Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

The Old Sagas of the Gods
GA 90b

22 March 1905, Dusseldorf

Nothing in the Mystery-lore penetrates so deeply into Theosophical thought as do the Northern Saga poems. If the European can familiarize himself with these he can proceed from them to find his way more and more deeply into esoteric domains. The understanding of these Sagas of Northern mythology can only be attained in advanced stages of life's outlook. The Northern myths were essentially the subject of the Northern Mysteries. We must distinguish between the Mysteries of Western Europe and of Northern Europe. In Scandinavia and Russia there were the Mysteries of the Trotten; in the West and in England the Mysteries of the Druids. Both these Mysteries have now disappeared. “Druid” means “Oak”. The priest or wise man of the Northern world was called an “oak”.

The passing-away of the northern belief in the Gods is itself communicated to us in a beautiful Mystery,—the overcoming of the Oak by Boniface; that is the conflict of Christianity with the Mysteries of the Druids. The prevailing note in the northern myths is tragical; in all the myths of Central and Northern Europe there is something tragical. “The Twilight of the Gods” represents the passing-away of the Northern World of Gods. After their fall a new Sun god, a new Baldur, was to prevail.

In the other Mysteries, not those of the North, there is always a note of hope and of confidence.

What was enacted first in the Mysteries had to be fulfilled. The Apocalypse tells of a future in which Christianity will be fulfilled. In the Northern myths something different was prophesied. They had the experience of the overcoming of the northern Gods through Christianity. This is the key, in four stages, for the understanding of the new Mystery. The first stage is that of the first Northern sub-race in the fifth root-race. In Central Europe Christianity was spread abroad in the fifth sub-race of the fifth root-race; four sub-races had gone before. The secret of the first four sub-races is that they perceived how Christianity would, in the fifth sub-race, take the place of what had gone before. We go back into a dim past to the first sub-race of the fifth root-race on Northern soil. There were at that time, the Initiation of the Trotten in the North, and of the Druids in the West. In primitive temples, half natural and half constructed, there was a sacred enclosure. In this two Gods were represented as ruling the world:—Hu and Zeritwen;—Hu is Osiris and Zeritwen Isis. Man is Horus. There were three grades of initiation,—first ? Soothsayer (?); second, Bards; third, Druids. A man who had been initiated into the three grades underwent transformation, so that through the awakening of his higher faculties he became the God Baldur. The mystic had to say to himself:—“Thou must become the re-animated Baldur who was killed by the God Loki.” He was then given the consecrated mead, and the consecrated ring. Mead corresponds with the Indian Soma drink. At his initiation the Northern initiate was first instructed as to the evolution of the Earth, the preceding stages of the planet. On Earth we are to continue to learn until we have risen above the possibility of error:—our life is then transformed into a sort of rhythm as regards quite clear spiritual activity. Logical thought only came about very gradually from a process of evolution. Later on, a common feeling of human morality will develop, just as logical thought has developed now.

What is error on one planet is illness on the next. What is error now on Earth will be illness on the next planet to the extent in which the beings capable of error have remained behind. We should not have a harmonious organisation to-day, if this harmony had not been formed from the chaos of the Moon. We owe the wonderful organisation of our body to the Moon evolution. The illnesses of our present age have remained behind from the Moon, and were there enacted as errors. They are that which did not attain perfection in the Moon evolution. This was the concept in the Druid Mysteries. For those who had remained at a standstill a particular plant was administered. There was no real mineral kingdom there, only a stone-plant nature, and an animal kingdom, half-way between our present plants and minerals, (animals?)

The mistletoe was the symbol of that which has remained behind, from the Moon. It draws nourishment from the living. It is the symbol of all the injurious beings and products which keep the Earth back. Hur, who ruled on Earth from the Moon, is Loki, who brought to the Earth that which ought to have gone through its stage of development on the Moon. Baldur is the God of the Sun, the bringer of all life; the active Sun-forces; Loki is his necessary opponent. Baldur was terrified by bad dreams, which later were to be fulfilled. All creatures were under an oath not to injure Baldur, but the mistletoe was an exception. None could kill him, except the injurious element in evolution. That is why Hodar threw the mistletoe at Baldur. Hodar is the blind mechanical necessity, which had to make use of what remained behind from former times in order to overcome Baldur. That was one part of the Mysteries; the other part was that the blind mechanical necessity would be overcome, and harmony established through the Christ experience. In Christ a new Baldur must arise.

