No, my parents had no interest in esoteric matters. The so-called war generation (I was born in Austria in 1947) had other concerns. And yet they did play a key role. Being part of a magazine renting circle, they received once a week a large number of current periodicals. And it was in one of them – the Frankfurter Illustrierte if I remember rightly – that I read The Third Eye by Lobsang Rampa in the form of a serialized novel. I was totally fascinated by this allegedly authentic Tibetan account of the opening of the third eye. I was twelve years old at that time and had already been through a stage of reading fairy tales and then the works of Karl May and Edgar Wallace. I was ready for something new, and now, inspired by Lobsang Rampa, I looked to Tibet and then to India as the setting in which my imagination could roam. But where was I to find information on the “secret” traditions of these countries, the kind that Lobsang Rampa had described?
As it turned out, Mother Fate arranged things marvellously. In order to expand my knowledge of English I began to read American Wild West stories by authors like Zane Grey and Max Brand, lent to me by a friend of my father. And then it happened. In one of these so-called pulp editions was an advertisement for Thorsons, the then well-known English publisher of books on esotericism and alternative healing. There were books about yoga, Theosophy, Tibet, India and – what astonished me most – even about modern witchcraft. My wish list for my next birthday was immediately decided. What a happy time that was! I could still read all the books that I ordered, and what I read I usually tried to apply in practice.
During a yoga course at an adult education centre, when I was about 16 years old, I made contact with a leading local Theosopher, who introduced me to his circle of friends. In this way I came to read more and more books and it soon became clear to me what which subjects interested me and which ones didn’t. In the first category were C.G. Jung and yoga. In the uninteresting category were Theosophy, Anthroposophy and everything that today one would call New Age literature.
No. Of course I got to know people who had been involved for years with esotericism in the broader sense, but they weren’t a decisive influence on me. However, I read a great deal. The high school syllabus and the graduation exam presented no great difficulties for me. Besides Indian philosophy, I read a lot on psychology, especially Freud and Jung. In the case of Jung what fascinated me especially was his concept of individuation, a process that culminates in a coincidentia oppositorum within the self. Equally important for me was Mircea Eliade with his exposition of the notion of illud tempus among the nature-oriented peoples – that is to say the idea that there is a kind of time outside history. Eliade without doubt prepared the ground for my understanding of Evola and Guénon soon afterwards. I must also mention another man who had a deep influence on me, namely Sri Ramana Maharshi. It was a key experience for me when I came to realise the sense of his continual probing into the nature of the I.
Among magicians I was especially taken by Aleister Crowley – at that young age one feels the urge and duty to provoke. In 1966 I visited London for the first time after working as a night porter on Jersey to finance my studies, and in the second-hand bookshops I found first editions of Crowley for six or seven pounds. Soon afterwards I came into contact with Herbert Döhren who, under the pen name of E. Douval, had written a series of twelve books under the title Bücher der praktischen Magie (Books of Practical Magic). I became convinced by his sensible and practical approach to magic. This was also the reason why, some years later, I was so inspired by William Gray and his book Magical Ritual Methods. Here I found a down-to-earth explanation of magic, which one could apply without feeling ridiculous. Luckily for me, Gray had originally gained much of his knowledge from an Austrian, so he was especially open towards me, as I also come from Austria. Perhaps he even hoped that I would continue his work, but that was prevented by the fact that I soon found myself running my own business, with all the attendant duties and stresses.
The year 1967 was a particularly important one for me. That was when the esoteric publishing firm of Hermann Bauer in Freiburg im Breisgau published the book Experimentalmagie (Experimental Magic) by Dr. Klingsor – an obvious pseudonym taken from Wagner’s Parsifal. I remember what it was like to open the book with its sigils, glyphs and symbols, and its hints at the existence of secret magical orders – all of which appealed to my romantic streak. Almost immediately I wrote to the publisher and asked to be put in touch with Dr. Klingsor. I soon received a letter from Prof. Dr. Adolf Hemberger, who at that time was on the faculty of the University of Frankfurt. He said that he would shortly be coming to the town where I lived in order to visit Karl Worel, the “last” practical alchemist, a high-ranking official of the Tax Office and possessor of an important library of several thousand volumes. So that was how I met not only “Dr. Klingsor” but also Karl Worel – and I came to regard both of them highly.
Adolf Hemberger, who soon afterwards became Professor of Scientific Theory and Research Methodology at the University of Giessen, inducted me into Germany’s most important magical order Fraternitas Saturni when I visited him for the first time in Frankfurt. This brought me into contact with leading members, most notably Guido Wolther (“Master Daniel”). Adolf Hemberger also facilitated wider contacts for me – among these I would especially like to mention Ellic Howe in London, Oscar Schlag in Zürich and Joseph Grasser in Paris. It was also Adolf Hemberger who prompted me to visit the O.T.O. centre at Stein in Appenzell, Switzerland, where I met Joseph Metzger and saw the extensive library there.
That came about through reading the books of Dr. Henri Birven, someone for whom I had a high regard, as I still do. Unfortunately I never met him, as he died in 1969, just at the time when I was trying to contact him. Birven was a highly educated man, who had a command of several languages and had known Aleister Crowley, Julius Evola and leading members in Papus’ organisations personally. He wrote so enthusiastically about Evola, and especially about the Group of Ur and its collection of experience-based essays under the title Introduction to Magic as the Science of the Self, that I did everything I could to get my hands on this material, which at that time was long out of print. As I was competent in Italian I was able, after some searching, to locate the three-volume work in an antiquarian bookshop in Rome. I bought it immediately, even though I didn’t have very much money as I was having to pay for my legal studies out of my own pocket. I must confess that, as soon as I began reading the first of the Group of Ur volumes, I was just as enthused as Henri Birven had been. Naturally, being the bookworm that I am, I set about acquiring anything by Evola that I could get hold of, which was no easy task in the late sixties and early seventies, in contrast to today.
