Woman Against Time: Remembering Savitri Devi's 100th Birthday
by R.G. Fowler
1 October 2005
Savitri Devi was a philosopher, a religious thinker, and a tireless activist on behalf of National Socialism, Indo-European paganism, vegetarianism, animal welfare, and deep ecology. She also dabbled in fiction-writing and espionage. In 1958, with the publication of her magnum opus, The Lightning and the Sun, she emerged as one of the most original and influential National Socialist thinkers of the post World War II era.
Savitri Devi was born Maximine Portaz on 30 September 1905 in Lyons, France at 8:45 a.m. She died shortly after midnight on 22 October 1982 in Sible Hedingham, Essex, England. Of English, Greek, and Italian ancestry, she described her nationality as "Indo-European."
The circumstances of Savitri Devi's birth were not auspicious. She was born two and a half months premature, having been conceived on the night of 13-14 March 1905. The delivery was difficult, and she weighed only 900 grams. The doctor told her parents that she would not live. She was to be an only child. Her mother Julia Portaz (née Nash) was forty, her father Maxim Portaz forty-four. Fearful of another difficult pregnancy, they never made love again. They named the baby Maximine Julia Portaz, then waited for her to die.
But the Life Force was strong in her. It had something great in store.
Savitri Devi had remarkable intellectual gifts, which she manifested at an early age. As a young child she learned French and English from her parents, then taught herself Modern Greek and some Ancient Greek. In time she became fluent in seven languages (English, French, Modern Greek, German, Icelandic, Hindi, and Bengali) and had knowledge of several others (e.g., Ancient Greek, Italian, Urdu, and other Indian languages).
Savitri Devi also earned two Masters Degrees, in philosophy and physics-chemistry, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Lyons. Her first two books were her doctoral dissertations: Essai-critique sur Théophile Kaïris (Critical Essay on Theophilius Kaïris) (Lyons: Maximine Portaz, 1935) and La simplicité mathématique (Mathematical Simplicity) (Lyons: Maximine Portaz, 1935).
Savitri Devi also had a vast knowledge of religion and history, particularly ancient history, as well as an amazing memory, particularly for dates and names. She was also a brilliant and mesmerizing teacher who could lecture at length on countless topics without reference to notes.
A self-described "nationalist of every nation" and an Indo-European pagan revivalist, Savitri Devi embraced National Socialism in 1929 while in Palestine. In 1935, she traveled to India to experience in Hinduism the last living remnants of the Indo-European pagan religious tradition. Settling eventually in Calcutta, she worked for the Hindu nationalist movement, which defended Hindu tradition from all universalistic and egalitarian ideologies, such as Christianity, Islam, Communism, and liberal democracy. In 1939, Savitri Devi married a Bengali Brahmin, the pro-Axis publisher Asit Krishna Mukherji (1903-1977). During World War II, she and her husband spied for the Japanese.
In 1935, while studying at Rabindranath Tagore's Shantiniketan Ashram in Bengal, Maximine Portaz, at the suggestion of some fellow students, took the pen name Savitri Devi. "Savitri" is one of the Sanskrit names of the sun, and "Devi" means goddess. It was a perfect name, since Savitri was a devotee of what she considered the primordial Aryan religion: the worship of Life and Light. ("Devi," by the way, is not a surname, but a title that all Aryan women in India are entitled to take. Thus Savitri Devi should not be referred to simply as "Devi" for short, but as "Savitri"-just as Saint Paul is referred to as "Paul" not as "Saint." By themselves, titles such as Saint, Mister, Doctor, or Devi do not refer to any particular person.)
