Ragnarok

From Anthroposophy

In Germanic Scandinavian mythology, the story of Loki, or of the Fenriswolf, or of Thor and Wotan, describes Man's battle in the soul with the Luciferic infection affecting Man's bodily principles during the development of the I.

The story originates from Norse mythology, Ragnarok or 'Twilight of the Gods', is a set of stories that appears primaraly in the Poetic (and Prose) Edda. Ragnarok stems from the original old Norse 'Ragnarök' or 'Ragnarøkkr'. Contemporary culture references this with various names eg Doomsday of the Gods, Loki and the Fenriswolf, etc.

Myth of Baldur

The myth of Baldur is about "one of the greatest historical events, the gradual disappearance of the old unclouded knowledge". The Baldur powers represent the old clairvoyant vision. Man had the natural tendency to receive Baldur's influence, and would have developed in accordance with this influence if he had not received Loki's influence. The slaying of Baldur represents the fact that this old clairvoyant vision is extinguished through Man's devotion to the blind Hœnir. The disappearance of Man's clairvoyance was expressed as Loki (appearing with his kinsmen, the three Beings) killed the clairvoyant power in Baldur. In the tragic story Loki brings the mistletoe with which blind Hœnir kills Balder, the one who sees.

Wotan, Thor and Freyr vs Loki and Fenriswolf

Central to the storyline is the fact that due to the Luciferic influence (Loki, the death-bringing power) on the human body, the resulting Ahrimanic influence (Fenris wolf, characterized by lying and untruthfullness) gets into a fight with the hierarchies representing the normal development of Man (battle with Odin). In the end Ahriman is overcome by the Michaelic impulse (Vidar overcomes the Fenris wolf). See Schema FMC00.382.

Aspects

  • characters and names appearing in the story:
    • Loki (Lucifer), Midgard, Fenris, Hela, Mimir, Freyre, Thor, Surtur, Vidar, Asgard
    • Hodur: the blind god, son of Odin and his wife Frigg; name is also spelled as Hod, Höd, Hoder, Hodr
    • Baldur: the most beautiful and perfect of the gods
    • Odin (or Wotan) ((1910-06-14-GA121)
      • Ordin is 'Lord of the power of Speech' - Odin stories represent the way in which the soul (through the etheric body, whilst in the physical body) acquired speech through the corresponding archangel
      • Odin's companion archangels
        • normally developed:
          • Hœnir - archangel who gave Man the imaginative faculty of clairvoyance
          • Lœdur - who gave race characteristics of skin color and blood character
        • abnormal beings
          • Villy and Ve - work still more intimately, within the soul. But the ‘ I ’ which is itself at an abnormal stage of evolution, where it is present even when the subordinate soul-powers are being developed, feels itself to be intimately related to an abnormal archangel.
    • Mimir: the ancient bearer of Wisdom.
  • illustrations and appearance in art:
    • see Schema FMC00.383 below and the wiki page for Ragnarok for a first sample of example illustrations
    • The Gosforth Cross is a large stone Anglo-Saxon cross at Gosforth the United Kingdom, dating to approx. the 10th century AD
    • Richard Wagner's included the storyline in his opera 'Götterdämmerung' (1876) or 'Twilight of the Gods' that concludes his tetralogy 'Der Ring des Nibelungen'
  • see also:

Inspirational quotes

From 1910-06-17-GA121

.. the world of Odin and Thor, of Balder and Hoeder, of Freyr and Freya withdrew for a while into the background, away from human vision. But that world will return after a period when other forces have meanwhile been at work upon the human soul.

Illustrations

Schema FMC00.382 provides a simple summary of how the Luciferic influence attacks Man's bodily principles and is in conflict with the regular beings of the third hierarchy. All are represented by figures in the myth. Click to enlarge.

FMC00.382.jpg

Schema FMC00.383 shows illustrations of the myth. Left Gosforth Cross with details on the right. On the right, various illustrations from 10-13th century in Norway, Iceland, UK (Isle of Man), showing Odin being swallowed by Fenris.

FMC00.383.jpg

Lecture coverage and references

Coverage

Rudolf Steiner mentions various (Ragnarok) stories from the Edda in dozens of lectures, and the wealth of artwork and literature available makes it difficult to underestimate the importance of this legacy. The approx. 20 lecture references below help to develop an insight and appreciation of how the 'modern' contemporary teachings of spiritual science are contained in these stories. See also Yggdrasil for another similar example.

