Vril, the Power of the Coming Race’ is an 1871 novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, originally printed as ‘The Coming Race.’ Many readers believe that its account of a superior subterranean master race and the energy-form called ‘Vril’ is accurate, to the extent that some theosophists accepted the book as truth. A popular book, ‘The Morning of the Magicians’ (1960) suggested that a secret Vril Society existed in pre-Nazi Berlin.

The novel centers on a young, independently wealthy traveler (the narrator), who accidentally finds his way into a subterranean world occupied by beings who seem to resemble angels and call themselves Vril-ya. The hero soon discovers that the Vril-ya are descendants of an antediluvian civilization who live in networks of subterranean caverns linked by tunnels.

It is a technologically supported Utopia, chief among their tools being the ‘all-permeating fluid’ called ‘Vril,’ a latent source of energy which its spiritually elevated hosts are able to master through training of their will, to a degree which depends upon their hereditary constitution, giving them access to an extraordinary force that can be controlled at will. The powers of the will include the ability to heal, change, and destroy beings and things; the destructive powers in particular are awesomely powerful, allowing a few young Vril-ya children to wipe out entire cities if necessary. It is also suggested that the Vril-ya are fully telepathic. The narrator states that in time, the Vril-ya will run out of habitable spaces underground and start claiming the surface of the Earth, destroying mankind in the process if necessary.

A ‘Vril staff’ is an object in the shape of a wand or a staff which is used as a channel for Vril. The narrator describes it as hollow with ‘stops,’ ‘keys,’ or ‘springs’ in which Vril can be altered, modified or directed to either destroy or heal. The staff is about the size of a walking stick but can be lengthened or shortened according to the user’s preferences. The book was quite popular in the late 19th century, and for a time the word ‘Vril’ came to be associated with ‘life-giving elixirs.’ The best known use of ‘Vril’ in this context is in the name of Bovril (a blend of ‘Bovine’ and ‘Vril’).

The concept of Vril was given new impetus by the French author Louis Jacolliot, who at one time was the French Consul in Calcutta. In ‘Les Fils de Dieu’ (1873) and in ‘Les Traditions indo-européennes’ (1876), Jacolliot claims that he encountered Vril among the Jains in Mysore and Gujarat. The writings of these two authors, and Bulwer-Lytton’s occult background, convinced some commentators that the fictionalized Vril was based on a real magical force. Helena Blavatsky, the founder of Theosophy, endorsed this view in her book ‘Isis Unveiled’ (1877) and again in ‘The Secret Doctrine’ (1888). In Jacolliot and Blavatsky, the Vril power and its attainment by a superhuman elite are worked into a mystical doctrine of race. However, the character of the subterranean people was transformed. Instead of potential conquerors, they were benevolent (if mysterious) spiritual guides.

When the theosophist William Scott-Elliot describes life in Atlantis in ‘The Story of Atlantis & The Lost Lemuria’ (first published 1896), the aircraft of the Atlanteans are propelled by Vril-force. He did not regard that description as fiction, and his books are still published by the Theosophical Society. A stage adaptation of the book was written by journalist David Christie Murray and magician Nevil Maskelyne. The production premiered at Saint George’s Hall in London in 1905. Both Nevil Maskelyne and his father John Nevil Maskelyne collaborated on the special effects for the play. The play did not meet with success and closed after a run of eight weeks. Willy Ley was a German rocket engineer who had emigrated to the United States in 1937. In 1947, he published an article entitled ‘Pseudoscience in Naziland’ in the science fiction magazine ‘Astounding Science Fiction.’ He wrote that the high popularity of irrational convictions in Germany at that time explained how National Socialism could have fallen on such fertile ground. Among other pseudo-scientific groups he mentions one that looked for the Vril: ‘The next group was literally founded upon a novel. That group which I think called itself Wahrheitsgesellschaft—Society for Truth—and which was more or less localized in Berlin, devoted its spare time looking for Vril.’

The existence of a Vril-Society was alleged in 1960 by Jacques Bergier and Louis Pauwels. In their book ‘The Morning of the Magicians,’ they claimed that the Vril-Society was a secret community of occultists in pre-Nazi Berlin that was a sort of inner circle of the Thule Society (a German occultist and popularist group). They also thought that it was in close contact with the English magical order known as the ‘Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.’ The Vril information takes up about a tenth of the volume, the remainder of which details other esoteric speculations, but the authors fail to clearly explain whether this section is fact or fiction.


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