Last modified on 11 July 2014, at 18:44

Mircea Eliade

Man becomes aware of the sacred because it manifests itself, shows itself, as something wholly different from the profane... something sacred shows itself to us... something of a wholly different order, a reality that does not belong to our world, in objects that are an integral part of our natural "profane" world.

Mircea Eliade (13 March 1907 {O.S. 28 February} – 22 April 1986) was a Romanian historian of religion, fiction writer, philosopher, and professor at the University of Chicago. His most enduring and influential contribution to religious studies was possibly his theory of Eternal Return, which holds that myths and rituals do not simply record or imitate hierophanies, but, at least to the minds of the religious, actually participate in them.

QuotesEdit

The crude product of nature, the object fashioned by the industry of man, acquire their reality, their identity, only to the extent of their participation in a transcendent reality.
The Experience of Sacred Space makes possible the "founding of the world": where the sacred Manifests itself in space, the real unveils itself, the world comes into existence.
Each one of these divine figures, each of these myths or symbols, is connected to a danger that was confronted and overcome...
  • The crude product of nature, the object fashioned by the industry of man, acquire their reality, their identity, only to the extent of their participation in a transcendent reality.
    • The Myth of the Eternal Return (1954) [also published as Cosmos and History (1959)]
  • The Experience of Sacred Space makes possible the "founding of the world": where the sacred Manifests itself in space, the real unveils itself, the world comes into existence.
    • The Sacred and the Profane : The Nature of Religion: The Significance of Religious Myth, Symbolism, and Ritual within Life and Culture (1961), translated from the French by William R. Trask, [first published in German as Das Heilige und das Profane (1957)]
  • Man becomes aware of the sacred because it manifests itself, shows itself, as something wholly different from the profane. To designate the act of manifestation of the sacred, we have proposed the term hierophany. It is a fitting term, because it does not imply anything further; it expresses no more than is implicit in its etymological content, i.e., that something sacred shows itself to us. It could be said that the history of religions — from the most primitive to the most highly developed — is constituted by a great number of hierophanies, by manifestations of sacred realities. From the most elementary hierophany — e.g. manifestation of the sacred in some ordinary object, a stone or a tree — to the supreme hierophany (which, for a Christian, is the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ) there is no solution of continuity. In each case we are confronted by the same mysterious act — the manifestation of something of a wholly different order, a reality that does not belong to our world, in objects that are an integral part of our natural "profane" world.
    • The Sacred and the Profane : The Nature of Religion: The Significance of Religious Myth, Symbolism, and Ritual within Life and Culture (1961), translated from the French by William R. Trask, [first published in German as Das Heilige und das Profane (1957)]
For those who have a religious experience all nature is capable of revealing itself as cosmic sacrality.
  • These thirty years, and more, that I've spent among exotic, barbaric, indomitable gods and goddesses, nourished on myths, obsessed by symbols, nursed and bewitched by so many images which have come down to me from those submerged worlds, today seem to me to be the stages of a long initiation. Each one of these divine figures, each of these myths or symbols, is connected to a danger that was confronted and overcome. How many times I was almost lost, gone astray in this labyrinth where I risked being killed... These were not only bits of knowledge acquired slowly and leisurely in books, but so many encounters, confrontations, and temptations. I realize perfectly well now all the dangers I skirted during this long quest, and, in the first place, the risk of forgetting that I had a goal... that I wanted to reach a "center".
    • Journal entry (10 November 1959) published in No Souvenirs (1977) , 74-5. Journal II, 1957-1969 (1989)
  • For those to whom a stone reveals itself as sacred, its immediate reality is transmuted into supernatural reality. In other words, for those who have a religious experience all nature is capable of revealing itself as cosmic sacrality.
    • The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion: The Significance of Religious Myth, Symbolism, and Ritual within Life and Culture (1961)
To try to grasp the essence of such phenomenon by means of physiology, psychology, sociology, economics, linguistics, art or any other study is false; it misses the one unique and irreducible element in it — the element of the sacred.
  • A religious phenomenon will only be recognized as such if it is grasped at its own level, that is to say, if it is studied as something religious. To try to grasp the essence of such phenomenon by means of physiology, psychology, sociology, economics, linguistics, art or any other study is false; it misses the one unique and irreducible element in it — the element of the sacred.
    • Patterns in Comparative Religion (1963), as translated by Rosemary Sheed, p. xiii
The history of religions reaches down and makes contact with that which is essentially human: the relation of man to the sacred.
  • Psychoanalysis justifies its importance by asserting that it forces you to look to and accept reality. But what sort of reality? A reality conditioned by the materialistic and scientific ideology of psychoanalysis, that is, a historical product...
    • Journal entry (7 October 1965) as published in No Souvenirs (1977) later retitled Journal II, 1957-1969 (1989), p. 269
  • The History of Religions is destined to play an important role in contemporary cultural life. This is not only because an understanding of exotic and archaic religions will significantly assist in a cultural dialogue with the representatives of such religions. It is more especially because ... the history of religions will inevitably attain to a deeper knowledge of man. It is on the basis of such knowledge that a new humanism, on a world-wide scale, could develop.
    • The Quest: History and Meaning in Religion (1969), p. 3
