The European Mysteries and Their Initiates
From ANTHROPOSOPHY: A Quarterly Review — Michaelmas 1929 No 3 Vol. 4. From GA# 57.
6 May 1909, Berlin
In ancient times a kind of natural clairvoyance was a common heritage of the European peoples. Indeed man's consciousness as it is to-day has evolved from that earlier state of clairvoyant consciousness. With these ancient clairvoyant faculties, man was able to perceive certain connections of his life, and what he so perceived was then expressed in the legends and myths which speak of goblins, elfin-beings, dwarfs and the like. Now these legends and myths are very different in character. They were based on what man was able to see with his clairvoyant faculties, but when we study them we find on the one hand certain resemblances and on the other outstanding differences, simply because the clairvoyant powers of men were by no means the same. There is a much greater similarity in the more important mythological figures — the figures of Gods and Heroes in the sagas. These sagas, too, were the outcome of clairvoyance, but in a different sense. The great mythological figures lead us back to the experiences of those who were Initiates in the ancient Mysteries. It is not easy for our present consciousness to form a true conception of these ancient Mysteries and their Initiates, for the nature of our education and the knowledge resulting therefrom does not conduce to an understanding of the nature of Initiation — far from it! If we were to speak of the nature of the Mysteries and their Initiates in the language of current thought, we should say that the Mysteries are schools for the training of those faculties which enable the soul of man to have actual vision of the spiritual worlds. They are schools, where in a methodical and systematic way, man's soul is so guided and trained that he can finally perceive the higher worlds with spiritual eyes and ears. Although modern scholarship knows little of the Mysteries, they are nevertheless still in existence to-day and are the means whereby man can be led consciously to the spiritual worlds. — And the whole content of Spiritual Science, everything that is communicated in Spiritual Science, is, in its essence, Mystery-wisdom.
The man who so trains his soul that he can perceive in higher worlds, is an Initiate. Through all the ages there have been centres for developing the faculty of fully conscious clairvoyance and the aim of the present lecture is to give a cursory survey of the European Mysteries.
For this purpose we must go back to ancient pre-Christian times and try to visualise what went on in the occult schools of Initiation and how they influenced civilisation and culture in general. You have often heard how man to-day can be led to the Initiates, how his thinking, feeling and willing can be so trained that he can set out on the path leading to the “Mothers.” This is the path which the pupils of all the Mysteries have had to tread in quest of fully conscious clairvoyance.
There were Mysteries of great significance, deeply influencing ancient European civilisation, in various regions of France, Germany and Britain. In all these regions the Mysteries were of a definite and unique kind, and were instituted on the basis of knowledge such as I indicated in my lecture “Isis and Madonna,” namely, that man has a spiritual origin, that his home was once in spiritual worlds whence his spirit and soul have come forth. When a man penetrates more deeply into his soul and rises to a level higher than that of ordinary sense-perception, he still feels, even to-day, that there is within him something that is a last remnant of his being as it was in the spiritual world. To-day, this last remnant — the human soul — is enclosed within the physical body, which in its turn is a densification of the primordial spiritual being. When he has conscious realisation of the spirit and soul within him, man says: ‘Now I know what I once was in my whole being; now I know that I was born out of the womb of worlds, out of the great universe.’ To-day the universe is revealed to human intelligence in everything that is spread out before the senses. But behind all that can be perceived by the senses and grasped by the intellect there is the spiritual universe — the Primordial Father and Mother from whom the soul is born. The body too is born from them but at first in spiritual form. This true form of man is now hidden.
It was known in the ancient European Mysteries that the true being of man is hidden and must be sought in its concealment. The saying went: “Isis is seeking for the Being from whom she proceeded.” To be initiated was to live through all those processes which enable the soul of man once again to behold its true origin and to unfold the faculty which will unite it again with its spiritual origin. Whether in the depths of the sacred oak-groves, or in places adapted for the Mysteries, it was always the same. — The candidate was subjected to certain processes whereby he might be united with his spiritual origin.
