In the recent weeks and months, various mainstream media outlets have published articles on a woman named Maximiani Portas, or Savitri Devi as was her adopted name and pseudonym. Their purpose has been to link the now-departed Devi to the current “alt-right” movement that has grown in popularity in the USA immediately before and since the election of Donald Trump, with many publications describing Devi’s works as inspiration for the modern far-right. The truth of this assertion is debatable, given that the vast majority of those involved with the nationalist movement would barely recognise her name, but it is certainly the case that those with an esoteric outlook share many of the views that Devi expressed in her various written works. However, this link is of little relevance to the purpose of this article. Instead, it is perhaps necessary to produce a brief account of Devi’s life and views free from the dogma associated with the liberal publications who have until now monopolised the topic. It is unquestionably axiomatic that every piece until now contains the usual disparaging buzzwords; Nazi, racist, reactionary and so on; therefore these can be instantly written off as not being worth the 5 minutes or so it would take to read them.
Maximiani Portas/Savitri Devi was born in 1905 to an English mother (Julia Nash) and French citizen (Maxim Portas) of Greek and Italian ancestry. Her early life was particularly challenging as she was born prematurely and alarmingly underweight, leading doctors to believe she would not survive infancy. But survive she of course did, and it is with great gratitude one should write this given her undoubted power as an intellectual and her invaluable contribution to the sphere of ideas. These ideas were formed early on and began, not with the esoteric nationalism that many now associate her with, but with the animal rights movement. This is something that moved Devi and remained with her throughout her life, causing her to take a tough stance on issues such as vegetarianism and vivisection.
Throughout her childhood Devi demonstrated an intellectual prowess rare in those so young, even for her generation, and during the 1920’s she attained two masters degrees and a PhD from the University of Lyon. Her subjects of choice were chemistry and philosophy, and in 1935 she published her first two works; the first, a doctoral thesis on the philosophical works of Theophilos Kairis; the second, a 500-page thesis on the nature of simplicity in mathematics. Her first taste of the political however came some years before in 1928, when she became enchanted by the Greek nationalist movement, leading her to renounce her French citizenship and become a Greek national. This was in an era when, after such a long period of Ottoman dominance in the region, the romantic nationalist movement was first finding its feet in Greece.
She moved to Greece permanently in 1928 and was particularly interested in the history and racial origins of the Hellenic people. It’s said she cited a Swastika found in Anatolia as he evidence that the ancient Greeks were Aryans, but one can assume that a woman of such academic vigour would have had more reasons to believe this to be the case.
The breakthrough point in Devi’s own spiritual awakening came in 1929 on a pilgrimage to Palestine, in which she began to align herself with the Nationalist Socialist movement of Europe. Bear in mind that this was at a time before a National Socialist party had ever won an election or a presidency throughout all of Europe – as we know, the NSDAP did not obtain power in Germany until 1933, and thereafter it was some 5 years before that effort was replicated elsewhere (Austria, 1938). The importance of this time frame is the demonstration that her own belief in National Socialism was not a reactionary position taken with bitterness of the outcome of the Second World War, thus she could never have been described as a “Neo-Nazi”, as some of the commentariat insist on doing.
Her first scholarly work that has since become popularised was her animal rights manifesto entitled Impeachment of Man. A work that would be considered radical by any modern or historic standard, Devi displays a conservationist, pro-vegetarian (she was a Vegan herself) and anti-vivisectionist outlook in Impeachment, which was written during the period 1945-46. The book doesn’t simply set forth a program for improving the rights and welfare of animals, however, but rather – as the title suggests – indicts mankind as demonstrating a flagrant indifference to animal suffering and a horrific disregard for non-human life forms. Furthermore, her writings synthesise standard animal rights viewpoints with her own opinions on religion and politics; Devi attributes much of the blame for contemporary animal suffering to the Abrahamic faiths, and reserves moderate space to critique ritual slaughter as practised by adherents to Judaism and Islam.
More broadly, Devi viewed the Abrahamic faiths in a deeply negative light. But in particular, and as a relevant point to her first popularised writing, she reproached them for the way in which they taught their adherents to view the animal kingdom. She acknowledged that the holy texts of the three main Judaic religions teach believers that God essentially gifted them the animal kingdom to do with as they please.
Genesis 1:28 – Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominionover the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
This went against a worldview Devi based on a synthesis between Paganism and deep-ecology. It’s unsurprising how the two go hand-in-hand, given the notion of the former that everything we interact with is sacred in some way, and the premise of the latter being that nature and the global environment is one whole living organism in which every interaction has a stated purpose. She saw the Abrahamic religions as unnatural as they seek to elevate man from his natural position within the environment and his interactions, to a position of absurd mastery, one which man can never realistically fulfil without behaving in a manner antithetical to his nature.
It was these convictions that first led Devi to India in 1932. After her experiences in Greece and Palestine researching and exploring the ancient Indo-European cultures, faiths and genealogy, she travelled to India in search of a living Pagan faith of Indo-European origin; Hinduism. It was in India that she converted to Hinduism and took the name Savitri Devi, which means ‘Sun-rays Goddess’ in Sanskrit text – the reverence of the sun as the enabler of life is a prominent trait of Pagan faiths, both ancient European and modern Hinduism. She became particularly interested in Aryan mythology, in particular the notion that what is now Persia was once the ancient homeland of the Indo-European people and that Hindu culture in the present day is the last surviving pillar of Aryan cultural and religious practise. This echos the writings of Bal Tilak and Porus Homi Havewala, who wrote of an ancient Aryan people and culture originating in the Arctic who made their way south as a result of ice sheets covering the North Pole – the latter (Porus) deviates somewhat from Devi in that he views Zoroastrianism as the true original faith of the Aryan peoples, whereas Devi believed that it was in fact Hinduism or, more broadly, Pagan polytheism.
