The Myth of the Eternal Return by Mircea Eliade
I have read The Myth of the Eternal Return – Cosmos and History by Mircea Eliade. Since the teachings of Eliade were heavily featured in Dr. Charles William Dailey’s excellent book The Serpent Symbol in Tradition (review), I deemed it reasonable to start with Eliade’s work. Eliade himself recommends The Myth of the Eternal Return as a starting point to his teachings.
The book contains the following four chapters:
- Archetypes and Repetition
- The Regeneration of Time
- Misfortune and History
- The Terror of History
Archaic Man, In Illo Tempore, and Archetypes
For those familiar with Julius Evola, René Guénon, and the term Traditional man, it can be worth pointing out that Eliade refers to the same (Traditional) as Archaic man. The author notes that the chief difference between Archaic man and Modern man (with his strong imprint of Christianity) lies in the fact that Archaic man is connected with the Cosmos and the cosmic rhythms, whereas the Modern man is connected only with History.
Eliade frequently uses the term ‘in illo tempore,‘ which is Latin for ‘in that time’ and denotes time before recorded history. Another term he uses is ‘illud tempus‘, which refers to sacred time and space (the time of origins, the time when the world was first created).
Moreover, he notes that his use of the term archetype is not the same as the meaning used by Carl Jung. Instead, he uses the term archetype to denote an ‘exemplary model’ or ‘paradigm.’
Archetypes and Repetition
In the first chapter of the book, Archetypes and Repetitions, the author discusses the Archaic man’s attitude towards Creation and towards the cyclical nature of the Universe and of Time itself.
‘In the particulars of his conscious behaviour, the “primitive,” the archaic man, acknowledges no act which has not been previously posited and lived by someone else, some other being who was not a man. What he does has been done before.’Mircae Eliade – The Myth of the Eternal Return. Page 5.
Eliade notes that every creation repeats the pre-eminent cosmogonic act – the Creation of the world. He gives an interesting example with the Scandinavian colonisation of Iceland, in which the colonists regarded the cultivation of the land not as human or profane work, but as a repetition of the primordial transformation of chaos into cosmos by the dive act of Creation. He goes on to note that in this world view, a territory occupied for the purpose of being inhabited undergoes the transformation from chaos into cosmos. He gives the example of the Portuguese explorers, who put up crosses along the coasts where they passed – a practice detailed in Roger Crowley’s excellent book Conquerors – How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire (review). Moreover, he notes that the Archaic man gave most activities a sacred meaning:
‘To summarize, we might say that the archaic world knows nothing of “profane” activities: every act which has a definite meaning – hunting, fishing, agriculture; games, conflicts, sexuality, – in some way participates in the sacred. As we shall see more clearly later, the only profane activities are those which have no mythical meaning, that is, which lack exemplary models. Thus we may say that every responsible activity in pursuit of a definite end is, for the archaic world, a ritual.’Mircae Eliade – The Myth of the Eternal Return. Page 27-28.
From this perspective, we could say that whenever we pray in the Temple of Iron we repeat the primordial act of creating cosmos from chaos. It can also be seen as Mithras’ struggle against the cosmic bull that he sacrifices. There are plenty of spiritual examples to choose from – in any case, praying in the Temple of Iron (strength training) is an act of overcoming yourself in order to create something higher (from chaos to cosmos).
Archetypes and Heroes
Reading the about the repetitions and Archetypes of Archaic man led me to think about a Twitter post I stumbled upon a while back, which basically said that LARPing (LARP = Live Action Role Playing) is a powerful spiritual tool that has been used by great men throughout history: Napoleon LARPed as Caesar, who LARPed as Alexander, who LARPed as Achilles, who LARPed as Hercules.
Thus, one can say that the Archetypal acts of repetition does create new history (even if viewing history as cyclical). This, in turn, led my thoughts to the profound quote by Yukio Mishima that appears in Sun and Steel (review), which is worth sharing in this context as well:
‘The cynicism that regards hero worship as comical is always shadowed by a sense of physical inferiority. Invariably, it is the man who believes himself to be physically lacking in heroic attributes who speaks mockingly of the hero.’Yukio Mishima – Sun and Steel
The Act of Creation
The author notes that for Archaic man, many of the rituals he partook in were repetitions of the act of Creation. By following an already established pattern, he could find his role in the Universe (perhaps many nihilists of our Modern World could benefit from such a mindset). The view of cyclical time and the repetition of the act of Creation can explain the concept of the Eternal Return (i.e. the title of the book).
‘Every New Year is a resumption of the time from the beginning, that is, a repetition of the cosmogony.’Mircae Eliade – The Myth of the Eternal Return. Page 54.
Periodic ceremonies could entail the expulsion of demons, diseases, and sins. This could take shape in the form of fasting, ablutions, and purification. Fasting has, as I detail in Dauntless, a number of health benefits – primarily autophagy (which is basically the body’s way of cleaning out damaged cells, in order to regenerate newer, healthier cells). Fasting can also be used as a way to attain a certain mental clarity.
Two Views of Time – Cosmic Cycles and History
A central theme in the book is the two different views of time: Cosmic Cycles and History. As most readers are probably aware, the cyclical view of time is connected with Indo-European spirituality – Vedic tradition presents the four ages: Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dvapara Yuga, and Kali Yuga (which we are in now). In Germanic tradition, Ragnarök is the event that ends the world – which will then be reborn. Christianity views time as History with a linear progression. Eliade notes that early Christian writers opposed the myth of the eternal return (cyclical time and periodic regeneration of history) but that it still found its way into Christian philosophy to a certain degree. This is an interesting discussion in the book, and the full implications of it lie beyond the scope of this article.
As I noted in a video (Paganism or Christianity. Should You Become a Catholic?) a few years back, the cyclical view of time is, one could argue, more natural for a European, who witnesses the cycle of the year – as opposed to the more static nature of the desert.
Misfortune and History and The Terror of History
In the chapter titled The Terror of History, the author elaborates on how humanity has dealt with History in the form of catastrophes and, generally speaking, bad times.
‘The foregoing chapters have abundantly illustrated the way in which men of the traditional civilizations tolerated history. The reader will remember that they defended themselves against it, either by periodically abolishing it through repetition of the cosmogony and a periodic regeneration of time or by giving historical events a metahistorical meaning, a meaning that was not only consoling but was above all coherent, that is, capable of being fitted into a well-consolidated system in which the cosmos and man’s existence had each its raison d’être.’Mircae Eliade – The Myth of the Eternal Return. Page 142.
In essence, one could say that the suffering became bearable if it had a meaning. This makes perfect sense and is an insight which can be useful to keep in mind. This brings to mind the Rune Hagalaz, which is a Rune of both destruction and creative destruction. The practical application of it can be to view any negative event as also bearing the seeds of something positive to come. I will elaborate on this at length later on.
At 162 pages, the book is quite concise and can be read and digested within a reasonable time frame. Even so, it is densely packed with interesting insights – an impressive amount of insights for so few pages! Thus, I can recommend it for those interested in Traditionalism, myth, and spirituality.
I look forward to getting further acquainted with the thoughts of Mircea Eliade!