Knew is a bit of an exaggeration. I visited him in 1972 in his small apartment in Rome which had been made available to him by a female benefactor. Later on I discovered that it was actually not so easy to get an appointment to see him. I was given his address by the traditionalist Walter Heinrich, a Professor at what was then the College for International Trade (Hochschule für Welthandel) in Vienna, and I wrote to Evola asking him for information about the Group of Ur. Evola sent me a friendly reply but without addressing my questions in any detail. Later I had to go to Rome in connection with the export business dealing in electrical goods, for which I was working. I telephoned him in advance and he immediately agreed to a meeting.
Unfortunately there is nothing sensational to relate. I was received by his housekeeper, who escorted me to him. I can no longer remember whether he was in bed or in a wheelchair, but at any rate he looked wretched – sick, exhausted and embittered. But mentally he was fully alert. I told him about my high-flown plans to publish the monographs of the Group of Ur in German as soon as my circumstances would permit, and this obviously pleased him. He seemed happy to have the opportunity to speak German again, which we did at his request.
Evola complained particularly that, apart from a very few young people, no one wanted to hear or read what he had to say. And even those young people didn’t really engage with his thought on a deep level. Instead they wanted to go out immediately and revolutionize the world without first becoming clear in their minds about their own spiritual orientation. When I asked him which authors I should study, apart from Kremmerz, Guénon and Evola himself, he came out quick as a flash with the name Gustav Meyrink. Meyrink, he said, had possessed a profound grasp of true esotericism. In response to my further question whether there were any initiatic groups in the present day, he merely shook his head. He knew of none. After perhaps an hour and a half the conversation was over. Evola wanted and needed to rest.
It was only much later, remembering the meeting and talking to other people about it, that I realised why Evola had been so well disposed towards me. It was not only because I came from Austria, where he had spent so much time, but also because our conversation was confined to esoteric themes. Politics had ceased to interest him. Weighed down by so much suffering, he wanted at least to preserve some of his metaphysical thought beyond his death. As for politics, he had simply given up any expectations that he might have had in that domain.
What more can I say about Evola? It is better to read what I have written about him at length.
An awkward but predictable question. I used this pseudonym – which was quite transparent and never involved any secrecy – for a very simple reason: I wanted to be left in peace. I was an independent businessman and had good partners whom I didn’t want to bother with my esoteric interests. So up to 1995 everything that I wrote was signed either H.T. Hansen or simply H.T.H – and not just the essays on Evola, as some people have assumed. That can easily be confirmed by looking at my bibliography.
I would have continued to use the pseudonym, although I had meanwhile sold my share of the business in order to concentrate on my esoteric researches and my library, but then Prof. Antoine Faivre intervened. I had agreed to write a review of a book by Oskar Schlag for the journal ARIES, of which he was the co-editor. Then, when I said I wanted to write under the pseudonym of H.T. Hansen, he categorically refused. He insisted that ARIES was a scholarly journal and no pseudonyms were permitted.
That was the turning point. From then on I began to write under my real name – even though I felt a bit naked at first and took a while to get used to it. This happened just in time for the launch in October 1996 of Gnostika, which carries my real name. Today I’m grateful that it turned out this way. Merci, Monsieur Faivre.
Yes, that is correct. But that applies only to essays about Evola, and I did it for two reasons. In the first place, Evola is a controversial figure, and the people who are interested in him are almost invariably either fierce opponents or passionate supporters. Both parties are – if I may speak frankly – rather tiresome and are often so one-sided and set in their opinions that they are deaf to any point of view that contradicts their own. They ignore facts, connections and historical contexts, which makes it useless to conduct a conversation or a correspondence with them. It is simply the case that Evola polarises, which I find understandable. Evola is the classic heretic, who never conformed and never “repented”. Consequently, discussions about him have often reminded me of theological debates in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, where it was clear in advance what position one had to take. Secondly, in circles that were interested in Evola, H.T. Hansen had become a familiar name, I might almost say a trademark, which guaranteed reliable sales – a not insignificant factor for a publisher.
However, from 1999 I used only my real name, except in the case of foreign translations of earlier texts that had appeared under H.T. Hansen – it didn’t make sense to me to have two different authors’ names for one and the same text. So with the new millennium I started with a clean slate. There’s the well known tradition of the jubilee year that comes every half century, when one’s debts are written off and one can start afresh. Well, in this respect 2000 was a jubilee year for me.
Yes, of course – every time I wrote as Thomas Hakl and had to quote something by H.T. Hansen. In such cases I of course had to quote the name Hansen, because that was the name under which the quoted text had appeared. Furthermore, one automatically attracts mistrust when one uses a pseudonym, although it’s obviously not forbidden. A pseudonym only makes sense if one stays completely in the background, and that was in fact my original intention, as I never thought I would write as much as I do now or that I would even lecture.
Apart from the fact that a certain persistence is typical of my character, the main reason lies in the fascination that Magic as the Science of the Self aroused in me. Curiously enough, it was mainly the first volume. The second and third fascinated me somewhat less. Evola gave me a completely new understanding of magic with his clear formulations, his sharpness of mind, his arresting images (Evola has been called the “master of myths”) and finally his eminently practical advice. One perceived and sensed that here was someone who was genuinely speaking from experience and who was pointing the way to a clear and sensible spiritual path. No foolish circumlocution, no false mystery-mongering, no “I may not” or “you have to wait”, no self-importance, no “I am the Master”, but rather: here are the facts, test them, act accordingly and you will see for yourself.
