The Easter Festival in the Evolution of the Mysteries
Dornach, 20th April, 1924
We can say that the original purpose of festivals is to make human beings look up from their dependence upon earthly things to their dependence upon extra-earthly things. The Easter festival in particular can evoke such thoughts. During the last three to five centuries we in the civilized world have undergone a psycho-spiritual development that has made us focus less and less upon our connection with cosmic forces and powers. We have gradually been reduced to contemplating only our relation to earthly forces and powers. Of course, given the means for acquiring knowledge recognized as legitimate today this could scarcely be otherwise. However, if in pre-Christian times or even in the early centuries of Christianity someone who was connected with a Mystery center could have experienced what we moderns call knowledge, and if he were to approach the matter with the state of mind characteristic of those earlier times, he would not at all understand how human beings can live without an awareness of their connection to extra-earthly, cosmic things.
I would now like to sketch various matters that you will find dealt with more thoroughly in this or that lecture cycle. As the present lectures are intended to acquaint us specifically with the Easter idea, I naturally cannot elaborate on every detail, but only touch upon the most important points.
If we go back to certain ancient monotheistic religious systems — for example, to the Hebrew-Judaic system, with which we are most familiar — we naturally find the veneration and worship of one deity. That deity is the one of whom we speak in our Christian conception as the First Person of the Godhead, as God the Father.
Now all the religions in which the concept of the Father-God played a part had a greater or lesser awareness of his connection to the cosmic moon forces, forces that stream down to the earth from the moon; the Mystery priests were particularly aware of this connection. In our time this consciousness of our relationship to the moon has all but disappeared. Perhaps the only place it lives on is in the inspiration of poetic imagination by the forces of the moon, or in medicine in the counting of human embryonic life in ten lunar months. But older world views were clearly aware that the human being, who exists in the spiritual world as a being of spirit and soul, is permeated and strengthened by forces emanating from the moon as he descends into earthly existence.
If we want to know what shapes our living form, to know what lives in us as nutritive and respiratory processes, as overall forces of growth, we must look not to earth forces but rather to cosmic forces. For a consideration of earth forces readily reveals their relation to us. If we did not hold our bodies together with extra-earthly forces, if our bodies did not receive their form from cosmic forces, how could the earth forces alone hold them together? The moment the human body is forsaken by cosmic forces and exposed to merely terrestrial forces, it falls apart, disintegrates, becomes a corpse. Earth forces can only make us into corpses; they cannot shape us. It is to the influence of the moon that we owe the uplifting forces within us, the forces that give us a cohesive, organized form, a form that during life does not succumb to forces that seize and destroy us at our death. It is due to this that throughout our earthly lives we can resist destruction, as indeed it must be resisted.
Although in this way we may say theoretically how the form of our body is dependent upon the forces of the moon, we must also see that these forces, which guide us, so to speak, through birth into a physical existence, were revered by ancient religions as the forces of the divine Father. The ancient Hebrew initiates knew that the moon radiates those forces that lead us into our earthly life and maintain us there. Our physical being is severed from these forces only when we pass through the gate of death.
To look up lovingly to these divine Father forces, to express devotion to them in ritual and prayer, this was the substance of certain ancient monotheistic religions. And these religions were more consistent than you might think. For history completely misrepresents them, basing itself, as it must, merely upon external evidence, not upon what can be observed in spiritual vision.
Religions that focused on the moon and the spiritual beings living in it were really of relatively late origin. The truly primordial religions had in addition to this a clear perception of the sun forces and even, it must be added, of the forces of Saturn. However, with this we are entering into a period of history of which no physical documents survive, one that antedates the foundation of Christianity by many thousands of years. In my Outline of Occult Science I called this period the ancient Indian — partly to have a name for it, but also because it took place in the area we now call India. The civilization following this was the ancient Persian. During these civilizations human beings still developed very differently than they did later, and this is reflected in their religious beliefs.
