Eranos: An Alternative Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century

Hans Thomas Hakl
Translated by Christopher McIntosh
with the collaboration of Hereward Tilton
Copyright Date: 2013
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    From 1933 and for a period of almost seventy years, Italy's Lake Maggiore region was the gathering place for some of the world's foremost philosophers. Once a year, illustrious thinkers such as Carl Jung, Erich Neumann, Mircea Eliade, D.T. Suzuki, and Adolph Pormann gathered there for Eranos - a meeting of the minds for elite intellectuals. Hans Hakl presents the only complete study of what is arguably the single most important gathering of scholars in the twentieth century. Eranos chronicles the golden years of Jung, Corbin, Eliade, and Scholem, tracing the roots of the Ascona movement in Theosophy, its later branches, and many lesser-known but no less fascinating figures. Distilling decades of archival research and interviews with Eranos participants, Hakl illuminates the trialogue of religion, esotericism, and scholarship that began with Eranos and continues to the present day. This finely crafted history shows how Eranos played an important counterpart to the dominant spiritual and intellectual history of the twentieth century by encouraging freedom of thought and radicality. Detailing the development and influence of a movement that set the course of contemporary philosophical thought, Eranos is a landmark volume that will draw readers interested in the history of ideas, psychology, religious and cultural studies, Jewish and Islamic studies, the history of science, mysticism, and the development of new age religions.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-9478-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Introduction: How This Book Emerged
    (pp. 1-6)

    “Books have their fates,” as the old saying has it. The present book is a wonderful example. Originally I planned to write an introduction of some twenty pages to a selection of Eranos lectures with distinctly esoteric themes. I felt such an introduction to be necessary in order to make the reading public familiar with the history and significance of the Eranos meetings, although at that time I myself did not know a great deal about the subject. Not all that many people are in fact aware that, over a period of seventy years, men and women enjoying a high...

  5. 1. The Significance of Eranos
    (pp. 7-11)

    For more than seven decades the Eranos meetings have played a unique role in the cultural and intellectual history of our age, taking place each year with amazing regularity (with the single exception of 1989). The deaths of the founder and the key early participants have altered nothing except for the outer form. On 30 March 1957, C.G. Jung wrote, “May the light of the European spirit, which has radiated out from Eranos for so many years during this time of darkness, enjoy a further lease of life so that it can fulfill its role as a beacon lighting the...

  6. 2. An Esoteric Prelude to Eranos
    (pp. 12-32)

    The story of Eranos—at least over the first twenty years—is unthinkable without its founder, Olga Fröbe. Even someone with as skeptical a mind as Gershom Scholem could write in 1979, after three decades of participation at Eranos,¹

    When we, Adolf Portmann, Erich Neumann, Henry Corbin, Ernst Benz, Mircea Eliade, Karl Kerényi and many others—scholars of religion, psychologists, philosophers, physicists and biologists—were trying to play our part in Eranos, the figure of Olga Fröbe was crucial—she whom we always referred to among ourselves as “the Great Mother.”[2]Olga Fröbe was an unforgettable figure for anyone who...

  7. 3. Yearning for the East: Monte Verità and the School of Wisdom
    (pp. 33-42)

    In order to understand Olga Fröbe’s endeavors and the emergence of Eranos fully we must also take into consideration the general intellectual climate of the 1920s—especially in Germany and the German-speaking lands. With its widespread skepticism towards the notion of progress, this epoch was very open towards oriental and esoteric modes of thought.¹ Many people were searching hopefully for the “true meaning” of life at a time when the outcome of the First World War had made high economic and political goals impossible for the defeated nations, that is to say primarily Germany and Austria.² In the German-speaking realm...

  8. 4. Toward Eranos
    (pp. 43-53)

    Let us return to Olga Fröbe. By now she had been subject to many different influences, and still she could not say what would really satisfy her innermost yearnings. Her soul, pulled this way and that by conflicting impulses, did not permit a simple “yes.” She suffered, she sketched and painted pictures, probably hundreds of them, and she also wrote. In the years 1932–33 she even penned a book of stories for her friends, most of them written in moments of inner crisis, as she mentioned in an undated letter to Cary Baynes.¹ In the same letter she added...

