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Savitri Devi, Traditionalism, & Nature Religion

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6,192 words

From Esotericism, Religion, and Nature (Studies in Esotericism), ed. Arthur Versluis, Claire Fanger, Lee Irwin, and Melinda Phillips (Mankato, Minnesota: North American Academic Press, 2010).

Savitri Devi (1905–1982[1] [2]) was born Maximine Julia Portaz in Lyons, France, of English, Italian, and Greek ancestry.[2] [3] She was a highly gifted and eccentric child. Early on, she embraced vegetarianism and animal rights out of a strong aesthetic revulsion to slaughter and other forms of cruelty to animals.[3] [4] She also developed a passion for ancient civilizations, Eastern, Western, and Amerindian.[4] [5] Early exposure to the Bible led her to strongly anti-Semitic convictions and deep reservations about Christianity. Although she rejected such core Christian values as anthropocentrism and egalitarianism, she did not completely break with Christianity until the spring of 1929, when she was 23 years old.[5] [6]

As a child, Maximine Portaz also formed a strong identification with modern Greece, even though she was a French citizen, and her only connection to Greece was her surname and one-eighth of her heritage (she was half-English and three-eighths Italian).[6] [7] As a child, she left the Anglican church and joined the Greek Orthodox church in Lyons. She later claimed that her Greek nationalism and love of Byzantine music kept her in the church long after she rejected its core beliefs and values.[7] [8] Upon turning eighteen, she rejected her French citizenship for Greek citizenship.[8] [9] After her rejection of Christianity, she worked in Greece without success to revive the cults of the ancient gods.[9] [10]

Eventually, her attention turned to India, where Indo-European polytheism was still a living tradition.[10] [11] In the spring of 1935, after finishing her Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Lyons, the 29-year-old Maximine Portaz set sail for India.[11] [12] In the fall of 1935, while studying at Rabindranath Tagore’s ashram Shantiniketan, she changed her name to “Savitri Devi.” Savitri is the feminine version of the name of the Sun, and Devi is a title meaning goddess. While in India, she worked for the Hindu Nationalist movement in opposition to all doctrines of equality: Islam, Christianity, Marxism, and liberal democracy.[12] [13] In 1939, she married Asit Krishna Mukherji, a Bengali Brahmin and publisher.[13] [14]

Savitri Devi is best-known as “Hitler’s Priestess,” the title of her biography by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke.[14] [15] As a Greek nationalist, Maximine Portaz was sympathetic to Germany and despised the Allies of the First World War for their treatment of Greece. In the 1920s, she came to sympathize with the National Socialist movement, but regarded it merely as a German national movement, with no larger significance. When she rejected Christianity in 1929, however, she came to see National Socialism as an international movement to liberate the Aryan race world-wide from the spiritual, political, and economic power of the Jews, and she began to think of herself as a National Socialist. In the late 1930s, Savitri Devi’s husband, A. K. Mukherji, worked as a propaganda agent of the Axis powers in India, and during the Second World War, they spied for the Japanese in Calcutta.[15] [16]

Goodrick-Clarke’s title “Hitler’s Priestess” is apt, for Savitri Devi is famous for claiming in her book The Lightning and the Sun that Adolf Hitler was an Avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu.[16] [17] Savitri Devi’s spiritual discipline was a combination of karma and bakhti yogas, the yogas of duty and religious devotion.[17] [18] Her sense of duty led her to tireless activism on behalf of National Socialism, before, during, and after the Second World War.[18] [19] Her sense of devotion led her to create a literal Hitler cult, complete with pilgrimages to sacred sites associated with Hitler and his movement.[19] [20]

But there was another side to Savitri Devi’s spiritual path. In this essay, I will focus not on her “esoteric Hitlerism,” but on her esoteric religion of nature, which also had components of both dutiful activism and religious devotion.[20] [21] As an activist, Savitri Devi cared for homeless and abused animals, primarily cats but also dogs and horses. In the streets of Calcutta and later New Delhi, she was widely known as “billi mata,” “the cat lady.” Furthermore, “In the 1970s, long before PETA and the Animal Liberation Front, an elderly and crotchety Savitri Devi and her Indian servant broke the law to liberate cats and dogs destined for medical experiments at the All India Institute for Medical Sciences in New Delhi.”[21] [22]

Savitri Devi’s activism also included writing and publishing books. A good sense of the mystical, devotional, and practical aspects of Savitri Devi’s religion of nature can be gleaned from her book Long-Whiskers and the Two-Legged Goddess, a fictionalized memoir of her life in connection with her favorite cats.[22] [23] Savitri Devi’s primary statement on man’s relation to nature is her book Impeachment of Man.[23] [24] Written from 1945–1946, Impeachment of Man is a manifesto of deep ecology long before the term was coined,[24] [25] yet it surely remains one of the most radical in a now crowded field.

