Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke.
Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke (1953-2012) was the author of The Occult Roots of Nazism (1985), which is perhaps still the foremost scholarly monograph on its topic. In his 2002 book Black Sun, he followed up by exploring the various religious and quasi-religious strains for whom Hitler is an age-defining hero or “avatar” and Nazi Germany is illud tempus, and who aspire to perpetuate or fulfill what they see as the resulting “Aryan” spiritual legacy. Unfortunately, this 15-year-old book is a timely read for Americans today.
The first two chapters detail the presence and development of avowed neo-Nazi political leaders and organizations in the Anglophone world in the twentieth century. These capable overviews primarily serve as a backdrop for later chapters. About a third of the book consists of examinations of individual figures — mostly non-Anglophone — who have acquired a teaching mystique in latter-day fascist circles. (As Goodrick-Clarke puts it, their writings have “become hot tips” among neo-Nazis.) These include Julius Evola, Savitri Devi, Wilhelm Landig, and Miguel Serrano. Each of these chapters is substantial and supplies a useful brief on both the biography and doctrines of the mystagogue in question.
Chapter 6, on “The Nazi Mysteries,” is a study and synopsis of the sort of “alternative history” and credulous conspiracy-mongering involved with the attribution of occult powers and motives to Hitler, Nazism, and the SS, which began in literature for popular audiences in the 1960s and became a cottage industry in the 70s and 80s. I imagine that this chapter was one of the most satisfying for Goodrick-Clarke to write, given that he was already in a sort of implicit dialogue with this literature from his doctoral dissertation onward, and that his most successful book has often been shelved alongside it. Here, he gets to confront and call out directly the falsifications and errors of such writers as Hermann Rauschning (Hitler Speaks), Pauwels and Bergier (The Morning of the Magicians), Trevor Ravenscroft (The Spear of Destiny), and others. This sort of study continues in Chapter 8, where the scope of the “mysteries” expands with the addition of UFOs and exotic Nazi redoubts in South America and Antarctica and on other planets.
The chapter on “White Noise and Black Metal” is a treatment of white supremacist and neo-Nazi ideologies in youth subcultures and music. Its information on skinhead organizing and pro-racist music labels is well considered and clear. The presentation of black metal is a bit muddled, though, implicitly suggesting more uniform Nazi sympathies in the international black metal scene than a more objective account might find. In his recounting of the Columbine High School massacre, Goodrick-Clarke propagates misinformation about the “Trenchcoat Mafia” that was common to the early reporting on the topic, thus falsely transmuting the Hitler fetish of Eric Harris into the preoccupation of a clique to which he did not even belong. (For corrections on this score, see Dave Cullen’s Columbine.)
There are similar strengths and weaknesses in the chapter on “Nazi Satanism and the New Aeon.” While reasonably noting Aleister Crowley’s writings as being readable for “authoritarian and illiberal doctrine” (213), Goodrick-Clarke actually misses the extent to which they supply the locus classicus of the phrase “New Aeon” in occultist discourse. He mentions Crowley’s membership in Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), characterizing it as “a fringe Masonic organization in Germany,” but omits to observe that it (along with conventional Freemasonry) was banned by the Nazis, with OTO’s German leader of the time arrested and imprisoned in a concentration camp for his association with Crowley. Goodrick-Clarke instances the enthusiastic Nazi partisanship of Crowley disciple Martha Künzel, but overlooks Crowley’s own occult activism against Germany during World War II.
He does not in any way mention the later survival of the magical orders actually headed by Aleister Crowley (OTO and A∴A∴), which is fitting, since these are vehicles of neither neo-Nazi nor esoteric white supremacist doctrine. Crowley in fact boasted himself to be “the leader of the Extreme Left in the Council-Chamber of the City of the Pyramids” (Magick Without Tears, Ch. 13). There has however been substantial posthumous misuse of Crowley’s work by neo-Nazis and their ilk, much of which is documented here by Goodrick-Clarke. With the heightened visibility of US far-right groups in the “Age of Trump,” it has become necessary for OTO to inoculate itself against misrepresentations on this score, with a public statement by relevant authorities to affirm the Order’s basic anti-racist philosophy, already reflected in administrative policy. (There were also remarks from the US Grand Master to this effect in 2015.)
