Monday, April 25, 2011

U is for ... Ultima Thule

U is also for Untimely; V, W, X, and Y posts are all due by Friday of this week. Perhaps the stars will align helpfully...

Thule (rhymes with Julie) was, from antiquity and well into medieval times, the name for a geographical region in the far north of Europe. Believed originally to be an island - the Gaelic name for Iceland is Innis Tile, which literally means "Island of Thule" - it is nowadays commonly accepted that the region referred to by ancient texts as Thule was probably Norway.

Thule was first described by the explorer Pytheas, although even ancient historians such as Strabo and Polybius considered his to be an unreliable account. In fact, information on the historical Thule is remarkably vague; one of the few matters on which all sources agree is its location in the distant North. The Latin expression ultima Thule means - more or less - "beyond the known world", or "off the map." In the context that identifies Thule with Iceland specifically, Ultima Thule is identified with Greenland; but the expression is more poetic than literal. Virgil employs "Ultima Thule" as a symbol for an unattainable goal; Poe cites it as a "Dream-land" in his 1844 poem of that name.

One relatively modern mention of Ultima Thule was in the Dutch manuscript known as the Oera Linda, a collection of mythic, historic, and religious writings purported to date back as far as 2000 BC. Almost certainly, its provenance was much more recent, although as with many esoteric texts the intent of its author or authors is as mysterious as his, her, or their identity; whether it represents an earnest attempt at scholarship, an elaborate hoax, a parody, or a work of imaginative fiction comparable with Borges' fictitious history in Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, is an open question to this day. It was presented to a librarian in Friesland, Holland, in 1867 by one Cornelius Over de Linden, suspected by many of being the book's originator - he claimed to have inherited it from his grandfather, although various evidences support the contention that it was actually a product of the 1850s.

The substance of the Oera Linda manuscript is a remarkable if rather unorthodox revisionist history of the world, in which all the modern races of the world are traced back to an Aryan master race whose Frisian culture, a matriarchal society centered on the worship of the Norse goddess Freya, originated in Northern Europe. It mentions, not only Thule, but also Atlantis as centers of this ancient civilization, which is claimed to have fostered both the Greek and Phoenician alphabets. An inspiration for the Theosophists, and thence Crowley's Thelema - although Crowley was more a crypto-Egyptian than a crypto-Nordic occultist - and the modern revival of neo-pagan Wicca, the Oera Linda was also a favorite among the high command of Nazi Germany: indeed, it was referred to as "Himmler's Bible," and was a focus of study at the Ahnenerbe, a Nazi think tank attempting to vindicate the vile Nazi belief that Aryan peoples were naturally superior to all others.

The consensus that the Oera Linda documents - made available in 1933 in a German translation by Herman Wirth - were forgeries, should have prompted a rethink: instead, it was the prelude to a wide-ranging exercise in self-delusion that took Nazi Nordicists to the Arctic, Tibet, and the Ukraine, among other far-flung destinations. Sketchy reports from early visitors to the Canary Islands of blond-haired and blue-eyed Guanche natives were sufficient to spark talk of an investigative trip there, but Generalissimo Franco's uncooperative attitude towards Nazi Germany dissuaded the eager seekers after truth from following up on this lead.

As with so many manifestations of the Nazi regime, the Ahnenerbe combined the ridiculous with the sublimely evil; among its many projects as the war progressed, it absorbed the Institut fur Wehrwissenschaftliche Zweckforschung - the macabre "Institute for Military Scientific Research" that performed unthinkably depraved experiments on human subjects. Of the many horrifying reflections inspired by any sustained investigation into the deeds of Nazi Germany, perhaps the most chilling is the banal ludicrousness of the hoaxes that provided a threadbare rationale for their monstrous activities. Nazism was a particularly gruesome iteration of the endeavor Virgil characterized in his Georgics: a quest for an unattainable goal. Seekers after truth must learn that it comes to them in a form and at a time of its own choosing; we can no more state a truth we have not found than we can describe a country we have not seen.

Sadly, Nazi Germany was not the last nation state to do great harm in the name of a Big Lie...

1 comment:

Sylvia Ney said...

Very Cool! I'm so glad I found your blog! I'm stopping by from the A to Z challenge and I look forward to visiting again.