WIKANDER, Oscar Stig


WIKANDER, Oscar Stig (b. 27 August 1908, Norttälje, Sweden; d. 20 December 1983, Uppsala, Sweden; FIGURE 1), Iranist, comparatist, and historian of religions.

i. Biography.

ii. Account of his Works.


Wikander was born in a small town in Central Sweden, as the son of a pharmacist. He graduated from high school in Uppsala at seventeen, and immediately enrolled at the city’s university. Before he had turned nineteen, he had obtained his M.A. with highest grades in Latin and Greek, a remarkable accomplishment, and afterwards he went to Paris, Berlin, and Copenhagen, where Arthur Christensen (1875-1945) was professor, to study Iranian and Indian languages and religions (see IRANIAN LANGUAGES, INDO-IRANIAN RELIGION).

Wikander soon became known as a brilliant young scholar with wide interests and a deep knowledge of many fields. In 1935 and 1936, he and Geo Widengren (1907-1996) were among the members of the Avesta seminars, held by his older compatriot, the professor of Semitic languages at Uppsala University, H. S. Nyberg (1889-1974). These seminars informed Nyberg’s much debated book about ancient Iranian religions. Wikander defended in 1938 his dissertation at the Faculty of Arts of Uppsala University, thus becoming the first Ph.D. of Iranian languages and religions in Sweden. His research about the lexical evidence in Sanskrit and the Avestan language for the religious importance of young warrior bands (Ger. pl. Männerbünde; cf. Lincoln, p. 193) appeared under the title Der arische Männerbund. This work was greatly influenced by research of the Austrian folklorist Otto Höfler (1901-1987), who between 1928 and 1934 had taught German at the University of Lund. In January 1938, Höfler was appointed professor of German philology and folklore at the University of Munich, Germany, where Wikander taught Swedish in 1938-39. In 1941, he published his study about the Indo-Iranian wind god Vayu. Subsequently, the University of Lund granted Wikander a venia legendi (lit. the licence to teach university courses) and appointed him lecturer (docent) of Iranian languages. At the end of World War II, he served as a Red Cross delegate in Greece and Turkey.

During the academic year of 1947-48, Wikander taught history of religions as visiting associate professor (preceptor) at Uppsala University, where in 1953 he was appointed chair of Sanskrit and comparative Indo-European philology. Wikander retired in 1974, and amongst his students are Folke Josephson (b. 1934), Professor of Comparative Indo-European Philology at the University of Gothenburg, Gunilla Gren-Eklund (b. 1938), Professor of Indology, and Bo Utas (b. 1938), Professor of Iranian studies, both at Uppsala University. Wikander’s wife Gunnel Heikel (1911-73) was a nurse, and they had three daughters.

Wikander was internationally active, and maintained lively contacts with leading scholars of religions. The extent of his friendship with Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) is documented by their recently published correspondence (Timuş, 2005). Early in his career Wikander had become friends with Georges Dumézil (1898-1986), who taught French at Uppsala University between 1931 and 1933. Dumézil drew on Wikander’s research (1947, 1949) for his influential theory of Indo-European religion (Lincoln; Littleton, pp. 157-58). In the academic year of 1959-60 Wikander was visiting professor at Columbia University, New York, and in 1967 he taught at the Colegio de México, Mexico City. In October and November 1967, Wikander delivered, on Eliade's invitation, the Haskell Lectures about Mythic Epic and National Epic at the University of Chicago (Timuş, 2004).

Wikander probably had a greater impact on the development of new views on the history of religions than may be concluded from his publications. His wide-ranging ideas about Indian and Iranian religions and the comparative study of philology and religion were published in small articles, often only available in Swedish, and consequently little known. His second monograph, Vayu, was originally envisioned as the first volume of the new series Quaestiones indo-iranicae, which he had founded with his friend and colleague, the Indologist Kasten Rönnow (1897-1943). Shortly after World War II, Wikander published Feuerpriester in Kleinasien und Iran. His third major monograph must be regarded as his most important study, in which he analyzed evidence for the Iranian fire cult (see ATAŠ) drawing on a wide range of sources in various Iranian languages, aside from Greek, Armenian, and Sanskrit literature.