During the last two thousand years or more, human beings have been developing in such a way that they no longer notice a certain discontinuity in their earthly development, and indeed, the break is really hardly noticeable. Something that takes place in human beings around the thirtieth year today remains largely in the subconscious or the unconscious. However, this was not the case among people who lived eight or nine thousand years before Christ. At that time a person's development was continuous up until about the thirtieth year, when a profound metamorphosis set in, which I shall be quite direct in describing. Although what I have to say might sound somewhat strange, it nevertheless fits the relevant facts.
In those ancient times the following could happen. Let us say that before turning thirty, a man had made the acquaintance of someone much younger, say three or four years younger, who would therefore experience the thirtieth-year metamorphosis much later than the former. Suppose now that the two men had not seen each other for some time and were then reunited. It could happen, and in today's words this sounds indeed strange, that if the younger person were to address the older one, the latter might not recognize him. The metamorphosis would have completely transformed his memory.
Because in these very ancient times people around the age of thirty tended to forget all they had experienced previously, it was the custom in the small communities of the time to record events in young peoples' lives in order to inform them of their earlier experiences after they had passed through the profound transformation. And then, when such people realized they had become different persons in their thirtieth year, that they had to go to the record office — to use a modern expression — in order to learn of their earlier experiences — yes, it really happened this way — then at the same time they were also taught that before their thirtieth year only moon forces had acted upon them, whereas now sun forces were entering into their development.
The sun forces' influence on the human being is entirely different from that of the moon forces. Of course, people today know little of sun forces, for they know only their external, physical effects. They know, for example, that because of sun forces — pardon my bluntness — they sweat, feel hot; they are also no doubt aware of sunbathing and its therapeutic uses, but this is all superficial. The average person nowadays cannot even begin to conceive of the effect that the forces spiritually connected with the sun have upon him.
Julian the Apostate, the last of the pagan Caesars, acquired some knowledge of the sun forces in the dwindling Mysteries, and was murdered on his expedition to Persia because he wanted to make it official again. [Julian the Apostate (Flavius Claudius Julianus), A.D. 331–363. Roman emperor 361–363. ] That is how strong the powers that wanted to exterminate such knowledge in the early Christian centuries were. It is therefore not surprising that no knowledge of such matters has survived.
While the moon forces determine the human being, permeate us with an inner necessity so that we must act according to our instincts, our temperament, our emotions, in a word, our whole physical and etheric nature, the spiritual sun forces free us from this. They dissolve, so to speak, the forces of compulsion, and it is really through their agency that we become free.
In ancient times the influence of the moon and that of the sun were sharply divided. Around the age of thirty people simply became sun people, that is, free, whereas up until then they had been moon people, or unfree. Nowadays these two overlap; even in childhood the sun forces act along with the moon forces, and the moon forces continue to work on us in later years. Thus in our time necessity and freedom intermingle.
As has been said, however, this was not always the case. In the prehistoric times of which we have been speaking, the effects of the moon and the sun upon human life were sharply separated, it was considered pathological when someone failed to experience the metamorphosis, the new beginning in his thirtieth year. By the same token, people spoke of having been born not once, but twice. As humanity began to develop in such a way that the second or solar birth (the first was called the lunar birth) became less noticeable, certain facts, including exercises and cult rituals, began to be applied to initiates in the Mysteries. In this way the initiates experienced something that the rest of mankind no longer did. They were now the twice-born.
The term twice-born that may be found in ancient oriental writings even today no longer carries its original meaning. It would be interesting to ask every orientalist and Sanskrit scholar — I believe our friend Professor Beckh is in our midst, you can ask him how things stand according to his professional studies — whether they think modern scholarship can explain the meaning of this expression clearly and in no uncertain terms. [Professor Hermann Beckh, 1875–1937, orientalist. From 1922 on priest in the Christian Community. ] In fact, any number of formal analyses are available, but the essential meaning remains a mystery. Only those who know it derives from such a reality as I have just described can grasp its true meaning. About such things spiritual observation does, after all, have something to say; and once it has spoken, I would challenge any unprejudiced researcher in a conventional academic discipline to prove that existing documents do not at every step bear it out. Ordinary science will confirm spiritual research, provided things are seen in the right light. But certain things transcending ordinary science must be brought to light since the study of documents cannot lead to a true understanding of human life.
