Historical Context for Runology

Germanic Esotericism and Spiritual Influences in the late 1800s

We have seen that Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry both had considerable influence in Germany from the early 1600s on. The ideas of a secret or special group of people (the fraternity or brotherhood) that has special spiritual knowledge and who’s goal is to help advance culture and humanity, has had over 200 years to normalize itself into European and Germanic culture.

So we have three strong influences becoming prominent in European religious or spiritual culture: (1) Great Awakenings emphasizing a need to rely on the Heart and not the Intellect, (2) the popularity of Spiritualism bringing attention to the concept life after death, and (3) the idea of a ‘vital’ or “Odic” Force emanating from all living things which can be used to both heal and hurt. All of them are implying that there is a supernatural world that is readily accessible and, thus, we see a environment that is ripe for a more inclusive “special group” (formerly the fraternal organizations), adding a forth influence to the mix.

The ideology of this special group of people or ‘folk’ has been nourished through multiple generations in something we now call the Völkisch Movement.


The Völkisch Movement

In the early 1800s (slightly after the beginning of the second Great Awakening mentioned before), the Völkisch Movement (literally ‘folk-ish’) emerged as an offshoot of Romantic nationalism.

Romantic nationalism is the idea that the country or state derives its political legitimacy “as an organic consequence of the unity of those it governs”, meaning from the people themselves. This grouping of people can be based on language, race, culture, religion, and customs of the nation, etc. It is on the opposite spectrum to the Royalist philosophy (which the Jacobites ascribed to, and related to the Rite of ‘Strict Observance’ mentioned before), which is the idea of a king or queen’s “divine right” to rule.

Scholars say that the Völkisch Movement started becoming popular through ideas like those expressed by author Johann Gottlieb Fichte in his Reden an die deutsche Nation (1808) [Address to the german Nation]. In his book, Fichte addresses the question of what could warrant a noble individual’s striving “and their belief in the eternity and the immortality of their work?”. This he connects with the question “What is a People (or Völk ), in the higher sense of the term, and what is love of the fatherland?”.

Fichte’s answer is that it could only be that “particular spiritual nature of the human environment out of which the person themselves, with all of their thought and action … has arisen, namely the people (or völk ) from which one is descended and among whom one has been formed and grown into that which that person is”. Here we have an idea that propels the emergence of what we now call the Völkisch Movement.

Throughout the 1800s, the Völkisch Movement starts gradually becoming more and more popular in German speaking countries. According to historian James Webb, the word völk does not just mean a people or ‘folk’, but also has “overtones of ‘nation’, ‘race’ and ‘tribe’”. There is no direct English equivalent to the term völkisch, but he says it might also be translated as “ethno-nationalistic”, “racial-nationalistic” or “ethno-racialist”. The defining idea, that the Völkisch Movement revolved around, was that of a Völkstum (literally “folkdom”, with a meaning similar to a combination of the terms “folklore” and “ethnicity”).

Historians emphasize the idea that the Völkisch Movement combined sentimental patriotic interest in Germanic folklore and local history with a “back-to-the-land” anti-urban philosophy. Some have claimed that its ideology was partly a “revolt against modernity” and “the longing for a self-sufficient life lived with a mystical relation to the land”.

Scholars also claim that part of the popularity of the Völkisch Movement was “a reaction to the cultural alienation of the Industrial revolution”. People were longing for a purpose in life and, thus, the Völkisch Movement, as well as Germanic/Nordic Mysticism, became more and more popular…

With the growing interest in their ‘tribe’ or ‘folk’, we naturally see an interest in the associated Germanic & Nordic Mythology, folklore and, consequently, the Runes. We also see an increased curiosity regarding so-called Germanic Paganism or Pre-Christian Religion(s) and practices as a way to study the ancestral themes and ideas.


The Term “Aryan”, the “Indo-European” Language and the Völkisch Movement

So now the Germanic & Nordic ‘Folk’ or Völk are a “special group” and through studying their Mythology & Folklore, the special knowledge is extracted. However, because of the role Christianity has played in suppressing “Pagan” or “Traditional” religious forms, there is an attempt to discover what was destroyed or hidden.

