30 September 1904, Berlin
All of our medieval stories — Parsifal, the Round Table, Hartmann von Aue — reveal mystical truths in esoteric form, even though they are usually only understood in their outward aspect. Where do we search for their origin? We must look to a time before the spread of Christianity. Into Christianity was blended what had lived in Ireland, Scotland ... [Gap in the notes.] We are led to a particular centre whence this spiritual life was disseminated. The spiritual life [of Europe] emanated from a mother lodge in Scandinavia, ‘Drottes’ Lodge. Druids = Oak. For this reason the Germanic peoples were said to receive their instructions beneath oak trees.
‘Drottes’, or Druids, were ancient Germanic initiates. They still existed in England till Elizabethan times. All that we read in the Edda or can find in the ancient German sagas refers back to the temples of the ‘Drottes’ or Druids. The author of these tales was always an initiate. The sagas not only have a symbolical or allegorical meaning, but something else as well.
Example: We know the saga of Baldur. We know that he is the hope of the gods, that he is killed by the god Loki with a branch of mistletoe. The God of Light is killed. This whole story has a deep mystery content which all who underwent initiation not only had to learn, but had to experience.
The Mysteries. Initiation: the first deed was called the search for the body of Baldur. It was supposed that Baldur was always alive. The search consisted of a complete enlightenment about the nature of man. For Baldur was the human being who has gone astray. Once upon a time the human being was not as he is today, he was undifferentiated, not bowed down by passionate experiences, but composed of finer ephemeral substance. Baldur, the radiant human being. When truly understood, all things which appear to us in the form of symbols must be understood in a higher sense. This human being who has not descended into what today we call matter, is Baldur. He lives in each one of us. The Druid priest had to search for the higher self within him. He had to become clear about where this differentiation took place, between the higher and the lower ... [Gap]
The secret of all initiation is to give birth to the higher human being within oneself. What the priest accomplishes more quickly, the rest of mankind must undergo in long stages of development. To become leaders of the rest of mankind, the Druids had to receive this initiation.
Man who had descended deeper now had to overcome matter and regain his former higher level. This birth of the higher human being takes place in all the Mysteries in a similar sort of way. The man who had become submerged in matter had to be reawakened. One had to make a series of experiences — real experiences — which were unlike any sense experiences one can have on the physical plane.
The stages. The first step was that one was led before the ‘Throne of Necessity’. One stood in front of the abyss: really experienced through one's own body what lived in the lower kingdoms of nature. Man is both mineral and plant, but the man of today is unable to experience what is undergone by the elementary substances and yet the enduring, the constraining things in the world are due to the fact that we are also mineral and plant in our nature.
The next step led the human being to all that lived in the animal kingdom. Everything which existed in the form of passions and desires was beheld in swirling and interweaving movement- All this had to be observed by the candidate for initiation so that his eyes would be opened to what lay behind the veil of the senses. Man is not aware that what swirls around in astral space is hidden behind the physical sheath. The veil of maya is really a sheath which must be penetrated by him who is to be initiated — the sheaths drop away, the human being sees clearly. That is a very special moment: the priest becomes aware that the sheaths had dammed back the impulses which would have been frightful if they had been let loose.
The third step led to a vision of the elemental nature forces. That is a step which man finds difficult to comprehend without previous preparation. That powerful occult forces are residing in these nature forces and through them express elemental passions, is something which makes man aware that there are powers quite outside the scope of anything he can experience as his own suffering.
The next trial is called the ‘Handing over of the Serpent’ by the hierophant. One can only explain it by means of the effects which it brings about. It is elucidated in the Tantalus saga. The privilege of being allowed to sit in the Council of the Gods can be abused. It signifies a reality which certainly raises man above himself, but dangers accompany it which are not exaggerated in the story of the Tantalus curse. As a rule man says he is powerless in face of the laws of nature. These are thoughts. With that kind of thinking, which is only a shadowy brain-thinking, nothing can be achieved. In creative thinking, which builds and constructs things of the world, which is productive and fruitful, the passive kind of thinking is replaced by a thinking permeated by spiritual force. The blown skin of a caterpillar is the empty sheath of the caterpillar; when filled with [productive] thinking it is the living caterpillar. Into the sheath-thoughts, living active power is poured so that the priest is enabled, not only to see the world in vision, but to work in it through magic. The danger is that this power can be abused. He can ... [Gap]
At this stage the occultist acquires a certain power, whereby he is enabled to deceive even the higher beings. He must not only repeat truths but experience them and decide whether a thing is true or false. That is what is called ‘The Handing over of the Serpent by the Hierophant’. [it denotes the same thing on a spiritual level that the rudimentary stages in the formation of the spinal cord signify on the physical level. In the animal kingdom we pass through the fishes, amphibians and so on till we reach the brain of the vertebrates and man. See notes.] We have a spiritual backbone, too, which determines whether we are to develop a spiritual brain. Man goes through this process at this stage of his development. He is lifted out of Kama (feelings, passions, desires) and endowed with a spiritual backbone so that he can be raised up into the spiraling of the spiritual brain. On a spiritual level, the windings of the labyrinth are the same as the convolutions of the brain on the physical level. Man gains access to the labyrinth, to the windings within the spiritual realm.
