Indo-European Mythology and Religion

Author: Alexander Jacob

Review: James O’Meara

A Treasury of Indo-European Wisdom!


Indo-European Mythology and ReligionThis book sets off from Jacob’s earlier studies of Brahman and Atman, which explore the solar cosmology and rituals of the Indo-Europeans (a term to author gives reason to prefer as more accurate than the more common “Indo-Aryan”).

The first essay summarizes the most recent research on “The Origins of the Indo-European Religions,” which “give credence” to tracing the “similarities between the “cosmological religions of … Sumer, Egypt and the Indus Valley” to “a common source” in the Ancient Near East. This proto-Indo-European religion was cosmological, based on a vision of the origin of the universe, and particularly the birth, death, and rebirth of the Sun, arrived at by Yogic practices; this vision was externalized in either fire-worship or temple-worship, during which sacrifices were performed whereby “the sacrificer undergoes a ritual death and rebirth as the sun.”

Chapter II discusses these mythological accounts of the origin of the universe, principally the cosmic flood that ended the previous cycle of the universe, the rise of the new universe, particularly the Sun, and, “coincident” with that, the appearance of the First Man, Manu, whose ark allows him to survive the flood and land on a terrestrial mountain. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew account seems to err in placing Creation first, only to have Noah and his family saved from a later flood, his ark landing on Mt. Ararat in Anatolia; his sons – Ham, Seth and Japeth represent mythologically the Egyptian, Semite and Aryan peoples.

Chapter III shows how this cosmological knowledge informs the religious traditions of the ancient Indians. “Brahmanism and the later Tantra employ this mythology in their various rituals mostly in order to revive both the macrocosm” [reviving the Solar Fire] and the microcosm” [kindling the Solar Fire within the sacrificer, thus attaining immortality]. Samkhya-Yoga and the Shramana traditions [Jainism and Buddhism] use it mostly as atheoretical background for ethical systems that seek to escape from cosmic manifestation and earthly incarnation altogether.” This is the longest essay but for this reader it was also the most interesting, as Jacob brings order to the various religious traditions of India and presents them not only as meaningful developments from their origins in Yogic meditation or divine revelation, but as related to each other, and to their appropriate places in the development of the cosmic cycles.

Chapter IV is a deeper look at Vedic and Tantric rituals, reaching the surprising but well-founded conclusion that “given the complexity of the rituals whereby the Tantric priest and worshiper transform their human forms as well as those of idols into divine ones, employing the fires within themselves as well as without,” these rituals are “closer to the original yogic wisdom” than the Vedic or Zoroastrian fire-rituals are.”

The next chapter compares the ritual sacrifices of the Indo-Aryans and early Christians. The comparison may initially seem unlikely, because the Jews, although “a branch of the Semitic Arameans,” had deviated from “the genuinely universal” cosmological religion of the Indo-Europeans, based on a “scientific and philosophical understanding of the cosmos,” adhering instead to a “obscurantist anthropocentric ethics” which, though monotheistic, worships only their own tribal god. (A true cosmological understanding is found in the Kabbalah, a product of the Assyrian exile, but this has never been accepted as normative Judaism). Christianity, however, is clearly derived from Indo-European cosmology, especially “the extraordinary story of the death and resurrection of the Christ himself, since this can only be a historicization of the cosmic drama of the descent of the solar force into the underworld and its later emergence as the sun of our solar system.” An examination of the Christian Mass and altar show they have “the same significance” as the Aryan fire and temple sacrifices: to “restore the mutilated Purusha [Cosmic Man], with the ultimate aim of “the liberation the self from the illusions of the material [world and] the direction of the energy of man into divine consciousness.”

An obvious influence on the Christian cult was the cult of Dionysus, and Chapter VI explores links between Dionysus and Muruga, son of the preeminent Vedic deity Shiva. Both cults involved rituals which were “informed by the same concentration n the spiritual significance of the divine phallus and its solar seed;” the Dionysian rites may have also involved “a quasi-Tantric understanding of the need to control the magical power of sexuality in the microcosm as well as the macrocosm.”

Finally, Ch. VII looks at the origins of the Germanic Wotan, which are uncovered in Anatolia and east of the Russian Don river. Analogous to Indra and Zeus, this import from Asia Minor shares their cosmological concerns, and his followers brought civilization to the crude Northern tribes through law and poetry. Wotan is more than the angry god of storms that Jung, along with many neo-pagans today, present as both uniquely “Germanic” and concerned only with battles and trickery; indeed, the previous chapter had already established Christianity as a truly Indo-European tradition, not a “Middle Eastern” intrusion.

Although Jacob deals mostly with archeology, linguistics and mythology, he by no means neglects spiritual matters; in fact, his main concern is to bring out both the origin of ritual in spiritual practice (specifically, Yoga) as well as how ritual can be a spiritual practice in itself: the sacrificer is always the sacrifice itself, and by reuniting the scattered members of the Primal Man he reunites the parts of himself and attains union with the Primal Man as well.

Professional historians may feel that Jacob relies too heavily on the literal truth of the documents he examines, which he regards not as dubious history but records of Yogic experience, and that he is a bit too confident in the equivalences he draws among gods and places. If I have any criticism of my own, it is that some parts, especially the data-heavy first two essays, might have benefited from greater length, so as to let the plethora of new information “breathe” a bit more. Highly recommended for any reader wanting insight into the Indo-European traditions.



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