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Raiders of the Lost Novel - Part 2
The Lamasery of Doom
The World Island
Central Asia has long held a particular fascination in the minds of Europeans. One of the earliest and most prolific explorers of Central Asia was a Swede named Sven Hedin. Hedin was a lifelong explorer who had made numerous expeditions throughout Central Asia, penning several books about his travels including Through Asia and My Life as an Explorer. His first expedition to Asia was in 1893-1897, and he returned in several subsequent expeditions over the intervening decades. Hedin's meticulous work as a geographer and meteorologist gave Europe some of its best knowledge of this vast and obscure region. Later, explorers like the archaeologist Sir Marc Aurel Stein would uncover just how important Central Asian cultures had been in world history, which had been mostly forgotten by that time.
By the 1930s, Hedin was feted as a hero in Germany for his exploits. He went on speaking tours of the country. He met with many high-raking Nazis at the time—including Hitler himself—who had long expressed an interest in his work. Hedin recounted these meetings in his book German Diary. For these reasons, Hedin was considered to be supporter of the Nazi regime and his reputation suffered after the War as a result. It’s interesting reading German Diary today, with it’s rather favorable first-hand accounts of meetings with people who are today widely considered to be absolute monsters. It’s a reminder of just how much of what we believe today is contingent on the retrospective outcomes of history.
One of the reasons Central Asia loomed so large in the imagination of European leaders and intellectuals of the time was because of various geopolitical theories. One of the most prominent of these was something called the "World Island Theory,” developed by the British geopolitical strategist Halford J. Mackinder. In a nutshell, Mackinder argued that whoever gained control the Eurasian "heartland" would inevitably become the greatest power in the globe. This notion set off what became known as The Great Game—the rivalry between the British and Russian empires for hegemony over Central Asia. The best book about this is Tournament of Shadows by Karl Meyer and Shareen Brysac, which recounts many of the stories we’re going to look at in this series of posts.
Mackinder’s ideas were subsequently elaborated in Germany by a geopolitical strategist named Karl Haushofer. Haushofer's theories became crucial to the geopolitical strategies of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime, and he rapidly became an important figure in German military and political circles. Haushofer, too, argued that whoever controlled the "World Island" would become the world's most important geopolitical power, but he combined this with Darwinian ideas about civilizations as organisms which were compelled to either expand at the expense of their neighbors or die. These ideas helped form the Nazi doctrine of Lebensraum which were critical to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. After the war, Haushofer especially became linked to some of the more conspiratorial ideas about the Nazi connection with East Asia and Tibet.
So there were strategic reasons why Germany and Nazi regime were so obsessed with Central Asia and Tibet. Tibet was seen as an unaligned region close to British India which could be used for military purposes. Meanwhile, the Russians cultivated relations with the Tibetans using Buddhist Buryat and Kalmyk allies as go-betweens. The Russians wanted to spread Communism to Tibet and China. The Mongolian-born Tibetan Buddhist monk Agvan Dorzhiev especially played an important role in these efforts. The Chinese, of course, had their own interests in the region. The Chinese promoted the Panchen Lama—a rival to the Dalai Lama—as the rightful ruler of Tibet due to his pro-China alignment. With China engulfed in civil war and threatened by Japan, however, there were far more pressing concerns at the time than the political status of Tibet.
Tibet also loomed large in various racial theories which had become quite popular in Europe. Meyer and Brysac describe the genesis of the European—and especially German—obsession with Tibet in Tournament of Shadows (my emphasis):
The idea that the high civilizations of East and West might have a common origin dates back to the first excited Western discovery of Hinduism and its scriptures. The pioneering English authority on Sanskrit, Sir William Jones, divined a connection between the high civilizations of ancient India, Egypt, Greece and Italy but would not speculate which was the original, which the copy. It was the German scholar, Friedrich Schlegel, who in 1808 proclaimed that Sanskrit was the linguistic godparent of German, Greek, and Latin, and that Aryan tribes had somehow managed to migrate to northern Europe. Such was the seed of a racist doctrine...
Schlegel's thesis was given an imperial Oxonian gloss by the German-born Friedrich Max Muller, a Fellow of All Souls and Boden Professor of Comparative Philology. He enthusiastically contended that Anglo-Saxons, Teutons, and Indians all belonged to the same "Aryan race," signifying that British rule in India was a "gathering in," a kind of family reunion.