Wikander had many interests. In 1947, the renowned linguist Bertil Malmberg (1913-94) founded with Wikander the journal Studia linguistica, which became a major journal of general linguistics. In the 1950s, Wikander became interested in Kurdish studies, and published a Recueil de texts kourmandji in 1959. Later he turned to more speculative research, and published a series of articles about the relationship between the Maya language and the Altaic languages (1967, 1970, 1972). His last monograph was a slim volume about the contacts between Arabs and Vikings, based on medieval Arabic sources. During his final years Wikander focused on the Romantic Swedish poet Erik Johan Stagnelius (1793-1823), and published a number of original articles about his mystical poetry. For a fuller account of Wikander's works, see the following entry.


Wikander's personal papers are available in the library of Uppsala University, Sweden.


F. Josephson, “Stig Wikander 1908-1983,” Svenska Forskningsinstitutet i Istanbul, Meddelanden 9, 1984, pp. 78-79.

S. Y. Rudberg, “Stig Wikander,” Vetenskapssocieteten i Lund: Årsbok 1986, Lund, 1988, pp. 167-70.

Selected works of Wikander.

For a selected bibliography, see Bio-Bibliographies de 134 savants, Acta Iranica 20, Leiden, 1979, pp. 548-49. For a commented bibliography, see M. Timuş, ”La bibliographie annotée de Stig Wikander (1908-1983),” Studia Asiatica 1, 2000, pp. 209-234.

Der arische Männerbund: Studien zur indo-iranischen Sprach- und Religionsgeschichte, Lund, 1938.

Vayu: Texte und Untersuchungen zur indo-iranischen Religionsgeschichte, Quaestiones Indo-Iranicae 1, Uppsala and Leipzig, 1941.

Feuerpriester in Kleinasien und Iran, Acta Regia Societatis humaniorum litterarum Lundensis 40, Lund, 1946.

“Pāṇḍavasagan och Mahābhāratas mystiska förutsättningar,” Religion och Bibel 6, 1947, pp. 27-39; tr. as “La légende des Pândava et la substructure mythique du Mahâbhârata,” in Jupiter, Mars, Quirinus: IV – Explication de textes indiens et latins, by G. Dumézil, Bibliothèque de l'Ecole des hautes études: Section des sciences religieuses 62.4, Paris, 1948, pp. 37-53.

“Sur le fonds commun indo-iranien des épopées de la Perse et de l’Inde,” La nouvelle Clio: Revue mensuelle de la découverte historique 1-2, 1949, pp. 310-29.

Recueil de texts kourmandji, Uppsala Universitets Årsskrift 10, Uppsala, 1959.

“Maya and Altaic: Is the Maya Group of Languages Related to the Altaic Family,” Ethnos 32, 1967, pp. 141-48.

“Maya and Altaic II,” Ethnos 35, 1970, pp. 80-88.

“Maya and Altaic III,” Orientalia Suecana 21, 1972, pp. 186-204.

Araber, vikingar, väringar (Arabs, Vikings, Varangians), Svenska humanistiska förbundet 90, Lund, 1978.


U. Brunotte, “Männerbund zwischen Jugend- und Totenkult: Ritual und communitas am Beginn der Moderne,” in Religion in Cultural Discourse: Essays in Honor of Hans G. Kippenberg on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday, ed. B. Luchesi and K. von Stuckrad, Berlin, 2004, pp. 401-422; places Höfler’s research in the political and cultural context of the interwar years.

J. Duchesne-Guillemin, The Western Response to Zoroaster, Ratabai Katrak Lectures 1956, Oxford, 1958.

G. Dumézil, Entretiens avec Didier Eribon, Paris, 1987, esp. pp. 76, 157-58 for his friendship with Wikander.

S. Kahle, H. S. Nyberg: En vetenskapsmans biografi (H. S. Nyberg: A scholar's biography), Stockholm, 1991.

B. Lincoln, “Rewriting the German War God: Georges Dumézil, Politics and Scholarship in the Late 1930s,” History of Religions 37, 1998, pp. 187-208.