All that lies hidden behind the sense-world, as the sun behind the clouds, the hidden spirit, was known in these Mysteries by the name of “Hu.” “Ceridwen” was the seeking soul. And all the rites of Initiation were a means of revealing to the pupil that death is only one of the many processes in life. Death changes nothing at all in the innermost kernel of man's being. — In the Druidic Mysteries (Druid denotes an Initiate of the third degree), the neophyte was put into a condition resembling death; his senses could not function as organs of perception. A man whose only instrument of perception is the physical body or the physical brain has no consciousness in a condition where his senses cease to function. But in Initiation, the senses — feeling, hearing and so on — cease to function, and yet the neophyte is able to experience and observe. The principle which observes was called “Ceridwen” — the soul. And that which comes to meet the soul, as light and sound come to our outer eyes and ears, was called “Hu” — the spiritual world. The Initiate experienced the union between Ceridwen and Hu. Such experiences are described in the myths. When we are told to-day that the ancients paid homage to a God Hu and a Goddess Ceridwen, this is simply another way of describing Initiation. The true myths are always concerned with Initiation. It is empty chatter to say that these myths have an astronomical meaning, that Ceridwen is the moon and Hu the sun, and so on. These myths originated because their creators were conscious of an inner union between the aspiring soul and the spirit of the sun, not the physical sun. The Mysteries of Hu and Ceridwen, then, were those into which men were initiated in the regions of which we are speaking.
More to the North, in Scandinavia and Northern Russia, we find the Trottic Mysteries, founded by the Initiate who is known as Sieg, or Siegfried: Sikke. All the Siegfried myths are to be traced back to this being. These Northern Mysteries are characterised by a principle that is really common to all the Mysteries, but which here for the first time is clearly emphasised. Let me explain this principle by means of a comparison. — Think of the human being as he stands before us in life, with his head, hands, feet and other members. And now, if we imagine him without one of these members, he is no longer a whole man. Think of the most important organs, the heart, the stomach and others. Each one of these organs contributes to human life and serves its needs. The fact that these organs work together makes it possible for a soul to live and develop in the body of man. The soul lives in a physical body which is a unit composed of many members. This suggests that wherever a dwelling place has to be found for a human soul, or for a higher being, single members must be working together, each one of them carrying out their particular functions. And so even in the ancient Northern Mysteries it was realised that something can be accomplished if a number of men are gathered together and each individual is allotted a special and definite task. One man, for instance, may resolve to develop principally the thinking faculty, another the power of feeling, a third the power of will. Sub-divisions are of course also possible.
The Northern Mysteries were based upon the idea that when a number of men, each of whom has his particular task, are gathered together into a whole, an invisible influence will work in them, just as the soul works in a human body. When men come together in this way, each playing his own part, they form a kind of higher organism or body, and thus make it possible for a higher spiritual being to dwell among them. Thus Sieg gathered together a circle of twelve men, each of whom set out to develop the powers of his soul in a particular direction. And then, when they gathered together in their holy sanctuaries, they knew that a higher spiritual being was living among them as the soul lives in a human body, that their souls were members of a higher body. This was the sense in which the “Thirteenth” lived and moved among the Twelve who knew: We are twelve and the Thirteenth lives among us. Or else they chose out a Thirteenth whose function was then, within the circle of the Twelve, to be the connecting link enabling the higher influence to descend. And so the Thirteenth was recognised to be the representative of the Godhead in the sanctuaries of Initiation.
Everything was related to the sacred number three, and for this reason the one who united in himself all the knowledge was known as the representative of the ‘holy Three’ and around him were the twelve, each one with his definite functions, like members of an organism.
And so it was realised that when twelve men united together to develop a power which enabled a higher being to dwell among them, they were rising out of the physical into the spiritual world, rising to their God. They regarded themselves as the twelve attributes, the twelve qualities of the God. This was all reflected in the figures of the twelve Germanic Gods in the Northern sagas. He who desired to become a member of this noble circle was told that he must seek Baldur — in other words, he must seek Initiation. And who is Baldur? Baldur is the Spiritual in man, the principle for which the soul is seeking and which is found in Initiation. Who slew Baldur? Those who killed out the clairvoyant faculties in man, who organised his physical nature, who endowed him with material sight and who could prematurely misuse the forces of physical matter — Loki, the power of Fire, and Hodur the Blind, representing the principle in man's being that is incapable of beholding the spiritual world. This is only a way of describing processes of Initiation. Material existence has made man blind; through Initiation he again finds the path leading to the higher worlds. The trained clairvoyance of the old Initiates was a higher faculty than the innate, natural clairvoyance possessed by all human beings in those days.
