The Festivals and Their Meaning I:
I. The Christmas Festival: A Token of the Victory of the Sun
24 December 1905, Berlin
How many people are there to-day who, as they walk through the streets at this season and see all the preparations made for the Christmas Festival, have any clear or profound idea of what it means? How seldom do we find evidence of any clear ideas of this Festival, and even when they exist, how far removed they are from the intentions of those who once inaugurated the great Festivals as tokens of what is eternal and imperishable in the world! A glance at the ‘Christmas Reflections’ as they are called, in the newspapers, is quite sufficient proof of this. Surely there can be nothing more dreary and at the same time more estranged from the subject than the thoughts sent out into the world on printed pages in this way.
To-day we shall try to bring before our minds a kind of summary of the knowledge revealed to us by Spiritual Science. I do not, of course, mean any kind of pedantic summary; I mean a gathering-together of all that the Christmas Festival can bring home to our hearts if we regard Spiritual Science not as a dull, grey theory, not as an outer confession, not as a philosophy, but as a real and vital stream of life pulsating through and through us.
The man of to-day confronts Nature around him as a stranger. He is far more of a stranger to Nature than he thinks, far more even than he was in the time of Goethe. Is there anyone who still feels the depth of words spoken by Goethe at the beginning of the Weimar period of his life? He addressed a Hymn, a kind of prayer to Nature with all her mysterious powers:
“Nature! — we are surrounded and embraced by her; we cannot draw back from her, nor can we penetrate more deeply into her being. She lifts us unasked and unwarned into the gyrations of her dance and whirls us away until we fall exhausted from her arms ... All men are within her and she in all men ... We are obedient to her laws even when we would fain oppose them ... She (Nature) is all in all. She alone praises and she alone punishes — herself, Let her do with me what she will; she will not cherish hatred for her created work. It was not I who spoke of her, Nay, it was she who spoke it all, true and false. Hers is the blame for all things, hers is the credit ...”
Verily, we are all Nature's children. And when we think we are least of all obedient to her, it may be that just then we are acting most strictly in accordance with the great laws which pervade the realm of Nature and stream into our own being. Again, there are so few who really feel the depth of other pregnant words of Goethe in which he tries to express the feeling of communion with the hidden forces common to Nature and to the human being. I refer to that passage in Faust where Goethe addresses Nature, not as the dead, lifeless being conceived of by materialistic thinkers of to-day, but as a living Spirit:
“Spirit sublime, Thou gav'st me, gav'st me all
For which I prayed. Not unto me in vain
Hast thou thy countenance revealed in fire.
Thou gav'st me Nature as a kingdom grand,
With power to feel and to endure it. Thou
Not only cold, amazed acquaintance yield'st,
But grantest, that in her profoundest breast
I gaze, as in the bosom of a friend.
The ranks of living creatures thou dost lead
Before me, teaching me to know my brothers
In air and water and the silent wood.
And when the storm in forests roars and grinds,
The giant firs, in falling, neighbour bough
And neighbour trunks with crushing weight bear down,
And falling, fill the hills with hollow thunders, —
Then to the cave secure thou leadest me,
Then show'st me mine own self, and in my breast
The deep, mysterious miracles unfold.”
Translation by BAYARD TAYLOR
This was the mood of soul which Goethe's knowledge and feeling for Nature awakened in him and these words were an attempt to bring to life again a mood which filled men's hearts in an age when wisdom itself was still organically united by living ties to Nature. And it was as tokens of this ‘feeling at one’ with Nature and the universe that the great Festivals were inaugurated.
The Festivals have become abstractions, matters of indifference to modern people. The word as a medium of strife and blasphemy often means more than the Word conceived as the power by which the world itself was created. Yet the alphabetical word ought to be the representative, the symbol of the Word Creative in Nature around us, in the great universe and within us too when self-knowledge awakens, and of which all mankind can be made conscious by those who truly understand the course of Nature. It was for this that the Festivals were instituted and with the knowledge we have gleaned from Spiritual Science we will try to understand what it was that the wise men of old set out to express in the Christmas Festival.
Christmas is not a Festival of Christendom only. In ancient Egypt, in the regions we ourselves inhabit, and in Asia thousands and thousands of years before the Christian era we find that a Festival was celebrated on the days now dedicated to the celebration of the birth of Christ.