The Impeachment of Anthropocentrism

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You can buy And Time Rolls On: The Savitri Devi Interviews here. [27]

The core of Impeachment of Man is the critique of “man-centered creeds”: anthropocentrism as a metaphysical and moral doctrine.[25] [28] Metaphysical anthropocentrism is the view that man is radically different from the rest of nature. Moral anthropocentrism is the view that man’s value is radically incommensurable with that of the rest of nature. Man has an intrinsic value, whereas nature has merely an instrumental value. Thus when man and nature conflict, nature must always give way. Savitri Devi believed that anthropocentrism is a fundamentally false doctrine with calamitous consequences in the real world. Anthropocentrism is the fundamental principle of modernization, in which science and technology allow an ever-increasing human population to progressively seize and consume the rest of nature, despoiling the Earth and endangering the future of all life.

Savitri Devi’s answer to anthropocentrism is what she calls a “life-centered” outlook in metaphysics and morals, also known as “biocentrism.”[26] [29] Metaphysically, biocentrism sees the natural world as a unity, in which there is a continuity of all forms of life rather than a radical difference between man and the rest of nature. Morally, biocentrism denies that man has a distinct and higher form of value than nature; that man has intrinsic value and nature has only instrumental value; that man is an end in himself and nature only a means to human ends; that man has rights that need be respected, but nature does not. Whereas anthropocentrism implies that human beings, as ends in themselves, have positive obligations only to each other, biocentrism means that non-human nature too is an end in itself, thus that mankind has positive obligations towards it as well.

Most deep ecologists, like Arne Naess, Bill Devall, and George Sessions, use the term “biospherical egalitiarianism”[27] [30] to describe the idea that man does not have a value superior to nature. But for Savitri Devi, denying that man has a distinct and superior kind of value relative to nature does not imply the equal value of all life. It merely implies that all living things, human and otherwise, can he hierarchically ordered by reference to the same standards: that there are values common to men and other living things that allow them to be ranked relative to one another. On the anthropocentric model, a sickly man is always more valuable than a healthy animal. The fact that one is human and the other an animal supposedly renders irrelevant all comparisons by common standards like health. Thus it is morally obligatory to sacrifice a healthy animal to help cure a sickly man. In Savitri Devi’s view, a healthy animal is not merely equal to a sick human being: it is better, by the common standard of health. Savitri Devi’s vision is not of “biospherical egalitarianism,” but of “a naturally hierarchized mankind harmoniously integrated into the naturally hierarchized Realm of life.”[28] [31]

Consequences of Biocentrism

Much of Impeachment of Man is devoted to spelling out the practical consequences of biocentrism.

First, Savitri Devi deals with animals. Animals have intrinsic beauty and worth. They also have fairly developed nervous systems that allow them to be aware of their lives and to suffer pain when they are injured, abused, enslaved, and killed. Human beings can, moreover, feel the pain of animals. Our capacity for sympathy is one of the foundations of our positive duties toward nature. Because of their beauty, worth, and suffering, Savitri Devi argues that animals should never be killed or forced to suffer to serve human purposes.

Animals should not be killed for food. Man, she argues, is not naturally a carnivore, and even if he were, he is capable of living in health and happiness without killing other animals. Therefore, he ought not to kill them. (She says nothing against eating the bodies of animals that have died by accident or natural causes.) Savitri Devi is, however, a vegetarian, not a vegan. She has no moral objection to eating unfertilized eggs or milk, as long as the animals that provide them are treated with kindness, not mercilessly exploited.

Animals should not be killed for their pelts, skins, or feathers, either. Nor should they be hunted for sport, sacrificed to the gods, tortured to perform tricks in circuses, killed or tortured for medical research or therapies, or enslaved to bear burdens. Unlike many radical ecologists, Savitri Devi is for technological progress. She looks forward to the day when machines replace beasts of burden. Once the animals domesticated by man for exploitation are liberated, they must be cared for by man as pets.