While in India, Savitri authored several books: In 1937 she completed L' Etang aux lotus (The Lotus Pond) (Calcutta: Savitri Devi Mukherji, 1940), recording her first impressions of India. The Lotus Pond combines vivid travelogues with philosophical reflections on Indian culture and tradition. Her next book, A Warning to the Hindus (Calcutta: Hindu Mission, 1939), is her manifesto of Hindu Nationalism. Hinduism is a radically pluralistic and tolerant religion, and this often blinds Hindus to the dangers posed by the intolerant Biblical religions and their secular offshoots: liberal democracy and communism. Savitri seeks to awaken Hindus to this danger and demonstrate the necessity of cultivating a unified Hindu national consciousness that cuts across yet respects and preserves India's myriad communal and caste distinctions. Savitri also clearly thought that such a Hindu national consciousness was a necessary condition for Indian independence. A Warning to the Hindus was translated into six Indian languages and remains in print today. A third book, The Non-Hindu Indians and Indian Unity (Calcutta: Hindu Mission, 1940) deals with the question of the integration of non-Hindu minorities into a Hindu nation, both in the struggle for Indian independence and in an independent India. Savitri's plea is for Indian Muslims, Christians, and other non-Hindus to recognize that they are Indians first, i.e., products of a Hindu culture, even though they do not profess the Hindu religion.
Another focus of Savitri's interest while in India was a fellow sun-worshipper, the Ancient Egyptian "Heretic Pharaoh" Akhnaton (14th century BC), who was surely one of the most remarkable and enigmatic personalities in history. Akhnaton sought to replace Egyptian polytheism with a monotheistic religion that honored the Life Force under the image of the solar disc pouring forth its life-giving rays. Although Akhnaton's monotheism was as intolerant as the Biblical monotheism that Savitri despised, she was fascinated with Akhnaton's life and character and strongly attracted to his religion on philosophical, spiritual, and aesthetic grounds. Indeed, she believed that Akhnaton's religion was essentially identical to the primordial Aryan religion of Life and Light, and she even suggested that Akhnaton's reforms might have been influenced by the Mitanni, an Aryan people who had settled in upper Mesopotamia. Akhnaton himself was part Mitannian, through his paternal grandmother Mutemwiya and perhaps also through his maternal grandfather Yuya, and there were other Mitannians present at the Egyptian court as well.
Savitri's first publication on Akhnaton is a pamphlet entitled "Akhnaton's Eternal Message: A Scientific Religion 3,300 Years Old" (Calcutta: A.K. Mukherji, 1940). This was followed by a children's novel, Joy of the Sun: The Beautiful Life of Akhnaton, King of Egypt, Told to Young People (Calcutta: Thacker, Spink and Co. Ltd., 1942), illustrated with Savitri's own drawings and paintings, which are crude and child-like, but appropriately so.
Savitri's major work on Akhnaton is A Son of God: The Life and Philosophy of Akhnaton, King of Egypt (London: Philosophical Publishing House, 1946). Originally published by the Theosophical Society, the book was republished by the Rosicrucian Order as Son of the Sun: The Life and Philosophy of Akhnaton, King of Egypt (San Jose, California: Supreme Grand Lodge of AMORC, 1956). (Savitri regarded both organizations and subversive but was surely pleased that they published her book.) Son of the Sun has only recently gone out of print in English, and it has been translated into French and Dutch.
Nearly 60 years later, Son of the Sun is still one of the best books on Akhnaton. It is beautifully written, with a novelist's eye for concrete and colorful details. It is rigorously researched, drawing on all the relevant literature of the time. But most importantly, it is philosophical. Savitri draws upon Akhnaton's Hymns to the Sun and other writings, the iconography associated with his cult, and contemporary documents such as the Amarna letters, to produce the most comprehensive and plausible reconstruction of Akhnaton's world view ever offered.
In 1948, Savitri published Akhnaton: A Play (London: Philosophical Publishing House, 1948), which deals with the destruction of Akhnaton's cult and the persecution of his followers after his death. It is a thinly disguised allegory for what was happening in occupied Germany at that very moment.
Savitri was devastated by the defeat of Germany in World War II. In June of 1945, near Varkala on the Malabar Coast, she resolved to kill herself by walking into the ocean. But when the water was up to her shoulders, suddenly the Life Force stirred within her. A thought flashed through her mind like lightning. It was a command: live! Live to bear witness to the truth. Live to see the day of vengeance, when the victors of 1945 are hurled into pits. Live to say, "I told you so!" As Savitri put it in a letter to George Lincoln Rockwell dated 28 August 1965, "I walked out of the sea for the sake of that future possible enjoyment, and for that alone, and started living without hope, only for hatred's sake."
