On the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Times
III. Realities Beyond Birth and Death
29 December 1917, Dornach
The Christian consciousness of to-day is still aware — or can, at least, still be aware — of two poles, representing as it were the outermost extremes of world-outlook. The two poles to which I refer are the Christmas secret and the Easter secret. To begin with — even if you only compare them outwardly — it will strike you at once that the Christmas secret is really the secret of birth; it represents the birth of Christ Jesus, and therewithal attaches itself to the secret of birth in general, the Easter secret is connected with the secret of death, inasmuch as it is a festival associated with the death of Christ Jesus. Now birth and death are the two boundaries of human life, as it runs its course within the physical body. Thus, in truth, we may say: over against what stands before man as the visible part of his being, birth and death veil from his sight the invisible part; they are the two gateways to the invisible world.
In the festivals of Christmas and Easter, two gateways to the invisible world are thus made the basis of the Christian year; and inasmuch as this is so, the Christian world-conception is indeed connected with the Mysteries of all the World. Wherever we may look — among all peoples and in the most varied regions of the Earth, we find Mysteries everywhere associated either with the secret of birth or with the secret of death, Not that it lies so patently at hand in every case; the inner connections are not always visible at once. Thus, certain Mysteries (I am only referring now to post-Atlantean time) were connected with the secret of birth in a more indirect way. I refer to those Mysteries which place into the very centre of their life what the profane world calls the Sacred Fire; ‘Sacred Fire’ is very different from what the profane world can understand. It is essentially Man himself — the super-sensible Man who underlies the human being of the sense-world. What is it that the profane world knows as the Sacred Fire (or, as we might also call it, the Sacred Warmth)? What is it in reality, when they revere this Fire? It is a symbol of the super-sensible Man. It is that which descends through birth from spiritual heights to grow and evolve in it physical body. It is the invisible or super-sensible Man — perceptible, however, to an old atavistic clairvoyance!
This, then, is the type of the Mysteries which takes its start from the super-sensible Man who underlies the man of the sense-world — the super-sensible Man who passes through birth to clothe himself with a sensely garment. This is the type of Mystery which afterwards passed over into the secret of Christmas; it is essentially the Mystery of birth.
Less hidden, we may truly say, is the other kind of Mystery, — that which belongs to the secret of death. While the former is associated with Fire, this kind of Mystery is associated with the Light. Here too, however, as in the case of Fire, something quite different is meant by ‘the Light.’ ‘The Light’ refers to that which speaks to man at night-time when the star-lit sky sends him its language of Light. All astrological Mysteries in ancient time were in reality Mysteries of Light, — in the times, I mean, before the arrival of the Mystery of Golgotha. Only, here again we must remember that the ancient Astrology was not pursued with the abstract calculations of to-day, but with an atavistic clairvoyant power. Man did not merely observe the mineral-physical world of stars above him; in those most ancient times, he had an organ with which to behold the secret of the constellations. It was, especially, a customary art in certain Mysteries of olden time, to observe the Moon establishing its various positions through the constellations of the Zodiac. They knew that when the Moon was shining from the region of the Pleiades, or from Taurus, it signified something quite different than if it were shining from some other region of the sky. Likewise the other planets in their several constellations were brought home to the consciousness of men. It was, however, a very different consciousness from what has remained to us in this materialistic epoch. They knew, moreover, that the Mystery of human death is connected with what is thus spoken to man by the starry constellations. Throughout the ever-changing association of the fixed stars with the several planets, they saw the expression, as it were, of a language which he who sojourns in the body hears from the Earth, while at the same time the souls of the dead perceive it from the other side. They were clearly conscious of the fact that when a man gives himself up with devotion to the language of the stars, he lives in that element which receives the human being when he passes through the Gate of Death.
