Tuesday, 27 March 2007
The Life of Rune Master Guido von List
Early Years (1848-1869)
Guido Karl Anton List was born in Vienna on 5 October 1848 to Karl August and Maria List (nee Killian). His father was a fairly prosperous dealer in leather goods, and we can assume that Guido's early life was lived in comfortable and nurturing surroundings. The List family was Catholic, and we also presume that Guido was trained in that confession.
From the start of adolescence we have evidence of some of his propensities in life. He was fascinated by the landscape of his native Lower Austria and by the cityscape of his native city, Vienna . His sketchbook - which has drawings from as far back as 1863 (when he would have been fifteen years old) - demonstrates his interest in such sites. Some of these sketches were later used to illustrate the Deutsch-mythologische Landschaftsbilder (German Mythological Landscape Scenes, published 1891.). In conjunction with the romanticising of his environment, young Guido, by his own account, also had developed a strong mysto-magical bent of no orthodox variety.
'It was in the year 1862 - I was then in my fourteenth year of life - when I, after much asking, received permission from my father to accompany him and his party who were planning to visit the catacombs [under St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna] which were at that time still in their original condition. We climbed down, and everything I saw and felt excited me with a kind of power that today I am no longer able to experience. Then we came - it was, if I remember correctly, in the third or fourth level - to a ruined altar. The guide said that we were now situated beneath the old post office (today the Wohlzeile House No. 8). At that point my excitement was raised to fever pitch, and before this altar I proclaimed out loud this ceremonial vow: "Whenever I get big, I will build a Temple to Wotan!" I was, of course, laughed at, as a few members of the party said that a child did not belong in such a place… I knew nothing more about Wuotan than that which I had read about him in Vollmer's Woterbuch der Mythologie. '
Despite these artistic and mystical leanings, Guido was expected, as the eldest child, to follow in his father's footsteps as a businessman. He appears to have fulfilled his responsibilities in a dutiful manner, but he took any and all opportunities to develop his more intense interests.
The Mystical Wanderer (1870-1877)
The many trips that List was obliged to make for business purposes afforded him the opportunity to indulge himself in his passion for hiking and mountaineering. This activity seems to have provided a matrix for his early mysticism.
Although descriptions of List's early pilgrimages into nature exist, it is unclear what underlying mystical tradition he was familiar with at the time. Two things are obvious, however: he was possessed of the idea of the sacredness of his native land, and he has an "All-Mother." The interest in his native soil was probably spurred by his early passion for Germanic myth and lore.
At one point, one of his mountain adventures almost claimed List's life. As he was climbing a mountain on 8 May 1871 , a mass of ice gave way under his feet and he fell some distance. He was apparently saved only by the fact that he had landed on a soft surface covered by a recent snowfall. In memory of his good luck List had a track equipped with a chain put up. This was opened on 21 June 1871 and was named after him: the Guido-List-Steig.
Apparently List recorded his mystical wanderings in nature in verbal descriptions as well as in sketches. In 1871, his writing talents were given vent as he became a correspondent of the Neue deutsche Al-penzeitung (New German Alpine Newspaper), later called the Salonblatt. He also began to edit the yearbook of the Osterreicher Alpenverein' (Austrian Alpine Association), whose secretary he had become that year.
List often went in the company of others on his journeys into the mountains, which were taken on foot, by wagon, horse, or rowboat; but he would usually strike out on his own at some point to seek the solitude of nature.
Besides gaining general mystical impressions in these outings, List also engaged in active celebratory ritual work. He would perform various rituals that sometimes seemed quite impromptu. The most famous depiction of such an event is his celebration of the summer solstice on 24 June 1875 at the ruins of the Roman City of Carnuntum. For this - as for so much else - we are dependent on List's own somewhat fictionalised account, first published in Vienna in 1881. Basically, the ritual elements of this outing included the arduous task of gaining access to the so-called Heidentor ("Heathen Gate") of the city (which List mystically identified as the gate from which a German army set out to conquer Rome in 375 C.E.), the drinking of ritual toasts to the memory of the local spirit ( genius loci ) and the heroes of the past, the lighting of a solstice fire, and the laying of eight wine bottles in the shape of the "fyrfos" (Swastika) in the glowing embers of the fire. List and his company then awaited the dawn.
