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Greek and Germanic Mythology in the Light of Esotericism
Rudolf Steiner Archive & e.Lib Document
Greek and Germanic Mythology in the Light of Esotericism
Schmidt Number: S-0897
On-line since: 27th December, 2003
Berlin, 7th October, 1904.
You will have come to realise from many of my lectures that a deep
significance underlies the world of saga, that myths are the
expression of esoteric truths. Today I should like to speak of one of
the most interesting of these sagas, one that has a bearing on the
evolution of our fifth root-race.1 At the same time I shall
be able to show you that the esotericist can pass through three stages
in the understanding of saga. First, the sagas live in one or other of
the peoples and are understood exoterically in their literal meaning.
Then disbelief in their literal interpretation begins, and educated
people search for their symbolic meaning. Behind these two
interpretations are hidden five others, for every saga, has seven
interpretations. The third stage is the one in which they can, in a
way, be taken literally again. Of course, you have first to come to
understand the language in which they are expressed. To-day I want to
speak of one that is not very easy to understand, I want to speak of
the Prometheus saga.
In a chapter in the second volume of her
Madame Blavatsky refers to this saga,
and what she writes will enable you to see what a profound meaning is
hidden in it. Nevertheless, it is not always possible to say the last
word in published works. To-day we can go a little beyond the
explanations given by Blavatsky.
Prometheus belongs to the world of Greek saga. He and his brother
Epimetheus are the sons of a Titan, Japetus. The Titans are themselves
sons of the ancient Greek god Uranus and his wife Gaia. Uranus means
heaven, and Gaia earth. And let me draw your attention to the fact
that Uranus is to the Greeks the same as Varuna to the Indians. Thus
Prometheus is a Titan and one of the sons of Uranus, as is also his
brother Epimetheus. Chronos (Time) usurped the throne of his father
Uranus and obtained the rulership for himself. For this he was in his
turn dethroned by his own sons and, with all the other Titans, cast
into the underworld. Only Prometheus and his brother Epimetheus
remained loyal to Zeus during these events. They fought side by side
with Zeus against the other Titans.
Now Zeus had created the human race. But humanity had become
rebellious, hence he wanted to exterminate it. Then Prometheus made
himself humanity's representative. He devised a plan to give men the
means whereby they could save themselves and be no longer entirely
dependent upon the help of Zeus. Thus we are told that Prometheus
taught men the use of writing and of the arts, but above all the use
of fire. Because of Zeus's anger Prometheus was chained to the
Caucasus, and was forced to endure there much suffering over a long
Further, we are told that the gods, with Zeus at their head, then
caused Hephaestus, the god of the smiths, to make a statue of a woman.
This female statue was provided with all those external attributes
which adorn human beings of the fifth root-race. This woman was
Pandora. She was sent to bring gifts to mankind, first to Epimetheus,
the brother of Prometheus. Prometheus warned his brother not to accept
the gifts, but the latter allowed himself to be persuaded. All these
gifts of the gods, except one, were showered upon humanity. They
constitute for the most part human miseries and sufferings. Only the
gift of hope was withheld in Pandora's box.
Thus Prometheus was chained to the Caucasus and a vulture gnawed
continuously at his liver. But he knows something which will ensure
his rescue. He knows a secret of which even Zeus is ignorant, a secret
which Zeus is trying to discover. But Prometheus does not betray the
secret, although Zeus sends to him Hermes, the messenger of the gods.
Now in the course of the story we are told of a remarkable release.
Prometheus can only be freed through the intervention of an initiate.
Such a one was Hercules, who performed the twelve labours. The
execution of these twelve labours was the achievement of an initiate.
They symbolise the twelve tasks of initiation. Moreover it is said of
Hercules that he had undergone initiation into the Eleusinian
Mysteries. Nevertheless someone had to be sacrificed, and so Chiron
the centaur was sacrificed for Prometheus Chiron was already suffering
from an incurable malady. He was half animal and half man. That is how
Prometheus was rescued.
This is the exoteric saga of Prometheus. In it lies the whole history
of the fifth root-race, and in it real Mystery-truth is hidden. The
story was told in Greece as genuine saga; but it was also represented
in the Mysteries, so pupils in the Mysteries had a knowledge of the
destiny of Prometheus before them. And in Prometheus and his destiny
they were meant to see the past and the future of the whole of the
fifth root-race. You will only be able to understand this if you bear
in mind one thing.
