Ancient history of myths and legends

From Anthroposophy

Stories from ancient cultures are labelled by various terms: myths, sages, legends, fairy tales (parables), fables and folk tales. They were passed down through the generations, and typically describe aspects of human evolution or life's main questions.

These stories date from ages where human consciousness was different than today, hence they still speak of the spiritual world as experienced through the human being and sketch this pictoral-imaginative images or music. Examples are Homer's Iliad and the Song of the Nibelungs. They are also 'multidimensional' in the sense of having various perspectives of meaning, and not a single one as intellectual understanding tries to fix.

Because these stories have lived in thought, feeling and will for very long periods of time, they exist in the higher worlds and are therefore sources of inspiration in art.

Aspects

  • ..  all sagas and myths have multiple meanings and permit many points of view, their content is far from being exhausted when something has been said about them, again and again from different standpoints different things may be asserted in regard to their meaning (1908-02-29-GA102, 1918-01-04-GA180)
  • in ancient times there was a certain common consciousness concerning spiritual things, in spite of the difference of the separate myths from various cultures, there existed a certain community of soul (1918-01-04-GA180)
  • in the materialistic cultural developments of the 19th century, the meaning and value of ancient heritage - also as the basis for religion - was devalorized and repositioned as 'all made up'. The roots of this 'radical destruction of all religious ideas' go back to Dupuis and Feuerbach (see 'Further reading' below), who lie at the foundation of atheism and materialistic philosophy. (1917-12-25-GA180, 1920-12-26-GA202)

Inspirational quotes

1905-05-12-GA092

Just as a plant grows in accordance with laws of which it knows nothing, so the cosmic forces within myths have a life of their own. These are forces which are also active within the human being and they penetrate into a work of art

1909-09-21-GA114

Some day, when humanity understands what deep wisdom has been preserved in many ancient legends, it will be found that everything deciphered from the Akashic Chronicle is contained in a wonderful way in those legends.

Scope - List of ancient myths and legends

  • Egyptian mythology
    • Osiris - Isis - Horus
  • Greek mythology
    • Prometheus
    • Legend of Dionysus
    • Jason and argonautes
    • Hercules saga
    • Trojan war
    • Odyssey
    • Myth of Chronos and Gaea
    • Tantalus
    • Persephone, Demeter, Rhea, Eros, Hecate, Luna, Astrid, Philia
  • Germanic mythology
    • Parsival - Lohengrin
    • Nibelungenlied - Siegfried & Brunhilde
    • Siegfried Saga
    • Green snake and beautiful lily
    • Faust
    • German fest-spiele Schroer Christmas plays - Oberuferer Weihnachtsspiele
    • Walthari-song
    • [Thor and Thialfi, Thor and Thrym, Thor and Hymir, Thor and Geirod, Thor and the giants]
    • [story of Frithiof, story of Kvasir], story of Idun, story of Sif's hair, the making of Miolnir]
  • Norse mythology
    • Nerthus, Freyja ('s necklace) and Gerda - Myth of the goddess Nerthus (Hertha)
    • Kalewala: The Epic of the Finns
    • Draumkvedet - Dream Poem - the Dream Song of Olaf Asteson
    • Yggdrasil
  • appearing in both Germanic and Norse
    • Ragnarok or 'Twilight of the Gods'
      • Hodur and the death of Baldur
      • Wotan, Thor and Freyr vs Loki and Fenriswolf
      • also
        • Loki ('s children, punishment)
        • [Odin and Mimir, Odin's justice]
  • Various
    • Adam Kadmon and Giant Ymir, incl. the Chinese Pangu
    • legend of Djemjid
    • myth of Ahasuerus - wandering Jew
    • mongolian legend (1907-10-21-GA101)
  • Middle ages
    • legend of Flor and Blanchflor or 'Flore et Blanchefleur' (1909-05-06-GA057)
      • re Konrad Fleck version in german (ca 1200), Boccacio's 'Il Filocolo' (14th century)
      • inspired by Titurel, and link with Charlemagne ("to bring forth a personality who is to play a great role in world history'" (1909-08-27-GA266/1)