C. S. Littleton, The New Comparative Mythology: An Anthropological Assessment of the Theories of Georges Dumézil, 3rd ed., Berkeley, Calif., 1982, pp. 156-61 about Wikander; orig. ed., 1966.

H. S. Nyberg, Irans forntida religioner, Stockholm,1937; tr. as Die Religionen des alten Iran, by H. H. Schaeder, Leipzig, 1938; repr., Osnabrück, 1966.

J. Puhvel, “Indo-European Prehistory and Myth,” Yearbook of the Estonian Learned Society in America 4, 1964-67, New York, 1968, pp. 51-62.

S. v. Schnurbein, “Geheime kultische Männerbünde bei den Germanen: Eine Theorie im Spannungsfeld zwischen Wissenschaft und Ideologie,” in Mänerbande, Männerbünde: Zur Rolle des Mannes im Kulturvergleich, ed. G. Völger und R. König, 2 vols., Cologne, 1990, II, pp. 97-102; places Höfler’s research in the context of gender studies.

M. Timuş, “Les «Haskell Lectures» de Stig Wikander,” Archaeus 8, 2004, pp. 265-322.

Idem, Întotdeauna orientul: Corespondenta Mircea Eliade - Stig Wikander 1948-1977 (Always the Orient: The correspondence between Mircea Eliade and Stig Wikander), with a preface by Giovanni Casadio and an afterword by Frantz Grenet, Iaşi (Rumania), 2005.

Idem, “Quand l’Allemagne était leur Mecque: La science des religions chez Stig Wikander,” in The Study of Religion under the Impact of Fascism, ed. H. Junginger, Leiden, 2008, pp. 205-225.

(Bo Utas)

March 20, 2009


Wikander was an inventive, rather controversial scholar, mostly active in Indo-Iranian studies, but also interested in several other fields. In his first book, Der arische Männerbund (1938) Wikander compared Skt. marya “young man, lover, suitor” with Av. mairiia-. Christian Bartholomae (1855-1925), deeming the words unrelated, had translated mairya- as “betrügerisch, schurkisch, Schurke” (Altiranisches Wörterbuch, col. 1151). Wikander, however, concluded the existence of Männerbünde, already postulated by several scholars (see i. above), in the Indo-Iranian period. He argued that these young warrior bands, though they had left only pale traces in Indian and Iranian literatures, were reflected in the legends of Ferēdūn and of the banner of the Kavis (see DERAFŠ-e KĀVIĀN), the mythical predecessors of the Parthian kings (r. ca. 247 BCE-224 CE), and are comparable to the 16th-century Safavid order.

In his second bookVayu (1941) Wikander stressed the importance of the Indo-Iranian wind god in Iran. His thesis was originally very much contested, but later supported by Helmut Humbach (b. 1921).

In Feuerpriester in Kleinasien und Iran (1946) Wikander argued that under Artaxerxes II (r. 404-359 BCE) statues of Anāhita were erected everywhere, from Iran to Asia Minor. Wikander suggested that these statues had been housed in temples, and adduced as the only extant building structure Kaʿba-ye Zardošt, which undoubtedly was not such a temple. Since Sāsān, the ancestor of the Sasanian dynasty (224-650 CE), was a priest of Anāhita at Eṣṭaḵr in Fārs, Wikander concluded that the first Sasanian kings were Anāhita worshipers who did not mind favoring Manicheism. Only with the reign of Hormozd I (r. 303-309) did Mazdean orthodoxy prevail, and after the hērbeds had succeeded the mobads as high priests of the fire cult, statues of Anāhita in the temples were replaced by fire altars. Yet, according to Mary Boyce (1920-2006), Zoroastrian iconoclasm originated in the 3rd century CE, and Ardǎsir I (224-41/42) was known to have started with the destruction of images, notably in his conquest of Armenia. The fight against idols ended in the 6th century with their complete suppression by Ḵosrow Anūšervān (r. 531-79).