Then he had to take the oath of silence. A naked sword was presented to him and he was obliged to swear the most binding oath. This was that he would henceforth keep silence about his experiences where it concerned people who had not been initiated as he had. It is quite impossible to reveal the true content of these secrets without preparation. He, [the initiate] however, could create these sagas so that they became the expression of the eternal. One who could give utterance to things in this way of course had great power over his fellow men. The creator of a saga of this kind imprinted something into the human spirit. What is thus spoken is then forgotten and only the merest vestige of it survives death. Eternal truths remain longest after death. Of less elevated scientific thought hardly anything remains. The eternal does so and appears again in a new incarnation.
The Druid priest spoke out of the higher plane. His words, though simple, being the expression of higher truths, sank into the souls of his hearers. He spoke to simple folk but the truth sank into their souls and something was incorporated into them which would be reborn in a new incarnation. At that time men experienced the truth through fairy stories; thus today our spirit bodies have been prepared and if we are able to grasp higher truths today it is because we have been prepared.
Thus this time, which came to an end in 60 A.D., had prepared the spiritual life of Europe, had provided the soil on which Christianity could build. These teachings have been preserved and whoever searches will be able to find access to what was taught in these Lodges.
After he [the Druid] had given his oath on the sword he had to drink a certain draught — and this he did from a human skull. The meaning of this was that he had transcended what was human. That was the feeling which the Druid priest had to develop concerning his lower bodily nature. He had to look upon all that lived within his body with the same objective, cool attitude as he felt towards a containing vessel. Then he was initiated into the higher secrets and shown the path to higher worlds. Baldur ... [Gap] He was led into an immense palace which was roofed by flashing shields. He encountered a man who cast forth seven flowers. Cosmic Space, Cherubim, Demi-urge [Maker of the World]. Thus he became truly a Priest of the Sun.
Many people read the Edda and are unaware that it is an account of what really took place in the ancient ‘Drottes’ mysteries. An immense power lay at the disposal of the ancient ‘Drottes’ priests, a power over life and death. It is true that everything becomes corrupt in time. It was once the highest, the holiest of things. At the time when Christianity was spreading, much had degenerated and there were many black magicians, so that Christianity came as a redemption.
The study of these old truths alone is able to give an almost complete survey of the whole of occultism.
Unlike our present practice, not one stone was laid upon another in the building of a Druid temple without the use of exact astronomical measurement. Doorways were built according to astronomical measurement. The Druid priests were the builders of humanity. A faint reflection of this is preserved today in the views which the Freemasons hold.
Learning to penetrate astral substance, viewing the sun at midnight: First initiation.
Handing over of the Serpent by the Hierophant: Second Initiation.
The journey into the Labyrinth: Third Initiation.
The only source for this lecture was the short notes of Marie Steiner von Sivers. Sentences enclosed in square brackets are the amendments of the editor, where the text seemed insufficiently clear.
Further source material has been appended below, gleaned from the writings of Charles William Heckethorn on the subject of the Druids and the Scandinavian Mysteries. A copy of Heckethorn's book in German translation was in Rudolf Steiner's private library, and from marginal notes in Rudolf Steiner's handwriting it appears to have been used by him in connection with this lecture and other lectures included in this volume. (Charles William Heckethorn Geheime Gesellschaften, Geheimbünde und Geheimlehren, Leipzig, 1900. Original English edition: The Secret Societies of all Ages and Countries, London,1875.)
From Charles William Heckethorn
The Secret Societies of all Ages and Countries
Chapter VIII. The Druids.
The Druids, the Magi of the West.
