- Chthonic Gnosis: Ludwig Klages and His Quest for the Pandaemonic All by Gunnar Alksnis
The figure of Ludwig Klages is something of a mystery in contemporary esoteric studies in that he is remembered in Germany as a prominent mystic and philosopher yet remains virtually unknown and ignored outside his native country. Klages (1872–1956) was possessed of a keen mind and intellectual gifts, which were the envy of many of his contemporaries, and he authored fourteen books and sixty essays. While he was at first a graphologist by profession, and indeed helped articulate the development of that field, he is remembered instead for his pioneering work in the fields of existential philosophy and cosmology. A recent study examining this role, Chthonic Gnosis, is adapted from the 1970 doctoral dissertation of the late Gunnar Alksnis. The author asserts in the introduction that the intention of the study is to examine “the formative influences on the thought of Klages, especially in the three crucial areas [End Page 123] of irrationalism, primitivism, and the subconscious,” “to evaluate his possible role in the developments to Germany,” and finally, “to conclude with a comparison of reactions to Klages as a man and a thinker, attempting to present as many diverse points of view as possible” (57). These goals are well-considered, and Alksnis is wise in his approach of intending to assess the impact of Klages rather than attempting to summarize or assess the value or validity of his views, which would otherwise prove a difficult task.
To accomplish his stated purpose, Alksnis divides the book into eight chapters, which chart the early life and rise of Klages, providing an overview of his life, education, and social interactions—namely, his formative friendships and rivalries, both of which Alksnis demonstrates that Klages had in good supply. The first two chapters, the “Introduction” and “The Poetic Years,” provide considerable biographical detail, and while the purpose of the book is not to serve as a biography, the author assumes that the reader is not familiar with the work of Klages and introduces his subject such that one has a sense of his formative years and early adulthood. Chapters 2 through 5 explore the philosophy and cosmology proposed by Klages, while chapters 6 through 8 examine the range of reactions to the work of Klages, including a nuanced consideration of claims that he was involved with or affected by the Nazi regime that he lived through. The book concludes with a reexamination of the original thesis statement.
Alksnis shows that Klages had a great appreciation and nostalgia for the distant past, shrouded in the mists of time and hinted at only obliquely in the idea of the “Pelasgian,” which Klages himself described as “the prehistoric ancestors of the European cultural nations whose character we can discover in the images of their gods, their cults, symbols, mysteries, and myths, but which character also survives in quite a few historically proven facts of (promethic) antiquity, consequently viewed in terms of soul to some of its features belonging to pre-history” (103). To a certain extent, Klages’s thinking was not very different from that of the celebrated French philologist Dumézil (1898–1986), who was his near-contemporary, in that they shared the idea of an ancient pre-European past that could be detected through the common European myths and symbols that survived past antiquity and into the classical and medieval period in some altered forms. What Dumézil perceived through his knowledge of philology and comparative linguistics, Klages seemed to grasp through his powers of raw intuition. Alksnis also shows that Klages articulated interesting views on the symbol-as-object, which he demonstrated through his conceptualization on the purpose of sacrifice in world religions (113–15). Here, one detects the Pelasgian theme of Klages’s thinking, in that he viewed the ritual of sacrifice in Greek [End Page 124] and even early Christian culture as an ancient practice in which the sacrifice of the symbol of the deity was essentially no...