Savitri Devi: The Woman Against Time
Looking Back with R. G. Fowler
The Mourning the Ancient Interview
The following interview was first published at the Mourning the Ancient website in July 2009. We thank Mourning the Ancient for doing the interview and for permission to reproduce it here.
How did you first hear of Savitri Devi, and what was your first impression of her?
I first heard of Savitri Devi in 2000. I was shown a copy of Impeachment of Man and Goodrick-Clarke’s Hitler’s Priestess. My first impression was that Savitri Devi was one of history’s great eccentrics. I am fascinated with human eccentricity, and that is what first led me to read her works. History is often stranger and more entertaining than fiction. Who could have made up Savitri Devi? She was utterly unique.
But as I read more of Savitri Devi’s works, I found her ideas increasingly appealing. So I suppose you can say that she made an eccentric out of me too, although I already was pretty far out of the mainstream. I was already familiar with and broadly sympathetic to National Socialism, Indo-European paganism, and the Traditional cyclical conception of history. I also shared her fascination with Akhnaton and the ancient world in general. But I was very impressed with how Savitri Devi synthesized these ideas and interests. She never claimed to be an original thinker, but I think she was too modest.
You are the Archivist of the online Savitri Devi Archive and the General Editor of the Centennial Edition of Savitri Devi’s Works, which reprints Savitri Devi’s published works, and prints previously unpublished ones as well. Tell us about these projects. What motivated you to begin this massive undertaking?
The goal of the Archive and the Centennial Edition is to make Savitri Devi’s works more accessible. When I first began reading Savitri Devi, it took me months to get copies of her books. Eventually, when the Archive and the Centennial Edition are complete, all of Savitri Devi’s books will be available for free online and can be easily purchased in high quality print editions.
I should note, though, that the Centennial Edition will not be a complete edition of Savitri Devi’s writings. We have no plans to reprint her doctoral dissertations, for instance. Nor will we republish works in their original languages. Instead, we plan to reprint all of Savitri Devi’s English-language books, plus English translations of L’Etang aux Lotus and Souvenirs et réflexions d’une Aryenne—plus Tyrtée l’Athenien and Hart wie Kruppstahl, if we can acquire the full manuscripts. But eventually we will put all of Savitri Devi’s writings, in the original languages and all translations, online at the Savitri Devi Archive
Even though the Savitri Devi Archive is a treasure trove of information, what information do you still seek? Are there periods of her life you are still in the dark about? Is there any possibility of the existence of unknown, unpublished books or articles?
Savitri Devi’s years in Greece are the most mysterious part of her life, particularly the years 1932-1935. In her writings and interviews, Savitri claims that she was in India from the spring of 1932 until the spring of 1935, when she returned to Europe to defend her doctoral dissertation, on April 1, 1935.
Dr. Greg Johnson, who is doing research for a new biography of Savitri Devi, discovered that this story is a lie. In 2004, in the Indian National Archive in New Delhi, he found a copy of Savitri Devi’s original application for a Visa to visit India. It is dated April 2, 1935—i.e., the day after she defended her doctoral dissertation in Lyons. It was filled out at the British Consulate in Lyons.
It is not known why Savitri Devi lied so consistently about her whereabouts in the years 1932-1935.
Savitri Devi also maintained that she met her future husband A. K. Mukherji in Calcutta in January of 1938, after his pro-Axis publication The New Mercury had been closed down. His family, however, claims that they met in Europe before she came to India, and this has been confirmed by Dr. Johnson’s archival research as well.
Dr. Johnson hypothesizes that both lies are related. He thinks that Savitri lied about when she met Mr. Mukherji to conceal the fact that she had been involved with the publication of The New Mercury. So if you want to find one source of lost articles by Savitri Devi, I recommend that one track down The New Mercury. Unfortunately, no copies seem to exist in libraries in India, Europe, or the United States. If anyone comes across old issues, please contact me through the Savitri Devi Archive.