After a brief, competent treatment of the early Church of Satan in the United States to accurately appraise their “experiments in exploiting the shock value of Nazism” (215), Goodrick-Clarke offers longer studies of the Order of the Nine Angles (ONA) and Order of the Jarls of Baelder (OJB) and their organizers. (He associates the “New Aeon” especially with the ONA.) For these relatively recent instances of “pagan-satanic movement[s] on the British far right,” as well as New Zealander Kerry Bolton’s comparable Ordo Sinistra Vivendi (OSV), Goodrick-Clarke’s accounts are the most detailed and credible that I have to hand. He concludes that while constituting “the most extreme example of the cultic revival of fascism,” these groups “actively embrace their own marginalization” through emphases on elitism and transgression (231).
Goodrick-Clarke’s survey continues by examining newer American white supremacist and Aryanist groups with attention to their religious doctrines. He provides a characterization and history of Christian Identity with its genealogy in British-Israelism, as well as a discussion of the World Church of the Creator and its anti-Christian racist tenets. He identifies these groups as potential “incubators” for a more widespread “white racial movement” (255-56), seeing them as thus comparable to the pre-Nazi Ariosophists he treated in The Occult Roots of Nazism. He also finds contemporary parallels to the formative culture of Nazism in right-wing Odinist neopaganism, exemplified by the Wotansfolk of David Lane and Ron McVan. (Goodrick-Clarke does note the diversity of Nordic neopaganism, with schisms attributable to differences regarding racism.)
“Conspiracy Beliefs and the New World Order” summarizes the conspiracy paranoia of the far-right militia movement in the 1990s. It also devotes a considerable amount of attention to the ways in which traditionally anti-Semitic and anti-“Illuminati” conspiracy theories have been propagated in New Age media and milieux, with examples such as David Icke. While admitting that “As yet, the New Age has little room for Hitler worship or Nazi UFOs,” Goodrick-Clarke considers the social pessimism of much turn-of-the-millennium post-New Age “alternative” culture to be akin to the “Manichean dualism” historically implicated in anti-Semitic movements. Again, he suggests parallels with pre-Nazi German culture.
Necessarily missing from this book are significant changes in white supremacist organizing in the US since the 2008 election of Barack Obama. Such groups were arguably instrumental in the election of Donald Trump, whose most visible political activity in the 21st century had been as a mouthpiece of the racist-nativist “birther” movement disputing Obama’s eligibility for the presidency. Researchers agree that there has been a tremendous upswing in American far-right and racist groups, with greater exposure for eliminationist rhetoric. I am not familiar with any investigations that would help evaluate Goodrick-Clarke’s prognostications about the influence of the groups in this book on that growth, but the knowledge he supplies may be important in assessing more recent developments.
For three hundred pages, I understood Black Sun to be detailing the perspectives and motivations of neo-Nazi cultists without advocating or apologizing for them. Alas, that perception was significantly eroded by Goodrick-Clarke’s four-page “Conclusion.” When mentioning institutional racism, he puts “institutional” in scare quotes, as if the concept were a figment of the liberal imagination. Correctly noting the perceived tension between popular notions of individual rights and efforts to remedy legacies of racism, he accepts racist framings with such declarations as: “The comparative high performance of Asian minorities in education and employment, and their underrepresentation in prison statistics, demonstrate the untenability of attributing black failure to white racism” (304). I hope readers will appreciate the extent to which the foregoing sentence serves to indict Goodrick-Clarke’s own racism, rather than to exonerate that of the subjects of his study. Nevertheless, the book is a valuable one with a wealth of information, and the author’s final worry about the resilience of modern multi-ethnic societies is not misplaced. [via]