Hanussen, Erik Jan (June 2, 1889—March 25, 1933) - Witchcraft Hall of Fame

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Hanussen, Erik Jan (June 2, 1889—March 25, 1933)
Witchcraft Hall of Fame

Prophet, clairvoyant, hypnotist, publisher, charlatan, and illusionist, Erik Jan Hanussen was, like Cagliostro, a conjurer in every sense of the word. Like Cagliostro he met a sad end; like Cagliostro, Hanussen was a celebrity. Once renowned, he is now largely forgotten, mainly because few wished to remember him: a Jewish man, sometimes described as the “Nazi Rasputin,” Hitler was allegedly among his clients before Hanussen’s fall from grace. Hanussen’s former Nazi clients wished to forget that they had been scammed, while Jews and many occultists resent his involvement with the early Nazis.

Herschmann-Chaim Steinschneider, the future Jan Erik Hanussen, was born in a Vienna jail cell. His unwed mother, Julie Cohen, from an Orthodox Jewish family, had eloped with an actor Siegfried Steinschneider. She was nine months’ pregnant when her enraged father had them arrested on phony charges of property theft.

It was standard practice for Austrian birth certificates to list the baby’s religion and so Julie’s son was classified as a “Hebrew male.” That document would be his eventual downfall.

He displayed powerful clairvoyant skills by age three. On his father’s side, he claimed descent from miracle-rabbis, celebrated for magical and healing skill. It is theorized that the name Steinschneider (“stone-cutter”) derives from the practice of crafting amulets with engraved stone blocks.

At age 14, he ran away to join the circus, spending his adolescence mastering tricks, legerdemain, and confidence scams. He worked in a lion-taming act and as a fire-eater, a knife thrower, and he sometimes did a fake strongman act, snapping cardboard chains.

At the time, a popular form of entertainment involved demonstration of psychic skills to assembled crowds. The alleged clairvoyant would stand before a packed lecture-hall and proceed to reveal information about the supposed strangers assembled there. Obviously it was a system highly conducive to fraud. The clairvoyant would have secret assistants planted in the audience. Hanussen achieved tremendous acclaim in this way, sometimes via illusion and tricks but not always.

Hanussen possessed authentic clairvoyant skills. Sometimes he went into trance and offered genuine, honest, and not always popular prophesies, shocking even himself with his skills. A cynical man, he had a hard time believing in his own skills; however they are documented by various psychic incidents. He was also clairsentient: able to obtain information about objects by touching them.

An accomplished tarot card reader and master hypnotist, Hanussen may have studied tricks and frauds but he also traveled through Egypt, the Middle East, Turkey, and Ethiopia, studying with genuine occult masters.

Harry was conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian army at the beginning of World War I. While conscripted he was offered the opportunity to present his telepathic act in Vienna on April 30, 1918. It was a golden opportunity but he knew he was unlikely to receive permission from his superiors, nor could he just openly perform without incurring severe punishment from the army. Therefore Harry Steinschneider disappeared off the face of the Earth; “Eric Jan Hanussen, Danish clairvoyant” was born in his place. The show was a success and Hanussen became a star.

Hanussen became a prominent occultist, consulted by law enforcement agencies in various sensational crimes. He appeared in a film and began a publishing empire, specializing in occult magazines. He became wealthy and famous, a fixture of Weimar Germany’s decadent nightlife. His parties were scandalous; he allegedly hypnotized people who, while entranced, performed in ways they would later prefer not to remember.

Among those in his social circle were authors Thomas Mann and Hanns Heinz Ewers, and actor Peter Lorre. Aleister Crowley and Franz Bardon also traveled in these circles; although there is no documentation, it’s likely they met.

On March 25, 1932, Hanussen predicted Hitler’s electoral victory and success in his publication. This brought him to the attention of Hitler and other Nazis who allegedly began consulting him. It also brought him attention from those who opposed the Nazis; by the fall of 1932, rumors of Hanussen’s ethnic origins were circulating—his past identity was an open secret. He made little pretense of being Danish and socialized with people from his past who knew him under many names.

In 1933, Hanussen leased a dilapidated mansion in Berlin; on February 26, 1933, the Palace of the Occult had its grand opening. It allegedly resembled a Pagan temple; Hanussen offered consultations and lectures, notably predicting the subsequent fire in the Reichstag. (His prediction was too good; as with William Lilly (see page 747) he was suspected of collusion.)

The Palace was lush and luxurious; Hanussen threw lavish parties attended by important members of the Nazi party but also simultaneously by occultists and entertainers, in particular Jewish occultists and entertainers. Whether he genuinely thought he could create some sort of integrated balance, whether he liked to live dangerously or was just self-destructive is subject to conjecture.

He was certainly courting danger by the end of his life; there were lots of illicit drugs and sex at his parties. He allegedly provided orgies for his new friends, which he secretly filmed, capturing important people in embarrassing moments. Rumors of these films, which have never surfaced, also circulated and may have contributed to his murder. Various highly placed Nazis were also allegedly indebted to him for great sums of money.

Hanussen was reckless: he bragged about his sessions with Hitler, whom he allegedly described as resembling an “unemployed hairdresser.” Hanussen published an updated horoscope for Hitler; although predicting initial success, it also detailed (accurately) eventual, violent failure. Allegedly Hitler was furious, adjusting his birth time on future horoscopes by two hours so that similar results would not be obtained.

By the summer of 1932, Hanussen had advised friends that his days were numbered. He paid last goodbyes to several people. He never attempted to flee, however; instead at some point in February 1933, he simultaneously converted to Roman Catholicism and joined the Nazi Party.

At some point during this time, journalists located his original birth certificate and revealed his true ethnic origins. On March 24, 1933, he was arrested and charged with submitting a fraudulent Aryan certificate to gain admittance to the Nazi party. A squad of Nazi officers searched and looted his apartment and safe, demanding Hanussen surrender all loan receipts from Nazi debtors, which he did.

Hanussen was brought to Nazi headquarters, interrogated for two hours and released. Early next morning three men in Nazi uniforms broke into his apartment. He was taken to Gestapo headquarters where he was shot; his body was dumped in a field. His apartments and the Palace of the Occult were systematically searched and looted, his villa, yacht, jewelry and valuables confiscated.

Further information about Hanussen’s life and adventures may be found in Mel Gordon’s Erik Jan Hanussen: Hitler’s Jewish Clairvoyant (Feral House, 2001).

By personal order of Josef Goebbels, Hitler’s Chief of Propaganda, no word of Hanussen’s murder was published in German newspapers although he was a very public figure. There was no investigation. He was eventually buried in a pauper’s grave.