Illustrations

Lecture coverage and references

Overview coverage and main cycles

  • 1904/5-GA92: The Occult Truths of Ancient Myths and Sagas (16 lectures)
    • some lectures on Greek and Germanic mythology here
  • 1907-GA101: Myths and Legends. Occult Signs and Symbols (5 of 16 lectures)
  • 1908-09-GA106: Egyptian Myths and Mysteries (12 lectures)
  • 1918-GA180: The Truths of the Mysteries and the Impulse of Christmas. Ancient Myths and their Meaning (16 lectures)
    • some lectures here of the title: 1918-01-GA180: Ancient Myths - Their Meaning and Connection with Evolution
  • 1905-03-22-GA0XX - The Old Sagas of the Gods

Reference extracts

1905-05-12-GA092

Within earthly life it is indeed highest bliss to overcome it, to overcome sense-life through spiritual life. Desire seeking to destroy what pertains to the Earth still takes on the form of desire. Nevertheless it is a noble form of desire if the element of desire contained in this aspiration is overcome. This is the problem which Wagner tries to solve in his “Tristan and Isolde”.

All these thoughts did not live consciously or abstractly in Wagner; they were thoughts contained in the myth itself.

It is not necessary for an artist to have these thoughts in an abstract form. Just as a plant grows in accordance with laws of which it knows nothing, so the cosmic forces within myths have a life of their own; these are forces which are also active within the human being and they penetrate into a work of art.

1908-02-29-GA102 (SWCC)

... all sagas and myths have a multiple meaning, and when we consider the true facts of world evolution in a spiritual sense, then the myths disclose their truth in a surprising way.

1917-12-25-GA180

To understand what was really happening, we must realise that by this last transformation, at the end of the 18th century, the understanding of the Mysteries was completely lost to humanity. Thus, in the 19th century, only a very few people knew anything of the deep importance and influence of the Mysteries.

The personality to whom I refer — though he is only the typical expression of the prevailing Zeitgeist of the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries — is Dupuis; and his important work, whereby the death-blow, so to speak, was dealt to the understanding of the Mysteries, is entitled Origine de tour les Cultes. This book came out in the year 1794.

When we conceive the outlook of men in the 19th century, we generally think of natural-scientific materialism. This natural-scientific materialism however, if I may say so, assumed the character and stamp which the 19th century impressed on nearly all human activities. I mean, what we found most characteristically expressed in the ‘bon Dieu citoyen’ — the words with which Heinrich Heine greeted Jesus. I mean the character of bourgeois Philistinism. Materialism too was steeped, by the 19th century, in the channels of Philistinism. Philistine limitation was the essential characteristic of 18th century materialism. To understand the root-nerve of the 19th century, we must look for this impulse of Philistinism everywhere, Dupuis' materialism, on the other hand, was in a sense not yet Philistine; there was a certain grandeur and freedom about it, reaching far beyond Philistine, middle-class limitations. His was in a sense a heavenly — a celestial materialism; he still had the courage to conceive a more thorough-going materialistic theory than all the learned and brilliant men of the 19th century.

Dupuis got behind certain things — at least, he thought he got behind them. And the way he did so is extremely interesting. We must not forget that he was a man of genius. Already in the 1780's he had set up a kind of private telegraphic apparatus, with which he used to telegraph, from his own house, to a friend, Fortine, who lived at a considerable distance. When the Revolution broke out, he was afraid his telegraphic communications might appear suspicious; therefore he destroyed his machines, and the whole thing was forgotten. Of course, I do not say he had an electric telegraph; nevertheless, the principle of the telegraph was thoroughly carried out by him.

Dupuis was also a Commissary of Public Education in France at the end of the 1780's. Leaving Paris when the Revolution broke out, he was elected very soon after as a member of the National Assembly; and on his return, he played no little part in the Convention, and subsequently in the Council of Five Hundred. He belonged, as a rule, to the moderate parties. We must imagine what was living in Dupuis, as an impulse that passed from him to many other souls; but it is still more important for us to realise that the Time itself was possessed with this impulse, which only found its most characteristic expression in him.