Wikander’s article about mythical pre-suppositions in the Pāṇḍava saga and the Mahābhārata (“Pāṇḍavasagan och Mahābhāratas mystiska förutsättningar,” 1947) presents his chief discovery. He argued that the Indian epic corroborated Dumézil’s thesis of an Indo-European trifunctionalism, and Dumézil, in turn, included the article’s translation in his Jupiter, Mars, Quirinus (1948). Wikander extended the argument, less convincingly, in “Sur le fonds commun indo-iranien des épopées de la Perse et de l’Inde” (1949), an article about the Persian epic.

“Indoeuropeisk Religion” (1961) is a short review of the successive approaches, up to Dumézil, to the Indo-European religion. In “Épopée et mythologie” (1974b) Wikander examined Dumézil's recent publications about epic and myth.

In “Nakula et Sahadeva” (1957), Wikander analyzed the differences between the epic sons of the Aśvins, the Indian Dioscures. Nakula is brave and handsome, while Sahadeva is intelligent and pious. Nakula is a groom, but Sahadeva prefers bulls, and is the perfect human embodiment of the Indo-Iranian fire.

In “Från indisk djurfabel till isländsk saga” (1964) Wikander explored the relationship between Indian animal fables and the Icelandic sagas.

In “Hethitiska myter hos Greker och Persar” (1951) and “Histoire des Ouranides” (1952) Wikander explored the relationships between Iranian and Hurrito-Hittite myths. It is generally admitted that Hesiod’s story of the Ouranos-Kronos-Zeus dynasty was borrowed from a Hurrito-Hittite myth, yet Wikander tried to argue the same origin for the stories of Jamšid, Aždahā, and Ferēdun as preserved in the Šāh-nāma. But it is unwarranted to identify as an Indo-European myth the story of the dragon Aždahā, which is a late and only partial imitation.

In “Mithra en vieux perse” (1950b) Wikander convincingly argued that meso- in Gk. mesoromadēs “mediator,” the term used by Plutarch (46-ca.122 CE) in “Isis and Osiris” (Moralia, vol. V, pp. 112-13 = 46.266), is the Old Persian form of the name Mithra.

In “BAPZOXAPA” (1972b), Wikander correctly analyzed that Gk. barzochara, an epithet of Anāhita, which corresponds to Av. vərəčah- “splendor” and OPers. farnah “royal glory” (see FARR(AH)).

In “Études sur les Mystères de Mithra” (1951a) Wikander followed up on Eliade's suggestion, and tried to explain why the god of the Roman mysteries is not the Iranian Mithra, but a Balkanic equestrian god. This thesis is still unproven.

“Un témoignage kurde sur les Yezidis du Djebel Sindjar” (1953) and “Ein Fest bei den Kurderi und im Avesta” (1960) are based on Wikander’s own recordings of Kurdish poems and songs.

In “Armenian avazan” (1972a) Wikander explained Arm. avazan by interpreting Pahl. afzōn “warm bath” (cf. Kārnāmak, chap. 1,17) as Pahl. āpzan, thus rejecting the etymology previously suggested by Oswald J. L. Szemerényi (1913-96).

Wikander's article “Problèmes irano-arméniens” (1948) examines the Armenian borrowing from Iranian languages, in particular of initial fr- and intervocalic δ.

In “Germanische und Indo-iranische Eschatologie” (1960b) and “Från Bråvalla till Kurukshetra” (1960c) Wikander analyzed the relationship between Norse and Indo-Iranian eschatology, though Dumézil had already compared Norse and Zoroastrian mythical eschatologies with the eschatological features in the Mahābhārata. Wikander observed that in the Norse and the Iranian traditions dualistic thought and the eschatological perspectives are reflected in two types of narrative: on the one hand, myths, such as theVöluspá, the Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241), and the Pahlavi works, and on the other side, epics, such as the Brávellir traditions and the Šāh-nāma. In India, however, only an epic tradition is known. Wikander ends the juxtaposition with Dumézil’s words: “more than the Iranian version of these cosmic events, it is the Indian epic which is revealed as parallel to the Scandinavian myth” (p. 89).