Now what was the character of this Festival which since time immemorial has been celebrated all over the world on the same days of the year? Wonderful Fire Festivals in the northern and central regions of Europe in ancient times were celebrated among the Celts in Scandinavia, Scotland and England by their priests, the Druids. What were they celebrating? They were celebrating the time when winter draws to its close and spring begins. It is quite true that Christmas falls while it is still winter, but Nature is already heralding a victory which can be a token of hope in anticipation of the victory that will come in spring — a token of confidence, of hope, of faith — to use words which are connected in nearly every language with the Festival of Christmas. There is confidence that the Sun, again in the ascendant, will be victorious over the opposing powers of Nature. The days draw in and draw in, and this shortening of the days seems to us to be an expression of the dying, or rather of the falling asleep of the Nature-forces. The days grow shorter and shorter up to the time when we celebrate the Christmas Festival and when our forefathers also celebrated it, in another form. Then the days begin to draw out again and the light of the Sun celebrates its victory over the darkness. In our age of materialistic thinking this is an event to which we no longer give much consideration.
In olden times it seemed to men in whom living feeling was united with wisdom, to be an expression of an experience of the Godhead Himself, the Godhead by Whom their lives were guided. The solstice was a personal experience of a higher being — as personal an experience as when some momentous event forces a man to come to a vital decision. And it was even more than this. The waxing and waning of the days was not only an expression of an event in the life of a higher Being, but a token of something greater still, of something momentous and unique.
This brings us to the true meaning of Christmas as a Festival of the very highest order in cosmic and human life. In the days when genuine occult teaching was not disowned as it is today by materialistic thought but was the very wellspring of the life of the peoples, the Christmas Festival was a kind of memorial, a token of remembrance of a great happening on the Earth. At the hour of midnight the priests gathered around them their truest disciples, those who were the teachers of the people, and spoke to them of a great Mystery. (I am not telling you anything that has been cleverly thought out or discovered by a process of abstract deduction but was actually experienced in the Mysteries, in the secret Sanctuaries of those remote times). This Mystery was connected with the victory of the Sun over the darkness. There was a time on the Earth when the light triumphed over the darkness. And it happened thus: in that epoch, all physical, all bodily life on Earth had reached the stage of animality only. The highest kingdom upon the Earth had only reached a stage at which it was preparing to receive something higher. And then there came that great moment in evolution when the immortal, imperishable soul of man descended. Life had so far developed that the human body was able to receive into itself the imperishable soul. These ancestors of the human race stood higher in the scale of evolution than modern scientists believe, but the higher part of their being, the divine ‘spark’ was not yet within them. The divine spark descended from a higher planetary sphere to our Earth which was now to become the scene of its activity, the dwelling-place of the soul which henceforward can never be lost to us.
We call these remote ancestors of humanity the Lemurian race. Then came the Atlantean race and the Atlantean race was followed by our own — the Aryan race. Into the bodies of the Lemurian race the human soul descended. This descent of the divine ‘Sons of the Spirit,’ this great moment in the evolution of mankind was celebrated by the sages of all times as the victory of the light over the darkness. Since then the human soul has been working in the body and bringing it to higher stages of development but not at all in the way that materialistic science imagines. At the time when the human soul was quickened by the Spirit, something happened in the universe, something that is one of the most decisive events in the evolution of mankind.
In those remote ages — and this is contrary to what modern science teaches — certain constellation of Earth, Moon and Sun was in existence. It was not until then that the Sun assumed the significance it now has in the process of man's growth and life upon the Earth and of the other creatures belonging to the Earth — the plants and animals. Before that time, the beings on Earth were adapted to the conditions then obtaining upon the planetary body. Only those who are able to form a clear idea of the process of the development of the Earth and of mankind will understand the connection of Sun, Moon and Earth with the human being as he lives upon the Earth. There was a time when the Earth was still united with Sun and Moon, when Sun, Moon and Earth were still one body, The beings who dwelt upon this planet were different in appearance from those who inhabit the Earth to-day; they lived in forms which were suited to the conditions of existence as they were on the planetary body consisting of Sun, Moon and Earth.
The form and essential being of everything that lives upon our Earth is determined by the fact that first the Sun and then, later, the Moon separated from the Earth. The forces and influences of these two heavenly bodies henceforward played down upon the Earth from outside. This is the basis of the mysterious connection of the Spirit of man with the Spirit of the universe, with the Logos in Whom Sun, Moon and Earth are all contained. In this Logos we live and move and have our being. Just as the Earth was born from a planetary body in which the Sun and Moon were also contained, so is man born of a Spirit, of a Soul which belongs alike to Sun, Moon and Earth. And so when a man looks up to the Sun, or to the Moon, he should not only see external bodies in the heavens, but in Sun, Moon and Earth he should see the bodies of Spiritual Beings.