What about the lie concerning her whereabouts in 1932-1935? We know that at least part of that time she was in Greece, where she was the French tutor of Cornelius Castoriadis, who later became famous in France as a left-wing political philosopher.
Dr. Johnson has a rather intriguing hypothesis about that period. Savitri Devi mentioned in And Time Rolls On that before Mr. Mukherji returned to India, he spent two years traveling in the U.S.S.R. doing research for his doctoral dissertation on British and Russian foreign policy in relation to Afghanistan and India. She also mentions that he traveled first class, and that the Communists were trying to groom him as a spy in India.
Surely there is a file on Mr. Mukherji somewhere in the archives of the Soviet secret police. And if that file were opened, would it also reveal that Savitri Devi was his traveling companion? Some day, the archives may tell.
What is your personal favorite book by Savitri and why?
My personal favorite is Souvenirs et réflexions d’une Aryenne (Memories and Reflections of an Aryan Woman) because it is the most comprehensive and beautiful statement of the full range of Savitri Devi’s ideas in relation to the Tradition. She wrote it at the end of her life, for the benefit of a circle of French friends and admirers including the writers Saint-Loup and Guy Sajer.
I am also very fond of And Time Rolls On, because I labored so long to produce it, and I am very proud of it. Whenever I read it, I can still hear Savitri’s taped voice in my head.
Regarding the original editions of her books, what would you say is the most difficult to obtain? Are they pricey? Do you yourself own them?
I own first editions of most of Savitri Devi’s books. All of Savitri Devi’s first editions are quite rare. She had 100 hardcover copies of Souvenirs printed, for personal friends, and I managed to get five copies, but I sold or gave away four of them. Savitri also had small hardcover printings of The Lightning and the Sun and Pilgrimage made. I have one of each.
Even rarer are Savitri Devi’s books with hand-painted dust-jackets. I know of such jackets for Gold in the Furnace, Defiance, and Long-Whiskers and the Two-Legged Goddess. I have one of the Gold in the Furnace jackets, and a friend who has another has promised to leave it to me in her will.
But surely the rarest Savitri Devi title is A Perfect Man: Akhnaton, King of Egypt. She lists this as having been already published in Joy of the Sun, which was published in 1942. But I have never been able to find a copy, not in any library or private collection, and Savitri made a point of donating her books to the British Library. The book may simply be lost to history, although a copy may someday turn up.
Another possibility is that it was never published at all. Savitri could have listed it in Joy of the Sun, thinking that it would be published by the time Joy of the Sun appeared. But then she could have changed her mind and decided not to publish it. Or the project could have grown into her great book on Akhnaton, A Son of God: The Life and Philosophy of Akhnaton, King of Egypt, later republished as Son of the Sun. I think that this is the most likely story. (Notice that the subtitles of the two books are similar.) But perhaps I just want to convince myself that one of Savitri’s books has not been lost entirely.
The prices of Savitri Devi’s used books that appear online have been steadily rising, largely due to the existence of the Archive. In the past, when used booksellers received copies of one of Savitri’s books, I imagine they did not know what to do with them. I hate to think some were just thrown away, but that is possible. Now, if they are curious, they can go online and in a few minutes learn that Savitri Devi was a widely-published author whose works are intensely interesting to a small but growing audience of enthusiasts.
When I first went online searching for Savitri’s books, I found an autographed copy of Pilgrimage that had belonged to Muriel Gantry for £10. Recently, I saw a first edition of Defiance offered for more than $3,000! Although this might be bad for individual collectors who are not rich, it is definitely good for the preservation of Savitri Devi’s books, and that is a good thing in the long run.
What are your biggest obstacles to publishing Savitri Devi’s books?
