In Germany Spiritualism developed very slowly, despite a
rather early history of scattered individuals who conducted
paranormal investigations back in the 1830s, most notably Justinus
Kerner. Philosopher I. H. von Fichte believed in Spiritualism;
Gustav Fechner, the founder of psychophysiology, admitted
belief in personal immortality; and Edward von
Hartmann, author of The Philosophy of the Unconscious (1869),
desired to give Spiritualist phenomena a definite place in philosophy.
Carl Du Prel, author of The Philosophy of Mysticism (2
vols., 1889) delved into the subconscious for explanation and
founded the first Spiritualist monthly, The Sphynx.
Most of the Spiritualist activity was the work of a foreigner,
Alexander Aksakof, imperial councilor of Russia, who, owing
to Russian censorship, concentrated his work in Germany. In
1874 he began publishing Psychische Studien, which continued
for many years. Its title was changed in 1926 to Zeitschrift für
Parapsychologie. Spiritualistische Blaetter was started in 1883.
A great impetus was given to Spiritualism by the visit of the
well-known medium Henry Slade in 1877. The conversion of
Johann C. E. Zöllner caused a sensation and was the subject of
strong language on the part of other scientists. The visits of
such mediums as William Eglinton, Elizabeth d’Esperance,
Annie Fairlamb, and others kept the interest alive.
Psychical Research
Modern psychical research is best represented by Baron von
Schrenck-Notzing. His book on the materialization phenomena
of Eva C., Materializations-Phaenomene (Phenomena of Materialization,
1914), aroused heated scientific controversy. With
this work and also the investigation of the mediumship of Willi
Schneider, he convinced a hundred well-known scientists of
the reality of telekinesis phenomena and of the existence of
the elusive substance called ectoplasm. Other important thinkers
and researchers included Hans Driesch, Konstantin
Oesterreich, and Rudolf Tischner.
Prewar Germany saw the founding of a society for psychical
research and also a medical society for psychical research the
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Wissenschaftliches Okkultismus and
the Deutscher Spiritisten Verein. Periodicals included Zeitschrift
für Parapsychologie, Zeitschrift für Metapsychische Forschung,
Zeitschrift für Psychisch Forschung, Zeitschrift für Seelenleben, Psyche
und die übersinnliche Welt.
Crucial to the history of post-World War I Germany, were
the movements of Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Anthroposophical
Society, and whose philosophy continues to be known
today in the United States for the background of the Waldorf
Schools. When Steiner left the Theosophists, deeming it impossible
to create a spiritual science based in Eastern mysticism,
he inadvertently became a favorite of Hitler’s Reich. Even while
living in Switzerland during World War II and attempting to
maintain neutrality, his Anthroposophy became identified with
German war aims. His first evolution might have led the Nazis
to believe he was on their side. As Peter Washington noted, in
his 1993 book, Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon, ‘‘At first, Steiner
shared a common view that something pure and noble might
arise out of the conflict between nations; but as the apparently
unstoppable carnage became ever more horrifying he modified
his instinctive nationalism in favour of a broader perspective.
After the war he was ready to support the League of Nations.’’
Yet all through the rise of the Aryan model for purity and perfection,
even some of the artistic renderings associated with
many of the Christian-based spiritual movements, portrayed
Christ, for example, as being more Aryan in features than Jewish.
Steiner and his group, Washington commented, were only
too willing to make Jesus an honorary German, denying his semitic
origins completely, and thus lending credence to the
mounting racial tensions.
Since World War II, there has been considerable German
activity in the field of parapsychological research with the
Lehrstühl für Psychologie und Grenzgebiete de Psychologie at
Freiburg University and the independent Institut für Grenzgebiete
der Psychologie und Psychohygiene, directed by
Hans Bender. A new direction to Spiritualist beliefs in survival
was stimulated by the experiments in electronic voice phenomena
(Raudive voices) of Friedrich Jürgenson, who cooperated
with the Freiburg Institute.
Despite many efforts, Germany’s pursuit of paranormal
studies and parapsychology remained rather bleak at the turn
of the twenty-first century. Individual research under such people
as Gerd H. Hovelmann, Eberhard Bauer, Walter von Lucadou,
Klaus Kornwachs, Ulrich Timm, and Hans D. Betz,
while remarkable, has not served to form a collective movement
for research. All but one effort to form parapsychological
associations failed. The research center, Institut für Grenzgebiete
der Psychologie and Psychohygiene, (Institute for Border
Areas of Psychology and Mental Hygiene) and the organization,
Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft zur Forderung der
Parapsychologie, (Scientific Society for the Advancement of
Parapsychology) are the only two avenues for study currently
in Germany.
Bander, Peter. Voices from the Tapes. New York Drake, 1973.
Bender, Hans. Unser sechster Sinn. Stuttgart Wilhelm Goldmann
Verlag, 1982.
Spiritualism—Germany Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
House, 1991.
Schrenck-Notzing, A. von. Materialisations-Phaenomene (Phenomena
of Materialization). Munich Ernst Reinhardt, 1914.
Washington, Peter. Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon A History of
the Mystics, Mediums, and Misfits Who Brought Spiritualism to America.
New York Schocken Books, 1993.