The Festivals and their Meaning II:
VII. Spiritual Bells of Easter, part I
10 April 1909, Cologne
Goethe, one of the most inspired spirits of the modern age, has indicated in moving words the power of the Easter bells. In the figure of Faust he places before us the representative of aspiring humanity, who has reached the bourn of earthly existence; and he shows us how the Easter tidings, the light kindled by the Easter Festival, are able, in the heart even of one who is seeking death, to vanquish the thoughts and the power of death.
As Goethe portrays it, the inner impulse given by the Easter tidings has streamed through the whole evolution of mankind. And when in a none too distant future men understand through deepened spiritual insight how the festivals are meant to link the soul with all that lives and weaves in the great universe, they will feel that the soul, expanding in a new way during these days at the beginning of spring, comes to realise that the wellsprings of spiritual life can deliver us from material life, from the constriction of an existence fettered to matter.
It is precisely at the time of Easter that man's soul can become imbued with the unshakable conviction that in the innermost core of man's being lies a fount of eternal, divine existence, a fount of strength which enables us to break free from bondage to matter and, without losing our identity, to become one with the fountain-head of cosmic existence. To this inner fount we can penetrate at all times through higher knowledge. The Easter Festival is an outer sign of this deep experience within the reach of man, an outer sign of the deepest Christian Mystery. And so at Easter to-day the outer festival and its tokens are like a symbol of what at the beginning of their earthly evolution men could discover and know only in the secrecy of the Mysteries. Wherever the peoples of the earth celebrated the festival now called Easter — and it was celebrated far and wide among ancient peoples — it was proclaimed from the Mysteries, awakening everywhere the feeling — indeed the conviction — that life in the spirit can be victorious over death in matter. But whatever was thus instilled into the human soul in olden times had to be proclaimed from the depths of the Mysteries.
The progress of human evolution, however, has brought it about that more and more of the secrets guarded in the sanctuaries are now coming to light, that the wisdom of the Mysteries is now emerging to become the common possession of all mankind. Let us devote our studies to-day and tomorrow to an endeavour to show how this feeling, this inner conviction, forces its way outwards from the depths of primeval knowledge into ever-widening circles. To-day we will look back into the past in order to be able to describe to-morrow what is felt about this festival at the present time. As Easter is the festival of the resurrection of the spirit of man and of mankind, we must come together with inner earnestness before we can hope to advance to a wisdom that in a certain sense leads to the very peak of spiritual-scientific understanding.
Our Christian festival of Easter is only one of the forms of the Easter festival of humanity in general. What the wise men of old were able to say out of their strongest, deepest convictions, out of the very ground of wisdom, about life overcoming death — this was woven into the symbolism of the Easter festival. In the utterances of these wise men we shall everywhere find the foundation for an understanding of the Easter festival, the festival of the resurrection of the Spirit.
A beautiful and profound Eastern legend runs as follows: The great Teacher of the East, Shakyamuni, the Buddha, has endowed the regions of the East with his profound wisdom, which, drawn from the fountain-head of spiritual existence, glowed with infinite blessing through the hearts of men. Primal wisdom flowing from divine-spiritual worlds brought blessing to human hearts in times when men were still able to gaze into the spiritual world. This has been saved by Shakyamuni for a later humanity. Shakyamuni had a great pupil, and whereas the other pupils grasped to a greater or lesser extent the all-embracing wisdom taught by the Buddha, Kashiapa — such was the name of the pupil — grasped it fully. He was one of those most deeply initiated into these teachings, one of the most significant followers of the Buddha. The legend tells that when Kashiapa came to the point of death and on account of his mature wisdom was ready to pass into Nirvana, he made his way to a steep mountain and hid himself in a cave. After his death his body did not decay but remained intact. Only the Initiates know of this secret and of the hidden place where the incorruptible body of the great Initiate rests. But the Buddha foretold that one day in the future his great successor, the Maitreya Buddha, the new great Teacher and Leader of mankind, would come, and reaching the supreme height of existence to be attained during earthly life, would seek out the cave of Kashiapa and touch with his right hand the incorruptible body of the Enlightened One. Whereupon a miraculous fire would stream down from heaven and in this fire the incorruptible body of Kashiapa, the Enlightened One, would be lifted from earthly into spiritual existence.
