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Aryan Mythology as Science and Ideology

Aryan Mythology as Science and Ideology

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Published by Gideon Swift

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Published by: Gideon Swift on Jun 01, 2011
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11/17/2012

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Journalofthe AmericanAcademyofReligion67/2
AAR
Aryan
Mythology
s
Science
And
Ideology
StefanArvidssonSINCETHE 1980s THEREhas been a heated debateabout whether ornotthe influential heoriesofGeorgeDumezil havebeen affectedbyideo-logicalmotives. CriticsofDumezilhavearguedthatDumezil'sideasabouttheuniquestructureofIndo-Europeanmythologyweregovernedbyhisright-wing sympathiesandhis romanticviewof ancient Indo-European-thatis,"Aryan"-peoples.This article is meant as a back-groundto that debate.Bydiscussingthe historicalrelationshipsbetweenthescholarlyand thepoliticalinterestinAryanreligion,Ihopeto shedlighton the intricatebutimportantwork ofidentifying deologicalcom-ponentsinthehistoryofreligiousstudies.Let usbegin by lookinginto one of the most successfulattemptstocreateareligionfor "theIndo-Europeanace":hesounds, visions,move-ments,andmessagesofthe"totalart"of RichardWagner1813-1883).THEMYTHOLOGICAL ALTERNATIVEWagner'soperas,such asLohengrin,Parsifal,and DerRingderNibe-lungenhavebeenstaged annuallysince1876at the BavariancityofBay-reuth(onWagner,eeSchuiler; orchmeyer).FromalloverEuropemem-bers of thebourgeoisiewent onpilgrimagetoBayreuthoparticipatenwhatthey,as well as theorganizers, houghtof as akindofmysteryplayor
Stefan Arvidssonisa Ph.D. studentintheDepartmentorHistoryofReligionsat theUniversityofLund,223 62Lund,Sweden.
327
 
328JournaloftheAmericanAcademy of Religion
ritualof initiation.Quiteafew visitors have testifiedto whataprofoundexperienceheoperabroughtabout.The ideas behindthe librettosofTheRingandother ofWagner'sateroperaswereamixtureof aspiritofrevolt,Christianpassionmysticism,thepessimismofSchopenhauer,eworkedGermanicmyths,and anti-Semitism.Thisidiosyncraticfusionis,ifweareto believehe ViennandologistLeopoldvonSchroeder,hefulfillmentof the ancientAryan-orwith asynonym,Indo-European-mythologiesthatfirstsawthelightwith Homerand theRigveda.Von SchroederrguedinDieVollendungdesarischenMysteriumsnBayreuth(1911)that themythsfirstcreatednthe Urheimatprimalhome)of theAryanribeshadbeen ennobledoverthe millenniaandwerefinallywiththe worksofWag-nerreadyo becirculated o allof mankind.At the endof the nineteenthcenturythemission tospreadthegospelofWagnerwas,infact,under-takenbyalargenumberofWagnerocieties,groupshat were often linkedto studentcircles.Wagner'sWeltanschauungadthe featuresof amythology.Justas theclassicaldramasofantiquitywere based on themythologyof the Greekpeople, Wagnerdreamedofcreatinga new artwhere revitalized(andbyWagnerreinterpreted)mythswere toformtheframework.'Wagnerre-ceivedinspirationfor themythicthemesfromChristian,ancientNordic,and medievaltexts,stronglyflavoredbyhis eroticized andsoteriologicalversionof thephilosophyofSchopenhauer.Thestrategyconsciouslytoproducemythsinorderto influence con-temporaryociety,which,ofcourse,wasWagner's oal,has been usedre-peatedlythroughoutrecenthistory.Romantic writers such asEmerson,Thoreau,and Whitmanaimed todesignaparticularmythologyfor theyoungAmericannation(Feldmanand Richardson:511ff.).Fascistslike Benito Mussoliniand AlfredRosenbergusedmythicthemes to mo-bilize thepeople.Inthe last decadesof the twentiethcenturyweare oncemore confrontedwithspiritualpsychologists professingthequestformythsasa crucialfactorngivinglife ameaning.
1Latern,otherartistsdoptedWagner'sroject:dmond chur6whosebest-known orksthephilosophiaerennisookLesGrandsnities1889])ried o revitalizeythologyith hehelpofdrama: tthebeginningf thecenturyestagedis ownmixture f theatre ndmystery lay, .g.,SacredramafEleusis.ntoninArtaudspiredobringheatre ack o itsallegedootsof esoteri-cismCornell:93ff.).udolfteiner,nfluencedyWagnerndSchur6,mademythicdrama n inte-gralpartofAnthroposophyWashington:153ff.,36).2Behind he fascistiewone findsGeorgsorel1847-1922)hotaughthat he creation nddisseminationfmyths e.g.,hat herexists non-goinglasstruggle)romotesoliticalctivism.OnSorel, ee,e.g.,Hughes:90-96,61-182.
 
