We will here isolate two sections of Thus Spoke Zarathustra and read the entirety of the text (and sometimes Nietzsche’s broader thought) through each section.
1 – Ashes
In the prologue Zarathustra awakens one morning to the realization that he is “overburdened with wisdom: like the bee that has gathered too much honey.” 1It is now time for him to bring this wisdom as a gift to the town of ‘Motley Crow’ from which he left ten years ago. While walking towards the town he encounters a priest:
“No stranger to me is this wanderer: many years ago he passed by here before. Zarathustra he was called; but now he has transformed himself.
‘Then you were carrying your ashes to the mountains: would you today carry your fire into the valleys? Do you not fear the arsonist’s punishment?” 2
We can only build anew through the destruction of old. Nietzsche held that our values are in need of a transvaluation, the blows of a hammer to our Idols, we cannot determine that facticity of that which we may not critique. The mediator for Nietzsche’s philosophy, Zarathustra, wanted to do just that.
But why Zarathustra abandon the town for the mountain? The priest here recounts Zarathustra leaving as ashes and returning with fire? Similar to a phoenix rising from the ashes. For Nietzsche, pain is as necessary as pleasure. In our hedonistic age of instant gratification, we have lost our understanding of value. If something is merely given to you without working for it, does it really have any value? If you are given employment by virtue of your material qualities, as opposed to the hardship you endured to become suited for that role, have you actually earned that position? We enjoy the immediateness of acquiring something instantaneously without working to obtain that particular thing, we have it, we wanted it a second ago and now we have obtained it, but the value of that thing disappears, there was no overcoming prior to acquiring.
“What happened, my brothers? I overcame myself as a sufferer; I carried my own ashes to the mountain; a brighter flame I made for myself.” 3
Suffering brings wisdom. In the process of suffering you must seek for ways to both cope with the suffering, and to reach the end of it. In the mountains Zarathustra distanced himself from the ‘flies in the marketplace’, the preachers and the herd. Sometimes we must distance ourselves from everything around us, the spectacles and the chaos, it is only through distance that we can truly observe the totality of a disaster. Out in nature we can obtain solace. From the summit of the mountain Zarathustra can watch from afar and contemplate. After 10 years of isolation, Zarathustra realised that ‘god is dead.’ 4 But what does Nietzsche truly mean by this statement? People take it in a variety of ways, they abuse it. Nietzsche realised that we have strayed away from the moral framework, people live a life pursuing hedonistic pleasures while claiming to be Christian, they do not follow the doctrine yet invoke the name. Thus ‘god is dead’, we cannot return to the Christian faith because we have already left it behind. Not just that, but it was flawed from the beginning, Judeo-Christian religion makes man concerned with life on Earth only to the extent that it determines his place in the afterlife.
‘Nietzsche fundamentally interpreted Christianity as “saying no” to life, [thus Nietzsche was lead to] provide this definition of paganism: “pagans are all who say Yes to life, to whom ‘God’ is the word for the great Yes to all things.”’ 5
Nietzsche was not opposed to the idea of a god or gods, he was opposed to ideologies which take us away from each other and the Earth; that made us not care about existence here. Zarathustra brought down the wisdom he accumulated over the 10 years away, he left burned and returned a child ready to set ablaze the world, to turn it into ashes upon which we can set a foundation to rebuild anew.
2 – Symbolism of the Staff
Upon leaving again for the mountain at the end of the first part, Zarathustra’s disciples escort him:
‘Thus they came to a crossroads: there Zarathustra told them that he wanted to walk alone from then on, for he was a friend of walking alone.
His disciples handed him in farewell a staff, on the golden haft of which a serpent was coiled around the sun.’ 6
How do we approach this recurrent symbolism in Zarathustra?
With Nietzsche we have his theory of the Eternal Return (all of which has happened will recur again infinitely) which can be symbolised by the Ouroboros, the snake eating its tale. We also have in countless religions snakes and serpents used symbolically, the Garden of Eden’s trickster convincing Adam and Eve to act against Gods wishes; Jöromungandr, the giant serpent of Midgard surrounding Earth with its teeth clasping its tail.
