The Circle Of Eranos: The Importance Of The Symbolic And The Meaning Of Existence

If we talk about organizations that marked psychology and philosophy, we cannot forget the Circle of Eranos. Like the Vienna Circle, it was an interdisciplinary movement that was oriented to the search for new horizons, but it differed from the first by its attention to the ideas of the East.

This organization emerged in the early 1930s, a difficult time characterized by the confrontation between ideological and cultural extremisms. It was made up of a variety of scientists and philosophers who had in common an eagerness to find the mysterious connections between Eastern and Western thought. They used to meet in Ascona (Switzerland) by Lake Maggiore.

The Eranos Circle, which in Greek means ‘common food’, was made up of three fundamental pillars: Rudolf Otto, Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn and Carl Gustav Jung. Starting in 1933, they began to meet and hold annual conferences, some lasting 8 days and later on specific texts and works. Among its objectives were the search for meaning, the compensation of opposites and integration through the symbol. 

“No science can replace the myth.”

-Carl G. Jung-

Stages and periods of the Circle of Eranos

The Eranos Circle was founded in 1933 and over time three stages have been distinguished according to their work. The first between 1933 and 1946 characterized by comparative mythology, the second between 1947 and 1971 in which cultural anthropology gained great prominence and the third between 1972 and 1988 that focused on a symbolic hermeneutic.

However, at a general level, there are two major periods: the main one from 1933 to 1988 and the new cycle from 1989 to 2016 in which different professionals stand out. Both in one and the other, as we have said previously, its objective was aimed at exploring and bringing together the dimension of the symbolic and the meaning of existence. 

However, the organization continues to operate today, although the large annual events are no longer the hub of the organization’s activity. The years of splendor have passed, but the task of linking the knowledge of different cultures still stands. So the organization keeps making conferences and producing material with the desire to resurface.

The Pillars of the Circle of Eranos

The organization’s mission was based on establishing relationships that allowed the exchange of knowledge. For the same reason, during the annual meetings, the participants slept, ate and shared all kinds of activities during the 8 days.

Each year a theme and a speaker were set, from which they deliberated jointly. The synergy was motivated by the organizers, who formed a symbolic triangle.

Rudolf Otto, the denominator

Rudolf Otto was an iconic German Protestant theologian noted for the comparative study of religions. He was the one who chose the name of the organization and who motivated the dissertation on the subjects that included religion.

His works were based on the study of sacred questions as non-rational human experiences that were presented in all cultures in different ways.

Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn, the founder

The Anglo-Dutch spiritualist and theosophist, in addition to being the founder, was in charge of welcoming all the guests in her residence, where the annual meetings were held.

Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn studied in depth the mysteries of Indian philosophy and meditation. He was actively linked with the main ideas of the time such as Gestalt and great authors of interculturalism such as Richard Wilhelm.

Carl Gustav Jung, the inspirer

Perhaps he was the most prominent member of the Eranos Circle for his influence on the thought of the time. The Swiss psychologist formed the third vertex and was considered the great inspirer of the themes and reflections that were carried out in the meetings.

Jung was always very curious about different cultural expressions and theorized about their connectivity in the idea of ​​a collective unconscious. Thus, their participation was key. In addition, the multidisciplinary exchange influenced many of his great works.

However, little by little, prestigious professionals such as the mythologist Joseph Campbell, the phenomenologist G. van der Leeuw, and psychologists such as E. Neumann, ML von Franz and J. Hillman joined the organization.

The study of symbolism

The members of the Circle of Eranos agreed that human beings are united by the symbolic, the primitive and the spiritual. These connections are expressed in a disorderly and hidden way in various cultures, although they are skewed by the one-sided dogmatism that often exists in both East and West.

Its purpose then was very clear: to connect the symbolic, which was expressed in less rational ideas, such as that of God.

The interactive soul

The Jungian interpretation of religion had a great influence on the rest of the thinkers of the Circle of Eranos.

Jung took the concept of the interactive soul from Aristotelian philosophy. According to this, the soul is the engine and the faculty of man to know his environment. On the other hand, archetypes and the collective unconscious explain certain spiritual roles and needs that transcend generations and history.

What the Eranos Circle left us

Topics such as meditation were the pillar of an organization that tried to reveal the link between man and his soul and nature. From a plural approach, which at no time tried to capitalize on a one-sided vision, bridges were linked between meaning and emotions.

The themes ranged from the abstract to the transcendental, such as the adaptation of the human being to the city, migration and the challenges of the new times.

A contemplative reference

Another of the great legacies of the organization was the ability to expand the limits of knowledge by a group of academics. Unlike other organizations that met to discuss certain issues under certain immovable premises, the members of the Circle found in their meetings a method to explore the unknown.

Today his mission transcends the continents and most followers of the Jungian school profess openness to contemplation of the unknown. This group of people who would not have fit into other organizations, made their treaties endure and serve as a guide for many people today.

“Man is crucified between opposites and suffers until the third mediator appears.”

-Carl G. Jung-