Arvidsson:AryanMythologys ScienceandIdeology329
THEINTERPRETATIONFMYTH
Whymyths?Thecreation, use,anddistributionofmyths,insteadof,forexample,usinggenreslikepoliticalmanifestos,philosophicaltracts,scientific thesesorrealisticnovels,received its raisond'etrefromadi-chotomythat hadbeen constructedandtransmittedbyromantictradi-tions(onthehistoryof"myth,"ee FeldmanandRichardson;Frank;andScarborough).Thistheoryclaimedthathumans are eithercontrolledbya
calculating,tility-orientedationalityr elseare reeromrationalityn
ordero live anauthenticifeinaccordancewith theirownnature.Accord-ingtothe romanticthinkersthecomputing,instrumentalmind,servingthephilosophersoftheEnlightenment,hescientists,and thepoliticiansdrainsife of its"meaning," greatness,"r"spirituality."hedictatorshipof reason sonlyto be dissolvedby mythsable to stir theimaginationandrevealancient wisdom.Anauthentic life isonlypossiblewhenmythcanprevailagainst ogos.Myth,however,wasfor the firsttimethoughtof asalife-affirminggenreinthe romanticvogueinfashion around thebegin-ningofthe nineteenthcenturyand contradicted heeverydayenseof theword(whichitretainsdespiteprotestsfromtoday'sspiritualcamps)as afalsestory.The word"myth"(mythos)became asynonymof "lie"alreadynitsetymologicalcountryofbirth,the Greeceofantiquity(seeGraf;Lin-coln1996;Vernant:203-260).Afterthecriticism ofreligionpresentedbyXenophanesand the othersophists,it becamedifficult to believeintheliteralmeaningof the stories about thecholericfights,the viciousabuses,and the lasciviouspastimesofZeus, Hera,and the other divinities. TheHellene wholethimself bepersuadedbytheargumentsof thesophistsbut still didn't feelquitehappy simplytodismissthemythstransmittedthroughauthorities ikeHomerand Hesiod as fables and old wives' taleswasduring antiquityoffered two differentapproacheso themeaningofthemyths. Mythswereinrealitypoeticexegesesof the lawsofnatureandof behavior:allegoricinterpretation.Orelsemythsweredistortedhis-toricalreportsnwhichthe heroeshadbeen attributeddivinity:euhemer-isticinterpretation.nboth casestheinterpretationmeant that behind theapparentchildishfoolishnessofthemythsahidden,distorted ruth couldbe detected.Thusmyths-behindtheovertstupiditiesandrepulsive-ness-did,ifproperlynterpreted,displaysomethingrational.Inthe world of Christianscholarsnon-biblical,"pagan"i.e.,mainlyGreekandRoman)mythswere used as educationalandartisticaids(deVries:18-32).Withthehelpof theallegoricand euhemeristic modes ofinterpretationtaken over fromantiquity,thereligiouscontent of thesemythscould bedisregarded,huspreventingthemythsfromforminga

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