This truth is utterly lost to the materialism of the age. Those who do not see in Sun and Moon the bodies of Spiritual Beings cannot recognise the human body as the body of the Spirit. Just as truly as the heavenly bodies are the bodies of Spiritual Beings, so is the human body the bearer of the Spirit. And man is connected with these Spiritual Beings. Just as his body is separate from the forces of the Sun and Moon and yet contains forces which are active in the Sun and Moon, so the same spirituality which reigns in Sun and Moon is contained within his soul. Man has evolved on Earth into the being he is, and he is dependent upon the Sun as the heavenly body from which the Earth receives her light.
And so in days of old, our forefathers felt themselves to be spiritual children of the great universe and they said: “We have become men through the Sun Spirit, through the Sun Spirit from Whom the Spirit within us proceeded. The victory of the Sun over the darkness commemorates the victory of the Sun when it shone down upon the Earth for the first time. The immortal soul has been victorious over the forces of the animal nature.” It was verily a victory of the Sun when, long, long ago, the immortal soul entered into the physical body and penetrated into the dark world of desires, impulses and passions. Darkness preceded the victory of the Sun and this darkness had followed a previous Sun Age. So it is with the human soul. The soul proceeds from the Divine but it must sink for a time into the darkness, in order, out of this darkness, to build up the vehicle for the human soul. By slow degrees the human soul itself built up the lower nature of man in order then to take up its abode in the dwelling-place of its own construction. You have a correct simile for the entry of the immortal soul of man into the human body if you imagine an architect devoting all his powers to the building of a house in which he then lives. But in those remote ages the soul could only work unconsciously on its dwelling-place. The descent is expressed by the darkness; the awakening to consciousness, the lighting-up of the conscious human soul is expressed in this simile as a victory of the Sun. And so to those who were still aware of man's living connection with the universe, the victory of the Sun signified the great moment when they had received the impulse which was all-essential for their earthly existence. And this great moment was perpetuated in the Christmas Festival.
And now try to think of the course of human life in connection with the harmony of the universe. Man seems to become more and more akin to the great rhythms of Nature. If we think of all that encompasses the life of the soul, of the course of the Sun and everything that is connected with it, we are struck by something that closely concerns us, namely, the rhythm and the marvellous harmony in contrast to the chaos and lack of harmony in the human soul. We all know how rhythmically and with what regularity the Sun appears and disappears. And we can picture what a stupendous upheaval there would be in the universe if for a fraction of a second only the Sun were to be diverted from its course. It is only because of this inviolable harmony in the course of the Sun that our universe can exist at all, and it is upon this harmony that the rhythmic life-process of all beings depends. Think of the annual course of the Sun. — Picture to yourselves that it is the Sun which charms forth the plants in spring time and then think how difficult it is to make the violet or some other plant flower out of due season. Seed-time and harvest, everything, even the very life of animals is dependent upon the rhythmic course of the Sun. And in the being of man himself everything that is not connected with his feelings, his desires and his passions, or with his ordinary thinking, is rhythmic and harmonious. Think of the pulse, of the process of digestion and you will feel the mighty rhythm and marvel at the wisdom implicit in the whole of Nature. Compare with this the irregularity, the chaos of man's passions and desires, especially of his ideas and thoughts. Think of the regularity of your pulse, your breathing, and then of the irregularity, the erratic nature of your thinking, feeling and willing. With what wisdom the powers of life are governed where the prevailing rhythmic forces meet the challenge of the chaotic! And how greatly the rhythms of the human body are outraged by man's passions and cravings! Those who have studied anatomy know how marvellously the heart is constructed and regulated and how wonderfully it is able to stand the strain put upon it by the drinking of tea, coffee and spirits.
There is wisdom in every part of the divine, rhythmic Nature to which our forefathers looked up with such veneration and the very soul of which is the Sun with its regular, rhythmic course. And as the wise men of old looked upwards to the Sun, they said to their disciples: ‘Thou art the image of what the soul born within thee has yet to become and what it will become.’ The divine cosmic Order was revealed in all its glory to the sages of old. And again, in the Christian religion we have the ‘Gloria in excelsis.’ The meaning of ‘gloria’ is revelation, not ‘glory’ in the sense of ‘honour.’ Therefore we should not say: ‘Glory (honour) to God in the highest,’ but rather: ‘To-day is the revelation of the Divine in the heavens!’ The birth of the Redeemer makes us aware of the ‘Glory’ streaming through the wide universe.
In earlier times this cosmic harmony was placed as a great Ideal before those who were to be leaders among their fellow-men. Therefore in all ages and wherever there was consciousness of these things, men spoke of Sun Heroes. In the temples and sanctuaries of the Mysteries there were seven degrees of Initiation. I will speak of them as they were known in ancient Persia.
