“The Spear of Destiny”: Hitler, the Hapsburgs and the Holy Grail


The cover of Trevor Ravenscroft’s The Spear of Destiny</em?

The cover of Trevor Ravenscroft’s The Spear of Destiny

Although ‘serious historians’ don’t like to discuss it, ‘alternative historians’ have presented evidence that the Nazis had more than a passing interest in the occult and pseudosciences that overlap with it. Beginning with Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier’s Le Matin des Magiciens, a number of writers have explored these themes in some detail, although they often lay stress on different aspects of mystical claims. In many cases, the writer’s own specific religious, mystical or occult beliefs colour their accounts.

One classic of the genre is Trevor Ravenscroft’s (1921-1989) The Spear of Destiny: the occult power behind the spear which pierced the side of Christ (Neville Spearman, 1972). This focuses on the alleged occult power of a spear, known as the Holy Lance of Vienna (or the Hofburg Spear), which forms part of the regalia of the Hapsburg monarchs and with which, according to Ravenscroft, Hitler was obsessed. The basic details have been repeated by other writers within the ‘occult history’ genre, for whom Ravenscroft appears to be regarded as a reliable authority.

Outline of Ravenscroft’s account

Trevor Ravenscroft begins his book by introducing us to Dr Walter Johannes Stein (1891-1957), whom he portrays as his spiritual mentor. He tells how Stein had intended to begin work on a book on the theme of The Spear of Destiny in 1957, but collapsed only three days after making the decision to do so and died in hospital soon after. Ravenscroft is claiming to act almost as a posthumous amanuensis for the book. As we will see, this is highly significant.

Water colour view of Vienna Opera House by Adolf Hitler, painted during his desitute years in Vienna

Water colour view of Vienna Opera House by Adolf Hitler, painted during his desitute years in Vienna

The early part of the book is effectively a biography of the years Adolf Hitler spent in Vienna as a down-and-out, an understandably poorly documented period of the future Führer’s life. Ravenscroft’s religious beliefs shine through the writing, which is peppered with exclamation marks, and it soon becomes clear that he wishes to explain Hitler’s peculiar evil as a result of Satanic possession or, at least, influence. There is remarkably little discussion of the Spear, given that it is supposed to be the focus of the book. We are given a brief account of Hitler’s first view of the Spear and that is about it for Part One.

Nevertheless, in this section of the book, Ravenscroft has much to say about Hitler’s alleged interest in the Grail, although it is a very different sort of Grail from that of the Arthurian legends: this one is more related to medieval alchemy. It was this interest that is said to have brought Hitler into contact with Walter Stein in 1911, when Ravenscroft claims that Stein purchased a copy of a nineteenth-century edition of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s (c 1170 – c 1220) Parzival, with learned but troubling annotations in Hitler’s handwriting, from a dingy second-hand bookshop.

Part Two of the book introduces us to Dietrich Eckart (1868-1923), Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855-1927), Helmuth Johann Ludwig von Moltke (1848-1916) and the Thule-Gesellschaft, among numerous other characters and organisations. Once again, the Spear is almost absent and Ravenscroft concentrates on the influence of the various éminences grises whom he portrays as nurturing the evil spirit in possession of Adolf Hitler, who is little more than an empty vessel for a demonically orchestrated plan. It is remarkably dull stuff, but I don’t understand why people are obsessed with the Nazis to the point that the “History” sections of many bookshops are filled mostly with books about them.

Walter Stein (1891-1957) Source

Walter Stein (1891-1957) Source

The third and final part of the book returns to Walter Stein and his alleged interest in the Spear. We are told that Stein was a reincarnation of Hugo of Tours, an obscure contemporary of Charlemagne, who, according to Stein, had been instrumental in bringing various relics (including the Pręputium Domini, allegedly the foreskin of Jesus) to France. Then we return to Nazi history and racial theories, which Ravenscroft traces back to Madame Blavatsky (1831-1891) and her magnum opus, The Secret Doctrine. There is no critical evaluation of Blavatsky or her ideas of human development that run completely counter to anything understood by twentieth-century anthropologists. We are told about Hilter’s special hatred for Rudolf Steiner and of Steiner’s own interest in the Spear before returning to Nazi history and the rise of Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945). Himmler’s antiquarian obsessions are well known and included an interest in the Hapsburg regalia, of which the Spear is a part. Finally, on page 316, we are told how Hitler took the Spear from its case in the Schatzkammer (Treasury) of the Hofburg Museum on the day of his entry to Vienna following the Anschluss that incorporated Austria into Greater Germany. Then we lose sight of it again until the end of the Second World War, when it was allegedly discovered by Lieutenant Walter William Horn (1908-1995) at the very moment of Hitler’s suicide on 30 April 1945.

