Kalhjälm and the Vertical (1945–1968)

This article is chapter 3 of Secrets of Sweden, a 2012/2015 miniature sourcebook for the fictional setting known as the Cthulhu Mythos.

In the early 1920s, Swedish racists had secured government funding for the State Institute for Racial Biology (SIRB). In 1934, the SIRB began a program of forced sterilization, mostly of women. One ethnic group, the Scandinavian branch of the Romani people, was disproportionately targeted.

Axel Kalhjälm was born in 1899. He began working at the SIRB while still a student. His interest in racial hygiene also led him to join the SSAG, where he was pulled into Hedin’s group of junior anthropologists. In 1930, he and a friend witnessed a fertility rite in the woods of East Prussia. He was too frightened to intervene and did not investigate whether the cultists had in fact been part of the Polish or Lithuanian minorities, as he claimed on his return to Stockholm.

Towards the end of the war, Kalhjälm made sure to oversee medical examinations of refugees in a detention camp at Eksjö. Among these refugees were close to 100 Latvians who’d been drafted by the Axis and forced to fight the Soviet Union. Kalhjälm thought he recognized occult symbols from the East Prussian cult among these refugee soldiers. By May 1945, Kalhjälm had emerged as Hedin’s successor, organizing against the new threat.

On the night of February 23, 1944, six formations of Soviet Air Force bombers dropped their bombs over sites in neutral Sweden, including Stockholm. Very few people were injured. Russia denied involvement. The errant squadrons had been part of a larger raid on Axis-aligned Finnish Turku.

In June 1945, the Swedish government decided to comply with a Soviet request to extradite Baltic refugee soldiers in accordance with the terms of the German surrender. Sweden had been neutral and was therefore under no obligation. The policy of compliance was kept secret until November, to improve security at the camps.

Because the Soviets now occupied the Baltic states, it was believed that the refugee soldiers would be received as traitors. When the news of extradition came, hunger strikes ensued. Several of the soldiers maimed themselves to avoid being sent home. One is reported to have jammed the full length of a pencil into his eye. It made no difference. In January 1946, the last of them were sent on their way. 30 000 Baltic civilians, and many other refugees, remained in Sweden.

Kalhjälm was now an influential figure at the SIRB. He wanted the civilian refugees out, with less attention. In May 1946, he summoned the seven most useful survivors from the old network to his home in Uppsala, and presented what would later be called “the Vertical” (Vertikalen). His idea was to hide further investigative work inside the SIRB’s ongoing eugenics program.

By positioning veterans from the SSAG vertically, in a chain of government institutions from police to medical authorities and back down to asylum orderlies, the group could effectively order and carry out the forced examination, sterilization or institutionalization of practically anybody. Kalhjälm himself would perform the medical evaluations, until solid evidence and trusted associates could be gathered. Sven Hedin was not informed.

The Vojmbyn massacre

In the winter of 1949/50, the Vertical found almost exactly what it was looking for, in a northern religious community called Vojmbyn. It had been founded by Swedish “free church” evangelicals who’d accepted a group of Russian Doukhobor immigrants in 1897, followed by a group of Skoptsy in 1921. The Russians drew Kalhjälm’s attention. He sent anthropological inspectors. These reported evasive behaviour and a large stock of hunting rifles. From there the situation escalated rapidly.

It is not known who fired the first shot. When the smoke cleared, 87 villagers had been forcibly institutionalized, jailed or killed by the Vertical. Four police officers, all of them from local units recruited under false pretences, were dead, as were dozens of villagers. The event was too big to contain. Pre-empting the arrest of the Vertical’s three police officers, all of whom were badly injured, Kalhjälm personally collected evidence in Vojmbyn, hacking off the hand and head of the one fully formed Gof’nn Hupadgh Shub-Niggurath, placing them in jars next to the driver’s seat of his Volkswagen, and driving the 500 miles back to Uppsala. He never saw the rest of the body again.

The death toll grew over the following year. Newly recruited Vertical men, including officers of the armed forces, interrogated and arranged the suicide of former Vojmbyn residents in jails and mental institutions. Some of these former residents claimed the site had been a centre of worship at least as far back as the 6th century BCE, when—they said—it had seeded Norse mythology. Residents who’d not already been accounted for were tracked through the wilderness and hunted down. One adult and three adolescents were killed in Norway. Nineteen were ultimately released from detention because they had not interbred with the Russian immigrants, but were surveilled and threatened until they emigrated from Sweden. The remaining captured villagers were left alive to rot in prisons or asylums.

Kalhjälm developed an elaborate and original theory of the physiological and moral effects of miscegenation, based entirely on Vojmbyn specimens. In his mind, the religious aspect was a symptom, not a cause, of their physical condition. He dismissed evidence that worship of their Great Mother (Magna Mater) may have existed in Vojmbyn before the Russian immigrants arrived.

