THE RELIGIOUS ATTITUDES OF THE INDO-EUROPEANS
Freedom is where you can live, as pleases a brave heart; where you can live according to the customs and laws of your fathers; where you are made happy by that which made your most distant ancestors happy.
E. M. Arndt, Catechism for the Teutonic Soldier and Warrior, 1813.
IN this work I want to advance some reflections on the religiosity of the Indo-Europeans — that is to say, the Indo-European speaking peoples originating from a common Bronze Age nucleus — who have always exerted a significant influence on the government and spirit of predominantly Nordic races.1 Just as by comparing the structure of the Indian, Persian, Sacaean, Armenian, Slavic and Baltic languages, and of the Greek, Italian, Celtic and Teutonic dialects, we can reach a conclusion as to a common or primal Indo-European language, approximating to the latter part of the early Stone Age, in the same way, an examination of the laws and legal customs of the different peoples of Indo-European language reveals a primal Indo-European feeling for law.2 Similarly, from a comparison of the religious forms of these peoples we can identify a particular religious attitude emanating from the Indo-European nature — a distinctive behaviour of Indo-European men and people towards the divine powers.
So it is that certain common religious attitudes, which originally were peculiar to all peoples of Indo-European language, reveal the identity of an Indo-European religiosity. But since in fact all Indo-European nations represented different types moulded on the spiritual pattern of the Nordic race, the origin of these common religious attitudes may be identified in a religiosity which is characteristically Nordic, emanating from the spiritual nature of the Nordic race.3
It is fortunate that for our knowledge of this Nordic religiosity, we do not have to rely solely upon Teutonic religious forms,4 for the information we possess about the Teutonic forms of belief is regrettably inadequate. It is all the more incomplete as it is derived from a late period in the development of these forms, which had already been influenced by religious ideas from Hither-Asia, from the Mediterranean basin and from the Celtic west of Europe, where the Druids had begun to distort the ancient Indo-European religiosity of the Celts so that they no longer bore a purely Nordic stamp. The Teutonic Gods, the Aesir (cf. Oslo, Osnabruck, in High German: Ansen, cf. Anshelm, Ansbach), had already absorbed the Vanir who had spread from south-east Europe (F. R. Schröder: Germanentum und Alteuropa, Germanisch-Romanische Monatsschrift, XXII, 1934, p. 187), without thoroughly re-interpreting them in a purely Teutonic spirit. Likewise, from south-east Europe and Hither-Asia, the God Dionysos had been accepted among the Olympian Gods without being fully re-interpreted, even being found in Homer, and only later becoming a native blond God instead of an alien, dark-haired one. The pre-Christian Teutons have with justice been compared with the Achaeans, who were their nearest relatives, and it can be shown that much that the Hellenes incorporated into their belief and religiosity in post-Homeric times was more or less alien to the Indo-European spirit, as for example the Orphic mysteries. Thus late on in their period of pagan development the Teutons had accepted much that was contradictory to the Indo-European nature. What non-Indo-European or non-Teutonic characteristics have been imparted to the Teutonic God Odin (Wodan, Wuotan)? Odin, with his strange blend of “loftiness and deception”,5 is undoubtedly no longer the ideal example of an Indo-European or Teutonic God, and his worship is no longer characteristic of the Indo-European or the original Teutonic religion. Already one perceives in him the voice of an alien, non-Nordic race.
One must ask how much of Odin’s character can be explained from Teutonic folk belief, how much is later poetical embellishment, and how much reaches back, as with Zeus or Jupiter, into antiquity and the Indo-European conception of the “Father of the Heavens”. We must not overlook the fact, stressed by Andreas Heusler in Germanentum (1934, pp. 95-106 and cf. also Erik Therman: Eddan och dess Ödestragik, 1938, pp. 65, 105, 106) that “the Edda mythology is largely a Norwegian-Icelandic poetical creation of the Viking era”, elaborated by the poets who dwelt at the courts of local Norwegian princes during the late pagan and early Christian era, at a time when many Teutons were uprooted from their native soil and exposed to alien ideas. According to Heusler, Odin is a “new creation of Teutonic religious phantasy”, and above all, a God of war and of the Viking princes, warriors and skalds. However, as a war God, Odin is an incalculable force to reckon with, “capable of deceit”, as R. L. M. Derolez informs us (De Godsdienst der Germanen, 1959, p. 79).
The worship of Odin (Wotan or Wuotan in the High German form) spread from west Scandinavia during the warlike Folk Wandering and Viking era to the Vandals and Langobards, and to the Saxons in Lower Saxony and in England, but it always predominantly appealed to the local princes and their retinue and to the skalds of the princes’ courts, to whom the war God was also the God of poetry. Perhaps it is the name which is the unique feature of Odin that reaches back into Indo-European antiquity, for its root is derived from the Indo-European word vat meaning “to be spiritually excited”, and as such it is still preserved in Sanskrit, in old Iranian and in Latin, where it corresponds to the word vates, meaning a seer or a poet.
The concept of Odin-Wodan appears at its highest form in the grandiose Edda mythology of the twilight of the Gods, the end of the world, Ragnarök, but it is an expression more of poetry than belief. The yeoman freeholders on their hereditary farms, who formed the majority of the Teutonic peoples, were never at ease with the cult of Odin or Wodan (Karl Helm: Wodan; Ausbreitung und Wanderung seines Kults, Giessener Beiträge zur deutschen Philologie, Vol. LXXXV, 1946; R. L. M. Derolez: De Godsdienst der Germanen, 1959, pp. 79 et seq.). According to Erik Therman (op. cit., pp. 23, 77, 106), many sagas of the Gods of the Edda and also of Odin do not belong to the folk belief of the Teutons, but instead are an expression of the ideals and concepts of the Viking nobility and of the local North Teutonic princes.