For:

  • Wotan, Thor and Freyr vs Loki and Fenriswolf: see 1910-06-14-GA121, 1910-06-15-GA121, 1910-06-17-GA121
  • most other references below are about the Baldur myth

Reference extracts

1904

1904-09-30-GA093

1904-10-07-GA093

1905

1905-05-05-GA092

1905-10-26-GA093A

1906

1906-05-27-GA094

1907

1907-06-03-GA099

1907-06-24-GA100

1908

1908-06-22-GA104

1909

1909-05-06-GA

1909-06-09-GA109

1909-06-24-GA112

1910

1910-05-08-GA116

1910-06-14-GA121 (SWCC)

Man then passed further from the Atlantean epoch, and saw the weaving of the angels and archangels, whom they called the Asa. Those were the beings who busied themselves with the ‘ I ’ of Man, which then awoke at its lowest stage; those beings were placed at the head of these peoples. What the other peoples of the East slept through, seeing how the soul worked its way up by means of the various forces which were bestowed upon it by the normal and abnormal angels and archangels, had to be gone through by the peoples of Europe beginning from the lowest stage; they had to be consciously present, in order that these soul-forces might gradually develop.

Thus, therefore, the figures of the gods, which placed themselves before the souls of the Germanic Scandinavian peoples, were the figures of the gods who worked directly upon his soul, and that which he could observe by direct perception, as the development of the human soul out of the cosmos, that was something which he directly experienced. He did not look back in remembrance at the manner in which the souls worked themselves into the bodies, he saw this more as though it were just happening then. It is his own evolution and he with his ‘ I ’ is present in it. He understood this down to the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries after Christ. He had preserved a comprehension of how the soul-forces gradually formed themselves, crystallized themselves into the body.

At first he gazed upon the archangels who worked in his soul by giving him what were to become his soul forces, and he found there as the most predominant of these archangels, Wotan or Odin, and he saw him at work upon his soul, he saw how he worked into his soul.

What did he see there? How did he perceive Wotan or Odin? What did he recognize him to be? As what did he learn to love him, and above all to understand him?

He learned to recognize him as being one of those archangels who once upon a time reached the point of renouncing the ascent to higher stages. He learned to know Odin as one of the abnormal archangels, as one of the great renouncers of antiquity, who had assumed the office of an Archangel when undertaking the important mission of working into the souls of men. The Germanic Scandinavian experienced Odin in his activity at a time when he still went about the work of inoculating speech into the souls. The manner in which Odin himself worked upon his peoples in order to make speech possible to them has been preserved in a wonderful way It was described as a divine initiation. The way in which Odin gained the power to endow the souls of the Germanic and Northern peoples with languages is thus described Odin, before he had acquired this capacity, had gone through what is represented to us as the initiation by means of the Potion of the Gods, that divine Potion which once upon a time in the primeval past belonged to the giants. This Potion contained not merely abstract wisdom, but it represents to us the wisdom which expresses itself directly in sound. Odin at his initiation obtained power over the wisdom which expresses itself in sound, he learned how to use it when he went through a long initiation which lasted nine days, from which he was then released by Mimir, the ancient bearer of Wisdom. Thus Odin became Lord of the power of Speech. It was for this reason that the later sagas trace the language of the poets, the language of the skalds, back to Odin. The art of reading runes, which in olden times was thought of as being much more closely related to speech than the later kind of writing, was also traced back to Odin.

Hence the way in which the soul — indirectly, through the etheric body, whilst making itself at home in the physical body — acquired speech through the corresponding archangel, is expressed in the wonderful stories related about Odin.

In the companions of Odin we have similar archangels: Hœnir who gave the imaginative faculty, and Lœdur who gave that which still touches the race most closely, the color of the skin, and the character of the blood. These two archangels belong more to the normal side, so to speak.

To the abnormal side belong the Beings appearing as Villy and Ve. These are Beings who work still more intimately, within the soul, as I explained in the preceding lecture. But the ‘ I ’ which is itself at an abnormal stage of evolution, where it is present even when the subordinate soul-powers are being developed, feels itself to be intimately related to an abnormal archangel.