  • It is not without fear and trembling that a historian of religion approaches the problem of myth. This is not only because of that preliminary embarrassing question: what is intended by myth? It is also because the answers given depend for the most part on the documents selected.
    • The Quest: History and Meaning in Religion (1969), p. 72
  • The history of religions reaches down and makes contact with that which is essentially human: the relation of man to the sacred. The history of religions can play an extremely important role in the crisis we are living through. The crises of modern man are to a large extent religious ones, insofar as they are an awakening of his awareness to an absence of meaning.
    • Ordeal by Labyrinth, Conversations with Claude-Henri Rocquet (1982), p. 148
The interpretations of Freud are more and more successful because they are among the myths accessible to modern man...
  • The interpretations of Freud are more and more successful because they are among the myths accessible to modern man. The myth of the murdered father, among others, reconstituted and interpreted in Totem and Taboo. It would be impossible to ferret out a single example of slaying the father in primitive religions or mythologies. This myth was created by Freud. And what is more interesting: the intellectual élite accept it (is it because they understand it? Or because it is "true" for modern man?)
    • No Souvenirs (1977) later retitled Journal II, 1957-1969 (1989), p.117
  • TRINITY. Trinitarian doctrine touches on virtually every aspect of Christian faith, theology, and piety, including Christology and pneumatology, theological epistemology (faith, revelation, theological methodology), spirituality and mystical theology, and ecelesial life (sacraments, community, ethics). This article summarizes the main lines of trinitarian doctrine without presenting detailed explanations of important ideas, persons, or terms. The doctrine of the Trinity is the summary of Christian faith in God, who out of love creates humanity for union with God, who through Jesus Christ redeems the world, and in the power of the Holy Spirit transforms and divinizes (2 Cor. 3:18). The heart of trinitarian theology is the conviction that the God revealed in Jesus Christ is involved faithfully and unalterably in covenanted relationship with the world. Christianity is not unique in believing God is "someone" rather than something," but it is unique in its belief that Christ is the personal Word of God, and that through Christ's death and resurrection into new life, "God was in Christ reconciling all things to God" (2 Cor. 5:19). Christ is not looked upon as an intermediary between God and world but as an essential agent of salvation. The Spirit poured out at Pentecost, by whom we live in Christ and are returned to God (Father), is also not a "lesser God" but one and the same God who creates and redeems us. The doctrine of the Trinity is the product of reflection on the events of redemptive history, especially the Incarnation and the sending of the Spirit.
    • "Trinity" article in The Encyclopedia of Religion (1987) Vol 15, p. 53
It is above all the valorizing of the present that requires emphasizing.
  • Exegetes and theologians today are in agreement that the Hebrew Bible does not contain a doctrine of the Trinity, even though it was customary in past dogmatic tracts on the Trinity to cite texts like Genesis 1:26, "Let us make humanity in our image, after our likeness" (see also Gn. 3:22, 11:7; Is. 6:23) as proof of plurality in God. Although the Hebrew Bible depicts God as the father of Israel and employs personifications of God such as Word (davar), Spirit (ruah), Wisdom (hokhmah), and Presence (shekhinah), it would go beyond the intention and spirit of the Old Testament to correlate these notions with later trinitarian doctrine. Further, exegetes and theologians agree that the New Testament also does not contain an explicit doctrine of the Trinity. God the Father is source of all that is (Pantokrator) and also the father of Jesus Christ; "Father" is not a title for the first person of the Trinity but a synonym for God. Early liturgical and creedal formulas speak of God as "Father of our Lord Jesus Christ"; praise is to be rendered to God through Christ (see opening greetings in Paul and deutero-Paul).
    • "Trinity" article in The Encyclopedia of Religion (1987) Vol 15, Subsection : "Development of Trinitarian Doctrine"
  • It is above all the valorizing of the present that requires emphasizing. The simple fact of existing, of living in time, can comprise a religious dimension. This dimension is not always obvious, since sacrality is in a sense camouflaged in the immediate, in the "natural" and the everyday. The joy of life discovered by the Greeks is not a profane type of enjoyment: it reveals the bliss of existing, of sharing — even fugitively — in the spontaneity of life and the majesty of the world. Like so many others before and after them, the Greeks learned that the surest way to escape from time is to exploit the wealth, at first sight impossible to suspect, of the lived instant.
    • As quoted in Myth and Religion in Mircea Eliade (2002) by Douglas Allen, p. 90
  • To believe that I could, at twenty-three, sacrifice history and culture for "the Absolute" was further proof that I had not understood India. My vocation was culture, not sainthood.
    • As quoted in Myth and Religion in Mircea Eliade (2002) by Douglas Allen, p. 216
  • When the sacred manifests itself in any hierophany, there is not only a break in the homogeneity of space; there is also a revelation of an absolute reality, opposed to the nonreality of the vast surrounding expanse. The manifestation of the sacred ontologically founds the world. In the homogenous and infinite expanse, in which no point of reference is possible and hence no orientation can be established, the hierophany reveals an absolute fixed point, a center.
    • As quoted in The Structure of Religious Knowing : Encountering the Sacred in Eliade and Lonergan (2004) by John Daniel Dadosky, p. 89
  • It would be frightening to think that in all the cosmos, which is so harmonious, so complete and equal to itself, that only human life is happening randomly, that only one's destiny lacks meaning.
    • Attributed in The Little Book of Romanian Wisdom (2011) edited by Diana Doroftei and Matthew Cross
  • The way towards 'wisdom' or towards 'freedom' is the way towards your inner being. This is the simplest definition of metaphysics.
    • Attributed in The Little Book of Romanian Wisdom (2011) edited by Diana Doroftei and Matthew Cross

