The Thule Society, was a German occultist and volkisch group in Munich, named after a mythical northern country from Greek legend. The Society is notable chiefly as the organization that sponsored the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (DAP), which was later reorganized by Adolf Hitler into the National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazi Party).
According to Hitler biographer Ian Kershaw, the organization's "membership list...reads like a Who's Who of early Nazi sympathizers and leading figures in Munich", including Rudolf Hess, Alfred Rosenberg, Hans Frank, Julius Lehmann, Gottfried Feder, Dietrich Eckart and Karl Harrer. However, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, an expert on the Thule Society, finds that while Hans Frank and Rudolf Hess had been Thule members, other leading Nazis had only been guests of the Thule or entirely unconnected with it. There is no evidence that Hitler ever attended the Thule Society.
The Thule Society was originally a "German study group" headed by Walter Nauhaus, a wounded World War I veteran turned art student from Berlin who had become a keeper of pedigrees for the Germanenorden (or "Order of Teutons"), a secret society founded in 1911 and formally named in the following year.
In 1917 Nauhaus moved to Munich; his Thule-Gesellschaft was to be a cover-name for the Munich branch of the Germanenorden, but events developed differently as a result of a schism in the Order.
In 1918, Nauhaus was contacted in Munich by Rudolf von Sebottendorf (or von Sebottendorff), an occultist and newly elected head of the Bavarian province of the schismatic offshoot, known as the Germanenorden Walvater of the Holy Grail. The two men became associates in a recruitment campaign, and Sebottendorff adopted Nauhaus's Thule Society as a cover-name for his Munich lodge of the Germanenorden Walvater at its formal dedication on 18 August 1918.
A primary focus of Thule-Gesellschaft was a claim concerning the origins of the Aryan race. In 1917 people who wanted to join the "Germanic Order", out of which the Thule Society developed in 1918, had to sign a special "blood declaration of faith" concerning the lineage:
"The signer hereby swears to the best of his knowledge and belief that no Jewish or colored blood flows in either his or in his wife's veins, and that among their ancestors are no members of the colored races."
"Thule" was a land located by Greco-Roman geographers in the furthest north (often displayed as Iceland). The term "Ultima Thule"is also mentioned by the Roman poet Virgil in his pastoral poems called the Georgics. Although originally Thule was probably the name for Scandinavia, Virgil simply uses it as a proverbial expression for the edge of the known world, and his mention should not be taken as a substantial reference to Scandinavia.
They identified Ultima Thule, said by Nazi mystics to be the capital of ancient Hyperborea, as a lost ancient landmass in the extreme north: near Greenland or Iceland. These ideas derived from earlier speculation by Ignatius L. Donnelly that a lost landmass had once existed in the Atlantic, and that it was the home of the Aryan race, a theory he supported by reference to the distribution of swastika motifs. He identified this with Plato's Atlantis, a theory further developed by Helena Blavatsky, an occultist during the second part of the 19th century.
The Thule Society attracted about 250 followers in Munich and about 1,500 in greater Bavaria. Its meetings were often held in the luxury Hotel Vierjahreszeiten (Four Seasons Hotel) in Munich.
The followers of the Thule Society were, by Sebottendorff's own admission, little interested in occultist theories, instead they were interested in racism and combating Jews and Communists. Nevertheless, Sebottendorff planned and failed to kidnap the Bavarian socialist prime minister, Kurt Eisner, in December 1918.
During the Bavarian revolution of April 1919, Thulists were accused of trying to infiltrate its government and of attempting a coup. On April 26 the Communist government in Munich raided the Society's premises and took seven of its members into custody, executing them on April 30. Amongst them were Walter Nauhaus and four well-known aristocrats including Countess Heila von Westarp, who functioned as the group's secretary, and Prince Gustav of Thurn and Taxis who was related to several European royal families. In response, the Thule organized a citizens' uprising as White troops entered the city on May 1.
In 1918, the Thule Society bought a local weekly newspaper, the Munchener Beobachter (Munich Observer), and changed its name to Munchener Beobachter und Sportblatt (Munich Observer and Sports Paper) in an attempt to improve its circulation. The Munchener Beobachter later became the Volkischer Beobachter: People's Observer), the main Nazi newspaper. It was edited by Karl Harrer.
On January 5, 1919 Anton Drexler, who had developed links between the Thule Society and various extreme right workers' organizations in Munich, together with the Thule Society's Karl Harrer, established the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (DAP), or German Workers' Party. Adolf Hitler joined this party later in the same year. By the end of February 1920, the DAP had been reconstituted as the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP), or National Socialist German Workers' Party, generally known as the "Nazi Party".
Sebottendorff had by then left the Thule Society, and never joined the DAP or the Nazi Party. Dietrich Bronder (Bevor Hitler kam, 1964) alleged that other members of the Thule Society were later prominent in Nazi Germany: the list includes Dietrich Eckart (who coached Hitler on his public speaking skills and had Mein Kampf dedicated to him) as well as Gottfried Feder, Hans Frank, Hermann Goring, Karl Haushofer, Rudolf Hess, Heinrich Himmler and Alfred Rosenberg.
Historian Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke has described this membership roll and other, similar claims as "spurious" and "fanciful", noting that Feder, Eckart and Rosenberg were never more than guests to whom the Thule Society extended hospitality during the Bavarian revolution of 1918, although he has more recently acknowledged that Hess and Frank were members of the Society before they came to prominence in the Nazi Party.
It has also been claimed that Adolf Hitler himself was a member. Evidence to the contrary shows that he never attended a meeting, as attested to by Johannes Hering's diary of Society meetings. It is quite clear that Hitler himself had little interest in, and made little time for, "esoteric" matters. Wilhelm Laforce and Max Sesselmann (staff on the Munchener Beobachter) were Thule members who later joined the NSDAP.
