Journal of the AmericanAcademyof Religion67/2AARMythology AsAndScienceIdeologyAryanStefanArvidssonSINCE THE 1980s THEREhas been a heated debate about whether ornot the influentialtheoriesof GeorgeDumezil havebeen affectedby ideological motives. Critics of Dumezil have argued that Dumezil's ideasabout the unique structureof Indo-Europeanmythology were governedby his right-wing sympathies and his romantic view of ancient IndoEuropean-that is, "Aryan"-peoples. This article is meant as a background to that debate.By discussingthe historicalrelationshipsbetweenthe scholarlyand the political interest in Aryan religion, I hope to shedlight on the intricatebut importantwork of identifyingideologicalcomponents in the history of religiousstudies.Let us begin by looking into one of the most successful attempts tocreatea religionfor "theIndo-Europeanrace":the sounds, visions, movements, and messagesof the "totalart"of RichardWagner(1813-1883).THE MYTHOLOGICAL ALTERNATIVEWagner'soperas, such as Lohengrin,Parsifal,and Der Ring derNibelungenhave been staged annuallysince 1876at the Bavariancity of Bayreuth (on Wagner,see Schuiler;Borchmeyer).Fromall over Europemembers of the bourgeoisiewent on pilgrimageto Bayreuthto participateinwhat they,as well as the organizers,thoughtof as a kind of mysteryplayorStefanArvidsson is a Ph.D. student in the Departmentfor History of Religionsat the UniversityofLund,223 62 Lund,Sweden.327
328Journal of the AmericanAcademyof Religionritual of initiation. Quite a few visitors have testifiedto what a profoundexperiencethe operabroughtabout. The ideasbehind the librettosof TheRingand otherof Wagner'slateroperaswerea mixtureof a spiritof revolt,Christianpassion mysticism, the pessimism of Schopenhauer,reworkedGermanicmyths, and anti-Semitism. This idiosyncraticfusion is, if weareto believethe ViennaindologistLeopoldvon Schroeder,the fulfillmentof the ancientAryan-or with a synonym,Indo-European-mythologiesthat firstsawthe light with Homerand the Rigveda.Von Schroederarguedin Die Vollendungdes arischenMysteriumsin Bayreuth(1911) that themyths firstcreatedin the Urheimat(primalhome) of the Aryantribeshadbeen ennobledoverthe millenniaand werefinallywith the worksof Wagner readyto be circulatedto all of mankind.At the end of the nineteenthcentury the mission to spreadthe gospel of Wagnerwas, in fact, undertakenby a largenumberof Wagnersocieties,groupsthatwereoften linkedto studentcircles.had the featuresof a mythology.Justas theWagner'sWeltanschauungclassicaldramasof antiquitywere based on the mythology of the Greekpeople, Wagnerdreamedof creatinga new art where revitalized(and byWagnerreinterpreted)myths were to form the framework.'Wagnerreceivedinspirationfor the mythic themes from Christian,ancient Nordic,and medievaltexts, stronglyflavoredby his eroticizedand soteriologicalversionof the philosophyof Schopenhauer.The strategyconsciouslyto producemyths in orderto influencecontemporarysociety,which, of course,was Wagner'sgoal, has been used repeatedlythroughout recent history. Romantic writers such as Emerson,Thoreau,and Whitman aimed to design a particularmythology for theyoung American nation (Feldman and Richardson: 511ff.). Fascistslike Benito Mussolini and Alfred Rosenbergused mythic themes to mobilize the people. In the last decadesof the twentiethcenturywe are oncemore confronted with spiritual psychologists professing the quest formyths as a crucialfactorin giving life a meaning.workis1 Lateron, osebest-knownwiththehelpofInities)triedto nnisdrama:at thebeginningof thecenturyhe stagedhis ownmixtureof theatreandmysteryplay,e.g.,AntoninArtaudaspiredto bringtheatrebackto its allegedrootsof dramaaninte236).(Washington:153ff.,gralpartof Anthroposophy2 Behindthefascistviewone nandof orel,see,e.g.,Hughes:90-96,
