Monday, July 28, 2008


It is a singular fact of history that at any given moment, Greeks will make their presence felt in the most unexpected of places and in the most incongruous of manifestations. Undoubtedly, one of these would have to be Savitri Devi, the pseudonym of the French-Greek writer Maximiani Portas, philosopher, occult thinker and deluded doyen of discredited beliefs. Hacing become, at an early age, enamoured with Hinduism and Nazism, she spent most of her life trying to synthesise the two. In doing so, she ended up proclaiming Adolf Hitler an avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu. Her strange writings have done much to influence Neo-nazism and the trash that masquerades as Nazi mysticism. Although hysterically mystical in her conception of Nazism, Savitri Devi saw Nazism as a practical faith without the requirement of metaphysics. Among Savitri Devi's novel ideas was the classifications of "men above time", "men in time" and "men against time". She is credited with pioneering neo-Nazi interest in occultism, Deep Ecology, and the New Age movement. Her works have been major influences on the Libertarian Nationalist Socialist Green Party and activist Bill White. Far-rightist Italian and self-described "Nazi Maoist" Claudio Mutti was influenced by reading her book: Pilgrimage as an idealistic teenager. As a young bodyguard for British fascist leader Colin Jordan, former fascist David Myatt was enthralled by one of her other books: The Lightning and the Sun. In the U.S., James Mason, whose Universal Order movement bears strong resemblance to her views, has paid tribute to her in his book Siege. The Lightning and the Sun has also earned the dubious recommendation by Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, formerly of the Charles Manson gang. So profound an influence has she exercised over such writers of the lunatic fringe as the Chilean diplomat and neo-Gnostic philosopher Miguel Serrano, that Professor Revilo Oliver was prompted to write that he saw the potentiality of a future religion venerating Adolf Hitler "in the works of a highly intelligent and learned lady of Greek ancestry, Dr. Savitri Devi." Perhaps her dubious role in history is best summed up by far-right Italian intellectual Francisco Freda, who in 1982 published a German translation of her book Gold in the Furnace. In the fourth volume of his annual review, Risguardo, he referred to Savitri Devi as the "missionary of Aryan Paganism".
Born as Maximiani Julia Portas, in 1905 in Lyon, Savitri Devi was the daughter of a Greek father and an English mother. She was born two and a half months premature, weighing only 930 grams and was expected to not live. From a young age, she formed extreme political views. From childhood and throughout her life, she was a passionate advocate for animal rights, which was related to her views of Jews as the practitioners of Kosher slaughter. Her earliest political affiliations were with Greek nationalism. She supported the incorporation of all lands inhabited by Greeks into a single entity, as well as the incorporation of various elements of the Spartan constitution in governments. During World War I, she was so outraged by the Triple Entente's invasion of neutral Greece that she committed her first overt political act: At age eleven, , she chalked anti-Entente slogans on the Lyons railway station: "Down with the Allies, Long Live Germany."
Portas studied philosophy and chemistry, earning two Masters degrees and a Ph.D in philosophy from the University of Lyons. Her first two books were her doctoral dissertations: Critical Essay on Theophilius Kaïris and Mathematical Simplicity (1935). Portas impressed her teachers with her vibrant, penetrating mind. Fascinatingly, she was the tutor of the famous philosopher and psychoanalyst Cornelius Castoriadis as he revealed in a French radio interview, just before his death in 1997.
In 1928 Portas renounced her French citizenship and became a Greek national. While studying in Athens her political nationalism, along with a fascination with Greco-Roman antiquity and a mistrust of Christianity, evolved into a broader pagan racialism, and a visit to Palestine in 1929 convinced her that Judeo-Christianity, whose outward observances in the Holy Land repelled her, was an alien intrusion into the West, distorting its natural spiritual evolution and imposing upon it a sterile monotheism and a servile philo-Semitism. It was in Palestine, she later said, that she first realized she was a National Socialist.
In 1932 she traveled to India, in search of the Aryan paganism that Judeo-Christianity had supplanted. On the subcontinent she sought "gods and rites akin to those of ancient Greece, of ancient Rome, of ancient Britain and ancient Germany, that people of our race carried there, with the cult of the Sun, six thousand years ago." Her exemplar was Julian the Apostate, the fourth-century Byzantine emperor who briefly restored paganism and the cult of the Sun to the Empire. She studied Hindi and Bengali at Rabindranath Tagore's Shanti Niketan school and travelled around the country. Feeling ready to face Indian audiences, she offered her services as an anti-Christian preacher to Swami Satyananda's Hindu Mission in Calcutta, a lineal ancestor of the modern Indian People's Party. In 1937-39, under her given Hindu name Savitri Devi, adopted in honour of the Indo-Aryan sun-god, she toured the tribal villages and had the chiefs organize public debates between herself and the local missionaries. Thoroughly familiar with the mentality and methods of her adversary, she could destroy the credit of the imported religion in the minds of the villagers, and prevent or undo many conversions. Her new racialist Hinduism was a reflection of her National Socialist beliefs: In the swastika, the Aryan sun-wheel, she saw "the visible link between Hitler and orthodox Hinduism."
In 1940, largely to avoid deportation for her pro-Axis activities, Devi married the Bengali Brahman Asit Krishna Mukherji, editor of the openly Nazi journal New Mercury. During the war the couple gathered intelligence on behalf of the Axis, and Mukherji put militant nationalist Subhas Chandra Bose, then in Berlin, in contact with the Japanese, who would later support his Indian National Army in its abortive campaign against the British.