  9. 5. The First Eranos Meeting: An Idea Comes to Life
    (pp. 54-68)

    The first Eranos meeting to be named as such took place in August 1933 with more than two hundred participants.¹ However, there was at this point no clear break with Olga Fröbe’s earlier meetings, for she herself did not regard the “Eranos period” as having begun precisely in 1933. It was only over the next few years that the meetings took on a more clearly academic character, a development that I would ascribe to the influence of Jung, to whom everything “theosophical” was suspect.² Altogether the meeting lasted about two weeks. Originally it was planned that three extra days at...

  10. 6. Eranos and National Socialism
    (pp. 69-89)

    The second conference, in 1934, on the subject of “The Psychopomp in Eastern and Western Symbolism” (Ostwestliche Symbolik und Seelenführung), was for several reasons an important and successful event.¹ In her welcoming speech, reproduced in the foreword to the Eranos yearbook, Olga Fröbe emphasized that there had always been not only an Eastern but also a Western “tradition of yoga”: “One only needs to think of the Hermetic and Pythagorean schools or, later on, the alchemical and Rosicrucian traditions.” Equally, in the analytical psychology of C.G. Jung she detected “the beginnings of a modern and Western yoga … a method...

  11. 7. The Years 1934–37
    (pp. 90-108)

    Martin Buber had spoken at Eranos in 1934. He also intended to come in 1935 and even traveled as far as Zurich, but withdrew at the last minute. Although an order forbidding him to speak in public was only valid in Germany, nevertheless he decided not to appear even at “such a neutral event” as Eranos.¹

    Buber was born in Vienna in 1878.² At the age of three he lost his mother, who disappeared without trace. His real connection with Judaism was first awakened when he began his university studies, which took him to Berlin, Leipzig, and Zurich.³ He became...

  12. 8. Eranos 1938: The United States Shows Interest
    (pp. 109-121)

    The year 1938 was a particularly important one for Eranos, for it was then that a firm decision to continue the meetings became possible. Olga Fröbe had used up almost her entire fortune for the organization of Eranos and for her own travels in connection with it. While she paid no fees to the speakers, she still had to cover their travel expenses. Accommodation, at least in the period 1933–39, was usually in the Hotel Monte Verità, belonging to Baron von der Heydt, who regarded the lecturers as his personal guests and charged them nothing.¹ In the spring of...

  13. 9. The War Years
    (pp. 122-137)

    During the Second World War the meetings became smaller, but “these were the years in which the participants felt most closely connected with each other.” Only lecturers resident in Switzerland were able to come. “What was lost in terms of breadth and variety was gained in terms of depth and through reduction to essentials.”¹

    Aniela Jaffé writes that one of the most impressive meetings took place in 1940. Only one single—as it were symbolic—lecture was announced, to be given by the mathematician Andreas Speiser, who was to speak about Plato and the Trinity. Speiser had already spoken at...

  14. 10. New Prospects after the World Conflict
    (pp. 138-153)

    After the end of the war, Olga Fröbe considered inviting to Ascona certain leading political figures who were interested in cultural renewal in Europe, including the American Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who himself had been active in various peace initiatives. But when she asked for Jung’s opinion he was strongly against the idea, telling her that “the Eranos audience does not come to hear about politics.” For such a project she would have to establish a special conference with its own audience.¹ Nevertheless, the year 1946 saw a real innovation. The meeting, under the general theme of “Spirit...

  15. 11. The Heyday Begins
    (pp. 154-168)

    In 1949 the first-time lecturers at Eranos were Paul Radin, ethnologist, anthropologist, and specialist on Native Americans; Henry Corbin, expert on Persia and Shiite Islam; and the Kabbalistic scholar Gershom Scholem. Scholem’s name and his historical and philological work on the Kabbalah are so renowned that I will give only a few basic facts about his life and turn instead to less-known aspects of his work instead.