The first stage is attained when a man's ordinary feeling and thinking is raised to a higher level, where knowledge of the Spirit is attained. Such a man received the name of ‘Raven.’ It is the ‘Ravens’ who inform the Initiates in the temples what is happening in the world outside. When medieval poetic wisdom desired to depict in the person of a great Ruler an Initiate who amid the treasures of wisdom contained in the Earth must await the great moment when newly revealed depths of Christianity rejuvenate mankind — when this poetic wisdom of the Middle Ages created the figure of Barbarossa, ravens were his heralds. The Old Testament, too, speaks of the ravens in the story of Elijah.
Those who had reached the second stage of Initiation were known as ‘Occultists’; at the third stage they were ‘Warriors,’ at the fourth, ‘Lions.’ At the fifth stage of Initiation a man was called by the name of his own people: he was a ‘Persian,’ ‘Indian,’ or whatever it might be. For that man alone who had reached the fifth degree of Initiation was regarded as a true representative of his people. At the sixth stage a man was a ‘Sun Hero’ or one who ‘runs in the paths of the Sun.’ And at the seventh stage he was a ‘Father.’
Why was an Initiate of the sixth degree known as a Sun Hero? To reach this level on the ladder of spiritual knowledge a man must have developed an inner life in harmony with the divine rhythms pulsating through the cosmos. His life of feeling and of thinking must have rid itself of chaos, of all disharmony, and his inner life of soul must beat in perfect accord with the rhythm of the Sun in the heavens. Such was the demand made upon men at the sixth degree of Initiation. They were looked upon as holy men, as Ideals, and it was said that if a Sun Hero were to deviate from the divine path of this spiritual harmony, it would be as great a calamity as if the Sun were to deviate from its course. A man whose spiritual life had found a path as sure as that of the Sun in the heavens was called a ‘Sun Hero,’ and there were Sun Heroes among all the peoples.
Our scholars know remarkably little about these things. They are aware that Sun myths are connected with the lives of all the great Founders of religions, but what they do not know is that at the Initiation Ceremony it was the custom for the leading figures to be made into Sun Heroes. It is not really so surprising that materialistic research should rediscover these things. Sun myths have been sought for and found in connection with Buddha and with the Christ.
The Sun-Soul was the great example for the way in which a man's life must be ordered. How did the ancients conceive of the soul of a Sun Hero who had reached this inner harmony? They pictured to themselves that no longer did a single individual human soul live within him, but that forces of the cosmic Soul were streaming into him. This cosmic Soul was known in Greece as Chrestos, in the sublime wisdom of the East as Budhi. When a man no longer feels himself a single being, as the bearer of an individual soul, but experiences something of the universal Soul, he has created within himself an image of the union of the Sun-Soul with the human body and he has attained something of the very greatest significance in the evolution of mankind.
If we think of these men with all their nobility of soul, we shall be able to some extent to visualise the future of the human race and the relation of the future to the ideal of mankind generally. As humanity is to-day, decisions are arrived at by individuals who amid quarrelling and strife finally reach a measure of unity in majority-resolutions. When such resolutions are still regarded as the ideal, this is evidence that men have not realised what truth really is. Where in us does truth exist? Truth lives in that realm of our being where we think logically. It would be nonsense to decide by a majority vote that 2 x 2 = 4, or that 3 x 4 = 12. When man has once realised what is true, millions may come and tell him it is not so, that it is this or it is that, but he will still have his own inner certainty.
We have reached this point in the realm of scientific thinking, of thinking upon which human passions, impulses and instincts no longer impinge. Wherever passions and instincts mingle with thinking, men still find themselves involved in strife and dispute, in wild confusion, for the life of instincts and impulses is itself a seething chaos. When, however, impulses, instincts and passions have been purged and transmuted into what is known as Budhi or Chrestos, when they have developed to the level at which logical, dispassionate thinking stands to-day, then the ideal of the ancient wisdom, the ideal of Christianity, the ideal of Anthroposophy will be realised. It will then be as unnecessary to vote about what is held to be good, ideal and right as it is to vote about what has been recognised as logically right or logically wrong.
This ideal can stand before the soul of every human being and then he has before him the ideal of the Sun Hero, the ideal to which every aspirant at the sixth stage of Initiation has attained. The German Mystics of the Middle Ages felt this and expressed it in the word ‘Vergöttung’ — deification. This word existed in all the wisdom-religions, What does it signify? Let me try to express it in the following way. — There was a time when those whom we look upon to-day as the ruling Spirits of the universe also passed through a stage at which mankind as a whole now stands -the stage of chaos. These ruling Spirits have wrestled through to the divine heights from which their forces stream through the harmonies of the universe. The regularity with which the Sun moves through the seasons, the regularity manifested in the growth of plants and in the life of animals — this regularity was once chaos. Harmony has been attained at the cost of great travail. Humanity stands to-day within the same kind of chaos but out of the chaos there will arise a harmony modelled in the likeness of the harmony in the universe.