Perhaps the most radical chapter of Impeachment of Man, however, is entitled “The Rights of Plants.” Plants too are living things, with intrinsic beauty and value. Therefore, it is wrong to kill or harm them as well. Savitri Devi does not, however, argue that plants have the same rights as animals, for two reasons. First, she believes that human beings cannot live without killing plants. (Harvesting fruits and nuts does not, of course, kill a plant, but it would be hard to sustain human life on fruits and nuts alone.) Second, killing a plant is not as bad as killing an animal, because plants are not apparently aware of their existence and do not suffer their deaths. Therefore, we cannot feel sympathy for them and do not have the same positive obligations to them. Here we can see her hierarchical view of nature at work.

Savitri Devi does, however, argue that human beings should reduce our killing of plants to an absolute minimum. She also proposes that the plants we kill be only those that have short life cycles and can be replaced quickly. Thus she opposes killing trees. She suggests that we harvest only dead wood, build with stone and brick, make paper from rags, prefer fossil fuels to living ones, and even limit using vegetable fibers for clothing as much as possible. (She stops short of recommending synthetic fabrics, but it is analogous to her desire to replace beasts of burden with machines.) Savitri Devi also argues that we should not mutilate living plants. Thus she condemns bonsai trees, topiary, hedges, lawn-mowing, and the cutting of flowers and branches for decoration.

The last chapter of Impeachment of Man presents Savitri Devi’s vision of “the ideal world.” She begins with race. In a nod to National Socialist orthodoxy, she observes that on balance Nordic peoples are kinder to animals than any other race or sub-race. But then her argument takes a surprising economic turn. No matter what the racial stock of a nation, the actual level practical human concern for the natural world depends on the standard of living of the masses. The higher the standard of living, the greater the concern for nature. Therefore, if we wish to improve man’s treatment of nature, we must improve the human standard of living. For Savitri Devi, this is a twofold project.

First, we must halt and then reverse human population growth, perhaps ultimately reducing the world population “to a few tens of millions at most.”[29] [32] Savitri Devi would also combine human quantity control with human quality control, i.e., eugenics. It should be noted, however, that Savitri Devi’s commitment to biodiversity means that she would encourage the best members of all races to reproduce themselves. As she said in an interview in 1978: “I’m for a multi-racial world in which each race keeps to itself, in harmony with the other races.”[30] [33] But Savitri Devi also believed that the white race should control the world, not merely for its own benefit, but for the benefit of all mankind and all living things, for the welfare of the world.[31] [34]

Second, unlike many deep and radical ecologists who advocate low-technology societies, Savitri Devi believed that only a high technology society could ensure a high standard of living and reduce exploitation of nature to an absolute minimum. She envisions a “Star Trek” economy in which all human needs are met by clean, non-polluting technologies and all human beings are freed to pursue artistic, scientific, and other creative pursuits in harmony with other human races and with nature as a whole.

In such a society, education would cultivate an aesthetic appreciation of the beauty of living nature, sympathy for the suffering of living beings, a disinterested identification with the welfare of the world, and active love and kindness to all living beings. This education would be supported by and find expression in a religion of nature, “the one universal religion of Life and Sunshine,” based on the solar religion of the Pharaoh Akhnaton, a figure who held special fascination for Savitri Devi.[32] [35]

A possible objection to Savitri Devi’s whole line of reasoning is as follows. Savitri Devi claims that human beings are part of nature, yet she loads them with moral obligations that no other beings have. For instance, Savitri Devi argues that human beings should be vegetarians, but she does not claim that carnivores, like lions and tigers and bears, ought to be vegetarians. We are bound to respect their rights, but they feel no obligation to respect ours. Indeed, they sometimes eat us. In Savitri Devi’s view, animals are left free to follow their tastes and instincts, but if we are part of nature, then why not grant us the same freedom? If the beasts of the field and forest are not bound by the arguments of Impeachment of Man, then why should we?

Savitri Devi’s answer is that our capacity to be governed by moral principles sets us apart from the rest of nature. But, contra the anthropocentrists, Savitri Devi argues that the human difference does not make us the master of nature, but instead subjects us to nature by means of moral obligations that nature does not and cannot reciprocate. Why should we accept such onerous and non-reciprocal obligations? What’s in it for us? Savitri Devi has two answers to this question, one implicit and the other explicit.

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You can buy Savitri Devi’s book, Gold in the Furnace, here. [37]

The implicit argument is implied by the strongly categorical “deontological” or “duty” ethics she advocates. On this view, it makes no sense to say, “X is my duty, but what’s in it for me?” for the mere fact that something is one’s duty means one ought to do it, so one should need no additional incentive, and the request for such an incentive simply reveals a lack of understanding of moral obligation.