By the time Hitler seized power, these racial theories, by now reinforced by the eccentric French aristocrat, Comte de Gobineau, the Englishman Houston Stewart Chamberlain, and by several generations of Germanic academics, had become a devil's broth. Aryans had once ruled the earth but lost their position due to the poisoning of their blood and souls by miscegenation with Jews and other "racial inferiors" (Aryan is a Sanskrit word connoting noble.)
Occultism was also added to this lethal brew. Madame Blavatsky believed that the Aryans were the were the fifth root race evolved from the subrace of Atlanteans who inhabited the sunken continent, a people whose secrets were hidden in Himalayan monasteries and whose symbol was the Swastika, which she used as the seal of the Theosophical Society.
Going further, the Austrian engineer, "the German Copernicus," Hans Hörbiger put forward the World Ice Theory (Welteislehre), which posited that Nordic ancestors, a race of supermen, had grown powerful in a land of ice and show. Into this was mixed Bulwer-Lytton's vril, a telepathic power held by a super-race, and antirational volkisch philosophy and runic symbols of the Austrian Guido von List. Finally, there was the Thule Society, whose lodge members avowed anti-Semitism, believed in militant action, an maintained close ties with the incipient Nazi party. (Thule, putative cradle of the German race, was supposedly a vanished island, similar to Atlantic but in the extreme north.)
Under the Nazis, a great deal of time and money—more, it has to be reckoned, than was spent on building the German atomic bomb—was devoted to reconciling these various claims. To the Nazis, these beliefs were not just ethnic chauvinism but scientific facts, consistent with Darwinism and borne out by linguistics and skull measurements, and by the studies of geographers and scholars of international repute. Like Sven Hedin… (pp. 510-511)
So those were some of the reasons why Central Asia—and especially Tibet—were so very intriguing to German audiences at the time, including many high-ranking Nazi officials such as Heinrich Himmler. But there were other reasons as well.
Magic and Mystery in Tibet
One of the most fun things about doing this type of research is discovering extraordinary and amazing individuals who most people have not heard of. One such individual is Alexandra David-Néel.
David-Néel was born in 1868 in Tunisia. From a very early age, she was obsessed with Oriental mysticism and the occult, becoming an active member of several secret societies including the Theosophical Society and the Freemasons as a teenager. She also became active in anarchist and feminist circles around Europe.
In 1895 she became an opera singer and toured all over Europe and North Africa. At age 35 she married a distant cousin, Philippe Néel, who became kind of a sugar daddy for her subsequent Asian escapades. She made her way to Sikkim in British India where she studied Tibetan Buddhism under a number of masters. From her home base she was able to sneak into Tibet on several occasions, becoming one of the only Western civilians ever to manage to enter the hidden kingdom. Her efforts culminated in her traveling incognito to the holy city of Lhasa in 1924, a feat she recounted in her book, My Journey to Lhasa.
This made her a minor celebrity. She later returned to Europe, settling in a house in Marseilles, France, where she composed her best-known work, Magic and Mystery in Tibet (also known as With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet), published in 1929.
Although mainly dealing with Tibetan Buddhist beliefs and religious practices, the book also recounts several practices would appear to give people superhuman powers. One of the them was using breathing techniques known as tummo to generate excess heat so as to make oneself invulnerable to cold or pain (recently repopularized by the Dutchman Wim Hof). David-Neel also describes monks with apparent supernatural abilities such as the ability to run all night without sleep or rest:
On the journey [to Lhasa] they met a strange phenomenon known as a 'lung-gom' runner. First seen as a distant moving black spot, this rapidly changed into a man running towards them at an incredible speed. Alexandra was warned not to stop the speeding lama or it would kill him. When she looked closely at him she could see that he his expression was extremely relaxed and staring fixedly at an imaginary far away object. His steps were as regular as a pendulum, though he didn't seem to run but progressed by great leaps like a bouncing rubber ball. He held a magic dagger in his right hand which he seemed to be using as a staff, though it was high off the ground. Apparently, such runners would carry on this amazing feat for days without stopping for food or water. Alexandra was told that years of meditation were required before undertaking this feat.