With the study of European Mythology (thanks to the Völkisch Movement), and the availability of Hindu and Buddhist Doctrine & Mythology in European languages (thanks to the poplularity of Esotericism and, later, Theosophy), we see an attempt to unite these two into a single system in order to restore the “original doctrine”. This is also where the Eastern term “Aryan” takes on a new meaning in the West as ‘White-European’. Let’s look at how this occurred…

In the Swedish Author Viktor Rydberg’s Introduction to his Teutonic Mythology (1886, but translated into English in 1889), he tries to establish a link between European and Asian/Eastern languages as well as their religious forms. Here the term Teutonic is used to refer to Northern European (German, Dutch, and Scandinavian, etc.):

“It is universally known that the Teutonic dialects are related to the Latin, the Greek, the Slavic, and Celtic languages, and that the kinship extends even beyond Europe to the tongues of Armenia, Irania, and India. The holy books ascribed to Zoroaster, which to the priests of Cyrus and Darius were what the Bible is to us; Rigveda’s hymns, which to the people dwelling on the banks of the Ganges are God’s revealed word, are written in a language which points to a common origin with our own. However unlike all these kindred tongues may have grown with the lapse of thousands of years, still they remain as a sharply-defined group of older and younger sisters as compared with all other language groups of the world. Even the Semitic languages are separated therefrom by a chasm so broad and deep that it is hardly possible to bridge it.

This language-group of ours has been named in various ways. It has been called the Indo-Germanic, the Indo-European, and the Aryan family of tongues. I have adopted the last designation. The Armenians, Iranians, and Hindoos I call the Asiatic Aryans ; all the rest I call the European Aryans.

Certain it is that these sister-languages have had a common mother, the ancient Aryan speech, and that this has had a geographical centre from which it has radiated…”

He goes on to emphasize the idea that Caucasian/White and the Aryan Language don’t necessarily have to go together:

“In the most ancient historical times Aryan-speaking people were found only in Asia and Europe…

It may not be necessary to remind the reader that the question of the original home of the ancient Aryan tongue is not the same as the question in regard to the cradle of the Caucasian race. The white race may have existed, and may have been spread over a considerable portion of the old world, before a language possessing the peculiarities belonging to the Aryan had appeared…”

Then he says that there are 2 hypotheses regarding the origin of the Aryan Language (which he also calls the “mother-tongue”): Asiatic Origin and European Origin. For the first he says:

“…Asia had always been regarded as the cradle of the human race. In primeval time, the yellow Mongolian, the black African, the American redskin, and the fair European had there tented side by side. From some common centre in Asia they had spread over the whole surface of the inhabited earth…”

You can see here that he does not make a distinction of a “brown race”, which is probably so that he can say that such a group would be a mixture of 2 or more of his above mentioned groups. This is important because it allows for the justification that the reason the term Aryan was used, and is still used, in India was because it ‘originated from a white race’ that was eventually mixed with other ‘races’. This is essentially the idea that was used almost 50 years later in the Nazi’s ideology in order to justify their use of the term Aryan.

Asiatic Origin

The Asiatic Origin of the Aryans, according to Rydberg, is from a migration (of all peoples) from Asia to their current homes. Thus, some have kept parts of the Aryan Language (or remnants of it) in their modern tongue, other have not…

“The original form [of the Aryan Language] has been preserved in the original home ; the farther the streams of emigration got away from this home, the more they lost on the way of their language and of their inherited view of the world; that is, of their mythology, which among the Hindoos seemed so original and simple as if it had been watered by the dews of life’s dawn.”

He cites Friedrich Schlegel’s 1808 work Language and Wisdom of the Hindoos as showing “Sanscrit as the mother of the Aryan family of languages, and India as the original home of the Aryan family of peoples.” Then he cites other authors and says that in the 1820s-1840s the ideas about this subject changed even in textbooks to emphasize the “theory that the Persians or Hindoos were the original people, and that the cradle of our race was to be sought in their homes.”

Now the ideas change and start including Iran/Persia as well as India.

“The strong resemblance found between Zend and Sanscrit, and which makes these dialects a separate subdivision in the Ayran family of languages, must now, since we have learned to regard them as sister-tongues, be interpreted as a proof that the Zend people or Iranians and the Sanscrit people or Hindoos were in ancient times one people with a common country, and that this union must have continued to exist long after the European Aryans were parted from them and had migrated westwards.