The explicit argument appeals to a “teleological” or “consequentialist” conception of ethics, i.e., that the ultimate good is a goal, and lesser goods can be justified as means to this end. Specifically, Savitri Devi appeals to an ethics of self-actualization or self-perfection. She argues that the highest actualization of man’s distinct nature is not to be the cleverest practitioner of the “might is right” principle, but to live up to the rigorous duties to nature that she advocates: “[Mankind’s] only real superiority lies, in our eyes, in the fact that he can, and sometimes does consider, beyond and even against his own interest and that of his kind, the welfare of living creatures of any sort.”[33] [38] And:

It is precisely because I am “better than the tiger” that I cannot allow myself to feed on other sentient creatures’ flesh, as he does. . . . If man really wishes to be a “superior species,” he has to give up the habit of acting as the “inferior” ones do. . . . as one of the marks of nobility in superior man is to treat with generosity [those] weaker than himself — “may he be kind, also,” says Nietzsche of his “hero”; “may kindness be his supreme victory over himself” — so, if the ordinary man be really the specimen of a superior species, let him prove it by helping the beasts to live and enjoy the sunshine, not by killing them or exploiting them for his own advantage.[34] [39]

Exoteric Foundations

Since Impeachment of Man was meant as a popular manifesto, Savitri Devi did not reveal the deeper levels of her inspiration in its pages. Instead, she casts the cause and the solution for the ecological crisis in terms of exoteric religions. The cause, as spelled out in Chapter One, “Anthropocentric Creeds,” is Biblical (Jewish, Christian, and Islamic) anthropocentrism. The Bible holds that man is unique among created beings because he is made in the image of God. God, furthermore, gives man dominion over nature; nature is given to man for his use.

The solution, discussed in Chapter Two, “Pessimistic Pantheism,” is a non-anthropocentric pantheism like Hinduism (and also Jainism and Buddhism). Pantheism identifies the divine with nature, rather than setting the divine apart from nature, and man apart from nature because of his special relationship to the divine. If God is Nature, then Nature is God: all beings are holy, man included. If there is no ontological discontinuity between god and man and between man and nature, then all living things — and all of nature — are best seen as a continuum, whose diverse expressions emerge from an underlying unity. Savitri Devi points out the idea of transmigration is an expression of the idea of the unity of life. The idea of the unity of life gives rise to a life-centered ethics, which encourages sympathy and kindness to all living things.

But Savitri Devi notes that in spite of the life-centered outlook taught by their religions, in practice Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists are largely indifferent to animal suffering and to nature in general. This she attributes to the pessimistic doctrine that material embodiment is a curse and that the goal of religious life is an end to the cycle of birth and rebirth. Accordingly, in Chapter Three, “Joyous Wisdom,” Savitri Devi argues that active kindness toward all nature can be nurtured only by a this-worldly pantheism that affirms and celebrates embodied existence. The example she gives is Akhnaton’s solar monotheism, of which she claimed to be a modern-day disciple.

But there is ample reason to think that Akhnaton’s religion was not the bedrock of Savitri Devi’s worldview. First, there are clues in Impeachment of Man itself. For example, the chapter’s Nietzschean title “Joyous Wisdom”[35] [40] and the use of Nietzschean phrases like “faithful to this earth,”[36] [41] which she encloses in quotes, indicate that Nietzsche deeply influenced Savitri Devi’s interpretation of Akhnaton. Beyond that, in her prison memoir Defiance, Savitri Devi openly discusses the exoteric nature of her use of Akhnaton. Regarding her book A Son of God: The Life and Philosophy of Akhnaton, King of Egypt, which she completed immediately before she started writing Impeachment of Man, Savitri Devi claimed that her interpretation of Akhnaton was designed to convince people of the metaphysical and moral presuppositions of National Socialism without their knowing it.[37] [42] Regarding her Akhnaton: A Play,[38] [43] which she wrote immediately after Impeachment of Man in 1946 and 1947, she claimed that its portrayal of the persecution of Akhnaton’s followers by the Pharaoh Horemheb was really about the de-Nazification process underway in Germany.[39] [44] Thus it is reasonable to think that in Impeachment of Man too, Akhnaton’s solar monotheism is an exoteric garb concealing the deeper sources of Savitri Devi’s inspiration.