Images and Symbols (1952)Edit

Ignorance is, first of all, this false identification of Reality with what each one of us appears to be or to possess.
  • The hearer of myth, regardless of his level of culture, when he is listening to a myth, forgets, as it were, his particular situation and is projected into another world, into another universe which is no longer his poor little universe of every day. . . . The myths are true because they are sacred, because they tell him about sacred beings and events. Consequently, in reciting or listening to a myth, one resumes contact with the sacred and with reality, and in so doing one transcends the profane condition, the "historical situation." In other words one goes beyond the temporal condition and the dull self-sufficiency which is the lot of every human being simply because every human being is "ignorant" — in the sense that he is identifying himself, and Reality, with his own particular situation. And ignorance is, first of all, this false identification of Reality with what each one of us appears to be or to possess.
    • p. 59
One is devoured by Time, not because one lives in Time, but because one believes in its reality, and therefore forgets or despises eternity.
  • The great cosmic illusion is a hierophany.... One is devoured by Time, not because one lives in Time, but because one believes in its reality, and therefore forgets or despises eternity.
    • p. 90 - 91
  • It is only through the discovery of History — more precisely by the awakening of the historical consciousness in Judaeo-Christianity and its propagation by Hegel and his successors — it is only through the radical assimilation of the new mode of being represented by human existence in the world that myth could be left behind. But we hesitate to say that mythical thought has been abolished. As we shall soon see, it managed to survive, though radically changed (if not perfectly camouflaged). And the astonishing fact is that, more than anywhere else it survives in historiography!
    • p. 113
  • In archaic and traditional societies, the surrounding world is conceived as a microcosm. At the limits of this closed world begins the domain of the unknown, of the formless. On this side there is ordered — because of inhabited and organized — space; on the other, outside this familiar space, there is the unknown and dangerous region of the demons, the ghosts, and the dead and foreigners — in a world, chaos or death or night. This image of an inhabited microcosm, surrounded by desert regions as a chaos or a kingdom of the dead, has survived even in highly evolved civilizations such as those of China, Mesopotamia and Egypt.