Although some printers have balked at the “objectionable” content of Savitri Devi’s books, I have never had trouble finding printers who simply want the business. The biggest obstacles, therefore, are money and time. I solved the money problem by taking advance orders for the books, which have allowed me to pay the printers up front. The time problem, however, remains intractable. I have a more than full-time job as it is, so sometimes I just lack the time to edit and publish books, follow up research leads, and keep the Archive updated.
I find it to be very unfortunate that more people do not know of Savitri Devi’s writings. Your print runs are very low, at least in hard cover, limited to 200 hand numbered copies. Has this met the demand?
So far, we have sold out of the hardcover editions of And Time Rolls On and Gold in the Furnace. We still have a few copies of Defiance. We have almost sold out of the paperback printing of And Time Rolls On. When we do, I will bring out a new expanded and illustrated paperback edition. Of course, if one sells out the print run of books like these, it might be too risky to do another print run of hundreds of copies. But we could always set the titles up with a print-on-demand company, and they can print exactly the number of copies needed, which would free us from tying up capital and storage space.
Can you share any personal experiences you’ve had with people’s reactions to your publishing of Savitri Devi’s books or to the Savitri Devi Archive website?
First of all, there have been no negative experiences. Nobody has contacted me to express disapproval of the very idea of the Archive or of republishing Savitri Devi’s works. There have been no attempts to shut down the Archive, attack it online, and the like.
Second, the most positive personal outcomes from my work are the friendships I have made with people all over the world. Also gratifying in a personal way are the many kind letters and emails I have received from people who are enthusiastic about Savitri Devi and grateful for the Archive and the Centennial Edition.
But personal consequences, positive and negative, are really not a motivating factor in my work. Of course I appreciate the fact that my experiences have been overwhelmingly positive. But, even if they had been overwhelmingly negative, I would have gone forward, for I do this out of a sense of duty: a duty to history, a duty to truth, and a duty of gratitude to Savitri Devi herself, this remarkable individual who has changed my life in countless ways.
How would you personally describe Savitri and her works to someone who had never heard of her before?
Savitri Devi’s personality is as fascinating as her ideas, so I stress both when trying to interest people. I also emphasize the extreme eccentricity of both her personality and her doctrines. These have to come out eventually, so there is no point in avoiding them. Moreover, they grab people’s attention like nothing else. Everyone wants to know more about the woman who worshiped Hitler as a divine avatar; the woman who criticized Hitler for being too kind; the woman who advocated animal rights but not human rights; the woman who would ban medical experiments on animals and do them on people instead—who would prefer to eat the flesh of an enemy than of an innocent lamb. But what is even more surprising than these views is the fact that Savitri Devi provides a consistent rationale for them.
Can you tell us three things about Savitri that most people do not know?
There are quite a few things about Savitri Devi that the world will not know until a new biography of her is published. A few years ago, Dr. Johnson interviewed a woman who knew Savitri Devi in New Delhi in the 1970s. She told him many things that I found interesting, even surprising. I am sure he will not be annoyed if I share three facts that come immediately to mind.
First, she said that Savitri Devi’s favorite painter was Van Gogh, and that she admired Picasso as well.
Second, she said that Pushkin was one of Savitri Devi’s favorite poets.
Third, she said that Savitri Devi was not just fluent in eight languages—English, French, German, Italian, Greek, Icelandic, Hindi, and Bengali—but that she had knowledge of nineteen other languages and dialects, including Russian and many Indian languages. She said that when Savitri Devi visited her house, she would converse with her in Greek, her husband and son in English, and address four Indian servants in their native dialects, moving effortlessly back and forth between all six languages. Her linguistic abilities alone indicate that Savitri Devi had an astonishingly high IQ.
One astonishing aspect of Savitri is her humble attitude toward her own works and influence. Do you think she knew in her lifetime how important her works were and would be to National Socialists?
Savitri Devi was very humble. I hesitate to accuse her of false modesty, but her modesty does ring false, because she was obviously a superior individual, and she knew it.
