The background to Vril.

Vril is a word seldom heard today and yet this simple four-letter word has in a round-about way had far more impact on the world than any expletive. The secret, mystical power of Vril came to the fore in a factional novel but the inspirations of the writer were rooted in occult, esoteric thinking and the idea of superior races. Vril went on to play a powerful role in the creation of Nazism and its doctrines. The ideas behind the concept of Vril remain with us in extreme right-wing inspirations.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton novel ‘The Coming Race’ was published in 1871 at a time when many members of the intelligentsia and elite in both Britain, Germany and Austria were developing an interest in occult, esoteric thinking. Secret societies like the Hermetic order of the Golden Dawn in Britain and the Lords of the Black Stone, amongst many others, had grown up to study alleged secret knowledge and powers. Russian mystic Helena Blavatski had written extensively about her time in Tibet where she claimed to have met spiritual adepts who were masters of ancient wisdom and her ideas became influential among the growing spiritualist movement.

The word Vril related to the Vril-ya, an advanced race in Bulwer-Lytton’s novel who lived beneath the earth. Vril was the name given to their incredible power, which could be used in many ways, both physically and spiritually. Blavatski had claimed that mankind kind had evolved out of seven root races who originally had psychic powers and at the same time occultists in Germany and Austria were developing ideas about ancient Germanic peoples who had special powers. As a committed occultist open to Blavatski’s claims, Bulwer-Lytton’s inspiration came from he would have taken as fact.

The imagery of Vril did not just inspire those interested in the occult and volkish myths. John Lawson Johnstons invented a fluid a Fluid Beef compound for the French army during the Franco-Prussian war but years later when he came to seriously market the product, he named it ‘Bovril’; a conjunction of the bovine meat extract and the supposed ‘Vril-like’ energy attained from consumption of the product!

The Vril Society grew up in Germany early in the 20th century when similar organisations were springing up across Germany and Austria, partly as a reaction the industrial revolution, believing society had lost its roots and original identity. There was strong interest in the notion that the Germanic people had been somehow special and pure and the notion of Vril fitted the idea of a superior race with esoteric power.

Willy Ley, a German rocket engineer migrated to the United States in 1937. Shortly after the war, he published an article titled “Pseudoscience in Naziland” in the magazine Astounding Science Fiction. Ley wrote that the high popularity of irrational convictions in Germany at that time had influenced National Socialism. Among various pseudoscientific groups he mentioned one that looked for the Vril; the mystical power which occultists believed would be the saviour of Nazi Germany.

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John Waterhouse