The Skoptsy had lapsed in their dogma and did not perform genital mutilation in Vojmbyn.1 Kalhjälm mistakenly concluded that the older, mutilated worshippers had nobly sought to protect their race and his.

In 1951, the Vertical had 37 insiders. They had all seen the hard evidence. Most believed it was indeed a logical progression from what Nazi propaganda films had presented as typical sub-human physiology. They accepted that the public outcry against the Nazi death camps made it impossible to go public in the near future. Kalhjälm’s monstrous specimens would be dismissed as freaks of nature, unless there were many more. They resolved to wait until the media, in Scandinavia or elsewhere, found more. But while they waited, they would take precautionary measures.

The surviving cultists from Vojmbyn left Sweden, discarding the recent Russian influences on their faith, which they thought had invited the destruction of their village. Unwittingly imitating the murderers of their families, they adopted notions of racial purity and began to disguise their rituals as Norse paganism, which later made the faith palatable to a variety of hippie and neo-pagan groups. The strongest of these groups resides in Alaska. Here, Shub-Niggurath is worshipped as Freyr and Freyja, with strong emphasis on the rhythm of the seasons. Orgies take place in the summer. Sacrifices are bled dry at the winter solstice.

In 1952, Kalhjälm’s right-hand man at the SIRB was Erik Back, Ph.D. He corresponded with British Columbia authorities who had received large groups of the Doukhobor from Russia. A small group from the same religious community had been resident in Vojmbyn. In his letters, Back expressed concern that immigrants to Canada might be breeding with “white Canadians”, requesting medical data on resulting children for research. He also outlined what he thought were Doukhobor religious practices, as he saw them.2


From 1946 and into the 1960s, the Vertical ran almost 300 miscellaneous suspects through the program to sterilization. Among these were many children from Vojmbyn, whom Kalhjälm suspected were of mixed race. Increasingly obsessed with the orgiastic fertility cults he’d seen in 1930 and 1950, Kalhjälm also targeted women who seemed happy and liberated, including some he met at random in his private life. He was never right again.

Obsessed with Russia, Kalhjälm pursued a number of theories on the 1944 Russian bombings. In 1954, he gave orders for two survivors of these bombings to be lobotomized. Lower-ranking members of the Vertical disobeyed the order. Kalhjälm rescinded it rather than risk exposure.

Towards the end of his life, Kalhjälm conducted extensive research into pre-Darwinian racial biology, creating what the Vertical called the Mongolian archive (mongoliska arkivet). This was a large filing cabinet full of documents, including some originals by 18th-century medical professionals. The name of the archive came from the hypothesis that Down syndrome, known in Kalhjälm’s time as mongolism, represented the atavistic after-effects of rapes carried out by Mongol Empire soldiers in the 13th century.

On January 1, 1965, the fifth paragraph of the fifth chapter of the 1864 penal code was excised from Swedish law. This paragraph had enabled an insanity defense. Under the 1962 criminal code, now in effect, the mentally ill or handicapped could be convicted and held responsible for crimes they could not understand. They were sentenced to psychiatric care, not prison. This practice is unusual in an international context, where insanity or mental unaccountability generally prevent a conviction. (As of 2012, only Greenland and the US states of Idaho, Montana and Utah have similar laws. Prison sentences for crimes committed in a state of insanity were enabled in Sweden in 2008.)

Mythos activity was low in this period and the Vertical kept looking only at immigrants. Kalhjälm’s wife left him, the sexual revolution of the 1960s broke him, and retirement took away the last of his power. In 1968, drunk, he shot a dark-haired woman from a friend’s balcony in Märsta. He was turned over to the police and convicted of attempted murder.

The 1962 criminal code produced the last sparks of activity in the Vertical, funneling a handful of occultists into medical institutions. With the dismantling of the SIRB, Kalhjälm’s mental instability and the lack of new leads, the Vertical became a dormant organization in 1969. The only matters it handled were potential leaks of its own prior activities, but it was not dead.

Racial biology and eugenics fell out of fashion as the lessons of the Holocaust gradually reached public acceptance and understanding. In 1958, the SIRB became an institute of medical genetics. Institutional inertia kept the forced sterilizations going for two more decades. They ended in 1975, with 63 000 people made barren.

  1. The Christian Skoptsy and their genital mutilation are real, but their use here and their migration to Sweden are heavily fictionalized. The fictional Skoptsy (Skoptsi), including their worship of Lovecraft’s Shub-Niggurath as the Magna Mater, are based on Delta Green: Countdown (Pagan Publishing, 1999). 

  2. This paragraph is a plot seed intended for use with M-EPIC, a Canadian Delta Green organization.