    He was born and brought up in Berlin, and what is less well known about him is that he studied mathematics and physics before turning to Judaic studies, a fact that would explain...

  16. 12. The Early 1950s
    (pp. 169-224)

    The subsequent year, 1950, saw the seventy-fifth birthday of C.G. Jung, and for this reason the eighteenth Eranos volume is dedicated to him. It was edited by Olga Fröbe herself. The next volume, number 19, then reverted to the usual collection of Ascona papers. In the foreword, written as always by Fröbe, she gives a résumé of the previous meetings. Here she characterizes Eranos as a “game” in the sense that the word is used by Johan Huizinga, Hermann Hesse, and Hugo Rahner.¹ “The game,” she says, “is, as it were, the natural counterweight to the purely intellectual … The...

  17. 13. Polytheism Versus Monotheism
    (pp. 225-241)

    James Hillman deserves a more detailed treatment in view of the fact that, despite being a late-comer, he must certainly be considered a key figure in the history of Eranos. For one thing, he spoke very frequently there: fifteen times between 1965 and 1990, albeit at irregular intervals. Furthermore, his “archetypal psychology” (sometimes also called “imaginative psychology”), the system he developed from the Jungian teaching, is one of the schools of thought which most strongly influenced Eranos over the decades.¹ Several representatives of this school came to speak at Eranos, including David Miller, Alfred Ziegler, and Wolfgang Giegerich. I would...

  18. 14. An End, Some New Beginnings, and Repeated Turbulence
    (pp. 242-256)

    We now come to the trickiest part of this book, for nothing is harder than to pin down and interpret historical events that are still in the process of unfolding. The protagonists are all, in one way or another, still actively involved in Eranos. Unfortunately, however, they no longer work together, but pursue—as I hope—the same noble goals in different ways. As they do not see eye to eye with each other there are also conflicting interpretations of the recent history of Eranos. Therefore I have tried—without guarantee—to rely as far as possible only on published...

  19. 15. Delicate Questions and Attempts to Answer Them
    (pp. 257-273)

    Hans Heinz Holz,¹ who attended at least one Eranos meeting, in 1997,² came out with a strongly critical analysis of the Eranos phenomenon in his essay “Eranos: eine moderne Pseudo-Gnosis.”³ This greatly displeased the Eranos sympathizers. However, it perhaps deserves to be looked at again in a somewhat more dispassionate spirit.⁴ For, although Holz often overshoots the mark, his observations are nevertheless worth considering, in keeping with the Eranos spirit of self-reflection. Essentially Holz sees in Eranos a late bourgeois flight from the world, an egocentric obsession with self-realization that distracts people from engaging in political efforts towards a better...

  20. 16. Eranos as a Prototype
    (pp. 274-288)

    After what has probably been a necessary digression, let us return to the connection between scholarship and esotericism (not their conflation), which is in fact one of the central points of this investigation. Eranos is by no means alone in its quest to illuminate “esoteric:” “gnostic” or “mystical” matters with academic methods, and to filter out the “best” from both sides. There were and still are many such associations, study groups, and conferences. Releasing their results for the most part only in booklet form, they have not received attention from the mainstream media, and as a consequence have remained largely...

  21. 17. The End of a Cycle … or Perhaps Not
    (pp. 289-292)

    The overall picture of Eranos turns out to be essentially more consistent than one might expect of such a long-lasting and far-reaching project. This basic consistency, hopefully by now apparent to the reader, has to do with a readiness to extend scientific enquiry beyond the boundaries set by reason and into areas where myth, imagination, and religious experience play their roles. At the same time it is a consistency that is subject to change. The history of Eranos can be divided into three phases.¹ The first was undoubtedly the most esoterically tinged phase, as is apparent from the titles of...

  22. Notes
    (pp. 293-390)
  23. Bibliography
    (pp. 391-426)
  24. Index
    (pp. 427-440)