“Zalmoxis” essay by Mircea Eliade: the immortality of the soul in pre

“The ‘Getae’ survived in Western historiography thanks to the confusion with the ‘Goths’: they had become the mythical ancestors of the Germanic peoples and, later, of the Spaniards.” – Mircea Eliade

From Zalmoxis to Genghis Khan by Mircea Eliade

Fortuna operates in a mysterious way for us human beings and sometimes such a far-reaching error becomes the possibility for a people to discover their origin.

One of the essays included within de “From Zalmoxis to Genghis Khan – Comparative studies on the religions and folklore of Dacia and Eastern Europe” by Mircea Eliade (Edizioni Mediterranee, 2022) is dedicated to Zalmoxis, a name made famous by Herodotus who, in his “Stories”, writes: “They consider themselves immortal: they are, that is, convinced not to die, and they believe that he who disappears reaches Zalmoxis, a divine being (daimon), which some of them call Gebeleizis.”

Mircea Eliade, from a young age, he was involved in research on the Romanian and Central-Eastern European spiritual traditions, thanks to a three-year stay, from 1928 to 1931 in India. And already in the Thirties he is known as an orientalist, a scholar of religions, a university professor and a storyteller; in Bucharest, in 1938, he founded a magazine called Zalmoxis. Revue des Études Religieuses and in 1970 he published the book with the aforementioned essay inside.

Herodotus (Halicarnassus, 484 BC – Thurii, about 425 BC) showed a lot of interest to the Getae in the question of immortality, in another famous passage he tells the biography of Zalmoxis, reporting what he had heard about this man: first a slave of Pythagoras (Samos, between 580 BC and 570 BC – Metaponto, about 495 BC) from whom he would have learned about immortality and the customs and customs of the Greeks, considered more advanced than those of the Thracians. Having become free, Zalmoxis returned to his homeland and taught, during his banquet, to some disciples the meaning of eternal life. The existence of an underground dwelling had also been handed down in which Zalmozis stayed for three years, only to reappear in the fourth year causing a stir. Herodotus himself showed doubts about the biography also because he believed that Zalmoxis was many years older than Pythagoras.

Mircea Eliade underlines, unlike Herodotus, the importance of the “underground dwelling”, the andreon, and compares it to the κατάβασις, to the descensus ad inferos, of which Iamblichus, Porphyry, Tertullianus, Erminippo and Diogene Laertius tell in their biographies on Pythagoras. It is therefore plausible to take into consideration the symbolic element of an initiatory rite for Zalmoxis as well.

“L’andreon that Zalmoxis had had himself built and where he received citizens of noble status to discuss immortality, remembers both the hall of Crotone where Pythagoras taught his doctrine, and the premises where the banquets of esoteric religious societies were held. Moreover, scenes depicting ritual banquets are widely witnessed on the monuments of later times found in Thrace and throughout the Danubian region. “ – Mircea Eliade

Numerous legends tell of a similar scenario whether for the birth of a god, the appearance of a prophet or the ascent to the throne of a king. From India to Iran, from the cult of Mithras (1200 BC) to Jesus Christ, the cave has been a symbol of birth and rebirth, the rock that welcomed and protectedthe womb stone that allowed isolation from society to ensure deep meditation.

It is excluded that Zalmoxis was considered a deity of the underworld reached by those who die because “the gods and goddesses of the dead reign over all the dead without distinction, while the deities of the Mysteries admit only initiates to them“, rather he was a real Master connoisseur of mysteries and expert in astronomy and medicine. Plato in “Carmide” writes: “Zalmoxis – said the doctor – teaches that, just as it is not possible to heal the eyes without the head and the head without the body, so it is not possible to heal the body without healing the soul. For this reason, Greek doctors do not know how to cure many diseases, because they do not properly consider the whole. ”

Mircea Eliade
Mircea Eliade

For those initiated into the cult, death is not deprivation of life but, being transfigured, it offers the passage from the mortality of the body to the immortality of the soul (αθανατίζειν, to become immortal). He who is initiated meets a first death whose landing is knowledge (long and varied is the alchemical tradition that has come down to our days) and a second death that concludes the earthly journey (in the same volume of Eliade there is an essay entitled “The seer sheep” which recalls this theme).

“There was undoubtedly something right in the tendency, so widespread in Greece after Herodotus, to remember Zalmoxis together with Pythagoras, Orpheus, the Museum and, later, Zarathustra, the Egyptian sages, the druids. All of them had lived the experience of ecstasy and had revealed to their people the mysteries of the soul and its immortality. Even the passage of Mnasea of ​​Patara, a disciple of Eratosthenes, according to which the Getae worshiped Cronos and called him Zalmoxis, can be interpreted in the same sense – Cronos is in fact the ruler of the Blessed Isles where the souls of the righteous stay. In this, as in the other cases already examined, it is always a question of an eternal and happy existence in a different world, which does not belong to the geography of the profane, but which does not even coincide with the Underworld, where the shadows of the uninitiated live. . “ – Mircea Eliade

The disappearance of his cult presumably it took place with the conversion of Dacia to Christianity but, thanks to the confusion mentioned at the beginning, Zalmoxis survived in the legends of the Goths and in the mythology of the West. Mircea Eliade traces the historical lines of this passage in a precise way, the reader will be able, reading the essay, to know the paragraphs that have not been discussed such as the etymologies of the name, the ecstatic and thaumaturgical experiences, the philosopher-shamans, the sacrifice of messenger, the story of Decenaeus and the considerations of Strabo.

Written by Alessia Mocci

Buy From Zalmoxis to Genghis Khan – Comparative studies on the religions and folklore of Dacia and Eastern Europe

Read the article on “The seer sheep”

“Zalmoxis” essay by Mircea Eliade: the immortality of the soul in pre-Christian Dacia – OUBLIETTE MAGAZINE