Such is the great Eastern legend — unintelligible, perhaps, in some respects, to the West. This legend speaks, too, of a resurrection, of a transportation from earthly existence, an overcoming of death, achieved in such a way that the earth's forces of corruption have no effect upon the purified body of Kashiapa. Thus when the great Initiate comes and touches this body with his hand, it will be carried up by the miraculous fire into the heavenly spheres.
It is just where this legend deviates from the content of the Western, Christian account of Easter, that there lies the possibility of reaching a deeper understanding of the Easter festival. Such a legend enshrines an ancient wisdom that can only gradually be approached. We may ask: Why does not Kashiapa, like the Redeemer in the Christian account of Easter, achieve victory over death after three days? Why does the incorruptible body of the Eastern Initiate wait for long ages before being transported by the miraculous fire into the heavenly heights?
We hear to-day no more than echoes of the depths here contained. Only by degrees can we gain some inkling of the wisdom expressed in legends as profound as this one. We must remain in reverent awe at a distance and learn through these solemn festivals gradually to look upwards to the heights of wisdom. Nor should we aspire immediately to apprehend with our prosaic intellect what such legends contain. True understanding will be attained only if we approach these truths with adequate, sufficiently mature perceptions and feelings, in order, ultimately, to grasp them with inner fire and warmth.
For present-day humanity, two truths stand like mighty beacons on the horizon of the Spirit, two inwardly allied tokens of reality. They are two focal points for men who seek the spiritual at the present stage of evolution. The first beacon is the burning thorn-bush, and the second the fire which amid lighting and thunder appeared to Moses on Sinai and through which the proclamation is made to him: I am the I am.
Who is the spiritual Being Who then announced Himself to Moses in the two manifestations?
Those who understand the tidings of Christianity in the spiritual sense also understand the words which make known the identity of the Being Who appeared to Moses in the burning thorn-bush, and afterwards on Sinai amid lighting and thunder when the Ten Commandments were given. The writer of the Gospel of St. John himself indicates that Christ Jesus had been foretold by Moses, 1St. John V, 45, 46. by pointing to the passages telling of how the Power, which was later called Christ, made Himself known in the burning thorn-bush and then in fire on Sinai. It was Christ and none other Who says of Himself to Moses: I am the I am.
The God Who appeared later on in a human body and Who fulfilled the Mystery of Golgotha, wielded earlier an invisible sway, announcing Himself in the element of fire in nature. The message of the Old Testament and of the New Testament is understood only when it is realised that the God heralded by Moses is the Christ Who was one day to come among men. Thus the God Who is to bring redemption to mankind announces Himself, not in a human form, but in the fire-element of nature, in which He is manifest. The same Being Who appeared visibly in the events in Palestine held sway through all the ages of antiquity, and His divine Being is revealed in many diverse forms.
We look back to the Old Testament and we ask ourselves: “Who was it, in reality, whom the ancient Hebrews worshipped? Who was their God?” Those who belonged to the Hebrew Mysteries knew that it was Christ Whom they worshipped; they recognised Christ as the One Who spoke the words: “Say to my people: I am the I am.” But even if this were not known, the fact that during our cycle of evolution God announced Himself in fire, would be sufficiently indicative to enable one who gazes into the deep secrets of nature to realise that the God Who proclaimed Himself in the burning thorn-bush and on Sinai is the same God Who came down from spiritual heights into a human body in order to fulfil the Mystery of Golgotha. For there is a mysterious connection between the fire kindled in the external world by the elements of nature and the warmth pervading our blood. Spiritual science constantly emphasises that man is a microcosm of the great world, the macrocosm. Truly understood, therefore, processes which take place within the human being must correspond with processes in the universe outside. We must be able to find the outer process corresponding to every inner process. To understand what this means we shall have to penetrate into deep regions of spiritual science, for we come here to the fringe of a profound secret, of a momentous truth which gives the answer to the question: What is it in the great universe that corresponds to the mysterious origin of human thought?
