The Nazi Quest for the Holy Grail: Otto Rahn’s Books and Col. Howard Buechner’s Imagination

The field of Nazi Grail lore owes its existence to Otto Rahn. Rahn was an adventurer, linguist, amateur historian, spelunker and member of the SS-Ahnenerbe.

otto rahn
Do any amount of research on Rahn and you’ll soon be confronted with the moniker, ‘The Nazi Indiana Jones’, but realistically, Otto was just a nerd who caught the attention of Heinrich Himmler after writing a dumb book about the Holy Grail. After this, Himmler gave him a job in the Ahnenerbe, the division of the SS that was assigned to try to use mythology to glorify the Aryan race. Otto was allegedly gay and half Jewish, but he took the job. (I don’t really blame him.) Once the SS got a better idea of who Rahn really was, they demoted him, and he ended up killing himself.

Rahn wrote two books, both of which I’ll review in this post. However, before looking at Rahn’s work, it was essential for me to read the book that almost all of Rahn’s work was based on, Wolfram Von Essenbach’s Parzival.

wolfram parzifal

The Holy Grail has been discussed on this blog several times before, and while researching for one of those posts, I read Chretien De Troye’s foundational grail tale, Perceval, the Story of the Grail. De Troye’s book is the first time the Holy Grail appears in literature, but he never describes the exact nature of the Grail.  De Troyes’ Perceval was never finished, but a German poet named Wolfram Von Eschenbach rewrote it and added an ending. Von Eschenbach’s version, Parzival, is a more complete, lengthy and influential text, and it plays an important role in Holy Blood, Holy Grail, Dark Gods, The Spear of Destiny and even The Werewolf’s Revenge. It is to my great shame that I admit to having reviewed those books without first slogging through the Parzival. I knew I’d have to read this before looking at Rahn’s stuff, so I borrowed a copy of A.T. Hatto’s translation from my library.

Jesus Christ, this book was so fucking boring. It’s so, so bad. The writing is dense, meandering and dull. The art of writing novels was clearly not yet perfected in the 13th century. A stupid lad ends up in a castle and sees a magic stone and some other weird shit but doesn’t bother to ask his host about it. Then he runs around for years trying to figure out what happened. Honestly, if you want more detail than that, skip the book and read a synopsis online; consuming this trash was a horrid experience. Yuck.

otto rahn crusade against the grailCrusade Against the Grail:  The Struggle between the Cathars, the Templars, and the Church of Rome
Otto Rahn

Inner Traditions – 2006 (Originally published 1933)

Otto Rahn’s first book, Crusade Against the Grail, is the latest addition my list of unfinished books. I’m generally pretty obstinate when it comes to finishing boring books, but this one got the better of me. After spending months slogging through Parzival and Rahn’s other book, I simply could not bring myself to finish this. I got about three quarters of the way through before admitting to myself that I had no idea what Rahn was describing. I could either start again or read another 50 pages of text without having a clue as to what was going on. Fuck that. This is terrible, awful, boring, dull garbage.

As far as I can tell, the basic idea behind this book is that the Cathars of Southern France were gnostics and that they were in possession of the Holy Grail. (This idea became very popular with later occult/conspiracy writers.) Rahn believed that Wolfram Von Essenbach’s Parzival was actually a Cathar document, and that it could provide details on how to find the Grail, which he seemed to think was still hidden near the Cathar stronghold of Montsegur.

It’s not until his next book that Rahn makes clear what the Holy Grail actually is.

lucifer's court otto rahnLucifer’s Court: A Heretic’s Journey in Search of the Light Bringers – Otto Rahn
Inner Traditions – 2008 (Originally published 1937)

Lucifer’s Court is Otto Rahn’s travel journal. He travelled around Europe, mostly Southern France, looking for details on the Holy Grail. The most interesting part of this book is Rahn’s thesis that the Holy Grail is nothing to do with the cup that Jesus used at the Last Supper. Rahn believed that the Holy Grail was a stone from the crown of Lucifer that fell out during his fall. Rahn believed that Lucifer, the Light Bringer, is a source of goodness, and he equates the christian/jewish god with an evil demiurge figure, just as the Cathars supposedly did centuries ago. Otto Rahn was a self proclaimed Luciferian.

