A review of Ludwig Klages’ Of Cosmogonic Eros, Theion Publishing 2018
By Carl Schelling
“The light of Eros-Phanes flashes in the pregnant darkness of the Dionysian vortex.”
One could review this tremendous work from various angles such as the philosophical, metaphysical, religious as for each of these and other areas this release holds very important implications. And indeed, upon its first release in early 1920s Germany it influenced luminaries of various disciplines ranging from Walter Benjamin to Walter F. Otto and from C.G. Jung to Hermann Hesse. It did, however, also impact greatly on the spiritual and esoteric milieu of its time and it is from the perspective of an esoteric practitioner that I will attempt to review this publication.
The great biocentric Ludwig Klages, together with Alfred Schuler the head of the esoteric Cosmic Circle, waged a radical war against monotheism, logocentrism and human-centric positions. Against these currents he pitched an enchanting and ecstatic daemonic world of images which constitute a cyclical reality mediated by the powers of Eros. This world-creating, Cosmogonic Eros thus becomes the elemental power which manifests the true Real which is ‘lost’ to humankind behind the false reality mediated by the Logos. So central is this force to Klages’ thinking that he devoted an entire monograph to this sacred force, the same book, Of Cosmogonic Eros, which is finally available to us in English for the very first time.
Now onto the book itself:
Theion Publishing treats us to the full package here, adding two extra texts to the translation. Of Cosmogonic Eros itself is divided into seven chapters plus a preface, an appendix and a discussion of sources. As extras this book further contains an introduction by the preeminent contemporary expert on Klages in the English-speaking world, Dr. Paul Bishop, and an additional essay by Klages’ collaborator the mystic Alfred Schuler on the Ur-Gnosis.
Bishop’s introduction may already be worth the price of the book alone. His introductory essay of 60+ pages is in itself a mini-analysis of the entire Eros book, examining its most important concepts and how they relate to Klages’ overall metaphysical world of daemonic images.
Klages advances his elaborations on Eros in a very structured way allowing the reader to follow closely all his argument. With the razor-sharp mind of a scholar and the heart of a mystic Klages peels back layer after layer of misunderstandings and distortions in regards to the nature of Eros until he arrives at his essential qualities and powers. In a tour de force he differentiates Eros from Love, Sexus and emotionality before embarking on a discussion of the concept of Eros in antiquity. Amongst the topics treated in this chapter are the Eros of the Orphics, Eros Cults and Eros as a Mystery God.
In chapter 3 Klages elaborates on the essence of the Erotic state and then compares Erotic and Dionysian rapture before explaining the cosmogonic nature of Eros. A master of language Klages treats us here to passages like this:
While the ecstasy of satisfying the sexual drive is associated with the sexual union of two beings, there is presumably no limit to the opportunities that permit entry by the person bearing a soul into the fiery circle of erotic frenzy. It can consummate itself, or reach perfection, at the mere sight of a beloved being, and that may be a being of the opposite sex, but also one of the same sex, or it might be an animal, or a plant. And it can just as well consummate itself at the smell of a scent, the taste of a wine, the hearing of a sound, and the touch of a dripping branch. It can be roused while awake as if in the most stupefying dream. It celebrates its orgies beneath the breeze of spring storms, in the light of a star-studded heaven, in a hailstone shower, on a flaming mountain ridge, in the raging surf, in the lightning flash of “first love”, but not least in the embrace of fate that smites it. It is an ecstasy both of the ascent and descent; an ecstasy that transfigures dying and death into agonising bliss! The eternal moment of its perfection contains: unfettered frenzy or crystalline transport of delight.
Chapter 4 ‘on the ecstatic state’ is of the utmost importance to any spiritual practitioner interested in utilizing forms of ecstasy in their work. The author explains the crisis of ‘un-selfing’ and the pathway of Life through Death. Far ahead of his time he discusses the possible use of drugs in relation to mystical work and elaborates on 3 main forms of cosmic ecstasy, the heroic, the erotic and the magical forms. The chapter ends with the introduction of a truly mystical concept of distance in relation to Eros of which Klages says that:
The shiver of Eros however differs from this in that, in the moment of even the highest realisation, it remains an Eros of Distance and the intoxicated man remains a separate, never-intermingling second in relation to his partner, an eye of the universe watching him from out of the purple night! To surrender to this does not mean to lust after it or to embrace it. It does not mean: to become one with it; to be subsumed in it. It means: to awaken!
Chapter 5 takes us deep into the ‘nature of ecstasy’. Magical time and space, the relation of Eros and ecstasy to the daemonic images and the visionary power of the soul are all discussed in this chapter which leads over to chapter 6 ‘on ancestor veneration’ which should become mandatory reading for any contemporary pagan or heathen practitioner. Far beyond the shallow clichés and limits of the usual treatises on such topics Klages uncovers the deepest layers of the relation of Eros to Thanatos, the empowerment of the Living through the Dead and the transformative quality of the living soul.
A ‘concluding word on Eros and passion’ is then followed by a lengthy appendix which contains a highly fascinating treatment of the question as to ‘Why does it bring ruin to lift the Veil of Isis?’ You want the answer? Go and read this book, I won’t spoil it for you with an answer!
A true gem in this treasure chest of Gnosis is the included essay by Alfred Schuler. Klages mentions him in various places of the book as a mystic and as being instrumental in shaping his view on the Chthonic mysteries. Schuler, who also communicated with French esotericist Papus, was a highly mysterious figure whose oracular language and visionary ecstasies had a profound effect on his immediate circle. His pagan vision of a cyclical maternal world is closely associated with erotic mysteries, divine androgyny and necromantic teachings. The short essay presented here is an excellent example of Schuler’s unique approach and vision.