Alexandra David-Neel - Mystic and Explorer (Mysterious People)
One of the more exotic abilities she describes in her books is the ability to create "Tulpas," which are mental constructs able to manifest in physical reality and take on a life of their own:
At Kum Bum David Neel apparently managed to create a 'tulpa', a psychic phantom produced by intense concentration of thought and the repetition of relevant mystical rites over a period of months. She created a stout, phantom monk, whose form gradually became less ghost like and more life like. Before long the phantasm was accompanying her on her travels and behaving almost like a normal human being. However, he gradually began to change from a fat, jolly monk into a leaner more sinister character, and started to escape from her control.
The tulpa was seen by others in her travelling party, proving it to have an objective existence outside of Alexandra's own mind, but, to avoid serious problems with her creation, Alexandra decided to 'dissolve' it. But this proved extremely difficult as the phantom clung desperately on to his life; she only succeeded in getting rid of him after six months of hard mental concentration.
Alexandra David-Neel - Mystic and Explorer (Mysterious People)
It's easy to see why someone with a longstanding interest in occult topics who wanted to create an order of Aryan supermen might take an interest in these types of accounts. Perhaps these were the secret lost techniques of the Aryans which had allowed them to dominate the earth that had somehow only been preserved in the remote monasteries of the Land of Snows.
The Morning of the Magicians, and a few other fantastic accounts of esoteric Nazism, draw a direct connection between the Nazi regime and occult forces in Tibet. I was able to find this informative paper online by Isrun Engelhardt which details how the links between the Nazis and Tibet were spun into a fantastical story about occult practices and secret underground kingdoms (my emphasis):
[H]ow did Nazi occultism become linked, however falsely, to secret centers of knowledge in Central Asia?...As early as 1871, in his novel The Coming Race, which also inspired Blavatsky, Edward Bulwer-Lytton described a subterranean race of Übermenschen, the Vril-ya. These “superbeings” were far in advance of humanity in every respect, due to their ability to tap a mysterious force or energy to which Bulwer-Lytton gave the name “Vril.”... From these roots, the Vril Society emerged in Germany. The association’s existence is corroborated by nothing more than a single reference in a brief essay written in 1947 by rocket engineer Willy Ley, who emigrated to the USA in 1935...
This brief report was taken up by Pauwels and Bergier in The Morning of the Magicians to inflate the significance of this unknown group and to insinuate the determination of the Nazi ruling elite to make contact with an omnipotent subterranean theocracy, thus enabling Germany, armed with the knowledge of this power, to conquer the world. The group was known as the Vril Society or the Luminous Lodge, and the geo-politician Karl Haushofer was said to have been a member…
With Karl Haushofer having been identified already by Pauwels and Bergier as Hitler’s occult mentor, the Thule Society was said to have played a key role in the development of National Socialism. Pauwels...claimed that Haushofer, who traveled through India, Burma, Korea and China from 1908-1910, was Military Attaché at the German Embassy in Tokyo, and had a lifelong interest in the Far East and Japan in particular, met [G.I.] Gurdjieffseveral times in Tibet between 1903 and 1908:
"In 1923 Haushofer founded an esoteric group modeled on similar groups in Tibet…The group was called the “Thule Group” and its philosophy was founded on the famous book of magic of the Dzyan, which belonged to certain Tibetan sages; according to this book there were two sources of power in the world: the right-hand source, which comes from a subterranean monastery, a fortress of meditation, situated in a town called, symbolically, Agarthi. This is the source of the contemplative power. The left-hand source is the source of physical power, and comes from a town on the surface called Shampullah. This is the city of violence and is ruled by the “King of Fear.” Those who succeed in making an alliance with him can dominate the world. Through a large Tibetan colony in Berlin which kept constantly in touch with Haushofer, the “Thule Group” formed this “alliance” in 1928…The following men were members of the group at this time: Hitler, Himmler, Goering, Rosemberg [sic] under Haushofer’s direction. The members communicated in two ways with Shampullah and the “King of Fear”: firstly, by electronic transmitters and receivers which put them in contact with a so called “Tibetan” information centre through which they obtained valuable comments on India and Japan …"
Nazis of Tibet: A Twentieth Century Myth (Tibetan Buddhism in the West)
The paper cited above goes on to refute the connections between high-raking Nazis and those secret societies, if they ever existed. But, remember, we're talking about fiction here.