Honestly, this book is actually very boring, and it’s not very convincing. Rahn’s sources are mostly folktales, legends and works of fiction. The way that Lucifer’s Court is broken up into a journal format makes it significantly easier to read than Crusade Against the Grail, but this was still very dull.

 

Ok, so that’s three shit books so far, one of which is considered a classic of literature and the other two are well known in certain circles. Now I want to present to you something a little stranger, Col. Howard Buechner’s Emerald Cup – Ark of Gold. I first heard of this book in an episode of Myth Hunters years ago, and for some reason I can’t remember, I set my heart on finding a copy. I eventually found an affordable copy online and bought it, but it remained on my shelf for four years before I got around to reading it. I was pretty happy to discover that my copy is actually signed by the author.

emerald cup - ark of gold howard buechnerEmerald Cup – Ark of Gold: The Quest of SS Lt. Otto Rahn of the Third Reich
Col. Howard Buechner
Thunderbird Press – 1991

The Holy Grail was given to Abraham by Melchizideck (a character from the Old Testament who some view as a proto-Jesus). It got lumped in with the treasure of Solomon at some stage but was later separated from this trove and ended up in some junk store until teenage Jesus saw it. Then teenage Jesus went to England with his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea. He lived there until he was about 30. When he came back to Judea, he got to work on the whole Christ thing, and when he realised that the shit was about to hit the fan, he threw a party with his mates and decided to use his fancy cup. When Jesus died, his friend used this same cup to catch some of the fluid that was leaking from the hole in the side of Christ’s corpse.

According to Buechner, this grail ended up in the hands of the Cathars after being brought to France after the crucifixion. Although Rahn described the Grail as a stone from Lucifer’s crown, to Buechner, it is the standard Jesus beaker. Buechner does acknowledge that some believe that one of the decorative stones on the Grail might have originally come from the crown of Lucifer, but he also claims that Rahn believed that there were two separate grails, the standard one and a separate German one. (Confused yet?) Although Otto Rahn’s name appears in the title of Buechner’s book, I was not convinced that Buechner had actually read Rahn’s work. It seems a bit like he read somebody else’s summaries of Rahn’s books. While he references several works of absolute nonsense (Holy Blood, Holy Grail, The Spear of Destiny, Morning of the Magicians), he acknowledges that at the time of writing Emerald Cup, he had not read Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke’s The Occult Roots of Nazism, the seminal academic work on Nazi occultism.

Buechner believed that Rahn (and our old friend Bérenger Saunière from Holy Blood, Holy Grail) had found the treasure of the Cathars. He claims that Rahn either would not or could not take the treasure to Heinrich Himmler, so Himmler sent in Otto Skorzeny to collect it.

Otto_SkorzenyOtto “Nazi Supervillain Extraordinaire” Skorzeny

Otto Skorzeny was a Nazi hero. He helped kidnap Mussolini, and he had a big scar across his face. There’s lots of bullshit stories about him. Buechner’s tale is is one of these. There is proof that Skorzeny was in Yugoslavia on the date that he was supposedly retrieving the Grail from France.

Buechner claims that after Skorzeny delivered the Grail to his superiors, it was shipped to Antarctica in a submarine so that it could be deposited in a magical cave that leads to the center of the Earth. (This magical cave also leads to a void from which the echoes of strange voices can be heard.) At the end of the book, Buechner admits that the package that was sent to Antarctica may well have been a map marking the current location of the Grail rather than the Grail itself.

I reckon that any speculation on the final conundrum of Buechner’s book is a complete waste of time. Absolutely all of his book is rubbish. Many of his claims are based on untruths. His sources are books of nonsense. None of what Buechner claims is remotely convincing. He never mentions Otto Rahn’s homosexuality, and actually claims that instead of dying, the young adventurer may have had extensive plastic surgery and changed his first name to Rudolf. Rudolf Rahn was a real person, and there is a record of his life before Otto’s death, so I don’t really understand how Buechner was willing to put such a stupid theory forth in writing.

otto rahn rudolf rahn

Throughout Buechner’s nonsense, he repeatedly references a book called The Occult and the Third Reich. A few years ago, this would have been enough to convince me to read this book, but I no longer have much of an interest in this crap. Buechner has a few other books about similar topics, but I have no intention of tracking them down either. Some of my blog posts are a breeze to write. I’ll read a novel in an afternoon and then write the review while I’m waiting for dinner. This post took a lot of time and effort. Reading these books was a thoroughly unpleasant experience, and I can’t recommend any of them to anyone. Do yourself a favour and read something good instead.

