Otto Wilhelm Rahn was a German writer and medievalist who was obsessed with finding the Holy Grail. This was the cup that Jesus supposedly drank out of during the Last Supper and/or was used to collect his blood as he was dying on the cross.
Rahn was also openly gay, more discreetly anti-Nazi, and probably Jewish (though he may not have been aware of it). Despite this, he joined the Schutzstaffel (SS), Hitler’s paramilitary organization, and became the inspiration for Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Born in Germany in 1904, Rahn became obsessed with European myths and legends at an early age. He was particularly fascinated with medieval German stories about the Grail, such as Parzival (a romantic poem about a knight), Lohengrin (a story about Parzival’s son), and The Song of the Nibelungs (about a dragon slayer).
As a university student, he also became fascinated with Catharism – a Christian branch in France that was wiped out by the Catholic Church in the 13th century. He, therefore, visited France to look for clues about the Cathars and the Holy Grail.
Rahn concluded that German Christian traditions preserved many elements from its pre-Christian pagan past. He also believed that the Holy Grail was a real object that the Cathars had once held and that it remained hidden near Château de Montségur where the Cathars made their last stand.
In 1933, he published his theories in the Crusade Towards the Grail, which was well-received in Germany. It also earned him a dangerous fan, because 1933 was also the year that the Nazis took over.
That fan was Heinrich Himmler, suddenly one of the most powerful men in Germany and the one whom Hitler tasked with exterminating the Jews and other minorities. Himmler, like many high-ranking Nazi officials, was also obsessed with Germanic myths and legends.
To justify their ideals of German racial superiority, the Nazis looked to the country’s pre-Christian era. They wanted to reinvent their history and make it look greater than conventional history would have it.
Rahn’s theories supported the idea of Ariosophy – the idea that Nordics had a great and ancient past. It claims that the pre-Christian Nordic peoples were wise, philosophical, and inherently spiritual, not mere brutes like the Vikings. Such traditions were forgotten, however, due to centuries of suppression under Roman Catholicism.
Ariosophy began as an attempt to reject industrialization in favor of a simpler life by reviving Germanic pagan beliefs. But under its most influential proponent, Guido von List, it began to take on a more racial and anti-Semitic component. And Himmler was one of his followers.
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