Gerhard Wehr and Eranos-A “Navel of the World”
Eranos-A “Navel of the World”
“Eranos is really an extended, relatively narrow garden that falls away in terraces down to the shore of Lago Maggiore from the road that skirts the lake hard by the cliffs on its way from Ascona to Brissago.
The areas was originally a vineyard-hence the terraces-and in a spiritual sense it remains so today, for there the wine of wisdom is pressed from the knowledge of thinkers and scholars as they meet and blend with one another.”
Here Alfons Rosenberg, the expert in symbolism, meditation teacher and author, referred to the place where for more than half a century the internationally known Eranos conferences took place.
The Dutchwoman, coming from the Anglo-Indian theosophical tradition, began them in the Villa Gabriella on August 1933, with a lecture series that was repeated at the same time every year thereafter.
In the beginning she was advised by the religious scholar Rudolf Otto of Marburg, who had become known for his landmark standard work, Das Heilige (1917), and it was he who suggested the name for the annual meeting.
Eranos, in ancient Greece, was the name of a gathering for a more or less impromptu common meal, to which each participant was supposed to bring along some edible or artistic contribution.
In the Foreword to the first Eranos Yearbook (1933), in which the texts of the individual lectures were printed in their respective original languages (German, Eranos English, and French), the founder described her original intention thus:
“The Eranos conferences have set themselves the goal of mediating between East and West.
The task of this mediation, and the need to create a place for the promotion of such an understanding of the spiritual realm, have become ever clearer …. The question of a fruitful confrontation of East and West is above all a psychological one. The clear-cut questions posed by Western people in matters of religion and psychology can undoubtedly find added, meaningful fructification in the wisdom of the Orient. It is not the emulation of Eastern methods and teachings that is important, nor the neglecting or replacing of Western knowledge about these things, but the fact that Eastern wisdom, symbolism, and methods can help us to rediscover the spiritual values that are most distinctively our own.”
“Rediscovery,” and even more, “rebirth,” were words whose manifold permutations had already been propagated and tested for some decades in other places around Ascona, in particular on Monte Verita, the “Mountain of Truth,” overlooking the fishing village and thus immediately nearby.
Here at the beginning of the century idealists and world- and self-changers of all sorts settled for varying periods to practice their alternative styles of life, welfare, and art.
The Russian anarchist Mikhail Aleksandrovich Bakunin had been residing in neighboring Locarno at the end of the nineteenth century, and Monte Verita, with its spa and open-air park, saw artists and writers of the most varied colors, Dadaists and expressionists, painters, sculptors, and dancers, for example Rudolf von Laban and his dance school, utopians and socialists such as Erich Muhsam, and occasionally men like Martin Buber or Hermann Hesse as well.
The industrious Countess Franziska von Reventlow put up here, and the ill-fated psychoanalyst Otto Gross, the colleague and sometime patient of C. G. Jung, as did Theosophists and Freemasons, be it Franz Hartmann or the notorious Theodor Reuss with his Ordo Templi Orientis, the “Order of the Temple of the East.”
And off Porto Ronco in Lago Maggiore there were the charming islands of Brissago, also known as the “Islands of the Blessed. ”
But the Casa Eranos and the conferences held there each August had little in common with Monte Verita, if only because C. G. Jung had put his stamp on the lecture cycles for years to come.
This manifested itself on one hand in the international character of the gatherings, and on the other in the fact that representatives of various disciplines would each contribute a share of their specialized knowledge to a common theme.
In the beginning the humanistic sciences were predominant; after World War II the natural scientist won a greater hearing, for example the biologist Adolf Portmann from Basel, the physicists Erwin Schrodinger and Max Knoll, the ethnologist Jean Servier, the physician Manfred Porkert, or the paleo-anthropologist Kurt Gerhardt.