As for Otto Rahn, his reputation as the Nazi Indiana Jones is pretty silly. He seems to have been a lonely, tragic figure whose tendency to speculate wildy drew the attention of the Nazi Party and eventually led to his death.

 

Foucault’s Pendulum – Umberto Eco

fp
Ballantine – 1990 (Originally published in Italian in 1988)

Most of the books that I review here are either too shit or too enjoyable to be clever. This one however, while it is rather enjoyable, is a rather astute piece of writing.

The plot is surprisingly simple. I’ll outline it in a way that won’t ruin the story for you: 3 book nerds, for a laugh, decide to patch together a ridiculous conspiracy theory. After a short while, they, and others, start to take their conspiracy too seriously and things get fairly messed up. That’s it. But if that’s the whole story, why is the book 500+ pages long? Well, Eco goes into detail, a LOT of detail, on the conspiracy that his characters are creating.

While the book is filled with interesting facts from what must have been an absolutely enormous amount of research, it’s not so much the conspiracies that are of interest as it is the psychology and biology of conspiracies and arcane ‘knowledge’. To put it another way, this is not a book about conspiracy theories in the same way that the Da Vinci Code is; this is a book about how conspiracy theories work. (Eco, when asked if he had read the Da Vinci Code, claimed that Dan Brown was one of the characters in this book.) While this book will satisfy readers of conspiracy fiction by mixing and matching their favourite secret societies and magicians, it will also force that reader to contemplate how silly most conspiracies really are. The way Eco engages with conspiracies only to end up making fun of them is really tactful. He never denies that they’re fun and interesting, indeed he would have had to have been a severe masochist to have thought that and written this book, but ultimately, he gives very little credence to any of them. Ah Umberto, a man after my own heart!

I really enjoyed this book. The subject matter is precisely the kind of crap that I like reading about, and the characters were great too. It does get a little heavy on the details at times, and I’d recommend having a decent understanding of who the Rosicrucians, Gnostics, and Templars were before you start. If you do decide to read it and feel like you’re getting bogged down in the details of the eclipse that occurred during the 14th birthday party of the blind translator of a coded manuscript detailing the fate of an obscure heretical sect from Southern France, you can probably just skim through those paragraphs without missing out on crucial plot details.

The book opens with the narrator snooping around the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts in Paris. He has an appointment at midnight under the Foucault Pendulum housed therein, and he is trying to find a place to hide where he will not be noticed by the security guards as they are closing up. When I discovered that my University also houses a Foucault Pendulum, I determined to recreate that scene to the best of my ability.

I waited until the 23rd of June, the same day that the book’s narrator goes to see the pendulum in the Conservatoire. Unfortunately, I found it very difficult to sneak effectively, as there were very few people around to be suspicious of me. Regardless of this, I surreptitiously tip-toed into the building, constantly casting glances behind me in the hopes that I was being trailed. When I got to the pendulum, Disaster! Somebody else was standing there looking at it. I contemplated asking if he was there for the same reason as myself, but in the interests of my own personal safety (and dignity), I decided against doing so. I pretended that I wasn’t interested in the pendulum; I walked straight by it, exited the building, and bought a cup of coffee in a nearby cafe. I waited maybe 10 minutes and returned. The coast was clear, so I took the following video and ran for it.

I fear they may have seen me leave the campus. I am in hiding now, but I know that they will find me eventually. All I can do is wait. I might as well sit here and look out the window at the willow tree in the garden outside.

It’s so beautiful.

 

The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

Doubleday – 2003
code
Perhaps the single most important text in all occult literature?
Definitely. Here’s a little code for you to solve. For proof of this book’s brilliance, check the publication date of this post.

I actually read the Da Vinci Code last year. It wasn’t as bad as I expected; it’s very easy to read, and it got me through 2 quiet days at work. I quite enjoyed the first half of it, but it starts to get fairly repetitive towards the end when everything is turning out to be some kind of stupid code. It’s pretty cool to talk about how much this book sucks, so I won’t bother. I’ll just give it a 3.5/10.