Myth and Reality (1963)Edit

As translated by Willard R. Trask
Myth is an extremely complex cultural reality, which can be approached and interpreted from various and complementary viewpoints.
In imitating the exemplary acts of a god or of a mythic hero, or simply by recounting their adventures, the man of an archaic society detaches himself from profane time and magically re-enters the Great Time, the sacred time.
  • For the past fifty years at least, Western scholars have approached the study of myth from a viewpoint markedly different from, let us say, that of the nineteenth century. Unlike their predecessors, who treated myth in the usual meaning of the word, that is, as "fable," "invention," "fiction," they have accepted it as it was understood in archaic societies, where, on the contrary, "myth" means a "true story" and, beyond that, a story that is a most precious possession because it is sacred, exemplary, significant. This new semantic value given the term "myth" makes its use in contemporary parlance somewhat equivocal. Today, that is, the word is employed both in the sense of "fiction" or "illusion" and in that familiar especially to ethnologists, sociologists, and historians of religions, the sense of "sacred tradition, primordial revelation, exemplary model." ... the Greeks steadily continued to empty mythos of all religious and metaphysical value. Contrasted both with logos and, later, with historia, mythos came in the end to denote "what cannot really exist." On its side, Judaeo-Christianity put the stamp of "falsehood" and "illusion" on whatever was not justified or validated by the two Testaments.
  • Myth is an extremely complex cultural reality, which can be approached and interpreted from various and complementary viewpoints.
    Speaking for myself, the definition that seems least inadequate because most embracing is this: Myth narrates a sacred history; it relates an event that took place in primordial Time, the fabled time of the "beginnings." In other words myth tells how, through the deeds of Supernatural Beings, a reality came into existence, be it the whole of reality, the Cosmos, or only a fragment of reality — an island, a species of plant, a particular kind of human behavior, an institution. Myth, then, is always an account of a "creation"; it relates how something was produced, began to be. Myth tells only of that which really happened, which manifested itself completely. The actors in myths are Supernatural Beings. They are known primarily by what they did in the transcendent times of the "beginnings." hence myths disclose their creative activity and reveal the sacredness (or simply the "supernaturalness") of their works. In short, myths describe the various and sometimes dramatic breakthroughs of the sacred (or the "supernatural") into the World. It is this sudden breakthrough of the sacred that really establishes the World and makes it what it is today. Furthermore, it is as a result of the intervention of Supernatural Beings that man himself is what he is today, a mortal, sexed, and cultural being.
  • Whereas "false stories" can be told anywhere and at any time, myths must not be recited except during a period of sacred time (usually in autumn or winter, and only at night).... This custom has survived even among peoples who have passed beyond the archaic stage of culture. Among the Turco-Mongols and the Tibetans the epic songs of the Gesar cycle can be recited only at night and in winter.
  • In one way or another one "lives" the myth, in the sense that one is seized by the sacred, exalting power of the events recollected or re-enacted.
    "Living" a myth, then, implies a genuinely "religious" experience, since it differs from the ordinary experience of everyday life. The "religiousness" of this experience is due to the fact that one re-enacts fabulous, exalting, significant events, one again witnesses the creative deeds of the Supernaturals; one ceases to exist in the everyday world and enters a transfigured, auroral world impregnated with the Supernaturals' presence. What is involved is not a commemoration of mythical events but a reiteration of them. The protagonists of the myth are made present; one becomes their contemporary. This also implies that one is no longer living in chronological time, but in the primordial Time, the Time when the event first took place. This is why we can use the term the "strong time" of myth; it is the prodigious, "sacred" time when something new, strong, and significant was manifested. To re-experience that time, to re-enact it as often as possible, to witness again the spectacle of the divine works, to meet with the Supernaturals and relearn their creative lesson is the desire that runs like a pattern through all the ritual reiterations of myths. In short, myths reveal that the World, man, and life have a supernatural origin and history, and that this history is significant, precious, and exemplary.

Myths, Dreams and Mysteries (1967)Edit

As translated by Philip Mairet
  • In imitating the exemplary acts of a god or of a mythic hero, or simply by recounting their adventures, the man of an archaic society detaches himself from profane time and magically re-enters the Great Time, the sacred time.
    • p. 23


MisattributedEdit

  • As long as you have not grasped that you have to die to grow, you are a troubled guest on the dark earth.
    • Attributed to Eliade in The Little Book of Romanian Wisdom (2011) edited by Diana Doroftei and Matthew Cross, this appears to be a translation of the last line of the poem "The Holy Longing" by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, which, as translated by Robert Bly reads: And so long as you haven't experienced this: to die and so to grow, you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.