Arvidsson:AryanMythologyas Scienceand Ideology329THEINTERPRETATIONOF MYTHWhy myths?The creation,use, and distributionof myths, instead of,for example, using genres like political manifestos, philosophicaltracts,scientific theses or realistic novels, received its raison d'etrefrom a dichotomy that had been constructed and transmittedby romantic traditions (on the history of "myth,"see Feldmanand Richardson;Frank;andScarborough).This theoryclaimedthat humans areeithercontrolledby autility-orientedrationalityor elsearefreefromrationalityincalculating,orderto live an authenticlife in accordancewith theirown nature.According to the romanticthinkersthe computing, instrumentalmind, servingthe philosophersof the Enlightenment,the scientists,and the politiciansor "spirituality."drainslife of its "meaning,""greatness,"The dictatorshipof reasonis only to be dissolvedby myths able to stir the imaginationandrevealancient wisdom. An authenticlife is only possible when myth canprevailagainstlogos. Myth, however,was for the firsttime thought of as alife-affirminggenre in the romantic vogue in fashion around the beginning of the nineteenthcenturyand contradictedthe everydaysense of theword (which it retainsdespite protestsfrom today'sspiritualcamps) as afalsestory.The word "myth"(mythos) became a synonym of "lie" alreadyinits etymologicalcountry of birth, the Greeceof antiquity (see Graf;Lincoln 1996;Vernant:203-260).After the criticism of religion presentedbyXenophanes and the other sophists, it became difficult to believe in theliteralmeaningof the storiesabout the cholericfights,the vicious abuses,and the lascivious pastimes of Zeus, Hera, and the other divinities. TheHellene who let himself be persuadedby the argumentsof the sophistsbut still didn't feel quite happy simply to dismiss the myths transmittedthrough authoritieslike Homer and Hesiod as fables and old wives' taleswas during antiquityofferedtwo differentapproachesto the meaning ofthe myths. Mythswere in realitypoetic exegesesof the laws of natureandof behavior:allegoric interpretation.Or else myths were distorted historicalreportsin which the heroeshad been attributeddivinity:euhemeristic interpretation.In both casesthe interpretationmeantthat behind theapparentchildishfoolishnessof the myths a hidden, distortedtruth couldbe detected. Thus myths-behind the overt stupidities and repulsiveness-did, if properlyinterpreted,displaysomethingrational.In the world of Christianscholarsnon-biblical, "pagan"(i.e., mainlyGreekand Roman) myths were used as educationaland artistic aids (deVries:18-32).With the help of the allegoric and euhemeristic modes ofinterpretationtaken over from antiquity,the religious content of thesemyths could be disregarded,thus preventingthe myths from forming a
330Journalof the AmericanAcademyof trulyreligious,"heathen"meristicwaysof interpretationthe churchalsodevelopedwhatcouldbecalleda hermeneuticunveiledtheof mission.Thismodeof plagiarismsHolycrudely,astheworkof thedevil.In contrastto theearlier,classicalmodesof interof thingIn fact,fourmodesof ifiedarealthoughmyths ure-allegoriccentury),mythsaredisciplinaryor ortedhistory(historicism),mythsarelies (Marxism).Outsidethe scholarlyworldoflatecapitalisma newmodeof isarticlethisnewkindof lineofhow itdiscussed,appropriate presentcameaboutthattheconceptof mythreceivedsucha positiveconnotationas to makeWagnerand othersanxiousnot to interpretor dissolvethe"mythopoetic"imaginationbutinsteadto revitalizeit.THE "MYTH"OF ROMANTICISMFromthe nishedin anityof eventscausedthis,the mostimportantprobablybeingthe riseof thebourgeoisclass,the progressof science,and the critiqueof Christianmetaphysics,ethics,and clericalpowerby the philosophersof the Enlightenment.The declineof Christianityopenedup new approachestoand"mythology."Thefirstre-evaluationof mythicthoughtis con"myth"nectedwith the romanticwritersof the eighteenthand ninteenthcenturies.Whenlookingfor inspiration,the pean,mythologies.3of theromanticswerethoseof physicalmythsfromIndia,andtheharshandheroictales3 Macphersonthenameof TheSongsof Ossian(1765)andwhichmostpeoplebelievedto be genuine,pre-ChrstianwerealsotheEddas-firstknownto a wideraudiencethroughPaulmyths.Includedin "European"HenriMallet's(1730-1807)Monumensde la mythologieet de the(artificial)separationwasnot yet in place."Oriental"werethe mythsfromIndia,Persia,Mesopotamia,andthe LevantandRichardson:(Feldman199-202).