When Eranos opened its portals for the first time, the topic under discussion was “Yoga and Meditation in East and West”; thus the speakers included the lndologist Heinrich Zimmer of Heidelberg (“On the Significance of lndian Tantra Yoga”) and the Sinologist Erwin Rousselle, Director of the China Institute of the University of Frankfurt. Whereas the Western tradition was represented by two (formerly) Catholic theologians, the convert
Friedrich Heiler (“Contemplation in Christian Mysticism”) and the excommunicate Ernesto Buonaiuti of the University of Rome (“Meditation and Contemplation in the Roman Catholic Church”), Jung’s student and friend Gustav Richard Heyer spoke on “The Meaning and Significance of Oriental Wisdom for Western Spiritual Leadership.”
Jung himself delivered “A Study in the Process of Individuation.”
Whereas it fell to the religious historians and theologians in the main to discuss the historical facts and developments, the two psychologists directed their audience’s attention above all to the experiential potentialities of modern people, in an attempt at building a bridge to the inner world of the unconscious.
Jungian psychology, Heyer explained, was barely at the point of assembling the building blocks for such an effort, particularly for those contemporaries who, though they had lost touch with the tradition of the church, still felt themselves inwardly impelled toward a path to individual self-awareness.
Jung shed light on one of the possible forms which this process can take by the example of a fifty-five-year-old American woman and the story of her particular illness; that is, he presented a case history and described her dreams, and by way of illustration he showed a series of pictures that his client had made as productions of her unconscious, not works of art, but rather a graphic record of her experience.
His lecture discussed the stages of individuation as a process of self-development, and in marked contrast to the rest of the participants in Eranos he spoke extempore.
Of course Jung had already been involved with this central theme of analytical psychology for many years, but he had made it his duty to present a work to the wider public only when he, as an author, had formed a sufficiently clear idea of his subject.
Consequently, the Eranos conference was for Jung the beginning of a preliminary, still relatively intimate platform for the development of his emerging work.
In the first volume of proceedings, therefore, Jung’s contribution turned out to be comparatively short, as it was drawn from the sketchy notes taken by Toni Wolff.
Not until seventeen years later, in 1950, was a thoroughly revised and expanded version included in the volume Gestaltungen des Unbewussten.
An element of the provocateur must also have been at work in Jung’s debut performance, for in the beginning Olga Frobe’s connection had been with a theosophical group in America; originally she had wished to offer them a place to hold meetings and lectures.
In any case Alfons Rosenberg, who was closely acquainted with the lady, reported a serious clash between Mrs. Frobe and C.G. Jung.
The latter had unmistakably voiced his displeasure with the large-sized paintings on display in the lecture hall, “roughly geometric shapes, without exception blue, black, and gold in color.
These stiff pictures had a stark, mysterious, and solemn effect, but they radiated an atmosphere of dismaying coldness-they had been painted with the intellect and not with the heart; effective, but unsympathetic.
Jung criticized them harshly and ruthlessly-one in particular, which Olga Frobe had covered with a black latticework formed from the Om, the hallowed word and sign of lndia.
The Golden Temple rose in the background, but it was separated from the observer by this black, Om-shaped grille.
Jung had the hardest words for this composition, saying that its creator had put the devil between herself and the shrine, the symbol of godliness-that she had an affair with the devil.
So shaken by this analysis was Olga Frobe that she not only was. able to escape the influence of the theosophical but actually changed its direction …. ”
Rosenberg intimated that this was the real moment of Eranos’ birth, and consequently that it was Jung who had stood godfather to it.
Now it is obvious how great a distance there is bound to be between paintings that have been made on the basis of a more or less abstract theory or “theosophical” system, and those that owe their origin to the vitality and spontaneity of the psyche.
And still another note can be detected in Toni Wolff’s lecture notes: to follow the previous contributions of his Eranos colleagues, Jung, it seems, opened with a line from Lao-tse’s Tao Te Ching: “Exterminate learning and there will no longer be worries” (chap. 20), but then he explained:
After the pleasant fragrance of the Orient comes the European: disagreeable, a pirate, a conquistador, dripping with the “religion of love,” an opium trafficker, disoriented and miserable in spite of his superabundance of knowledge and his intellectual arrogance. This is the picture of Western man ….