I was also impressed by the way he urged one always to retain a clear and conscious mind and not to switch off or restrict one’s consciousness by putting oneself at the mercy of gurus, “spiritual beings” or drugs. We should rely on ourselves and our own strengths to deal with the tasks before us and not vainly hope that some external agent will take the work from us. This “enlightened” approach, similar to scientific didactic methods, was exactly what I had been looking for. It is not easy to find anything comparable in other magical writings. Think, for example, of the texts produced by the much more famous Order of the Golden Dawn, which are full of mystifications.
Then of course I had met Evola himself and seen his suffering and his bitterness. This had caused an added emotional reaction in me. It strengthened my resolve to bring out at least the three volumes of Magic in German. I looked for a publisher and a translator, but it was hopeless. The standard reply from publishers’ readers was that the work was too voluminous, the author was too unknown and it would all cost far too much. Then in 1978 I became a partner in Ansata-Verlag, at that time one of the leading esoteric publishers and mail order book services in the German-speaking world. Paul A. Zemp, the founder of Ansata, was a first-class expert on valuable esoteric literature, but unfortunately no businessman. So I had to come to the rescue, although I was more interested in the books than in commercial matters. High culture may be very high and cultured, but here in this earthly realm one can rarely survive without a material basis.
But to return to the theme – despite Paul Zemp’s many contacts and our diligent search for translators, no one could be found who was even remotely qualified to translate Evola. After all these failed efforts I finally decided to undertake the translation myself on top of my work with Ansata and my responsibilities as part-owner of an international firm that was rapidly expanding into thirteen countries worldwide. However, I soon realized that the translation of Magic required too much time, energy and research, and was simply not feasible in view of my continual travelling. Therefore I decided to postpone Magic and instead tackle something by Evola that would be easier to translate. Revolt against the Modern World offered itself as a viable option, as there was already a German translation from 1935. However, that version could not simply be used as it was, since Evola had twice revised the book extensively, and furthermore the language of the translation was much too turgid. But at least it made the task easier.
In 1982 the book was published and immediately sold surprisingly well, but there were repercussions – albeit somewhat delayed – that Paul Zemp and I had not expected. In an address at the Frankfurt Book Fair Umberto Eco complained in thunderous tones that in the Frankfurt bookshops, instead of books by (the Marxist ) Georg Lukács, he had found Evola, Guénon and Gurdjieff. Probably hardly any of the journalists present knew who these three people were, but they knew immediately that one was supposed to be against them and very soon they also knew that Ansata-Verlag was exhibiting a book by Evola. I was approached by various journalists and had to explain things. Interestingly, most of these conversations were not unpleasant at all, as soon as I had given them some clarification and preferably also a copy of Revolt against the Modern World for them to study.
I remember a very pleasant exchange with a very well known television journalist, who then read the book and telephoned me to say how much it had impressed him, even though he took a different view. He explained that he could not of course make publicity for the book, but I had not expected that anyway. Through Evola I also got to know the renowned esoteric author Gerhard Wehr at the Frankfurt Book Fair. And, by the way, I would like to mention that I encountered respect and in some cases even friendship from quite a few rather “apolitical” people for the very fact that I had “taken on” this burden with Evola. However, to be honest, I should add that one usually slips rather gradually into such a role rather than choosing it consciously. And I certainly never wanted to become involved in politics.
Although I belong to the famous 1968 generation, I believed that the way to improve the world was through an “esoteric” change of consciousness within ourselves rather than through external political changes. At that time my political world view was shaped by George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four (a book that I read systematically every five years), as well as by Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Gustave le Bon’s La psychologie des Foules (The Crowd), and the story of the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. So I had a penchant for sceptical literature, and this led me later to Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent and Necessary Illusions. I did not read Marx and Lenin, but I was familiar with Mao’s so-called Red Bible, which I had acquired during my first visit to London. Among the works of the Frankfurt School I only knew the Dialectic of Enlightenment by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno.
Perhaps on account of my one-sided and rather limited understanding of political matters, I was totally unprepared for the subsequent reactions. Prompted by the statements of Eco and others, many booksellers suddenly accused Ansata of propagating Fascist ideas. Furthermore they threatened to stop all sales of Ansata books unless we took this wicked Evola out of our programme. This was a hefty threat for a small publishing house, especially as they demanded an immediate decision from us. But we did not want to give up so easily. So, after considering the situation carefully and assessing our powers of resistance and our bank balance, we decided to carry on. In 1989 there appeared one of Evola’s best books – again translated by me – namely The Hermetic Tradition, which had impressed both C.G. Jung and Mircea Eliade.
However, the continuing attacks forced me to engage more clearly with Evola’s political thought, which until then had only interested me peripherally. I realised that ultimately I had to defend not only myself but also the good name of the publishing house. It was not a question of defending Evola’s political ideas but rather presenting the historical facts and setting them in the context of their time. If this could not be done, then the “esoteric” Evola would also be dead for the foreseeable future. That much was clear. In the long term Ansata could not have withstood the head-wind. So what should we do regarding Ansata? None of us wanted to publish political literature, and in any case that was a completely different readership. Then I heard of a plan to publish Evola’s political treatise Men Among the Ruins in Germany.