Thus we look back to an ancient time when people spoke of their lunar birth as of a creation by the Father. Regarding their solar birth people understood that in the sun's spiritual rays Christ's power, the power of the Son, is active, and that it sets human beings free. Consider what it does for us. Only through its action can we make something of ourselves in earthly life. Without the liberating forces and impulses of the sun, we would be strictly predestined, at the mercy of an inexorable determinism, and not even the determinism of fate, but merely that of nature.
People in ancient times knew this. To them, the sun was a celestial eye from which the power of Christ streamed forth. They knew that this power released them from the bondage of iron necessity into which the moon forces had placed them at birth and which would otherwise govern their entire lives. The sun forces, the Christ forces looking down upon them through the cosmic eye of the sun, enabled them to make something of themselves in inner freedom, something they could not have become merely by virtue of the moon forces. Thus in the sun forces people saw the possibility of transforming or making something of themselves here on earth.
For completeness' sake I should briefly mention that ancient people also looked to the forces of Saturn, in which they saw all that sustains us when we pass through the portal of death, that is, when we experience the third earthly metamorphosis.
birth — Moon
Second birth — Sun
Third birth — physical death — Saturn
After death the human being is maintained by the Saturn forces that reign at what was in ancient times considered to be the outer limit of our planetary system. These forces support us and carry us out into the spiritual world; they maintain our being's integrity when the third metamorphosis occurs. This was unquestionably the world view of ancient times.
But humanity changes, and the time came when the sun forces' effects were known only in the Mysteries. This knowledge survived longest in the Mysteries' therapeutic sections, because the same forces that give us our freedom, our ability to make something of ourselves — namely, the sun forces, the Christ forces — are also found in certain plants and in other earthly beings and substances, which as a result possess healing properties.
For the most part, however, human beings lost this knowledge of the sun. Although knowledge of our dependence on the moon or Father forces remained with people for a long time, consciousness of our dependence on the sun forces, or we must really say, of our emancipation through those forces, disappeared much earlier. And what we today call forces of nature, which seem to be the sole topic in modern philosophy, are really nothing but a completely abstract version of the moon forces.
One person who still knew the sun forces and was able to let himself be guided by them was the Christ-bearer, Jesus of Nazareth. He had to know them. For, whereas in the old Mysteries the sun forces could be reached only by looking up spiritually to the sun, it was the mission of Jesus of Nazareth to receive these forces in his own body as they streamed down to earth. This I explained yesterday. The essential point, however, is that in his thirtieth year a transformation occurred in Jesus of Nazareth's body. It was the same transformation everyone experienced in primeval times, except that in those times only the rays, so to speak, of the spiritual sun entered into people, whereas here the primordial sun being himself, the Christ, descended into human evolution and dwelled in the body of Jesus of Nazareth. This event central to all earthly life is at the root of the Mystery of Golgotha.
You will be able to understand these things in their full significance if you consider the way Easter was celebrated in the older Mysteries. Easter, one might say, was as yet a human affair, for it was initiation.
Basic initiation consisted of three stages. The very first requirement for initiation was to develop, through exposure to what the Mysteries had to offer, a degree of inner humility we cannot fathom today. Although today people do indeed consider themselves enormously modest with respect to knowledge, anyone who can see through them knows they are truly possessed by arrogance.
Above all, at the outset of initiation the candidate had to believe that he was not yet really human, that this was a goal yet to be achieved. Today it would be asking too much of people at any stage of life that they should not consider themselves human beings. But for initiation this was the very first requirement. The candidate had to know that it was only before descending into an earthly body that he had been a human being, that in pre-earthly existence he had been a human being of soul and spirit, which then entered a physical body provided by a natural mother, by the natural parents. It did not “clothe itself” with the body — for that is an inaccurate expression — rather it permeated itself with a physical body.