Odin is not perceived as an abnormal archangel, but rather as one whose remaining behind is somewhat like the way the Western souls remained behind, who experience more consciously in their ‘ I ’ that which remained behind when the migration through those countries took place, — whereas the Eastern souls passed beyond certain stages of soul-life, before they decided to awake. Hence there lived above all in the souls of the Germanic Scandinavians all that is bound up with those agitating and working Archangel-forces of Odin, which are at work in the primitive depths of the soul-life.

Whereas we have said that it is the Angels who carry down into the individual human beings that which the Archangels bring about, so also an ‘ I ’ which awakes at such an early elementary stage of soul-life, is above all interested in having the affairs of the Archangels carried into it, as it were. Hence the Germanic Scandinavians have an interest in an angelic figure who possesses special power, but who at the same time is closely related to the separate human being and his individuality. That angelic figure is Thor. Thor can only be recognized by knowing that in him one must recognize a Being who might indeed have been very advanced if he had evolved himself normally further, but who made the renunciation comparatively early, and remained behind at the stage of the Angel, in order that at the time when in the course of the soul's evolution the ‘ I ’ should awake, he might become Guide in the soul-world of the Germanic Scandinavian countries. What one feels so directly in Thor as being related to the individual human ‘ I ’ is, that that which was to be carried into every single ‘ I ’ from the spiritual world, could actually be so carried in. If we bear this in mind we shall also better understand many things that have been handed down. For us it is a question of being able to understand these individual Gods correctly. The Germanic Scandinavian man perceived and experienced this imprinting of the soul into the body. He was present when the ‘ I ’ membered itself into the body and took possession of each single human being.

Now we know that the ‘ I ’ pulsates in the blood of the physical body and that everything within corresponds to something without, everything microcosmic to something macrocosmic. The work of Odin who gave speech and Runic Wisdom, who worked indirectly through the breathing, corresponds to the movements of the wind outside in the macrocosm. The regular penetration of the air through our respiratory organs, which then transforms the air into word and speech, corresponds in the macrocosm outside to the movements and the currents of the wind. Just as it is true that we must feel the ruling of Odin within ourselves in the transforming of air into words, so it is true also that we must see him ruling and working in the wind outside. But one who still possessed the old Germanic Scandinavian capacities, to which especially belonged a certain degree of clairvoyance, really saw this. He could see Odin everywhere ruling in the wind, he saw how he formed speech by means of his breath. This the Northern man perceived as unity. Just as that which lives in us and organizes our speech, — that is to say, in the way speech existed among the Scandinavians, — just as that presses through into the ‘ I ’ and produces the pulsation of the blood, so does that which organizes itself into speech correspond outside in the macrocosm to thunder and lightning. Speech is there before the’ I ’ is born. Hence the ‘ I ’ is everywhere felt to be the son of that Being who gives speech. In the imprinting of the separate ‘ I ’ Thor is specially concerned, and that which in the microcosm corresponds to the event in the macrocosm, is the pulsation of the blood. That therefore which outside in the macrocosm corresponds to the pulsation of the blood in man, is what as thunder and lightning goes through the sighing winds and weaving clouds. That again is seen by the Germanic Scandinavian in his clairvoyance as unity, and he sees that the movement of the wind, the flashing of the lightning outside is inwardly connected with the weaving of the air he breathes in. He sees how that passes over into the blood and then causes the ‘ I ’ to pulsate. That is looked upon as a material occurrence at the present day, but it was still an astral one to the Germanic Norseman. He saw the inner relationship of fire and lightning, with that which goes through the blood. He felt the pulse-beat in his blood and he knew that it was the beating of the ‘ I ’; he knew: ‘That which thus beats I am able to perceive, and I shall be able to perceive it again in a little while;’ but he did not notice the outer material event. All that was clothed in clairvoyant perception. He perceived that which caused his pulse to beat and made him return again and again to the same places, as being the act of Thor. He felt the Thor-force in his ‘ I ’ as the constant returning of the hammer of Thor into the hand of Thor, he felt the force of one of the most powerful Angels that had ever been known and revered, because he was a mighty Being who was seen to have remained behind at the Angel stage.

The way in which the spiritual force holds the physical body together, is expressed in the Germanic Scandinavian mythology where it says, that the ‘ I ’ is that which, when the soul and body are woven, holds them both together. The Germanic Scandinavian man sees the weaving of the body and soul, from within; and later on he still understands the way in which, coming from the astral, his inner being unites itself with him; he understands how the inner answers, so to say, to the outer. He could also understand when Initiates told him how the world forms itself into man.