From that point on, Savitri embarked upon an itinerant, ascetic life. Her two chief activities were tireless witness on behalf of National Socialism and caring for homeless and abused animals, primarily cats.
Savitri revered National Socialist Germany as a Holy Land for all Aryans. But she never saw it during its glory days. Her first glimpse of it was in 1948, in ruins. Gold in the Furnace (Calcutta: A.K. Mukherji, 1952) is Savitri's dark and powerful account of her experiences in occupied Germany in 1948 and 1949. But Savitri did not regard the destruction of the Third Reich as the end of National Socialism, but as a purification-as a trial by fire that would separate the base metal from the gold-as the prelude to a new beginning. Thus Gold also contains chapters on the philosophical foundations and positive political program of National Socialism. In 1949, Savitri was arrested, tried, and imprisoned by the British Occupation authorities for distributing National Socialist propaganda leaflets. She describes her experience in Defiance (Calcutta: A.K. Mukherji, 1950). In 1953, Savitri made a pilgrimage to sacred National Socialist sites in Austria and Germany, describing it in her book Pilgrimage (Calcutta: Savitri Devi Mukherji, 1958).
Savitri's greatest work is The Lightning and the Sun (1958), which synthesizes National Socialism and the Aryan cyclical theory of history and advances the stunning claim that Adolf Hitler was an avatar-a human incarnation-of the Hindu god Vishnu, the sustainer of order. According to Aryan tradition, history moves in cycles, beginning with a Golden Age or Age of Truth and declining from that point until one reaches the nadir, the fourth age, the Dark Age or Kali Yuga, in which evil and falsehood reign. At that point, the forces of decay expire from their own corruption and a new Golden Age dawns. According to Hindu tradition, the present Kali Yuga will be ended and the next Golden Age inaugurated by the tenth avatar of Vishnu, Kalki, the avenger, who is portrayed as a warrior on a white horse. When Hitler's star was rising, Savitri Devi and many Indians thought that he was Kalki. When he was defeated, she concluded that Hitler was not the tenth avatar, but only his forerunner, and that Kalki has yet to come.
In The Lightning and the Sun, Savitri distinguishes between three kinds of men in terms of their relationships to the downward trajectory of history: Men in Time, Men above Time, and Men against Time. Men in Time are those who go with the downward flow of time and contribute to its disintegrating tendencies. Men above Time try to rise above history's downward trajectory and insulate themselves from the sordidness of the world. Men against Time fight against degeneration and seek to restore the Golden Age. Their goal, of course, is impossible. One cannot turn back the clock. But Men against Time are born fighters. Resisting decadence is their duty, their destiny. It does not matter that they cannot win. But even if they fail to turn back the clock, they might speed it up, i.e., they might hasten the destruction of the Dark Age and help usher in a new Golden Age. The bulk of The Lightning and the Sun is devoted to illustrating these three types of men through three mini-biographies: Genghis Khan is the paradigmatic Man in Time, Akhnaton the Man above Time, and Adolf Hitler the Man against Time.
One of the many ways in which The Lightning and the Sun is an extraordinary book is that it is absolutely unbelievable and absolutely compelling at the same time. Probably no one who has read it has taken it literally. Savitri Devi herself probably did not take it literally. But her vision has poetic beauty and explanatory power. The Lightning and the Sun moves in the realm of myth. I believe that Savitri's goal was to create the founding myth of a new religion. Savitri was fascinated with Paul of Tarsus, who founded a religion by taking a failed political revolutionary and transforming him into an incarnation of God who had come to save the world. And in less than three centuries, the religion Paul created triumphed over the Roman Empire. Savitri too took a failed political revolutionary and transformed him into an incarnation of God who had come to save the world. She hoped thereby to found a religion that would serve as the vehicle for the ultimate triumph of her ideals.