Problems with Ravenscroft’s account

Trevor Ravenscroft (1921-1989)

Trevor Ravenscroft (1921-1989) Source

It is evident from an early stage in the book that Trevor Ravenscroft was a follower of Anthroposophy, an offshoot of Theosophy that combines many of Helena Blavatsky’s eccentric ideas about the development of humanity with a more radically Christian viewpoint. This by itself ought not to disqualify the book as a work of serious history: instead, we should be alerted to the special colouring it lends to some of his analyses. Nevertheless, this is not the only problem with the book.

A greater problem with The Spear of Destiny is that Ravenscroft writes in a style that is decidedly novelistic, reporting not only direct speech in whole conversations, but also thoughts and motivations. This is a phenomenon I have noted before, where a detailed and circumstantial account turns out to have been written originally as fiction but repeated, misunderstood (perhaps wilfully), by an ‘alternative’ writer. This is clearly not the case here, as Ravenscroft is the primary authority and he is not repeating or rewriting someone else’s text. This technique is perhaps closer to that used by Gérard de Sède in Le Trésor Maudit de Rennes-le-Château, in his reproduction of whole conversations whose content he cannot possibly have known.

The problems grow when we discover that, despite his lengthy description of his first meeting with Walter Stein and their developing relationship, Trevor Ravenscroft and Stein never actually met. Ravenscroft does seem to have had access to Stein’s papers, through his widow, but he admitted in 1982 that his contact with the man himself was conducted entirely through a medium: in other words, he was in contact with Walter Stein’s spirit. This is thus a form of historical research conducted by séance!

There are also gross historical errors that ought never to have made it into the book. The most significant of these is the date at which Walter Horn discovered the Hapsburg imperial regalia, including the Spear: it was not, as Ravenscroft states, at the exact moment of Hitler’s suicide but in 1946. This easily verifiable fact has been altered to suit the narrative of the book, according to which the Spear has an occult power that gives great power to whoever possesses it.

The Spear of Destiny (the Vienna Lance)

The Spear of Destiny (the Vienna Lance) Source

The Spear itself

Even if we allow that Ravenscroft embellished his story, at the very least, is there any evidence that the Vienna Lance is what Ravenscroft claimed it to be, the spear (λόγχῃ) that, according to the Gospel According to Saint John (XIX.34), pierced the side of the dead Jesus, as he hung on the cross? Is there any evidence to connect it with a Roman soldier (often given the rank of centurion) named Longinus in christian mythology (Gospel of Nicodemus A Text XVI.9, B text XI.1)? We are entering a murky world of objects that were venerated in the medieval church as relics, tangible links with the stories of the Bible.

The first issue to address is that, as with so many religious relics, the Vienna Lance is not the only one. There are at least three others, including one in St Peter’s (Vatican City) and another in Vagharshapat (Վաղարշապատ, Armenia). The question of identity does not seem to have occurred to Trevor Ravenscroft, yet, if the idea that the very spear that pierced the side of Jesus has an occult power, the identity of the specific object is crucial to its possession of any such power (assuming, against all probability, that this sort of occult power has any reality). So, what is the claim of the Vienna Lance to be that very spear?

The Vienna Lance is first attested in the reign of Otto I (912-973, “The Great”) as Holy Roman Emperor (961-973). It became part of the Reichskleinodien (official regalia) of the Empire in 1424, when Sigismund of Luxembourg (1368-1437, Emperor 1433-1437) assembled a group of artefacts to be kept in Nürnberg (Nuremberg, Germany) as the official coronation and ceremonial accoutrements of the Emperor. During the Revolutionary Wars of 1796, when the French army was close to Nürnberg, the Reichkleinodien were given to Aloys Freiherr von Hügel (1754-1825) for transport to Vienna, where they remained until 1938. In that year, the Nazi hierarchy took the collection to Nürnberg, where they were hidden on the Allies’ advance toward the city in 1945. They were recovered thanks to the efforts of Walter Horn, a medievalist working in the US Army, whose knowledge of both the history of the Holy Roman Empire and the German language, was able to ascertain their hiding place in 1946. They were returned to Vienna and remain in the Schatzenkammer in the Hofburg Museum.