Whilst in India, Devi offered her services to Hindu missionaries warning people of the dangers of the Abrahamic faiths. In particular, she was concerned about the spread of Christianity and Islam in the country, and authored A Warning to the Hindus in 1936 which was both an encouragement of Hindu nationalism and national independence (from the British), as well as a strong rebuke of Judeo-Christianity as a great threat to the Hindu culture and way of life.
During her time in India and throughout her adoption of Hindu culture and religious practises, Devi came to understand the period in which we’re living as the Kali Yuga*. In Hindu mythology, there are four stages or ‘Yugas’ (cycle or age) that the world passes through, with ‘Kali’ meaning vice, offering us the best translation as being the “age of vice”. During the Kali Yuga, the following aspects will be true according to the Mahābhārata text:
- Leaders will become unreasonable and levy unfair taxes
- Leaders will fail to promote spirituality
- Leaders will fail to protect their subjects
- People will begin to migrate in a myopic search for resources
- Humans will openly display animosity and hatred towards one another
- Lust will become socially acceptable
- Sexual intercourse will become the primary pillar of life
- Sin will increase; virtue will disappear
- People will become addicted to alcohol and drugs
- Spiritual leaders will lose all respect they once commanded
*(I intend to write a further article dedicated solely to the concept of Kali Yuga, as it is most certainly a subject that requires a more in-depth insight.)
Regardless of your attribution of these points to either a positive or negative result, one can not dispute that the world in which we live is unfolding in a remarkably similar way to how it is defined in the Kali Yuga. The ancient Indo-Aryan texts date this cycle of life to have begun in 3102 BCE, but when Devi herself would have dated the advent of this age is unclear. What is clear, however, is that she believed this to be the present cycle of humanity that we are and have been passing through for some time, and was an ardent opponent of this cycle.
It’s from this topic that we can explore some of Devi’s more esoteric views and the ones which she is perhaps most famous for within far-right circles. Perhaps her most infamous opinion is that on Adolf Hitler whom she viewed as the personification of the Hindu God Vishnu, come to banish the Kali Yuga and save the Indo-European peoples from the age of vice. This is a view held by many in the circle of esoteric Nordicism, with many viewing Hitler as a Woden archetype – not the God himself, nor a messenger, but a synthesis of God-like characteristics and the human Wille zur Macht (“will to power” – a concept disseminated by Nietzsche, developed from Schopenhauer’s Wille zum Leben, or “will to life”).
This view of Adolf Hitler as the Woden/Vishnu archetype was best expressed by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, whose interest in European mythology and folk psychology led him to pen an essay on the topic in 1936, entitled Hitler as Personification of the Woden Archetype. Here, Jung discusses the way in which Hitler enticed the masses of German youth and many millions more to march as one, as if possessed by the spirit of the ancient Germanic God Woden. Referencing Nietzsche’s work on religion and the ancient Indo-Aryan prophet Zarathustra, Jung explained Hitler as the synthesis of ancient Germanic folk Gods and modern society with all its trials and tribulations. This is very similar to how Devi herself viewed Hitler, except she used the Hindu name Vishnu instead of the Germanic Woden (Wotan/Odin) to express this view. This is no contradiction, given that many believe Vishnu and Woden to be one in the same, separated only by linguistic evolution. Her 1959 book, The Lightening and the Sun, gave flesh to these views and publicised them to the world.
However, this was not the first evidence of her post-war reverence of Adolf Hitler. Her activities during and immediately after the war, whilst courageous, brought her into conflict with the allied authorities on numerous occasions – she was at serious risk of deportation from the British Raj (colonial India) until she married a native Bengali, also a Hindu and an adherent to Indo-Aryan mythology. In the late 1930’s, Devi used her connections to broker a meeting between Subhas Chandra Bose – the leader of a pro-Axis Indian independence movement – and representatives of Imperial Japan. Through the early 1940’s and for a large part of the war she continued to assist the Axis cause mostly by way of passing information to the Japanese about the British colonialists, whilst her husband Asit Krishna Mukherji edited the pro-German newspaper New Mercury.
In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, Savitri devi travelled to Europe visiting England (1945) and later France and Denmark. In 1948 she first entered Germany and distributed thousands of copies of pro-National Socialist leaflets, urging Germans to “hold fast to our glorious National Socialist faith, and resist!”. With this, she was one of the earliest victims of the thought police. Her efforts to rekindle the National Socialist flame brought her into conflict with the allied occupation forces and the law of the newly established Federal Republic. A court in Düsseldorf sentenced her to 2 years’ imprisonment in April 1949, for sedition and the promotion of National Socialist “propaganda” – which in itself turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Devi, for she befriended many ex-SS and NSDAP officials whilst serving her sentence. An account of her time in post-war Germany can be found in her book, Gold in the Furnace (1952).
Whether one appreciates Savitri Devi’s views or finds them utterly abhorrent, what is undeniable is that she was an intellectual colossus of what we can perhaps appropriately term the European mysticism movement. She had masters degrees in both Chemistry and Philosophy, a PhD in Mathematics and could speak 8 languages fluently – not the stereotype of the ‘far-right’ that those in the commentariat strive to portray. Her contributions to the interpretation of European mythology and debate on the metapolitics of our age are unrivalled in terms of intellectual skill or literary prowess, and for this reason Savitri Devi is a figure who should be studied by anybody seeking greater depth in the realms of European politics and history. To simply write her off as a “mythical fascist” as one article in the BBC did recently is to do a great disservice to her work, not to mention to undoubtedly fill the void with philosophers and analysts of considerably lesser skill.