Devi was overwhelmed by Germany's defeat and post-war dismemberment. She returned to Europe in 1945 determined to propagandize on behalf of her now reviled Nazi beliefs, staying briefly in London where she published "Son of God", her study of Akhenaton's solar religion, France, Iceland wqher she viewed the eruption of Mount Hekla, Scotland, where she began her most influential work, Lightning and the Sun, and Sweden, where she met Sven Hedin, the famous Tibetan explorer and committed national socialist.
In 1948 and 1949, at the height of de-nazification, she conducted a series of clandestine propaganda missions into a prostrate Germany still devastated by mass starvation and the Allied terror bombing, distributing leaflets and posting handbills urging resistance to the often brutal occupation:
"Men and women of Germany! In the midst of untold hardships and suffering, hold fast to your glorious National Socialist faith and resist! Defy our persecutors ... Nothing can destroy that which is built on truth. We are the pure gold put to test in the furnace. Let the furnace blaze and roar. Nothing can destroy us. One day we shall rebel and triumph again. Hope and wait. Heil Hitler!"
Devi was eventually arrested along with a comrade in February 1949, convicted of promoting national socialist ideas, and sentenced to six years imprisonment, of which she served only six months, returning to Lyons in the summer of 1949. There she wrote Defiance and completed Gold in the Furnace, both based on her experiences in occupied Germany.
In April of 1953, she obtained a Greek passport in her maiden name in order to re-enter Germany, and she began a pilgrimage, as she called it, of Nazi holy sites. She flew from Athens to Rome then travelled by rail over the Brenner Pass into " Greater Germany" (Austria) which she regarded as "[t]he spiritual home of all racially conscious modern Aryans," despite the fact that, the Avesta makes no mention of Europe as a part of the Airyana-shayana ("abode of the Aryans") nor do the Vedas, or other Hindu scriptures. She travelled to a number of sites significant in the life of Adolf Hitler and the German Nazi Party), as well as German nationalist and heathen monuments, such as the Hermannsdenkmal and the Externsteine, the former a monument honoring Hermann's defeat of the Romans in A.D. 9, the latter a reputed pagan solar temple, where she supposedly experienced a mystical revelation of eventual Aryan victory, as recounted in her 1958 book Pilgrimage.
Savitri Devi exalted Hitler as a "man against time" who tried to uphold "Aryan" virtues against the degeneracy of modern times. In her most important book, The Lightning and the Sun (1958), she saw him as the third member of a historic trinity: Akhenaton, the first monotheist, the "sun"; Genghiz Khan, the greatest conqueror, the "lightning"; and Hitler, who combined the Pharaoh's philosophical depth with the Khan's martial prowess. One observation which emerges from Savitri Devi's ideological writings, is that she had a rather confused view of religion. If she opposed the Christian destruction of Pagan temples, why did she venerate Akhenaton, the first known temple-destroyer, the first known believer in a single god intolerant of others? Why did she extol Genghiz Khan? Why did she persist in her anti-Semitism, when the last Pagan Emperor of Rome, Julian the Apostate (to whom she dedicated her A Warning to the Hindus), preferred the Jews to the Christians and planned to rebuild the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem? Savitri Devi's view of the religious dimension of Hitlerism was equally fanciful. She wrote that Nazism had the "capability of becoming very fast, once associated with rituals, a real religion." But Hitler himself opposed those among his fans who dreamed of a new religion. In Mein Kampf, he affirmed that the Nazi movement "is not a religious reform but a political reorganization of the German people", and that "it is criminal to try and destroy the accepted faith of the people as long as there is nothing to replace it".
Devi a sorely troubled and confused woman, returned to India in 1957, but was back in Europe three years later. The friendships she had made during her imprisonment with former guards of the women's sections of Nazi concentration camps. provided her with an entrée into the murky world of post-war national socialism - she was already on friendly terms with such fascist luminaries as Hans Rudel, Otto Skorzeny, and Leon Degrelle --and while living in London she became involved with the politics of the British Racial Right, attending, along with George Lincoln Rockwell, the international World Union of National Socialists conference in the Cotswalds in 1962, site of the famous Cotswalds Declaration.
In 1960, after a decade of wandering, often using her maiden name to enter countries where "Savitri Devi" was blacklisted, she settled down in France, where she eked out a living as a schoolteacher, occasionally causing trouble for herself by voicing denials of the Holocaust in class. After 1969, she was entitled to a small pension, just enough for her to live in India. In 1971, she flew from Paris to Bombay. In August she moved to New Delhi, where she lived alone, with a number of cats and at least one cobra. She spent most of the 1970s, corresponding with her comrades abroad and influencing a number of young fascists who visited her in Delhi. In 1982, already unable to read or to walk unaided, she prepared for a lecture tour as an invitee of the American Nazi Party. On her way to the US, she stayed in a friend's house outside London, where she took ill and died from heart failure during her sleep. Her ashes were transferred to Arlington, Virginia, where the Nazi Party gave them a place of honour in its shrine.
Perhaps Devi's greatest tragedy was that she did not, Maxwell Smart-like, exercise her powers for good instead of evil. Some of her early work, notably the 1940 work: The Non-Hindu Indians and Indian Unity was profound in that it promoted the idea that India must put aside social prejudice and communal hatred to create the political unity to achieve independence. Had her world view been not so skewed, she may have been remembered as a significant social theorist rather than a demented lunatic with a sordid legacy. Her sorry life only confirms the old agage that a mind, truly is, a terrible thing to waste.

First published in NKEE on 28 July 2008