Savitri Devi was also a passionate crusader for vegetarianism, animal welfare, and deep ecology. She summarized her views on these matters in Impeachment of Man (Calcutta: Savitri Devi Mukherji: 1959). In the 1970s, long before PETA and the Animal Liberation Front, an elderly and crotchety Savitri Devi and her Indian servant broke the law to liberate cats and dogs destined for medical experiments at the All India Institute for Medical Sciences in New Delhi. Savitri's other book on animals is Long-Whiskers and the Two-Legged Goddess, or the true story of a "most objectionable Nazi" and . . . half-a-dozen cats (Calcutta: Savitri Devi Mukherji, 1965). A fictionalized autobiography focusing on her relationships with her favorite cats, this is Savitri's best written and most eccentric book.
Savitri's other writings include Souvenirs et réflexions d'une Aryenne (Memories and Reflections of an Aryan Woman) (Calcutta: Savitri Devi Mukherji, 1976), her most comprehensive presentation of her philosophy; and And Time Rolls On: The Savitri Devi Interviews (Atlanta: Black Sun Publications, 2005), the edited transcripts of ten hours of interviews given in New Delhi in 1978, which is an ideal introduction to Savitri's life and thought.
Savitri Devi's 100th Birthday will be honored today. But it will be a quiet affair. A few of her surviving friends will call one another and reminisce. Those whose lives she has touched are scattered over the globe. They cannot not gather together to raise a toast, so they will raise their toasts alone. In Germany, Regin-Verlag is publishing a special issue of the magazine Junges Forum in Savitri's honor (http://www.regin-verlag.de/Savitri_Devi/savitri_devi.html). They are also publishing The Lotus Pond and Impeachment of Man in German translation. In England, Historical Review Press has published a new edition of Gold in the Furnace (http://www.ety.com/HRP/ ). In the United States, Black Sun Publications is bringing out And Time Rolls On: The Savitri Devi Interviews. In cyberspace, I flatter myself to think that people all over the globe are reading these words. I had also hoped that my website, the Savitri Devi Archive (www.savitridevi.org) would appear today, but it has been delayed. When it is up, you can buy copies of And Time Rolls On there.
How can you honor Savitri today, if you are so inclined? In a letter to a young American comrade dated 13 April 1975, Savitri discussed how she would celebrate Adolf Hitler's approaching birthday:
This is just a short note to tell you how I shall think of you (and of all our comrades and superiors far and near) on the great Birthday a week ahead. It happens to be a Sunday this year, so-thank goodness I shall not have to go to my dreary work and shall be able to be entirely alone and just . . . think. I am thinking our Führer would be now-in a week's time-86, were he alive. And I wonder whether we, the few of His disciples in whose lives He actually has the first place, are as numerous and fervent as were the early Christians in 86 A.D., that is to say, under Emperor Domitian. There had been a spectacular persecution of Christians in 64 AD (under Nero), but none since. But surely one would have burst out laughing on hearing that "one day" the despised and now and then persecuted sect would dictate its dogma to the whole West and even force them into yet undiscovered continents and islands. Who could have imagined the personality and power of Philip II of Spain in those far gone days? And who can tell now, whether there is or not, in 1500 years to come, to rise some equally powerful Aryan racialist, a worshipper of our Führer, our equivalent of Philip II the Catholic? In one way it is a good thing that the future-although it exists already, as well as does the past-is totally unpredictable to finite minds.
It is good that we cannot predict the future because that allows us to hope. So honor Savitri Devi's 100th birthday by thinking, and hoping.
Savitri Devi's 100th Birthday will not be celebrated like those of two other philosophers who were also born in 1905: Jean-Paul Sartre and Ayn Rand. There will be no international scholarly symposia, no newspaper articles, no souvenir t-shirts and coffee mugs. But this is to be expected. After all, both Sartre and Rand-one a Communist, the other a libertarian individualist-are united in their opposition to all racial nationalism, except Jewish supremacism. (Rand was born a Jew, and Sartre wished he had been.) In short, both Sartre and Rand were very much "in Time." Their philosophies are celebrated precisely because they do not challenge the forces of decay but actually defend and promote them.
Savitri Devi, by contrast, was a Woman against Time. She will not find fame in this Dark Age, but in the Golden Age to come.