These early experiences were sometimes later more completely fictionalised, as, for example, in his visionary tale "Eine Zaubernacht" (A Night of Magic). In this account, the persona (List) succeeds in invoking from the great mound a divine seeress ( Hechsa ) who reveals to him that he is not to be the liberator of the Germans - but that despite this "the German folk has need of the skald."
The Folkish Journalist (1877-1887)
This rather comfortable, if self-divided, period in List's life came to an end after his father died in 1877, when List was twenty-nine years old. Neither he nor his mother appear to have had the elder List's keen sense of business, and as economic times became difficult List quit the business to devout himself fulltime to his writing. At this time his writing continued to be of a journalistic kind. Deprived of his ability to travel and wander as he had before, he wrote articles for newspapers, such as the Neue Welt, Neue deutsche Alpenzeitung, Heimat, and the Deutsche Zeitung, which dealt with his earlier travels and mystical reflections on these Loci. Many of these pieces were anthologised in 1891 in his famous Deutsch-mythologische Landschaftbilder. It was also during this period, in 1878, that he married his first wife, Helene Foster-Peters. However, the marriage was not to last through the difficult years of this period.
Given the Pan-German nationalism of the various groups and papers with which List had been associated throughout his career, it seems certain that from a political standpoint he was firmly in their camp.
However, the nature of his mysticism at this time seems to have been somewhat more original. Before any influence from later Theosophical notions could have been present, he was continuing on the path of mystical Germanic revivalism. Besides his own intuition - which, given his results, must have been his chief source - he must have been familiar with a variety of non-scientific, neo-romantic works on Germanic mythology and religion popular at the time, and was perhaps also aware of at least a portion of the scientific studies. In any event, many of the uniquely Listian notions seem to have been already solidifying in this early period.
Through these years, List was also working on his first book-length (two-volume) effort, Carnuntum, a historical novel based on his vision of the Kulturkampf between the Germanic and Roman worlds centred at that location around the year 375 C.E.
The Nationalist Poet (1888-1899)
Carnuntum was published in 1888 and became a huge success, especially among the Pan-German nationalists of Austria and Germany . Its publication brought its author more to the attention of important political and economic leaders of German nationalist movements. In connection with the appearance of Carnuntum, List made the acquaintance of the industrialist Friedrich Wannieck. This association was to prove essential to List's future development.
Throughout this period, List devoted himself to the production of further neo-romanticism prose, such as Jung Diethers Heimkehr (Young Diether's Homecoming) and Pipara, in 1894 and 1895 respectively. The anthology of earlier journalism Deutsch-mythologische Landschaftbilder was published in 1891, and List developed his writing skills in poetic and dramatic genres as well.
List became involved with two important literary associations during these years. In May 1891, the Iduna, bearing the descriptive subtitle "Free German Society for Literature," was founded by a circle of writers around Fritz Lemmermayer. Lemmermayer acted as a sort of "middle man" between an older generation of authors (which included Fercher von Steinwand, Joseph Tandler, Auguste Hyrtl, Ludwig von Mertens, and Josephone von Knorr) and a group of younger writers and thinkers (which included Rudolf Steiner, Marie Eugenie delle Grazie, and Karl Maria Heidt). The name Iduna, which was provided by List himself, is that of a North Germanic goddess of eternal youth and renewal. Within the society were two other authors with specifically neo-Germanic leanings: Richard von Kralik and Joseph Kalasanz Poestion. This literary circle was loosely held together by neo-romantic ideas of German nationalism, a sense of "turning within one's self" ( innerliche Wanderung ), antirealism, and anti-decadence. The society was only able to last until 1893, when the dilettantism of the various interests seems to have become too acute. However, in many ways this does seem to have been the springtime of the neo-Germanic movement. Another neo-romantic literary association, the Literarische Donaugesellschaft (Danubian Literary Society), was founded by List and Fanny Wschiansky the year the Iduna was dissolved.