Quotes about EliadeEdit

Mircea Eliade is preeminent as the scholarly prophet of a "new humanism" that it is hoped will bring man back to the "sacred" Eliade believes pre-modern man to have discerned in "being." ~ Philip H. Ashby
What constitute's one's life, is the world fraught with meaning and value. It is the living perception of people. That and that alone is what is meant by phenomena. ~ Allan W. Larsen
Eliade's whole life was devoted to trying to save the world's culture by introducing it to itself. ~ Robert Temple
  • Mircea Eliade is preeminent as the scholarly prophet of a "new humanism" that it is hoped will bring man back to the "sacred" Eliade believes pre-modern man to have discerned in "being." ... Eliade in his many writings is reminding us of past man's vision of life amidst the sacred that present man must regain if there is to be future man... Eliade the novelist and man of letters and Eliade the scholar and writer of learned tomes are not two men, but one who through his combination of sensitive, empathetic scholarship, and aesthetic appreciation and insight recognized the ultimate nature of the sacrality of being, and the terror of man when the sense of that sacrality is lost.
  • The breadth and depth of Eliade's learning, which astonished all who met him, his reverence toward the tradition he studied, and his intense, infectious enthusiasm, were an assurance that, if anyone could find what was religious about religion(s), he could. I believe the record shows that he could not. As a result, we now know a great deal more about religion(s) and we can ask totally new questions about it/them.
    • Roger Corless in "Building on Eliade's Magnificent Failure" in Changing Religious Worlds: The Meaning and End of Mircea Eliade (2000) edited by Bryan S. Rennie, p. 4
  • Like Freud and Jung and Rudolf Otto, all of whom contributed deep strands to his work, Eliade argued boldly for universals where he might more safely have argued for widely prevalent patterns. Yet many of the patterns that he identified in religions that spanned the entire globe and the whole of human history — a span that no one has ever known as well as he did — inspired an entire generation of both scholars and amateurs of the study of religion, and they still prove useful as starting points for the comparative study of religion and still hold water even after the challenges posed by new data to which Eliade did not have access. His concept of hierophany, the sudden irruption of the sacred in the profane world, sacred time opening to the transcendent, resulting in radical discontinuities, has proved a far more widely applicable and heuristic term than the older, narrower term "theophany," denoting the manifestation of a god. And his argument that religious forms, particularly myths, are usefully studied in popular culture as well as in the great scriptures is a postmodern idea that he formulated long before postmodernism. He taught us that myths (and, to a great extent, rituals) retold and reenacted in the present transport the worshipper back to the world of origins, the world of events that took place in illo tempore, "in that time"; this basic idea of what he called (after Nietzsche) "the eternal return" has become a truism in the study of religion and does, I think, apply to many mythologies, though not, as Eliade claimed, to all. His ideas about the alternation and interaction of cosmos and chaos, and cyclical/mythical time and linear/historical time, the sacred and the profane, are similarly fruitful starting points for many, if not all, cultures. Above all, his insistence that it is possible to find meaningful synchronic patterns of symbolism in addition to the phenomena that are unique to each time and place--this is the foundation on which the entire field of comparative religion still stands, and Eliade laid the cornerstone.
  • I prostrate in front of the memory of Mircea, my unforgettable friend. I am, in my moments of sadness, obliged to those who have permitted me to say that we have loved him, admired him, respected him and that once more he, Mircea, does never cease to be missed spiritually and emotionally, by all of us. But his work, so rich, so immense, still exists.
  • Eliade's interest is neither in the concept of profane experience nor in the derived concept of the sacred, but rather in the way these two are actually experienced. It is the phenomenological method that claims to describe these experiences of the sacred and the profane... When Eliade defines myth as a "true story" he is giving us a phenomenological description. For the people for whom the myth is a true story, it is not a figment of the imagination or merely a subjective belief but the perceived reality in which they live out their lives. What constitute's one's life, is the world fraught with meaning and value. It is the living perception of people. That and that alone is what is meant by phenomena.
    • Allan W. Larsen in The Phenomenology of Mircea Eliade in Changing Religious Worlds: The Meaning and End of Mircea Eliade (2000) edited by Bryan S. Rennie, p. 49 - 50
  • Mircea Eliade was motivated at all times by a deep concern for the future of Western civilisation, which he saw as threatened by possible extinction. He believed it essential that we recognise and acknowledge the archaic and the Eastern contributions to man's spiritual history while there is still time to do so with good grace. Otherwise, by maintaining an attitude of contempt or superiority towards the rest of the world — past and present — we would bring disaster on ourselves and the world as a whole. Eliade's whole life was devoted to trying to save the world's culture by introducing it to itself. ... His disciples are legion, and to a large extent he actually created both the academic subject itself and the institutional movement which led to the founding of all the departments and professorships which now abound in the history of religions. But during his entire career one great mystery remained: what did Eliade himself believe? In Ordeal by Labyrinth he admits that he never wished to distract his readers or his students with his own personal opinions, despite his ability to appear to act as an advocate for each religion in turn as he surveyed it. Perhaps this was Eliade's finest and most fitting gift of all: the complete obliteration of his private self in the pursuit of his higher aims. How ironic it is, then, that as a result we will never be able to forget him.

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