Was Blavatsky a Nazi?

The link between Ariosophy and Theosophy

Katinka Hesselink 2006-2007

H.P. Blavatsky was not a nazi. She lived and died in the 19th century when nazism didn't exist yet. 

Nazism and Neo-nazism are ways of looking at the world where differences between people are used to rationalize 'purification' of the human race by killing out a portion of them (jews, homosexuals etc.). 

Theosophists on the other hand try to embody in their organisation a universal brotherhood, without distinction of race , creed, sex, caste (etc.) ( theosophical objects ). This is the first and most important of the three objects of the Theosophical Society. This object was already in place when Blavatsky died in 1891. She stressed in her 'Key to Theosophy' that if the Theosophical Society was successful it would (p. 305):

break down racial and national antipathies and barriers; it will open the way to the practical realisation of Brotherhood of all men. 

This is obviously a far cry from the idea that it is useful and proper to just kill off all Jews, which is what Ariosophy amounts to. Theosophists in general are not aware of the online claims that Blavatsky inspired Nazi Germany. If they were aware of this, they would be shocked, because Nazism goes against everything they believe in. 

Unfortunately this does not mean that there is no historical connection between Blavatsky's theosophy and Ariosophy. To properly understand this, we have to place both Blavatsky and the early Ariosophists in their time and place. 

Time: the 19th century. Darwin's theory of evolution was starting to become more generally known and since it was so impressive it was used not just as an explanation of how the different species in the world came into being, but also as a social directive. This application to human society was called 'social darwinism'. Goodrick-Clarke sums up the relationships amongst the various factors involved as follows (p. 14)

The central importance of  'Arian' racism in Ariosophy, albeit compounded by occult notions deriving from theosophy, may be traced to the racial concerns of Social Darwinism in Germany.

This obviously means that the agressive aspect of Ariosophy, namely that other 'races' should be exterminated if and when necessary, comes from Social Darwinism, not Theosophy. This also puts the origin and development of Ariosophy in Germany. Significant may be that in Germany theosophists never succeeded in working together in a 'brotherhood of man'. 

Blavatsky's Theosophy does include theories of race, which Goodrick-Clarke sums up decently in his book. I feel that she would have used more politically correct terms if she had known how her theories would be applied. The dangers of those theories being used for rationalising racial hatred were obviously not clear in the 19th century. [ More on how Blavatsky's theories of race can be interpreted in sociological terms ]

The Swastika in Theosophy

Chapter 2 of ' The Occult Roots of Nazism ' is the chapter where the link between theosophy and ariosophy is most suggestively hinted at. Specifically on page 20 much is made of the explanations of the swastika by Blavatsky in relation to spiritual evolution in her The Secret Doctrine . Goodrick-Clarke literally says:

Madame Blavatsky illustrated the stages of the cosmic cycle with a variety of esoteric symbols, including triangles, triskelions, and swastikas. So extensive was her use of this latter Eastern sign of fortune and fertility that she included it in her design for the seal of the Theosophical Society. 

This suggests, though it doesn't actually say, that the swastika was put into the seal of the Theosophical Society a) by H.P. Blavatsky and b) around the time when the Secret Doctrine was published (1888). The first seems likely, but is simply unknown. It is not clear to scholars of theosophical history who designed the theosophical seal and what Blavatsky had to do with that design. The second is simply false. In fact it's easy to show that the seal of the theosophical society didn't change substantially during Blavatsky's lifetime and that the swatika, like all the other primary symbols used, was already present in 1875. I've gathered relevant material on this issue in my article about The Early History of the Theosophical Seal. Goodrick-Clarke makes it clear in the above quote that the swastika does not essentially support racial theories, but was a symbol of fortune and fertility. It's misuse by the Nazi's is testimony of the strong force of the image, not of its essentially bad nature. 

The link between Theosophy and Nazism

Now we get to the sticky part. The historical link between theosophy and nazism can't be denied, unfortunately. Guido Karl Anton (von) List read the Secret Doctrine and adapted many of its ideas to a Nationalist Esoteric German vision of world history. He turned Blavatsky's universal vision about humanity as a whole into a nationalist (German centric) racist theory in which the German race was seen as superior to all other races. None of this is in Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine. Blavatsky did have a view of mankind and what she called 'races', but the Western 'race' (not German per se) wasn't so much superior as the latest. Blavatsky felt that the Indian race, though older, was more spiritual. But in the history of ideas there is still a link from Blavatsky to List, because the latter read her work. Then there's a link from von List to Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels. Then there is a link from Liebenfels to Adolf Hitler himself. 

The most important part is in chapter 15 where Goodrick-Clarke examines the links between Adolf Hitler, von List and Lanz von Liebenfels. It turns out to be pretty certain that Hitler was influenced by Lanz von Liebenfels when he lived in Vienna. This fact was never publicly acknowledged by him and groups directly affiliated with the occult realm were consistently prosecuted in Nazi Germany, like other lodge-based organisations (including the Theosophical Society and Freemasonry).