Chthonic Gnosis — Teachings of a Forgotten Metaphysician: Book Review

Chthonic Gnosis: Ludwig Klages and his Quest for the Pandaemonic All (Theion Publishing) is the first overview and in-depth study of the life and metaphysical work of Ludwig Klages — one of the most intriguing and controversial thinkers of the 20th century — available to the English-speaking public. A radical critic of monotheism and Christianity in particular, Klages identified as a pagan and devoted his life’s work to the exposition of a pagan metaphysics of Life. Influencing many of his contemporaries from Hermann Hesse to Carl Gustav Jung, from Walter Benjamin to Karl Jaspers his name was quickly forgotten post WWII when irrationality and life philosophy were considered dangerous territory.

In the past decade Klages has been introduced to a wider international esoteric audience mainly through the unique work of David Beth and his circle of initiates. Beth’s counter current presents a radical alternative to most of today’s paths to spiritual freedom and while infused with various initiatic lineages, the work of Klages and the Cosmic circle plays an important role in the manifestation of their work.

Chthonic Gnosis itself is divided into three parts, an elaborate introductory essay by Professor Paul Bishop, an appendix by Tibetan Buddhist master Dr. Volker Zotz and the main body of the book being the unpublished PhD thesis of American Professor Gunnar Alksnis.

Professor Bishop is possibly the leading English speaking expert on Ludwig Klages and this is evident in his preface (running over 30 pages). He investigates some of the key concepts of Klages’ pagan philosophy, translating fascinating passages of the German thinker’s work for the first time. Never dry or sterile, Bishop manages to operate within academic standards while at the same time remaining true to Klages’ evocative style and language. He is adept at explaining complex concepts and has the following to say about Klages’ view on the cosmos: “What characterizes the cosmos, Klages argues, is that it is alive, and internal to this vital condition is a polarity: on the one hand, there is an aspect that is psychic or spiritual, and the other, there is an aspect that is bodily. If there is a body without consciousness or a mental life, it is an inert body or a dead one. Can there be consciousness without it being embodied? For us, at least, Klages believes the answer to be: no.”

Professor Bishop’s preface leads us to the main body of Chthonic Gnosis which contains the formerly unpublished thesis of Prof. Gunnar Alksnis (1931-2011). Alksnis mainly focuses on the metaphysician Klages and, consequently, the central chapters of his work are called ‘The Metaphysician of the Irrational’, ‘The Metaphysician of the Subconscious’ and ‘The Metaphysician of the Primitive’. His work is a true tour de force and leads the reader deep into the chthonic caverns of Klages’ thought. Fleshing out Klages’ paganism or better, pelasgianism, he writes: “Christian eternity is timelessness, the hope that the person endures, it despises birth and life and hopes to escape in the extra-temporal nothing. Pelasgian eternity is the being-less change from the perishable to the emerging, and unchanging creative power of the pictures, here the very fact of perishing is the guarantee of eternity in the ever continuing circle of life.”

While always the critical scholar, Alksnis delivers an honest and balanced picture of Klages and his work which is the greater feat when one considers that the original thesis was delivered in 1970 when international scholarship on Klages was still in its infancy and opinion about him strongly colored by Lukács’ and other materialist thinkers. Alksnis makes the best of the sources available to him and the excellent editing by David Beth indicates relevant contemporary scholarship and primary sources where applicable to make this book the most important release on Klages in the English-speaking world to date.

The final gem of the book is an essay by Dr. Volker Zotz, successor of Lama Anagarika Govinda and head of the Tibetan Buddhist Ārya Maitreya Order, who elaborates some of the intriguing influences of Klages on Lama Govinda. Deeply impressed especially by Klages’ book on Eros, Govinda absorbed many of the German’s teachings on the living images, the magical quality of distance and infused them into his own Buddhist Gnosis.

While this book is certainly valuable for anyone interested in philosophy, metaphysics and esotericism, it is especially important for the esoteric practitioner who is looking for an alternative path to spiritual freedom. Although the book contains no ‘rituals’ the implications of Klages’ teachings as presented in Chthonic Gnosis will immediately allow the intuitive seeker to modify his own spiritual practice and direct it towards an empowerment of the soul and towards a bio-centric communion with the cosmos. For anyone interested in following an initiatic path of Soul I refer to the above-mentioned work of David Beth.

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.
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.

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