In the middle of Lemuria there came about for the first time what we
call incarnation, incarnation in the sense in which we have human
beings to-day. Mankind was guided by great leaders and teachers whom
we call the sons of the fire mist. To-day the fifth root-race is
also guided by great initiates, but our initiate are different from
the leaders of mankind at that time. You must now come to understand
what this difference was. There is a great difference between the
leaders of the two preceding root-races and those of our fifth race.
The leaders of those races too were united in a White Lodge. But they
did not undergo their earlier evolution on our earth planet, but in
another environment. They descended to earth already mature, descended
as human beings of higher development, in order to instruct men who
were still in their infancy, in order to teach them the first arts
which they needed. This period of instruction lasted through the
third, fourth, and right into the fifth root-race.
This fifth root-race originated in a little band of men who were
singled out from the previous root-race. They were led into the Desert
of Gobi and later dispersed over the earth. Their first leader, the
leader who gave the impulse for this evolution of mankind, was one of
those whom we call the Manus, he was the Manu3 of the fifth
root-race. This Manu is still one of those leaders of the humanity who
descended at the time of the third root-race, one of the leaders who
had not gone through their evolution only on the earth but who brought
maturity to earth with them.
It was not until the fifth root-race that the development of men such
as we are ourselves began, the development of men who, like us, have
undergone their evolution on the earth alone, men who have evolved
from their lowest stages entirely on the earth.
Thus we have some human beings who are already exalted Leaders and
Masters, and others who strive to become such Leaders. Within the
fifth root-race, therefore, we have Chelas and Masters4 who
have passed through all that our earth has passed through. One of the
Masters who has the guidance of the fifth root-race is destined to
undertake the guidance of the sixth. The sixth root-race will be the
first to be guided by an earthly Brother as its Manu. The earlier
Masters surrender the leadership to mankind.
With the dawn of our fifth root-race we have the beginning of all that
we call the development of the arts, the development of skill and
dexterity. The Atlanteans still led quite a different life. They had
no inventions and discoveries. They worked in an entirely different
way. Their technique and their skill were quite different. It was only
with our fifth root-race that what we call engineering and
craftsmanship in our sense developed. The most important discovery was
that of fire. You must be quite clear about this, you must be quite
clear how much of our widespread engineering, industry and
craftsmanship depends upon fire. I think that the engineer will agree
with me when I say that without fire nothing of modern engineering
would be possible, so that we may say that the discovery of fire was
the fundamental discovery, the discovery that gave the impulse to all
others. And you must also understand that at the time when the
Prometheus saga arose, the term fire comprised everything in any way
connected with warmth. Fire was also understood to be the cause of
lightning. Fire was the comprehensive expression for the causes of all
phenomena of warmth.
The consciousness that humanity of the fifth root-race stands under
the sign of fire is what is primarily expressed in the Prometheus
saga. And Prometheus is none other than the representative of the
entire root-race. His brother is Epimetheus. Prometheus means
thinking in advance, Epimetheus means thinking afterwards,
reflecting. There you have the two activities of human thought,
clearly contrasted in the man of reflection and the man of forethought
The reflecting man is the man who allows the things of this world to
work upon him, and then thinks; such thought is the
Kama-Manas5 thinking. To-day the man of the fifth root-race
still thinks predominantly like Epimetheus. However in so far as he
does not merely allow what is already there to work upon him, but
becomes an inventor or a discoverer, to that extent he is a
Prometheus. Inventions could never be made if all men were like
Epimetheus. An invention occurs when a human being creates something
that was not there before. It is first there in thought and then the
thought is converted into reality. That is Prometheus-thinking. This
Prometheus-thinking in the fifth root-race is
Manas-thinking6. Kama-Manas and Manas run like two streams
side by side in the fifth root-race. The Manas-thinking will gradually
become more and more widespread.
This Manas-thinking of the fifth root-race has yet another peculiar
characteristic, which we understand if we look back to the Atlantean
root-race. In Atlantis there was more of an instinctive thinking which
was still bound up with the life-force. The Atlantean root-race was
still able to make motor-power from the force in seeds. Just as to-day
we have in our railway coal-yards a kind of reservoir of power for the
movement of engines and freight, in the same way the Atlanteans had
stores of plant-seed containing power, which they were still able to
convert into power to drive those air-ships which are described in
Scott Elliott's book on Atlantis7. The spirit of the
Atlantean man was still able to subjugate living nature; the spirit of
the fifth root-race can only control lifeless nature, the latent
forces that lie in stone, in minerals. 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. Hence, too, Peter is the rock upon which the
Christ built. It is the same as the rock of the Caucasus. The man of
the fifth race has to seek his evolution on the physical plane. He is
chained to the inorganic forces.