The Druidic and Trottic Mysteries were the inspiring source of European civilisation and culture in pre-Christian times. Now the essential feature of European culture, namely, the development of a consciousness of personality, is likewise a danger — a danger likely to be far greater here than in other regions of the earth. Consciousness of personality is a keynote of all European culture. It was present in all Germanic lands, in a much stronger form than in the East where men loved to surrender themselves to Brahman. But this consciousness of personality brought with it the danger that those who were initiated could readily misuse what they learnt in Initiation and turn it into caricature. Initiation gives man control of spiritual forces and those who have learnt to use them can also misuse them. So it came about that the Mysteries of ancient Europe began to degenerate, the unripeness of the Initiates began to give rise to all kinds of atrocities and in many regions they were dreaded by the people. Much that we hear of the Mysteries to-day, although not everything, refers to the period of their decline. In this age we need not, after all, be so very astonished that the Mysteries are so often misunderstood. For if Spiritual Science does not help a man to realise what went on in the Mysteries and he has to rely merely on the tittle-tattle of history written down much later on, his ideas on the subject will be utterly barren. Just think what happens when people are content to draw their information about Spiritual Science from what the outside world has to say about it. They get a fine picture! And if what is being said about Spiritual Science to-day were to live on, it would do far more harm than the fragmentary knowledge of the Mysteries has done.
It would be an attractive study to trace back many things in the sagas and legends of Europe to the Mysteries. We should find a great deal in the Niebelung and Siegfried legends that points back to the ancient Mysteries. But it is difficult to discriminate in such study. The only thing that can reveal whether a certain feature in the legends is simply an improvisation of fancy or leads back to the Mysteries, is actual knowledge and the capacity to trace it back to its real source.
In all these Mysteries, no matter where we look, we find an element of tragedy. Let me put it thus: The Initiate in the ancient Druidic or Trottic Mysteries might indeed be united with Hu or Baldur, but there was something lacking in the spiritual world into which he entered. In more popular parlance, the Initiates would have said: ‘Our Gods are mortal, are doomed to downfall.’ — Hence the myth which tells of the Twilight of the Gods. But then came the news of the great Christ Impulse which could work more strongly in Europe than anywhere else — the news that a sublime Spirit, the Christ, had lived in an earthly body among men. And the Initiates realised that all that had hitherto been experienced in the depths of the Mysteries had become historic fact in the Christ Event. In the ancient Mysteries the Initiate had not fully vanquished death. — But now he learnt of the Mystery of Golgotha. This historic Mystery was received with understanding in the European Mysteries — a much deeper understanding than elsewhere. The attitude of the Initiates may be described somewhat as follows: In our Initiation we rose to a divine-spiritual world, yet it was a world pervaded with the forces of mortality. But he who steeps himself with all that is bound up with the mighty impulse brought by the Christ-Being, he who can link himself with Christ, will realise that just as the sun irradiates and quickens the life of the plants, so the Christ Impulse can flow into the human soul and endow the soul with knowledge of eternity and immortality, with knowledge of victory over death. The soul is quickened by a true understanding of Christ. — And it was also known to the Initiates that besides such outer teaching as can be given, there is an inner knowledge, a quest of the soul (Ceridwen) not only for a Hu or a Baldur but for another ‘Baldur,’ for One Who fulfilled the Mystery of Golgotha. The Initiates knew that the soul who experienced this acquired a bigger kind of clairvoyance than was attained through Initiation into the ancient Mysteries.
