An Introduction

by Tilo Schabert

ERANOS is a spiritual festivity upon which the associates in the event bestow something of their own, a speech, for instance, or a song, a bowl of wine, or, and not least, the open mind for improvising words to contribute to the symposion among the associates.

This idea dates back to Platonic conceptions and was revived at the epoch of German Romanticism. A remarkable form was given to it in the early 20th century by the "Heidelberg Eranos" of which Ernst Troeltsch and Max Weber were members.

Rudolf Otto - the eminent German historian of religions - must have thought of the idea, its significance and tradition, when he suggested the name "Eranos" to Olga Froebe-Kapteyn, the Dutch foundress of a Table Ronde at her estate on the shores of the Lago Maggiore near Ascona in Switzerland. She envisaged a spiritual and cultural quest which she initiated, indeed, in the year 1933. Scholars of quite different origins and orientations meet and live together, at the same place, for the time of eight days; and they talk; each has agreed beforehand to contribute to the banquet of thoughts a lecture of two hours, the topics of which he or she has chosen freely in consideration of a general theme. In its first year the Ascona-Eranos had as its theme: "Yoga and Meditation in East and West"; in subsequent years the participants in the Table Ronde spoke on such themes as: "Form and Cult of the Great Mother", "The Mysteries", "The World of Primeval Images", "Man and the Process of Creativity".

Who, in 1933, would have supposed that Eranos Tagungen/Conferences would take place from then on year after year and would continue to be held, in our time, with conferences on themes like "Structures of Chaos" (1991), "The Truth of Dreams" (1995), "The Language of Masks" (1998), "Prophets and Prophecies" (2001), "God or Gods?" (2005), "The Virtues of Tolerance (2013)? And who would have imagined that ERANOS would unfold in an extraordinary cultural and methodological diversity of disciplines - Mythology, Zen-Buddhism, Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Literary Studies, Philosophy, Political Science, Mysticism, Neoplatonism, Gnosticism - and would therein make alive the unity of the human mind in its multiple forms?

The life of ERANOS arises from the inspired science of its speakers. As to their selection, Olga Froebe-Kapteyn followed a clear concept. A speaker at ERANOS is one who "delves into the fullness of his inner visions and seeks to retain them in scientific form". The combination of imaginative-creative and strictly scientific thinking has remained the reigning principle of ERANOS. This explains perhaps why ERANOS has continued to attract scholars who in their fields were particularly innovative.

Mircea Eliade commented on ERANOS: "One can compare this form of cultural creation to certain 'circles' in the Italian Renaissance or the German Romanticism." Should someone write the history of ERANOS one day, this historian will then be able to dwell more accurately on this or any similar observation. However, we certainly cannot be wrong even now, if we state that for more than a century the miracle at Heidelberg, Ascona, Pisa, Tārgu-Neamt (Romania) ... has happened recurrently: the emergence of a cosmos of knowledge wherein things, separated as they normally are, tend to come together.