Try to acquire an idea of what we mean when we speak of this
engineering, this technology, of the fifth root-race. What is its
purpose? Viewing the matter generally, you will see that when
intelligence, the power of Manas is applied to the inorganic, to the
mineral world, the results of all these powers of invention and
discovery, however prodigious, are by and large in the service of
human egotism, of men's personal interests. Starting from the earliest
inventions and going on right up to the telephone, one of our latest
inventions, you will see what mighty forces have been made serviceable
to us. But what ends do they serve, what is it that we transport by
rail and steamer from foreign lands? Foodstuffs. We order food by
telephone. It is really human karma that begins with these inventions
and discoveries in the fifth root-race. This is what an objective
study of the matter must make clear to us. Then we shall understand
that the higher man, that higher man who has been plunged into matter,
is in fact, during the fifth root-race, chained to it. Therefore it is
in matter that his karma will reach its fulfilment.
If you enter into esoteric realms, you will find that man's principles
have a specific relationship with his organs. Sometime I will explain
this more fully. To-day I will mention only that our seven principles
have a specific relationship with the organs of the human body.
First we have what we call the physical. This has an occult connection
with the upper part of the face, with the root of the nose. When the
physical structure of man took its start (man was formerly purely
astral, and then built himself into the physical), it began with this
part; the physical structure began at the root of the nose and built
itself up from that point, so that the esotericist recognises the root
of the nose as belonging to what is essentially physical-mineral.
The second principle is Prana, the etheric body; with this we
associate the liver. The liver has a specific occult connection with
the etheric body.
Then comes Nama, the astral body. This has developed its activity in
the structure of the digestive organs, represented by the stomach. If
the astral body did not have the specific stamp in man which in fact
it has, then the human digestive organs, including the stomach, would
not have the specific form which they have to-day. If you study
firstly the physical basis of the human being, secondly his etheric
body, and thirdly his astral body, you have what in the fifth
root-race is fettered to the mineral element.
Through his higher bodies man wrests himself from his fetters again,
and mounts up to something higher. Kama-Manas works its way up again,
in Kama-Manas man frees himself again from the pure nature-basis.
Therefore there is an occult connection between Kama-Manas and the
organ through which man is severed from his nature-basis. There is an
occult connection between the lower Manas and the umbilical cord. If
there were no Kama-Manas in man, then the embryo would not be severed
from the mother in this manner.
If we pass on to the higher Manas, we find that it has a similar
occult connection with the human heart and with the blood.
Buddhi (Life-Spirit) has an occult connection with the larynx, and
Atma (Spirit-Man) with what fills out the entire man, with the Akasha
contained in man.
These are the seven occult, relationships. In considering them we have
to stress the importance for our fifth root-race of the relationships
with the etheric and the astral bodies. And if you bear in mind what I
said earlier of the control by the Atlanteans over Prana (the
life-force permeating the etheric body) you will see that in one way
the Atlantean stood at a still lower stage. His etheric body still had
the original relationship with the external ethers and because of this
he controlled the Prana of the outer world. Because man has risen to
one stage higher, his work has become one stage lower. That is a law.
If there is an ascent on the one hand, there must be a descent on the
other. Whereas formerly man worked on Kama from Prana, now he has to
work with Kama on the physical plane.
You will see how profoundly the Prometheus saga symbolises these
occult connections. A vulture gnaws at Prometheus's liver. The vulture
symbolises Kama, which really destroys the forces of the fifth race.
The vulture gnaws at the human liver, the basis of life; so does this
force of the fifth root-race gnaw at the essential life-forces of man,
because man is chained to mineral nature, to Peter, to the rock, the
During the fifth root-race only human initiates are able to bring
release to fettered man. Hercules, a human initiate, has to go all the
way to the Caucasus in order to set Prometheus free. It is thus that
the initiates will wrest men from their bondage.
The human being who still has a connection with the animal nature
the centaur Chiron must make a sacrifice. The man of
earlier times must be sacrificed. The sacrifice of the centaur is as
important for the development of the fifth root-race as man's release
It is said that in the Greek Mysteries the future was foretold to men.