What Dupuis perceived was the following. He made a study of ancient myths and legends — say, the Hercules legend, or the legend of Isis and Osiris, or of Dionysos, He studied these ancient myths, which are only veiled statements of the truths of the Mysteries. Take, for example, the Hercules myth. Dupuis observed the Twelve Labours of Hercules. Following up the Labours in detail, he perceived that certain things which occur in the narrative justify one in assuming a connection between the passage of Hercules through his twelve Labours and the Sun's revolution through the twelve Signs of the Zodiacs. Dupuis studied these things quite consciously and carefully, and as a result he evolved the following theory: — In antiquity there were certain persons, so-called priests of the Mysteries, whose aim it was to keep the broad masses of the people as quiet and docile as possible, in order to rule and guide them easily. Therefore they told, to certain of the people, the myth, for example, of a Hercules who lived once upon a time; whom man should emulate, with whom he should associate his labours. In like manner, other myths were told — the Isis and Osiris myth, for instance. Within the Mysteries, however, in their own circle, the priests — according to Dupuis — knew that it was so much ‘eye-wash.’ They knew that such a person as Hercules or Osiris or Isis had, of course, never existed; they knew that all that goes on the Earth is brought about by the material heavenly bodies and their constellations. The myths are only veiled descriptions of the events in the sky. According to the ancient Mystery-priests — so said Dupuis — that which takes place on the Earth depends on the Sun's passage through the twelve Signs of the Zodiac, or on the passage of the Moon through the twelve Signs of the Zodiac. The priests were well aware what these celestial processes bring about on Earth. They knew that the material process which finds expression in the starry constellations — the material process in the outer cosmos — is the real cause of plant-growth and of human progress, human fertilisation, and so on. The priests were well aware of all these things. Far from believing that there were any other spiritual Powers here at work, they were ‘enlightened’ enough to believe in the mere play of material forces in material celestial space. But, for the common folk, they clothed these facts of astronomy in myths, believing, as they did, that this was necessary to delude the people; for only by such means could they be ruled and guided.

Thus, for Dupuis, the Mysteries were so many lie-factories, instituted for the purpose of clothing in suitable language, for the credulous and 'stupid' populace, what was well known to the priests themselves, namely that it is the material processes in the Heavens which bring about other material processes here on the Earth. In Dupuis' work, Origin de tons les Cultes, we find for example the following sentence: Truth knows no Mysteries. All Mysteries without exception belong to the realms of error and deceit ... Their origin — namely, the origin of the Mysteries — must be looked for outside the realms of truth and reason; offspring of night, they flee the light of day.

No doubt it was only a small minority who read such writings, but that is not the thing that matters. The point is that such things take effect; the point is simply that they are there. When they are voiced by an individual like Dupuis, it only means that he has the special faculty to formulate them. These things began to work from the end of the 18th century onward; and they worked on throughout the 19th.

Now we must bring forward something of the real historic truth, as against the things Dupuis discovered with such genius when he laid the foundations of his celestial materialism — for so we may justly describe it. After all, the Philistine scientists of the 19th century only looked for the material processes in the atoms; they remained in the earthly realm. Dupuis was bold enough to propound heavenly materialism; to conceive all that is working towards the Earth from the Cosmos as material influences of the stars and constellations, and to describe the so-called ‘Spiritual’ as so much ‘eye-wash’ — the mere aftermath of the conscious deception which was practised by the priests of the old Mysteries.

This conclusion above all was drawn by Dupuis in his important and famous book: — All the great figures, in reality, are none other than facts of Astronomy, welded together and appropriately garbed for the edification of the common people. Hercules is the Sun, his twelve Labours are the passing of the Sun through the twelve Signs of the Zodiac. Isis is the Moon; what is narrated of her is the passage of the Moon through the Zodiac. Dionysos — in that great cosmic poem with its 48 cantos — is only a description of the Sun in its passage through the Signs of the Zodiacs. And so on ... the Christians merely put Christ in the place of Hercules, Dionysos and Osiris. Christ too is none other than a mask for the Sun. The priests knew well enough that the real thing is the Sun; but, for the common folk, they needed the story of the Nazarene — Christ Jesus, the Sun of the New Testament, by contrast to Hercules, Dionysos and Osiris, the Suns of the Old Testament.