Esoteric Foundations

Savitri Devi’s religion of nature appears in a very different light in her final book, Souvenirs et réflexions d’une Aryenne (Memories and Reflections of an Aryan Woman), which was written from 1968 to 1971 and published in 1976.[40] [45] Souvenirs is the principal statement of Savitri Devi’s philosophy. It was written at the end of her life for a small circle of French friends and admirers, including the writers Saint Loup (Marc Augier) and Guy Sajer, who found her English-language works inaccessible and wanted a synthesis of her principal ideas in French. Souvenirs is, moreover, Savitri Devi’s frankest book. Here she speaks directly to her peers about the ultimate foundations of her worldview. Unlike A Son of God and Impeachment of Man, where Savitri Devi presents herself as a modern-day apostle of Akhnaton’s solar monotheism, Souvenirs is an explicitly National Socialist book. Unlike The Lightning and the Sun, which discusses National Socialism in the context of Hindu mythology, the ultimate framework of Souvenirs is Traditionalism as defined by René Guénon and, to a lesser extent, Julius Evola.[41] [46] (In addition to Guénon, Savitri Devi’s other great philosophical influence was Nietzsche, who is also mentioned in Souvenirs.)

Savitri Devi was not a latecomer to Guénonian Traditionalism. One can trace Guénonian ideas and allusions back to her earliest mature writings. Her voyage to India in 1935, in search of the last living expressions of the Hyperborean Tradition, can be understood as a response to Guénon’s Crisis of the Modern World.[42] [47] Thus Savitri Devi did not exaggerate when she said, in an interview in 1978: “ . . . the dream of my life is to integrate Hitlerism into the old Aryan Tradition, to show that it is really a resurgence of the original Tradition. . . . It comes from back to those days when the Aryans were one people near the North Pole. The Hyperborean Tradition.”[43] [48] It is thus in Traditionalism that we must seek the true foundations of Savitri Devi’s religion of nature.

But in what sense was Savitri Devi a follower of Guénon? As yet, I have discovered no evidence of correspondence or personal contact with Guénon, although such evidence may still come to light. Nor did Savitri Devi claim to be a Traditionalist in the sense of being an “initiate.” But, of course, if she were an initiate, she would not have published the fact in a book, anyway. Thus the most we can say is that Savitri Devi was a serious and careful reader of Guénon,[44] [49] and that Guénon’s ideas influenced both her outlook and the course of her life. But even though Savitri Devi cites Guénon more than any other philosopher, she does not cite him all that frequently. Giving chapter and verse is not her style. (Nor was it Guénon’s.) Like Guénon, her primary source is the Tradition itself, and she seeks to square all of her statements with it.[45] [50]

In Impeachment of Man, Savitri Devi argues that the proper foundation of a deep ecological outlook is a world-affirming pantheism, which she presents in the exoteric guise of Akhnaton’s nature religion. In Souvenirs, Savitri Devi reveals that she understands this sort of pantheism to be the central metaphysical teaching of the Tradition. Pantheism is the identity of Being (God) and nature. God is immanent, not transcendent. God/Being is the unity that underlies, emanates, and re-absorbs all diverse manifestations. God/Being is related to nature as the soul is to the body. God/Being is “the Soul of the Universe in which the Greeks and all Indo-European peoples believed — and that Brahmanism still sees as the supreme Reality.”[46] [51] Pantheism implies an ontological continuum between God, man, and nature.

[52]

You can buy Savitri Devi’s The Lightning and the Sun here [53].

Pantheism also implies the sacredness and unity of all life, even its dark, evil, and negative aspects. God/Being has infinite power and an unending drive towards actualization. But the possibilities it can realize are finite, which means that becoming is cyclical and that its trajectory is decline. Each cycle begins with the best possibilities being actualized, then the next best, on down to the absolute worst, at which point all possibilities are exhausted and the process must begin again. Although not every stage of the cycle is good, every stage is divine, which allows one to say “yes” to the entire process. This is not exactly an “optimistic” pantheism, if optimism is understood as the claim that all divine works are good. Instead, it is a form of world-affirmation that is beyond optimism and pessimism in response to a divine cosmic process that is beyond good and evil.

This world-affirming pantheism seems hard to square with the rigorous and categorical moralism of Savitri Devi’s environmental ethics. Even if we grant that meat eating, animal experimentation, deforestation, and the like are evils, can we not also regard them as necessary and inevitable evils, the precise expressions of the divine play that we would expect in the present Dark Age (Kali Yuga) that ends our current cycle of manifestation? Can we not say “yes” to them, too?

Savitri Devi’s response is that there are “men against time”: people who are born into the Dark Age who feel called to fight for Golden Age values against the downward current of time.[47] [54] Savitri Devi herself was such a “woman against time.” True world-affirmation requires that we honor all phenomena, that we say “yes” even to those who say “no” to the Dark Age and struggle against it. Therefore, Savitri Devi can say “yes” both to the existence of the Dark Age and to her desire to combat it.

