Very few souls have walked on the earth with such inspired madness for life as Nietzsche. He is a rare person whose writings have the religious urgency to awaken that which has been tranquilized within you by rotting cultures and faiths. His voice echoes off the page and through to the back of your skull. Hearing his words have the impact of bouncing off unreceptive dullards to no avail and striking heavy blows upon those of a certain type. Nietzsche himself admits he is proud of this dynamic:
“At the moment, ‘Zarathustra’s value is entirely personal. . . . For everyone else, it is obscure, mysterious, and ridiculous. Heinrich von Stein (a splendid example of a man, whose company has given me real pleasure) told me candidly that of said ‘Zarathustra , he understood ’twelve sentences and no more.’ I found that very comforting.”
Nietzsche, Letter to Franz Overbeck
His legendary literary creation from the novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book For Everybody and Nobody, in particular, walks with one foot in another dimension, as all the prophets do. However, he is the most earthly and vibrant among them all, a joyous and weeping laughing lion. Zarathustra is a mystic who drinks, dines, sings, receives omens, talks to animals and suffers while searching for his companions:
“A light has dawned for me: I need companions, living ones, not dead companions and corpses which I carry with me wherever I wish. But I need living companions who follow me because they want to follow themselves – and who want to go where I want to go.”
Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Zarathustra as literary creation is a textual representation of Nietzsche’s own inner being, which belongs to an archetype of primordial realities common to all men. This archetype lives on instinct which is the primitive and uncorrupted intelligence of the deepest parts of the spirit which are cloaked within the darkest corners of the body. Hidden within the most ancient parts of experience - hunger, thirst, sex, pain - are the gates of godliness untouchable by the mind. Nietzsche himself related his mystic experience in Ecce Homo:
“The concept of revelation, in the sense that something suddenly, with unspeakable certainty and subtlety, becomes visible, audible, something that shakes and overturns one to the depths, simply describes the fact. One hears, one does not seek; one takes, one does not ask who gives; a thought flashes up like lightning, with necessity, unfalteringly formed – I never had any choice.”
Nietzsche, Ecce Homo
Nietzsche was aware of his own significance as he was an immensely erudite scholar and held the position of Chair of Classical Philology when he was only twenty-four years old. He wrote in letters to friends about the significance of his novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra:
“It is incredibly full of detail which, because it is drawn from what I’ve seen and suffered, only I can understand. Some pages seem to be almost bleeding.”
Nietzsche, Letter to Peter Gast
“Don’t be put off by the mythic style of the book: my entire philosophy is behind those homey and unusual words, and I have never been more serious. It is a beginning at self-disclosure- nothing more! I know perfectly well that there is no one alive who could write anything like ‘Zarathustra.’”
Nietzsche, Letter to Carl von Gersdorff
What you get with Nietzsche is a profound depth of feeling that rattles the ideal reader to the core leaving them shaken and breathless. It awakens generosity, ecstasy and motion. It gives birth to energetic and inspired immortal turmoil. This leads us to the doctrine of eternal recurrence.
“To minimize suffering and to remove oneself from suffering (i.e. from life) - this is supposed to be moral? To create suffering—for oneself and for others—to make them fit for the highest form of life, that of the victor—would be my goal.”
Nietzsche, Unpublished Fragments from July & August 1882
To understand Nietzsche, we need an intuition of what is meant by highest form of life, that of the victor. Nietzsche admired Socrates, Faust, Beethoven, Caesar, and Michaelangelo. One interpretation is gathered through his doctrine of eternal recurrence, especially the famous depiction called The Greatest Weight from The Gay Science:
“What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence—even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it; speck of dust!”
“Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.’ If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you. The question in each and every thing, ‘Do you desire this once more and innumerable times more?’ would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight. Or, how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?”
Nietzsche, The Gay Science
Nietzsche collapses the spiritual search for truth into one atomic moment of absolute immanence. The demon, for us, is Nietzsche’s prophetic words, when you first encounter this aphorism. Thus, as far as Nietzsche’s intentions, you have now - literally - met the demon through the act of literary reflection and the doctrine of eternal recurrence will haunt you forever.
However, it is not Nietzsche himself who is speaking through the demon, but your future self reminding you of the truth of his message. Your subjective apprehension of its significance is retroactively caused by the memory implanted by you in the future (lived in the past). Without you having lived this moment already and without having attained awareness of the doctrine’s profundity in another life, you wouldn’t be startled by this message now. In other words, you are affected by the idea of living again and again because your horror and your ecstasy are both remembrances.
