Mathilde Friederike Karoline Ludendorff (born Mathilde Spiess on 4 October 1877 in Wiesbaden – 24 June 1966, Tutzing) was a German teacher and psychiatrist. She was the second wife of General Erich Ludendorff – he was her third husband – and a leading figure in the Völkisch movement, where she was known for her esoteric and conspiratorial ideas. Together with Ludendorff, she founded the Bund für Gotteserkenntnis (German) (Society for the Knowledge of God), a small and rather obscure esoterical society of Theists that although banned from 1961 to 1977, survives to this day.
Mathilde Spiess was born in Hesse in central Germany, the daughter of Bernhard Spiess, a Lutheran minister. After initially training as a girls' school teacher she went on to achieve a PhD degree in neurology and became a strong critic of the religions in existence in the Germany of her time. She officially left Lutheranism in 1913. She married lecturer Gustav Adolf von Kemnitz in 1904 before graduating in 1913 with a thesis examining the hereditary nature of mental differences between genders. Widowed in 1917, she married Edmund Georg Kleine in 1919 and divorced him two years later. She got to know Erich Ludendorff through Gottfried Feder before marrying him in Tutzing.
Philosophy and science
Her 1921 work Triumph des Unsterblichkeitwillens (Triumph of the Will for Immortality) examined the desire in humans for immortality and in doing so attempted a synthesis of philosophy and science which would underpin much of her later work. This was the case in her The Origin and Nature of the Soul, a book in three volumes: History of Creation, which traces the soul from its beginnings and the emergence of the universe; Soul of Man, which explains the soul as a will and a consciousness; and Self Creation, which suggests ways of remodelling the soul.
A later work, Der Seele Wirken und Gestalten (The Action of the Soul and its Effect), dealt with similar themes and was also split up into three books: The Soul of the Child and the Parent's Duty, a study in pedagogy; The Soul of the Nation and the Molders of its Power, which argued that the Volk was an indivisible unit and was shaped by its leaders so that bad leadership could kill off a group; The God-Story of the Nations, which claimed that culture was more important to any people than civilisation and that it was tied in to their will to creation itself.
Attacks on the occult
She trained in psychiatry at Munich alongside Emil Kraepelin and in the course of her study developed a strong opposition to the occult, attacking the work of Albert von Schrenck-Notzing and arguing that occult practices had been responsible for the development of mental illness in a number of her patients. This topic was dealt with at length in her work Insanity Induced Through Occult Teachings.
She went on to launch a number of attacks on astrology, arguing that it had always been a Jewish perversion of astronomy and that it was being used to enslave the Germans and dull their reasoning. The title of her main work on the subject, Fraud of Astrology, indicated her position succinctly.
Anthroposophy was also a target for Ludendorff, notably in her 1933 essay The Miracle of Marne. She and her husband argued that General Helmuth von Moltke the Younger had lost the First Battle of the Marne because he had come under the control of Lisbeth Seidler, a devotee of Rudolf Steiner. As a consequence of these writings the Ludendorffs added occultists to the Stab-in-the-back legend.
She also attacked the works of Jakob Wilhelm Hauer, an Indologist who supported völkisch ideas but emphasised the Indo-European origins of the Germans. She criticized the lack of depth and tendency towards jargon in his seminal 1932 work Der Yoga als Heilweg and further argued that the teachings of Krishna and Buddha had in fact been adopted by the writers of the Old and New Testaments, making Indian religion off-limits given her aversion to Christianity. Hauer feared the power wielded by Ludendorff in völkisch circles, given by her work and her influential husband, would de-emphasise the Indian aspects of his ideas in subsequent writings.
On a personal level, Ludendorff's hatred of the occult also stemmed from her support for the völkisch movement and her desire to construct a new, specifically-German religion. As such she feared that if Germany was won away from Christianity it would fall instead into existing occult practices, which she felt were no more German in origin than the Christian faith. She believed that the Dalai Lama was controlling the Jews in their supposed attempts to destroy Germany through Marxism, Roman Catholicism, capitalism and Freemasonry.
In spite of her personal hatred of occultism, her involvement in the völkisch movement and Germanic cultural identity meant that she co-operated with a number of devotees of occult practices. This was notably the case in the Edda Society of Rudolf John Gorsleben, of which she was a member and whose other members included Friedrich Schaefer, a follower of Karl Maria Wiligut, and Otto Sigfried Reuter, a strong believer in the astrology which she so roundly condemned.
Ludendorff had no truck with the ideas of Positive Christianity, feeling that Christian beliefs could never be reconciled to the Aryan ideal that she believed in. Her 1931 book, Erlösung von Jesu Christo (Redemption from Jesus Christ), underlined this by portraying Jesus as a Jewish preacher who had not died on the cross. She represented the Bible as a fraud and instead called for a pantheism rooted in blood and soil rhetoric in which the soul of God permeated the land as a whole.
