Eranos

Beginning in 1933, after the advent of the Third Reich in neighboring Germany, in Switzerland, on the shores of Lago Maggiore, on the Swiss-Italian border, an annual meeting began to take place for two weeks every year in August. There the war-widow Frau Olga Froebe-Kapteyn created what she hoped would become a permanent free space for the human spirit [Geist], a meeting place between East and West, and a Round Table [consciously drawing inspiration from images in Arthurian myths]  where the spirit and  images of the very soul and our civilization could be preserved [“we are keepers of the flame”] imaginatively evoked, amplified, and  endlessly re-imagined as archetypal Gestalten and Vorbilder [Essential Forms and Models] in a world which she believed and hoped could thereby become freed from Nazi tyranny and totalitarian oppression in all its forms and manifestations. 

      At the end of the patio in front of Casa Gabriala, stands a large round table where conference speakers shared meals together after sharing their thoughts in Casa Eranos. Near the table stands an impressive abstract sculpture altar  monument which always impressed me dedicated to the “unknown spirit of the place.” 

           [Building and dedicating such altars to “unknown spirits” whose presence was acknowledged though unseen, was a common practice in the civilizations of classical antiquity]

       Doktor C.G. Jung was the spiritus rectorat Eranos, and the meetings were usually filled with his expanding retinue of mostly ugly female disciples [die Jungfrauen], like the perpetual vestal virgins worshipping at his feet, Miss Marie-Louise von Franz,  Miss Barbara Hannah, and  Miss Anniella Jaffe, Jung’s amanuensis to whom he dictated his autobiographical Memories, Dreams and Reflections.

          The word ERANOS, which first appears in Homer’s Odyssey,and means a “banquet or shared feast” applies to both spiritual as well as material dimensions of experience. In the ancient world this was to be developed by participants in a spirit of joy and an atmosphere of freedom a with songs, music, dance and spontaneity and/or with a symbolic offering to the group.

At the August meetings the presenters would  give their original paper and grant its publication in the Eranos Yearbook[there are more than 60 now, and 6 on specific topics like “The Ancient Mysteries” edited and translated by Joseph Campbell under the series title, Papers from the Eranos Year Books] in exchange for Frau Olga’s hospitality.

In 1928 a German WWI war widow and heiress, Olga Fröbe who like many disillusioned people after the German defeat had become a pacifist and internationalist, built a large meeting hall “Casa Eranos” on the grounds of her property close to her home, which she called “Casa Gabriella,”  without having any idea that this was the beginning of an incredible success story of international Tagungen [gatherings] that reunited and supported both financially and culturally many among the finest intellectuals of the world. For example, the Bollingen Foundation at Princeton, responsible for the publication of so many important visionary scholarly books in the 2nd half of the 20th century was conceived, gestated, and born at Eranos and financially sponsored secretly by CIA money as a secret weapon in the Cold War. 

Casa Gabriella was where Hillman lived on the Eranos campus, and that’s where I saw him for our weekly analytic sessions.  When I was there in 1975, Casa Gabriella contained an excellent basic research library particularly strong inholdings on art history, the history of religions, classical and early modern European philosophy and poetry, Italian, German, and comparative literature including extensive bi-lingual classical Greek and Latin classic texts which Hillman and I both used for our respective researches and  the Geisteswissenschaften[spiritual, cultural and historical sciences] in general.

The “Eranos Tagungen” and the “Archetypal Approach to Symbolism,” sometimes called “The Eranos Method ” [now practiced both at the Warburg Institute in London, and at ARIAS, an interdisciplinary center dedicated to this approach in New York]  were progressively shaped under the influence of important scholars who regularly attended these meetings such as Carl Gustav Jung, Rudolf Otto, Martin Buber, Mircea Eliade, Karl Kerényi, Erich Neumann, Adolf Portmann, Si Herbert Read, Joseph Campbell, Ira Progoff,  David Miller, and James Hillman, among others. 

To give you an idea of some of the presentations at  Eranos Meetings, here is a sample of the program in 2010:

The general topic was:  “What is the role of love today in generating new forms of social organization?” 

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