It is almost certain that List and Rudolf Steiner knew each other in the early 1890's, since both were being influenced by the first wave of Theosophy and occult revivalism in German-speaking countries at that time. However, there is little chance that either one had too much direct influence on the other. Each of them would become more "Theosophical" in the next decade. List also met the young Jorg Lanz von Liebenfels (Adolf Joseph) at this time as well but it would not be until after Lanz had left the Heiligenkreuz monastery in 1899 that any extensive interaction between the two was possible.
By far the most important influence on List's development at this time were those provided by the nationalist and Pan-German cultural and political groups whose attention had been drawn to him by the publication of Carnuntum. These were largely associations of people of German ancestry and language in the multiethnic Austrian Empire, whose aims included the promotion of Germanic culture and language and the eventual political union of Austrian Germans with the greater German Empire to the west, that is, Germany proper.
Of course such notions were common enough at the time, and List was certainly already firmly in this camp before 1891. Even the "sporting” associations in which he had earlier begun to be active had Pan-German political aims. However, this period began a more activist phase for List, who had, up until this time, been fairly exclusively "mystical" in his approach. The new phase brought List into close contact with such leading political figures as Georg von Schonerer, a Pan-German member of the Imperial Parliament, and the powerful publicist and parliamentary deputy Karl Wolf. Both of these men also published newspapers, and List's work appeared in Wolf's Ostdeutsche Rundschau (East German Review) on a regular basis. It might also be speculated that List had as much a "mystifying" effect on the political world as it had a "politicising" effect on his views. This trend would continue with the later advent of the New Templar Jorg Lanz von Liebenfels. But it was List's association with the Wannieck family and their organisation and publishing house, Verein "Deutsche Haus" ("German House" Association), which was to prove most important to List. They published many of his books in this decade and give him a wider outlet for his ideas. In 1892 he delivered a lecture on the ancient Germanic cult of Wuotan to the Verein Deutsche Geschichte (German History Association). Numerous other associations allied with this one proliferated in Austria at this time. Another groupBund der Germanen (Germanic League), sponsored the performance of List's mythological dramatic poem, Der Wala Erweckung (The Wala's Awakening), in 1894. In another performance of this drama in 1895, which was attended by over three thousand people, the part of Wala was read by Anna Wittek, a young actress who later became List's second wife.
Through these years, List became a well-known and respected artist and mystagogue among Austrian German nationalists, and he was to remain a part of the conservative cultural establishment throughout his life.
The Emerging Master (1898-1902)
The time between the publication of Der Unbenesiegbare (1898), List's neo-Germanic catechism, and the year 1902 marked a period of transformation of List from someone known primarily as an artist to an occult investigator, religious leader, and prophet of a coming age.
Concerning the generation of the manuscript for Der Unbenesiegbare there is a story that perhaps demonstrates the growing - if ambivalent – association between mysticism and politics in these circles. In the summer of 1898, a law prescribing religious instruction in Lower Austria secondary schools was being debated. Dr. Karl Lueger, who was later to become the mayor of Vienna and a member of the Guido von List Society, was for the bill, as were the church officials. When he was questioned on this by representative Karl Wolf, Lueger responded “Gebt uns Besseres und wir warden Euch folgen!” (Give us something better and we shall follow you!). It is said that List was deeply moved by this and wrote Der Unbenesiegbare overnight. List took the manuscript to Wolf's office the next day, but the whole idea was eventually rejected by Wolf, as his interests in religion were “just matters of curriculum.” The catechism was printed in an edition of five thousand copies, marking the beginning of List's more practical religious career.
Perhaps the successes he had had with the poetic drama Der Wala Erwechung spurred List to try his hand at more drama, because in the last phase of his conventional literary career this genre predominated. However, to assume that List intended these dramas as mere entertainment would be a mistake. He saw them more as Weihespiele (sacral plays) which had a liturgical as well as didactic purpose. In 1900, he published a pamphlet, Der Wiederaufbau von Carnuntum (The Reconstruction of Carnuntum), in which he called for the establishment of ritual dramas and legal assemblies based on ancient Germanic models.