To conclude: Of Cosmogonic Eros is an epic achievement, an intellectual and esoteric masterpiece which deserves the closest attention and should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in or practicing any form of Pagan spirituality. Some passages of this book, especially in the beginning, demand proper intellectual focus as they can be complex but it is worth persisting. It is a work you will go back to time and time again.
The publication of this book could not be more timely also in regards to another matter: Klages tirelessly pointed out how environmental destruction and ruthless exploitation of nature is one of the disastrous manifestations of Western ideologies and reality. In a time where more and more people wake up to the terrible consequences of environmental collapse Klages can give us crucial insights into possible alternative avenues and strategies.
The book is published in a limited cloth hardcover edition (a deluxe edition is sold out) of 745 copies. Theion Publishing is known for their quality productions and this book is no exception. Beautiful quality blue cloth and exquisite endpapers make this book a delight to hold. A special mention must go to translator Mav Kuhn who did an outstanding job translating this work.
Carl Schelling is a lifelong student of the esoteric. After pursuing academic studies in philosophy and anthropology he traveled internationally for more than 3 decades in the search for spiritual truth. He now lives in a rural setting on the European continent and focuses his spiritual heart on venerating the ancestors and the genius loci.
Many thanks to Carl Schelling for allowing me to share his review of Of Cosmogonic Eros which is a book that has influenced my own thinking and spirituality. I was lucky enough to immerse myself in the text as its translator and I very much recommend it to anyone seriously interested in pagan spirituality. Mr Schelling’s review is a fantastic enticement to those who have ears to hear and eyes to see … Seshat
In the first chapter of his book*, Ludwig Klages looks at different perceptions of the word love (Liebe) and the different meanings assigned to this word. In elucidating the different shades of ‘Liebe’ he highlights the inadequacy of this word for the purposes of his book (I will be writing something on each chapter, so you will find out his philosophical destination shortly after I do). For this post I want to share with you some of the different definitions of love à la Klages. Please bear in mind that I am translating these concepts from the German, and whereas they are beautifully, concisely and simply expressed in the German, they are slightly forced in English.
There is love as a spiritual/emotional quality, where we speak of a ‘loving person’, i.e. someone who has the capacity for love or where love is an integral quality in their personality.
There is love is a condition of taking continual or temporary pleasure (Wohlgefallen) in something. Such pleasure is made up of inclination (Neigung) and interest (Interesse), with the emphasis in interest on the love to a thing. In its extreme form this is expressed as an enthusiasm (Begeisterung).
Love is also understood as Christian love/Karitas – a duty-bound esteem or expression of mercy.
Then there is the ‘tendency’ of the heart (Herzensneigung), an inclination, pull or draw to certain things or to particular features and characters. Each arbitrary tendency of the heart establishes a selective and specific relationship between the heart and the object of its affection.
There is a love to particular parts and features of a person: hands, feet, smells…), which ranges from a purely habitual inclination up to a passionate pull towards the love object.
An impulse/drive/urge (Trieb) dictates the direction which it compels you to follow; an inclination (Neigung) dictates a direction which you would allow to manifest or not if the appropriate situation arose.
The various classes and forms of inclination are too weak however to convey a genuine urge for union (Vereinigungstrieb). The difference is expressed using its negative form as follows: if you experience a negative inclination against an object you will avoid it; if you experience a negative emotion from a Trieb-state (a state of compulsion ruled by an inner urge), such as hate, fury or envy, you seek out the object to deliberately break with it.
Since true union with a love object is not possible, the fulfilment of this urge is generally epitomised in the form of close physical proximity. The essence of such love is expressed in tenderness/affection (Zärtlichkeit), which in turn is manifest in its basic form as a mother’s love.
The need for affection (Zärtlichkeitsbedürfnis) runs through each person’s life and can also be satisfied with objects, such as feathers, velvet, fur … essentially any kind of sensual touch.
Then there is the urge/drive to engulf or devour (Verschlingungstrieb) which is only satisfied once the love object is devoured or consumed (e.g. food, drink, although I believe this concept could also understood in a metaphysical or abstract way). This type of drive is more than an impulse; it forces a situation into being where the urge is fulfilled. The words ‘passion’ or ‘enthusiasm’ are too weak for this type of love, in its extreme form it becomes ‘lust’ or an appetite on many levels of being.
Then there is the sexual drive (Geschlechtstrieb/Sexus). In this context the noun ‘love’ is used synonymously with the word sex and ‘to love’ or ‘to make love’ is used for the sexual act. This is an urge to copulate and is expressed in sexual activity; as such it can be subclassified into: different-gender sexual love, same-gender sexual love, sexual activity with animals, love of self-display (exhibitionism), sexual activity incorporating particular body parts (fetishism), etc.
Love in its extreme form is called passion when the love object is socially approved and an addiction (or also perversion) when it is not approved socially (e.g. extreme love of drink – alcoholism; extreme love of food – gluttony, etc.).
In summary, Klages lists a brief range of ‘loves’:
Love of an object
Love of self (i.e. egotism)
Love of our neighbour/enemy
Love for friends
Extreme, passionate love
Love of drink
Just this brief array makes it clear that a philosopher is walking a semantic minefield if he chooses to use the word ‘love’ to convey any concept. Consequently, for the above diversity of reasons, Klages decides not to use the word ‘Liebe’, as, he says, none of these definitions can even approach the true knowledge of elemental Eros.
So what does Klages want to tell us about Eros? Stay tuned for the next chapter on the concept of Eros in antiquity.
*Nb. Cosmogonic: pertaining to the branch of astronomy dealing with the origin, history, structure and dynamics of the universe