That much is the recent history of the Vienna Lance. However, if it is the spear that was thrust into the dying body of Jesus on the cross, its history must be traced back farther than Otto I in the later tenth century CE. According to Trevor Ravenscroft, Walter Stein believed it to be among the relics brought to France by the shadowy Hugo of Tours. This much is possible; the Hofburg Museum has long believed it to be of Carolingian date (eighth or ninth century). However, it was examined by Robert Feather in 2003 as part of a television documentary and shown to be of a seventh-century type. It has been plausibly identified as a lance used in Lombard king-making, although it has been modified to take a nail of Roman type (said to be one of the nails from the True Cross), effectively christianising an originally pagan object. Charlemagne was crowned King of the Lombards in 774, which provides a context for its incorporation into the imperial regalia.

The other lances have equally complex histories, none of which take us back any farther than the Early Middle Ages. They are not relevant to the story of the “Spear of Destiny”, as no claims have been made for their occult power. What this means, though, is that Ravenscroft’s claims are, essentially, rubbish. The spear he alleges so obsessed Hitler is an early medieval artefact, of probably Lombard origin; its connection with christian myth is a later accretion.

Some have suggested that Ravenscroft was writing fiction. There is even a suggestion that Ravenscroft’s publisher persuaded him to market what was written as a novel as non-fiction, but this does not seem to be borne out by the evidence. Instead, it seems to be the work of a fantasist, making claims to possess knowledge hidden from others. The case is closed.

Postscript

I have been working on this post for almost a month. I have found it hard going and it has turned more into a duty than a pleasure. This seems to be more than my utter lack of interest in the Nazis (other than distaste for their twisted ideology and willing adoption of any old bit of pseudoscience and Bad Archaeology that would prop up their pernicious and wrong claims for German racial superiority), but I can’t work out what has held me back. Perhaps I needed time to think about how best to write this in a way that was not plain sneering, something I always try to avoid, no matter how ludicrous the claim I am examining.

  1. I think some of the appeal for general readers is the complete wierdness of the Nazi worldview. It’s not just some expantionist political movement but a more complex and confusing jumble of ideas and it is the more obscure or fanciful parts that attract morbid curiosity. Of course, there is plenty of myth tied up in all this as well and considering the reality, it’s easy to believe just about anything if you involve Nazis.

    Incidently, there is a readable book on the actual occult work of some obscure Nazi offices: Heather Anne Pringle, The master plan, (Hyperion: New York, 2006). If you can stand any more of it.

    • Dale P
    • December 30th, 2012

    The fascination with the Nazi’s is fairly easy to explain: It’s a real wonder how an otherwise civilized and cultured people could fall under the spell of the likes of Hitler and his gang of thugs and criminals. The ‘behind the scenes’ of any court/power circle holds its own fascination, from the political science aspect to just simple celebrity watching. Hitler’s court, which went from being on top of world to just a dank bunker in Berlin that was literally surrounded by the enemy, is especially dramatic.

    • You’re right. Someone, I can’t remember who, said that the horror of the Nazis was how the people who gave us Goethe and Beethoven could fall for a wicked charlatan like Hitler. But I suspect that’s part of the story: there was no German nation when Goethe and Beethoven produced their art, but Hitler and the Nazis elevated Germanness to a level that the German people in general could never have foreseen and in a way that really spoke to their sense of identity. The thing that I find constantly surprising is how we tend to think of Nazism as ideologically driven when it was just a mess of inconsistent and incoherent concepts twisted into a fanatical hatred of “the other”. We should never forget that the Nazis were not only anti-semitic: they hounded communists, homosexuals, the mentally ill, the disabled, political dissidents… anyone who didn’t share their world view.

      I suppose that a large part of my distaste is the same as my dislike of the modern worship of celebrity (but with the added horror of knowing how they were able to put their hatred into concrete form: celebrity watching hasn’t yet gone that far).