In Souvenirs, Savitri Devi also reprises her argument, reviewed above, that biblical monotheism is the source of anthropocentrism, but this too she places in an explicitly Traditionalist context.[48] [55]

Savitri Devi also appeals to Traditionalism to deal with a problem she never discussed in Impeachment of Man: Christianity was the dominant religion of Europe for a very long time without producing the rampant anthropocentrism of modernity, which began during the Renaissance and Reformation, when Christianity began its long decline. Citing “René Guénon and some other apparently well-informed authors,”[49] [56] she claims that an esoteric Christianity, preserved by initiatory orders like the Knights Templar, maintained elements of the primordial Hyperborean Tradition. The subtle influence of the Tradition held Biblical anthropocentrism in check. But, “in the fourteenth century, or at latest the fifteenth, with the disappearance of the last direct heirs of the secret teaching of the Order of the Temple,”[50] [57] the golden thread of the tradition was cut, releasing the Titanic powers latent in Biblical anthropocentrism and its secular successors. Modernity was born.

Savitri Devi’s account of the modernization process in Souvenirs is clearly influenced by Guénon’s The Crisis of the Modern World and The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times.[51] [58] Guénon attributes modernization to a set of fundamental displacements and inversions: practice claims primacy over theory, ratiocination replaces intellectual intuition, equality replaces hierarchy, individualism triumphs over organicism, social mobility replaces caste, the masses overthrow the elites, material values triumph over the intellectual and spiritual, the rights of quantity displace those of quality.

Savitri Devi focuses in particular on the collapse of hierarchical social orders ruled by spiritual elites in contact with the Tradition and their replacement with mass society centered on entirely material concerns — the transition from the reign of quality to the reign of quantity.[52] [59] Savitri Devi emphasizes the role of anthropocentrism in creating mass society by creating the masses themselves. Anthropocentrism is at the root of modern science and technology, including modern medicine, hygiene, and sanitation, which are the primary causes of exploding human populations. Human population growth as such is the driving force of environmental devastation, and since the population grows faster at the bottom of the social hierarchy than at the top, it is also the driving force in the destruction of hierarchical social orders.

Finally, Souvenirs allows us to place Savitri Devi’s vision of a high-tech, deep-ecological utopia in a Traditionalist context as well. Recall that Savitri Devi prefaced her vision of utopia with a discussion of two important factors: race and economics. In Souvenirs, she adds a third factor of even greater importance: Tradition. Only a spiritual elite in contact with the Tradition can yoke technological society to transcendent values. In this case, Savitri Devi speaks of preserving the “soul” and “culture” of an industrial society. But the same condition is necessary for preserving the natural world around an industrial society:

I believe that the ability of India (or Japan, or any other country of true culture) to preserve its soul while undergoing more and more the inevitable influence of industrialization is connected to the persistence there of an elite of race and character which is at the same time a spiritual aristocracy; a living guardian of the Tradition, in other words, of the esotericism that underlies, more or less remotely, all the habitual manifestations of “religion” merged with social life. Even the purity of blood in a people more or less homogeneous as a whole — or, in a hierarchical multiracial civilization, the continuation of the effective separation of the races — could not dispense with the need for preserving such an elite at all costs. Without it, the best of races will end up being debased under the increasingly powerful influence of technocracy.[53] [60]

Conclusion

Savitri Devi’s place in the academic study of Western esotericism is controversial because of her political affiliations. Of course, her ideas have a life of their own, whether or not they receive academic attention, if the ever-growing number of editions and translations of her books is any indication. But, as I hope I have shown above, Savitri Devi deserves scholarly attention. She merits a chapter in any complete histories of deep ecology and of Traditionalism. But more importantly, she has moved Traditionalism beyond a tendency to focus on mankind in relation to the transcendent. She has inserted man and Tradition into nature — and Traditionalism into debates on animal rights and deep ecology that are matters of life and death for the entire world.

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On Savitri Devi’s life, see Savitri Devi, And Time Rolls On: The Savitri Devi Interviews [27], ed. R. G. Fowler (San Francisco: Counter-Currents Publishing, 2012).

[2] [61] On Savitri Devi’s ancestry, see And Time Rolls On, 1 and Savitri Devi’s “Autobiographical Letter [62]” to H. J. of October 1, 1980, trans. R. G. Fowler.

[3] [63] And Time Rolls On, 2–3.

[4] [64] And Time Rolls On, 4–5, 127–28.

[5] [65] And Time Rolls On, 16–18.