Arvidsson:AryanMythologyas Scienceand Ideology331from Ossianand the Eddas.This increasein the sheernumberof availablemythologies gave the-originally Greek-genre an aura of universality,and the idea arosethat mythic expressionswere not merelythe remnantsof an ancientpaganismbut somethingvitalto the well-beingof all peoplesin all times (Feldmanand Richardson:302ff.).Mythologies are portraitsof the soul of the people (Volksgeist)whocreatedthem, the romantics arguedin a way typical for those impressedby Johann Gottfried von Herder's(1744-1803) epoch-making views on"people"(Volk)as an organictotality integratedby traditionand culture.Mythsare,however,not only to be viewed as expressionsof the soul of thepeople but are also the culturalcementthat ties a people together,according to the romanticview. Greekmythology,for example,consistedof stories and charactersthat shapedall aspectsof life in the differentcity-states,regulatingthe practicalway to do justiceas well as the artisticwayto makesculptures.The myths connected the differentsystemsof significationatthe same time as they integratedthe society. In the eyes of the romanticscholarsthe "mythopoetic"formeda unique form of art designedto integratethe individualinto society and in generalto give shape and stabilityto existence.The productionof myths, therefore,was looked upon as crucial for nationalisticpolitics to be successful.The earliergenerationof romantics(Herder,Goethe, Schiller)lookedupon the myths as the spontaneous production of common people andworked to re-elaborategiven mythic themes (like Schillerin Die GditterGriechenlands). The younger generation (above all the Schlegelbrothers),however,believedthat an artisticgeniushas the capacityto create new myths that catchthe natureof his people in a waythat might reactbeneficiallyon the people. It is this romanticview that echoes more thanhalf a century later in Wagner'sefforts to compose operas capable ofregeneratingthe Germanpeople.The romantics imagined that the production and the reproductionof myths would make it possible to heal what destiny and the ideas ofthe Enlightenmenthad divided.Mythsweresupposedto enablea connection between all Germansnow living in numeroussmall countriesand tofunction as a foundation for a united Germany.To make mattersworsefrom the romanticpoint of view, some of these small countrieswere,during the heydayof romanticism,occupied by enlightenedand revolutionary France.It was duringthis period that the collection of Germanmyths(folktales)started,with the Grimmbrotherstakingthe lead.Furthermore,on the intellectual level the Enlightenmentera had splintered:Kantianphilosophydivided human strivinginto spheresof ethics, aesthetics,andcould perhapsend thisknowledge.A mythic or religious Weltanschauungfragmentationand once more heal humankind.
332Journal of the AmericanAcademyof ReligionTWO RELIGIOUS STRATEGIESThe struggle for cultural hegemony between romantics and Christians, on the one hand, and the philosophersof the Enlightenmentandpositivists, on the other, continued throughout the nineteenth century.A numberof people thought of this opposition as unfruitful,threatening,or illusory.The outcome was the emergenceof differentstrategiesto stabilize the relationshipbetween a religious or idealistic worldview and ascientificor materialisticone.4One possible expedientwas to constructareligionthat incorporatedscientificideals.The huge interestthat spiritualism caused from 1850onwardsis partlyto be explainedby the fact thatthe main ritual, the seance, was understood as an empirical experimentto provehypothesesabout the continued life of the soul afterdeath. Laterother similarscientisticreligions (or whateverwe would like to call them)eitherdevelopedout of the spiritualismor arose independently.'Partly opposed to this strategy was the strategy of "bunkering,"launchedbythe 4)Christianapologetics,when h writershostile to religion,weresupposedto presentrational,debatableargumentsin favorof Christianmoralsand doctrines.The greatworkslies in the factthathe redefinedrelisignificanceof dto miss the point. Byclaimgioning that the kernelof the Christianreligionwas not containedin anygivenstatementabout ethics or metaphysics,but ratherreliedupon the individual'sreligious experience,Schleiermacherimmunized rethe publicationof Schleiermacher'sUber die Religion (1799) Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) had moved Godfrom the field of knowledge to that of ethics; now Schleiermacheraffected by the romantic evaluation of feeling and fantasy and by hisown pietistic upbringing-removed God entirely from the intersubjective domain.The foundationof God existsonly in the soul of the religiousperson. With the emotions breakingthrough at the moment of religiousexperience,the individualgets a sense of the interconnectednessand unity4 Historiansof ideas and sciences have for a long time been conscious of the significanceof anidealisticscientifictraditionduring the nineteenth century (see, for example,Hanson). It was, however,the materialistic,mechanistictraditionthat was regardedas a threatto the dominanceof Christianity.5 On spiritualism,see erismfrom the endof the eighteenthcentury (healingwith "animalmagnetism"),the Frenchoccult vogue from aroundthe 1840s (magical powers are as real as non-mechanical powers like electricity),the TheosophicalSociety and the Monistic League from the end of the nineteenth century (scientific concepts areincorporatedinto religious creed), and the teaching of C. G. Jungand today'sNew Age movement(spiritualpsychologyis consonant with modern science).
