Secret Societies and The First World War

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By MICHAEL HOWARD (1948–2015)

This August [2014] the centenary of the beginning of the First World War was marked by the release of new books, magazine articles, radio programmes and television documentaries. There has also been considerable public discussion among mainstream academics and historians about the causes of the war and whether the slaughter of millions on both sides was justified.

It has been suggested World War One was a struggle for power between rival empires, the political and economic control of Europe, and the colonial dominance of the Far East. It was certainly the end result of a gradual military build-up and arms race since the early 1900s by the main protagonists. However, there were darker and more sinister forces at work involving secret societies that wanted to overthrow the European monarchies and change the traditional order in Europe.

As early as the end of the 19th century some observers were predicting a major European war. In a series of lectures on ‘Occult Science, Theosophy and the Catholic Faith’ given to a gathering of occult students in 1893, this idea was mooted by the lecturer C.G. Harrison. These talks were published in book form three years later under the title The Transcendental Universe (George Redway & Co, 1896). In general they dealt with occult subjects such as the Cabalistic Tree of the Life, the difference between Satan and Lucifer, the celestial hierarchy of angels, the Theosophical Society and the ‘Hidden Masters’ of Madame Blavatsky. In the second lecture, however, Harrison deviated from esoteric matters to refer to the Russian Empire and a confederation of Slavic states in south-eastern Europe that had recently broken away from the Ottoman Empire. He predicted these “little states” would only remain independent until the “next great European war.” He also said that it was the destiny of the Russian Empire to die “so the Russian people may live” and referred to “experiments in Socialism” that would create a higher form of civilisation. These developments, Harrison suggested, would cause innumerable political and economic difficulties in Western Europe.

Assassins, Emperors & Occultists

The French Martinist and occultist Dr. Gerard Encausse (aka ‘Papus’) was closely associated with the Russian royal family. He claimed before the First World War that a “large financial syndicate” was behind the current political problems and upheavals in Europe, especially in France and Russia. Specifically, he identified the Freemasons and the Carbonari, an anti-clerical Italian secret society, as the organisation’s prime movers and claimed the centre of the conspiracy was in the City of London banking district with branches in Germany. Dr. Encausse said the aim of this shadowy group of financiers was to gain control of the world’s gold reserves. To do this they planned to create social, political and economic instability and possibly even war between the major European powers.

The actual flashpoint that led to the First World War was a tragic event in the Bosnian city of Sarajevo. On 28 June 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his Czech wife Archduchess Sofia, were on an official visit. As their car drove through streets lined with cheering crowds a small group of fanatical assassins attacked the royal party. One threw a crude bomb at the vehicle that bounced off the bonnet and exploded on the road. The car’s occupants were unharmed but the explosion injured twenty bystanders. The would-be assassin fled the scene and was later arrested by the police after trying to commit suicide using cyanide. Having survived this attack and believing they were safe, the royal couple proceeded on. Unfortunately their driver took a wrong turn and brought his passengers into a fateful and deadly contact with the remaining assassins. One walked up to the side of car and fired two shots with his pistol, killing the archduke and his wife instantly.

The three main assassins in Sarajevo were a teenager named Gavrilo Princip, who was the shooter, and two of his equally young friends. They were all Serbian nationalists belonging to a secret society called the Order of the Black Hand. The group’s members included military officers, lawyers, civil servants and university lecturers. However, the Sarajevo assassins were young students with socialist and anarchist views who had decided to make a violent gesture against the Habsburg monarchy. When the case came to court it was claimed the young men had not acted alone and were part of a wider conspiracy with more universal objectives.

In his book L’Attentat de Sarajevo (1930) Alfred Moussett recorded that at the trial of Gavrilo Princip (Gabriel Prince in English) it was claimed a Masonic lodge in France had financed the Order of the Black Hand in their political activities. When he testified, Princip’s co-defendant Vaso Cubrilovic (1897-1990) made the fantastic claim that the assassination of Franz Ferdinand had been planned two years earlier at a meeting of senior French Freemasons in Toulouse. Allegedly at this secret gathering a sentence of death was passed on the archduke. Cabrilovic also said that the Browning automatic pistol used in the assassination had been provided by a Serbian Freemason called Ziganovic. It was also stated in court that Princip was a Mason (although he was far too young to have been one) and the group of assassins had been trained by another member of the fraternity called Tankosi.