In August 1899, List married Anna Wittek von Stecky, who had sung the Wala parting his play in 1895. They were married in a Lutheran church – which is also some indication of the decay of the Catholic establishment and general religious dissatisfaction in Austria at that time.
This period acts more as a sort of bridge between List's long artistic phase and his shorter, but highly intense and influential, mystico-magical phase from 1902 to his death in 1919. It is also most likely that during this period (1898-1902) Theosophical ideas as such became more influential in List's worldview. After all, it was not until 1897-1901 that the German translation of The Secret Doctrine by H.P. Blavatsky appeared. Certainly List would have had Theosophical ideas available to him long before this (perhaps as early as the 1880's), but the evidence of a general lack of Theosophical concepts in Der Unbenesiegbare would indicate that it was of little influence before 1898.
In 1902, by his own accounts, there resulted in his “revelations” concerning the 'Secret of the Runes.'
The Occult Master (1902-1919)
Late in 1902, List had undergone an operation for cataracts. For eleven months his eyes were bandaged, and in this virtual state of blindness and utter darkness List is said to have been enlightened with regard to the “secret of the runes.” At this time, and by whatever means, List's occult vision did seem to undergo a major synthesis. That the main features of his thought were solidified in this period is witnessed by the fact that he produced his first manuscript on Kala and published an article on his interpretation of glyphs (swastika, triskelion, etc.) in 1903.
Between this time and 1908, when Das Geheimnis der Runen was published and the Guido-von-List-Gesellschaft (Guido von List Society) was founded, List's ideas probably underwent their final synthesis. After 1908, it seems “occult wisdom” flowed freely and constantly from the pen of the Master.
It was between 1903 and 1907 that List first began to use the noble title “von” in his name. Legitimate or not, it was important for List to distance himself from his middle-class background as his ideas took on a more aristocratic tone – and began to appeal more and more to the aristocratic establishment.
On 2 March 1908 the Guido von List Society was officially founded to support the work of the Master.
Although chiefly founded by the Wannieck family, it was also supported by many leading figures in Austrian and German politics, publishing, and occultism.
All of List's occult research works that were to be published in his lifetime were originally published between 1908 and 1914. Economic restrictions after that time put an end to the production of original works.
The Guido von List society remained the exoteric outlet for List's ideas, mainly in the form of his multivolume “research findings.” However, his work implied a deeper, more practical level as well. For the expression of this aspect, in the form of a magical order or lodge, the Hoher Armanen-Orden (High Armanic Order), HAO, was founded in midsummer 1911. Thus List had formed exoteric and esoteric circles in his organisation. The activities of the esoteric HAO were indeed mysterious. We know that they conducted pilgrimages to what they considered holy Armanic sites, Saint Stephen's Cathederal in Vienna , Carnuntum , etc. They also had their occasional meetings between 1911 and 1918, but the exact nature of these remains unknown. The HAO never really crystallised in List's lifetime - although it seems possible that he developed a theoretical body of unpublished documents and rituals relevant to the HAO which have only been put into full practice in more recent years.
An odd chapter in Guido von List's story was opened in November 1911 when he received a letter from a mysterious figure in Germany calling himself Tarnhari. This man turned out to be one Ernst Lautner, who claimed to be a descendant of the ancient Nordic tribe of the Wolsungen (Old Norse Volsungar, the tribe to which Sigurd/Siegfried belonged). He also claimed, however, to be a reincarnation of a chieftain of this tribe. Lautner was also to be instrumental in the spread of List's ideas in Germany . Unfortunately, for the Von List’s legacy, Lautner’s close association with such figures as Dietrich Eckart would ultimately lead to von List’s ideas becoming corrupted and absorbed into the extreme right political movements that spring up in Germany, following the end of the First World war. This was not, however, something that von List would live to see
Throughout the years of World War 1, although nothing new was published by the Master, his reputation and fame grew, and his ideas were becoming more popular than ever. But the war took its toll on the health of the now elderly List. Within a few months after the end of the war,
List died while on a visit to his followers in Berlin , on 17 May 1919 . His body was cremated and placed in an urn in his native Vienna . - Victor Ordell L. Kasen