Truly, a radical destruction of all religious ideas is contained in Dupuis' work, Origine de tous les Cultes.

The general consciousness commonly remains behind, — does not pursue these radical changes. Hence it came that in the 18th century very few people clearly perceived that these thoughts were in the air — if I may use the trite expression. Nevertheless, they left them in the air. Few, no doubt, had the courage to rise to the clear-cut conclusions of Dupuis. But these thoughts were contained in the spiritual consciousness of all educated people. And it was under the pressure of these thoughts that all the theological absurdities of the 18th century developed. The underlying fact is nothing else, than that Dupuis had pointed out to those that were of a like mind: Just as little as Hercules or Osiris existed as physical and human personalities ; just as they were only Suns, so likewise, Christ never was a physical personality, but a Sun. It was under the pressure of this thought that for the later theologians of the 19th century Christ gradually vanished into thin air. Then they began to take the greatest pains to make the ‘bon Dieu citoyen’ of Nazareth presentable. The liberal Philistines dressed him up as a humane ethical preacher; the Social Democrats as a Social Democrat, and so on ; the psycho-pathologists as a madman or an epileptic. Thus, each one in turn set him forth under the pressure of these thoughts.

Now you may place this beside the other important truth which I have told you, namely that man really dreams historic evolution. Then you will well be able to conceive that thoughts like the above — even where they are not radically expressed — play their part in the dreams of men.

1918-01-04-GA180

[multiple perspectives to meaning of myths]

..  the myth permits of many points of view and when something has been said about it, its content is far from being exhausted. Again and again from different standpoints different things may be asserted in regard to a myth.

It would be very useful for the man of today if he made himself acquainted with the nature of that thinking which underlies the mode of thought found in the concepts of mythology. For the ideas which are formed about the origin of myths, the creation of mythology, belong indeed to the realm of the modern superficial judgment which is so widespread.

Deep truths are embedded in the myths, truths more concerned with reality than those which are expressed through modern natural science about this thing or the other. Physiological, biological truths about man are to be found in the myths, and the origin of what they express rests upon the consciousness of the connection of man as microcosm with the macrocosm.

Especially can one realize, when one has in mind the nature of the thinking employed in the myths, how little deeply, one is concerned with reality in ordinary modern concepts. It is therefore useful to recollect sometimes how myths have been formed among neighbouring peoples of the pre-Christian ages. Neighbours to one another and much interconnected in their culture are the ancient Egyptians, the Greeks and the Israelites. Moreover, one can say that a great part of the thinking that still rules in the soul today is connected with the knowledge of the Egyptians, Greeks and Israelites as expressed by them in the form of myth.

and although people had different cultures, there was still some commonality of soul and consciousness (SWCC)

That is something that one must keep well in mind in order to recognize that in spite of the difference of the separate myths, there existed a certain community of soul. In those ancient times there was a certain common consciousness concerning spiritual things.

  • The Greek knew how to picture something of Osiris, independent of the Osiris-name, because he had something similar. What was concealed behind the name Osiris was not unfamiliar to him. The Greeks in some way or other heard of these Egyptian stories of world-mysteries. It is remarkable how in Greece they often spoke of the same being as was spoken of over in Egypt, or over in Phoenicia or Lydia, etc. These God-conceptions flowed into one another, as it were, and this is very characteristic and significant. When a Greek heard the name Osiris, he could picture something from it, he identified what the Egyptian understood under the name Osiris, with something of which he too had certain concepts. Although the name was different, what the Egyptian conceived of as Osiris was no stranger to the Greek. I ask you to take note of this. It is very significant.
  • We have the whole thing once more: Read the ‘Germania’ of Tacitus; there Tacitus also describes the Gods that he finds in the North a hundred years after the founding of Christianity, and he describes them with Roman names. He thus gives Roman names to the Gods whom he finds there. In spite of the fact that the Gods whom he found there had of course other names yet he recognized their being and could give them the Roman names. We find in the ‘Germania’ that he knew that in the North men had a God, that was the same God as Hercules and so on. That is very significant and it points to something very deep and of great meaning.