In Araber, vikingar, väringar (1978) Wikander collected the descriptions of the Vikings in Arabic sources, which he translated into Swedish.

“Sur la langue des inscriptions sud-hispaniques” (1966) presents an analysis of funerary inscriptions from southern Spain with regard to the frequency of a final -be and the variety of preceding sounds. Wikander concluded, rightly in the author's opinion, that this -be represents Indo-European -bhi, which occurs in both Mycenian and Homeric Greek. Wikander argued that the word keonii corresponds to Ved. śaye and Gk. keītai, while the word keonabe is an equivalent, in the instrumental, of Skt. śayana “bed, couch” and Av. sayana- “habitat, country.”

Wikander studied in three articles about “Maya and Altaic” (1967, 1970, 1972c) the Proto-Altaic initial p- in the Maya language. He collected a Maya-Altaic word list, explored the evidence for an initial voiceless labial in Proto-Altaic, and enumerated Maya-Altaic sound-laws. It is, of course, beyond doubt that America was populated from Asia.

Wikander argued in “Jehova-Jova” (1975-76) that the Romantic poet Stagnelius used the term Jova to refer to Jehova, the god of the Old Testament.

Wikander gave the 1967 Haskell Lectures about Mythic Epic and National Epic at the University of Chicago. They were only posthumously published (Timuš, 2004), although the manuscript has not been preserved in its entirety and the text of the fourth lecture about the Indian epics is lost. Wikander began with an examination of 19th century European scholarship about the origin of epics to explore “The Ideology of the National Epic” (pp. 274-84). He juxtaposed the Greek notions of a heroic and a mythic age in the second lecture (pp. 285-96), though he did not discuss the notion of a divine age, as proposed by Giambattista Vico (1668-1744). The Šāh-nāma was the focus of Wikander's third lecture (pp. 297-301). He discussed the term kavi, since in the 5th century CE the Avestan names of the Kavis suddenly became popular among the Sasanian royal family, and compared the deeds of Ferēdun and Indra. In the fifth lecture (pp. 302-312), Wikander explored the relationship between myth and history, raising the question of transforming history into myth. Wikander argues that the traditions about Zoroaster and his age are mythical so that that the historical origins of Zoroastrian mythology are difficult to analyze. Goštāsp, however, is depicted in dark colors, though such a negative interpretation can hardly be reconciled with his role as protector of Zoroaster, which Christensen had already observed. In the sixth and final lecture (pp. 313-22), Wikander discussed Indo-European eschatology, proposing a quite fantastic interpretation of Zoroaster. Wikander explained the similarities between Norse and Indo-Iranian eschatologies through a common heritage. Yet he projected “dualism, the limited linear history, developing under divine guidance” (p. 321) unto Zoroastrianism, in order to claim it as part of the shared Indo-Iranian heritage. Consequently, Wikander doubted the historicity of Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism, and suggested that this Near Eastern prophet originated because of the pressure of the prophetic religions of Judaism and Christianity.

Întotdeauna Orientul is the Rumanian translation of the French correspondence between Wikander and Mircea Eliade between 1948 and 1977. Frantz Grenet observed in the afterword that “Wikander remained the man of enthusiastic but unaccomplished projects” (pp. 327-28). Amongst those tackled by the two friends is the creation of a science of religions distinct from the history of religions as usually taught, historicism being their bête noire.


Selected works of Wikander.

Der arische Männerbund, 1938, please see above.

Vayu, 1941, please see above.

Feuerpriester in Kleinasien und Iran, 1946, please see above.

