Greek and Germanic Mythology in the Light of Esotericism
I. The Prometheus Saga
7 October 1922, Berlin
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. 1Root-races. The root-races are the main periods of earth-evolution The fifth root-race is the fifth main period. 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 Secret Doctrine 2The Secret Doctrine. Vol. 2, Part 2, Section 6. (pp. 546 – 556 in the third edition.) 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 period.
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 Manu 3The 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). 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 Masters 4Chela means pupil of the Mysteries; Master means teacher in the Mysteries. 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-Manas 5Kama is the astral body, Kama-Manas the intellectual or Mind-soul, the lower Manas. 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-thinking. 6Manas. 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). 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 Atlantis. 7The Story of Atlantis, by W. Scott-Elliott, published by the Theosophical Publishing Co., London, 1896. See also Rudolf Steiner's Atlantis and Lemuria. 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 Caucasus.
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 by initiates.
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 human capacity.
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 Cadmon 8Adam 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. — 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 future. 9Unfortunately 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)