1920-06-10-GA281

In poems of olden times, one still felt that something spoke from the spiritual world through the human being. Examples: the beginning of Homer's Iliad and the Song of the Nibelungs, it is more musical in the former, more pictorial-imaginative in the latter.

1920-12-26-GA202

In the 18th and 19th century, individuals emerged in the West and central Europe who recalled that during its evolution humankind had perceived spirit by looking into the macrocosm, had perceived gods, and finally God. Such individuals included Dupuis in the West and Ludwig Feuerbach an others in central Europe.

At the same time this gave rise to the strong instinct that the outer world and tapestry of the sense world spread before is the only thing to be perceived. Old traditions, visions people had once had of verities contained in the shining stars (which are after all sensory perceptions initially) and of spiritual presences in minerals and plants, were all thought to have been the product of fantasy, and anthropomorphism or imaginative projection upon the surrounding world.

In this view, gods had not created man but the human psyche itself had created god. Dupuis first and then other people such as Ludwig Feuerbach in the mid-nineteenth century proposed this idea.

Discussion

See also

  • Emil Bock
  • Rene Guenon (eg here)

Related pages

References and further reading

  • Ernst Uehli (1875-1959)
    • Die Geburt der Individualität aus dem Mythos (1916)
    • Zwischen Sphinx und Gral, Stuttgart (1922)
    • Nordisch-germanische Mythologie (1926)
    • Mythos und Kunst der Griechen im Geiste ihrer Mysterien (1958)
  • Ludwig Laistner (1845-1896)
    • Nebelsagen (1879)
    • The riddle of the Sphinx (1889)
  • Joseph Campbell (1904-1987):
    • The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949)
    • The power of myth (1988) - TV series of conversations between mythologist Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers
  • Friedel Lenz (-Ganz) (1897-1970)
    • Die keltische Drachenmythe (1961)
    • Sinndeutung zur keltischen Drachenmythe (1964)
    • Die Bildsprache der Mythologie. Richard Wagners Ring (1970)
  • Charles Kovacs: Norse Mythodology
  • Daskalos: the Parables
  • Torin M. Finser: Parables

Fairy tales

  • Friedel Lenz (-Ganz) (1897-1970)
    • Picture Language of Folktales (2018, original in DE: 'Bildsprache der Märchen. Eine Wiedergabe und Deutung von 25 der bekanntesten Volksmärchen der Brüder Grimm').
  • Ursula Grahl: 'The wisdom of fairy tales' (1969)
  • Roy Wilkinson: 'The Interpretation of Fairy Tales' (1993)
  • Henning M. Schramm - see also Healing with metals
    • 'The Healing Power of Planetary Metals in Anthroposophic and Homeopathic Medicine' (2013 in EN, original in DE in 1991: 'Metalle und Mineralien in der Therapie. Heilmittel-Kompendium zur anthroposophischen Medizin')
    • Märchen und Heilmittel: Eine imaginative Einführung in die anthroposophische Metalltherapie (1993)
    • Von Heilmitteln und Märchen der Gebrüder Grimm - Band 2

Foundation of atheism

  • Charles Francois Dupuis (1742-1809)
    • developed the Christ myth theory, which argued that Christianity was an amalgamation of various ancient mythologies and that Jesus was a mythical character.
    • 'Origines de tous les cultues our religion universelle' (1794) - in which he interprets myths and religions as allegories of astronomical and physical realities
  • Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872)
    • argued in 1841 that God was a human invention, a spiritual device to help us deal with our fears and aspirations. He wrote a very influentual critique of Christianity, and advocated atheism and anthropological materialism.