Here in Europe there was a deep understanding of these things. I have often told you of the great stimulus given to the evolution of man by the Christ Impulse. To understand this, let us think once more of ancient Hebrew consciousness. The ancient Hebrew felt himself one with his “Fathers.” He said to himself: ‘My Ego is enclosed between birth and death, but my blood streams into me from my Father Abraham. The blood in my veins is the expression of my Ego, of my individuality; it is the blood-stream which flows through the generations and is the expression of my God.’ — And so the ancient Hebrew felt himself part of one great whole, secure in the blood-stream which passes down through the generations. Christ says: “Before Abraham was, I AM;” and “I and the Father are One.” The Ego of man is linked to a spiritual world by threads which everyone may discover in his own individuality. The Mystery of Golgotha brought to man a realisation of the Ego that is grounded upon itself, albeit the ties of blood are not ignored — the Ego that understands the physical world. Therefore, in the blood which flowed from the wounds of the Redeemer, men saw the expression of the human Ego-principle, and the saying went: “He who quickens this blood within himself will become a true seer.” But the world was not ripe enough to understand the true essence of the Mystery of Golgotha. It was not ripe in the centuries immediately following the Coming of Christ, nor is it to-day. Paul had a vision of the Living Christ in the spiritual world, but, after all, who understands those profound Epistles of one who was an Initiate or speaks with any truth of Paul's disciple, Dionysos the Areopagite?
In the Mysteries of Wales and Britain the teachings of Dionysos were received and the influence of the Christ Mystery so permeated the Druidic and Trottic Mysteries that the Initiates realised in full clarity of consciousness that He whom they had sought as Hu and Baldur, had come to earth as Christ. But they said among themselves that mankind in general was not ripe to understand the mystery of the blood flowing from the Redeemer's wounds, that men were not fit to receive into themselves the blood that runs through all creation.
It was only in small circles of Initiates that this sacred Christ Mystery was preserved. A man who was initiated into this Mystery experienced the overcoming of the Ego that functions in the world of sense. This is how he experienced it. — He asked himself: ‘What has been the manner of my life hitherto? In my quest for truth, I have turned to the things of the outer world. The Initiates of the Christ-Mystery, however, demand that I shall not wait until outer things tell me what is true but that in my soul, without being stimulated by the outer world, I shall seek the invisible.’ — This quest of the soul for the highest was called by the outer world in later times: The secret of the Holy Grail. And the Parsifal or Grail legend is simply a form of the Christ Mystery. The Grail is the holy Cup from which Christ drank at the Last Supper and in which Joseph of Arimathea caught the blood as it flowed on Golgotha. The Cup was then taken to a holy place and guarded. So long as a man does not ask about the invisible, his lot is that of Parsifal. Only when he asks, does he become an Initiate of the Christ Mystery.
Wolfram von Eschenbach speaks in his poem of the three stages through which the soul of man passes. The first of these is the stage of outer, material perception. The soul is caught up in matter and allows matter to say what is truth. This is the “stupor” (Dumpfheit) of the soul, as Wolfram van Eschenbach expresses it. And then the soul begins to recognise that the outer world offers only illusion. When the soul perceives that the results of science are not answers but only questions, there comes the stage of “doubt” (Zwifel), according to Wolfram von Eschenbach. But then the soul rises to “blessedness” (Saelde, Seligkeit) — to life in the spiritual worlds. — These are the three stages.
The Mysteries which were illuminated by the Christ Impulse have one quite definite feature in common whereby they are raised to a higher level than that of the more ancient Mysteries. Initiation always means that a man attains to a higher kind of sight and that his soul undergoes a higher development. Before he sets out on this path, three faculties live within his soul: thinking, feeling and willing. He has these three soul-powers within him. In ordinary life in the modern world, these three soul-powers are intimately bound together. The Ego of man is interwoven with thinking feeling and willing because before he attains Initiation he has not worked with the powers of the Ego at the development of his higher members. The first step is to purify the feelings, impulses and instincts in the astral body. Out of the purified astral body there rises the “Spirit-Self” or “Manas.” Then man begins to permeate every thought with a definite element of feeling so that each thought may be said to have something ‘cold’ or ‘warm’ about it. — He is transforming his “ether-body” or “life-body.” Out of the transformed ether-body (it is a transformation of feeling), arises “Budhi” or “Life-Spirit.” And finally, he transforms his willing and therewith the physical body itself, into “Atma” or “Spirit-Man.” Thus by transforming his thinking, feeling and willing, man changes his astral body into Spirit-Self or Manas, his ether-body into Life-Spirit or Budhi and finally his physical body into Spirit-Man or Atma. This transformation is the result of the Initiates systematic work upon his soul, whereby he rises to the spiritual worlds. But something very definite happens when the path to Initiation is trodden in full earnest and not light-heartedly. In true Initiation it is as if a man's organisation were divided into three parts, and the Ego reigns as king over the three. Whereas in ordinary circumstances the spheres of thinking, feeling and willing are not clearly separated, when a man sets out on the path of higher development thoughts begin to arise in him which are not immediately tinged with feeling but are permeated with the element of sympathy or antipathy according to the free choice of the Ego. Feeling does not immediately attach itself to a thought, but the man divides, as it were, into three: he is a man of feeling, a man of thinking, a man of will, and the Ego, as king, rules over the three. At a definite stage of Initiation he becomes, in this sense, three men. He feels that by way of his astral body he experiences all those thoughts which are related to the spiritual world; through his ether-body he experiences everything that pervades the spiritual world as the element of feeling; through his physical body he experiences all the will-impulses which flow through the spiritual world. And he realises himself as king within the sacred Three. A man who is not able or ripe enough to bear this separation of his being, will not attain the fruits of Initiation. The sufferings that crowd upon him in his immature state will keep him back. A man who approaches the Holy Grail but is not worthy, will suffer as Amfortas suffered. He can only be redeemed by one who brings the forces of good. — He is freed from his sufferings by Parsifal.