From this unvarnished avowal of the spiritual emptiness and destitution of the “Christian” European, however, Jung by no means proceeded to an exhortation to borrow from the Orient, as seemed to be recommended by the theme of the conference and as at least some of its participants undoubtedly would have expected.
Rather than allowing himself to be forced into the mold of propagandist for the precedents of the East, he argued:
“The essential thing can only grow out of ourselves. Hence if the white man is true to his instinct, he reacts with instinctive defensiveness against everything that one might tell him or advise him. And what he has already swallowed, he must excrete again as a corpus alienum, for his blood rejects that which has grown on foreign soil.”
A few years later, Jung was to experience this in his own body, on his journey to India.
When Olga Frobe invited the psychologist from Kusnacht to the second Eranos conference in 1934, she could already boast of a considerable staff of co-workers.
The circle of speakers had substantially increased, and so the topic that had begun could be continued under the rubric of “East-West Symbolism and Spiritual Guidance.”
The new collaborators included an Indian representative from the Ramakrishna Mission in Madras, who considered Hindu religious symbolism in connection with methods of spiritual practice.
The place of art in the psychological view of life was discussed in a paper by Moritz Carl von Cammerloher of Vienna. The Zurich art historian Rudolf Bernoulli dealt with number symbolism in the system of the Tarot, and a young woman, Sigrid Strauss Kloebe, a student of Jung and Heyer, was also one of the group on this occasion (“On the Psychological Significance of the Astrological Symbol”).
Because the philosophical conflict in Germany was growing ever sharper in 1934, it is noteworthy that two men at least between whom there was a profound ideological gulf spoke alongside each other in the Eranos collegium: the Tubingen theologian Jakob Wilhelm Hauer, who on the masthead of his own Kommende Gemeinde had welcomed the rise of National Socialism as “a new faith,” and the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber.
His double lecture on “Symbolic and Sacramental Existence in Judaism” characterized the nature of Chasidism, in clear distinction to the mystical Kabbalah and all varieties of Gnosticism.
Jung’s relationship was that he had invited Hauer, as an Indologist, to collaborate in the Psychological Club and his seminars, and thus a fierce controversy was to arise between Jung and Buber after the end of World War II, as will be discussed in more detail later.
In view of this richly varied palette, Jung looked upon his own participation as superfluous; he wished to allow the Sinologists and Indologists to take precedence.
Moreover it was his opinion that to “laymen of an Asiatic bent,” psychology would seem “a difficult and unpalatable field.”
In his experience the only ones who hankered after psychology were those for whom every other avenue had failed, and this also applied, by the way, to the practical use of the I Ching.
“Too much Eastern wisdom, however, takes the place of immediate experience, and thus the way to psychology is cut off.”
Ultimately, he wanted to remain in the background, “taking part as a sympathizer.”
But things did not turn out this way. In the end, rather, Olga Frobe succeeded in moving Jung to active collaboration. Reading, in this context, the Foreword to the second Eranos Yearbook (1934), it becomes clear that Mrs. Frobe too now allowed herself to be guided by his thinking: the concern with Oriental symbolism was, to be sure, a significant enrichment, but it was crucial that it should be firmly rooted “in our own indigenous Western symbolism.”
“The Western road to health must be built upon Western ground, work with Western symbols, and be formed from Western material.”
From this dictum it is not hard to discern Jung’s intentions.
This time-in August 1934-he gave not an off-the-cuff presentation, but a prepared written lecture on “Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious,” that dimension of spiritual knowledge that goes beyond the individual psyche and its experience and allows people to take part in the religious and spiritual experience of all humanity.
As far as this concept was concerned, here Jung reached back into the religious philosophy and theology of ancient times, where the designation “archetype” had been used already in the Corpus Hermeticum, in Augustine, Dionysus the Areopagite, and others.
In short order Jung came to today’s problems, placing under his lens the alarming loss of imagery and symbol among modern people, particularly those who come from the tradition of Protestantism.
Rather than simply establishing the facts and lamenting the loss in the usual way, Jung showed the extent to which this impoverishment nonetheless could and in fact did have meaning, that is insofar as proper use was made of this spiritual poverty.
