Home The magic of Eranos, Genius loci and ancestors

The magic of Eranos, Genius loci and ancestors

The magic of Eranos, Genius loci and ancestors

Alda Marini

“Let us pay tribute to the ancestors, (…) those dead people whose spirit continue to protect our work and push it forward. Today (…) the spirit has become marginal and just in occasional, marginal, luminary moments like the ones at Eranos the spirit can return from its exile” (Hillman, 1990).
With these words James Hillman opened one of his lectures at Eranos insisting on the importance of both the courage of a controlled imagination, and the courage of the imaginary at the basis of the discipline (Hillman, 1990). It is important to start from our teachers to go further, but it is not possible to surpass them without paying tribute to them. These words are particularly important for us because what occurred at Eranos, seems to have anticipated what would have become the ecobiopsychological approach. There is evidence in fact that the conferences started at Eranos Foundation in the 30s, proposed specific archetypal themes according to a precise programme. Themes then analyzed and amplified from different perspectives at the light of the various contributions given by experts of quite a number of disciplines: psychologists, philosophers, orientalists, religious historians, ethnologists, experts of India and Islam, of the history of mythology, Egyptologists, physicians, mathematicians and biologists. At Eranos the scholars could find gathered around a round table, a privileged place for a creative and dynamic discussion often taking to a reinterpretation of their scientific contributions that enriched by the many points of view, got  a diverse value and more profound meaning. Today we are in the same magical location, we will enjoy the pleasure to get around the same places that saw the greatest thinkers of Europe spending their time reflecting and making the History as well as the Culture of the time, but also eating, relaxing, walking, reading or simply contemplating the waters of the lake on which Eranos overlooks.  In 1961 Jung, overcoming his initial distrust towards the group dimension, founded the Psychological Club Zurich coming to consider the collective work a precious study method to explore the vastity of the themes he was dealing with, and the right way for a discussion that critically could validate or verify the theories he was about to build.
When in 1933 Olga Fröbe, an enlightened lady, decided to use one of her properties to host a debate open to those controversial issues the Western society was beginning to approach, Jung already considered a thinker of great importance at that time, was among the guests.. Then when Jung became a real point of reference for his colleagues, the location became the perfect place for him to test and build his theories in an intimate and protected setting always animated by a spirit of meeting and sharing ideas. The location was ideal, the meetings began in fact during an extremely delicate socio-political period and the moments of encounter and aggregation to study and reflect on the situation, were considered by the political system dangerous and regarded with suspicion. The need for freedom of thought was great and strong, and all that induced to a careful listening to the intuition of others, to the valorization of the creative amplification, to the openness towards every possible entanglement in the effort to fight the cultural hegemony the dominant regimes imposed.
In 1940 when the historical circumstances risked preventing the lecturers to reach Eranos, Olga Fröbe opened the works. As always, with her usual commitment she announced that if neither lecturers nor participants had arrived, she would have celebrated on her own. She told the only expected speaker: “In case, could you give your lecture just for me? I will represent the audience and you the speakers. As usual, I will open the conference with few words, and after your lecture, we will have lunch in the garden, sipping a bottle of Chianti, and that will be for all intents a valid Conference of Eranos” (Scategni, Livorsi, 2011). This testimony allows us to understand the religiosity, the sacredness attributed to this experience by the participants, for each of them an experience sealed by the time, a real ritual celebrating a transformative awareness not only in name of an individual transformation, but of a collective one. It was necessary to continue to maintain alive the archetype of knowledge and freedom of thought in a tragic time when the society itself was denying it, it was extremely necessary to feed the holy fire to preserve it for better times. That is why the guests had to be carefully chosen.
Eranos is the name chosen by Karl Kerenyi, a famous Hungarian scholar of History of Mythology to remind the Greek term that had appeared for the first time in the classical Greek literature in Homer’s Odyssey referring to the “spiritual and intellectual nucleus”. At Eranos the shared banquet was developed by the participants in an atmosphere of freedom and spontaneity with music, poems, improvised verses or through symbolic offerings to the group.


Meaning of Eranos
After more than 70 years, the experience began in 1933 still continues. Olga Fröbe Kapteyn, owner of the location had the idea of a “place of freedom for the spirit”, a “meeting point between East and West” where to organize the lectures. It was the birth of the Eranos Tagungen (the Eranos Conferences) attended by quite a number of well-known and high-profile academics of the 20th century. Besides Jung and Hillman, important figures of the time such as Thomas Mann and Henry Corbin, Mircea Eliade and Karoly Kerenyi, Erich Neumann and Gilbert Durand. The meetings were traditionally held at the end of August. After the conferences, the speakers had to give their writings in exchange for the hospitality received by Olga Fröbe. Now published they constitute a rich collection of more than 60 volumes (in 2012 was published n. 70), called Yearbook (Jahrbücher), as evidence of the immense work of study carried out by different disciplines.