When this thought takes root in our souls, not as a theory, not as a doctrine, but as living insight, then we shall understand what Christmas signifies in the light of anthroposophical teaching. If the glory, the revelation of the divine harmony in the heavenly heights is a real experience within us, and if we know that this harmony will one day resound from our own souls, then we can also feel what will be brought about in humanity itself by this harmony: peace among men of good-will. These are the two thoughts or, better, the two feelings which arise at Christmastide. When with this great vista of the divine ordering of the world, of the revelation, the glory of the heavens, we think of the future lying before mankind, we have a premonition even now of that harmony which in the future will reign in those who know that the more abundantly the harmony of the Cosmos fills the soul, the more peace and concord there will be upon the Earth. The great ideal of Peace stands there before us when at Christmas we contemplate the course of the Sun. And when we think about the victory of the Sun over the darkness during these days of Festival there is born in us an unshakable conviction which makes our own evolving soul akin to the harmony of the cosmos — light over the darkness had always been commemorated. 1We cannot here enter into the details of the wisdom-teachings of Christianity itself which will form the subject of a later lecture. But this much shall be said to-day: that nothing could be more correct than to place at this time the Birth Festival of that divine Individuality Who is to the Christian a guarantee and an assurance that his divine soul will ultimately prevail over the darkness in the outer world. And so Christianity is in harmony with all the great world-religions. When the Christmas bells ring out, they are a reminder to us that this Festival was celebrated all over the world, wherever human beings knew what it signified, wherever they understood the great truth that the soul of man is involved in a process of development and progress on this Earth, wherever in the truest sense man strove to reach self-knowledge.
We have been speaking to-day, not of an undefined, abstract feeling for Nature but of a feeling that is full of life and spirituality. And if we think of what has been said in connection with Goethe's words: “Nature! we are surrounded and embraced by thee ...” it is quite obvious that we are not speaking here in any materialistic sense, but that we see in Nature the outward expression, the countenance of the Divine Spirit of the Cosmos. Just as the physical is born out of the physical, so are the soul and the Spirit born out of the Divine Soul and the Divine Spirit. The body is connected with purely material forces and the soul and Spirit with forces akin to their own nature. The great Festivals exist as tokens that these things must be understood in their connection with the whole universe; our powers of thinking must be used in such a way that we realise our oneness with the whole universe. When this insight lives within us, the Festivals will change their present character and become living realities in our hearts and souls. They will be points of focus in the year uniting us with the all-pervading Spirit of the universe.
Throughout the year we fulfil the common tasks and duties of daily life, and at these times of Festival we turn our attention to the links which bind us with eternity. And although daily life is fraught with many a struggle, at these times a feeling awakens within us that above all the strife and turmoil there is peace and harmony.
Festivals are the commemoration of great Ideals, and Christmas is the birth feast of the very greatest Ideal before mankind, of that Ideal which man must strain every nerve to attain if he is to fulfil his mission. The birth festival of all that man can feel, perceive and will — such is Christmas when it is truly understood.
The aim of Spiritual Science is to stimulate a true and deep understanding of the Christmas Festival. We do not want to promulgate a dogma or a doctrine, or a philosophy. Our aim is that everything we say and teach, everything that is contained in our writings, in our science, shall pass over into life itself.
When in all that pertains to his daily life man applies spiritual wisdom, life will be filled with it and from all pulpits, far and wide, godlike wisdom, the living wisdom of the Spirit will resound in the words that are spoken to the ‘faithful.’ It will then be unnecessary to utter the actual words ‘Spiritual Science’ at all. When in Courts of Law the deeds of human beings are viewed with the eyes of spiritual perception, when at the bed of sickness the doctor spiritually perceives and spiritually heals, when in the schools the teacher brings spiritual knowledge to the growing child, when in the very streets men think and feel and act spiritually, then we shall have reached our Ideal, for Spiritual Science will have become common knowledge. Then too there will be a spiritual understanding of the great turning-points of the year and the everyday experiences of man will be truly linked with the spiritual world. The Immortal and the Eternal, the spiritual Sun will flood the soul with light at the great Festivals which will remind man of the divine Self within him. The divine Self, in essence like the Sun, and radiant with light, will prevail over darkness and chaos and will give to his soul a peace by which all the strife, all the war and all the discord in the world will be quelled.