The secret doctrines of the Druids were much the same as those of the Gymnosophists and Brahmins of India, the Magi of Persia, the priests of Egypt, and of all other priests of antiquity. Like them they had two sets of religious doctrines, exoteric and esoteric. Their rites were practised in Britain and Gaul, though they were brought to a much greater perfection in the former country, where the Isle of Anglesey was considered their chief seat. The word Druid is generally supposed to be derived from “an oak,” which tree was particularly sacred among them, though its etymology may also be found in the Gaelic word Druidh, “a wise man” or “magician.”
Their temples, wherein the sacred fire was preserved, were generally situate on eminences and in dense groves of oaks, and assumed various forms — circular, because a circle was an emblem of the universe; oval, in allusion to the mundane egg, from which, according to the traditions of many nations, the universe, or according to others, our first parents, issued; serpentine, because a serpent was the symbol of Hu, the Druidic Osiris; cruciform, because a cross is an emblem of regeneration; or winged, to represent the motion of the divine spirit. Their only canopy was the sky, and they were constructed of unhewn stones, their numbers having reference to astronomical calculations. In the centre was placed a stone of larger dimensions than the others, and worshipped as the representative of the Deity. The three principal temples of this description in Britain were undoubtedly those of Stonehenge and Avebury in the south, and that of Shap in Cumbria. Where stone was scarce, rude banks of earth were substituted, and the temple was formed of a high vallum and ditch. The most Herculean labours were performed in their construction; Stukeley says that it would cost, at the present time, £20,000 to throw up such a mound as Silbury Hill.
Places of Initiation.
The adytum or ark of the mysteries was called a cromlech, and was used as the sacred pastos, or place of regeneration. It consisted of three upright stones, as supporters of a broad, flat stone laid across them on the top, so as to form a small cell. Kit Cotey's House, in Kent, was such a pastos. Considerable space, however, was necessary for the machinery of initiation in its largest and most comprehensive scale. Therefore, the Coer Sidi, where the mysteries of Druidism were performed, consisted of a range of buildings, adjoining the temple, containing apartments of all sizes, cells, vaults, baths, and long and artfully contrived passages, with all the apparatus of terror used on these occasions. Most frequently these places were subterranean; and many of the caverns in this country were the scenes of Druidical initiation. The stupendous grotto at Castleton, in Derbyshire [Peak Cavern], called by Stukeley the Stygian Cave, as well as the “Giants Caves” between Luckington and Badminton [in Wilts.], certainly were used for this purpose.
The system of Druidism embraced every religious and philosophical pursuit then known in these islands. The rites bore an undoubted reference to astronomical facts. Their chief deities are reducible to two, — a male and a female, the great father and mother, Hu and Ceridwen, distinguished by the same characteristics as belonged to Osiris and Isis, Bacchus and Ceres, or any other supreme god and goddess representing the two principles of all being. The grand periods of initiation were quarterly, and determined by the course of the sun, and his arrival at the equinoctial and solstitial points. But the time of annual celebration was May-eve, when fires were kindled on all the cairns and cromlechs throughout the island, which burned all night to introduce the sports of May-day, whence all the national sports formerly or still practised date their origin. Round these fires choral dances were performed in honour of the sun, who, at this season was figuratively said to rise from his tomb. The festival was licentious, and continued till the luminary had attained his meridian height, when priests and attendants retired to the woods, where the most disgraceful orgies were perpetrated. But the solemn initiations were performed at midnight, and contained three degrees, the first or lowest being the Eubates, the second the Bards, and the third the Druids. The candidate was first placed in the pastos bed, or coffin, where his symbolical death represented the death of Hu, or the sun; and his restoration in the third degree symbolized the resurrection of the sun. He had to undergo trials and tests of courage similar to those practised in the mysteries of other countries, and which therefore need not be detailed here.
The festival of the 25th of December was celebrated with great fires lighted on the tops of the hills, to announce the birth-day of the god Sol. This was the moment when, after the supposed winter solstice, he began to increase, and gradually to ascend. This festival indeed was kept not by the Druids only, but throughout the ancient world, from India to Ultima Thule. The fires, of course, were typical of the power and ardour of the sun, whilst the evergreens used on the occasion foreshadowed the results of the sun's renewed action on vegetation. The festival of the summer solstice was kept on the 24th of June. Both days are still kept as festivals in the Christian church, the former as Christmas, the latter as St. John's Day; because the early Christians judiciously adopted not only the festival days of the pagans, but also, so far as this could be done with propriety, their mode of keeping them; substituting, however, a theological meaning for astronomical allusions. The use of evergreens in churches at Christmas time is the Christian perpetuation of an ancient Druidic custom.