Now just how, over a long period of time, the spirit and soul pervade the physical body — the nervous-sensory system, the rhythmic system, the metabolic-limb system — is something most people are not aware of. What everyone is aware of, what everyone perceives through the senses, is the physical world around us. When spirit and soul have completed their permeation of our physical bodies at adulthood, we can only look to the outside with our eyes, listen with our ears to what is outside us, perceive warmth and cold, roughness and smoothness outside us through our skin; in other words, we perceive only what is outside not what is inside us. We cannot look into ourselves with our eyes: the most we can do is to dissect a human corpse and imagine we are looking into ourselves. But in reality we are not.
Suppose I have a house here before me. It has windows, but I do not look in through them. Instead, I take some tools and, if I am strong enough, I can demolish the house. The individual bricks then lie before me in a heap; they are all that is left of the house. This is the way things are done today; people dissect the human being, cut him up, in order to get to know him. But in this way they do not get to know him; what they get to know this way is not at all a human being. To really know ourselves we must be able, just as today we look out of our eyes, to look in through them, to listen in with our ears, and so on.
All this taken together — eyes, ears, the whole skin as an organ of touch and temperature — was called in the Mysteries the door to the human being. Initiation started from the candidate's realization that he knew nothing about the human being, and that, having no consciousness of himself as human, he could not really claim to be one. He would first have to learn to look in through his senses, in the same way he otherwise looks out.
That was the first stage of initiation in the old Mysteries. And the moment a person learned in this way to look inside himself, he experienced how he had been in pre-earthly existence, for then he knew himself to be a being of spirit and soul.
The initiate thus learned to look in (red) instead of out (yellow), and in so doing became aware of what had entered him as pre-earthly existence through his eyes, ears, skin, and so forth (green — see diagram). Aware now that he had had such an existence, he was told that now he could begin to acquaint himself with what today we would call natural science.
When we learn about natural science today, we are taught to observe the phenomena of nature, to describe them, and so on. But this is analogous to being told upon meeting someone we have known for a long time to forget everything we have ever had in common with that person. Fancy, if you will, a married couple being told upon seeing one another after a long separation to forget everything they had ever been through together. Well, yes, I can imagine that once in a while such a thing might actually be preferable, but life could not be carried on in that way.
Such, however, are exactly the circumstances imposed upon us by our modern system of civilization. We all become acquainted with the kingdoms of nature from their spiritual aspect before we descend to earth. And while today people are encouraged to forget all they learned then about minerals, plants, and animals, the old initiate, in the so-called first Mystery stage, attempted to remember it. He was shown, for example, a quartz crystal, and then everything possible was done to remind him of what he had known about quartz — or about lilies, or roses — before he descended to earth. The knowledge of nature taught in the Mysteries was essentially recognition.
After a candidate had mastered the method of recollecting things viewed in pre-earthly existence, he was admitted to the second stage, which consisted of learning the music, architecture, geometry, surveying, etc., of the time. This was because the second stage comprised everything a person could learn not only by looking inside with his eyes and listening to what is inside him with his ears, but by actually entering into himself. Here the candidate for initiation was told he was entering the Temple Grotto of Man, which was the part of himself physically permeated by the soul-spiritual forces of which he had consisted before descending to life on earth. Into this he penetrated.
The Temple Grotto, he was told, consisted of three chambers. The first was the chamber of thought. There he became acquainted with everything — well, yes, when looked at externally, it is the human head, which is small, but when entered into and viewed from within, it is as big as the world. The candidate came to know himself there as spirit. That was the first chamber. In the second he acquainted himself with feeling; and in the third with willing.
In this way initiates learned how the human being is organized with respect to the organs of thinking, feeling, and willing; they acquainted themselves, that is, with what matters on earth. Knowledge of nature, on the other hand, transcends such merely earthly matters. One acquires it before one even descends to earth. After that, it is simply a question of recalling it. By contrast, no houses are built in the spiritual world with earthly architecture. Similarly, the music that exists in the spiritual world is entirely spiritual; earthly music is merely its projection into the terrestrial air. Surveying is concerned with the dimensions of the earth; both it and geometry are earthly sciences.
It was important for the novice of the second stage to realize that all talk of gaining knowledge by purely earthly means, except as it applies to geometry, architecture, and surveying, is nonsense. He realized that a genuine science of nature must consist of recalling pre-earthly knowledge; however, geometry, architecture, music, and surveying are sciences that can be learned here on earth.