In a very real sense, man is the only thinking being on the earth. Thoughts are kindled in him in a way that applies to no other being belonging to the earth, and through his thoughts he experiences a world which leads him beyond and above the earth. What is it that kindles thoughts in us, what process is taking place when the simplest or the most sublime thought flashes through us? — When thoughts flow through our soul, two forces are working together in us — our astral body and our Ego. The physical expression of the Ego, the ‘I,’ is the blood; the physical expression of the astral body is the life of the nervous system. Thoughts would never flash through the soul if there were no interplay between Ego and astral body, coming to expression in the interplay between the blood and the nerves. It will seem strange to science in time to come that the science of our day should look for the origin of thought in the nervous system alone. For thought does not originate only in the nerves. It is in the living interplay between the blood and the nerves, and only there, that we have to look for the process which gives rise to thoughts. When our blood (our inner fire) and our nervous system (our inner air) are in this interplay, thought flashes through the soul.
Now the genesis of thought within the soul corresponds, in the cosmos, to the rolling thunder. When the fiery lightning is generated in the air, when fire and air interact to produce thunder, this is the macrocosmic event corresponding to the process by which the fire of the blood and the play of the nervous system discharge themselves in the inner thunder which, gently, peacefully, outwardly imperceptible, it is true, rings out in the thought. Lightning in the clouds corresponds, within us, to the warmth of our blood, and the air in the universe, together with the elements it contains, corresponds to the life pervading our nervous system. And just as lightning in the action and reaction of the elements gives rise to thunder, so the action and reaction of blood and nerves produces the thought that flashes through the soul. Looking out into the world around us, we see the dashing Lightning in the formations of the air, and we hear the rolling thunder ... and then, looking within the soul, we feel the inner warmth pulsating in our blood and the life pervading our nervous system; then we become aware of the thought flashing through us, and we say: “The two are one.”
It is really and truly so. The thunder rolling in the heavens is not a physical-material phenomenon only. Materialistic mythology alone regards it as such. To one who sees the spiritual weaving and surging through material existence it is truth and reality when, looking upwards, men see the lightning, hear the thunder, and say to themselves: Now the Godhead is thinking in the fire, announcing Himself to us. — This is the invisible God Who weaves and surges through the universe, Whose warmth is in the lightning, Whose nerves are in the air, Whose thoughts are in the rolling thunder. This is the God Who spoke to Moses in the burning thorn-bush and on Sinai in the fiery lightning.
Fire and air in the macrocosm are, in man the microcosm, blood and nerves. As you have lightning and thunder in the macrocosm, so you have thoughts arising within the human being. And the God seen and heard by Moses in the burning thorn-bush, Who spoke to him in the fiery lightning on Sinai, was present as the Christ in the blood of Jesus of Nazareth. Christ, descending into a human form, was manifest in the body of Jesus of Nazareth. In that He thought as a man in a human body, He became the great Prototype of the future evolution of humanity.
Thus the two poles of human evolution meet: the macrocosmic God announces Himself on Sinai in the thunder and fiery lightning; and the same God, incarnate in the Man of Palestine, appears in microcosmic form. The sublime mysteries of the life of mankind are derived from the deepest wisdom. They are truth in all profundity, not invented legends. But so profound is their truth that we need all the means open to spiritual science to unveil the secrets bound up with that truth.
Let us now consider what the impulse was that was received by mankind through its great Prototype, through the Being Who descended and united Himself with the microcosmic images of the elements in a human body — through the Christ Being?
Let us look back once again to the knowledge proclaimed by ancient peoples. Right back into the remote past of the Post-Atlantean epoch, all the ancient peoples knew how human evolution takes its course. All the Mystery Schools proclaimed, as spiritual science proclaims again to-day, that man consists of four members — physical body, etheric body, astral body and the Ego, the ‘I,’ — and that he can rise to higher stages of existence when, through the activity of his ‘I’, he himself transforms the astral body into Spirit-Self (Manas), the etheric body into Life-Spirit (Budhi) and spiritualises the physical body into Spirit-Man (Atman). Little by little this physical body, in all its members, must be permeated so deeply with spirit during our earthly life that that which gives man his true being as man — the instreaming of the Divine Breath — is itself spiritualised. It is because the spiritualisation of the physical body begins with the spiritualisation of the breath, that the transformed, spiritualised physical body is called Atma or Atman (Atem (breath)=Atman). The Old Testament says that at the beginning of his earthly existence man received the Breath of Life, and all ancient wisdom sees in the Breath of Life that which man must gradually spiritualise, All ancient views of the world saw the great Ideal to be striven for in Atman, that the breath should become divine to such a degree, that man is permeated by the very breath of the Spirit.