Then we have the Sun, countless religions held the Sun to be a solar deity. The Sun is that which brings life and light, the bringer of warmth, without which we could not survive.
What does it mean for his disciples to pass to him a staff bearing both these symbols?
For the disciples, Zarathustra is their prophet, he brings to them enlightenment and eternity. He brings to them the doctrine of the Übermensch.
We are all aware that our material desires will ultimately bring no lasting joy, yet we continue to repeat the same actions and remain in the same cycle. We continue to make the same failures in repetition when we should be learning from our mistakes, stopping what we are doing, replace the damaged wheel with a fresh one.
Have you ever heard of an individual who obtains one million dollars and does not continue to chase more? People continue to repeat that which does not bring them lasting happiness, once they obtain a million dollars they are stuck in a cycle: “If I spend one dollar I cede my status as a millionaire.”
“Just look at these superfluous creatures! Riches they acquire, and thereby they become poorer. Power is what they want, and especially the crowbar of power, much money – those impotent creatures!
Look at them clamber, these nimblest of apes! They clamber over each other and thus drag themselves into the mud and the depths.” 7
If we are to be stuck in a cycle of constant repetition would we not want it to be a cycle which is better than the current one?
Zarathustra brings to his disciple’s enlightenment. Zarathustra ventures around with his hammer destroying the false Idols, swatting away poisonous flies in the marketplace, he brings them hope and encourages them to transcend the current conditions. The “human has been an experiment.” We are a project, this is not our final form!
We are the creators. We do not have to remain as we are, within the failed systems we have created. No system is absolute, all our pursuits should be upwards, not linear.
This moment is indefinite. But each surpassing one in your future is not, and so, we must make it a moment we wish to repeat indefinitely. Do you really want to repeat a life in which all your decisions are determined by some incessant mosquitos whose only desire is material pleasure?
What determines hierarchy? Hierarchy is an inescapable reality, those who desire to reach the top of the pyramid will always reach it. People gravitate towards those who speak convictions of which they agree with authoritative manner. In creating a political system, we must consider who it is which reaches the top, who do we want at the top?
Plato’s Republic. Why so much concern for democracy? Do you genuinely believe that we have a say? Money exchanges hands between flies, your vote slides through a shredder. We all complain about the outcomes of elections, we watch the dates on the calendar fly by until the next symbolic ceremony comes and goes…
Installed are winners with banker funding, a direct line from corporations to the ‘leader’ is rings endlessly. The weakest among us attains power in a false hierarchy built on monetary terms. Your country is sold off to the highest bidder, your veterans sleep on the streets. Democracy is corrupted by currency, money (the ever great ‘equalizer’ allows the weak and decadent to rise from any station to positions riddled with corruption.
Though Nietzsche’s hammer left Western Philosophy in ruins, we can now sift through the rubble and find the scattered diamonds. Leading a country should not come with luxury, it should not be a desirable position. We need leaders who feel it is their duty to their people to lead the people from the herd to Overman.
A fearful man says no! If a man fears change he will never act, he may speak about action but ultimately is frozen by cowardice. Terrified is the herd.
Decadence. Consumed by the spectacle and terrified of debate, modern man seeks only destruction and clings to the cold lifeless bodies of fallen Idols. The weak will fall in time, their Idols will weigh them down while the tide rises. The unstable apparatus will fall, over the ruins the Overman will lay the foundation for something new.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, This Spoke Zarathustra (NY: Oxford University Press, 2008), 9.
- ibid. p. 10.
- ibid. p. 28.
- ibid. p. 11.
- Alain de Benoist, On Being a Pagan (USA: Arcana Europa Media, 2018), 35.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, This Spoke Zarathustra (NY: Oxford University Press, 2008), 64-5
- ibid. p. 34