(I have friends and relatives in New Zealand. Along with the rest of the civilised world I was shocked by the terror attack in Christchurch last month by a self-declared white supremacist. I had written today’s article several weeks before the attack. I considered removing it from my blog schedule, but decided to keep it because we are living in a world where such attacks are frequently reported and there never be a time when it would be considered appropriate.)
Today I want to look at
one of the most far-reaching influences that an openly gay man ever created.
It’s one that came to dominate the 20th century more than anything else and is
still seen today. But it’s an influence and a legacy that the lgbt community
cannot be proud of. It’s the use of the swastika as a symbol of racial
The swastika has been
around for thousands of years. It’s well known that it was symbol of good
fortune in ancient India. As a simple geometric design it appears in other
ancient civilisations, from the Greeks to the Aztecs. It is truly sad that it
became as symbol of hate and fear.
To trace the origin of the
Nazi’s use of the swastika we have to go back to a neo-pagan occult group that
formed in Munich in the 1890s. It was a small group, numbering only five central
figures, mostly gay men, who were writers and philosophers. The two main
figures were Alfred Schuler
(1865-1923) and Ludwig Klages
(1872-1956). The one who is of most significance to the swastika is Schuler.
Alfred Schuler was born in
Mainz. He moved to Munich and began studying archaeology at the university. He
was fascinated by ancient civilisations and the artefacts they left behind.
However, this fascination came into conflict with his studies. Schuler believed
that archaeologists were desecrating ancient religious sites, and by putting
artefacts in museums they were declaring their superiority and control over the
It was also his admiration
for ancient civilisations, Rome in particular, that led Schuler to develop
another belief, that the modern world was a corrupting influence on the
development of humanity, and that the Christian Church was ultimately
responsible. This opinion pushed his spiritual beliefs into the occult
(ironically, a Christian construct) and neo-paganism.
In 1893 Schuler met Ludwig
Klages and between them they formulated a set of beliefs that developed into
the formal association called the Cosmic Circle. One of the core beliefs of the
group was that of an ancient global matriarchal culture. The Cosmic Circle
believed that Christianity purposefully destroyed the matriarchal societies of
the past and was leading the world to disaster. A second irony is that their
own beliefs and symbols that gave rise to a regime that did just that.
Throughout all his adult
life Schuler imbued his perception of ancient Rome with the Greek Eros. Just as
Sigmund Freud imbued his psychoanalysis with sex, so did Schuler with the
Cosmic Circle, except that Schuler’s sex was homosexual and open.
Part of the Cosmic
Circle’s elements of “worship” was for members to re-enact life and events from
Roman and classical history, dressing up in period costumes and holding mock
rituals and erotic dances. Schuler himself often dressed as the Earth Mother
Goddess with wig, dark robes and heavy make-up. He was much more serious about
these ceremonies, more so than the other members. For instance, he firmly
believed that an exotic dance performed by young, nubile men could cure
Friedrich Nietzsche, the pioneering philosopher of gay rights, of the madness
he had developed.
On another occasion
Schuler planned to bring down all governments by having one of his colleagues
stand naked in Munich market place chanting to the ancient gods. The colleague
declined to take part.
It was at about this time,
1904, that the Cosmic Circle began to deteriorate. Schuler had been expressing
anti-Semitic opinions for many years. Some members of the Cosmic Circle were
Jews or had Jewish ancestry and Schuler began a “witch-hunt” against Jews in
“his” organisation. He demanded that they renounce their faith and heritage or
leave the Cosmic Circle. Following the collapse of the Cosmic Circle in 1904
its members split into Schuler and his Aryan anti-Semitic supporters and their
Schuler had travelled to
Asia some years earlier and had seen the swastika symbol in India and Tibet.
Its symbolism seemed to appeal to his own Cosmic Circle ideas of supernatural
life and power. He was not alone in adopting the swastika. Across Europe it
began to appear in logos from everything from sports clubs to occult groups. It
was a popular symbol of life, energy and harmony. To Schuler the swastika was also
a symbol of his homosexual, orgiastic, anti-Semitic propaganda, and through his
influence it began to be adopted by supremacist groups.
In 1907 in Austria a white
supremacist group called the Order of the New Templars adopted the swastika and
its anti-Semitic symbolism as their emblem. This seems to have been the first
time the swastika can definitely be claimed as a specifically anti-Semite
emblem. Between 1917 and 1925 the Thule Society, a German Aryan supremacist
group, used a circular swastika as their emblem.
By this time Alfred
Schuler was conducting lecturers on his beliefs. He still had some supporters,
including the prominent Munich salon host Princess Elsa Bruckman. It was at one
event at Bruckman’s salon in 1920 that Schuler and Adolf Hitler were both
Hitler was clearly
influenced by Schuler’s swastika symbolism. In his book “Mein Kampf” in 1923
Hitler described how the new Nazi Party looked for a suitable symbol and flag.
He was familiar with the swastika through his connections to both Schuler and
members of the Thule Society. Independently of each other, Hitler and Dr.
Friedrich Krohn, an active Thule member, came up with flags with a central
swastika. Hitler adapted them into the flag that became the emblem of hate that
dominated the 20th century.
If nothing else the
evolution of the swastika from a symbol of life and harmony into one of hate
and fear tells us a lot about the power one ideology can have over the use of
just one symbol. The fact that an openly gay, neo-pagan, occultist inspired
this change the darkest legacy that any member of the lgbt community can leave.
The final irony is that
the evil Nazi regime that stamped its swastika all over Europe also stamped
homosexuals with a pink triangle, and it is the pink triangle that was claimed
by survivors of the Holocaust and the pioneering lgbt rights activists in the
1970s and transformed from a symbol of oppression and discrimination into one
of pride and defiance against hate.