The Druids taught the doctrine of one supreme being, a future state of rewards and punishments, the immortality of the soul and a metempsychosis. It was a maxim with them that water was the first principle of all things, and existed before the creation in unsullied purity, which seems a contradiction to their other doctrine that day was the offspring of night, because night or chaos was in existence before day was created. They taught that time was only an intercepted fragment of eternity, and that there was an endless succession of worlds. In fact, their doctrines were chiefly those of Pythagoras. They entertained great veneration for the numbers three, seven, nineteen (the Metonic cycle), and one hundred and forty-seven, produced by multiplying the square of seven by three. They also practised vaticination [prophecy], pretending to predict future events from the flights of birds, human sacrifices, by white horses, the agitation of water, and lots. They seem, however, to have possessed considerable scientific knowledge.
Political and Judicial Power.
Their authority in many cases exceeded that of the monarch. They were, of course, the sole interpreters of religion, and consequently superintended all sacrifices; for no private person was allowed to offer a sacrifice without their sanction. They possessed the power of excommunication, which was the most horrible punishment that could be inflicted next to that of death, and from the effects of which the highest magistrate was not exempt. The great council of the realm was not competent to declare war or conclude peace without their concurrence. They determined all disputes by a final and unalterable decision, and had the power of inflicting the punishment of death. And, indeed, their altars streamed with the blood of human victims. Holocausts of men, women, and children, inclosed in large towers of wicker-work, were sometimes sacrificed as a burnt offering to their superstitions, which were, at the same time, intended to enhance the consideration of the priests, who were an ambitious race delighting in blood. The Druids, it is said, preferred such as had been guilty of theft, robbery, or other crimes, as most acceptable to their gods; but when there was a scarcity of criminals, they made no scruple to supply their place with innocent persons. These dreadful sacrifices were offered by the Druids, for the public, on the eve of a dangerous war, or in the time of any national calamity; and also for particular persons of high rank, when they were afflicted with any dangerous disease.
The priestesses, clothed in white, and wearing a metal girdle, foretold the future from the observation of natural phenomena, but more especially from human sacrifices. For them was reserved the frightful task of putting to death the prisoners taken in war, and individuals condemned by the Druids; and their auguries were drawn from the manner in which the blood issued from the many wounds inflicted, and also from the smoking entrails. Many of these priestesses maintained a perpetual virginity, others gave themselves up to the most luxurious excesses. They dwelt on lonely rocks, beaten by the waves of the ocean which the mariners looked upon as temples surrounded with unspeakable prodigies. Thus the island of Sena or Liambis, The Saints, near Ushant, was the residence of certain of these priestesses, who delivered oracles to sailors; and there was no power that was not attributed to them. Others, living near the mouth of the Loire, once a year destroyed their temple, scattered its materials, and, having collected others, built a new one — of course a symbolical ceremony; and if one of the priestesses dropped any of the sacred materials, the others fell upon her with fierce yells, tore her to pieces, and scattered her bleeding limbs.
As the Romans gained ground in these islands the power of the Druids gradually declined; and the were finally assailed by Suetonius Paulinus, governor of Britain under Nero, A.D. 61, in their stronghold, the Isle of Anglesey, and entirely defeated, the conqueror consuming many of them in the fires which they had kindled for burning the Roman prisoners they had expected to make — a very just retaliation upon these sanguinary priests. But though their dominion was thus destroyed, many of their religious practices continued much longer; and so late as the eleventh century, in the reign of Canute, it was necessary to forbid the people to worship the sun, moon, fires, etc. Certainly many of the practices of the Druids are still adhered to in Freemasonry; and some writers on this Order endeavour to show that it was established soon after the edict of Canute, and that as thereby the Druidical worship was prohibited in toto, the strongest oaths were required to bind the initiated to secrecy.
Chapter IX. Scandinavian Mysteries
The priests of Scandinavia were named Drottes, and instituted by Sigge, a Scythian prince, who is said afterwards to have assumed the name of Odin. Their number was twelve, who were alike priests and judges; and from this order proceeded the establishment of British juries. Their power was extended to its utmost limits, by being allowed a discretionary privilege of determining on the choice of human victims for sacrifice, from which even the monarch was not exempt — hence arose the necessity of cultivating the goodwill of these sovereign pontiffs; and as this order, like the Israelitish priesthood, was restricted to one family, they became possessed of unbounded wealth, and at last became so tyrannical as to be objects of terror to the whole community. Christianity, promising to relieve it from this yoke, was hailed with enthusiasm; and the inhabitants of Scandinavia, inspired with a thirst for vengeance on account of accumulated and long-continued suffering, retaliated with dreadful severity on their persecutors, overthrowing the palaces and temples, the statues of their gods, and all the paraphernalia of Gothic superstition. Of this nothing remains but a few cromlechs; some stupendous monuments of rough stone, which human fury could not destroy; certain ranges of caverns hewn out of the solid rock; and some natural grottos used for the purpose of initiation.
