Gymnosophists etc.

Luis Arnold Gonzalez-Reimann reimann at
Fri May 10 00:45:26 UTC 1996

On Thu, 9 May 1996, Lars Martin Fosse wrote:

> 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I cannot say to what extent Meillet's findings have become outdated due to more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

The idea that transmigration could have been an ancient Indo European 
esoteric tradition that later surfaced in different corners of the IE 
world, but became more important in India, is interesting.  However, what 
solid evidence do we have that, even in India, it was important at an 
early stage, before the punar-mRtyu of the BRrhadAraNnyaka UpaniSad?

Luis Gonzalez-Reimann
Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies
University of California, Berkeley

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