Gavrilo Princip died in an Austrian prison in 1918 from tuberculosis, but Cubrilovic was released in November 1918 when the Allied powers won the war. After he came out of prison Cubrilovic turned into a model citizen. He was a schoolteacher and a professor at the University of Belgrade, a member of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, and after the Second World War served as a Yugoslavian government minister during the communist regime of Marshall Tito. Cubrilovic’s anti-Albanian writings in the late 1930s calling for ethnic cleansing are said to have influenced the terrible events of the Bosnian War in the 1990s.

It was widely known that Austrian Emperor Franz Josef I was paranoid about secret societies and Masonry in particular. His wife the Empress Elizabeth had been brutally stabbed to death by an assassin with secret society links in 1898. The emperor himself had been the subject of an assassination attempt by the Black Hand in 1911. Franz Josef believed French Freemasons were plotting to start a war between Austria-Hungary and Russia. The aim of such a conflict was to bring down both monarchies. His worst fears would have been confirmed by the revelation during the trial of his nephew’s murderers that the Russian military attaché in Belgrade had passed 8,000 roubles from his government to the Black Hand leadership. With this gift came a personal assurance from Tsar Nicholas II that he would support Serbia in any armed conflict with the Habsburg Empire.

The German Kaiser

Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany was a friend of Archduke Ferdinand and was shocked when he heard of his death. He immediately offered German support to crush the Order of the Black Hand.

Events soon spiralled out of control when on 28 July a still distraught Emperor Franz Josef declared war on Serbia because of the murder of his nephew and heir. In response Russia began to mobilise its military forces to defend their Serbian ally. The German kaiser told Tsar Nicholas that unless the Russian army stood down Germany would also mobilise. The demand was ignored and on 1 August Kaiser Wilhelm declared war on Russia. France and Britain were asked by the German government to remain neutral in the conflict. But two days later the German ambassador in London informed Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign Secretary, that his country’s troops planned to march through neutral Belgium into France. In defence of the Belgians and the French, Britain declared war on Germany and its allies and the First World War began. Four years later it is estimated about 16 million soldiers and civilians had been killed.

Kaiser Wilhelm, who was related through his grandmother Queen Victoria to most of the European royal families, believed the popular conspiracy theories about Freemasonry and other secret societies. These beliefs coloured both his domestic and foreign policy. Throughout the kaiser’s reign until his forced abdication in 1918 he believed Jewish elements in the German press, left-wing politics and international banking were plotting to overthrow him. When he abdicated the kaiser blamed an international conspiracy for starting the Great War, engineering Germany’s defeat and his own downfall.

Ironically, when hostilities began Kaiser Wilhelm was effectively sidelined and became a puppet ruler controlled by a military junta led by his generals. As a result he was increasingly excluded from political decisions and the day-to-day running of the war. Any support that Wilhelm had from the public and the ruling officer class faded away in 1918 when it became clear Germany was losing the war and the kaiser became a convenient scapegoat. Many blamed Wilhelm for getting the country involved in the first place. When he was told the army’s officer corps would no longer support him and popular uprisings began, Wilhelm fled by train from Berlin to a self-imposed exile in neutral Holland. There he formally announced his abdication and ended the 400 year old reign of the Hohenzollern royal dynasty in Germany.

According to the British occultist Lewis Spence in his book The Occult Causes of the Present War (1941), at his Dutch retirement home Wilhelm had an extensive library. Among the hundreds of books he collected and read were many volumes on esoteric subjects such as Freemasonry, Luciferianism, secret societies and the occult. The ex-kaiser had always been interested in occultism and Spiritualism. In fact in 1888 it was reported he had even attended a séance held to contact the spirits of the dead. However, later in life, he was to criticise and condemn some civil servants who had become involved in occult activities. Wilhelm’s interest in Spiritualism and alternative spirituality was shared by his cousin the Russian tsar and also the tsarina, who patronised the ‘holy man’ Rasputin because of his healing powers.