The influence of Carl Gustav Jung
It was mainly the influence of Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) to give a precise direction to the meetings of Eranos addressing them towards a further push to study archetypal, symbolical and mythological issues. This approach became the characteristic of the Eranos conferences. The atmosphere of Eranos was also the right context for the works of other scholars such as the sinologist Richard Wilhelm (1873-1937) who introduced the group to the thought of the Far East and found the way to have access to the extra European cultures on the basis of an equality approach, or Rudolf Otto (1869-1937) who came to consider religion and mysticism from a more human perspective. In the 40s the theme of the conferences was Man and his Relationship with the World from which the idea of a new humanism. The interest in symbols was growing, in the beginning as a hypothesis of a possible syncretism among the scientific and the humanistic disciplines, then between the Eastern and the Western thought. The discourses and the different interrelationships presented through legends and fables, mythological images and religious figures, dreams, art, poetry, and music together with reflections on the most recent scientific discoveries. But Eranos was not the only crucible of thought in that area, not far away is Monte Verità (Mount Truth) named after a group of utopists, poets, ascetics, artists, anarchic mystics and naturists who chose it as the place for their community where to experiment new forms of art, innovative researches in the artistic field related to dance, theatre and esotericism branded of a vein of madness. Here for years were lived experiences of contact with nature in an experimented intimacy reminding that Eranos was most of all a spiritual and cultural experience. Not far is also ‘Montagnola’ where Herman Hesse lived and ended his days. The place where he wrote between 1933 and 1943 in parallel with the beginning of the Eranos experience, “The Glass Bead Game”. The last book of Hermann Hesse had to be in his intent his masterpiece, the result was the complex and marvelous story of the life of Joseph Knecht. The book not published in the Nazi Germany, but in Switzerland in 1943 awarded him the Nobel Prize in literature in 1946. “The Glass Bead Game” takes place in 2200 in a fictional “pedagogical” province of central Europe called Castalia, reserved by political decision for the life of the mind: thinkers, artists and scientists live in isolation to recover and cultivate the ideas and the fundamental values of Mankind destroyed by a long period of wars, and moral and cultural obscurantism. Clear is the reference to the disastrous period of Nazism but not only that because Hesse was clearly against every kind of war and form of violence that had characterized the previous era. In Castalia fundamental were Mathematics and Music considered the subjects where the thought could reach the equilibrium, the order, and the harmony between Heaven and Earth. In “The Glass Bead Game” even though the rules are not clear, the reader can get the mysterious fascination, the transcendent beauty, the absolute perfection that refers to an ideal to get to as ultimate goal of the spiritual quest.
“The Glass Bead Game” inspired by an ancient Chinese game, is a symbol of the harmony, of the unity that governs the multiplicity, it is the peak of the contemplative and ascetic existence of Castalia opposed to the flow of a real life with all its load of uncertainties and sufferings from which Castalia is isolated from thanks to a protective circle of its walls. But they will be not enough to keep Joseph Knecht safe away from that intense real life he wishes to be part of to feel complete; so Joseph will leave the platonic dream of Castalia to enter a new path. The man faces the difficult path of introspection, strong of his thought and the intellectual and creative energy he is the master of; he does not know where this path can take him, but the important, the essential is to take it. As claimed by Hesse “A magic dwells in each beginning, protecting us, telling us how to live”. These coincidences make us reflect on the characteristics of this area, on why just here have been seen to converge so many similar thoughts that inspiring for Mankind, like a fortress activated by the Genius loci against all fundamentalisms.
From an ecobiopsychological perspective, we can analyze this area valorizing its geology. As evident in the maps and charts preserved at the museum of Monte Verità, this area of the Ticino reveals in fact a strong magnetism. We could synchronically read the echo of this powerful attractive force also for the psychic and spiritual world recalling the most powerful contents and stimulating the most daring reflections. Or maybe as for the Earth, the magnetic poles could be seen as orienting the compass needle, Eranos has in fact offered a perfect conjuncture orientating the spirit of the age. If Eranos means convivium, banquet, rich and diversified has been the continuous passage of reciprocal nourishment in a climate of openness, exchange and freedom of thought. Or we could say that we are dealing with a particular and magical conjuncture where the time seems to have stopped, the ideas and the thoughts collapsed in concrete conceptions of the world, deep insights and revealing actions. In this place away from the noise of the world, it is possible to perceive the echoes and the essence of the world itself.
Today we “are” here at Eranos and according to the ANEB thought, we are reactivating the same experience of an intellectual and concrete banquet or cenacle that originates and develops thanks to the contributions of each diner. Or using the words of Olga Fröbe: “We here represent a group where an archetype is operating for its own purpose. […] Something that is using Eranos as a minor gap of resistance and is trying to express itself and operate through the group of Eranos (Scategni, Livorsi, 2011).

Hillman, J. (1990). On the stone – lecture held at Eranos during the conference “Resurrection and immortality”. Rivista Anima, Per nascosti sentieri. Bergamo: Moretti e Vitali
Jung, C.G., (1978). Ricordi, sogni, riflessioni. Milano: BUR
Otto R., (2009). Il sacro. Milano: SE edizioni
Scategni, W., Livorsi, F. (2011). Il mistero di Eranos fra passato e presente. Alessandria: Falsopiano


Marini Alda, Specialist in Psychology and Psychotherapist. Analyst Psychologist (CIPA, IAAP), expert in Psychosomatics (ANEB) giving supervisions and lectures by the ANEB and CPIA schools of psychotherapy on the theme of ecobiopsychological psychosomatics, developmental age, dream and imaginary theories, group therapy, process of identifying, alchemy and Jungian approach. She is responsible teacher of the subject Psychology of Group Dynamics for ANEB and Developmental Age Psychology and Infant Psychopathology for ANEB. For ANEB she is also responsible of the relationships with the scientific institutions and the interdisciplinary network. She carries out research and dissemination activity with publishing. She is EMDR therapist working privately in Milan conducting individual therapy sessions with adults and adolescents, as well as group and couple therapy sessions.  

Translated by Dr.ssa Raffaella Restelli – Psychologist, member of the British Psychological Society (UK), Ecobiopsychological Counselor and expert in ANEB Psychosomatic Medicine. Linguist in ANEB Editorial area.