Judith Ann Moriarty

“Hammer of the Gods,” on the origins of Nazism

By - May 10th, 2012 10:00 am

During WWII, hordes of European-bound bombers frequently darkened the skies in my rural Iowa hometown. The “Nazis” I experienced were images in Life Magazine and propaganda cartoons viewed at our local theater. My first taste of racism surfaced when our grocer, a Jew, was rumored to be selling horsemeat in lieu of beef. Signs like “N….get out of town before sundown,” were posted by the mostly Aryan population of Irish, Germans and Swedes, prior to and as late as the 50s. I lived in a mini Third Reich snug in the Nodaway Valley, where folklore lives and sadly thrives in 2012.


Dave Luhrssen

And so it is that I purchased a copy of David Luhrssen’s Hammer of the Gods (Potomac Books/2012), an in-depth, 212-page exploration of the Thule Society, an occultist, racist precursor of Nazism. The book began as Luhrssen’s dissertation in the history department at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and culminated in a major effort by a writer who dedicates it all “to my family.” Seventy-nine pages of notes, bibliography and index supplement the narrative text.

The Thule Society does feature an actual prince, one Prince Gustav Franz Maria of Thurn and Taxis, but Hammer of the Gods is not a fairy tale of the “good” kind.

“The prince, who had grown up in a dozen palaces,” Luhrssen wrote, “endured his final hours as a captive in the cellar of the Munich secondary school, which had been commandeered by the leftist revolutionaries as a barracks and detention center.” One thing you’ll learn from this book, which gives you a feel for the times: Bavaria briefly became the Bavarian Soviet Republic in the late 1910s.

The book is described as appropriate for both general and academic readers. As a general reader, I appreciate the magic touch in his references to the art and culture of the troubled times between the wars in Germany. Without it (Luhrssen is the arts and entertainment editor at Shepherd Express, Milwaukee’s weekly newspaper), I fear my fate would have been sealed in the complexity of marshes and mountains.


In many ways, the book is about the battle between Good and Evil, but it’s more about the dark heart that lurks in Everyman, the need to dominate, denigrate, and debase (at any cost) others with skin not so light or eyes not so blue. Luhrssen does not hide, nor does he rant and rave. He takes us along as explorers of the dark side and hammers home his point with this:

“Thule remains an element in the worldwide obsession with Nazism, and unhealthy fascination for those who continue to extol the Nazi project, but also for those who understand Nazism in comic book villainry, a fantasy of evil overlooking the complexity of its origin, its rise to power, and the toll it exacted on humanity.”

I am humbled.

Luhrssen will discuss his book at Boswell Book Company, 2559 N. Downer Ave., on Friday, May 11, at 7 p.m.

0 thoughts on ““Hammer of the Gods,” on the origins of Nazism”

  1. Anonymous says:

    William Shirer’s THE RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH traces Nazism’s roots as far back as 1807, to speeches by nationalist philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte. Shirer’s unsparing book was recently re-issued, and should be required reading for – well, everybody. In its March issue, SMITHSONIAN published an excellent essay on it: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Revisiting-The-Rise-and-Fall-of-the-Third-Reich.html

  2. Anonymous says:

    I appreciate your additional information. Luhrssen’s event at Boswell was very well attended, and the audience questions were
    lively and varied.

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