At first I was greatly alarmed and thought this meant the end of our adventure with Evola. The book in question argued for a state or empire based on distinctly hierarchical, anti-democratic principles. I feared that its publication would inevitably and understandably mobilize our enemies and cause the booksellers to intensify their boycott. True, Evola’s esoteric works were not directly political, but who would be discerning enough to recognize the difference? Then I realized that I had no alternative but to take the bull by the horns. So I contacted the publisher, whom I knew from the Frankfurt Book Fair, and offered to write an explanatory foreword to the book. My intention was to give as exact an account as possible of Evola’s development as a thinker, and to point out how his political ideas flowed from his spiritual perspective, which in turn was influenced by Meister Eckhart, the Bhagavad Gita and the Tao Te Ching. All of this I wanted to show from his early writings. In this way the reader would be able to form his or her own judgement about Evola’s political views on the basis of the assembled facts. I knew from my own studies that it was too simple to write Evola off as a “Fascist” and “racist” on account of his antisemitic and racist judgements, without taking into account his artistic, philosophical and esoteric activities.
Of course I was aware that I was risking my reputation by entering into cooperation with a publishing house well known for its right-wing political stance. But what other publisher would have dared to bring out Men Among the Ruins? I would also like to record how grateful I was to the publisher for generously allowing me almost a hundred and forty pages for my foreword, which certainly did not conform to the usual nationalistic position of the firm (Evola was always an opponent of nationalistic positions).
It’s always easy to be wise after the event, but this was a fortunate decision, as it enabled me to correct numerous translation errors. As a translator, you have to know Evola extremely well to avoid projecting your own ideas into the translation. Without the foreword I would never have seen the translation, and it would have come on to market full of mistakes, as happened in the case of another political book by Evola, which, despite several revisions, still remains a very patchy piece of work. As a result of this experience I somehow developed a certain sense of responsibility to keep a watchful eye on publishers and works dealing with Evola and to intervene whenever I was struck by serious misinterpretations. Since I had a pretty good reputation as an “expert” on Evola I soon found that publishers and authors would contact me before publishing something in order to prevent mistranslations and errors of substance. As it is not every day that something on Evola is published, this task was not as onerous as it might sound.
At any rate, my foreword brought much more objectivity into the whole debate surrounding Evola. Despite the “right-wing” publisher, this work has, to my surprise, remained a standard work in German for friend and “foe” alike to this day. Evidently nothing “better” has appeared since. Having said that, I would now formulate certain parts rather differently. In the meantime so much new literature about Evola has appeared in Italy – most of it well formulated criticism – that I have changed my position on certain issues. But I believe the basic approach has remained valid. At any rate, this foreword – which the publisher pushed me to write in three months, at that time with no computer – was even inserted into the American edition of the book.
The American edition was a big surprise for me, as it appeared with Inner Traditions, which is not a political publisher but rather one of the largest esoteric publishers in the United States. And by the way, the decision to publish the book came directly from the owner of the firm, Ehud Sperling, who likes to promote unconventional thinkers and would be willing to publish more of Evola’s works in English if only he could find enough professional translators for the job. Men Among the Ruins is further distinguished by an additional foreword by the eminent musicologist and expert on esotericism, Joscelyn Godwin.
The answer is quite simple: because no one else wanted to have anything to do with Evola, and these particular journals expressly asked me for contributions. I would equally gladly have published my essays in “left-wing” periodicals or in the Spiegel (Germany’s most important news magazine), but unfortunately no one asked me. Furthermore – and this is also worth mentioning – there was never the slightest attempt to alter my essays, although I certainly didn’t always write what was expected.
Well, that wasn’t always pleasant, especially as I believe (perhaps mistakenly) that I basically write in a neutral way about Evola, and I felt unfairly treated. However, anyone who writes about Evola should not be too thin-skinned and, in any case, if you take a “neutral” position you are sitting between two stools. The followers of Evola complain that you have not properly understood the “Master” and treat him unfairly, and his opponents label you a Fascist merely because you have written about him without roundly condemning him for all eternity.
I do not in any way deny Evola’s antidemocratic ideas or his racist tendencies. How could I? I merely try to set them in their historical context and to present a more complex picture of Evola through detailed and extensive quotations that reveal his pros and cons, my aim being to show how he arrived at his world view. I believe this to be a legitimate approach (even in the case of an “outsider” like Evola), indeed the only possible approach from a scholarly point of view (without necessarily pretending to present myself as a scholar).
The counter-argument is always that our democracy has to be “defensive” and must not allow fascism and racism the slightest room for manoeuvre. Those who take this view say that in the case of figures like Evola there is nothing to study or understand. Their writings deserve simply to be rejected, perhaps even banned or at least ignored. Any attempt to write about them with understanding is per se damaging and can only strengthen the arguments of the extremists. Apart from the totalitarian character of such censorship, I’m afraid it is also naive – I mean not only in relation to Evola, but in general. Censorship only leads to repression in our personalities and hence the creation of a “shadow” (in the Jungian sense), which will necessarily find another outlet. Fortunately, since the Enlightenment there has been (with some interruptions) a general consensus that one may also discuss points of view that not everyone would applaud. Otherwise, how can we talk meaningfully about the “self-determining” citizen? It won’t do to say that the self-determining citizen is simply one who shares one’s own opinion.
Here I cannot refrain from quoting a great literary figure who has also been attacked from certain quarters, namely Martin Walser. On the occasion of the award ceremony for the Dolf Sternberger Prize at the University of Heidelberg in 1994, he made the following gloomy analysis: “We can characterize the present decade as one of taboos in the service of enlightenment, and of the imposition of power that sees itself as pure enlightenment.”