“What do we do with the rest of our lives—we who have spent the greatest part of them in the most essential ignorance? We teach the doctrine—it is the strongest means of incorporating it into ourselves, our kind of bliss, as teacher of the greatest doctrine.”
Nietzsche, Unpublished Fragments August 1881
Nietzsche’s injunction is to remember your future. Your instinct towards the highest form of life, including in premonitions, visions and dreams, are the remnants of your undying memory buried in the unconscious.
“My doctrine says: the task is to live in such a way that you must wish to live again—you will anyway! To whom striving gives the highest feeling, let him strive; to whom rest gives the highest feeling, let him rest; to whom placement, following, obedience give the highest feeling, let him obey. May he only become aware of what gives him the highest feeling and spare no means! Eternity is at stake!”
Nietzsche, Unpublished Fragments
Eternal recurrence is projected backwards as well as forwards. You have lived your future in the past, and in the future you will relive your past again. However, the aphorism of the demon and the novel of Zarathustra illustrate the possibility of interrupting this unchanging sleepwalking through time. Your instinct to the highest feeling emanates from your memory of the future which when viewed grants an inspired radicalization of being. In the eternally recurring life, you may receive precognitive dreams, visions and voices like Zarathustra. Paul Loeb describes his interpretation in the book The Death of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra:
“Thus, the source of my precognitive certainty is my mnemonic certainty: it is precisely because I suddenly and over-whelmingly recall having died and recurred innumerable times that I am able to foresee that I will do so innumerable times more. Indeed, since my life is eternally recurring, I am able to impress into my memory messages that will be buried in my younger self’s subconscious and that will manifest themselves in the form of precognitive dreams, visions, omens, and voices. The voice I hear is thus my own future voice reminding me of my eternally recurring life. Accordingly, as the narrator suggests, my response to that voice is evidence of how well disposed I am towards myself: cursing the ‘Demon’ who speaks thus shows my self-hatred; blessing the ‘god’ who speaks thus shows my self-love.”
Loeb, The Death of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, p. 28
The past is also your future which you will eternally relive in the present. My choices in the present “determine both the forward and backward extension of my eternally recurring life.” (ibid, p. 29)
The intellectual bridge to the superman is identified in Socrates whom Nietzsche held in the highest esteem. It is clear that prior to inventing Zarathustra, Nietzsche identified Socrates as the incarnation of his ideals.
You may see Walter Kaufmann’s article Nietzsche’s Admiration for Socrates for a full treatment. Here are a few excerpts:
“Socrates is celebrated as ’the first philosopher of life (Lebensphilosoph)’: ‘Thought serves life, while in all previous philosophers life served thought and knowledge.’”
“Socrates is admired for his integration of the theoretical and practical: in the earliest writings he is both the ’theoretical man’ and the Lebensphilosoph; now he is ’the theoretical man’ who ‘would rather die than become old and feeble in spirit.’”
Kaufmann, Nietzsche’s Admiration for Socrates
“The conditions for the origin of genius have not improved in modern times, and the aversion to original men has increased to such a degree that Socrates could not have lived among us and would not, in any case, have reached the age of seventy.”
“Actually, Nietzsche quite specifically includes Socrates: ‘Socrates is the last one in this line.” (§ 1) In his lecture on Heraclitus, Nietzsche says further that three of the pre-Platonics embody the purest types: ‘Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Socrates—the sage as religious reformer, the sage as proud and lonely truth finder, and the sage as the eternally and everywhere seeking one.’ (§10) One may suspect that Nietzsche must have felt a special kinship to the ever seeking Socrates.”
Kaufmann, Nietzsche’s Admiration for Socrates
“If all goes well, the time will come when, to develop oneself morally-rationally, one would rather take into one’s hand the memorabilia of Socrates than the Bible… Above the founder of Christianity, Socrates has the gay kind of seriousness and that wisdom full of pranks which constitutes the best state of the soul of man. Moreover, he had the greater mind.”
“Is that the life of sages? It remains science… Socrates would demand that one should bring philosophy down to man again.”