The whole ritual had an astronomical bearing. The places of initiation, as in other mysteries, were in caverns, natural or artificial, and the candidate had to undergo trials as frightful as the priests could render them. But instead of having to pass through seven caves or passages, as in the Mithraic and other mysteries, he descended through nine — the square of the mystic number three — subterranean passages, and he was instructed to search for the body of Baldur, the Scandinavian Osiris, slain by Loki, the principle of darkness, and to use his utmost endeavours to raise him to life. To enter into particulars of the process of initiation would involve the repetition of what has been said before; it may therefore suffice to observe that the candidate on arriving at the sacellum had a solemn oath administered to him on a naked sword, and ratified it by drinking mead out of a human skull. The sacred sign of the cross was impressed upon him, and a ring of magic virtues, the gift of Baldur the Good, delivered to him.
Astronomical Meaning Demonstrated.
The first canto of the Edda, which apparently contains a description of the ceremonies performed on the initiation of an aspirant, says that he seeks to know the sciences possessed by the Aesas or gods. He discovers a palace, whose roof of boundless dimensions is covered with golden shields. He encounters a man engaged in launching upwards seven flowers. Here we easily discover the astronomical meaning: the palace is the world, the roof the sky; the golden shields are the stars, the seven flowers the seven planets. The candidate is asked what is his name, and replies Gangler, that is, the wanderer, he that performs a revolution, distributing necessaries to mankind; for the candidate personates the sun. The palace is that of the king, the epithet the ancient Mystagogues gave to the head of the planetary system. Then he discovers three seats; on the lowest is the king called Har, sublime; on the central one, Jafuhar, the equal of the sublime; on the highest Tredie, the number three. These personages are those the neophyte beheld in the Eleusinian initiation, the hierophant, the daduchus or torchbearer, and the epibomite or attendant on the altar; those he sees in Freemasonry, the master, and the senior and junior wardens, symbolical personifications of the sun, moon, and Demiurgus, or grand architect of the universe. But the Scandinavian triad is usually represented by Odin, the chief deity; Thor, his first-born, the reputed mediator between god and man, possessing unlimited power over the universe, wherefore his head was surrounded by a circle of twelve stars; and Freya, a hermaphrodite, adorned with a variety of symbols significant of dominion over love and marriage. In the instructions given to the neophyte, he is told that the greatest and most ancient of gods is called Alfader (the father of all), and has twelve epithets, which recall the twelve attributes of the sun, the twelve constellations, the twelve superior gods of Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Among the gods of the Scandinavian theogony there is Baldur the Good, whose story, as already hinted above, formed the object of the initiatory ceremonies. Baldur is Mithras, the sun's love. He foresees the danger that threatens him; he dreams of it at night. The other gods of Valhalla, the Scandinavian Olympus, to whom he reveals his sad fore-bodings, reassure him, and to guard against any harm befalling him, exact an oath from every thing in nature on his behalf, except from the mistletoe, which was omitted on account of its apparently inoffensive qualities. For an experiment, and in sport, the gods cast at Baldur all kinds of missiles, without wounding him. Hoder the blind [that is, Fate], takes no part in the diversion; but Loki [the principle of evil, darkness, the season of winter] places a sprig in the hands of Hoder, and persuades him to cast it at the devoted victim, who falls pierced with mortal wounds. For this reason it was that this plant was gathered at the winter solstice by the Druids of Scandinavia, Gaul, and Britain, with a curved knife, whose form symbolised the segment of the zodiacal circle during which the murder of Baldur took place. In the Edda of Snorro we have another legend of Odin and Freya, the Scandinavian Isis or Venus, giving an account of the wanderings of the latter in search of the former, which, of course, have the same astronomical meaning as the search of Isis for Osiris, of Ceres for Proserpine, etc. One of the chief festivals in the year, as with the Druids, was the winter solstice; and this being the longest night in the year, the Scandinavians assigned to it the formation of the world from primeval darkness, and called it “Mother Night.” This festival was denominated “Yule,” and was a season of universal festivity.