He was a principal architect of the Holocaust, but the immensity of Himmler's evil was matched only the immensity of his pompous mysticism. Obsessed with making his SS troops into the modern equivalent of the medieval Teutonic Knights, he ran the organisation like a cult, complete with special SS weddings, along with name-giving ceremonies instead of baptism. Even the distinctive SS insignia was based on ancient runes.
Then there was Wewelsburg castle, which was Himmler's very own twisted version of Camelot. On the face of it, this was a training facility for his officers, but the focus was on occult history and pagan rituals, with the décor emblazoned with runes and swastikas, and an equivalent of the Arthurian round table. Even the tableware was decorated with these symbols from a mythologised past.
The Thule Society
The very philosophy of Nazism was originally influenced by a weird organisation called the Thule Society. Formed in 1918, it supported and influenced the early incarnation of the Nazi Party, with Hitler's future right-hand-man Rudolf Hess attending meetings. Obsessed with notions of an Aryan master race, the Thule Society was named after Thule, a mythical country from ancient literature which they considered to be the birthplace of the Aryan race.
One man active in such circles was Dietrich Eckart, a famous writer of the day who was also a virulent nationalist who believed that a "Great One" and "Nameless One" would rise up to become the German messiah. On meeting Hitler, he realised his messiah had come, and tried to mentor him, allegedly saying to a friend "Follow Hitler! He will dance, but it is I who have called the tune."
The true extent of Hitler's own occult beliefs remains controversial, but there are certainly some tell-tale signs tucked away in his private library. An interesting volume was a book called Magic: History, Theory, Practice. It was written by an eccentric academic called Dr Ernst Schertel who was a researcher of Satanism, sadomasochism and metaphysics, and who had a copy sent directly to Hitler.
The Fuhrer took a deep interest in its teachings, and personally highlighted some key passages. One of them was "Satan is the beginning", and, even more ominously, "He who does not have the demonic seed within himself will never give birth to a magical world."
There are numerous reports about the fascination top Nazis had with religious relics, particularly the Holy Lance - the spear which pierced Christ on the cross - and of course the Holy Grail. What we know for sure is that they were obsessed with using archaeology as a tool for propaganda.
Nazi archaeologists invented ludicrous theories, including one about the Externsteine - a series of ancient rocky formations which the Nazis believed to be a holy site for early Germans, and where Hitler Youth would gather to sing hymns. One Nazi archaeologist even believed that magnificent ruins in the South American Andes was the work of ancient Aryans from the lost city of Atlantis - an idea that was later published in Germany as a fact.