They looked on birth as on a Question, in those ancient times; and the old kind of Mysticism — that is, the experience in consciousness of the invisible or super-sensible Man — was intended as an answer to this question. What the stars were speaking through their constellations, — they did not regard it as a mere outer fact, to be summed-up as we are wont to do. No! in the times of the old Mysteries — the Mysteries of the Stars, the Mysteries of Light — they regarded the starry constellations as a Question, and human death as the real answer thereto. (Even as birth was associated with the super-sensible Man, so was death associated with the constellations. Hence we may truly call the ‘Mysteries of Fire’ the Mysteries of Birth, the Christmas Mysteries; and the ‘Mysteries of Light’ the Star-Mysteries — the East Mysteries, the Mysteries of Death. And we may add: those Mysteries which afterwards merged into the real secret of Christmas, are the ones which really underlie all that humanity possessed by way of Mystery secrets, before Golgotha, in ancient India and Egypt. Chaldea and Western Asia was more the soil for Easter Mysteries — that is to say, for a Science of the Stars.
In Western Asia, especially among the so-called Iranian peoples and notably in the 3rd post-Atlantean epoch, the Science of the Stars was well developed. Only we must conceive that in the earliest times man had an exact super-sensible vision of the entity which clothes itself at birth with the physical body, just as he had on the other hand a direct vision and perception of the language of the stars. As I have often said, when ancient charts depict all manner of Beings in the Heavens, such Beings are no mere figment of human fancy. They are the image of what the old atavistic clairvoyance actually saw in the starry sky; for the old atavistic consciousness did really see the human being in connection with the entire Universe. This consciousness was thoroughly aware of the truth that the cosmos is a self-contained organism — in which organism we, as Man, do live and move and have our being.
This consciousness, needless to say, has been lost. It must be regained by mankind in course of the 5th post-Atlantean epoch; and that, in all essentials, by the two streams aforesaid — the streams of Star-wisdom and of Mysticism — finding one another once more. In ancient times they could appear distinct — two separate poles, as it were. In our time it must be possible to unite the Christmas and the Easter Mystery in one; to see them as the two sides of one and the same Being.
When we transplant ourselves into ancient times of human knowledge, we find a clear awareness of the fact that the Zodiac is not only to be found up yonder in the Heavens, but that man too carries within him the same law and principle as is represented for example by the Zodiac, — that is to say, by the farthest circumference of the Universe of the fixed stars.
You know that in olden times not only certain places in the Heavens were thus named, as Aries and Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, etc., but the human being too was membered thus: head = Aries; neck = Taurus; the two sides of man in their lateral symmetry = Gemini; the chest and ribs = Cancer; the heart as Leo, and so on, Man bears microcosmically within him the several regions which are also the fundamental places of the Heavens. This connection of microcosm and macrocosm was deemed most essential in those ancient times. Man, as it were, bore within him the Heavens of the fixed stars, by virtue of the Zodiac which represents it. It was said, of old time: When a man uses his larynx in speech, there sounds forth from him the same cosmic stream which flows down to us from the cosmos when the Moon is shining from the Pleiades. They felt the kinship of the Light and of that which the Light carries down when the Moon is shining from the region of the Pleiades, — they felt the kinship of this macrocosmic stream with that which issues from man when he makes use of his larynx. So too with the Sun. So too, they felt Man penetrated with the same law and principle that works in the planetary system, yet with this difference: — They knew that the system of the fixed stars corresponds to fixed places in Man, namely, the Ram to the head, the neck to the Bull, and so on. Fixed portions of the human being were thus associated with the heaven of the fixed stars. Those organs on the other hand which represent, as it were, the mobile element in man, sending the saps and fluids throughout man's nature, were connected by them, and rightly, with the planetary system. Man is himself, as it were, a heaven of the fixed stars, and he carries a planetary system within him. Thus in the oldest Mysteries they conceived an intimate relationship as between Man and the whole cosmos.
To perceive the full scope and range of this matter, must, however, also bear the following in mind. In man we have the several constellations like fixed places — Aries the head, Taurus the neck, and so on. Thereby, man stands in a certain relation — a quite individual relation — to the starry heavens. Assume for a moment that a man is born to-day in the Spring, when the Sun rises in Pisces. Pisces will be quite especially determined by his inner system of fixed stars. Now Pisces is associated with the feet, — that is to say, with what man experiences through his feet, inasmuch as he is born in the Spring, when the Sun rises in Pisces, a man is born with that part of his being which corresponds to this particular constellation to the Sun. If he were born at another season of the year, his constellation would be less in accordance with the cosmic constellation. Nowadays, this attunement or non-attunement of the human being is determined according to certain hard-and-fast schemes. In the ancient Mysteries they felt in a very living way the peculiar unison, the sounding-together of the human constellation after birth with the heavenly constellation.