Early in 1920 Karl Harrer was forced out of the DAP as Hitler moved to sever the party's link with the Thule Society, which subsequently fell into decline and was dissolved about five years later, well before Hitler came to power.
Rudolf von Sebottendorff had withdrawn from the Thule Society in 1919, but in 1933 he returned to Germany in the hope of reviving it. In that year he published a book entitled Bevor Hitler kam (German: Before Hitler Came), in which he claimed that the Thule Society had paved the way for the Fuhrer: "Thulers were the ones to whom Hitler first came, and Thulers were the first to unite themselves with Hitler." This claim was not favorably received by the Nazi authorities: after 1933, esoteric organizations (including volkisch occultists) were suppressed, many closed down by anti-Masonic legislation in 1935. Sebottendorff's book was prohibited and he himself was arrested and imprisoned for a short period in 1934, afterwards departing into exile in Turkey.
Nonetheless, it has been argued that some Thule members and their ideas were incorporated into the Third Reich.Some of the Thule Society's teachings were expressed in the books of Alfred Rosenberg. Many occult ideas found favor with Heinrich Himmler who, unlike Hitler, had a great interest in mysticism, but the Schutzstaffel (SS) under Himmler emulated the structure of Ignatius Loyola's Jesuit order rather than the Thule Society.
Like the Ahnenerbe section of the SS, and due to its occult background, the Thule Society has become the center of many conspiracy theories concerning Nazi Germany. Such theories include the creation of vril-powered Nazi UFOs.
Thule is in classical European literature and maps, a region in the far north. Though often considered to be an island in antiquity, modern interpretations of what was meant by Thule often identify it as Norway. Other interpretations include the Orkney Islands, Shetland Islands, and Scandinavia. In the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance, Thule was often identified as Iceland or Greenland. Another suggested location is Saaremaa in the Baltic Sea.
The term ultima Thule in medieval geographies denotes any distant place located beyond the "borders of the known world". Sometimes it is used as a proper noun (Ultima Thule) as the Latin name for Greenland when Thule is used for Iceland.
The Greek explorer Pytheas is the first to have written of Thule, doing so in his now lost work, On the Ocean, after his travels between 330 BC and 320 BC. He supposedly was sent out by the Greek city of Massalia to see where their trade-goods were coming from. Descriptions of some of his discoveries have survived in the works of later, often skeptical, authors. Polybius in his Histories (c. 140 BC), Book XXXIV, cites Pytheas as one "who has led many people into error by saying that he traversed the whole of Britain on foot, giving the island a circumference of forty thousand stades, and telling us also about Thule, those regions in which there was no longer any proper land nor sea nor air, but a sort of mixture of all three of the consistency of a jellyfish in which one can neither walk nor sail, holding everything together, so to speak."
Other late classical writers and post-classical writers such as Orosius (384-420 A.D) and the Irish monk Dicuil (late 8th and early 9th century), describe Thule as being North and West of both Ireland and Britain. Dicuil described Thule as being beyond islands that seem to be the Faroes, strongly suggesting Iceland. In the writings of the historian Procopius, from the first half of the 6th century, Thule is a large island in the north inhabited by twenty-five tribes. It is believed that Procopius is really talking about a part of Scandinavia, since several tribes are easily identified, including the Geats (Gautoi) in present-day Sweden and the Saami (Scrithiphini). He also writes that when the Heruls returned, they passed the Varni and the Danes and then crossed the sea to Thule, where they settled beside the Geats.
During the Middle Ages the name was used first of all to denote Iceland, such as by Dicuil, by the Anglo-Saxon monk Venerable Bede in De ratione temporum, by the Landnamabok, by the anonymous Historia Norwegie and by the German bishop Adam of Bremen in his Deeds of Bishops of the Hamburg Church, where they cite ancient writers' use of Thule but also new knowledge since the end of antiquity. All these authors also understood that other islands were situated to the north of Britain.
Petrarch in the 14th century wrote in his Epistolae familiares (or Familiar Letters) that Thule lay in the unknown regions of the far north-west.
A municipality in northern Greenland (Avannaa) was formerly named Thule after the mythical place. The Thule People, a paleo-Eskimo culture and a predecessor of modern Inuit Greenlanders, were named after the Thule region. In 1953, Thule became Thule Air Base, operated by United States Air Force. The population was forced to resettle to Qaanaaq, 67 miles to the north - 840 NM from the North Pole).
Southern Thule is a collection of the three southernmost islands in the South Sandwich Islands in the South Atlantic Ocean, one of which is called Thule Island. The island group is overseas territory of the United Kingdom and uninhabited.
The Scottish Gaelic for Iceland is "Innis Tile", which means literally the "Isle of Thule". Ultima Thule was the title of the 1929 novel by Henry Handel Richardson, set in colonial Australia.
Scientists of the Institut of Geodesy and Geoinformationtechnique of the Technical University of Berlin were testing the antique maps of Ptolemy and recognized a pattern of calculation mistakes which occurred if one tried to convert the old coordinates from Ptolemy into modern carthographical maps. After correcting for the mistakes, the scientists mapped Ptolemy's Thule to the Norwegian island Smola.
Additionally, Thule lends its name to the 69th element in the periodic table, Thulium. < Ultima Thule is also the name of a location in the Mammoth Cave system. It was formerly the terminus of the known-explorable southeastern (upstream) end of the passage called "Main Cave," before discoveries made in 1908 by Ed Bishop and Max Kaemper showed an area accessible beyond it, now the location of the Violet City Entrance. The Violet City Lantern tour offered at the cave passes through Ultima Thule near the conclusion of the route.
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