When, then, the question was asked where this Indo-Iranian cradle was situated, the answer was thought to be found in a chapter of Avesta to which the German scholar Rhode had called attention already in 1820. To him it seemed to refer to a migration from a more northerly and colder country. The passage speaks of sixteen countries created by the fountain of light and goodness, Ormuzd (Ahura Mazda), and of sixteen plagues produced by the fountain of evil, Ahriman (Angra Mainyu), to destroy the work of Ormuzd. The first country was a paradise, but Ahriman ruined it with cold and frost, so that it had ten months of winter and only two of summer…”

Here we have basic link that associates a “paradise” in a cold country with only “2 months of summer” with a Iranian/Persian religious text…

“Rhode’s view, that these sixteen regions were stations in the migration of the Indo-Iranian people from their original country became universally adopted, and it was thought that the track of the migration could now be followed back through Persis, Baktria, and Sogdiana, up to the first region created by Ormuzd, which, accordingly, must have been situated in the interior high lands of Asia, around the sources of the Jaxartes and Oxus.

The reason for the emigration hence was found in the statement that, although Ormuzd had made this country an agreeable abode, Ahriman had destroyed it with frost and snow. In other words, this part of Asia was supposed to have had originally a warmer temperature, which suddenly or gradually became lower, wherefore the inhabitants found it necessary to seek new homes in the West and South.”

Thus, he explains the very popular idea (that later became accepted by the Völkisch Movement) that the ‘Aryans migrated from the east (Asia) to the west (Europe)’ and so the Asian reference to Aryan is really a reference to the peoples who now dwell in Europe:

“…A mountain range, so it was said, is the natural divider of waters. From its fountains the streams flow in different directions and irrigate the plains. In the same manner the highlands of Central Asia were the divider of Aryan folk-streams, which through Baktria sought their way to the plains of Persia, through the mountain passes of Hindukush to India, through the lands north of the Caspian Sea to the extensive plains of modern Russia, and so on to the more inviting regions of Western Europe.

The sun rises in the east, ex orients lux ; the-highly gifted race, which was to found the European nations, has, under the guidance of Providence, like the sun, wended its way from east to west…

The Europeans themselves are led by this same instinct to follow the course of the sun: they flow in great numbers to America, and these folk-billows break against each other on the coasts of the Pacific Ocean…”

European Origin

“The Asiatic view of the origin of the Aryans had scarcely met with any opposition when we entered the second half of our century. We might add that it had almost ceased to be questioned. The theory that the Aryans were cradled in Asia seemed to be established as an historical fact, supported by a mass of ethnographical, linguistic, and historical arguments, and vindicated by a host of brilliant scientific names.

…In the year 1854 was heard for the first time a voice of doubt.”

This, Rydberg says, is related to English author Robert Gordon Latham, who suggested (in the 1850s) the opposite idea, that the migration was from West to East:

“…There are Aryans in Europe and there are Aryans in Asia. The major part of Aryans are in Europe, and here the original language has split itself into the greatest number of idioms. From the main Aryan trunk in Europe only two branches extend into Asia. The northern branch is a new creation, consisting of Russian colonisation from Europe ; the southern branch, that is, the Iranian-Hindooic, is, on the other hand, pre-historic, but was still growing in the dawn of history, and the branch was then growing from West to East, from Indus toward Ganges…

This opposing theory, Rydberg says, took a few years before it became more mainstream:

“In 1867, the celebrated linguist Whitney came out, not to defend Latham’s theory that Europe is the cradle of the Aryan race, but simply to clear away the widely spread error that the science of languages had demonstrated the Asiatic origin of the Aryans.”

Conclusions Regarding the Use of the Term “Aryan” by Europeans in the 1800s

As we look at them, we can see that what both of these ‘hypotheses’ imply is that, for the Northern Europeans of the early and mid-1800s, Caucasian/White and “Aryan” are essentially the same. This is how people understood things and, thus, filters their paradigm of the world around them.

With the popularity of Theosophy in the late 1800s, even if Blavatsky says “The Aryan races, for instance, now varying from dark brown, almost black, red-brown-yellow, down to the whitest creamy colour, are yet all of one and the same stock – the Fifth Root-Race – and spring from one single progenitor…” in Vol. 2 of her Secret Doctrine , this may not have really been heard or understood by those who already have a preconceived notion of what Aryan is.



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