[6] [66] And Time Rolls On, 5–9, 11–12; Savitri Devi, “Autobiographical Letter [67]” to H. J. of October 1, 1980.

[7] [68] And Time Rolls On, 16, 101.

[8] [69] And Time Rolls On, 17–18.

[9] [70] And Time Rolls On, 18.

[10] [71] And Time Rolls On, 18–19.

[11] [72] And Time Rolls On, 19. In her books, interviews, and surviving correspondence, Savitri Devi maintained that she first went to India in 1932. However, in January of 2004, in the National Archive of India, I discovered a copy of Savitri Devi’s original application for a visa to visit India. The application was dated April 2, 1935, the day after she defended her doctoral dissertation.

[12] [73] And Time Rolls On, 21–25.

[13] [74] And Time Rolls On, 25–38.

[14] [75] Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Hitler’s Priestess: Savitri Devi, the Hindu-Aryan Myth, and Neo-Nazism (New York: New York University Press, 1998).

[15] [76] And Time Rolls On, 31–36.

[16] [77] Savitri Devi, The Lightning and the Sun [53] (San Francisco: Counter-Currents Publishing, 2014).

[17] [78] Early in 1936, Savitri Devi studied hatha yoga and meditation under a Brahmin in the Punjab while she taught at Jallundhar College. She reported rapid progress but was forced to abandon her practice because she experienced pain behind her eyes. (In her last years, Savitri Devi suffered chronic eye problems and at the end of her life was almost blind.) Her guru recommended she abandon hatha yoga and meditation and take up karma and bakhti yoga. See And Time Rolls On, 125–26.

[18] [79] And Time Rolls On, chapter 1, “Autobiography”; Gold in the Furnace: Experiences in Post-War Germany [80], ed. R. G. Fowler (San Francisco: Counter-Currents Publishing, 2021); Defiance: The Prison Memoirs of Savitri Devi [81], ed. R. G. Fowler (San Francisco: Counter-Currents Publishing, 2021).

[19] [82] Savitri Devi, Pilgrimage (Calcutta: Savitri Devi Mukherji, 1958).

[20] [83] Savitri Devi is not the only person to combine fascism or National Socialism with a radical ecological outlook. See Anna Bramwell’s Blood and Soil: Walther Darré and Hitler’s “Green Party” (Bourne End, Buckinghamshire: The Kensal Press, 1985), Ecology in the Twentieth Century: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), and The Fading of the Greens: The Decline of Environmental Politics in the West (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994). See also Kanet Biehl and Peter Staudenmaier, Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience (San Francisco: AK Press, 1995); Jonathen Olsen, Nature and Nationalism: Right-Wing Ecology and the Politics of Identity in Contemporary Germany (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999), and How Green Were the Nazis? Nature, Environment, and Nation in the Third Reich, ed. Franz-Josef Brüggemeier, Mark Cioc, and Thomas Zeller (Athens, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 2005).

[21] [84] R. G. Fowler, “Woman against Time: Remembering Savitri Devi’s 100th Birthday [85],” Counter-Currents.

[22] [86] Savitri Devi, Long-Whiskers and the Two-Legged Goddess, or the true story of a “most-objectionable Nazi” and . . . half-a-dozen cats (Calcutta: Savitri Devi Mukherji, 1965).

[23] [87] Savitri Devi, Impeachment of Man (Calcutta: Savitri Devi Mukherji, 1959). Impeachment was written in 1945–1946.

[24] [88] The term “deep ecology” was coined by the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess in 1973. See Naess’s contributions to The Deep Ecology Movement: An Introductory Anthology, ed. Alan Drengson and Yuichi Inoue (Berkley, Cal.: North Atlantic Books, 1995); see also Bill Devall and George Sessions, Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered (Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith, 1985).

[25] [89] Impeachment of Man, ch. 1, “Man-Centered Creeds.”

[26] [90] Impeachment of Man, chs. 2 and 3, “Pessimistic Pantheism” and “Joyous Wisdom.”

[27] [91] See Naess, “The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement,” in The Deep Ecology Movement, 4; Devall and Sessions, Deep Ecology, 68–69.

[28] [92] Impeachment of Man, 3rd edition (Costa Mesa, Cal.: The Noontide Press, 1991), 10.

[29] [93] Impeachment, 151.

[30] [94] And Time Rolls On, 167.

[31] [95] Impeachment, 149, 151.