        • Nash
        • January 2nd, 2013

        I was lent this book to read in 1980. My principal thought was that if the Spear was so powerful, why was Austria taken over by Germany? Why did the Nazis lose the war?

    • Martin
    • January 5th, 2013

    @Dale, if you want to know why that sort of thing could happen, check out the Millgram Experiment – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millgram_study. Keith, you missed off Gypsies, but an excellent post all the same.

    • Brian Hunter
    • January 8th, 2013

    The Pringle Book is OK, though just a little weighted towards the (no doubt comforting) view that the SS Ahnenerbe (which is what it’s mostly about) was all about inventing archaeological evidence to sustain the wilder fantasies about prehistory imagined by various fringe writers whom Himmler had picked up on (Himmler, incidentally, was the one who took these fantasies about Aryan/Germanic origins seriously; Hitler was a great deal less persuaded and apt to mock Himmler’s obsessions). The reality seems to be a bit more complex and uncomfortable- most Ahnenerbe archaeologists were “properly” trained and certificated and most Ahnenerbe digs were done according to the professional conventions of the day. On occasions this professionalism saw them at odds with party activist amateurs over particular sites (the so-called Irminsul site in central Germany being a good example). The issues came after the sites had been dug ,over how the finds were interpreted (and sometimes over dating questions). All of which helps to explain why many German archaeologists with Ahnenerbe jobs on their CV still managed to get jobs in post-1945 german academia (where of course it was very much in their interest to stress the role of the lunatic fringe).

  2. One of the best introductions to the subject. No-one can cover all aspects, but from my perspective there are omissions about the examination of the Spear I was privileged to perform in 2003 in Vienna and the subsequent documentaries by National Geographic in 2003 and 2010 – all mentioned in my website. robert-feather.com

    I have also published a factional thriller ‘A Clash of Steel’ (available on Kindle) which includes a lot of details about the metallurgical tests I was able to perform at a nearby arts institute, incidentally the place that Hitler was rejected by when he applied to study painting there.

    • iamnobodyspecial
    • April 16th, 2013

    I read that book years ago, it gave me a good chuckle.
    Jesus never existed. So no spear. Simple answer.
    The world loves to read about “the wicked Nazi’s” because thats what the propaganda masters have decreed will make them money.

    • You may be correct about the Spear, as portrayed in the NT but there are just too many external references to Jesus for him to be a figment of someone’s imagination. Read my book the Secret initiation of Jesus at Qumran, where the evidence is laid out. You might also find my ‘A Clash of Steet’ of interest, especially as what I predicted is actually starting to happen.
      Robert Feather

    • TOM
    • December 31st, 2013

    Excellent examination of all this, but I find myself wondering what exactly Ravenscroft claims his “Spear of Destiny” DOES. Is the nature of its powers just not relevant to its veracity, or is the book really that incredibly vague?

    • That’s one of the frustrating things about the book that put me off trying to deal with it: it’s like trying to handle jelly. It works by giving the reader impressions rather than data. Yes, Ravenscroft claims the spear had “power”, and it’s a “power” that gives its owner immense “power”, too. But that “power” is never defined. In that sense, it reminds me of New Agers’ “subtle energies” that are so elusive that no measuring instrument can detect them.

      • No-one can answer for Trevor Ravenscroft, but a character in my book, ‘A Clash of Steel’ by the name of ‘Ivor Cravenstorf’, has a fair stab at defining some of the reasons the Spear took on some ‘supernatural’ powers. Part of the mystique is the reality of its possessors apparently being aided in their military conquests, and partly by the strange coincidences of their failures and deaths when they lost ownership. Hitler saw more into the powers that it conveyed, partly because of his obsession with Wagner’s vision of the Spear in his opera ‘Parsifal’, and Patton suffered a similar fate very shortly after the Spear was taken from him.
        Robert Feather

        • But the Austrian domination of the world hasn’t happened as a result of getting the Spear back, so…

          • TOM
          • January 3rd, 2014

          Funny how many artifacts find their way into the hands of conquering military powers, and then get lost at about the time the resident power starts to decline.

    • maryjanemonarch
    • January 2nd, 2014

    I did a bing image search for “The Spear of Destiny”, after seeing a commercial on MILITARY channel 5 am NY. I must say this is the best debate I have ever read online. I am also happy to find so much information. I plan on reading all of these books.

  1. January 4th, 2013

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