This directional reference of bringing philosophy ‘down’ to man is exactly the same geography of the soul illustrated by Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, whom we will turn to next. He first appears at the end of The Gay Science in an aphorism titled Incipit Tragoedia:
“You great star, what would your happiness be if you did not have those for whom you shine? For ten years you have climbed up to my cave: You would have become weary of your light and of the journey had it not been for me and my eagle and my serpent; but we waited for you every morning, took your overflow from you, and blessed you for it. Behold, I am sick of my wisdom. like a bee that has gathered too much honey; I need hands outstretched to receive it; I want to give away and distribute until the wise among men enjoy their folly once again and the poor their riches. For that I must descend to the depths, as you do in the evening when you go behind the sea and still bring light to the underworld, you over-rich star. Like you I must go under as men put it to whom I wish to descend. Bless me then, you calm eye that can look without envy even upon an all too great happiness. Bless the cup that wants to overflow in order that the water may flow from it golden and carry the reflection of your rapture everywhere. Behold, this cup wants to become empty again, and Zarathustra wants to become man again. Thus Zarathustra began to go under.*
Nietzsche, The Gay Science
The instinctive yearning for the highest is the search for one’s ontological roots. Nietzche invokes the first Prophet of the prehistoric world, the full-blooded Aryan, who reappears in literature at the end of The Gay Science (Incipit Tragoedia) following the aphorism on the death of Socrates and then the first mention of the doctrine of eternal recurrence (The Greatest Weight). Zarathustra’s people are the fire-worshippers who self-immolate what is human and therefor progressively degenerating into the Last Man in order to give birth to a dancing star, the multidimensional Superman.
“‘Fire-worship’ is a deceptive term. The Aryans did not worship the Fire itself, but that invisible Principle and intellectual personality of which Fire was the visible out-shining or manifestation.”
Pike, Irano-Aryan Faith and Doctrine
This introduction now leads us to Zarathustra, Nietzsche’s ubermensch prototype. He was undoubtedly familiar with the Zorastrians and chose this ancient sage and warrior-priest to embody his ideals for a reason. We will use Zoroaster to refer to the historical figure and Zarathustra as Nietzsche’s literary creation. This follows Nietzsche’s quotes where he will refer to his own character and not to the historical Iranian prophet.
What is left for humanity? This is the concern of Nietzche’s Zarathustra, the eternally recurring and prophetic Prophet of the legendary spiritually Aryan Supermen. The Superman is the antithesis of the Ultimate or Last Man which represents the destiny of the unregenerate human. Zoroaster’s people were nomadic herdsman conquerors who migrated from their primitive homeland nearby the source of the Oxus and Jaxartes rivers to Bactria and Sogdiana, and later to the Indus Valley and Europe. His people spoke a primordial parent language which mixed with local indigenous tongues over millennia of migration to form Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Persian, Sclavonic, Teutonic, and Keltic. Historical Zoroaster himself possibly lived and taught near the city of Bokhara after the migration to Bactria.
“What is more important is that Zarathustra is more truthful than any other thinker. His doctrine, and his alone, posits truthfulness as the highest virtue; this means the opposite of the cowardice of the ‘idealist’ who flees from reality; Zarathustra has more intestinal fortitude than all other thinkers taken together. To speak the truth and to shoot well with arrows, that is Persian virtue. —Am I understood?— The self-overcoming of morality, out of truthfulness.”
Nietzsche, Ecce Homo
Nietzche’s Zarathustra is characterized by contempt for the motionless, the apathetic, the unregenerate, the dwarf, the happy, the reasonable, and the virtuous. Zarathustra embodies a radical break with all poisoned, rotting and transcendental ideals. He proclaims that those who are descending should be pushed to fall faster and those who are Higher Men should also take the reins of willing their own fated downfall, a sort of controlled demolition. He teaches to shatter the good and the just for they are the refuges of the Last Man.
Most importantly, the novel is written poetically, aphoristically and lyrically so as to be insulated from lesser minds who dissect its prose with their small beaks. Great works, such as Faust or Zarathustra, are like deep wells in the desert and what you receive depends on the size of your bucket. If you bring your ordinary rational and lazy mind - you will say this book is gibberish. However, if you read with a beating heart, with passion and a song vibrating in your chest you can quench your thirst complety and be so intoxicated by its beauty that you enter its world (or rather, it enters you).
Nietzche locates the spirit of the Superman in the Aryan fire-worshippers as taught by Zoroaster. The ancient Aryans functioned as a genetic bridge to civilizational glory for the peoples they encountered, conquested and were subjugated by. However, they themselves lacked the noble adornments of empire in their racial homelands.
