepreneur in the book business), and quite a few have later finished their academic studies with doctorates or masters' theses in various fields running from Physics to Comparative Literature, from Indology via German and English Literature to Comparative Religious Studies, Medicine, Psychology and Social Studies; while the tiny minority of our professional people were all working in the medical field. Thus, intellectual standards were pretty high even by the academic yardstick and a wide reading knowledge could be relied upon.

A few members where well worn experts of some ten years' standing, some, such as myself, had only begun to work on practical magic proper about a year or so before, complete beginners being only few. Our group convened primarily for practical work in various traditions covering a broad spectrum ranging from Franz Bardon's system via the Golden Dawn, Freemasonism and Kabbalism to Crowleyan, Tibetan, Voodoo, Wiccan, neopagan and shamanic techniques. Experiments included telepathy, hypnosis, astral travel, kabbalistic path workings, rune magic, tarot readings, sigil magic, the use of astrology for practical magic and rituals, rituals, rituals. Rituals indoors, rituals outdoors, rituals in caves and basements in the woods and in the living room (only a few could afford their own temple rooms then, and these were usually too small to encompass us all), rituals for love and for healing, for death and for smiting foes, for fun and profit, rituals with drugs and without, and lots of rituals just to gain experience or for the pure, uninhibited heck of it.

In addition to our regular meetings practical research was augmented by additional work on a more individual basis or in smaller groups which gladly reported on their results and discussed new and old approaches towards the Black Arts. Topics thrashed out covered physics and Thelema, trance techniques and sigil magic, Crowley and Gurdjieff, the pro and cons of hallucinogenics in ritual, the psychological rationale behind analogies and correspondences, behind the synchronicities of oracle readings from tarot cards to horoscopes (most of us sporting a strong Jungian bias at that time), sex magic, and a pile of others - far too many to list here. Most important was our basic tenet, "if it works, use it; if it doesn't work, don't believe it", which made all the difference when compared to the more dogmatic, cramped and inhibited approach to be noted in traditional magical orders, of whom none of us was a member then.

Yet, it was not so much the existence or the practical and theoretical work of the Bonn Group as such but rather the publicistic impetus it created, which came to be responsible for the German magical scene as we know it today. While formal meetings had been abandoned by 1982, a few members having moved, lost interest or concentrated on more eremitical work, a hard core of some ten people continued to work together casually in a different format, and it was at my instigation that JĒrg Wichmann (a former Wiccan) began to publish the now almost legendary Unicorn magazine in the same year, which concentrated on mythology and practical magic on a quarterly basis.

Granted that Unicorn was never a commercial success, it wasn't quite a loss making venture either. It was right here, in the very first issue, that I formulated the basic tenets of what I termed "Pragmatic Magic" in contrast to "Dogmatic Magic". Having been influenced, as had been all members of the Bonn Group sooner or later, by the English and American authors of the seventies (notably Regardie, Conway, Butler, Skinner, King, Grant plus the only then rediscovered Austin Osman Spare), and based on our own varied practical experiences with all sorts of creeds and techniques, it was not hard to propagate a pragmatic spirit. This, however, had been totally unheard of until then in the conventional magical scene of the German speaking countries (embracing, let us not forget, some 74 million people then and appr. 90 million people today, after German reunification). It is no exaggeration to say that we virtually created the German magical scene. For while of course lots of people all over the country had been working in more or less splendid isolation before, it was only now that the thread had been put in the brine for a real scene to crystallize. Though the lion's share of published material was covered by members of the Bonn Group such as JĒrg Wichmann, the editor-in-chief, myself, Peter Ellert, Harry Eilenstein and Mahamudra, Unicorn was able to gain the favour of a number of internationally renowned high calibre authors as well, in spite of the fact that articles were remunerated only symbolically. Moreover, many leading figures in the magical and fringe-magical scene such as Alex Sanders, Michael Harner and Harley Swiftdeer were presented in comprehensive interviews in the mag, thus exerting a notable influence by way of popularizing their teachings.

The magazine lasted for three happy years until it ceased publication in 1985 after 13 issues. Readers' participation and loyalty to the mag turned out to be unusually high - which again paved the way to its successor, Anubis, founded, edited and published by myself at the end of 1985 and handed over to another editor-cum-publisher the following year. This magazine is still extant albeit in a more sporadic publication mode and has put out 15 issues to date


It may be regarded as characteristic for the evolution of a magical scene that I was able to introduce a column titled "Golems Gossen Glosse" ("Golem's Gutter Glossings") much on the same line as the British Lamp of Thoth's column "Golem's Gossip" - right from the very first issue of Anubis for there would have been hardly any point in trying to report on internecine affairs without the appropriate social foundation for such gossip, i.e. a scene lively, colorful and diversified enough to supply the necessary information and interested in it as well. Golem's Glossing soon became the mag's most popular column, and while I myself am no contributor to the now Vienna based *Anubis* any longer, the continued existence of this periodical goes to show that the German magical scene has matured enough to compete with the - nowadays far less - picturesque setup in the U.K. (which used to be the prime benchmark for comparison well into the eighties).