There was then a company of twelve great Initiates; the thirteenth was their leader. At that time he was not more advanced than the others. This Initiate was called Siga, or Sieg. Having attained a certain age he was capable of surrendering his own individuality to a higher Being, of taking in a higher Being into himself—(That. is one of the greatest Mysteries; the Descent of the Dove into Christ Jesus.)—the individuality of Odin or Wotan. This is the same who had lived as a great Initiate in Atlantis. During the decline of the Atlantean race, Europe, which was then tropical, gradually became a cold realm of mist. The remnants of the Atlanteans came forth from Iceland.

The coming forth of Wotan is represented in the following way. First there were the masses of ice; on this those who came over from the Atlantean world were saved. The cow Autumbh [Audhumla?] licked the ice-masses. Wotan passes through two incarnations, through Bure and Bör. He then became Wotan by reason of the chela individuality of the chela Sieg. Everything which was of the Sieg nature in the chela was synthesised by the name Sieg.

In the first sub-race it was Wotan who was the opponent of Hönar or Wille, and Loki or Weh. Wotan after having incarnated had to go through a severe test. For nine long days after he had been wounded in the side where the heart lies, he had to hang on a cross-beam. To him then came Mimur, and taught him the Runes. (foreshadowing of the Christ deed.) Then came his resurrection. This was his initiation in the first sub-race of the fifth root-race. Wotan then established a Mystery, the origin of humanity itself. First came our Earth, but without the minerals and plants. It was all enclosed in one great individuality, the giant Ymir. He was overcome by Wotan, Wille, and Weh. From him, (Adam Cadmon,) came forth the whole earth. From his skull they made the heavenly dome; he was the macrocosmic man. From him the Gods made the structure of Earth.

From the body of the giant came forth dwarfs which lived in the inner part of the Earth. From the “Plant-men” which the three Gods found, from Asgar, ?ASK?) and Emble (Oak) and Uhne, they formed the physical man. The three Gods constructed the sheaths of man.

Wotan or Odin. . . . . . . . . . Sthula Sharira.

Wille or Hönir. . . . . . . . . . . Linga Sharira.

Weh or Loki . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Kama.


Wotan, Odin gave the Spirit.

Hönir, Wille gave Life and the Law (of Nature.)

Loki or Weh gave Warmth and Colour, Kama.


Thus were the human sheaths constructed by the Gods. The dwarf is the little man who is actually the spiritual; he was the spark that came to fructify man, who from the middle of the Lemurian time, is to form Manas, Buddhi, and Atma. The human Ego had first to take form in the depths, or it would have been immediately transformed into dead mineral by the sunlight.

The Initiation of the second sub-race was as follows:—Wotan was to have the thread of Wisdom. The second sub-race was to evolve slowly to this stage. Wisdom was formed by the Giant Stitunger. (Suttung?) He guarded the draught of Wisdom. The giant had a daughter called Gunlet. Wotan cannot reach the draught of Wisdom, so he changes himself into a serpent and enters the sanctuary of Gunlet in which he remained for three days. The serpent is the Self endowed with Wisdom. What occurred in the Lemurian age is now recapitulated.

The three Gods find the dwarf Antwar, as Hecht, and Otter the son of Hreidmar. Otter has the form of a fish-otter; he is killed by Loki. The father was to receive the skin of Otter filled with gold within and without:—this signifies the permeation of man with the gold of Wisdom. Previously Sthula Sharira, Linga Sharira, and Karana Sharira had been formed. Loki kills that which was formerly on the Earth, Otter, and brings Wisdom, the gold. Besides this gold there was the golden ring.

Man, before he entered our present earthly evolution, was in quite different conditions. He did not then receive his impressions through the gates of the senses. The ring signifies the enclosure of man in the sense-impressions, which make the Self a personal being. (Nibelungen-ring.)

In the third sub-race Wotan and these belonging to him were once more initiated. He had brought the chalice of Wisdom into the dwelling of the Gods. There the chalice or draught of Wisdom was guarded by Mimir; he possessed the wisdom which can lead us further. At the time of the transition from the Lemurian race man only possessed one eye, through which he was not yet shut off from the outer world. With this he could perceive what was useful or harmful to him. When man was enclosed by the ring of his sense-nature this eye drew in; the gift which he now received had to be purchased by sacrifice. Wotan had to buy the new endowment by the sacrifice of the cyclopean eye; (not through one of the other two eyes.)

The Volsunge and the offspring of Wotan, Siegmund, Sigurd, and Siegfried are the race of initiates within the fourth sub-race.

The last of the initiations was undergone by Siegfried, he overcame the dragon, that is, the lower nature. He is now invulnerable to all the lower. He cleanses himself through Katharsis, through the consciousness of the higher; he must pass through the fire of passion in a purified state, and thereby win Brunnhilde. He only remains vulnerable at the place where one carries the Cross! it is said that the next initiate will not be vulnerable in this place.

