This week I am proceeding with my 20th Century Witchcraft series with a spotlight on the 1930s! One of the biggest events of the 1930s that forever colored and impacted life since is the Holocaust. In some indirect ways Hitler and the Holocaust influences not only how we viewed Judaism and Jewish folk in general, but may have also had a lasting impact on the credibility of the occult and mystic practices ever since.
Before there was QAnon there was many other organizations that presented as far right leaning with connection to conspiracy theory and none was probably more damaging to the occult or modern Neopagan/Witchcraft community as a whole as our public standing is concerned as The Silver Legion. The Silver Legion was a group led by a man named William Dudley Pelley; on the surface a group of American Nazi sympathizers, but that’s not what ties them to mysticism, of course. Pelley, prior to his attempt to become the “American Fuhrer” was simply a Hollywood screenwriter, but in 1928 he had an out of body experience that would change his life. In this experience he claimed to meet God, Jesus Christ, and other Ascended Masters and reportedly received information from them that white people were superior and their souls originated from the highest evolution of planets. (Whereas Jews and Blacks did not.) He additionally had a long-standing dislike of Jewish people who he convinced were secretly in positions of power in a conspiracy to take over the world. Together, these became a dangerous a slippery slope.
In the next few years following his “revelations” he dabbled heavily in automatic writing, levitation, telepathy, and of course continued his work with meditation and trance work to connect to the Ascended Masters to receive what he perceived to be ancient and valuable spiritual truths. These truths led Pelley to the strong belief that America needed a white supremacist power with a renewed focus on Christianity and religious values.
In 1933, when Adolf Hitler rose to power, Pelley was inspired and say in Hitler a kindred spirit to emulate and praise for his ideology and political standing. Pelley formed a group call The Silver Legion and over the course of several years, amassed a following of anywhere from 15,000 to 35,000 (depending on the source) of disciples and followers all across the United States due to his touring and recruitment efforts. A lot of sources suggest that a lot of the people that joined the Silver Legion were far more interested in the occult, mystical aspects of membership than they were its anti-Semetic sentiments, but the damage was ultimately the same.
The Silver Legion went on to be an active group until 1941 when Pelley disbanded it due to pressure from the government regarding the dubious nature of the organizations actions and political efforts. In 1942, he was arrested, tried, and convicted of 12 counts of sedition. Pelley received 15 years in prison and was released in 1950. Between his release and his death he did attempt to start a new new age/occult modality called “Soulcraft” which places a great deal of emphasis and work with extraterrestrials and , but it never did get the same traction as The Silver Legion.
One of the biggest things that the Silver Legion made clear as a general message apart from any anti-Semetism was that there was an overwhelming attraction and desire by the general public to, put it simply, believe in magic. Americans were craving connection in this way and it was at a time when witchcraft itself was illegal and Pelley’s was the only offer on the table. Although I can find no other sources to suggest it (in fact, there are surprisingly few sources that talk about the Silver Legion in general!), I suspect that Pelley’s connection to conspiracy theory and anti-semetism caused an indirect association to be made between mysticism and (often racist) conspiracy theory that continues to challenge the credibility of magick and mysticism even to this day.
The Silver Legion is part of World War II history that is often buried or ignored, but a fascinating (if not horrifying) chapter in occult history. Have you heard of the Silver Legion before or was it a surprise to you after reading today? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!