But still more must be spiritualised in man. When his whole physical body is spiritualised, not only the breath but also that which is constantly renewed through the breath, the blood, the expression of the ‘I’ must be spiritualised. The blood must be laid hold of by a force that impels it to the spiritual. Christianity has added to the Mysteries of antiquity the Mysteries of the blood, the fire that is enclosed within man. The ancient Mysteries said: Man on the earth, living in an earthly frame, has descended from spiritual heights into physical, material corporeality. He has lost what constitutes his spiritual nature and has clothed himself in physical corporeality. But he must return again to spirituality, he must cast aside the physical sheaths and rise into a spiritual existence.
As long as the ‘I’ of man, with its physical expression
in the blood, was not seized by an impulse to be found on the earth, the
religions could not teach of the force of self-redemption in the human
‘I’. So they describe how the great spiritual Beings, the
Avatars, descend and incarnate in human bodies from time to time when
men are in need of help. They are Beings who for the purpose of their
own development need not come down into a human body, for their own
human stage of evolution had been completed in an earlier world-cycle.
They descend in order to help mankind. Thus when help was needed, the
great God Vishnu descended into earthly existence. One of the
embodiments of Vishnu — namely, Krishna — speaks of
Himself, saying unambiguously what the nature of an Avatar is. He
Himself declares who He is, in the Divine Song, the Bhagavad Gita. There
we find the sublime words spoken by Krishna in Whom Vishnu lives as an
Avatar: “I am the
“Spirit of creation, its beginning, its middle and its end;
“among the stars I am the sun, among the elements — fire;
“among the seas — the cosmic ocean; among the serpents —
“the eternal serpent. I am the ground of the worlds.”
The all-powerful Divinity can be proclaimed in no more beautiful or more sublime words than these. The Godhead seen by Moses in the element of fire, Who not only weaves and surges through the world as a macrocosmic Divinity, is to be found, too, within man. Therefore in all beings who bear the human countenance, Krishna lives as the great Ideal to which the innermost essence of man develops from within. And when, as was the goal of ancient wisdom, man's breath can be spiritualised through the impulse given by the Mystery of Golgotha — this is the redemption that is achieved by what now lives within ourselves. All the Avatars have brought redemption to mankind through power from above, through what has streamed down through them from spiritual heights to the earth. But the Avatar Christ has redeemed mankind through what He gathered out of the forces of mankind itself, and He has shown us how the forces of redemption, the forces whereby the Spirit becomes victor over matter can be found in ourselves.
Thus, although through the spiritualisation of his breath he had made his body incorruptible, even Kashiapa with his supreme enlightenment could not yet find complete redemption. The incorruptible body must wait in the secret cave until it is drawn forth by the Maitreya Buddha. Only when the ‘I’ has spiritualised the physical body to such a degree that the Christ Impulse streams into the physical body, is the miraculous cosmic fire no longer needed for redemption; for redemption is now brought about by the fire quickened in man's own inner being, in the blood. Thus the radiance streaming from the Mystery of Golgotha is also able to shed light on a legend as wonderful and profound as that of Kashiapa.
To begin with, we find the world obscure and full of riddles; we may compare it with a dark room containing many splendid objects which at first we cannot see. But if we kindle a light the objects in the room are revealed in all their splendour. So it can be for a man who strives after wisdom. To begin with he strives in darkness. As he looks into the world of the past and of the future he gazes into darkness. But when the light that streams from Golgotha is kindled, everything in the most distant past and on into the farthest future is illumined. For everything material is born out of the Spirit and out of matter the Spirit will again be resurrected. The purpose of a festival such as Easter, connected as it is with cosmic happenings, is to give expression to this certainty. If men are clear as to what they can achieve through spiritual science — that the soul, recognising the secrets of existence can find the way to the secrets of the universe through festivals containing symbolism as full of meaning as that of Easter — then the soul will realise something of what it means to live no longer within its own narrow, personal existence, but to live with all that gleams in the stars, shines in the sun and is living reality in the universe. The soul will feel itself expanding into the universe, becoming more and more filled with Spirit.
Resurrection from individual human life to the life of the universe — this is the call that echoes in our hearts from the spiritual bells of Easter. And when we hear these bells, all doubt of the reality of the spiritual world will vanish from us and the certainty will dawn that no material death can harm us at all. For we are caught up again into life in the Spirit when we understand the message of the spiritual bells of Easter.