A review of Lucifer Rising: British Intelligence and the Occult in the Second World War by Nicholas Booth…
In 1941, after Rudolf Hess made his notorious flight to Scotland to negotiate an alliance between Britain and Germany against the Russians, the panic-stricken authorities in Berlin blamed his eccentric mission on “a host of magnetotherapists and astrologers” who formed part of the Deputy Fuhrer’s inner circle.
The SS duly set about rounding up hundreds of “astrologers, fortune-tellers and other swindlers” in an attempt to discover who might have aided Hess by giving him, for example, the most propitious date for his departure. This led to one of the more bizarre exchanges ever recorded in an interrogation room. “What are your aspects like at this time?” the man from the Gestapo asked one suspect.
The astrologer replied that Uranus was close to his Ascendant and the sun was transiting his Saturn. “In which house?” demanded the clearly astrology-literate interrogator. “The ninth.” “Then at the moment nothing should surprise you.”
Wonderfully barmy anecdotes such as these are the unique selling point of this entertaining look at the role of the various mumbo-jumbo specialists involved in intelligence gathering during the Second World War.
The cast of characters includes Aleister Crowley, an occultist who rejoiced in his title of the “wickedest man in the world”, Mansfield Cumming, a head of MI5 who discomfited colleagues at meetings by stabbing himself in his wooden leg and Louis de Wohl, an astrologer who described himself as The Modern Nostradamus. The latter was once hired by Sefton Delmer, a former chief foreign correspondent of the Daily Express who became a naval intelligence officer during the war, to launch a bogus astrological magazine aimed at U-boat crews. De Wohl established its credibility by incorporating the dates of known sinkings and backdating his predictions.
On the back of this, the magazine sowed uncertainty. In Germany astrologer Wilhelm Wulff was seconded to a naval institute where they used pendulums to locate Allied submarines. Despite banning occult societies and making the casting of horoscopes illegal, Hitler regularly hired a physician from Munich who claimed his pendulum gave him the power to sense the presence of Jews. But it was Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, who comes across as the biggest crank at the top of the Nazi Party. “Göring is worried about the stars on his chest,” said one senior Nazi, referring to his medals, “Himmler about those in his horoscopes.” All this nonsense is great fun but the personal accounts and wartime records on which Booth bases much of his research suffer respectively from exaggeration and redaction.