The candidate thus entered into himself and came to know the cosmic human being. This consisted of three chambers, unlike the single earthly organization we encounter by approaching the human being only from the outside.
In the third stage the candidate not only delved down into himself, coming to know himself spiritually, but as spirit he came to know the body as well. Initiates in all the old Mysteries called this level of knowledge “the Portal of Death.” Here one learned what it is like to lay aside the earthly body. There was, however, a difference between actual death and the death experienced in initiation. I will explain in the following lectures why this had to be so; at the moment I only want to point out the facts.
When we die, we discard our physical bodies and are no longer bound to them. We cease to respond to, and are henceforth free from, earth forces. But while we are still connected to our physical bodies, as was the case in the initiations of old, we must achieve by inner exertion something that in death happens of itself, namely, freedom from the body; we must hold ourselves outside the body for a time. Initiation required that one attain strong inner forces of soul, by virtue of which one could remain free from the physical body.
These same forces also provided higher knowledge of matters that could neither be perceived with the senses nor thought with the intellect. They brought human beings into relation with the spiritual world, just as our physical bodies bring us into relation with the physical world. At this point a candidate was far enough advanced to recognize himself as a human being of spirit and soul, as an initiate, while still living on earth. From that time on he experienced the earth as outside himself and could live with the sun rather than with the earth, particularly in the older Mysteries. He knew what he had from the sun, how the sun forces were active in him.
After this third stage followed then the fourth. The fourth stage had an effect that may be explained as follows: When a human being on earth eats, he recognizes, for example, that he is eating cabbage or venison. He can drink various things, and know that first these things are outside, then inside him. He breathes the air; first it is outside, then inside, then outside again. In short, he carries within him earthly forces and substances that also exist outside him. What the Mysteries made clear to the student was that before initiation he had been an earth-bearer, a bearer of cabbage, venison, pork, and so on, but that upon completing the third stage of initiation and experiencing what it is possible to experience when one frees oneself from the body he would no longer be a bearer of cabbage, pork, and veal, but rather of what the sun forces gave him.
In all the Mysteries this spiritual gift of the sun forces was called Christos. Hence the candidate who had gone through the three stages and now felt himself to be a bearer of the sun forces, just as he had been a cabbage-bearer on earth, was called a christophor, a Christ-bearer. This was the term applied to a neophyte of the fourth stage in most of the ancient Mysteries.
In the third stage the candidate had to understand certain things thoroughly, most importantly that his craving for the physical body had to cease during moments of knowledge. He had to understand that the human being, as far as the physical body is concerned, belongs to the earth, but that the earth actually only destroys the physical body and does not build it up. It was at this point that the initiate came to know the upbuilding forces that originate in the cosmos.
He also learned something else. Precisely when he became a christophor, the initiate realized that spiritual forces are at work even in the substances of the earth, albeit in a way imperceptible to earthly senses. Had our modern way of speaking, which is the only one I can use, been comprehensible to people of ancient times, the sense of what the neophyte was told might be expressed as follows: “If you wish to know and understand substance, to see how the different elements combine and separate, you must look to the spiritual forces that permeate matter from the cosmos. You can only do this, however, once you have been initiated into the fourth stage. For only when you are able to perceive by means of forces of the sun-existence will you be able to study chemistry.”
Now in our time it would be thought quite absurd, wouldn't it, to require of candidates for the doctor's degree in pharmacology or chemistry that they experience sun forces in the same way that they do earthly cabbage. In the old days, however, such demands were made. Furthermore, initiates realized that all the forces of ordinary cognition alive in the body can be used only to study geometry, surveying, music, and architecture. They are useless for the study of chemistry.
Chemistry as we know it today deals only with superficial realities, and has done so ever since the old initiation wisdom was lost. In fact, anyone who seeks genuine knowledge must despair at having to learn the official chemistry of today, for it is based wholly upon descriptions, not upon an inner penetration of the subject. If people were open-minded, they would realize that something more is necessary, that a different method of cognition is required, for a true study of chemistry. That this is not realized is simply the result of the cowardice so prevalent today.