And now let us return once more to what Initiation brings in its train. The seeking soul finds the spiritual world; the soul finds the Holy Grail which has now become the symbol of the spiritual world. Individual Initiates have experienced what is here described. They have gone the way of Parsifal, have become as kings looking down on the three bodies. The Initiate says to himself: ‘I am king over my purified astral body which can only be purified when I strive to emulate Christ.’ He must not hold to any outer link, to anything in the external world, but unite himself in the innermost depths of his soul with the Christ Principle. Everything that binds him with the world of sense must fall away in that supreme moment. Lohengrin is the representative of an Initiate. It is not permitted to ask his name or rank, in other words, what connects him with the world of sense. He who has neither name nor rank, is called a “homeless” man. Such a man is permeated through and through with the Christ Principle. He too looks down on the ether-body which has become Life-Spirit, as upon something that is now separate from the astral body. By this ether-body he is borne upwards to the higher worlds, where the laws of space and time do not hold sway. The symbol of this ether-body and its organs, is the Swan who bears Lohengrin over the sea in a boat (the physical body), over the material world. The physical body is felt to be an instrument.
The soul on earth who experiences a new impulse through Initiation is symbolised in the figure of Elsa von Brabant. This shows us the sense in which the Lohengrin legend — which has many other meanings as well — is a portrayal of Initiation in the Mysteries associated with the Holy Grail. Thus in the eleventh to the thirteenth century, these secrets of the Holy Grail were taught in connection with the Christ Mystery. The Knights of the Grail were the later Initiates. They were confronted in the world with an exoteric Christianity, whereas esoteric Christianity was cultivated in the Mysteries. And in the Mysteries, men sought to find that relation to Christianity whereby, through the outer Christ in the soul, the inner Christ, Who is symbolised by the Dove, was awakened to life.
The whole development of the European Mysteries is expressed in yet another cycle of legends and sagas, but it is difficult to speak of them now. We must wait for another occasion. To-day we will consider how this knowledge found its way into the outer world and made its appearance in a remarkable body of legends. Comparatively little notice has been taken of a legend which was given poetic form by Conrad Fleck in 1230. It is one of the legends of Provence and deals with the Initiation of the Knights of the Grail or the Templars. It speaks of an ancient pair, “Flor” and “Blancheflor.” In modern parlance: the flower with red petals (the rose) and the flower with white petals (the lily). In earlier times it was known that a great many mysteries were contained in this legend, of which it is only possible to-day to speak briefly. It was said: Flor and Blancheflor are souls incarnated in human beings who have lived on earth. According to the legend, these two were the grandparents of Charles the Great. But those who studied the legend more deeply, saw in Charles the Great the figure who, in a certain sense, united esoteric and exoteric Christianity. This is expressed in the coronation of the Emperor. But in the grandparents of Charles the Great, Flor and Blancheflor, lived the rose and the lily — typifying souls who were to preserve in its purity the esoteric Christianity which had been taught by Dionysos the Areopagite and others. The rose — Flor or Flos — symbolised the human soul who has received the impulse of the Ego, of personality, who lets the Spiritual work out of his individuality, who has brought the Ego-force down into the red blood. But the lily was the symbol of the soul who can only remain spiritual when the Ego remains outside. Thus there is a contrast between the rose and the lily. The principle of self-consciousness has entered wholly into the rose, whereas it remains outside the lily. But there was a union between the soul that is within and the soul that as the World-Spirit pervades the universe outside. Flor and Blancheflor symbolise the finding of the World-Soul, the World-Ego, by the human soul or the human Ego. The event recorded in the legend of the Holy Grail is also described in the legend of Flor and Blancheflor. Flor and Blancheflor must not be thought of as outer figures — the lily symbolises