One of Wilhelm’s friends and regular correspondents was an English occultist with German links called Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855-1927), the husband of the composer Richard Wagner’s step-daughter, Eva. Chamberlain and Wilhelm shared similar views and the Englishman also had his own idiosyncratic ideas about German racial superiority. In the 1920s these ideas influenced the ideology of Adolf Hitler and his emerging National Socialist Party. Wilhelm invited Chamberlain to his royal court in Berlin and even arranged for his writings to be distributed among army officers and placed in school libraries.

Rudolf Steiner & the Great War

The German kaiser’s interest in the occult and esotericism was shared by the Chief of Staff of the Army, General Helmuth Von Moltke (1848-1916). He was influenced by his wife’s Austrian spiritual mentor Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the founder of the Anthroposophical Society. Today Steiner is best known for his radical education methods taught in Waldorf schools and his promotion of biodynamic agriculture.

Von Moltke first met Rudolf Steiner in 1904 and they remained friends until the end of the general’s life. One of Von Moltke’s critics, Dietrich Graf Von Hulson-Haeseler, Chief of the Military Cabinet, opposed his appointment as Chief of Staff because of his occult interests. He condemned Moltke as an irrational religious dreamer who believed in “nonsense” such as guardian angels and faith healing. Because of the criticism of his appointment, Kaiser Wilhelm ordered Von Moltke to “stop dabbling in the supernatural,” or at least keep his unusual interests private. This did not prevent the general and his wife frequently contacting Rudolf Steiner and secretly following his esoteric philosophy and teachings on subjects such as the lost continent of Atlantis, karma, reincarnation and the spiritual realm.

Rudolf Steiner was also a firm believer in the hidden power and influence of secret societies on world events and generally regarded them as satanic in nature. He believed their ultimate aim was the enslavement of the human race. In 1916 and 1917 Steiner strayed into the political arena during a series of lectures in Switzerland. In one he suggested that secret societies were responsible for the current war. Transcripts of the talks were later published in two volumes under the title The Karma of Untruthfulness: Secret Societies, the Media, and Preparations for the Great War. In one of the lectures, given on 8 January 1917, Steiner claimed that secret cabals wanted to preserve the economic position of the English speaking countries (Britain and the United States) in Europe and destroy the dominance of Germany and Austria-Hungary. The First World War certainly achieved that aim as the ruling monarchies of both power blocs were overthrown. The Austro-Hungarian empire was dismembered, while Germany became a republic. The Russian Empire collapsed to be replaced with one of the “experiments in Socialism” that resulted in the Soviet Union, as predicted by the English occultist C.G. Harrison in his lectures given over a decade before in 1893.

Ahead of his time, Steiner also warned his students of the future threat to personal freedom. He told them the Anglo-American materialistic worldview would lead to the social control of the human race and the suppression of spiritual development. Predicting the present global economic situation, Steiner said individual governments were not really in control of national finances. Instead, the international banking system was the real controller. It was infiltrated or being used by secret societies working towards an “Ahrimanic [satanic] world order” based on rationalism and materialism.

With regard to the First World War, Steiner seems to have laid the blame on a plan hatched by the British to manipulate France and Russia and create a pan-Slavic federation in south-eastern Europe. He also said that the agenda of the occult secret societies from their origin in ancient times was to preserve a monopoly on knowledge. They allegedly taught their followers that the destiny of the Anglo-Saxon race was to rule the world and Steiner gave the British Empire as an example of this process. According to the Austrian occultist, it was also the plan of the secret societies for “centuries into the future.” Steiner later identified the Russian Revolution as the work of these clandestine groups. This was because it furthered their mission of social control over millions of people using a totalitarian political system, i.e. communism.