When a candidate had passed the fourth stage, he was ready to become an adept in astronomy, which was an even higher stage of initiation. The merely external study of the stars, based on calculations and the like, ancient people considered thoroughly trivial. For the stars are inhabited by spiritual beings, and these beings can be known only after physical observation and even geometry have been left behind, when one can literally live in the universe and know the spiritual nature of the stars. At this stage the candidate became one of the resurrected and could observe the forces of the moon and sun at work, particularly in their effects upon earthly humanity.
Today I have described for you from two sides how Easter was inwardly experienced in the old Mysteries, not in a particular season but at a certain stage of human development. Easter, we have seen, was the inner human being's resurrection out of the physical body into the spiritual universe. Those still cognizant of ancient Mystery wisdom at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha saw that Mystery in this light. They asked themselves: What would have happened to humanity if the Mystery of Golgotha had not taken place?
In ancient times it had been possible to be initiated into the secrets of the cosmos, for even earlier than that it had been a matter of course for people to experience a second birth around their thirtieth year. Memories of this had been preserved, as had the knowledge of the Mystery schools, and thus what had been experienced directly in earlier epochs was kept alive as tradition. At the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, however, this had all been lost or forgotten. Humanity would have fallen into complete decadence had not the power to whom the initiates had raised themselves in becoming christophors descended into Jesus of Nazareth and remained on earth since then, enabling people to unite themselves with it through Christ Jesus.
Easter as we know it today is thus a link in the evolution of the Mysteries, and we can become aware of its true content only by reviving that evolution. In the lectures to come you will be able to get at least an idea of what the ancients experienced in initiation. A new initiate could say to himself: “Initiation has revealed to me how sun and moon, as celestial opposites, work within me. I know now that my physical form — the particular shape of my eyes, nose, indeed of my entire body, inside and out — as well as the fact that this form could grow, and continues to grow through nourishment, is a result of the moon forces. Upon them all necessity depends. But that I can come to life within my physical body as a free human being, that I can alter my character and master myself, this is due to the sun forces, to the Christ forces. These I must awaken within me if I am to achieve through my own efforts a conscious freedom over and above that given me by the sun forces through another kind of necessity.”
From all this one can understand why even today human beings calculate the date of Easter from a particular constellation of sun and moon. All that remains of the old consciousness is an interest in finding the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. That Easter is set on that Sunday indicates, as I shall elaborate tomorrow, that people see in Easter's nature and form something that must be determined from above, that is, from the cosmos.
More than this, however, is necessary. The very content of Easter must be grasped anew, and this can happen only if we examine the old Mysteries. These showed first of all what people could experience if they looked inside themselves, the portal of Man, then when they descended into themselves and came to know the remotest inner recesses of their being, the three-chambered, cosmic human being; when they liberated themselves from the body — the portal of Death; and when they moved freely in the spiritual world, they became christophors.
The Mysteries themselves, of course, began to disappear at the time human freedom started to assert itself, but the time to rediscover them has arrived. The Mysteries must be found anew, and we should be fully conscious that preparations to that end must now be made.
It was with this in mind that the Christmas Conference was held. An earthly sanctuary for the re-founding of the Mysteries is urgently needed. The Anthroposophical Society, as it continues in its development, must lead the way to that re-founding. It will be partly your task, my dear friends, to help this along in the right spirit. But for that you will need to examine the three stages of human life: introspection, self-penetration, and a consciousness one has in outer reality only in death.
As a reminder of what has been said in this hour, I would like us now to carry away and meditate upon the following words:
at the gate of living man;
View in its arch-stones cosmic thoughts.
Live deep within the human soul;
Feel at its center the birth of worlds.
Think upon man's earthly ending;
Find there renewal of the spirit.
vor des Menschen Lebenspforte;
Schau an ihrer Stirne Weltenworte.
Leb' in des Menschen Seeleninnern;
Fühl' in seinem Kreise Weltbeginnen.
Denk' an des Menschen Erdenende;
Find' bei ihm die Geisteswende.