It would be wrong for religiously estranged people, figuratively speaking, to attempt somehow to cover up this inadequacy in “robes of Oriental splendor” in the manner of the Theosophists.
One could not allow the house of his own fathers to go to ruin, and then attempt to break into “Oriental palaces,” to borrow rashly from the religions of the East.
Once again, Jung bluntly criticized the orientalizing tendency he had perceived in certain Eranos participants in earlier years.
In a series of examples he showed how the loss of the power of traditional symbols would point people to the collective unconscious and its archetypal figures, and then to the process of individuation which the individual can go through, a process that is solitary and therefore unappreciated and unimagined.
Jung closed this sketch with an unmistakable warning, one which he made available to a wider readership only two decades later in “The Roots of Consciousness”:
To me it seems risky, on the whole, to bring too many of these dark things to light; but sometimes a wanderer in the darkness of night is grateful for the faltering yellow glow of a lone lantern, or the pale streaks of the first light of dawn.
Thus from the first days of the conference Jung was among the supporting group of those who, in concert with Olga Frobe, determined the spiritual direction of Eranos.
And because the annual gatherings represented a lasting component of his work process and his calendar, between 1933 and 1951 he was never allowed to be absent as a speaker.
Only during the time of his serious illness in the war years 1943-1944 was he forced to forgo his participation.
In all he gave fourteen lectures at Eranos, among them groundbreaking contributions from his alchemy research, on the psychology of the Trinity, and the symbolism of transformation in the Mass as well as the psychology of the spirit.
His last lecture, in 1951, was devoted to the phenomenon of synchronicity, the range of problems in which the depth psychologist’s work shared such close theoretical foundations with that of the physicist.
In no way, as he repeatedly stressed, did he wish to give the impression that he wanted to thrust himself into the foreground.
In a letter to the lady of the house on 27 September 1943, he said:
Under no circumstances do I wish it to seem as if the independent and spontaneous collaboration of others has been as it were shunted by me onto a psychological track, and thus pressed into my service. It is extraordinarily important, for Eranos in particular, that each individual speaker has the feeling that he is providing an independent contribution, not one that serves some other goal.
Part of the special charm of the gatherings in this secluded garden landscape on the lake beneath the Ticino sun was that of meetings between people, including those at the occasions of their eating and drinking together.
On the great round, tree-shadowed table in front of the Villa Gabriella, the hostess had the midday meal set out, at which the speakers, and every day a few other guests from among the audience, were assembled.
Here Jung’s extraordinary gift for establishing contact and firing conversation with his own unique spirit and humor could unfold fully.
It even happened once that a passer-by outside stopped at Mrs. Frobe’s to inquire about the gentleman who had just given out with such a powerful and infectious laugh-an infallible sign of the presence of C. G. Jung!
One time, Aniela Jaffe reports, the routine of the conference was interrupted by an unusual event, namely a nighttime party, which was celebrated partly inside the Casa Eranos and partly on the terrace outside.
On this occasion Jung impressed himself on the memories not only of those who were direct witnesses, but also of the neighbors living in more distant yards:
“Even today a kind of legend survives of a ‘night sea journey,’ which is not really accurate; one can hardly imagine a night sea journey as ear-splittingly loud as our nekyia was. It was tremendously boisterous and drunken. Baron von der Heydt ( the owner of the hotel on Monte Verita) had donated the wine. Although there was no music for the dancing, the sound of it echoed far across the lake. The whole neighborhood near and far sent messages to Mrs. Frobe complaining about the unaccustomed disturbance of the peace, but it did no good. Jung was pretty tipsy, and the words his friend and student comrade Albert Oeri had written in his memoirs of him came to my mind: ‘Jung’s drunks were rare, but they were loud!’ But it was not only Jung who was tipsy; everybody else was too. Jung was very pleased at this, and he roused those who were too sober to render due homage to Dionysos. Plunging in now here, now there, he sparkled with wit, banter, and drunken high spirits. This, though, was the only party that was ever held at the Eranos conferences. Apparently Dionysos was satisfied once and for all with this sacrifice in wine and drunkenness.”