Now you will bear in mind that a very special constellation existed in the age of Aries, precisely in the Mystery of Golgotha. For at that very time the whole of mankind, with that portion of the human being which corresponds to the head, was in harmony with the constellation of Aries in the Spring. Here was another reason why those who knew the Mysteries felt something quite peculiar in this correspondence of the human constellation of the head with the constellation of the Cosmos. Man is related, through the head, not with the Earth but with the Cosmos. Through the head, therefore, he is especially adapted to receive the forces of the Cosmos. With his head — that is to say, with his Aries — he reaches out into the Cosmos. What constellation will therefore be the most favourable one, of all that can exist in the Cycle of 25,920 years in which we are now living? Precisely that, in which the constellation of the Ram is with the rising Sun in Spring. In short, I wish to indicate this fact. They studied Man in his whole being, in his attunement with the macrocosm. They studied this especially because they were well aware how much depended, even for earthly events, on this attunement of Man with the macrocosm.
They perceived the manifold secrets of these constellations of the stars; and they always knew that with every secret of a starry constellation a human secret is connected. More and more, they tried to express how each secret of the stars is connected with an inner secret of Man. It is remarkable how far they got in this direction with their ancient science. We see it in the Pyramids. Even if crudely studied, the structure of the Pyramids proves to contain all manner of secrets. Take the length of the four basic sides, forming the plan of the Pyramid; compare it with the height. It corresponds exactly to the proportion of the diameter of a circle to its circumference. It is a true correspondence to a large number of decimal places. But it not only applies to things like this. Certain sub-divisions in the Pyramids correspond to the Zodiacal sub-divisions of the macrocosm. The weight of the Pyramids — it has only been calculated approximately — is a certain fraction of the weight of the whole Earth. Certain measurements of the Pyramids, multiplied by a power of 18, give you the distance from the Earth to the Sun. In short, such are the measurements of the Pyramids that they can only be the result of a marvellous and intimate knowledge of the relationships of the stars and the Heavens.
These Pyramids were not really the work of the Egyptians, Whenever conquerors came into Egypt from Iranian countries, from Western Asia, they created Pyramidal structures, The Egyptians learned to build Pyramids from these peoples, peoples who possessed Star-Mysteries; their own Mysteries were not Star-Mysteries, but rather a kind of Christmas Mysteries.
The study of the Pyramids had led to this result, even during the 19th century. Men like Carus declared that the pure study of the Mysteries was enough to show us that there was a Science in ancient times which has since been lost, and which is calculated to make the civilisation of to-day blush for shame. These are Carus' own words, not mine. The humanity of to-day are not very prone to believe that there existed in primeval human times a science — acquired by somewhat different means, it is true — but a true science none the less, able to shed its light into deep secrets of the Cosmos.
But the most important thing is not the mere fact that the Wise Men of those Mysteries were acquainted with such distant cosmic measures or secreted them into the structure of the Pyramids. The most remarkable is quite another thing. It was by no means an abstract knowledge which they had, of man's relation to the Universe of stars. It was a very concrete knowledge — a knowledge whereby Man could feel himself within the whole Cosmos. He knew that with his head, which he turns freely to the Cosmos, he is directly related to the Heaven of the fixed stars. All that appeared to the human being as the secret of the head — the Wise Men of the Mysteries perceived it as the secrets of the heaven of the fixed stars. And it is perfectly true the human head is formed by the heaven of the fixed stars. It is but a materialistic prejudice of to-day to suppose that everything is inherited from the ancestors, — that everything comes from the germ. The germ itself — in so far as it is the germ of the head — is informed and filled with forces, within the human mother, by the heaven of the fixed stars. According to his head, Man is connected with the fixed stars. His head is an image of the whole heaven of the fixed stars. You may read of it from another point of view in my booklet, The Spiritual Guidance of Mankind, where I have also touched upon this matter. Likewise on the other side, the rest of the human organism corresponds to all that is connected with the secret of the Sun. Even in this direction, Man is really of a twofold nature; and this was well known to those Wise Men of the ancient Mysteries who were the keepers of the Star-Mysteries, or Easter Mysteries. Man is a twofold nature: his head is assigned to the heaven of the fixed stars; and the rest of his body, with the centre in the heart, to the Sun.
