From Anthroposophy

The Nibelungenlied or Song of the Nibelungs is part of Germanic mythology, and passed through oral tradition across the whole of Germanic speaking Europe,. It is the main German epic and has been called the German Iliad. It is made up of some 2400 stanzas in 39 'adventures'. The first written copy is from the middle ages, dating from around 1200. Like the story of the Holy Grail, it has had its variants and rediscoveries over the centuries.

These sagas describe the setting of the fourth Atlantean epoch and the rise of the new fifth epoch out of the previous. At the same time this is the development of the human intellect or self-consciousness that did not exist among the Atlanteans, who lived in a kind of clairvoyant condition.


  • versions and key people
    • the poem was 'lost' for centuries, and manuscripts from as early as the 13th century were re-discovered during the 18th century. Currently there are 37 known versions (in different languages and with variants, eg Nordic others German), of which 11 are complete and 24 in various fragmented states. There are three main versions which serve as the foundation for what is considered and studied as the basic original version of the Nibelungenlied. These three main manuscripts of the Nibelungenlied are in UNESCO's 'Memory of the World Register' since 2009
    • Christopher Heinrich Müller (1740-1807), after centuries, drew attention again to the greatness and importance of the work (1915-03-28-GA161)
    • Friedrich Heinrich von der Hagen (1780-1856) issued four editions of the Nibelungenlied between 1810 and 1842
    • the version by Wilhelm Jordan (1819-1904) of 1869 is discussed in depth in 1915-03-28-GA161
    • Richard Wagner's Ring des Nibelungen, whereby he based himself more on the Norse version
  • correspondence with other myths and legends
    • Prometheus
      • Prometheus means ‘thinking in advance’ (manas thinking), he is the representative of the fifth epoch, the man of forethought. His brother is Epimetheus, means ‘thinking afterwards' (kama-manas thinking), the man of reflection .. "the man who allows the things of this world to work upon him, and then thinks; such thought is the Kama-Manas thinking. Today the Man of the fifth epoch still thinks predominantly like this." The two streams run in parallel in the fifth epoch, and the manas thinking will gradually become more widespread. Thus the Manas of the fifth root-race is chained to the mineral forces, as the Atlantean race was bound up with the life forces. All Promethean force is chained to the rock, to the earth.
    • Gudrunlied (also known as Kudrun or Gudrun) is a heroic epic from the middle ages (approx around 1250), second in stature only to the Nibelungenlied (to which in alludes in numerous ways)
  • similarities and parallels with Nordic sagas: Poetic Edda and Völsunga saga
  • storyline shorthand (from wikipedia)
    • The poem is split into two parts: in the first part, Siegfried comes to Worms to acquire the hand of the Burgundian princess Kriemhild from her brother King Gunther. Gunther agrees to let Siegfried marry Kriemhild if Siegfried helps Gunther acquire the warrior-queen Brünhild as his wife. Siegfried does this and marries Kriemhild; however Brünhild and Kriemhild become rivals, leading eventually to Siegfried's murder by the Burgundian vassal Hagen with Gunther's involvement.
    • In the second part, the widow Kriemhild is married to Etzel, king of the Huns. She later invites her brother and his court to visit Etzel's kingdom intending to kill Hagen. Her revenge results in the death of all the Burgundians who came to Etzel's court as well as the destruction of Etzel's kingdom and the death of Kriemhild herself.
  • key symbolic personalities in the storyline (see ao 1915-03-28-GA161, also the lectures commenting on Richard Wagner's Ring des Nibelungen)
    • Brunhilde - warrior queen
    • Kriemhilde
    • Siegfried
    • Gunther - King and brother of Kriemhilde
    • Etzel - king of the Huns


Lecture coverage and references

Richard Wagner's Ring des Nibelungen

.. is a cycle of four German-language epic music dramas (developed by Wagner in the period 1848-1874) based on the Germanic and Norse sagas of the Nibelungen:

  • Das Rheingold (The Rhinegold)
  • Die Walküre (The Valkyrie)
  • Siegfried
  • Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) - see also Ragnarok

lecture 1 of 3, introduces the Ring and the Siegfried legend


lecture 2 of 3, continues on the Ring


lecture 3 of 3, covers Valkyrie, Siegfriend, and Twilight of the Gods

Note the fourth lecture 1905-05-19-GA092 in this cycle is on Parsifal


Anyone in the slightest degree capable of interpreting the signs of the times will perceive in the art of Richard Wagner the first rays of Christianity emerging from the narrow framework of the religious life into the wider horizons of modern spiritual culture.

One can discern quite unmistakably how in the soul of Richard Wagner himself the central idea of Christianity comes to birth, how it bursts the bonds of religion and becomes universal. When on Good Friday, in the year 1857, he looks out of the Villa Wesendonck by the Lake of Zürich at the budding flowers of early spring, and the first seed of “Parsifal” quickens to life within him, this is a transformation, on a wider scale, of what already lives in Christianity, as a religious idea.

And after he had reached the heights of that prophetic foreshadowing of Christianity to which he gave such magnificent expression in the “Ring of the Nibelungs,” this central Idea of Christianity found still wider horizons in “Parsifal,” becoming the seed of that future time when Christianity will embrace, not only the religious life, but the life of knowledge, of art, of beauty, in the widest sense of the words.


[Hermann Grimm on the Iliad before this section]

What does Hermann Grimm arrive at with regard to the Iliad and the Niebelungen saga?

He ends by assuming that the historical dynasties, the races of rulers were preceded by other such races; this is literally what he thinks. Thus he considers that probably Zeus and his whole circle represent a sort of race of rulers which had preceded the race of rulers to which Agamemnon belonged. Thus he considers that there is a certain uniformity in the history of humanity, so to speak; he considers that in the Iliad or Niebelungen saga are represented Gods or Heroes of primeval humanity whom later humanity only attempted to represent by clothing their deeds, their characters, in the dress of superhuman myths.