“Pāṇḍavasagan och Mahābhāratas mystiska förutsättningar,” 1947, please see above.

“Problèmes irano-arméniens,” Studia Linguistica 2, 1948, pp. 48-53.

“Sur le fonds commun indo-iranien des épopées de la Perse et de l’Inde,” 1949, please see above.

“Hethitiska myter hos Greker och Persar,” Vetenskapssocieteten i Lund, Årsbok, 1950a, pp. 37-56.

“Mithra en vieux perse”, Orientalia Suecana 1, 1950b, pp. 66-68.

“Etudes sur les mystères de Mithra,”Vetenskapssocieteten i Lund, Årsbok, 1951a, pp. 5-46.

“Védique KṢAITA – avestique KHSHAĒTAU: Essai de sémantique structurale,” Studia Linguistica 5, 1951b, pp. 89-94.

“Histoire des Ouranides,” Cahiers du Sud 36, 1952, no. 314, pp. 9-17.

“Un témoignages kurdes sur les Yezidis du Djebel Sindjar,” Orientalia Suecana 2, 1953, pp. 112-18.

“Nakula et Sahadeva,” Orientalia Suecana 6, 1957, pp. 66-96.

“Ein Fest bei den Kurden und im Avesta,” Orientalia Suecana 9, 1960a, pp. 7-10.

“Från Bråvalla till Kurukshetra,” Arkiv för Nordisk Filologi 75, 1960b, pp. 183-93; tr. as ”Brávellir und Kurukshetra,” in Europäische Heldendichtung, ed. Klaus von See, Wege der Forschung 500, Darmstadt, 1978, pp. 61-74.

“Germanische und indo-iranische Eschatologie,” Kairos 2, 1960c, pp. 81-88.

“Indoeuropeisk religion,” Religion och Bibel 20, 1961, pp. 3-13.

“Från indisk djurfabel till isländsk saga” (From Indian animal fable to Icelandic saga), in Vetenskapssocieteten i Lund: Årsbok, 1964, pp. 89-114.

“Sur la langue des inscriptions sud-hispaniques,” Studia Linguistica 20, 1966, pp. 1-8.

“Maya and Altaic,” please see above.

“Maya and Altaic II,” please see above.

“Armenian avazan,” Orbis 21, 1972a, pp. 183-84 “BAPZOXAPA,” Acta Orientalia 34, 1972b, pp. 13-15.

“Maya and Altaic III,” please see above.

“Aramäisch sprb, sanskrit śvabhra,” in Księga pamiątkowa ku czci Eugeniusza Słuszkiewicza (Festschrift for Eugeniusz Słuszkiewicz), ed. Jan Reychman, Warsaw, 1974a, pp. 271-72.

“Epopée et mythologie: Examen critique de récentes publications de Georges Dumézil,” Revue de l'histoire des religions, 1974b, pp. 3-8.

“Jehova-Jova: En Stagnlius studie,” Lychnos: Annual of the Swedish History of Science Society, 1975-76, pp. 58-67.

Araber, vikingar, väringar, please see above.


M. Boyce, “Iconoclasm among the Zoroastrians,” in Christianity, Judaism and Other Greco-Roman Cults: Studies for Morton Smith at Sixty, ed. J. Neusner, Leiden, 1975, pp. 93-111.

G. Dumézil, Mythes et dieux des Germains: Essai d’interprétation comparative, Paris, 1939; repr. as Les dieux des Germains: Essai sur la formation de la religion scandinave, Paris, 1959.

H. Humbach, “Vayu, Śiva und der Spiritus Vivens im ostiranischen Synkretismus,” in Monumentum H. S. Nyberg I, Acta Iranica 4, Leiden, 1975, pp. 397-408.

M. Timuş, “Les «Haskell Lectures» de Stig Wikander,” 2004, please see above.

Idem, Întotdeauna orientul, 2005, please see above.

(Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin)

March 20, 2009

(Bo Utas; Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin)

Originally Published: July 15, 2009

Last Updated: July 15, 2009