In November 1918 the Armistice was signed between the Allied and Central European powers at the former royal palace of Versailles in France. It is said that at the signing the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, remarked it was not a real peace treaty and represented only a truce in hostilities between the major European powers. He even correctly predicted that a new war would break out between the Allies and Germany within twenty years. In September 1939 Lord Curzon’s prediction came true when Britain declared war on a Nazi Germany led by Adolf Hitler. Many historians have said it was the severe conditions of the Treaty of Versailles that humiliated the Germans which led to the Second World War.

The Hidden Hand

After what was called the Great War ended, fingers of suspicion began pointing towards hidden influences that might have been responsible for it. The famous American industrialist and founder of the Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford (1863-1947), had no doubts. Talking in the 1920s about the First World War, Ford blamed it on the machinations of a secret cabal of “Jewish bankers.” It was a belief that was not unusual and found support in many quarters, not least among those politicians and senior military personnel who had actually been involved in the Great War.

For instance, during the war Winston Churchill was the First Lord of the Admiralty in charge of the then powerful Royal Navy that ruled the world’s seas. In the 1920s Churchill expressed his admiration for the anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist Nesta Webster, who believed the Illuminati were responsible for the French and Russian Revolutions. Churchill even wrote about an international conspiracy operating behind world affairs. He mentioned Adam Weishaupt of the 18th century Bavarian Illuminati and attempts to overthrow Western civilisation in the same sentence as Karl Marx and Leon Trotsky.

On the German side, General Erich von Ludendorff, the Chief of Staff of the Army after Von Moltke, put the blame for his country’s defeat on the forces of “international Freemasonry.” He also held it responsible for bringing the United States into the war in 1917, which dramatically changed the military balance in the Allies’ favour after two years of stalemate in the trenches. Von Ludendorff was also another anti-Semite who regarded Masonry as a cover and a source of power for “international Jewry.” The general believed Kaiser Wilhelm had metaphorically been “stabbed in the back” by conspirators led by “Judeo-Freemasons” and international bankers.

On 7 March 1919 a public meeting of the Citizens’ Association in Vienna, Austria was organised by Count Czernin, the former foreign minister of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A lecture was given by Dr. Richard Schuller, once an economist in the Austrian foreign office, on the subject of ‘Freemasonry and the World War’. A nationalist politician and lawyer called Dr. Friedrich Georgi Wichtl also told the audience, which included members of local Masonic lodges, that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand had been organised by Serbian Freemasons using the Order of the Black Hand as their tool. Dr. Wichtl also accused Masons of involvement in the assassination of King Carlos I of Portugal in 1908. He was another cousin of Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany and had been murdered by two anti-monarchist republicans while visiting Lisbon.

One of the assassins, Alfredo Luis de Costa, was a journalist working for socialist publications and a Freemason. Previously he had been involved in an abortive coup against the Portuguese government. In common with Gavrilo Princip who assassinated Franz Ferdinand six years later, the killers of King Carlos had used Browning automatic pistols.

It is obvious from the overwhelming evidence that before, during and after the First World War, there was a widespread belief that the subversive activities of secret societies set the world on course for a murderous global conflict.

The notion of secret cabals manipulating world events – like sinister puppet-masters – is a powerful one in history. It is an idea that still exists today among conspiracy theorists, except that in the early 21st century secret cabals like the Illuminati, renegade Freemasons and ‘international bankers’ are said to be planning World War III. If the 1914-1918 conflict was, as optimistically claimed afterwards, the ‘war to end all wars’ then the next global war will definitely be the one that ends civilisation.

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MICHAEL HOWARD (1948–2015) was an English practitioner of Luciferian Witchcraft and a prolific author on folklore, paganism, and esoteric topics. From 1976 until his death he was the editor of The Cauldron magazine. The author of over 30 books including Pillars of Tubal Cain, The Book of Fallen Angels, Children of Cain, and Secret Societies: Their Influence and Power from Antiquity to the Present Day, Michael Howard was an exemplary practitioner and teacher of traditional craft.

The above article appeared in New Dawn 146 (Sept-Oct 2014)

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