“The legend of Icarus is a legend of Initiation. Icarus has attempted to reach the Sun-sphere prematurely, without adequate preparation, and is cast down.” ~Rudolf Steiner

From the Encyclopedia of Greek Mythology


Icarus  (IK-uh-rus)


Son of Daedalus who dared to fly too near the sun on wings of feathers and wax. Daedalus had been imprisoned by King Minos of Crete within the walls of his own invention, the Labyrinth. But the great craftsman’s genius would not suffer captivity. He made two pairs of wings by adhering feathers to a wooden frame with wax. Giving one pair to his son, he cautioned him that flying too near the sun would cause the wax to melt. But Icarus became ecstatic with the ability to fly and forgot his father’s warning. The feathers came loose and Icarus plunged to his death in the sea.


Icarus and Daedalus

Until I read the quote by Steiner, I had not really thought about the tale of Icarus as an allegory for a failed initiate in a spiritual school. Once I did read it, the truth became obvious. While his tale is often interpreted as one of being overly ambitious, there is another way to look at it. Not much is said about Icarus himself in the legend, accept that he is the son of Daedalus.

Daedalus was considered a very talented craftsman and inventor.  He is credited with building the labyrinth for King Minos. Some Greek tales also credit him with inventing sails for ships and with carving statues that looked alive.

The Symbols

Daedalus is a symbol of a spiritual teacher or spiritual master. He invents things and makes great works of art. That is symbolic of the creativity that is common with spiritually advanced people.

The labyrinth is well known as a spiritual symbol. Some think that walking the path of one is intended to make one spiritual. It is also symbolic of the complex and difficult road one must follow to true spiritual enlightenment rather than the silliness found in some spiritual groups on social media where people have developed the strange belief that all they have to do to be spiritual is believe they are. Mental hospitals are full of people with similar beliefs that are not based on reality. It is like declaring yourself a doctor because you bought a stethoscope.

Icarus, as Daedalus’ son, represents the young spiritual student or initiate. As is so typical of us when we are young, he is impatient and wants to advance rapidly. He is very similar to the young student in the movie “The Karate Kid”. The value of what he is taught is not always understood. He never understands why they have to progress so slowly.

Wings are another spiritual symbol. They can represent the very high level spiritual beings we call angels, even though angels don’t literally have wings. They can represent a desire to go higher, physically or spiritually. Individual feathers also represent ascension or spiritual evolution. The ancient Egyptians thought feathers ere symbolic of truth and justice, among other things.

The wax that held the wings together can be symbolic of adaptability. It can also symbolize things that are temporary. One dread dictionary says it can represent a need to slow down and not be so impatient.

The sun is symbolic of the Spiritual Sun, which is so necessary for real spiritual advancement.

Water is symbolic of spiritual knowledge, life, and growth. To drown in it would be symbolic of a spiritual failure, or at least a setback.

The Result

Icarus fallingWhen we reassemble the tale, we now have one of a great spiritual teacher with a young and impatient student. He teaches the student to the best of his ability, and provides him with the tools and lessons to help him advance. He warns the student against being too impatient, and trying to do things before he is ready. But the impatient student doesn’t listen and moves too close to the sun. This means that he attempts advanced spiritual sun-gazing techniques that he is not ready for. His temporary physical body—his “wax” self—is killed as a result