The trailer for the latest installment of Steven Spielberg’s much-loved Indiana Jones franchise, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, has just been released ahead of its scheduled theatrical debut in 2023. Once again, armed with little more than whip and battered brown fedora, Indy is fighting the Nazis, just as when he previously thwarted the SS’s sinister efforts to locate sacred religious relics like the Holy Grail and Ark of the Covenant, intended to be converted into unbeatable God-powered Wunderwaffen (‘wonder-weapons’) for use in Hitler’s failing war-machine.
This entire premise is cinematically exciting, yet in reality completely absurd… isn’t it? Not quite. Spielberg’s scripts were partly inspired by the real-life activities of a special SS pseudo-archaeological sub-unit, the Ahnenerbe (‘Ancestral Research Unit’), who, under the direct auspices of the Reichsführer-SS, Heinrich Himmler, really did roam the globe seeking hallowed items like the Sangraal. Indy himself is often said to have been based upon leading Ahnenerbe adventurer Otto Rahn, who sought the Holy Grail in the Pyrenees, directly inspired by hints to its whereabouts supposedly contained within Wolfram von Eschenbach’s 13th-century epic Grail-Quest poem of Parzival.
Himmler himself, in his insane desire to ultimately replace Christianity as the religion of the German volk with the worship of their traditional pagan gods of the Norse Aesir (pantheon), like Freya and Thor, preached that these wholly fictional deities had actually been real persons, super-human beings of pre-history who stood as the semi-divine ancestors of the superior Aryan race. Himmler believed mythological items like Thor’s thunderbolt-hurling hammer Mjöllnir were just misremembered ancient Aryan technology and so he commissioned Ahnenerbe men to research clues from ancient statuary to re-create such forgotten Nordic Wunderwaffen. As I myself showed in a recent book, in 1944 an opportunistic German engineering firm, Elemag-Hildesheim, actually approached Himmler offering to create a modern-day Mjöllnir in shape of some fantastic device intended to draw latent electricity straight from the atmosphere before redirecting it against enemy warplanes. The idea proved unworkable, but Himmler took it seriously nonetheless – after all, possessing such a thing would have meant the Nazis quite literally had Heaven on their side.
Onwards, Christian Soldiers
Himmler’s dreaming sounds truly laughable to us today, with the idea of god-powered weapons conjuring up images such as The Holy Hand-Grenade of Antioch from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, used by that noted comedy-movie’s hapless Grail-Knights to blow up the deadly killer Rabbit of Caerbannog. Yet even this item isn’t quite as absurd as it initially seems. Python Terry Jones was also a medieval historian, who knew full well a genuine – or purportedly genuine – religious weapon had also once been found and used in the Syrian (now Turkish) city of Antioch during the days of the First Crusade. This was the Spear of Longinus, the very lance purportedly used by the centurion of that name to pierce Christ’s side with on the cross to make sure He was really dead.
In June 1098, the Christian Crusader army successfully captured Antioch from the Islamic Selijuk Empire, before being encircled by superior Turkish and Arab forces. As food ran out and morale drooped, a French peasant named Peter Bartholomew suddenly claimed St Andrew had appeared to him in a vision, revealing the location of the Spear, secretly buried beneath St Peter’s Cathedral inside the city. Crusader leaders ordered an Ahnenerbe-anticipating dig to take place there, but nothing was found – until Bartholomew jumped into the excavation-pit personally and unearthed the supposed tip of the Spear himself, in shape of a lump of iron he had presumably concealed upon his person.
Bartholomew’s claims were nevertheless believed by the Crusaders, who, thinking themselves protected by a holy pre-Nazi Wunderwaffe, successfully fought their way out of Antioch, slaughtering Saracens on the way. Half-starved and drunk on religious frenzy, Crusaders reportedly enjoyed visions of the spirit of St George leading celestial cavalry alongside them in battle, causing them to slay all before them.
The idea of the Holy Lance’s miraculous powers endures to this day. As I also demonstrated in another recent book, a notorious 1970s literary hoax, Trevor Ravenscroft’s Spear of Destiny, falsely claimed Hitler had seized the Spear of Longinus prior to the outbreak of WWII to ensure his victory . You may have thought the fact that Hitler didn’t achieve victory would have been a dead giveaway the book was a fraud, but no. Readers wanted to believe in the Spear’s power and the text became a pulp bestseller.