But I still have to answer the question of how I dealt with the attacks that were and still are directed against me. It may seem surprising that two key words come to mind here – words which are somewhat exaggerated and which I chose only after a process of inner adjustment – namely gratitude and a kind of compassion. Let me explain. At first one is naturally offended and angry about the injustice that one has suffered, about the way one’s viewpoint has been misrepresented, and about what one feels to be a distortion of facts. And, at worst, one even feels afraid, for such attacks are almost always accompanied by more or less explicit threats of exclusion from the “community” or subjection to the pillory.
Yet at a certain point one begins to ask oneself: Why am I angry? Why am I afraid? Are my opinions and my sense of self so weakly founded that I really need to feel injured and full of fear? And above all, do I take myself too seriously in my vulnerability and fear? Doesn’t Buddhism teach that the ego is the root of all suffering?
As soon as one relativises one’s own importance and egocentricity, the negative emotions rapidly fade. In other words, such attacks against oneself teach one a new modesty and self-diminution. At the same time one learns to deal with other kinds of injured feelings too and to relativise one’s own conceptions of justice and of good and evil. Is it not often true that the “attackers” also believe that they have “right” on their side and that they are acting out of “good” motives. All these are important insights for which one can only be “grateful”.
Then there is the second factor, which I have called “compassion”. How much humiliation and frustration, how many insults and injustices must someone have suffered in order to feel so much hate and displeasure towards humankind that they are prepared to condemn a person, accuse them of being “evil”, or even – as in totalitarian times – to slander and denounce them? How much “evil” must one suppress in oneself, so that it has to be released by being projected on to someone else? And how shaky must one’s sense of self be that one so desperately needs to identify oneself with the “good” side? The history of Germany especially has shown what this identification with the “good and pure” can lead to. And above all, can any thoughtful person, as homo sapiens sapiens, really think that they so exclusively represent the “good” that they have the right to attack other people ad hominem in the belief that they are ridding the world of “evil”.
One wonders what has become of the age of Voltaire and his dictum (which history has not always upheld): “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” How admirable is someone like Nelson Mandela, who, despite imprisonment and torture, was able to forgive his tormentors and even initiated a process of reconciliation in which the misdeeds of the past were exposed but not punished. That is what I call real humanity and greatness.
Do we have to? I think we’ve really talked enough about him already. He may be important, but there are other things in my life.
That’s been hanging over me, and for many years I have been intending to go on with it. But, as I said, there are other things in my life. And anyone who has ever tried to translate such a difficult text properly will know how incredibly time-consuming it is. With the best will in the world, I really don’t know when I shall be able to finish that task.
But I would like to come back to the point where you interrupted me. What I wanted to say – and I have often raised this theme in Gnostika – is that there is simply no absolute truth, or at least none that is discernible to us. An absolute truth can only exist – if at all – as a coincidentia oppositorum – a coming together of opposites. Consequently one can never find an absolute yardstick for judging which opinion is “right” and which is “false”. Those judgements tend to be determined by the historical and cultural context or by personal factors and circumstances.
Therefore tolerance and respect for the other person’s viewpoint are absolutely essential, especially in the present age, in which different cultural groups constantly come into contact with each other. At the same time, it is hard to deny that our western culture has often proved to be not so much culture-bearing as arrogant and exploitative. I am thinking particularly of indigenous peoples, whose habitat and often (if not invariably) their sustainable systems of livelihood are so carelessly destroyed by us because we lack respect for their system of values. And that means in fact that we regard these peoples as inferior.
I was fortunate in that the importance of considering the other side was made very clear to me at an early stage, namely during my legal studies. There is a fundamental principle, stemming from ancient Roman law (!) but now also indispensable to our modern judicial system, which states: audiatur et altera pars – let the other side be heard too – i.e. before one allows oneself to make a judgement. I became even more convinced of the rightness of this principle during my early business activities in various Far Eastern countries where I set up daughter firms in collaboration with local partners. I had to be prepared to listen to them and adjust myself to what often seemed to me very strange notions on their part. Just try learning Chinese and you will immediately realise how different the Chinese mentality is. And, by the way, that’s an exercise that I would recommend to anyone who is fixed in the western way of thinking.
It appears, however, that this simple principle of respect for the other side has not yet sufficiently taken root everywhere. Otherwise, how can people simply write off the whole realm of the esoteric as “irrational”, as so many scientists do, without giving it a second thought? And now I come back to Evola myself. Surely all of us recognize that our globalised, materialistic and progress-oriented world, for all its undeniable advantages, has brought many problems. So when Evola offers a completely opposite, non-materialistic alternative to our modern world, I must, if I am at all willing to learn, at least listen to what he has to say. This does not mean, though, that I have to follow him blindly. Is it really so much worse to say no after mature reflection than to say no after no reflection at all?
I too find much to reject in Evola. I could mention his numerous unambiguously racist outpourings, especially in the newspaper La Vita Italiana, which are clearly unacceptable. But there is also his distinctly Manichean way of thinking, which is what lies behind his sharp separation of tradition and modernity, north and south, man and woman, Ario-Roman and Semitic. Then there are his conspiracy theories and his anti-emotionalism. His occult view of world history, which he took partly from Theosophy and which he develops in the second part of Revolt against the Modern World, does not appeal to me any more than the similar cosmologies of Helena Blavatsky or Rudolf Steiner. But that’s not the real point. Merely confronting his work has the effect of setting off certain powerful thought processes, for Evola is a master of razor-sharp formulations and relentless analysis. He knows exactly how to apply the concerted force of his ideas, just as he knows how to speak to unconscious levels in his readers. How else can one explain his impact?
Furthermore, it goes against me to reduce a man like Evola to his political views alone, when he was so many things – Dadaist, philosopher, esotericist and scholar (sui generis) of religion. And wasn’t he also conspicuous by his failures? No matter what he put his efforts into – futurism, Dadaism, philosophy, the study of oriental religions, the Group of Ur, and his attempts to influence Fascism, National Socialism, theories of race or Italian post-war politics – he practically always failed . During his lifetime he hardly achieved any recognition at all.