Now these ancient astronomers (or you may call them astrologers, if you will) knew something else as well. When we observe the stars in their relation to the Sun, we see the Sun gradually remaining behind as against the movement of the fixed stars. Thereby the vernal point keeps on appearing at a different place; the Sun is always being left behind a little. The stars seem to go a little quicker in their annual movement than the Sun. And the strange thing is (though for the old astronomers it was not strange at all — it was a deep and significant Mystery for them) that after 72 years the fixed stars in their movement have sped on exactly a day ahead of the Sun — one day in 72 years.
What does this signify, transferred to Man; For the old astronomers it was fraught with meaning, though for the clever people of to-day, no doubt, it may seem nonsense. It meant that among all other things we also have in us this twofold, fixed-star and solar nature. With our head we go quicker than with the rest of our body. And when we have lived for 72 years (these things, of course, arc only to be taken approximately), our head has gone ‘ahead’ of the rest of our body by a whole day of stars. That is why the average — as I have often explained from other points of view — human life lasts for 72 years. It can be much longer, of course, or shorter as the case may be; but on the average, the span of human life is 72 years. All this is connected with the duality between the course of life in the head, and in the rest of the human body. It corresponds exactly to the duality of the movements of the heaven of the fixed stars and of the Sun.
So does Man stand as a microcosm in the macrocosm. In those olden times, Man was indeed able to feel himself within the macrocosm, just as our little finger now feels itself to be part and parcel of the organism as a whole. Man was really able to feel himself a member of the whole.
And they considered this the most important thing: to perceive how human life is connected with the secret of the stars. Therefore especially the Mystery of death, the Easter Mystery, was associated with the Star-Mystery.
The Christian World-conception now had the task of connecting the two together. This must essentially be contained in the concrete development of Christian World-conceptions. The Mystery of birth, the Christmas Mystery, the Mystery of super-sensible Man on the side of birth, must be connected with the Mystery of death, the Easter Mystery, the Mystery of the super-sensible Man on the side of death.
That which is generally known as Science nowadays, concerns itself with birth; that which is generally known as Religion, concerns itself with death. The Religion of to-day lacks any inclination to turn to the super-sensible Man. It sounds a strange thing to say; but the mere fact that Religion still talks of the super-sensible Man does not imply that it has any strong inclination to concern itself with super-sensible Man in any real way. For we can only concern ourselves with the super-sensible Man if we take our start from what was felt most strongly in the ancient Mysteries of Christmas — that is to say, if, taking our start from birth, we find our way through birth into human pre-existence. Therefore the Mysteries of birth laid the greatest stress on the pre-existence — the existence before birth — of super-sensible Man. The other Mysteries — those that then culminated in the Easter Mysteries — laid especial stress on the post-existence, on the existence of Man beyond death. It is to this latter side that the Religions have inclined, at the same time rejecting the Science that is connected therewith, namely the wisdom of the stars. Meanwhile the Science of to-day, which concerns itself chiefly with problems of descent — with all that belongs to birth — has rejected what leads to the super-sensible Man and to the conscious experience of him, which is true Mysticism.
Thus it has come about that Science on the one hand, by rejecting the super-sensible Man, has become materialistic; while on the other hand Religion, by declining to study the super-sensible Man, has become unscientific. In our time the two are standing side by side, without any bridge between them. Those who seem to represent Religion — though in reality, broadly speaking, they only want to “guard their pounds and talents” — those who call themselves official representatives of the religious faiths, are most annoyed when you speak of the pre-existence of the soul, that is, of super-sensible Man in his reality.
Needless to say, I have been speaking of all this only in the briefest aphorisms. I only wished to emphasise how we must try once more to widen out man's vision, beyond what is immediately present in the physical world. Inasmuch as we have pointed to the two directions in the Mysteries, our outlook has indeed been widened in the two directions in which the sense world must he transcended. For on the one hand we must seek again for the true inner Man, who can only be found within us by the path described in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and its Attainment. That is the one side; and the other is, to seek in a new form for what the stars can say to us. But we shall only find it in its new form if we are able once again to bring into direct relation to the Macrocosm what is there in Man himself. Such is the inner composition a book like Occult Science. Here the attempt is made once more to build the bridge between Man and the Macrocosm. What can be found in man himself, the evolution of man, is connected with that in the macrocosm to which man's evolution belongs. Definite stages in the evolution of man are connected with definite processes in the macrocosm. Thus, in our anthroposophical Spiritual Science we have begun again to look in both directions — to look for the super-sensible man and for the secrets of the Macrocosm. This also means the building of it bridge, once more, between Religion and Science.