The banquets at Eranos evidently could not be considered overly opulent, particularly by the standards of C. G. Jung, who was accustomed to good eating and noble spirits.
Thus Mircea Eliade, who met Jung repeatedly in Ascona and in Mascia, confided to his diary what he had heard from Henry Corbin’s wife:
“Jung is a gourmet, and really knows his way around the kitchen. Since he knows that the dining at Mrs. Frobe-Kapteyn’s is not too good, he buys himself little snacks in secret and eats them alone in his room at night. But eventually word of this got out, and one of his admiring young ladies from Ascona, also in secret, sent him a roast chicken.”
From the same journal, the entry from 23 August 1950, obviously about a dinner together in an Ascona restaurant:
“I eat with Jung, on his left, and we converse .from twelve-thirty until three o’clock. He is a captivating old gentleman, utterly without conceit, who is as happy to talk as he is to listen. What could I write down here first of this long conversation? Perhaps his bitter reproaches of ‘official science’? In university circles he is not taken seriously. ‘Scholars have no curiosity,’ he says with Anatole France. Professors are satisfied with recapitulating what they learned in their youth and what does not cause any trouble; above all, their spiritual world is in balance …. For all that, I sense that at the bottom of his heart Jung is a little troubled by this indifference. That is why he is so interested in a scholar, in any line of research, who takes him seriously, or quotes or comments on him.”
Besides the lectures in the Eranos hall, one particular custom was soon adopted in which Jung’s students especially took part.
These were the sessions on the “little wall,” the informal gatherings during intermissions and after lectures actually, whenever Jung was present.
Aniela Jaffe described these wall sessions from her own experience:
Jung used to sit on the small terrace wall, “and right away listeners and students, but above all his female students, would cluster around him like a bunch of grapes.
Jung gave a psychological commentary on every lecture, and even the shortest and simplest question received a detailed answer.
These sessions were the most impressive and vital instruction in psychology we had ever been able to get. Jung’s intellectual generosity was wonderful.
The little wall sessions took on a special character whenever Erich Neumann was there from Tel Aviv: then there was-as there was not when we asked the questions-a dialogue, with speeches and contradictions. We listened.”
Occasionally what was heard in these inter- and after sessions was written down and circulated in private, primarily among participants and friends; the notes taken by Margret Ostrowski-Sachs, a neighbor of Hermann Hesse’s in Montagnola, should be mentioned in this connection.
It goes without saying that the statements attributed to Jung in this form are fully understandable only in the context of his work as a whole. They cannot, however, be granted the authenticity of an exact stenographic record. Rather, these texts have the character of notations recorded in a diary immediately after the event, and hence they are somewhat more reliable than the memoirs, written for the most part from a greater distance in time.
From this point of view it deserves to be mentioned why Jung placed such a high value on conversation in intimate groups, and that indeed he could never resist it.
According to Margret Ostrowski, he once said:
“What troubles me is that I seldom get to have a conversation with an adequate partner-Father White is in England, Neumann lives in Israel; women of my circle do understand me, but with women their home, their husband, and their children always come first. If all these things are in order, then a woman also has some time for the spirit, and then it is interesting. But talking with a man, one listens to the reverberation from the cosmic spaces of the spirit.”
What Jung had to say did not always go unchallenged.
Once, for example, when he was propounding his much-discussed theory of the quaternity, and the need for the Trinity to be augmented, be it through the principle of the feminine (Sophia/Mary) or that of darkness (Satan), opposition did arise.
Alfons Rosenberg, himself a fairly regular visitor to Eranos and a welcome guest at Olga Frobe’s, launched a small counter event in the form of a lecture at a friend’s home, which was attended by many of the Eranos audience.
“It was an exciting evening of fiercely partisan arguments, which might have brought to mind the climax of the guild congress in Mailand in 1366, where it was debated whether the cathedral should be designed according to the law of the square or of the triangle.