And then there was the loneliness that he suffered after the war, when he tried repeatedly and in vain to resume contact with former acquaintances who by then had carved out their own careers (e.g. Gottfried Benn, Mircea Eliade, Karl Kerényi and even Carl Schmitt). Naturally – and I don’t mean this disparagingly – these people, having found recognition at last, were contact-shy and anxious to avoid any close association with the “unbending Fascist”, who never officially repented and on top bore the mark of his physical disability. And think of his death, when he tried, despite his disability, to half pull himself up to the window in order to die “standing up” like many of the dying heroes of mythology! Evola’s life is in fact one long series of failures. Here I am reminded of a book title, The Nobility of Failure by Ivan Morris, about the tragic heroes of Japan.
Evola’s “triumph” in the form of wider recognition only began posthumously in the late 1980s and early 90s. Today almost all his writings – even the less important ones – are available on the book market. Furthermore, they have been translated into countless different languages. More than fifty books have been written about him, and recently he has even begun to receive recognition from many of his ideological and political adversaries in the universities. And, even if one disagrees, one should at least consider why the well known expert on Fascism, A. James Gregor, insists that Evola cannot be called a neo-Fascist because his views were too far removed from those of Mussolini. He should rather be seen, Gregor maintains, as an occultist, pagan magician and proponent of a “science of initiation”. Whatever the truth may be, one is surely justified in asking why someone like Evola should not deserve to be studied.
Basically it is the realisation that everything has two sides. If I see black I must also think of white. The one sooner or later evokes the other. If black asserts itself too one-sidedly, the opposite force will build up to a point where things will swing back the other way. Thus all forms of extremist and Manichean thinking are in the long term doomed to failure, however intellectually brilliant and however successful in practice they may be for a time. They are simply not wise and balanced and therefore they will not survive. By the same token, Taoist thinking is a safeguard against ideology, which is by definition one-dimensional.
“Taoist” thinking is the opposite of linear thinking, which always goes in one direction – until the moment when it becomes “top-heavy” and collapses. There are plenty of examples of this – from political movements to the exploitation of nature. This linear thinking is characteristic of the person who thinks he knows everything and has everything under control. It dominates our western rational mind-set and unfortunately is making increasing headway in the east. In nature, however, nothing proceeds in a linear way. At first sight it would seem to be more accurate to speak of a wave-form, a continual rising and falling. But when you look more closely what you see is more like a spiral.
Take as an obvious example the course of one’s life from youth to old age, and how one’s views change over time, provided one is not rigidly dogmatic. One starts with a strong opinion in one’s youth, which changes gradually with experience. To put it graphically, one moves in a curve (not in a straight line) towards the other pole until there comes a time when one sees everything from the opposite point of view. But even then, hopefully, one does not remain stuck. One goes on and gradually moves in another curve back to the starting point, but on a higher level – through one’s accumulated experience.
Ideally, one returns several times to the “same” opinion, but each time one climbs to a higher level and thus one’s perspective widens continually. The number of times one completes the spiral depends on the degree and duration of the reflective process. The same applies in the scientific field when someone goes through the process of becoming an expert and has to examine certain questions in increasing depth. One starts off with a straightforward view of a question (“That’s the way it is”), but over time one arrives at a much more complex view, full of “ifs” and “buts”. This is described by a well-known Zen Buddhist saying. When you begin to practise Zen you think that a mountain is a mountain. After a certain time you realise that the mountain, as you perceive it, is actually within your consciousness and is therefore not a real mountain. Only after you reach enlightenment do you realise that both views are correct and that the mountain has once again become a mountain, but on a higher level of perception.
This combination of “Taoist” and “spiral” thinking seems to me to be a kind of ideal form. It brings understanding of other points of view and it makes one somewhat reticent, because one knows how often one has changed one’s opinion. In this way one reduces tensions with one’s fellow human beings. Of course this is not the solution to all problems, for often one has to make clear and quick decisions. Furthermore, many problems don’t arise merely from incomprehension and lack of self-understanding, but have to do with clear facts. Nevertheless, this kind of thinking can perhaps make for a more peaceful interaction with others.
This kind of thinking, however, does not absolve us from having to make clear decisions. It just means taking the other side into account. It is true that this makes decisions more difficult, but it also makes them easier to reverse if they turn out to be inappropriate. One must replace rigidity with flexibility, but that does not mean acting arbitrarily, opportunistically or spinelessly. Nor does it exclude a clear set of values, even if these are probably also subject to change. From what I have been saying you can also understand why I personally always have problems with absolute statements about man and cosmos. As everything is in flux, I simply don’t believe in eternally valid explanations and “operating instructions”. Hence, with all due respect for their cultural achievements, it is difficult for me to be convinced by the absolutism of the monotheistic religions. I am more persuaded by James Hillman’s plea for polytheism and by Jan Assmann’s argument that monotheism is potentially violent, because those who believe they have the absolute truth are not inclined to enter into debate with people of other persuasions.
At the same time we should not forget the powerful influence of Aristotelian logic, which also has this rigid “yes-no” character – tertium non datur, i.e. outside the categories “true” or “false” there is no third possibility. This is fine in mathematics and technology, but in normal life it is usually inappropriate. In contrast to this, if one adopts a consistent “Taoist” and “spiral” way of thinking, one should perceive in every white surface the black spot and be able to change direction to avoid an extremist position by seeking a more comprehensive viewpoint on a higher level.
