Gymnosophists etc.

l.m.fosse at l.m.fosse at
Thu May 9 10:21:32 UTC 1996

Robert Zydenbos wrote:

>With regard to Indo-European religion, I recall having seen an article by A.
>Meillet in his _Linguistique historique et linguistique ge'ne'rale_ (Paris,
>1948). I forgot the title of the article, but it is the very last one in the
>book. Going by a study of words and names in the ancient Indo-European
>languages for 'god', 'divinity' etc., he reached the conclusion that the
>earliest, common Indo-European religious thought was extremely inchoate, and
>that hence all the more highly developed forms of religion found among the
>early Indo-Europeans had to be later local developments, perhaps largely
>borrowed from non-Indo-Europeans.
>I cannot say to what extent Meillet's findings have become outdated due to more
>recent research. If these findings hold true, then they would be further
>support for the idea of a borrowing of e.g. ideas of metempsychosis from India
>by certain Greeks.

There has been extensive research on I.E. culture not only Meillet but also
by Benveniste, Dumezil and a host of other scholars working in the
Indo-European field. As far as transmigration is concerned, Caesar claimed
that the Celts believed in transmigration, but this has not been
substantiated by other independent sources. There are also some rather
vague indications of such beliefs among the Germanic tribes, but hardly
enough to be called evidence. In Greece, transmigration was only one of
several religious doctrines, and not a very important one, but the
Pythagoreans believed in it, and they are a fairly ancient sect. It is
therefore possible that transmigration was an esoteric idea that followed
certain groups of Indo-Europeans from a very early time and therefore pops
up in a limited context in other places than India, where it became the
all-conquering idea. (I personally do not believe that the ancient
Indo-Europeans had no variation as far as their beliefs are concerned. Why
should they all thing the same? We don't). But by all means: Greek ideas
about transmigration may indeed have migrated from the East! The point is,
however: If the idea also existed among the Germanic and Celtic tribes,
this would, in my opinion, lend support the notion that transmigration was
an inherited esoteric teaching among Indo-Europeans.

Best regards,

Lars Martin Fosse

Lars Martin Fosse
Research Fellow
Department of East European
and Oriental Studies
P. O. Box 1030, Blindern
N-0315 OSLO Norway

Tel: +47 22 85 68 48
Fax: +47 22 85 41 40

E-mail: l.m.fosse at

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