In any case, I resisted the notion that, as I and many others understood Jung to mean, the Trinity needed to be “completed” by the addition of a fourth principle, be it Mary, Satan, or even Man.
I was, traditionally, of the opposite opinion, namely that trinity could, and must, constitute the counter principle to quaternity.
Naturally, Jung heard about this lecture I gave in response to his own.
The next day, I noticed that he kept a thoughtful eye on me, giving me critical looks.
But he did not discuss the problem with me-not even later, when I met and talked with him frequently.”
Unquestionably, though, approval of Jung’s personality and his work were by far predominant.
This was still perceptible in the Eranos collegium decades after his death, even though after his departure, as a consequence of the arrival of new speakers and guests, new thematic emphases arose.
Finally, part of the enduring legacy of the Eranos yearbooks, which documented the important stages in the development of Jung’s work as we have noted, are two separate volumes that were personally dedicated to him.
One of these was the testimonial volume for his seventieth birthday, The Idea of the Archetypes (1945), with contributions from Hugo Rahner, John Layard, Louis Massignon, Andreas Speiser, Karl Kerenyi, and others, a remarkably substantial hardbound book to be published in wartime or immediately thereafter.
The still more extensive anniversary volume for his seventy-fifth birthday was entitled From the World of the Archetypes (1950).
A new group of contributors was assembled to mark out wider perspectives from their own fields of specialization; thus among others there were Henry Corbin, the expert on Islamic mysticism and Shiite esoterism teaching in Teheran; the philosopher Hans Leisegang with a paper on the God-man as archetype; two Dutchmen, the religious scholar Gerardus van der Leeuw and the gnostic researcher Gilles Quirpele; as well as Erich Neumann from Tel Aviv, the ethnologist Paul Radin from Berkeley, the New Testament scholar Karl Ludwig Schmidt of the University of Basel, and also from Basel the biologist Adolf Portmann, who shed light on the problem of the archetypes from his own perspective. In her Foreword, Olga Frobe-Kapteyn emphasized that the increasing realization of the inner world and man’s relationship to it was owed above all to C. G. Jung and his work.
“The nature and the influence of these dynamically charged archetypes were first recognized and interpreted for us through his work. In the course of his fifteen years of cooperation with the Eranos conferences he has created an authoritative body of work and earned our deepest thanks.”
All this notwithstanding, Jung and those who worked with him did their part to see that it did not develop into a personal cult.
Alluding to the hermetic Aurea Catena, which according to ancient tradition bound the students of the mythical Trismegistos, the thrice-great Hermes, to one another, but above all linked together heaven and earth, Erich Neumann noted:
“Eranos-lakeside scene, garden and house. Inconspicuous and out of the way, and yet a navel of the world, a small link in the Golden Chain.”
How Jung’s collaboration in the Eranos assembly was judged in retrospect can be gathered from a statement by Adolf Portmann, coming from the year of Jung’s death, on the celebration of Olga Frobe’s eightieth birthday in Ascona in 19 October 1961:
“the encounter with Carl Gustav Jung, the great researcher of the psyche, was decisive for the first period of Eranos, and even in later years, when it was no longer possible for Jung to take an active part, his silent presence and his inner participation contributed materially to the spirit of this gathering. To all those who shared the good fortune of being able to witness this volcanic spirit in action, these encounters with a great man remain unforgettable and alive.”
The events of Eranos, chronologically speaking, represented only a series of episodes-though important ones-in Jung’s life.
Hence in continuing the biography . G. Jung, we must make clear what other events directed his life and work during the time in question, in and around 1933.
Along with his study of alchemy, we should mention the studies in the psychology of religion that continued for many years, as well as the further episode of his journey to India.
The time of National Socialism of course demands particular attention, as do the war and its aftermath.
Although a biography cannot be a mere chronology, affording separate treatment to each individual unit of life and work, because naturally they are all tightly interwoven, nevertheless when brought together thematically there is no other way to present them than in sequence.
At this juncture the obvious next step is to report on Jung’s trip to India. ~Gerhard Wehr, Jung: A Biography, Pages 262-277