One must above all bear in mind, when dealing with the figure of Odin, what Jan de Vries has written in The Present Position of Teutonic Religious Research (Germanische Monatsschrift, Vol. XXIII, 1951, pp. 1 et seq.):
“Proceeding solely from the sources of Teutonic religious history, research will never arrive at conclusive results concerning the nature of Teutonic religion: for illumination of Teutonic belief and religious attitudes, it will be necessary to return again and again to Indo-European religion and mythology”.
Georges Dumézil has also expressed the same warning.
The figure of Odin-Wodan does not belong to Indo-European religious history. He is the special God of the loosely-rooted expanding Viking Folk, and his composite personality stems from the late period of Teutonic paganism, and as such does not help to throw light on Indo-European religious attitudes.
Again, in one’s search for material to clarify this religiosity, there is little of value to be found in the descriptions of the religions of the Celts and the Slavs. Throughout the broad areas under their rule — and the Galatians penetrated as far as Asia Minor — the Celts formed only a thin upper layer holding sway over pre-Indo-European peoples governed by matriarchal family systems, whose linguistic forms deeply influenced the Celtic dialects, and whose spiritual beliefs transformed the original religious attitudes of the Celts.
The religious customs and moral attitudes of matriarchal origin emanating from the lower, non-Celtic strata, which penetrated the religion of the Celts (Wolfgang Krause: Die Kelten, Religionsgeschichtliches Lesebuch, Vol. XXIII, 1929), have been compared by both Marie Sjöstedt, in Dieux et Héros des Celtes (1940, p. 126) and by Jan de Vries, in Keltische Religion (1961, p. 224), with those of primitive non-European tribes, and from the Indo-European point of view, the latter must be described as repellent.
Finally, the hierarchy of the Celtic Druids, a power-seeking priestly order, was non-Indo-European in character, and resembled in structure the recent Brahmin system of caste-rule in India.
The records of the pre-Christian religions of Slavic tribes (A. Brückner: The Slavs, in Religionsgeschichtliches Lesebuch, Vol. III, 1926, and Karl H. Meyer: Die Slavische Religion, in Carl Clemen’s Die Religionen der Erde, 1927 pp. 237 et seq.) handed down to us by the Christian historians of the sixth century, Procopius and Jordanes, have been distorted by mistaken interpretation, or by writers who were hostile to the pagan Slavs, and they have little material of any value to offer. Arabic and Teutonic records are equally deficient, but something may be deduced from the morals and customs, and the sagas and songs which have been preserved and re-interpreted by Christianity. From them we receive an impression that the early Indo-Europeans worshipped their ancestors and believed that the houses they inhabited and the lands and animals that belonged to them were possessed of guardian spirits, features that were characteristic of early Latin beliefs.
Fortunately, however, the religious forms of the other Indo-European speaking peoples bear many details which guide us back to a more profound study of primary Indo-European religiosity, and in the beliefs of the early Indians, the early Persians6 and the early Hellenes, one can, in my opinion, trace essentially Indo-European elements and the basic factors vital to grasping and understanding them. Only by comparing all these forms of belief — and those of the Italici must not be omitted — with the Teutons’ can we obtain a clearer picture of Nordic-Teutonic religiosity.
If I thus attempt to express here in words individual features of this picture, I do so in an endeavour to ascertain, subject to the limitations of my own knowledge (for I am not a scholar of religious science), not only what is primary in all the religious forms of Indo-European speaking peoples known to us, but also what is their purest and richest unfolding. My concern is not with any search for the so-called primitive in these religious forms, nor whether this or that higher idea is deduced from some lower stage of old Stone Age magical belief or middle Stone Age spirit belief (animism). I am solely interested in determining the pinnacles of Indo-European religion. My concern is to identify Indo-European religion at its most perfect and characteristic form, and in its richest and purest assertion — that completely spontaneous expression of the spirit in which primary Indo-European nature expresses itself with the greatest degree of purity.
But when I speak of the richest unfolding of religious forms, I do not mean those eras characterised by a confusing multitude of ideas, which sometimes intrude upon the Indo-European peoples, for at these periods the primal Nordic has become permeated with ideas alien to his nature. On the contrary, I believe that Indo-European religious life had already attained heights of great richness amongst the individual Indo-European tribes in the Bronze Age, so that the Bronze Age Nordic experienced much of the flowering of the religiosity of his race. Each time this religiosity unfolded it flourished for a succession of centuries, indeed often up to a millenia, until a spirit alien in nature — and usually corresponding to a general weakening of the Nordic racial strain — permeated the original religious ideas of the Indo-Europeans, and then expressed in their language religious ideas which were no longer purely or even predominantly European.
My aim, therefore, is to comprehend Indo-European religion in its richest and purest unfolding. It can be traced, for example, in Hellenic poetry from Homer to Pindar and Aeschylus — though strictly speaking, perhaps only up to Pindar, or, in more general terms, up to the fifth century before our time of reckoning7 — and later, with Sophocles and Plato, who looked back in many aspects, Indo-European religiosity again predominates, but now as the religiosity of individual men and not of an entire circle of their aristocracy.
I shall confine myself to describing primary or essential attitudes of the Indo-Europeans, omitting all that they have expressed in their various languages, in their arts, and in the customs of their daily life in the early and middle periods of their development; for were one to include in a description of Indo-European religious attitudes every form to which they have given expression throughout their history, one would find features amongst them of nearly every religion. It would be easy, therefore, to quote examples of those forms of religion which I describe below as non-Indo-European, from the religious life of Indo-European peoples, especially in later times, or, in ethnological terms, in the de-Nordicised period. Indeed, people have even spoken in an erroneous way of a “Christian Antiquity”.8 What I described as Indo-European religiosity thus pertains to those periods in the history of the Indo-European peoples when the soul of the Nordic race could still express itself with sufficient vigour.