There is much that one cannot reconcile if one takes as a basis such an hypothesis, above all the special form of the intervention of the Gods in Homer. Let us take one case.

How do Thetis the mother of Achilles, Athene, and other figures of the Gods intervene in the events in Troy?

They so intervene by taking the forms of mortal men, inspiring them as it were, leading them on to their deeds. Thus they do not appear themselves, but permeate living men. Living men were not only their representatives but sheaths permeated by invisible powers which could not appear in their own form, in their own being on the field of battle. Yet it would be strange to admit that primeval men of the ordinary kind should be so represented that they had to take representative men of the race of mortals as a sheath. This is only an intimation which can prove to us all that in this way we shall not arrive at a true understanding of the ancient national epics.

Just as little shall we succeed if we take the figures in the Niebelungen saga

  • Siegfried of Xanten on the lower Rhine who was removed to the Burgundian court at Worms, who then wooed Kriemhilde the sister of Gunther, but who by virtue of his special qualities can alone woo Brunnhilde.

And in what a remarkable way are described such figures as Brunnhilde of Iceland, and Siegfried:

  • Siegfried is described as having conquered the so-called family of the Niebelungen, as having acquired, won, the treasure of the Niebelungen.
  • By means of what he has acquired through his victory over the Niebelungen, he gains special qualities which are expressed in the epic when it is said that he can make himself invisible, that he is invulnerable in a certain respect, that he has, moreover, forces which the ordinary Gunther has not!
  • For the latter cannot win Brunnhilde who is not to be conquered by an ordinary mortal.
  • By means of his special powers which he has as the possessor of the treasure of the Niebelungen Siegfried conquers Brunnhilde,
  • and on the other hand, because he can conceal the powers which he has developed, he is in a position to lead Brunnhilde to Gunther his brother-in-law.
  • And then we find how Kriemhilde and Brunnhilde (whom we meet at the same time at the Burgundian court) are two very different characters in whom obviously forces are at work which are not to be explained by the ordinary soul forces. Therefore they quarrelled, and therefore also it came about that Brunnhilde was able to seduce the faithful servant Hagen to kill Siegfried.

That again shows us a feature which appears so remarkably in the Sagas of Central Europe. Siegfried has higher superhuman forces; these superhuman forces he has through the possession of the treasures of the Niebelungen. Finally they make of him not an absolutely victorious figure, but a figure which stands before us as a tragedy. The powers which Siegfried possesses through the treasures of the Niebelungen are at the same time a fatality.

Still more remarkable do things become if we take in addition the Northern Saga of Sigurd, the slayer of the dragon, but this is enlightening. In this, Sigurd, who is none other than Siegfried, appears as the conqueror of the dragon; as he who thereby wins from an ancient race of dwarfs the treasures of the Nibelungen. And Brunnhilde meets us as a figure of a superhuman nature, as a Valkyrie figure.


is a lecture dedicated to the Nibelungenlied and an explanation of the deeper meaning of characters and storyline

  • discussing Christopher Heinrich Müller (1740-1807) who drew attention to the greatness and importance of the work
  • with focus on the version by Wilhelm Jordan (1819-1904) of 1869.

GA54, p 413

Es war eine Art Überraschung, als im 18. Jahrhundert die deutschen Gebildeten die Sage der Vorzeit, die Nibelungensage entdeckten. In der Tat war diese Sage, welcher wir die Gedanken der europäischen Völker über ihre Herkunft, über ihren Ursprung verdanken, Jahrhunderte hindurch wie vergessen. Kaum wußte man, was sich die Deutschen in alten Zeiten über die Morgendämmerung ihres Daseins erzählten, kaum wußte man davon etwas vom 12. bis ins 18. Jahrhundert hinein, und Geister, die in der Lage waren, die ganze Bedeutung eines solchen Fundes für das Seelenleben des deutschen Volkes zu erkennen, wie Goethe, schrieben insbesondere der Nibelungendichtung die größte Bedeutung zu.

GA292, p 310

Mit dem Goldesmysterium hängt zusammen die Gestalt des Siegfried, der das Gold erbeutet hat, aber an der Tragik des Goldes zugrunde geht. Denn es durchzieht den Sinn des Nibelungenliedes wie ein roter Faden, daß das Gold mit seinem Zauber der übersinnlichen Welt allein gehört, nicht der sinnlichen gewidmet werden muß. Opfert das Gold den Toten! Laßt es im übersinnlichen Reich, denn im sinnlichen Reiche stiftet es Unheil.


Related pages

References and further reading

  • Karl Lachmann: 'Der Nibelunge Noth und die Klage nach der ältesten Überlieferung mit Bezeichnung des Unechten und mit den Abweichungen der gemeinen Lesart' (1826)
  • Karl Knortz: 'Das Nibelungenlied und Wilhelm Jordan' (1895)

Muller's most important publication is the collection of German poems from XII., XIII. and fourteenth century. It was published in three volumes in Berlin between 1784 and 1787. In this edition, many important epic and lyrical texts from German-language literature of the Middle Ages were edited for the first time and thus released to modern audiences.

The rich collection of texts offers the Nibelungenlied, Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach, Iwein, Gregorius and Armen Heinrich by Hartmann von Aue, Tristan by Gottfried von Straßburg, Eneasroman by Heinrich von Veldeke, as well as Flore and Blanscheflur and other more or less complete texts. , including some collections of sung verses, love songs, animal bispiln and some maeren.

He always placed his edits alongside copies of Middle High German texts, as it was his real concern to bring them closer to the public.