This does not mean that people were given a vague abstract account of
what was to happen in the future, but they were given indications as
to the paths that are to lead over into the future. The great
Mystery-drama of Prometheus is an expression of what is to evolve as
By the three generations of gods Uranus, Chronos and Zeus
we have to understand three Beings who were leaders of men one
after another. Uranus means heaven, Gaia the earth. If we go back
beyond the middle of the third race, the Lemurian, we find no men as
we now know them, but one man, who is called in the secret doctrine
Adam Cadmon8 the man who is still without sex, who
does not yet belong to the earth, who has not yet evolved the organs
for earthly sight, who still belongs to the Uranus-nature, to heaven.
By the marriage of Uranus with Gaia there arose the man who descended
into matter, and thereby stepped into Time. Chronos (Time) becomes the
ruler of the second generation of gods from the middle of Lemuria
right up to the beginning of Atlantis. The Greeks symbolised these
leading Beings as, first of all Uranus, later Chronos, and after that
they went over to Zeus. But Zeus is still one of the leaders who did
not undergo their training on earth, he is still one of the immortals,
as in fact were all the Greek gods.
During the fifth root-race mortal man is expected to stand on his own
feet. This humanity of the fifth root-race is represented by
Prometheus. The fifth race was the first to acquire human skill and
the primeval art of fire-making. Zeus is jealous of this race, the
race in which men come to have their own initiates, initiates who in
the sixth race will take the lead into their own hands. But humanity
has to pay the price for this. Hence its primordial initiate must
first of all take upon himself the sum of all suffering. Prometheus
is the archetype of the initiate of the fifth root-race, one
initiated not only into wisdom but into deed. He runs through
the whole gamut of suffering, and is released by the man who makes
himself mature enough to free humanity little by little and to lift it
above the mineral realm.
The saga thus expresses great cosmic truths. That is why I said at the
outset that anyone who reaches the third interpretation may take it
literally once more. Every saga undergoes change. It is derived from
primordial times and transforms itself at a certain point There is a
point in every saga at which it is to be taken literally again. In the
Prometheus saga you have the vulture gnawing at the liver. That can be
taken quite literally. The vulture gnaws at the liver of the fifth
root-race. This Promethean struggle with suffering is repeated in the
fifth root-race in every single man. What is here expressed in the
saga is to be taken quite literally. Without this struggle the destiny
of the fifth race would be quite different.
Thus sagas can be interpreted in three ways. First there is the
exoteric meaning, secondly the allegoric the human struggle
thirdly, the occult significance, where again a literal
interpretation enters in. From this you will see that so far as these
sagas can be interpreted in this way, they originate in the Mystery
Schools, and are no less than the record of what has been revealed in
those schools as the great destiny of man. Just as I was able to show
you that Odin represents what took place in the Druid Mysteries, so in
Prometheus we have what the pupil of the Greek Mysteries experienced
to give him energy for life in the future9.
Notes on The Prometheus Saga
Root-races. The root-races are the main periods of earth-evolution The fifth root-race is the fifth main period.
The Secret Doctrine. Vol. 2, Part 2, Section 6. (pp. 546 556 in the third edition.)
The Manu of the fifth root-race. In the English version of An Outline of Occult Science, this Being is called the leader of the Christ-initiates or the leader of the Christ-oracle. (p. 177 in the 1949 edition).
Chela means pupil of the Mysteries; Master means teacher in the Mysteries.
Kama is the astral body, Kama-Manas the intellectual or Mind-soul, the lower Manas.
Manas. Here is meant the higher Manas. In the book Theosophy Rudolf Steiner calls it the spirit-filled Consciousness-soul or Spirit-Self. (p. 57, revised English edition, 1954).
The Story of Atlantis, by W. Scott-Elliott, published by the Theosophical Publishing Co., London, 1896. See also Rudolf Steiner's Atlantis and Lemuria.
Adam Cadmon. See also Rudolf Steiner's lecture given at Oxford, 22nd August, 1922, which appears in English in the book Man's Life on Earth and in the Spiritual World.
Unfortunately no report exists of the lectures to which Dr. Steiner
here refers, but reference can be made to his lectures given in
Berlin, 29th, April, 1st and 6th May, 1909, published in Dornach,
1955, under the title Isis and Madonna, Altearopaische
Mysterien, Die eurapaischen Mysterien und ihre Eingeweihten. (Not
yet published In English)