“The Aryans are sometimes said to torment the tormentors, and these ’tormentors’ are always the invaders from beyond the Oxus, who, it seems, and we shall clearly see hereafter, had overrun and subjugated a large part of the country. That which benefits the true believers is wholly unknown to these rulers, and never done by them; and he is the mightiest among the Aryans, at whose summons the labourers assemble; by which I think is meant that he is best able to protect himself who has in his employ as husbandmen large numbers of labourers, ready at any time to repel marauders—the growers of stock being comparatively at their mercy.”
Pike, Irano-Aryan Faith and Doctrine, p. 119
“The great labour of Zarathustra was to induce the chiefs who had submitted, to abandon an inglorious neutrality, and unite their forces and fortunes with his.”
ibid, p. 120
“To arouse the people, to induce the lukewarm or discouraged chiefs to unite in the effort to liberate the country, these songs were composed, chiefly by Zarathustra himself, but in part by a missionary sent out by Zarathustra, or at least acting as his subordinate, and preaching the true faith. Victory and liberation were to be attained only by propagating that faith, and by the efficacy of prayer, without which armies could not be raised, nor strength be possessed by the soldiery, nor strategical skill by the captains and commanders… It was to effect all this, that Zarathustra was to be gifted with persuasive eloquence.”
ibid, p. 123
“Zarathustra was priest, teacher, soldier and monarch, claiming to be all by divine commission. He not only taught the Aryan people a truer religion than idol-worship or the worship of fire and light and their manifestations, but he persuaded them to lead better lives, liberated them from servitude and oppression, and established the reign of peace, law and order in the land.”
ibid, p. 125
“Zarathustra presents himself as the champion of the labourers, the toiling masses, against those who exacted their toil and were enriched by it, living in idleness, that the sons of the industrious became idlers; and that, among all the people, Ahura selects the workers and warriors, to possess, as truly religious, the many blessings in the gift of Vohu-Mano; and that it is a sufficient reason for rejecting the inactive and idle chiefs, that they have not endeavoured to convert the native tribes to the true religion; or, to reform the vicious and irreligious, by means of the precepts and teachings of Zarathustra, and so have not given aid to him in his great work of reform as a means of liberation, nor taken up arms.”
ibid, p. 139
It is hard to miss the Marxist and Eurasianist themes in the above passages in terms of the self-determination of all people through liberatory struggle. More beauty from Nietzsche’s teaching is realized when reading the example of nomadic herdsman conquerors into the post-modern Information Age. Our concern is not geography with landmarks like the Oxus and Jaxartes rivers, but cyberspace which allows homegrown emergent virtual territory. Invasion and toiling labourers are represented by censorships, intellectuals, digital retreats and incursions, academic labor and counter-informational warfare.
What is divine commission in the Internet Age? It is the blue checkmark, the verified identity, the promoted top listings, the premium turbo gold account V.I.P badge and so on. These are blessings from the new gods to reward those who serve them. What is a God but the final authority on information? Nietzsche’s atheism and his Zarathustra are again relevant here. In our age the new gods peddle the Last Man opium. The unregenerate human in our time is characterized by narcotics both actual and simulated. When Zarathustra speaks to the Last Man he repeatedly laments to himself: “They do not understand me: I am not the mouth for these ears.
Indeed the Last Man rejects Zarathustra and his teachings. Pike writes:
“devotion, prayer and praise were regarded as actual forces, which themselves achieved results and won victories. To him who used them, they became skill and wisdom and strength; and this intense conviction of the potency of prayer and faith is a striking feature of the religion of Zarathustra.”
Pike, Irano-Aryan Faith and Doctrine, p. 135
The Last Man of our time has faith in his own impotence and pride in his backwardsness. Strength and wisdom he says are anachronisms. Zarathustra speaks of the Last Man: “They are clever and know everything that has ever happened: so there is no end to their mockery.” They are swollen with ironic pseudo-knowledge which poses as truth and thus they are unable to have contempt for themselves. Contrast this with Socrates, the wise soldier-philosopher who knew nothing.
In conclusion, Zarathustra should not be overlooked as a prophet for our time. Nietzsche’s entire corpus is an unrivalled brilliancy and his one novel in particular is a masterpiece of raw religious animality.