Religion has become void of science. Any one who will, can see that it is so. And, that the science of to-day has become void of Religion, is still more obvious. Quite unconnectedly, the two stand side by side in the so-called civilisation of our time. In this way alone was it possible for such strange errors to arise as I described in these lectures, — errors of which the sharp-witted intellectual theories of Dupuis are a particulate example. Dupuis, as I said, considered the ancient Mysteries mere error and deceit. He believed that in those ancient Mysteries certain tales were invented merely in order to delude the people, while in reality they had nothing else in view than the mere movements of the stars. Dupuis made the simple mistake of believing that the Ancients could see nothing else in the star-lit sky than a modern astronomer can see; whereas in reality, what the modern astronomer sees in the star-lit sky is precisely equivalent to what the modern anatomist sees in the human body. Just as the corpse is not the man, so too, the content of modern Astronomy is not the real heaven of the stars. Natural-scientific Astronomy is only in its initial stages; it has experienced no more, as yet, than a mere mathematical, mechanical and summary description of what goes on in the great Universe outside us. Study what is afforded by the Astronomy of to-day; you will find mathematical and mechanical relationships; it is the mere expression of an immense celestial machinery. Meanwhile, all that takes place on Earth (with the exception of the coarsest physical processes), the scientist only seeks to investigate on the Earth itself. Wherever a plant arises, wherever a human being or an animal is born, it is all supposed to be due to “inheritance.” For it goes without saying, you can in no way apply to man what the modern astronomer finds in the stars. But in real fact there is a mutual interplay between the starry Heavens and the Earth. No seed or germ can arise on the Earth — neither the germ of a plant, nor of an animal or man — unless it be prepared and laid down by the whole macrocosm.
What does the scientist of to-day say? Here is the hen, and in the hen, the egg. It goes without saying: from the egg a new hen is derived, and from the hen an egg again, and thence again a hen. Therefore the scientist follows it up from hen to hen. Whereas the truth is: Here are the starry heavens, here is the hen. The whole of the heavens send their forces, from all the constellations, into the hen; and the germ inside the hen is an expression of the entire heaven of the stars.
It is strange to look into the course of evolution in this respect. A science existed, once upon a time, which might well make the people of to-day blush for shame. It has been lost and ruined. We must be conscious that we are living to this day in the age of a lost science. The first beginnings of a science have been planted again in a new form, and they must be developed. What is admired so much, in the progress of science during the last four centuries, can only justly be admired if looked upon as a beginning. It is only when the bridge is built from this beginning to the real Mysteries of Christmas and Easter — only when this bridge is built, at least for human feeling — that something real will have been achieved.
We should make this thought living in our soul, for this thought alone is prone to unite the man of to-day, in his soul, with the Universe. Every seed is united with the macrocosm; the seeds of the Spirit likewise. Man unites himself with the macrocosm when he tries to receive into his soul a macrocosmic science. To begin with at least in the idea, in the intuition thereof, this consciousness of the macrocosmic connections of Man and the Earth needs to be carried into all branches of life. Our time is far remote from such a consciousness. In this respect, our time is indeed in a certain sense in the reverse position, as compared with a certain epoch of the past. For we may ask: How could a primeval wisdom of mankind — so great and so far-reaching that this present time could blush for shame to contemplate it, — how could such a science have been lost? We need not wonder very much that it was lost. We must remember that in the evolution of humanity the positive is most certainly connected with the negative aspect. We have often spoken of the progress humanity has undergone by the spread of Christianity; let us not, however, forget that the spread of Christianity — the positive aspect — is also connected with the negative aspect of the same, namely the laying-waste of an ancient culture. Let us not forget that tens of thousands of works of ancient culture were destroyed while Christianity was being spread abroad. Thousands and thousands of symbols in which the Ancient Wisdom had been handed down, were destroyed. People to-day have little conception of the ruthless work of destruction which culminated in the third and fourth centuries of our era. Julian the Apostate still tried to some extent to stem this work of destruction; but the time was against him. He did not succeed. Humanity to-day ought to be well aware how many things were destroyed and lost and ruined in those centuries.
