Rudolf Steiner Archive 

The Easter Festival

Berlin, 12th April 1906

Goethe expressed a certain feeling, which he often had, in the most different way. He said, if I look at the inconsistency of the human passions, sensations, and actions, I feel attracted to the all-powerful nature and I want to draw myself up at her consequence and logic. — What humanity expressed in the festivals since the oldest times is based on the aspiration to look up from the chaotic life of the human passions, desires, and actions at the big consistently uniform facts of the big nature. It complies with these big facts of the big nature that great festivals are connected with characteristic phenomena in nature. Such a festival that is connected with a phenomenon in nature is the Easter festival, which is for the Christian of today the celebration of his Saviour, which was committed from time immemorial as the awakening of something particular for the human being. We look at the ancient Egypt with her cult of Osiris, Isis, Horus, which expresses the continual rejuvenation of the immortal nature. If we look at Greece, we find a festival to honour Dionysus, a spring festival that is brought together with the awaking nature in spring in any way.

In India, there is a spring festival of Vishnu. Brahmanism divides the divine in three aspects, in Brahman, Vishnu, and Shiva. One rightly calls Brahman the great master builder of the world, who causes the order and harmony in the world. One calls Vishnu a kind of saviour, liberator, awakener of the slumbering life, and Shiva is that who blesses the slumbering life woken by Vishnu and raises it to the heights to which one can absolutely raise it. Something like a festival was consecrated to Vishnu. One said, he falls asleep at the time of the year when we celebrate Christmas and awakes at the moment of the Easter festival. Who call themselves his servants celebrate this whole time in a significant way: they abstain from certain dishes, beverages, and meat. Thus, they prepare themselves to get an understanding of that which takes place when at the Vishnu festival the resurrection is celebrated, the arousal of the whole nature. Also Christmas builds in a significant way on big physical facts, on the fact that the strength of the sun becomes weaker and weaker, that the days become shorter and shorter and that from Christmas on the sun emits bigger heat again, so that Christmas is a festival of the reborn sun. The Christians felt it as something like that, this festival of the winter sun.

When in the sixth and seventh centuries Christianity wanted to go back to old, holy events, the birth of Christ Jesus was rescheduled to the day when the sun ascends again. The spiritual significance of the world Saviour was associated with the physical sun and the awaking and resurrecting life.

In spring, one also builds on a certain sun event with the Easter festival, like with all similar festivals, which is also expressed in external customs. In the first century of Christianity, the symbol of Christianity was shown in the cross at whose foot lies a lamb. Lamb and Aries signify the same. In the spring, the sun appears in that time in which Christianity prepared in the sign of the Aries or lamb. The sun goes through the signs of the zodiac; every year it moves forward a little distance. About from 600 to 700 BC, the sun moved forward to this sign of the zodiac. For 2 500 years the sun moves on in this sign; it was in the sign of the bull before. At that time, the peoples celebrated that which seemed to them as important in connection with the human development, by the bull because at that time the sun stood in the sign of the bull.

When the sun entered the sign of Aries or Lamb, there the ram appeared also in the legends and myths of the peoples as something significant. Jason gets the fur of the ram from Colchis. Christ Jesus calls himself God's lamb, and he is shown in the first time of Christianity symbolically as the lamb at the foot of the cross. Thus, one can connect the Easter festival with the sign of the Aries or Lamb, and considers this festival, therefore, as the resurrection festival of the saviour because the saviour causes everything to a new life, after it has died in the winter months.

With it, Christmas and Easter do not separate so distinctly, because the sun gains strength again since the own resurrection festival, Christmas. Something different must be expressed in the Easter festival. The Easter festival is felt in its deepest meaning always as the festival of the biggest human mystery, not only as a kind of festival of nature that goes back to the sun, but it is substantially still more: it is suggested in the Christian meaning of the resurrection after death. The awakening of Vishnu points still more to the awakening after death. The awakening of Vishnu takes place in the time when the sun begins its rise in winter again, and the Easter festival is a continuation of the increasing strength of the sun, which increases already since Christmas. We have to look deeply into the secrets of human nature if we want to understand which sensations the initiates had if they wanted to express that in the Easter festival.

The human being appears to us as a double being, connecting a mental-spiritual being with a physical being. The physical being is a confluence of all remaining natural phenomena that are in the surroundings of the human being: they all appear as a fine essence in the human nature in which they have flowed together. Paracelsus shows the human being significantly as a confluence of that which is spread out outdoors in the world: Nature appears to us like letters, and the human being forms the word that is composed of these letters. — The biggest wisdom is contained in his construction; he is physically a temple of the soul. All principles that we can observe in the dead stone, in the living plant, in the animal filled with joy and sorrow are joined in the human being; they have coalesced to a unity filled with wisdom.