Thus, the "Bonn Group" may well be viewed as the instigator and nucleus of the modern German magical scene in the eighties. The influence of the Magical Pact of the Illuminates of Thanateros (IOT) and of Chaos Magic will be covered at some length in the next Letter from Germany, so before I end this instalment I would like to give a short summary of Wicca and Paganism in the German speaking world today.

Wicca, at least in its formalized aspects (schools, traditions), being a strictly English phenomenon from its inception, it is not surprising that the German Wicca scene has done little but imitate its compeers in the British Isles. Contacts with the U.K. were and still are pretty strong, but it is a moot point whether the majority of German speaking Wiccans are adherents of the Gardnerian or rather the Alexandrian school. My impression is that these distinctions, hotly debated though they were in the England of the seventies and early eighties, have been watered down on the Continent, while there is hardly any "hereditary" scene worth mentioning at all. If German pagans do pretend to being "hereditary" (whatever such claims may be worth), they are usually on the ariosophic or runelore side and not involved in the craft.

German Wicca used to be strictly a closed shop affair dominated by cliqueish squabbles and infights, until the well known Hamburg based lady journalist Gisela Graichen published a bestselling hardcover, Die neuen Hexen. GesprĄche mit Hexen ("The New Witches. Conversations with Witches") in 1986, in which she claimed (albeit misguidedly) that there were some 20,000 active Wiccans in Germany alone, while 200 would then have been a more realistic figure.

Little did she fathom that the handful of people she had interviewed constituted about half of the then active and articulate Wiccan set in Germany. However, facts published commonly being regarded as facts true, (paradoxically especially by the publishing profession, who should really know better, strange as this may sound to the layman), other German publishers took her at face value and felt attracted by this seemingly vast and expanding market. Thus bookshops were suddenly inundated with literature on the topic in the following year or two and witchcraft became the dernier cri with those mainstream people who were either totally new to the occult or had only been dabbling with it on the fringe.

While not a Wiccan myself, I, too, was instrumental in getting an anonymous paperback on the cult published in 1987 with one of Germany's major paperback and mass market publishers, a minor bestseller which was to give some spunk to the hitherto somewhat parochial, simplicistic Wiccan scene, reducing the strong goddess-bias in favor of a more balanced approach including the male element on an "equal rights" basis, giving hints on magazines to read and modes of contacting covens: Das Hexenbuch. Authentische Texte moderner Hexen zu Geschichte, Magie und Mythos des alten Weges ("The Witches' Book. Authentic Texts by Modern Witches on History, Magic and Myth of the Ancient Way"; now out of print).

It was also during this post-feminist era that museum exhibitions centering on witches, traditional herbal medicine and "Wise Women" began to crop up like mushrooms overnight in all three German speaking countries, especially so in holiday resorts, as if sponsored by various Boards of Tourism ... and a Wiccan biassed German magazine like Mescalito gained hordes of new subscribers attracted by the boom. Today, interest in the craft has waned again like the moon, but it is anybody's guess how many people have really stuck to their guns and would consider themselves to be active Wiccans.

As in other countries, most contemporary German adherents of pagan ideals are primarily concerned with ecological and ethnic issues, tending to opt for Green politics, and the majority are certainly suckers for the Gaia hypothesis and Rupert Sheldrake's once so popular, rather overestimated "theory" of morphic fields (which he himself seems basically to have renounced in the meantime). But these fairly simple doctrines seem to represent the acme of intellectuality within this scene already. Both, the Wicca cult and neopaganism in general, being primarily of an avowedly religious nature, they do not tend to develop original magical theories and practices of their own and may thus be fairly disregarded in a history of magic proper. Their influx on modern magic has been negligible, not to be compared with the influence of neoshamanism as presented by popular American workshop speakers, the most notable amongst whom have certainly been Don Eduardo Calderon Palomino from Peru and Alberto Villoldo and Michael Harner from the USA.


In the next Letters from Germany: ---
* Origin: ChaosBox: Nothing is true -> all is permitted... (2:243/2)