Precisely from such things, we can learn that evolution, so-called, is by no means simple. Suppose for a moment that Christianity had not gone on its way through the world as an appalling destroyer. Mankind would have had to remain in their old state of un-freedom. For the attainment of freedom is after all, only possible by that Impulse which is also the Impulse of the Mystery of Golgotha.
On the other hand, the negative side must not be allowed to get the upper hand. For there exists a certain spirit which has preserved far more the negative aspect of Christianity. It appears in this form to-day: it wants to destroy — this time, in the soul-life — all that arises towards the re-conquest of the Ancient Wisdom. This ought not to be allowed to happen. To-day, again and again — wherever they have the opportunity — the so-called official representatives of Christianity bring forward this idea: “At the time of Christ,” they say, “in the apostolic age, there were Revelations. To-day no such thing is permissible. Today it is sin or swindle or deceit; it is anti-Christian.” To see clearly in these matters is also one of the tasks of today, for every human being who strives for the truth. The striving for clarity is one of the essential tasks for to-day. Alas! in other matters too, clarity has grown befogged by all manner of feelings which people associate with mere empty phrases. I do believe the healthy feeling of the truth can only be sought and found again along the paths of the Spirit.
Words are terribly misused to-day. Think of all the words that are sounding through the world to-day, and taken seriously as though there were anything contained in the empty words. In this domain, Spiritual Science is no less important as an educator than by its immediate contents. If it claims to be true Spiritual Science, it can never feed men with mere words. Why not? For the very simple reason that you can talk of anything nowadays if you remain at the mere words, if you remain at the mere words, you can talk much about Natural Science. Fritz Mauthner proves, in his dictionary that Natural Science, whenever it claims to become a “Science,” — whenever it goes beyond the mere notification of facts, — becomes a science of mere words. And in the science of History there is nothing else than words, for — as I told you — everything else is passed-through by man in a dreaming condition. And so it is in other spheres. In Politics, — go to work uprightly and honestly, and you will probably find still less behind the words than in the other spheres of life. If you hold to the mere words, you can talk a lot nowadays about Nature and History and Politics and Economics. But you can not talk of the Spirit if you hold fast to the mere words for the Spirit, to-day, is nowhere contained in the words. I mean this in all earnestness. Yet the converse is also true. Namely, in compensation for this, the Spiritual Science of to-day is a real education, for men to grow beyond the prevailing attachment to words.
It is the paramount task of those who believe in Anthroposophy to go beyond the words to the real things; and — as the “thing” of Spiritual Science is the Spirit itself — this means to go beyond the words to the Spirit. This will be fruitful; this will endow us with new purposes and aims in all domains of life One fruit, above all, it will bear. It will liberate — all those who are willing to be liberated — from the belief in authority; from that credulity and superstition which is so widespread in the humanity of to-day — so widespread that they even fail to notice its existence. Alas! many a bitter experience will still be necessary for poor mankind of to-day to find its way, more or less, on to the path to which I here refer.
The poor humanity of to-day! — it prides itself on the very thing which it most lacks, namely, on freedom from faith in authority, freedom from idol-worship. In the eyes of him who knows the Spirit, many an idol of the past is worth more than the idols of the present. As to the idols of the present... The conscious man, no doubt, has fallen out of the habit of prayer; but the unconscious man prays to the idols of the present all the more fervently. For in the eyes of him who sees through the evolution of the world, the Woodrow Wilsons and the rest are far more perilous idols of superstition than any idols of the past. The humanity of to-day is far more attached to its idols and superstitions than ever primeval humanity were attached to theirs. Even the clearest signs will scarcely avail the humanity of to-day. Precisely in these things, they are extraordinarily difficult to bring on to the oaths of truth.
The earnestness of the moment does indeed require it again and again. — Even when we bring forward truths that reach out into such far and wide perspectives, we must conclude with such remarks as I have made just now. It is essential to Spiritual Science to serve real life; and that which claims to be serving life nowadays is serving it least of all.