However, I do not overlook the fact that in many instances the rich and pure unfolding of Indo-European religiosity was preserved and carried forward into later periods. Examples of this, which I will consider later, are the noble art of the Panathenaea festival procession on the frieze in the Parthenon of the Acropolis of Athens (Maxime Collignon: Le Parthénon, Vol. III, 1912, Table 78 et seq.; Ernst Langlotz: Phidias Probleme, 1947, pp. 27 et seq.; and his Schönheit und Hoheit, 1948; Reinhard Lullies: Griechische Plastik, 1956, p. 22, Table 147 et seq.), or the noble art of the ara pacis Augustae — the altar of peace dedicated in the year 9 B.C. under Octavianus Augustus in Rome (Giuseppe Moretti: L’Ara Pacis Augustae, 1948; Robert Heidenreich: Die Bilder der ara pacis Augustae, Neue Jahrbücher für Antike und Deutsche Bildung, Year 1, 1938, pp. 31 et seq.) — and likewise the carmen saeculare of the Roman poet Horace (Horatius, Carmina, III, 25).
I would not regard as Indo-European every religious idea which has been found amongst individual Indo-European speaking peoples, but many of them were divided into racial strata in such a way that the rulers were predominantly men of Nordic race. Therefore, probably much of the preoccupation with magic and the haunting of the spirit which is described to us as Indo-European religious thought is in reality an expression of the religiosity of the lower racial stratas, the non-Nordic linguistically Indo-Europeanised subject people. Different peoples are often said to have a lower mythology in contrast to the higher mythology of the same people, and it is often the case that the lower mythology had no relation whatever with the higher, and that the lower stratum of the people found expression in one mythology and the leading stratum in another. Where Indo-European society consists in such racial layers of predominantly Nordic farmers, aristocracy and patriarchs, super-imposed on non-Nordic peoples, Indo-European religiosity can only be sought in the religious ideas of the upper strata. This is also proved by the fact that Indo-European religiosity is always directly linked with the conviction of the value of birth and pride in heredity, and that man has an unalterable hereditary nature and an inborn nobility which it is his duty to society to maintain — as is particularly apparent, for example, in the truly Hellenic religiosity of Pindar.9
It is thus important to realise, when studying the religious history of all Indo-European speaking peoples, that the upper stratum represented more closely the traditional ideas of belief. Therefore, for example, Carl Clemen’s chapter on the ancient Indo-European Religion in his Religionsgeschichte Europas (Vol. I, 1926, pp. 162 et seq.) makes almost no contribution to our knowledge of Indo-European religiosity. One cannot assume uncritically that all the prehistoric and historic information collected from all the regions where the Indo-European tongue was spoken constitutes evidence of roughly equivalent value. More than half of what Clemen cites as Indo-European religious thought, I regard as the ideas of the underlayer of Indo-Europeanised peoples of non-Nordic race. Similarly, the descriptions of the Hellenic world of belief by the outstanding Swedish scholar, P. Nilson, in his Griechischer Glaube (1950), contains much which originates from the non-Nordic sub-strata, and does not correspond to the form of belief and religiosity of the ancient Hellenes of early Stone Age and Bronze Age central Europe. The same observation holds true for the majority of descriptions of the religious world of Rome.
On the other hand, much which has asserted itself in Islamic Persia and in Christian Europe in religious life can be valued as a resurgence of Nordic Indo-European religiosity, as would be expected, for inherited nature will always stir against alien forms of belief. Thus the mysticism of the Islamised Persians, Sufism, is to be understood as a breakthrough by Indo-European religiosity into an alien and compulsive faith, as an expression of the disposition of the race-soul or “racial endowment” as described by R. A. Nicholson.10 A large part of the mysticism of the Christianised West may also be regarded as a similar breakthrough. Among great church leaders of both Christian faiths, religiosity of Indo-European kind is expressed whenever they allow the innermost essence of their religiosity to assert itself within them completely undogmatically. I would also be able to describe many a feature of Indo-European religiosity in the words of recent German poets. Examples of Indo-European religiosity can be found in Shakespeare, Winckelmann, Goethe, Schiller, Hölderlin, in Shelley and Keats, in Hebbel, Gottfried Keller and Storm, and there are many others in the literature, philosophy and plastic arts of the Western peoples.11
In his work Der Glaube der Nordmark (1936), which has passed through many editions, and which has also been translated into Danish and Swedish, Gustav Frenssen described the religiosity of the country people he knew in North Germany, having gained a deep insight into their minds and hearts as their pastor. Without it being the intention of the author, the work became a description of Indo-European religion in the rural environment of a North German people. H. A. Korff, in his Faustischer Glaube (1938), has attempted to describe the belief to which Goethe confessed in his poem Faust:
“It is belief in life in spite of all: in spite of the knowledge of the fundamentally tragic character of life.” (op. cit., 1938, p. 155.)
Such a belief in life is characteristic of Indo-European religion.
In his work Weltfrömmigkeit (1941), Eduard Spranger has described the sublime religiosity of the great men in German spiritual life at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century — a fundamentally Indo-European religiosity which Spranger, however, sought to link with a Christianity wrested from the dogmas of the Church. He noticed that religious motives resounded through great German poetry and German idealistic philosophy, but deceived himself, overlooking the increasing desolation of spiritual life in Europe and North America, into assuming that these motives still mean a great deal to present day Germans, Europeans and North Americans. In North America, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) was one of the last writers to reveal a strong Indo-European religiosity.