If we look at the wonderful construction of the human brain with its countless cells, which co-operate in such a way that all this can be expressed which the thoughts, the sensations of the human being are, what permeates his soul anyhow, we recognise the supreme wisdom in the organisation of his physical body. In the whole environment, if we look out we recognise crystallised wisdom. If we penetrate all principles of the environment with our knowledge and look then back at the human being, we see the whole nature concentrated in him, we see him as a microcosm in the macrocosm. In this sense, Schiller said to Goethe, “You take together the whole nature to understand the single; in the all-ness of her phenomena, you look for the explanation of the individual. From the simple organisation you go up, step by step, to more developed ones to build up, finally, the most complex of all, and the human being, genetically from the materials of the whole building of nature.”

Due to the wonderful construction of the human body, the human soul is able to direct its look at the environment. The mental human being looks at the world through the senses and tries to fathom that wisdom bit by bit with which the world is built up.

If we look at a still rather undeveloped human being from this point of view, his body is the most reasonable which anybody is able to invent; there the divine reason has flowed together in this human body. However, a rather childish soul lives in it that can hardly develop the first thoughts to understand that mysterious force which prevails in the heart, in the brain, in the blood. Quite slowly, the human soul develops up to understand that gradually which has worked on the human body. However, this bears the imprint of a long past in itself. The human being stands there as the crown of the remaining creation. Aeons had to precede until the universal wisdom was summarised in this human body.

However, in the soul of the undeveloped human being the universal wisdom starts growing. There it hardly dreams of the great thought of the universal spirit that has built up the human being. However, the human being understands the mental-spiritual in future that lives still like sleeping in himself. The universal thought has worked for countless years, he has created in nature to form the crown of all this creating, the human body. In this human body, the universal wisdom now slumbers to recognise itself in the human soul, to form an eye in the human being to grasp itself. Universal wisdom outdoors, universal wisdom inside, creating in the present like in the past, creating in the future, which we can only anticipate in its sublimity. The deepest human feelings are called if we look at the past and at the future in such a way.

If the soul starts understanding the miraculous that the universal wisdom built up, if it gets the prudent clearness about that, the enlightening heart knowledge of it, then the sun is the most marvellous symbol, which expresses this inner awakening, which opens the access to the outside world to the soul through the gates of the senses. The human being receives the light because the sun illuminates the things. What the human being sees in the outside world is the reflected sunlight. The sun wakes the strength in the soul to look at the outside world. The awaking solar soul in the human being, which starts recognising the universal thought in the seasons, sees its liberator in the rising sun.

If the sun again begins its rise, if the days increase again, the soul looks at the sun and says, to you I owe the possibility to see the universal thought spread out in my surroundings that sleeps in me and in all the others. — Now, the human being looks at his former existence, at that which preceded the groping feeling of the universal thought. The human being is much, much older than his senses. Spiritual research lets us reach that time, in which the senses of the human being existed only as rudiments. We come to the time when the senses were not yet the gates through which the soul could perceive the surroundings. Schopenhauer felt this and characterised the turning point where the human being reaches the sensuous perception of the world. He means this if he says, this visible world only originated when an eye was there to see the world. — The sun formed the eye, light formed light. Once when such an external vision was not yet there, the human being had an internal vision. In the primeval times of human development an external object did not stimulate the human being to perceive, but from the inside images rose in him: the old vision was a vision in the astral light. At that time, the human being had a vague, twilit clairvoyance.

In the Germanic world of gods, the human being also saw the gods in vague, twilit astral vision and took his images of the gods from it. This vague clairvoyance descended into darkness and disappeared completely bit by bit. The strong light of the physical sun extinguished it, which appeared in the sky and made the physical world visible to the senses. Thus, astral vision of the human being disappeared. If he looks at the future, then he realises that this astral vision has to return to a higher stage: what was extinguished because of the physical vision, so that the full awake clairvoyance of the human being could be caused, has to revive. An even brighter, more luminous life of the human being is added to the day consciousness in the light of the future. To the physical vision, the vision in the astral light is still added.

The leaders of humanity are those spirits who were able — due to an earthly life full of renunciation — to bring that condition about already before death which one calls the passage through the gate of death. He encloses those experiences in himself that are bestowed on the whole humanity once when it has acquired the astral vision, which makes the mental and spiritual perceptible. The initiates always called this making perceptible of the spiritual-mental around us the awakening, the resurrection, the spiritual rebirth that adds the gifts of the spiritual senses to the gifts of the physical senses. Someone who feels the new astral vision awakening in himself celebrates an internal Easter festival.