The counter-argument usually points to the essential weakness of man – the Mängelwesen (deficient being), to use Arnold Gehlen’s term – who needs firm rules and institutions in order to maintain the necessary order and prevent everything from collapsing into arbitrary chaos. But this takes us into an area that cannot be elucidated in a short discussion and would require much more mature consideration than is possible in an interview.
Hence my tendency to “swing” between the scientific and the human perspective on the world – and incidentally I would include esotericism among the latter. Both world views are necessary. The point is to avoid being one-sided and, above all, to know which domain one is operating in at any given moment. In dealing with purely technical questions I would have to choose the scientific way. By contrast, when human problems are involved, then purely logical and mechanistic thinking would be the wrong approach as I have to take emotions and irrational behaviour into account. Although analogical and mythological thinking cannot do much when I want to build a bridge, they are certainly of more use than the differential calculus in dealing with psychological problems and issues.
Thus I do not see my “Taoism” as an arbitrary, post-modern position. What I am saying is that everything has its time and place. It’s all about coherence within this differentiation. Of course this does not automatically solve the related questions that may arise: What place does transcendence have as a fixed anchorage in our lives, and at what point does it give way to the mutable flow of life? Above all, how do we find the middle way between the two?
Naturally, Taoist thinking also has a down side. In the short term it is much less “effective” than linear thinking. At the same time it is much more “sustainable” because of the way in which it reduces tensions and reveals a wide variety of possibilities. However, it has distinctly less chance in an age when the economy looks only as far as the next quarterly balance sheet. But in a genuinely functioning democracy, this sustainability should be guaranteed by the interplay between the government and the opposition.
At the same time, this kind of thinking is a much better guarantee of human freedom, which is perhaps our most precious treasure. But unfortunately, because of its ambiguous quality, it does not meet people’s longing for security and certain knowledge as to the right way to act. Indeed, it can even induce anxiety about life’s uncertainties. On the other hand, it hinders the rise of dictators and demagogues who assuage fear by promising unfailing salvation.
It is only a “standard work” because it is the sole comprehensive book on the subject. Its faults are more obvious to me as the author than to someone who reads the book rapidly and comes away with their head spinning from all the facts and references. One of its main deficiencies is that it doesn’t really locate Eranos in the broader context of the intellectual history of the 20th century. Although the book has been extended by about a third for the forthcoming English edition, this rather unsatisfactory situation is unfortunately only marginally improved in the new version. It is true that I have been adding a sequel, covering the history of Eranos up to the present day, and have included additional information from new literature that has appeared in the meantime, but for a true intellectual history I lack the stamina, knowledge and skill.
But you asked me how I came to the subject of Eranos. That was an inevitable development. Through my interest in C.G. Jung, Mircea Eliade, Karl Kerényi, Walter Otto and James Hillman, I kept coming across Eranos. Once I had collected the yearbooks of the Eranos conferences for my library, I came to realise the importance of these conferences even more clearly. Then I began to study other people who had spoken at Eranos, such as Gershom Scholem, Adolf Portmann and Henry Corbin, and so it went on. The rest you can read about in the foreword to my Eranos book.
Far too many. But there are two that I definitely want to complete. The first is a comprehensive history of sexual magic. Here I have already made a start with a piece that I wrote for the 16-volume Encyclopedia of Religions. And the volume Hidden Intercourse, edited by Wouter Hanegraaff and Jeffrey Kripal contains a longer article by me on the sexual magic of the Fraternitas Saturni as well as of Maria de Naglowska, Giuliano Kremmerz and Julius Evola. But there is a lot more to write about and, as I have been collecting material on this subject for at least 30 years, I believe I can make an interesting contribution.
The second, and for me more important, project has to do with the question of death. After a critical examination of near-death experiences à la Moody, as well as of the belief in reincarnation, I would like to devote my attention to the human striving for “immortality”. This will include scientific efforts as well as magical, alchemical and Taoist approaches. Probably I shall not be able to accomplish this in less than three volumes. Of course my intention is also to prepare myself for my own death and the experiences connected with it. The task of old age is not to mourn the passing of youth or to imitate the young, but rather to get ready for the great experience of death. This has been recognised since time immemorial by the people of traditional cultures, who in this respect are wiser than we are. Think of India, where the fourth phase of life is considered a time to retreat into the forest to meditate and approach the moment of release from the world.
Incidentally, the publishing firm in which I am involved, AAGW, will soon be bringing out a book, with a foreword by me, dealing with what the Indians see as the tasks belonging to each phase of life. It was written by another “outlawed” author, Alain Daniélou, brother of Cardinal Jean Daniélou. Alain Daniélou was an expert on Indian music and a self-confessed homosexual, who lived for decades in India and converted to the Shaivite branch of Hinduism. However, his negative attitude to Gandhi and his defence of the caste system are not likely to make his reception here an easy one.
That is to be expected. Although I certainly don’t want a caste system in Europe, I don’t see any reason why a highly intelligent man, who knew India intimately and spoke and read a number of its languages, should be forbidden to argue that the caste system is justified in the Indian context. Besides, it is only the first part of the book that deals with the caste system. The second, and for us Europeans more practical, part deals with the theme I have just mentioned, namely the various phases of human life. I find this a subject well worth contemplating. And here perhaps I may quote the great publisher Samuel Fischer, who said: “The finest and most important part of a publisher’s mission is to impress upon the public new values that they don’t want.”