The King Atli, (Atlanti) reaches over from the Atlantean time into the old northern Saga-world. He is the great Atlantean
Initiate. He only gives way to the representative of the Christian Initiates,—the Pope.

Quotations from “Teutonic Myths.”

by Donald Mackenzie.

(Explanatory of the preceding lecture.)

“Only a Northern people living in close proximity to Arctic ice fields could have conceived of a chaos-gulf bounded on the North by a cold and darksome Nifelheim, and on the South by a warm and bright Muspelheim. Life begins to be when and where the ice-blocks are thawed.

Now when the sparks from Muspelheim fell through the frozen vapour, and the heat was sent thither by the might of the All-Father, drops of moisture began to fall from the ice. It was then and there that Life began to be. The drops were quickened, and a formless mass took human shape. Thus came into being the great lumbering clay-giant whose name was Ymer. ------------ More drops fell through the gloomy vapours, and next was formed a gigantic cow, named Audhumla, “void darkness.” (Ymer lived on the milk of the cow, but for her there was no verdure upon which to feed. She stood on the verge of the gloom, and found sustenance by licking constantly the huge boulders that were encrusted with salt and rime. For the space of a day she fed in this manner, licking the boulder until the hair of a great head appeared. On the second day the cow returned to the boulder, and ere she had ceased to lick, a head of human semblance was laid bare. On the third day a noble form sprang forth. He was endowed with great beauty,—and the name he received was Bure, and he was the first of the Asa Gods. There followed in time more Beings. Bure had a son named Bör, who took for his wife Bestla. Three sons were born to them, first Odin, second Ve or Honer, and third Vile or Loke or Lodur. Later there was war between the giants and the Gods. Ymer was slain, and the Gods set forth to frame the world. Ymer's body was cut to pieces, his flesh and bones became soil and rocks, his skull was made into the dome of heaven, and his brains the clouds. The ice-cold blood of the giant became the waters of the sea.)

“As yet the sun knew not her home, nor the moon her power, and the stars had no fixed dwelling place.” “As yet there were no men who had their dwelling upon the earth,” but later “when sun and moon were set in their courses, and the days and seasons marked out in due order, there came a time when the sons of Bör were walking (on the worlds shore) and they beheld two logs of wood. They were grown from Ymer's hair, which sprang up as thick forests and verdure abundant from the mould of his body, which is the earth. One log was of an ash tree, and from it the gods shaped a man; and the other, which was an alder tree, they made into a fair woman. They had but life like a tree which grows, until the Gods gave them mind and will and desire. Then was the man named Ask and the woman Embla, and from them are descended the entire human race, whose habitation is Midgard.”

“Odin is a War-god and a magician; he controls battles and is the inventor of runes; he hangs on the World-ash, which bears one of his names, ‘Ygg's gallows,’—(Ygdrasil) as if he were a king that was sacrificed.” “He is a one-eyed giant, a Cyclops; his lost eye sinks in Mimers well as the sun sets in the sea. He is also the Wind-god,—the Spirit-god,—(wind, breath, soul.) He gives “soul” to the logs of ash and alder which become the first man and woman.”—

“Ygdrasil has three great roots; they suck up the waters or mead of the three eternal fountains, and these mixed together give imperishable life. One is in the well of Mimer, where the fibres are made white with the holy mead, which gives wisdom to men and poetry also, and is the very elixir of life eternal. Of this Odin drank deeply, and the price he paid was an eye.” There was also the Song-mead, which was stolen from the Moon-god. This skaldie mead was given by Ivalde to Suttung, the giant, and in return he was promised the giant's daughter Gunlad, for his wife. Odin resolved to recapture the mead, and assumed the form of the wooer of the giant-maid; and thus he entered the dwelling of the giant, and went through the ceremony of marriage. Later the giants suspected him, but Gunlad enabled him to escape in the form of an eagle.

“Secret runes, which have magical influence, did Odin also invent. For nine whole nights he hung on the high branches of Ygdrasil, pondering and searching out the secrets of the mind and of the universe. For the power of runes was before the beginning of man. They are mixed with fate, and their potency did Odin discover when he drank from Mimer's well. They have also power over death and the world beyond. Runes there are to ward off strife and care, to charm away sickness and disease, to blunt the foeman's sword, to break fetters that bind, to still the storms, to ward off the attacks of demons, to make the dead to speak, to win the love of a maid, and to turn away love that is not desired. And many more there be.”