We can understand this way that the spring festival always carries such symbols that remind of death and of resurrection. The astral light is dead in the human being; it sleeps. However, this light will resurrect in the human being. A festival that points to the awakening of the astral vision in the future is the Easter festival.

The sleep of Vishnu begins around Christmastide when the astral vision fell asleep and the physical light awoke. If the human being is successful to renounce the personal, then the astral light awakes again in him, then he can celebrate the Easter festival, then Vishnu is allowed to awake again in his soul.

Out of cosmic knowledge, the Easter festival is tied not only on the awakening sun, but on the emergence of the plant realm in spring. As well as the sowing corn is immersed in the earth and must rot to awake anew, the astral light must slumber in the human body to be woken again. The symbol of the Easter festival is the sowing corn, which sacrifices itself to let arise a new plant. It is the sacrifice of a phase of nature to let arise a new one. Sacrificing and coming-into-being — this is concentrated in the Easter festival. Richard Wagner felt this idea as something great. He was in the Villa Wesendonck at the Zurich Lake in 1857; there he looked out at the awaking nature. With the idea of it, he got the idea of the dead and resurrecting World Saviour, of Christ Jesus, and the idea of Parzival who seeks for the holiest in the soul.

All leaders of humanity who knew how the higher spiritual life of the human being awakes from the lower nature understood the idea of Easter. Hence, Dante (Dante Alighieri, ~1265-1321) also showed his awakening at Good Friday in his Divine Comedy. Immediately at the beginning of the poem, this becomes clear to us. In the 35th year of his life, Dante has this big vision, which he describes. In the middle of his life, he lets it take place. The normal human life counts seventy years, 35 years is the middle. He reckons 35 years for the physical experience in which the human being still takes up new physical experiences. Then the human being is ripe that the spiritual experience is added to the physical one. Then he is ripe for the perception of the spiritual world. If all the growing forces of the physical are united, the time begins when the spiritual is woken to life. Therefore, Dante let this vision take place at Easter.

The original growing of the solar strength is celebrated at Christmas. Easter is tied on the middle of the growing solar strength. We are in the centre of spring, at the Easter point where Dante believed to stand in the middle of human life when he felt the spiritual life rising in him. The Easter festival is put with reason in the middle of the rise of the sun, according to the time when in the human being the slumbering astral light is revived. The strength of the sun wakes up the slumbering seed, the grain resting in the earth. The grain has become a picture of that which takes place in the human nature, if the astral light awakes in him. It is born inside of the human being. The Easter festival is the festival of the resurrection inside of the human being. The thought of the redeeming Christ was connected with the cosmic thought.

A kind of contrast was felt between the Christian view of the Easter festival and the spiritual-scientific idea of karma. It seems to be a contrast, this idea of karma and that of the redemption by the Son of Man. People who do not understand a lot of the basic view of the spiritual-scientific thought see such a contradiction between the redemption by Christ Jesus and the idea of karma. They say, the thought of the redeeming god contradicts the self-redemption by karma. — They understand neither the Easter thought of redemption in the right sense, nor the thought of karmic justice. It would not be right if anybody saw a fellow man suffering and said to him, you yourself have caused this suffering — and, therefore, he did not want to help him because karma should have its effect. He misunderstands karma. On the contrary, karma says, help that who suffers, because you are there to help. You improve the karmic account of necessity, while you help your fellow man. Thereby, you give him the possibility to bear his karma. Then you appear as the saviour from suffering. — Thus, one can also help a whole circle of persons instead of a single one. One fits thereby into the karma of these persons, while one helps them. If a mighty individual comes to the assistance of the whole humanity like Christ Jesus, his sacrificial death has an effect on the karma of the whole humanity. He could help to bear the karma of the whole humanity, and we may be sure that the redemption by Christ Jesus was taken up in the karma of humanity.

Just the thought of resurrection and redemption is only correctly understood by spiritual science. A future Christianity combines karma and redemption. Because cause and effect are connected in the spiritual life, this big sacrificial action must also have its effect on the human lives. Spiritual science also deepens this festival idea. The knowledge of spirit deepens the idea of Easter that seems to be written on the starry firmament, which we believe to read on the starry firmament. Also in the future emergence of the spirit, which will take place in the human being, we see the depth of the Easter thought. The human being lives now in the middle of his life in disharmonious, bewildering conditions. Nevertheless, he also knows: as the world has arisen from the chaos, the harmony will once arise from his chaotic inside. As well as the regular orbits of the planets around the sun originated, the internal saviour of the human being will arise who will mean the uniform, the harmonious compared with all disharmony. Everybody should be reminded by the Easter festival of the resurrection of the spirit out of the present darkened nature of the human being.

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