In truth, there are no such things as functional, magical holy weapons – but perhaps that does not wholly matter. So long as some troops believe these things do exist, as with the Crusaders at Antioch, their morale can often be boosted to such an extreme degree that they end up prevailing against far greater opponents against all the odds, just like Indy defeating entire Wehrmacht divisions with only a tatty old leather whip to his name (maybe it was actually the blessed one Jesus once used to herd the money-lenders out of the Temple?).
Even now, African rebel armies regularly run into battle carrying magical charms blessed by their local gods via the intermediary medium of helpful witch-doctors, which supposedly render them immune to bullets. Believing implicitly in their efficacy, such rebels frequently inflict surprisingly severe casualties upon AK-47-wielding professional soldiers, even though they themselves may be comically ill-equipped. In one case, the powers of holy native magic meant that mere sticks were used by such bush-warriors as ‘guns’, slippers as ‘field-telephones’, and pieces of fruit as ‘grenades’, and still they managed to successfully prosecute their insurgency! Shades of another military-themed Monty Python sketch, ‘Self-Defense Against Fresh Fruit’.
But surely the well-equipped, nuclear-armed forces of major nations today have no use for religious Wunderwaffen? Vladimir Putin’s Russia certainly does, as evidenced by images that recently went viral of Orthodox priests blessing nuclear missiles, allegedly prior to their deployment towards Ukraine (actually the misattributed images were taken in 2015, but the ritual they show is genuine).
Even odder were Pakistan’s unproven attempts to use genies as a power-source for nuclear weapons and power-plants. In the 1980s, Pakistan’s military ruler General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq tirelessly promoted a pseudo-field called ‘Islamic Science’, allowing one of the nation’s leading nuclear scientists, Bashiruddin Mahmood, to propose harnessing genies as an alternative to normal nuclear power. Spoken of in the Koran as ‘spirits of smokeless fire’, genies, or djinn, sounded as if they might be nuclear-powered themselves and so capturing one and plugging it into the national grid or a warhead could solve the country’s problems, Mahmood reputedly advised. Another current member of the Pakistani Atomic Energy Commission today prefers to say genies could be enslaved and forced to blow eco-friendly wind-turbines around instead, a far more plausible proposition.
The militaries of increasingly godless Western NATO nations are less eager to have their kit associated with religion: witness the outcry back in 2010 when it turned out rifle-sights issued to US and UK forces turned out to have coded Bible references on them, placed there without Generals’ knowledge by Trijicon, a Michigan manufacturing firm founded by a devout Christian, leading them to be derided as “Jesus Rifles” by critics.
Yet, as GK Chesterton (allegedly) once said, “When a man stops believing in God, he starts believing in anything” and we in the contemporary West are not immune to this phenomenon. Judging by the disturbing words of NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg during a 2021 seminar, in which he seemingly implied the Alliance’s planes and tanks should become powered or part-powered by “alternative fuels [and] solar panels” to reduce their CO₂ emissions, the new quasi-religion of NATO forces is worship of the Great God Net-Zero. Like fruit-wielding African rebels, maybe NATO witch-doctors could soon deploy kites in battle rather than real weapons, and rebrand them ‘wind-powered drones’?
Analysts have criticized such measures as misguided: yes, solar-powered tanks may cut down on supply-line problems in terms of transporting fuel, but what about when it isn’t sunny, or the hours any such Tesla-Tank’s batteries would take to recharge? In the past Russia’s unpredictable old General Winter defeated Hitler and Napoleon, so his dark cloud-battalions would no doubt take care of NATO’s desired General Electric too, especially if Putin cunningly neglects to build sufficient vehicle-recharging points on the main road to Moscow. Furthermore, the putative technology needed to make such as-yet imaginary kit function will require the use of various rare-earth metals and minerals whose supply-lines are today dominated by geopolitical foes like China and Russia, whereas the US military currently has easy domestic access to hydrocarbons to power its vehicles. Why deliberately swap this secure, if dirty, supply for an insecure but clean one?
The sole rational purpose of military vehicles is to fight wars, not save the planet. Somewhere over in Pakistan, Bashiruddin Mahmood is sitting there in a large, genie-powered mobile missile-launching unit, laughing at us. Not even Indiana Jones can save us this time.