Next month marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and thus also the 50th anniversary of a peculiar but powerful strand of occult, conspiratorial history from which much of our writing here draws its inspiration. Though we cannot say that we will never write about the Kennedy assassination(s) in these pages, it’s not actually what we’re going to address today. No, today we’re going to talk about the failure and loss surrounding another aspiring Camelot, if only to show that you can make anything seem like black magic if you’re willing to read coincidence as fate.
Gnostic Sorcerers and the Illuminati
Ludwig Wittersbach — the future Ludwig II of Bavaria — was born on August 25th 1845, the oldest son of Crown Prince Maximilian II and Princess Marie of Prussia. Maximilian was a scientist and a historian with something of a dour reputation, though he was at least privately fond of fantasy. During his reign as King, Maximilian ordered the construction of a new castle — Schloss Hohenschwangau — on the site of a ruined fortress once held by a defunct order of Swan Knights (who might have been secret gnostic sorcerers) on the wide plains below the Bavarian Alps, and served as a major patron of Danish fairy tale chronicler Hans Christian Anderson, who attended the young Maximilian at Hohenschwangau before Ludwig’s birth. King Max was a Masonically significant 33 when Ludwig was born, perhaps presaging his son’s mysterious death just over 40 years later. It is up to you as to whether this should be read as the outward sign of an intentional mystical working, but let’s not forget that the masonically influenced (or influencing) Illuminati were born in Bavaria, too.
Son of Another World?
Although Ludwig would spend his formative youth in the halls of the Swan Knights’ castle, he was born in Munich’s suggestively named Nymphenburg palace, giving you plenty of room to hint that the eventual Swan King was a changeling borne to an ancient spirit bound to the palace site. Perhaps the alchemically significant Ondine? This could explain his apparent sensitivity to the fairy-tale world next to our own and Maximilian’s famously distant treatment of his son. This of course might cast a different light on Maximilian’s close relationship with Anderson, who was no occultist in real life, but could certainly be one in your game. It begs the question: if the Swan King was not the true son of Maximilian and Marie, what happened to the real boy replaced by the Nymphenburg changeling? Perhaps a mystery for a 19th century GUMSHOE game?
Gaining the Throne
The young Ludwig — often described as a withdrawn, introverted day-dreamer — ascended to the Bavarian throne upon his father’s death in 1864. He had inherited his fathers taste for fantasy, and a dangerous rivalry with Prussia, which had sought to bring Bavaria into a unified German Empire. Ludwig quickly summoned the famous Richard Wagner to his court, commanding repeated performances of Wagner’s mythic operas, fixating on the Arthurian Grail legend in Parsifal. Wagner may have seen some of Ludwig’s otherworldly nature, noting in their early meetings that Ludwig was “handsome and wise, soulful and lovely….” Wagner went on to explain that Ludwig seemed so out of place in the world that he “fear[ed] that his life must melt away… like a fleeting dream of the gods.” Castle Falkenstein — now sadly out of print, but still available here and there — plays Ludwig’s otherworldly nature to great effect, casting him as a key pawn in an eternal Fairy (well, technically Faery) war for dominance of an alternate earth. No reason you couldn’t use a similar hook for a Mage game, or maybe the underpinning of a pulpy FATE adventure.
We’re not done with Ludwig just yet, dear reader. Why not try part II — addressing the rest of the Ludwig’s strange life, and his mysterious death — on for size?