A scientific analysis of the Indo-European nature in religious life, similar to Walter F. Otto’s analysis of Hellenic religiosity12 has still — as far as I am aware — to be accomplished. There are good and there are mediocre descriptions of the forms of belief of individual Indo-European speaking peoples. But there is no satisfactory exposition of Indo-European religiosity as such, and where such a description has been attempted, it is often either deliberately or unconsciously measured with yard-sticks derived from the Jewish-Christian world. We owe it to ourselves, however, as Teutons and as Indo-Europeans to seek out the true nature of Indo-European religiosity.
It would be presumptuous on my part to imagine that my observations constitute a decisive foundation for research into this subject. More than suggestions I cannot promise. But I shall indicate in what fields I hope it might be possible to find assertions of Indo-European religiosity in both its rich and pure form, and also where this is not possible. I will merely explain what I have observed in relation to questions which have occupied me from my youth onwards, and how I have done so. This work is therefore in the nature of an outline of the impressions influencing me, arising from my interest over many years in the Indo-European world.
LET us take several examples of ways in which Indo-European religiosity did not assert itself, so as to recognise later how in fact it did express itself with the greatest purity and freedom. I shall attempt, wherever possible, to look away from the religion of the individual Indo-European peoples and to describe only the common characteristic feelings with which the Indo-Europeans face the divine, no matter in what shape they imagine this divinity. If it must be described with words, then I would say: not the religion, nor the religions, but the religiosity of the Indo-Europeans is what I attempt to distinguish.
In the first place, it is unmistakeably evident that Indo-European religiosity is not rooted in any kind of fear, neither in fear of the deity nor in fear of death. The words of the latter-day Roman poet, that fear first created the Gods (Statius: Thebais, III, 661: primus in orbe fecit deos timor), cannot be applied to the true forms of Indo-European religiosity, for wherever it has unfolded freely, the “fear of the Lord” (Proverbs, ix. 10; Psalms, cxi. 10) has proved neither the beginning of belief nor of wisdom.
Fear could not arise because the Indo-European does not consider that he is the creature of a deity; he neither regarded himself as a “creature” nor did he comprehend the world as a creation — the work of a creative God with a beginning in time. To him the world was far more a timeless order, within which both Gods as well as men had their time, their place and their office. The idea of creation is Oriental, above all Babylonic, like the idea — coming from Iran, but not from the Indo-Aryan spirit — of the world’s end, culminating in a judgment and the intercession of a kingdom of God, in which everything will be completely transformed.
After the ageing Plato had taken over, in Timaeus, certain features of the oriental theory of creation, legends for the explanation of the origin of the world, his pupil Aristotle (Concerning the Heavens, edited by Paul Gohlke, 1958, pp. 26-27) re-established the Indo-European outlook: the world totality is “without becoming, it is intransitory, eternal, without alteration, without growth or diminution”.
The Indo-Europeans believed — revealing a premonition of the knowledge and hypotheses of physics and astronomy of our present day — in a succession without end or beginning, of world origins and world endings, in repeated twilights of the Gods and in renewals of the world and of the Gods in a grandiose display, exactly as is described in the Völuspa of the Edda. They believed in repeated cataclysms, such as the Hellenes described, upon which new worlds with new Gods would follow.13 A succession of world creations and world endings was taught by Anaximandros, Heraclitus, Empedocles and other Hellenic thinkers, and later by the Roman poet and thinker Lucretius. The latter (de rerum natura, V, 95 et seq.) expected the world to end in this fashion:
|And yet a single day suffices to o’erthrow|
A thousand ages built, this world we know.
According to Andreas Heusler (Germanentum, 1934, pp. 95, 106 et seq.) “destruction of existence was a firm expectancy for the Teutons, renewal of life an uncertain premonition”. As Erik Therman said (op. cit., pp. 64, 213) to them the world was a destiny — a superpowerful causal connection.
The belief in the end, the eschatology of the East Iranian Spitama Zarathustra, which was linked with the belief in a coming world saviour, has been described by H. S. Nyberg (Die Religionen des Alten Orients, Mitteilungen der Vorderasiatisch-Ägyptischen Gesellschaft, Vol. 34, 1938, pp. 266 et seq., 231 et seq.). It subsequently penetrated into Judaism shortly before the time of Jesus and fully determined his message (Heinrich Ackermann: Jesus, Seine Botschaft und deren Aufnahme im Abendland, 1952, pp. 42 et seq.; Entstellung und Klärung der Botschaft Jesu, 1961, pp. 225 et seq.).
In Iran, the influence of Hither-Asiatic beliefs had resulted in the idea of the repeated rise and fall being converted into a belief in the approaching end of the world, an end of the world which a saviour (saoshyant) will precede and upon which judgment of the world will follow. Yet despite this, Indo-European thought revived to the extent that the Iranians did not conceive of the world as a creation, nor of God as a creator, and thus the feeling of being a creature enchained by the will of the creator, could not find expression.
Still less was a religious attitude possible here, which saw in man a slave under an all-powerful Lord God. The submissive and slavish relation of man to God is especially characteristic of the religiosity of the Semitic peoples. The names Baal, Moloch, Rabbat and others, all stress the omnipotence of the Lord God over enslaved men, his creatures, who crawl on their faces before him. For the Indo-Europeans the worship of God meant the adoration of a deity, the encouragement and cultivation of all impulses to worship, it meant colere with the Romans and therapeuein with the Hellenes. In the Semitic language the word worship comes from its root abad, which means to be a slave. Hannah (I Samuel, i. 11) begs Jahve, the Hebrew tribal God, to give her, his slave, a son. David (II Samuel, vii. 20) calls himself a slave of his God, and so does Solomon (I Kings, iii. 7). The essence of Jahve is terror (Exodus, xxiii. 27; Isaiah, viii. 13), but this has never been true of the Indo-Europeans’ Gods. The Hymn to Zeus of the stoic Kleanthes of Assos (331-233 — Max Pohlenz: Die Stoa, 1948, pp. 108 et seq., and G. Verbeke: Kleanthos van Assos, Verhandelingen van den koninklijke Academie vor Wetenschapen, Letteren en Schone Kunsten van Belgie, Klasse der Letteren, Year XI, Nr. 9, 1949, p. 235), from which Paul (Acts, xvii. 28) took words to adjust himself to the Hellenic religious outlook, completely contradicts for example, the religiosity of the 90th Psalm.