But perhaps Savitri Devi’s modesty is a sign of her greatness of soul, in the sense discussed by Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics. According to Aristotle, great-souled people are aware of their superiority, but they do not show it off or dwell on it, because only small people enjoy looking down on and lording it over others. Instead, great souled people seek to hide their sense of superiority.
This dissimulation, which Plato and Aristotle called “irony,” is a form of falsehood, but it is forgivable, even laudable. What great-souled individuals crave is not to look down on inferiors, but to have equals and superiors, friends to enjoy and heroes or gods to worship.
That is certainly true of Savitri Devi, who claimed quite candidly that she was a skeptic about the literal existence of the gods, but had an overwhelming desire to worship them nonetheless.
All (false) modesty aside, I think that Savitri Devi strongly hoped that her books would become very important to National Socialists. In my short essay on Savitri Devi and Paul of Tarsus, “Enemy and Exemplar,” I argue that Savitri understood her project to be analogous to that of Saint Paul. Paul took the life and ideas of Jesus, a failed prophet or perhaps merely a would-be revolutionary (Savitri vacillated on this issue, but he was a failure either way), and created a religion that eventually triumphed over Rome and all of Europe.
Savitri Devi wished to be the Saint Paul to Hitler’s Christ. She too took a failed political leader and transformed him into a divine avatar around which she hoped to crystallize a religion that would serve as a vehicle for the eventual triumph of his ideas. This is a remarkably grandiose ambition for such a modest lady!
Her plans may be grandiose, but I hasten to add that this does not make them absurd or impracticable. After all, it took more than 300 years for Paul’s creation to triumph over Rome.
Savitri Devi died in 1982. Since then, interest in her works has grown dramatically. The religion she envisioned may indeed be taking shape. I would love to know what sort of impact Savitri Devi will have three centuries hence. If there are any white people left on the planet, I would like to think that Savitri Devi would have played no small part in ensuring their survival.
Savitri wanted very badly to go to Germany during Adolf Hitler’s time. World War II prevented her from ever going and seeing the nation and people she idolized and loved so much in her writings. But if she had, how do you think Adolf Hitler and the others would have received her? She said she would have loved to have worked under Goebbels, and I can’t think of a place that would have suited her better.
I think that Savitri Devi would have been well-received by German National Socialists. She would have impressed them as a sincere, intelligent, talented, and energetic National Socialist. I am sure that they would have found a way to fully mobilize her talents for the cause. Even her eccentricities would not have held her back, for the National Socialist leadership was filled with artistic, even bohemian types and remarkably free of bourgeois prigs. I am sure that she would have met Goebbels, Hess, Streicher, Himmler, and Hitler himself. I think she probably would have gotten along best with Hitler, Hess, and Goebbels, in spite of her great admiration for Himmler and Streicher.
I doubt, however, that Savitri Devi alone could have changed the outcome of the war. I imagine that she would have been in the bunker in Berlin to the bitter end. She might have preferred such a heroic death, but personally I am glad that she lived on to write her books.
In her extensive travels and contacts Savitri met some of the greatest heroes of Germany’s National Socialist era: Leon Degrelle, Hans-Ulrich Rudel, and Otto Skorzeny, to name just three! But she also met with others like Horst Wessel’s aunt and Heinrich Himmler’s widow. She met hundreds of other personalities from that era spread all over the world, including SS men in the Middle East. What do you think they thought of her? This National Socialist from India of all places!
From all accounts, Savitri Devi was held in high regard by virtually everyone who knew her. I have only encountered a couple of people who disliked her. Savitri Devi impressed people with her intelligence, breadth of knowledge, sincerity, and devotion to National Socialism. Many, I am sure, were skeptical of her metaphysical and religious beliefs, but National Socialists tend to be tolerant of such views because they are not uncommon in these circles.
Before and during the Second World War, Savitri Devi and her husband A. K. Mukherji worked as agents of the Axis powers in India. Did Savitri Devi know Subhas Chandra Bose, the Indian nationalist leader who allied himself with the Third Reich and the Japanese against the British Empire?