Then he understood how to go back to the earlier stages, to that which was told him about the events which represent the relation of the Angels to the Archangels, to the earlier stages when man was born out of the macrocosm in a physical-spiritual way. He was able to see how the individual human being was built up out of the macrocosm and how he rests in it.

He sought in the macrocosm for those occurrences which take place microcosmically in such a way, that out of the human North, out of the cool domain of the spirit, are woven the thoughts of man, and that from thence the human body is supplied with the twelve brain-nerves in the head. He sees this process which microcosmically have become the twelve brain nerves. He sees the weaving Spirit in what he calls ‘Nebelheim’ or ‘Niflheim’ (Home of Mist), he sees the twelve brain-nerves of man; he sees how that which comes from the human South, from the heart, works towards that which comes down from above; he seeks for it outside in the macrocosm and understands when he is told that it is called ‘Muspelheim’.

Thus even in the Christian centuries he still understood how to comprehend the microcosm from the whole macrocosm; and one can go back still further for him, by showing how man gradually originated out of the macrocosm as an extract of the whole world. He is able to look back into that time and he can understand that these events have a past, which he himself can still see as a working of Angels and Archangels into his soul. He can perceive that these events have a past, and the conceptions which he thus acquires are what we meet with in what is known as the old Germanic Scandinavian Genesis, as the origin of humanity from the entire macrocosm.

Where the Germanic Scandinavian Chaos begins, in Ginnungagap, is about the time when the earth begins to form itself anew after it has gone through the three earlier states, Saturn, Sun and Moon, when it emerges again from pralaya, when the kingdoms of nature are not yet differentiated, and men are as yet quite spiritual beings. Then the man of the North understands how the later conditions formed themselves out of that one.

Now it is interesting to see how in the Germanic Scandinavia mythology events which took place in those times, are depicted in pictures of imaginative form, events for which we, in our anthroposophical teachings, only make use of riper expressions, viz., concepts instead of those former pictures. The events which took place when the sun and moon were still united, are described to us. The going forth of the moon is described, and how evolution then passes over into what later becomes ‘Riesenheim’ (Home of Giants). Everything which existed during the Atlantean epoch is described to us as a continuation of what had happened formerly and which were the affairs of the Germanic Scandinavian people themselves.

I only wanted to-day to give an idea of how the Northern ‘ I ’ awoke while it was still at a lower stage of evolution, and how the Northern man looked into the Folk-soul, into the soul of Thor and so on. I wanted to call forth a feeling of how the ‘ I ’ was then present, of how it was able to acquire a direct interest in the inweaving of still higher Beings, who, however, came from quite another quarter than those we find among Eastern peoples. We shall to-morrow try to find access to the more remote parts of the Germanic mythology. We shall recognize how those remote parts are precursors of that which dwells in the Folk-souls, and we shall see what is the nature of our Western Folk-souls.

1910-06-15-GA121

1910-06-17-GA121

1915

1915-03-28-GA161

1915-04-02-GA161 (also 2 and 3 april, only one in GA161)

1923

1923-09-10-GA228

Discussion

Note [1] - Gosforth Cross

Information from wikipedia:

The Gosforth Cross is a large stone Anglo-Saxon cross at Gosforth the United Kingdom, dating to approx. the 10th century AD, with a combination of Christian and Nordic symbols. The cross shows scenes described in the Poetic Edda such as

  • Loki bound with his wife Sigyn protecting him.
  • The god Heimdallr holding his horn.
  • The god Víðarr tearing the jaws of Fenrir.
  • Thor's failed attempt to catch Jörmungandr, the Midgard Serpent.

It is currently debated whether sources were added to the Cross out of reverence for Viking beliefs and still clinging to their own identity or as a way to parallel Norse mythology (ie Ragnarök, the death of Baldur) with Christian beliefs (ie the Apocalypse, the crucifixion of Christ). Among the parallels is Loki being bound is allegorical for Satan being bound, the death of Baldur accompanied by Hod and Nanna interchangeable with Christ's death as witnessed by Longinius and Mary Magdalene, and the battle Odin has with Surtr similar to how Christ ultimately conquers the Devil. Another is how the base of the cross has a tree-like design, looking like bark. This is a possible parallel between Yggsdrasil and the Tree of Life, both featured heavily in their respective mythologies.

Related pages

References and further reading