[32] [96] Savitri Devi was the author of several books on Akhnaton. Her principal book is Savitri Devi, A Son of God: The Life and Philosophy of Akhnaton, King of Egypt (London: Philosophical Publishing House, 1946). Second Edition: Son of the Sun: The Life and Philosophy of Akhnaton, King of Egypt (San Jose, California: Supreme Grand Lodge of AMORC, 1956). She also wrote a children’s book on Akhnaton, Joy of the Sun: The Beautiful Life of Akhnaton, King of Egypt Told to Young People (Calcutta: Thacker, Spink & Co., 1942); a stage play, Akhnaton: A Play (London: Philosophical Publishing House, 1948); and a pamphlet, Akhnaton’s Eternal Message: A Scientific Religion 3,300 Years Old (Calcutta: A. K. Mukherji, 1940). Another work, A Perfect Man: Akhnaton, King of Egypt, is listed in Joy of the Sun, but no copies seem to exist. Indeed, it may be the case that this was merely the original title of A Son of God. Savitri Devi also devotes 82 pages of The Lightning and the Sun to a biography of Akhnaton and Chapter 3 of Impeachment of Man.

[33] [97] Impeachment, 68.

[34] [98] Impeachment, 69–70.

[35] [99] The title of Nietzsche’s 1882 book Fröhliche Wissenschaft can be translated “Joyous Wisdom.”

[36] [100] Impeachment, 24. See also Defiance, 232.

[37] [101] Defiance, 232–34. The style of Impeachment of Man is similar to that of A Son of God/Sun of the Sun. In A Son of God/Son of the Sun, Savitri Devi’s National Socialist convictions can only be glimpsed between the lines. Impeachment is somewhat less circumspect but is still not openly National Socialist. I suspect, furthermore, that if Impeachment had found a publisher, the final version would have been more circumspect about National Socialism. But Impeachment of Man languished unpublished from 1946 to 1959, when Savitri Devi finally published it at her own expense.

[38] [102] Savitri Devi, Akhnaton: A Play (London: Philosophical Publishing House, 1948).

[39] [103] Defiance, 97.

[40] [104] Savitri Devi, Souvenirs et réflexions d’une Aryenne (New Delhi: Savitri Devi Mukherji, 1976).

[41] [105] Savitri Devi’s essentially exoteric usage of Hindu mythology in The Lightning and the Sun and elsewhere is discussed in Georg Schrader, “Erinnerungen an Savitri Devi,” in 100 Jahre Savitri Devi, ed. D. A. R. Sokoll, Junges Forum 5 (2005): 53–54.

[42] [106] René Guénon, The Crisis of the Modern World, 4th, revised ed., trans. Marco Pallis, Arthur Osborne, and Richard C. Nicholson (Hillsdale, N.Y.: Sophia Perennis, 2001). Originally published as La crise du monde moderne (Paris: Bossard, 1927).

[43] [107] And Time Rolls On, 117.

[44] [108] In October of 2004, in Normandy, I was briefly shown Savitri Devi’s small personal library. This library consisted of the books Savitri Devi selected from her much larger library when she decided to return to India from France in 1971. It is reasonable to infer that she took the books she prized the most. It contained at least a dozen old and well-read volumes by Guénon. Unfortunately, the custodian of the collection was hostile to Guénon, and perhaps to the idea that Guénon was important to Savitri Devi, and when I later asked to examine the volumes more carefully, she refused. (One sign of her hostility to Guénon is the fact that, after Savitri Devi’s death, the custodian of her library had most of her books rebound sumptuously in gold-stamped red leather [!]. The books she disliked — the volumes by Guénon as well as Lady Queenborough’s Occult Theocrasy — remained in their tattered and travel-worn original covers.)

[45] [109] Three of the twelve chapters of Souvenirs include “Tradition” in their titles: Chapter 6, “Technological Development and Tradition,” Chapter 8, “The Two Great Modern Movements and the Tradition,” and Chapter 10, “Hitlerian Esotericism and the Tradition.”

[46] [110] Souvenirs, 64, my translation.

[47] [111] See The Lightning and the Sun, chapter 3, “Men in Time, above Time, and against Time.”

[48] [112] Souvenirs, 64.

[49] [113] Souvenirs, 167, my trans. Cf. 169–70.

[50] [114] Souvenirs, 167, my trans.

[51] [115] René Guénon, The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, 4th, revised ed., trans. Lord Northbourne (Ghent, N.Y.: Sophia Perennis). Originally published as Régne de la quantité et les signes des temps (Paris: Gallimard, 1945).

[52] [116] See Souvenirs, ch. 6, “Technological Development and Tradition,” and ch. 7, “Technological Development and ‘Combat against Time.’”

[53] [117] Souvenirs, 159, my trans.