One of the references in the above text is to several underground hidden kingdoms where "secret masters" with supernatural powers supposedly dwelled, and whoever entered an alliance with them would gain the power to conquer the entire world. The above text refers to it as "Shampullah," but it is better known as Shambhala.
I'm sure readers acquainted with Buddhism are familiar with Shambhala (it's also the name of a Buddhist publishing house). But even readers who've never heard of it are probably aware of a place inspired by it: Shangri-La.
Shangri-La played the central role in the novel Lost Horizon by James Hilton, which was published in 1933 and later made into a film by Frank Capra (of It's a Wonderful Life fame) in 1937. In the novel, Shangri-La is a lamasery hidden somewhere in the remote Himalayas where all of the world's knowledge is recorded and preserved by lamas in the event of a civilizational collapse (including—seriously—toilets from Ohio!) Personally, I found both the book and the movie to be a bit dull, but both were big hits in their day. Shangri-la entered the English lexicon as the term for an exotic, isolated paradise far from the troubles of the world. President Franklin Roosevelt even named his summer vacation retreat after it (later renamed Camp David by Eisenhower).
In The Spear of Destiny, Trevor Ravenscroft takes up the story as well in chapter 20, titled Agarthi and Schamballah: The Twin Resonators of Evil. According to Ravenscroft:
Three years after the first contact has been made with the Adepts of Agarthi and Schamballah, a Tibetan community was established in Germany with branches in Berlin, Munich and Nuremberg. But only the adepts of Agarthi, the servants of Lucifer, were willing to support the Nazi cause. The Initiates of Schamballah who were concerned with the advent of materialism and the furtherance of the machine age, flatly refused to co-operate. Serving Ahriman, they had already make contact with the West and were working in affiliation with certain Lodges in England and America!
The adepts of Agarthi were known in Germany as "The Society of Green Men" and strong measures were taken to keep silence about their real significance. The were joined by seven members of "The Green Dragon Society" of Japan, with whom they had been in astral communication for hundreds of years.
Adolf Hitler held regular discussions with the leader of the Tibetans in the German capital, a man with proven clairvoyance who had mastered the arts of prediction. It was rumoured that he had predicted the exact date upon which Hitler would become chancellor, and the date of the commencement of the World War. (p. 256)
As usual, there are no sources for any of this. It seems like Ravenscroft took some of the stories from The Morning of the Magicians and made up his own details, infusing them with mystical beliefs taken from anthroposophy (e.g. Lucifer and Ahriman). Of course, there were no colonies of Tibetans living in Berlin. It's thought that this myth may have originated from the Kalmyk soldiers who had agreed to fight for Germany, some of whom were later found in the ruins of Berlin. As for the “Green Men” and “Green Dragon Society,” well, I have no idea what’s going on there.
As bizarre as some of these beliefs may sound, there were apparently those in the Anhenerbe and the SS who took them quite seriously, as Tournament of Shadows describes:
At Himmler's order, the Ahnenerbe was founded in 1935, with all the outward trappings of a scholarly institute, to buttress Hitler's racial ideologies. A number of quacks were associated with it, including some who believed in the Atlantis theory that Tibet was the last refuge of "the Aryan root race" with a priestly caste that ruled an underground realm (even Shambhala was mentioned). But its offices also became a magnet for not a few ambitious young scientists—most of them thirty year olds unwilling to wait long years in the wings before being endowed with professorships and institutes. (p. 512)
One ambitious young scientist was named Ernst Schäfer. Schäfer was dispatched on an expedition to Tibet under the direct auspices of Heinrich Himmler and the Ahnenerbe, which brings us to the crux of our story. The Nazi expedition to Tibet took place from 1938-1939, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. Ostensibly this was a scientific expedition. But what were they really searching for?
Next: The Nazis go to Tibet.
O sublime teacher – supreme, hallowed and ever-vigilant – when you ride a stone-horse with the power of the wind and, with a short spear in hand, stab their Infantile-Minded Bala-mati and defeat him for sure, take care of me.
Stein's most famous discovery was the "Cave of a Thousand Buddhas" at Dunhuang, which contained thousands of Buddhist scriptures including the oldest written Diamond Sutra.
According to Wikipedia, there is speculation the Dorzhiev and Gurdjieff were actually the same person!