In Christianity the conduct of the faithful before God is freely interpreted by the term humilis, and hence humility, meaning literally slave mind or serving the tribe, is demanded as the essence of religiosity. But this is non-Indo-European in outlook, an after-effect of oriental religiosity. Because he is not a slave before an omnipotent God, the Indo-European mostly prays not kneeling nor prostrated to earth, but standing with his eyes gazing upward and his arms stretched out before him.
As a complete man with his honour unsullied, the honest Indo-European stands upright before his God or Gods. No religiosity which takes something away from man, to make him appear smaller before a deity who has become all-powerful and oppressive, is Indo-European. No religiosity which declares the world and man to be valueless, low and unclean, and which wishes to redeem man to over-earthly or superhuman sacred values, is truly Indo-European. Where “this world” is dropped, and in its place the “other world” is raised to eternal good, there the realm of Indo-European religiosity is abandoned. For Indo-European religiosity is of this world, and this fact determines its essential forms of expression. As a result it is sometimes difficult for us to comprehend its greatness today, because we are accustomed to measuring religiosity in terms of values taken from decidedly non-Indo-European and mainly oriental religious life, and especially from Mediaeval and early modern Christianity. It follows therefore that our view of Indo-European religiosity must suffer in the same way as would one’s view of the structure of the Indo-European languages if they were described in terms of characteristics appropriate to the Semite languages. We are today accustomed to seek true religiosity only in terms of the other world and to regard religiosity of this world as undeveloped or lacking in some aspect — a preliminary stage on the way to something more valuable. Thus the Jewish-Christian religious ideas transmitted to us prevent us from recognising the greatness of the Indo-European religiosity, so that in comparative religious studies Indo-European religious values are again and again represented purely scientifically as being less important, since the proponents of these views have unconsciously accepted the ideal of Oriental spiritual values as a yardstick for every religious value. This criticism is also applicable to Rudolf Otto’s study called The Sacred (1948). Thus the greatness and fullness of the Indo-European world is never recognised.
Whoever wishes to measure religiosity by the degree of man’s abasement before the divine, or by how questionable, valueless or even tainted “this world” appears to man when faced with that “other world”, and whoever wishes to measure religiosity by the degree to which man feels a cleft between a transitory body and an indestructible soul, between flesh (sarx) and spirit (pneuma) — whosoever seeks to do this will have to declare that the religiosity of the Indo-Europeans is truly impoverished and paltry.
Gods and men are not, in the eyes of the Indo-Europeans, incomparable beings remote from one another, least of all to the Hellenes, to whom Gods appeared as immortal men with great souls (cf. Aristotle: Metaphysics, III, 2, 997b), while they believed that men, as well-formed shoots of noble genus, also possessed something divine, and as such could claim to approximate to divine stature — the “Godlike Agamemnon”. In the nature of man himself, just as the deity wishes, lie possibilities, seemingly divine in origin, diogenes, and thus it is that every Indo-European people has readily tended to assume the incarnation of all aristocratic national values in human families, the kalok’agathia.14
Indo-European religiosity is not slavery, it contains none of the implorings of a downtrodden slave to his all-powerful lord, but comprises rather the confiding fulfilment of a community comprising Gods and men. Plato speaks in his Banquet (188c) of a “mutual community (philia) between Gods and men”. The Teuton was certain of the friendship of his God, of the astvin or the fulltrui whom he fully trusted, and with the Hellenes in the Odyssey (XXIV, 514) the same certainty is found expressed in the words “friends of the Gods” (theoi philoi). In the Bhagavad Gita of the Indians (IV, 3) the God Krishna calls the man Arjuna his friend. The highest deity such as Zeus is honoured as “Father of the Gods and of men” — as a family father, as Zeus Herkeios, not as a despot. This idea is also expressed in the names of the Gods: Djaus pitar with the Indians and Jupiter with the Romans. The name of the Indian God Mitra, which corresponded to Mithra in Iran, means “friend”. Mazdaism, founded by Zoroaster, called the morally acting man a friend of Ahura Mazda, the One Universal God, who in the era of Achaemenides became the God of the Persian empire. According to Plato (Laws, IV, 716) the man of moderation and self-control is above all “a friend of God”.
To the belief in the Gods as friends there thus corresponds the Indo-European idea of kinship between the high-minded and morally acting man and the Gods, which is already found in the 9th Nemean Ode of the Theban, Pindar. This kinship rests above all on the view that Gods and men are bound through the same values, through truth and virtue (Plato: Laws, X, 899). This is also proclaimed in the aforementioned Hymn to Zeus of Kleanthes of Assos, in which Zeus is called the God “of many names”, the God of Logos (Reason), Physis (Nature), Heimarmene (Destiny), and the source of all Becoming (Growth). Marcus Tullius Cicero, a pupil of Hellenic wisdom (de legibus, I, 25), also took over these ideas. From the same ideas Plato deduced (Letters, VII, 344a) that: “Whoever does not feel inwardly bound to the just and morally beautiful . . . will never fully understand the true nature of virtue and vice”.