Savitri Devi knew Subhas Chandra Bose. She met him in Calcutta in the late 1930s. She claims that she introduced him to her future husband, Mr. Mukherji, who in turn introduced him to the Japanese. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Although National Socialist Germany pioneered animal rights, banning vivisection, strict laws regarding habitat, humane treatment of animals, hunting regulations, etc., Savitri is seen as a modern champion of animal rights. Impeachment of Man was first published in 1959 dealing with this subject in a time when animal rights were far from the public’s mind. But, unfortunately, it would seem humanity has grown even more selfish and cruel in their treatment of animals since her book. One need only look at the Animal Liberation Front’s video’s on YouTube.com or anywhere else online to see some of the horrors we humans inflict upon animals. Many respected scientists say that the earth won’t be able to sustain a meat eating human population for much longer. The strain on the earth is enormous, ethical concerns aside. Like Adolf Hitler, Savitri was a vegetarian. Do you think this is the way of the future? Your thoughts on all of this.
Impeachment of Man is an admirable book, with many valid points. The world would be a much better place if everyone followed its teachings. But in the end, I find its argument for vegetarianism to be unconvincing.
I too love nature, and I love animals. I love my dog especially. But my dog eats meat, and so do I. That is the way of nature. Some animals eat plants. Others eat animals. I eat both. And killing is involved in both cases. Life feeds on death, and that goes for vegetarians too. As Joseph Campbell said, “A vegetarian is someone who has never heard a carrot scream.”
I tried vegetarianism, but I did not feel as healthy as I do when I include a small amount of animal protein in my diet, mostly from milk and eggs, but also from meat. I go to great lengths, however, to avoid supporting factory farms and other sickening forms of cruelty to animals. There is nothing natural about that. They are spawned from perversions of the human mind and soul, the marriage of greed and scientific method, to the exclusion of moral and aesthetic sensibilities.
But by the same token, I go to great lengths not to harm plants as well. I can’t bear to weed my own garden. But the principle is the same for plants and animals: I eat some of them, but I also wish to do them the least possible harm. Of course, I can feel more sympathy for animals than plants, because they are more like me. Especially cute animals. But I have no problem killing repulsive and dangerous animals.
I think that vegetarianism is a valid spiritual discipline if one wants somehow to transcend nature. But I do not wish to transcend nature at all. I wish to be a wholly natural being, and I think that is most in keeping with the spirit of Savitri Devi’s life-affirming pantheism.
Savitri Devi was against anthropocentrism—the idea that man is unique and placed above nature. She thought that anthropocentrism was the root of all environmental destruction and cruelty to animals. Yet vegetarianism is a practice that sets one outside and above nature too.
Sadly, Savitri died in England on October 22, 1982 before going on a planned speaking tour in the United States. In all her travels she never made it to the United States. Ironically, her urn and ashes were sent to the United States. Do you know where they were sent and to who? That was twenty seven years ago, any idea who has them today? Have you ever heard of anyone ever going to see her urn? There is a beautiful picture of it enshrined that I’m sure you're familiar with.
I asked Commander Matt Koehl of the New Order about the present location of Savitri’s ashes. He told me that they are enshrined at the New Order headquarters in Milwaukee. Visitation is not allowed.
Lastly, we’d like to thank you very, very much for helping to share this marvelous woman with the world, and for having this conversation with us! We would also like to thank Savitri for being everything that she was. A higher human being. Defiant till the end. A Woman Against Time. Final thoughts?
Thank you for this opportunity to talk about one of my favorite people. When I think about Savitri Devi’s long and lonely struggle to live and witness the truth, your interest touches me deeply. It makes me think that her struggles were not in vain, that she will live on in the way that mattered to her most: in the hearts and minds of a National Socialist community that will survive to face the dawn of a new Golden Age.