the soul which finds its higher Egohood. The union of the lily-soul with the rose-soul was taken to express that principle in man which can link him with the Mystery of Golgotha. Therefore it was said: Over against the forces of European Initiation inaugurated by Charles the Great which were to fuse exoteric and esoteric Christianity, pure esoteric Christianity must be kept alive and continued. But among the Initiates it was said: The same soul who lived in Flos or Flor and of whom the legend tells, was reincarnated in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries as the founder of Rosicrucianism, a Mystery-School having as its aim the cultivation of an understanding of the Christ Mystery in a way suited to the new era. Thus esoteric Christianity found refuge in Rosicrucianism. Since the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the Rosicrucian Schools have trained the Initiates who are the successors of the ancient European Mysteries and of the School of the Holy Grail. Many things have trickled through into outer life in regard to the Rosicrucian Mysteries, but much that is told is a caricature of the truth. Profound achievements of spiritual life were influenced by the mysterious threads of Rosicrucianism which found their way into civilisation. — So, for instance, there is a connection between Bacon of Verulam's New Atlantis and Rosicrucianism. This work is more than a Utopia. Bacon there tries to lead those who would revive the dim clairvoyant faculties of the old Atlanteans, to higher levels. But associated with the outer Brotherhood of the Rosicrucians is all the charlatanism, quackery and caricature that is unavoidable in our age since the discovery in the art of printing. Since printing was discovered it has been no longer possible, as it was in olden times, to let secrets remain secret. Everything comes out, caricatured and distorted! And the same terrible thing happens to the teachings given in the Anthroposophical Movement. If the Anthroposophical Movement were what it is said to be in entirely ignorant circles, it would be something to be avoided at all costs. But in reality, anthroposophical teachings are nourished to a greater extent than has yet ever been the case, from the wellsprings of the Mysteries. Goethe's greatest poetic achievements were nourished from Rosicrucian sources. It is not without significance that in his poem Die Geheimnisse he speaks of a man who was led to a house and found on its door the sign of the Rose Cross. “Who brought the roses to the Cross?” — Who were these Initiates of the European Mysteries who linked the mysteries of the rose to the mystery of the Cross? How deeply Goethe had penetrated these things is apparent, for instance when he speaks of the twelve gathered around the table — twelve as in the ancient Trottic Mysteries. Oh! Goethe knew all these things. But those who study him to-day, study only the Goethe they are capable of understanding. But although he was only able to speak a mysterious language, the time has now come to speak openly about Initiation. More and more it will become apparent that Spiritual Science does not produce dreamers who are remote from the affairs of the world, but men who are practical and active in life. It brings a new hope and confidence. To modern thinking we shall more and more be able to apply the words spoken by Faust of Wagner, the representative of materialistic thinking: “How ardently be grubs for treasures, and is happy when he finds rain-worms!” Truly, materialism is happy when it finds rain-worms and can prove that in a certain sense they are necessary to the re-organisation of everything that lives and moves upon the earth. But the spirit that flows from the Mysteries makes human thinking so supple and flexible that it can really cope with life. It could not be otherwise, for the meaning of world-evolution itself is contained in the mystery-teachings of Spiritual Science.
The world and “all that therein is” is born out of the spirit; man is born and called to rise to the spirit. Spiritual Science shows us more and more that the spirit lies exhausted in matter, that physical substance is the magic robe of the Spiritual. It is for man living in the material world, to charm the spirit out of this magic robe. The Spiritual finds its resurrection in man, in the human soul that rises above itself. — To enable the soul to find this path is the task of Spiritual Science. Thus does spirit find spirit. And man will realise and understand the spirit more and more as he fashions himself in its image.