Arvidsson:AryanMythologyas Scienceand Ideology333that is the absolute foundation (God) of fleeting time and endlessspace. The foundation for religion is the personalexperienceof the totaldependence on the infinite, and without this experience humans arenot whole.A SCIENCE OF RELIGIONA thirdway to approachthe relationshipbetween religionand sciencewas to studyreligionscientifically.The nineteenth-centuryspokesmenfora scienceof religionclaimedthat an objectivestudy of the religionsof theworld and a comparisonbetween them would clarifythe place of religionfor humankind.At stakewas first of all the status of Christianity,whichwould a priori not be granted any superior status. The foremost advocate of the establishmentof a science of religionwas the German-Britishphilologist FriedrichMax Muiller(1823-1900), whose ideas during thelaterpart of the nineteenthcenturydominatedall disciplinesinterestedinunderstandingthe place of Christianityand of religion in generalin themodern, scientificage.Miiller'sideas about knowledgeand religionwereinterwovenwith hisromanticview of languageand today seem ratherobscure (on Muiller,seeTrompf;Chaudhuri;Olender). He was an adherentof Schleiermacher'sbelief that the kernelof Christianityis the religiousinstinctof man, a feel181).This longinging of "weakness,dependence,dissatisfaction"(Muiller:for "afriend,""afather,"was in the days of the childhood of humankindexpressedwith the help of a language so primitive that it did not haveany abstractnouns. All wordsthat existedhad concretereferences,Muillerargued.How could humans with only such a primitivelanguageexpressreligiousemotions or the idea of the divine?Accordingto Muller,primitive people could only speak of such things in parables.It so happenedthat these primitiveschose the sky-powerful, wide, and, though visible,impossibleto reach-as a symbol for the religiousobject. The sky and itssun becamethe symbols for the religiouslonging and with it expressionslike "HeavenlyFather"arose.Not everyone was, however, able to understandthat this primitiveform of religion was constructedon the basis of an approximativemetaphor ("Godis like the sky"),but some understoodthe metaphorsliterally("God is the sky"). Thus polytheistic religions were born, which in thedays of Mtillerwere consideredto be the worship of the phenomena ofnature, which primitive peoples because of their admirationof and fearfor the manifestationsof naturehad grantedagency ("Thunderis causedby the Thunder-God").When the words that had become names becamefurther distorted due to the changes in language, the common people
334Journalof the AmericanAcademyof Religionbegan to tell storiesabout these gods of nature.They often elaboratedthestoriesby takingfolk etymologyas a point of departure("TheMoon-Godis calledso, since once upon a time.").Thesetales ("Thunderoccurswhenthe Thunder-Goddrivesacrossthe sky,daybreakswhen the Sun-GodhasdefeatedDarkness,"and so forth) became the foundation of the world'smythologies. Miller and his colleaguesin the so-called nature-allegoricschool taught that each and every myth originally consisted of storiesabout the different phenomena of nature. In Muller'swritings the sungraduallycame to be seen as the naturalphenomenon that had receivedthe most mythical elaboration.Thus, with the help of his history of languages, Miller could argue that the existence of myths and worship ofnature were a naturalconsequence of the confusion of languageand ofthe creationof popularetymologies.MYTH OR REASONAccordingto Miller, the creationof myths was, however,particularlyintense among people speaking Aryan/Indo-Europeanlanguages. Thereasonfor this, as suggestedby Muiller,would be that the verb roots of theProto-Indo-European(Ur-Arische)language-the languagefrom whichall Aryan/Indo-Europeanlanguagesdescend-were exceptionallydifficultto understandand thereforebecameeasyvictims of the exegesisof the folketymologicalkind. The word roots in Semiticlanguages-the otherfamilyof languagesthat interestedMuller-were, on the otherhand, much moretransparent.Accordingly,MUllerdescribedwhat he felt to be the barrenness of myths among people speaking Semitic languages, with the result that the primal religious revelationwas better preservedamong theSemitictribes.The division between, on the one hand, the Semitesand (true) religion and, on the other,Aryansand mythology,held a steadygrip on theminds of the philologistsand scientistsof religion in the nineteenth century irrespectiveof whetherthe scholarwas a Christian,a Jew,or