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Books: Keeper of Hitler's crystal ball

HITLER'S PRIESTESS: Savitri Devi, The Hindu-Aryan Myth and Neo- Nazism by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, New York University Press pounds 15.95
IT IS NOW well known that the Nazis were deeply influenced by occultism and that Hitler dabbled in fortune-telling and palmistry. The man who wrote the seminal work on the subject now returns with a fascinating study in individual pathology and the mystical roots of neo-Nazism.

Few depths are murkier than the foetid swamp of end-of-century volkish ideology, with its emphasis on race, blood and death, its hatred of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, its nature worship, exaltation of paganism and reverence for barbarian virtues. According to the Jungian scholar Richard Noll, the astonishing bouillabaisse of ancient Teutonic mysteries, Gnosticism and western esotericism led Jung in his "schizophrenic" period of 1913-18 to identify himself with the Mithraic deity. Using similar "thought" processes, a French female intellectual named Maximiani Portas (1905-82) argued in all seriousness that Hitler was the avatar of the highest Hindu deity.

Goodrick-Clarke traces the career of Portas and her "rebirth", following marriage to an Indian Brahmin, as Savitri Devi. She spent a troubled life, partly in India, partly in Europe, serving jail sentences for her fanatical beliefs and being the subject of exclusion orders by British immigration authorities. There seem to be three main strands in her voluminous theoretical writings: "metaphysical" anti-Semitism, Aryanism, and the apotheosis of Hitler. Like other theorists of Aryanism, Devi maintained that all mankind's true achievements came from the banks of the Ganges or the roof of the world in Tibet and are the product of an "Aryan" race. Devi, unfortunately for her, found herself out of line with Nazi ideology, since she believed the Aryans originated in India; the Nazis, however, transmogrified Aryan theory and alleged that the Aryans came from Europe and later migrated to India.

"Metaphysical" anti-Semitism rests on a cyclical view of history and a desire to return to the alleged Golden Age. According to Devi, the Jews are the living expression of the perigee of this time cycle, and their aim is the destruction of all races and nations and, ultimately, all human life on the planet.

The apotheosis of Hitler rests on Devi's threefold typology of great men in history; Men in Time, Men above Time and Men against Time. Men in Time are strong individuals who recognise the iron laws of history and work within them purely for their own advantage: a notable example was Ghengis Khan. Men above Time are those who attain the highest states of enlightenment (Buddha, Jesus and the Pharaoh Akhnaton). Men against Time are those who strive to restore the Golden Age or to accelerate the cycles of history: these are the very greatest men, and the greatest of all was Hitler. The real problem for Devi, a fanatical lover of both India and the Fuhrer, was that Hitler despised Indians. He was contemptuous of the alleged parallel between the German anti-Versailles movement and India's anticolonialism, regarded Indians as racially inferior and called the Congress Party "Asiatic jugglers".

Judged purely on her writings, Devi might appear merely a crank, but the vehemence of her anti-Semitism, her Holocaust denial, her putrid sense of human values (her best friend was a brutal female warder at Belsen), her rabid co-existent love of animals and hatred of mankind and, most of all, her influence on neo-Nazis such as Colin Jordan, John Tyndall and George Nelson Rockwell, make her an altogether more sinister figure. Using her career as an example (and he might also have mentioned the support of animal- loving Brigitte Bardot for Le Pen), Goodrick-Clarke poses the question: are vegetarianism, animal rights, New Age cults and the "Green" concerns of groups like "Deep Ecology" the symptoms of a new anti-capitalist brand of fascism? Do fanatical animal lovers always hate their fellow humans?

This is an excellent, thought- provoking volume. Sceptics may say that to write a biography of such a figure is to provide a new platform for her hateful views. We may readily accept that Devi was a revolting creature. But it is as well that we realise that such demons in human form existed and still do exist, and this must be the justification for this scholarly but deeply depressing book.