My message, as author, editor, publisher and translator is: fight against one-dimensionality. Certainly I enjoy causing a bit of provocation, but it’s not simply a case of wanting to épater le bourgeois – the worthy bourgeois have their important function, for which they deserve thanks. Rather, it’s about things that prod us into thinking. When we are prodded we feel discomfort, but without discomfort there can be no change, and change is life. I can still clearly remember seeing as a young man the title of Franz Werfel’s novella Nicht der Mörder, der Ermordete ist schuldig (It’s not the murderer but the murdered who is guilty), which at first put me off balance, but then led me to do some intensive thinking and reading. However, it’s only later, when the thinking process has been carried through, that one feels grateful for the provocation. Many people evade the issue and never even embark on the thought process, but that’s not the fault of the author, publisher or editor. One has to put up with the howl of the non-thinkers, even if it’s not always amusing.
It is in keeping with “Taoism” that controversial books have their place in the world – indeed even grossly erroneous books, because they show the ways that don’t work. And frankly, I would also like to express my respect for the honest – I might even say honourable – losers in the clash of world views. That’s why I liked the film The Last Samurai with Tom Cruise, despite the many Hollywood-isms and kitschy scenes. But my insistence on the value of controversial books does not mean that run-of-the-mill books don’t also have their merits. Many people earn an honest living and feed their families from them. Not everyone can afford to take risks. So “Taoist” thinking is called for here as well.
I was already interested in psychology as a teenager. As an only child, one is fated to learn in theory what children in larger families learn in practice. My interest in psychosomatics came later, thanks in large measure to Rüdiger Dahlke. I got to know him together with Thorwald Dethlefsen in the 1980s. The psychosomatic approach that he formulated together with Dethlefsen, and then took significantly further on his own, I consider to be extremely fruitful, not to say brilliant. I first became aware of this psychosomatic dimension when, with the increasing onset of age, I noticed certain little problems in my body, which until then had “functioned perfectly”. What is initially assumed and vehemently held to be a purely physical symptom all too often turns out to be a psychological deficit. This realisation is part of a process that is initially painful but ultimately brings inner healing and opens up new perspectives for one’s future life.
When one is lucky enough to research and write about as many interesting things as I do, one is naturally fully occupied. But, since nobody can sit for 24 hours a day in front of the computer or be immersed in books the whole time, I had to find counter-balancing activities. So for about ten years now I have been practising Qigong with a woman teacher who has a remarkably sharp eye for my shortcomings. Qigong fits perfectly with the “Taoist” way of thinking that I try to cultivate. In addition, I love hiking in the open countryside. In my homeland one can find every kind of terrain – gentle hills, high mountains, lakes, woods and meadows. The Austrians are not great wanderers, so one can find plenty of solitude. Nor does one find many tourists in my part of Austria. Nevertheless there is an abundance of friendly inns. So over the years I have covered enormous stretches of country in my ramblings. I am always eagerly accompanied by an inquisitive, tail-wagging creature with faithful eyes. The present one is a male Labrador called Nico. Occasionally I am joined by my wife or by friends, who rely on me as their guide. These wanderings are among the most wonderful experiences of my life. They teach one modesty but also confidence. And above all one learns to recognise the triviality of most everyday worries.
There is one important thing that we nearly forgot to ask you. You have met many well known esotericists, and you must have learned a great deal from them about their esoteric practices. But how did you come to the “academic” study of esotericism? What motivated you to study esotericism from the outside, as it were, and to adopt a historical and critical approach, when you had such direct access to inside information?
The reason for that lay partly in my sceptical attitude towards esoteric leaders and movements, and partly it had to do with chance happenings in my life. Precisely because I knew so many esotericists, I saw how relative their knowledge was. During my “hippy” time in England, drifting through the London parks, I consorted with several different groups – the Children of God, the Hare Krishna people, and various others.
Every time I consorted with one of these groups I learnt a great deal and made friends, but I was never really satisfied. I was always looking for some over-arching knowledge that would transcend and subsume all of these individual paths. I wanted to be autonomous in esotericism, just as I was in my professional life. And so I looked for “objective” criteria. This naturally led me to writings dealing with esotericism in a more or less scholarly way – works that had not been written to attract followers but rather to elucidate historical facts. This meant that already in the eighties and early nineties I came across the work of people like Joscelyn Godwin, Antoine Faivre and Massimo Introvigne, and even got to know them personally at the conferences that I attended. However, this only happened after I had sold my company share and had enough time for such things.
Thus it came about that I was present at the founding of the Palladian Academy, whose aim was to bring together a circle of friends, consisting largely of “advanced” and academically trained scholars of esotericism from various different countries. We wanted to meet every year and have each participant give a talk on some esoteric theme. As the meetings were private and the circle relatively small, one could speak freely, and regardless of academic conventions, about things that were not yet academically orthodox. This circle included a number of people who are now university teachers and from whom I learned much about the scholarly study of esotericism. The first meeting took place in a Palladian villa in northern Italy, hence the name. Then I myself organised a meeting in the wine-growing region of southern Styria. Subsequent meetings took place in the south of France.
The 1990s were altogether a very fruitful time for the academic study of esotericism. One began to see a broad spectrum of research in the field, university chairs were planned and founded, important literature was published and a new generation of exceptionally talented scholars appeared. This period also saw the launching of Gnostika.
Finally I would like to make the obvious remark that being involved in the academic study of esotericism does not prevent one from pursuing some particular esoteric path.
That’s not an easy choice for a book lover like myself, as I have always been more influenced by books than by the people around me. I will list the following three books in the order in which I read them: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, and finally Introduction to Magic by Julius Evola and the Group of Ur.
Source: „Interview with Dr. Hans Thomas Hakl“. In the German magazine Gnostika of March 2008 (Sinzheim: AAGW, 2008), p. 26. (Here with some minor updates.)