In the Indo-European realm God is again and again regarded as Reason ruling through world phenomena. Thus before Kleanthes of Assos, Euripides (Troades, 884) in Hecabe’s prayer equated Zeus to the natural law and reason. The Stoics were convinced that the same law of destiny bound both Gods and men, that therefore freedom for man was only possible as the moral freedom of the wise man who had overcome his desires through rational insight. Here Stoics have again expressed, what Buddha had already taught in India centuries before, although both Stoics and Buddhists fell short of pure Indo-European religiosity by rejecting and condemning the world. Such reason (sapientia) was also regarded by Cicero (de legibus, I, 58) as the connecting link between Gods and men; to him it was the “Mother of all Good”, the priceless gift of the immortals to mortals. An equation of God with reason was expressed by Goethe towards the end of his life in a conversation with Eckermann on 23rd February 1831, in which he described “the highest Being” as “reason itself”.
Paul distinguishes the religiosity of the Indo-Europeans from that of the Semites, when he asserts (I Corinthians, i. 22) that while the Hellenes strove for knowledge (sophia), the Jews desired revelations (semaia), and Aurelius Augustinus, the Bishop of Hippo (Patrologiae cursus completus, Vol. XXXVII, edited by J. P. Migne, 1845, Sp. 1586; Vol. XXVIII, 1845, Sp. 1132) attempts by citing Bible passages, to disparage the wisdom (sapientia) of the Hellenes, alien to him as a Christian, as a folly before God and to find the highest wisdom only in the obedient humility (humilitas obedentiae) of the faithful.
The Indo-European belief in a coming together, almost a union, of God and man in reason which is common to both, can be called, in a derogatory manner, rationalism; but the Indo-Europeans have always tended to logos and ratio — to a logos and ratio which through fullness of knowledge is elevated far above the realm of arid good sense or dull hair-splitting. Indo-European thought has recognised and acknowledged a primacy of practical reason (Kant) which Marcus Tullius Cicero (de legibus, I, 45) introduced by Posidonius to Hellenic philosophy — signified with the words: “The natural law undoubtedly states that the perfection of reason is virtue” (est enim virtus perfecta ratio, quod certe in natura est). Since Plato, Indo-European thinkers have taught that man could share or participate in the Good, the True and the Beautiful as partners of the divine. Indo-European thinkers (Duns Scotus, Schelling, Schopenhauer) are, each in his own way, driven through a voluntarianism beyond every rationalism.
But human intelligence and comprehension has its limits, while that of the deity is boundless, hence the Indo-Europeans, and particularly the Hellenes, have felt deeply their dependency on the Gods. The admonition “Know thyself!” which was inscribed in the vestibule of the temple of Apollo, reminded men of their limitations when faced with the deity. In his 5th Isthmean Ode Pindar warned: “Do not strive to become Zeus!” The same experience of life and religion is found again with Goethe:
|Denn mit Göttern|
soll sich nicht messen
For with the Gods
Shall no man measure himself.
(Grenzen der Menschheit)
The enticement to and danger of human self-presumption was apparently familiar to the Indo-Europeans, perhaps for the very reason that they felt close to their Gods, and that when facing men of other races, they were conscious of their own superiority, and of their hereditary aristocratic qualities acquired by strict selection in the post Ice Age millenia in central Europe. The fear of human hubris, of self over-reaching, comes from the depths of the Hellenic soul, and in the face of all hubris the limited man is admonished to keep to his ordained position in the timeless ordering of the world, into which the Gods also had to fit themselves. It is the Indo-European’s destiny to stand proudly, and with an aristocratic confidence and resolution, but always aware of his own limitations, face to face with the boundlessness of the Gods — and no human species has felt this sense of destiny more deeply than the Indo-Europeans: the great element of tragedy in the poetry of the Indo-European peoples stems from the tension resulting from this sense of destiny.
Nevertheless it is completely impossible to conclude as W. Baetke has done, that tragic destiny signified for the Indo-Europeans a ban or spell and brought about an anxiety of destiny, which made them ripe for a redemption. Not the God of Destiny, he claims, but the redeemer God brought the Teutons to the fulfilment of their religious longings.15 Thus one can pass judgment concerning the Teutonic and Indo-European only externally, never from within outwards. The conversion of the Teutons to Christianity can only be explained by assuming that amongst them many men of softer heart could not withstand the gaze from the eyes of a merciless destiny and — against all reality — took their refuge in the dream image of a merciful God. Indo-European men of stronger heart have always been, like Frederick the Great, born stoics, who standing upright like the devout Vergil, have recognised a merciless fate (inexorabile fatum).
H. R. Ellis Davidson (Gods and Myths of Northern Europe, 1964, p. 218) has strikingly described the religiosity of the Scandinavians, whose Gods like men were subject to destiny:
“Men knew that the gods whom they served could not give them freedom from danger and calamity, and they did not demand that they should. We find in the myths no sense of bitterness at the harshness and unfairness of life, but rather a spirit of heroic resignation: humanity is born to trouble, but courage, adventure, and the wonders of life are matters for thankfulness, to be enjoyed while life is still granted to us. The great gifts of the gods were readiness to face the world as it was, the luck that sustains men in tight places, and the opportunity to win that glory which alone can survive death.”
IT is the spiritual strength of the Indo-Europeans — and this is witnessed by the great poetry of these peoples, and above all by their tragedies — to feel a deep joy in destiny — in the tension between the limitation of man and the boundlessness of the Gods. Nietzsche once called this joy amor fati. Particularly the men rich in soul amongst the Indo-European peoples feel — in the very midst of the blows of destiny — that the deity has allotted them a great destiny in which they must prove themselves. Goethe, in a letter to Countess Auguste zu Stolberg of the 17th July 1777 expresses a truly Indo-European thought, when he writes:
|Alles geben die Götter, die unendlichen,|
ihren Lieblingen ganz:
alle Freuden, die unendlichen,
alle Schmerzen, die unendlichen, ganz.
