The Influence of Ascona's Monte Verità on
by Michael Minnicino
Printed in the American Almanac, Febuary 1993
Experiment at Ascona - the Creation of the "New Age"
An overwhelming amount of the philosophy and artifacts of the American counter-culture of the 1960s, plus the New Age nonsense of today, derives from a large-scale social experiment sited in Ascona, Switzerland from about 1910 to 1935.
Originally a resort area for members of Helena Blavatsky's Theosophy cult, the little Swiss village became the haven for every occult, leftist and racialist sect of the original New Age movement of the early 20th century. By the end of World War I, Ascona was indistinguishable from what Haight-Ashbury would later become, filled with health food shops, occult book stores hawking the I Ching, and Naturmenschen, "Mr. Naturals'' who would walk about in long-hair, beads, sandals, and robes in order to "get back to nature.''
The dominant influence in the area came from Dr. Otto Gross, a student of Freud and friend of Carl Jung, who had been part of Max Weber's circle when Frankfurt School founder Lukacs was also a member. Gross took Bachofen to its logical extremes, and, in the words of a biographer, "is said to have adopted Babylon as his civilization, in opposition to that of Judeo-Christian Europe.... if Jezebel had not been defeated by Elijah, world history would have been different and better. Jezebel was Babylon, love religion, Astarte, Ashtoreth; by killing her, Jewish monotheistic moralism drove pleasure from the world.''
Gross's solution was to recreate the cult of Astarte in order to start a sexual revolution and destroy the bourgeois, patriarchal family. Among the members of his cult were: Frieda and D. H. Lawrence; Franz Kafka; Franz Werfel, the novelist who later came to Hollywood and wrote The Song of Bernadette; philosopher Martin Buber; Alma Mahler, the wife of composer Gustave Mahler, and later the liaison of Walter Gropius, Oskar Kokoschka, and Franz Werfel; among others. The Ordo Templis Orientalis
(OTO), the occult fraternity set up by Satanist Aleister Crowley, had its only female lodge at Ascona.
It is sobering to realize the number of intellectuals now worshipped as cultural heroes who were influenced by the New Age madness in Ascona -- including almost all the authors who enjoyed a major revival in America in the 1960s and 70s. The place and its philosophy figures highly in the works of not only Lawrence, Kafka and Werfel, but also Nobel Prizewinners Gerhardt Hauptmann and Hermann Hesse, H. G. Wells, Max Brod, Stefan George, and the poets Rainer Maria Rilke and Gustav Landauer. In
1935 Ascona became the headquarters for Carl Jung's annual Eranos Conferences to popularize Gnosticism.
Ascona was also the place of creation for most of what we now call modern dance. It was headquarters to Rudolf von Laban, inventor of the most-popular form of dance notation, and Mary Wigman. Isadora Duncan was a frequent visitor. Laban and Wigman, like Duncan, sought to replace the formal geometries of classical ballet with recreations of cult dances which would be capable of ritualistically dredging up the primordial racial memories of the audience. When the Nazis came to power, Laban became the highest dance official in the Reich, and he and Wigman created the ritual dance program for the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin--which were filmed by Hitler's personal director Leni Reifenstahl, a former student of Wigman.
The peculiar occult psychoanalysis popular in Ascona was also decisive in the development of much of modern art. The Dada movement originated in nearby Zurich, but all its early figures were Asconans in mind or body, especially Guillame Apollinaire, who was a particular fan of Otto Gross. When "Berlin Dada'' announced its creation in
1920, its opening manifesto was published in a magazine founded by Gross.
The primary document of Surrealism also came from Ascona. Dr. Hans Prinzhorn, a Heidelberg psychiatrist, commuted to Ascona, where he was the lover of Mary Wigman. In 1922, he published a book, "The Artwork of the Mentally Ill,'' based on paintings by his psychotic patients, accompanied by an analysis claiming that the creative process shown in this art was actually more liberated than than of the Old Masters. Prinzhorn's book was widely read by the modern artists of the time, and a recent historian has called it, "the Bible of the Surrealists.''