As part of her dual assault on Christianity and the occult, Ludendorff drew on her interpretation of science to develop her own religion, Gotterkenntnis or 'God Knowledge', which emphasised notions of racial inheritance, culture, economy and justice. The faith became the religion of the Tannenbergbund, a conspiratorial organisation founded by her and her husband in 1925, which briefly claimed as many as 100,000 followers before losing out to the NSDAP.
She also published The Secret Power of the Jesuits and Its Decline with her husband, although this work revealed many of the prejudices still latent in the old general. Whilst Mathilde Ludendorff despised Christianity, Erich, despite his conversion to Gotterkenntnis, retained a strong sense of German Protestantism, arguing that the Roman Catholic Church was a much stronger threat to the couple's völkisch ideals; even though avowedly non-Christian, he was seen as a Protestant crusader by both the arch-conservatives of the Protestant League and their opponents in organised Catholicism.
Ludendorff was largely sidelined after her husband's 1937 death, as Adolf Hitler had long since broken from the general. She continued to express anti-Semitic ideas after the war and was found guilty during the Denazification process, although her judgement was lessened in 1951.
In 1955 she founded a Schule für Gotterkenntnis to propagate her religious beliefs, although the related Bund für Gotterkenntnis was ordered dissolved in 1961 after being judged unconstitutional. The latter movement, the origins of which could be traced back to 1951, had as many as 12,000 members before the judgement of the Bavarian Administrative Court banned it. She died five years after the judgement. In 1977 — because of procedural errors — the ban was lifted, though it remains under observation of several constitutional protection agencies. In a reduced form it survives to this day.
- Korotin, Ilse: Die politische Radikalisierung der Geschlechterdifferenz im Kontext von „Konservativer Revolution“ und Nationalsozialismus. Mathilde Ludendorff und der „Völkische Feminismus“ In: Eickhoff, Volker; Korotin, Ilse (Hg.): Sehnsucht nach Schicksal und Tiefe. Der Geist der Konservativen Revolution Picus, Wien 1997, S. 105–127
- Meyer, Ursula: Mathilde Ludendorff. Das nationalistische Menschenbild In: dies.: Die Welt der Philosophin 4. Teilband: Moderne Zeiten: Das 20. Jahrhundert ein-FACH-verlag, Aachen 1998, S. 87–104
- Rudolf Radler (1987), "Ludendorff, Mathilde, geborene Spieß", Neue Deutsche Biographie (NDB) (in German), 15, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, pp. 290–292; (full text online)
- Schnoor, Frank: Mathilde Ludendorff und das Christentum. Eine radikale völkische Position in der Zeit der Weimarer Republik und des NS-Staates. Deutsche Hochschulschriften, Kiel 1998 ISBN 3-8267-1192-0
- Spilker, Annika: Rechtsextremes Engagement und völkisch-antisemitische Politikvorstellungen um Mathilde Ludendorff (1877–1966) und die Frauengruppen im Tannenbergbund. In: Daniel Schmidt, Michael Sturm, Massimiliano Livi (Hrsg.): Wegbereiter des Nationalsozialismus. Personen, Organisationen und Netzwerke der extremen Rechten zwischen 1918 und 1933 (= Schriftenreihe des Instituts für Stadtgeschichte. Bd. 19). Klartext, Essen 2015, ISBN 978-3-8375-1303-5, S. 221 ff.
- "The God-cognition by Mathilde Ludendorff (1877–1966)". Bund für Gotterkenntnis Ludendorff e.V. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
- Karla Poewe, New religions and the Nazis, London: Routledge, 2006, ISBN 0-415-29025-2, p. 82.
- Mathilde Ludendorff Schriftstellerin
- C.P. Blamires, World Fascism: A Historical Encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO, 2006, ISBN 1-57607-940-6, p. 393.
- Mathilde Ludendorff (translated by W. Grossinger), The Origin and Nature of the Soul (3 volumes), Verlag Hohe Warte, 1954, repr. 1977, OCLC 164640064.
- Corinna Treitel, A Science for the Soul: Occultism and the Genesis of the German Modern, Johns Hopkins, 2004, ISBN 0-8018-7812-8, p. 219.
- Poewe, pp. 83–84.
- Treitel, p. 220.
- Richard Steigmann-Gall, The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919–1945, Cambridge University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-521-82371-4, p. 88.
- Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, The Occult Roots of Nazism, London: I.B. Tauris2005, ISBN 1-86064-973-4, p. 159.
- Steigmann-Gall, p. 89.
- Steigmann-Gall, pp. 89–90.
- "Rechtsextremismus-Bund für Gotterkenntnis (Ludendorff) e.V.". Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (Federal Agency for Civic Education). January 2010. Retrieved November 20, 2011.