The eternal Gods give everything
utterly to their favourites,
all joys, and
all sorrows for all eternity —
utterly and completely.
Never is this Indo-European joy in destiny turned into an acceptance of fate, into fatalism. When faced with the certainty of death the Indo-European remains conscious that his inherited nature is that of the warrior. This is expressed in the Indian Bhagavad Gita (XI, 38) by the God Krishna, when he says to Arjuna: “Joy and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat, think on these things and array thyself for the battle, thus shalt thou bring no blame upon thyself”. And later the God characterises Indo-European nature still more clearly, when he (XVIII, 59) says: “When thou . . . thinkest: ‘I will not fight’, then this thy resolution is vain, thy aristocratic nature will drive thee to it”.
This is the Indo-European view of destiny, the Indo-European joy in destiny, and for the Indo-Europeans life and belief would be feebly relaxed, if this spectacle were withdrawn in favour of a redeeming God.
Ideas of a redemption and of redeemers have, with the peoples of Indo-European tongue, only been able to spread in the late periods and then usually only amongst Indo-Europeanised sub-stratas. When one wishes to apply a concept like redemption to the original nature of the Indo-European, one can speak at most of a self-redemption, but never of a redemption through a God-man, a demi-God or God. But Indo-European self-redemption should be described more correctly as self-liberation, as the liberation of the morally self-purifying soul, sinking through itself into its own ground of being, a liberation into the timeless and spaceless and a liberation from the necessity of existence and the necessity of being. Such a self-liberation, attained by overcoming the desires of the self (Pali: kilesa = nibbana or tanhakkhaya, the apatheia of the Stoics) was taught by the Indian prince’s son, Siddhartha, the Wiseman with “eyes the colour of blossoming flax”,16 who later was called Buddha, the Illuminated.
Such a liberation from time and space is experienced in the Indo-European realm by the mystic as the Nirvana during lifetime (Pali: samditthika nibbana), as the apartness or solitude of the individual soul sinking into itself, which experiences itself on its deepest ground as the universal soul or part of it. Hence the mysticism of the West may not be confused with a redemption.
The Indo-Europeans have always tended to raise the power of destiny above that of the Gods (cf. Iliad, XV, 117; XVII, 198 ff.; XXII, 213; Odyssey, III, 236 ff.; Hesiod, Theogony, 220; Aeschylus, Prometheus, 515 ff.; Herodotus, I, 91) especially, undoubtedly, the Indians, the Hellenes and the Teutons. The Moira or aisa of the Hellenes who already appeared in Homer and Heraclitus, corresponded to the Norns of the Teutons, to the wurd (Weird, Wyrd; Scandinavian: Urd). In Shakespeare’s Macbeth destiny (old English: Wyrd) is represented by the Three Weird Sisters, who correspond to the Parcae with the Romans and as goddesses of destiny also appear with the Slavs in similar shapes,17 while there was a goddess of destiny among the Letts (Latvians, an Indo-European Baltic people), who was called Leima. Even Plato (Laws, V, 741a) in the late period of his people, stressed that the deity was subject to destiny, and an Anglo-Saxon proverb, composed by a Christian poet, holds firm to the pre-Christian outlook: “Christ is powerful, but more powerful is destiny.” Ahura Mazda, the god of the heavens of the Iranians, distributes destiny as does Zeus, the heavenly God of the Hellenes (G. Widengren: Hochgottglaube im alten Iran, Uppsala Universitets Årsskrift, 1938, VI, pp. 253 ff.); both, however, can do nothing against destiny. But I repeat, this Indo-European view of destiny has nothing to do with fatalism referring merely to that ultimate and hard reality, from an awareness of which Indo-European religiosity originates to rise Godwards. According to his whole nature the Indo-European cannot even wish to be redeemed from the tension of his destiny-bound life. The loosening of this tension would have signified for him a weakening of his religiosity. The very fact of being bound to destiny has from the beginning proved to be the source of his spiritual existence. “The heart’s wave would not have foamed upwards so beautifully and become spirit, if the old silent rock, destiny, had not faced it.” This certainty, expressed by Hölderlin in his Hyperion, was presaged by the tragedies of Sophocles and of every great poet of Indo-European nature. It is the same certainty, which Schopenhauer has expressed in a hard remark: “A happy life is impossible, the highest to which man can attain is a heroic course of life” (Parerga und Paralipomena, Volume XI, Chapter 34).
It is clear that a religiosity arising from such an attitude towards life can never become universal. Indo-European religions can never be transferred to other human breeds at choice. To them belongs mahatma (India), megalethor (Iliad, XVI, 257; Odyssey, XI, 85), megalophron or megalopsychos (Hellenic — cf. Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics, II, 7, 7; IV, 3, 1-34), magnitudo animi (Ulrich Knoche: Magnitudo animi, Philologus, Supplementband XXVII, 3, 1935), magnanimus (Roman), the mikilman and the storrada (North German), of the ancient Nordic mikilmenska or stormenska, of the men of hochgemüte (lofty heart), as it was called in the German Middle Ages — all descriptions which could each be a translation of the other. Religiosity is here the maturing of the hero in the face of destiny, which he confronts alongside his Gods. This is also the meaning of Shakespeare’s “Readiness is all” (Hamlet, V, 2, 233) and “ripeness is all” (King Lear, V, 2, 33).
It has been said that the Teutonic conception of life was a Pan-tragedy, an attitude which conceives all existence and events of the world as borne along by an ultimately tragic primal ground.18 But this Pan-tragedy, which appears almost super-consciously with the true Teuton, Hebbel, is not solely Teutonic, and is found amongst all Indo-Europeans,19 permeating all Indo-European religiosity. The Indo-European becomes a mature man only through his life of tension before destiny. The Teutonic hero, superbly characterised by the Icelandic Sagas, loftily understands the fate meeting him as his destiny, remains upright in the midst of it, and is thus true to himself. Aeschylus (Prometheus Bound, 936) commented similarly, when he said: “Wise men are they who honour Adrasteia”, Adrasteia being a Hellenic goddess of destiny.
Because destiny signified so much to the religious Indo-Europeans, we find many names for it in their languages: the moira of the Hellenes correspondes to the fatum of the Romans, the ananke and heimarmene of the Hellenes to the necessitas and fatalitas of the Romans. The Teutons named destiny according to the aspect from which they viewed it, as örlog, metod, wurd, skuld and giskapu (cf. also Eduard Neumann, Das Schicksal in der Edda, Beiträge zur deutschen Philologie, Vol. III, 1955). With the Indians the idea of destiny had become the idea of Karma (cf. Julius von Negelein: Die Weltanschauungen des indogermanischen Asiens, Veröffentlichungen des Indogermanischen Seminars der Universität Erlangen, Vol. I, 1924, pp. 116 et seq., pp. 165 et seq.) the idea of a soul migration which according to one’s moral behaviour during lifetime invariably led to a better or worse life after reincarnation — a concept which was, however, peculiar to the Indians. The idea of a cycle of births, according to the description by the Hellenes of a kyklos tes geneseoos, was originally probably peculiar to all Indo-Europeans, and is also proved to have existed among the Celts and Teutons (cf. also Erik Therman: Eddan och dess Ödestragik 1938, pp. 133-134, 172). Perhaps it is also to be explained from the attentive observation of inherited bodily and spiritual features in the clans amongst the Indians as well as the Iranians, the Hellenes as well as the Romans and Teutons — for heredity, or having to be as one is, is destiny.
Erik Therman (Eddan och dess Ödestragik, 1938, p. 90) has found a “mocking defiance in the face of destiny, a struggle against this destiny despite recognition of its supreme power” to be characteristic of the Edda and many of the Icelandic tales. Such a defiance also still speaks from the Mediaeval Nibelungenlied, which astonished Goethe by its non-Christian character, which characterised Teutonic imperturbability in the face of merciless destiny. It was this same Indo-European imperturbability, which Vergil and even the mild Horace praised:
|Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas|
atque metus omnis et inexorabile fatum
subiecit pedibus strepitumque Acherontis avari.
(Georgica, II, 490-492)
Si fractus illabatur orbis,
impavidum ferient ruinae.
(Carmina, III, 3, 7-8)
Geibel also expressed the same idea in his Brünhilde (II, 2):
|If there’s anything more powerful than fate,|
Then it’s courage, which bears fate unshaken.
I have mentioned above that the idea of destiny had already been reflected in Hellenic philosophy by Heraclitus, Plato and others. The Stoics, in particular, Posidonius, conveyed the Hellenic concept of a law of destiny (heimarmene) to the Romans, which was most clearly understood by Epicurus and his disciples Titus Lucretius Carus, Vergilius and Horatius.
The Church has attempted to displace the Indo-European idea of destiny by the idea of providence (providentia). With thinking men the attempt failed, for thinking Indo-Europeans would not accept a providence, which blindly distributes an excess of grim blows of fortune, at the same time regarding this as love and benevolence. In Kant’s Opus Postumum is found the remark: “If we wished to form a concept of God from experience, then all morality would fall away and only despotism be left.” Therefore, concluded Kant, one would have to assume that such a creator of the world had no regard for the happiness of his creatures.
Whoever is of the same opinion as Baetke (op. cit., p. 33) or H. Rückert, that such views signify “no satisfactory solution to the question of destiny”, or shares the allusion that these men were “never ready religiously to face the question of destiny”,20 — understands here as an outside observer, by the question of destiny something completely different from that resolute acceptance of destiny in which the Indo-European saw himself living. It is not by dissolving the question of destiny in the idea of redemption that the Indo-European can perfect his nature — for such redemption would probably appear to him as evasion; his nature is perfected solely through proving himself in the face of destiny. “This above all: to thine own self be true!” (Hamlet, I, 3, 78). From the moral command to remain true to oneself, however, it again follows that Indo-European religiosity is of an aristocratic character: one does not advise the degenerate to remain true to himself.
Here I have not tried to provide any solution to the philosophic or religious question of destiny, but merely to explain how the Indo-European has lived in his destiny and how it has contributed to the maturity of his character.
The certainty of a destiny has not made the true Indo-European seek redemption, and even when his destiny caused him to tremble, he never turned to contrition or fearful awareness of “sin”. Aeschylus, who was completely permeated by Hellenic religiosity and by the power of the divine, stands upright, like every Indo-European, before the immortal Gods, and despite every shattering experience has no feeling of sin.
Thus Indo-European religiosity is not concerned with anxiety, or self-damnation, or contrition, but with the man who would honour the divinity by standing up squarely amid the turmoil of destiny to pay him homage.
The German word fromm, meaning religious or devout, is derived from the stem meaning capable or fit, and is related to the Gothic fruma, meaning first, and to the Greek promos, meaning furthermost. For the Indo-Europeans, religiosity showed itself as the will which revealed in the midst of destiny, before the friendly Gods, the fitness of the true-natured man who thus became all the more upright and god-filled the more shattering were the blows of destiny. In particular the best men and the truest matured are expected by the Gods to prove themselves on the anvil of destiny.
The defiant religiosity of Indo-European youth, which challenges destiny to test the strength of the young soul, has been stressed by Goethe in his poem Prometheus. Hebbel has also strikingly portrayed youthful Nordic Indo-European religiosity in the poem To the Young Men. Indo-European nature extends from such youthful religiosity outwards to the quieter, more devoted and fulfilled religiosity of the poem by Goethe, Grenzen der Menschheit.