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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Festivals of the Seasons

11. The Baldor Myth and the Good Friday Mystery I

2 April 1915, Dornach

The Churches call the faithful together the whole year through by the sound of bells. The sound of bells indicates the times, important dates, and also those hours in which the faithful are called to church. This sound of bells, so full of meaning—this call of the hours—ceases in certain churches in these days beginning with the festival of the entombment, of the sacrificial death of Christ; and the bells begin again only with the festival of the Resurrection of that Power of whom we have spoken as the Power which bestows meaning on the Earth.

The significance of the intervening time is celebrated in the following way. The discords of wooden instruments to some extent take the place of the bells during these days in which souls are asked to remember that the Power Who bestowed meaning on earthly development has united Himself through this sacrificial death with the depths of existence. The renewed sound of the bells at the festival of the Resurrection should signify how their music is sanctified and made significant through this meaning of the Earth and how they should ring forth for the rest of the Christian year to the consciousness of the faithful.

We have, my dear friends, from various aspects sought to draw near to the meaning and being of that Power, Who through the Mystery of Golgotha has flowed into the impulses of the Earth’s evolution. You will have seen from the various lectures, that every path of the soul to this power is but one of many, which aroused the sentiments and the feelings, so that they may become worthily receptive and bring understanding for what is revealed when the name of Christ is pronounced, when the Mystery of Golgotha is mentioned. We shall endeavour to-day to choose one of these ways. But, my dear friends, this can only be one way, for it is only by studying many ways leading to the Mystery of Golgotha that we can come to an understanding of it, to an understanding appropriate in some measure to the epoch in which we are incarnated. To-day let us choose the way which shall bring before our souls how peoples who as yet knew nothing of the Mystery of Golgotha, how these European peoples were obliged to receive this Mystery of Golgotha in accordance with what they had gone through in their hearts and souls as a preparation for it.

I have already intimated in some of my former lectures how at a definite time a deep feeling for nature was associated with European evolution, a nature-feeling radically different from that which spread over the southern countries of Europe and proceeded from Christianity itself, and which was in a certain sense connected with a sort of fleeing from Nature. In these southern countries into which Christianity had spread in the Greek and Roman Culture—the conception of sin, of guilt, became bound up with what flows into men, into the human soul from nature. ‘Away from nature into the regions of spiritual life, into the regions out of which the Christ has descended in order to bring salvation to mankind, in order to bring meaning to earthly evolution; in order to make men free from what is merely natural and to direct them to what can be hallowed among men, to what can save from the sins of nature’—these are words which can to a certain extent express this first Christian nature-feeling.

The European peoples North of the Alps were inwardly inspired by quite a different feeling for nature, when they received Christianity. It was impossible for them simply to flee from nature, merely to connect nature with the conception of sin and guilt. For them, nature had grown to be far too full of meaning through long centuries for them merely to be able to flee from it. It had become for them something with which they had grown together, so that when they received Christianity they could, it is true, turn to a different world from that of nature, but they could not merely say without further ado: ‘Let us flee from nature.’ This fleeing from nature, this gazing into and striving after the regions of the spirit caused them lamentation and suffering of soul, caused them sadness, while always in the background of the glories of the heavenly kingdom they mourned over that which must be lost within the regions of nature. And when we ask the reason why such a feeling was in the depth of their soul we find it in the way in which these souls were bound to nature, in a past lying proportionately not far behind them—a past which lay a far shorter time behind them than was the case in the Eastern and Southern peoples—we find that behind them lay a quite peculiar union with nature. It was as if in their hearts, in their souls, there still lived something of all the holy feeling of comfort in their union with nature, their union too with the divine in Nature. And the sadness, the pain and the lamentation came from this, that they felt it was through an iron Cosmic necessity that that was lost which had once bound them with the holy, the divine in nature. Their feeling was not merely that nature should be charged with sin and guilt, their feeling was rather that in losing nature they had lost something of infinite value. It was not the feeling that they should turn away from nature, it was much more the sorrowful feeling that something which is holy in nature, had itself turned away from the human heart and soul. They felt that what they had formerly honoured in connexion with nature, they must now experience in a different way through raising themselves to the Mystery of Golgotha.

It was an infinitely more real, more tragic feeling which Christianity felt in these regions than in the regions south of the Alps and in the East.

We shall make clear, my dear friends, what was the meaning of that ancient nature-feeling in the best way, when we glance at what is felt, like a premonition of the Christ’s divine death of sacrifice within the European peoples. We understand this best when we look back at the significance of the death of Balder, and of his exile in the under world, in the world of Hel, in Niflheim. I have often intimated that it is difficult to-day to re-awaken in our souls all that is connected with the Balder-Myth of this particular ancient Sun god, who was revered and worshipped by the peoples of Europe. And it is indeed difficult to make this clear in an age when it is generally believed that the human soul, in which alone human development takes place, has always seen just as it sees to-day, has always had such experiences as it has to-day. We must rise, my dear friends, to the thought that the experiences possible for the soul in olden times were quite different from those which are possible in a later age, and that this is connected with the entire life of natural existence. Just picture to yourselves that man’s soul of old saw through his eyes into nature quite differently from when he looks at nature with his eyes to-day and man’s soul heard through his ears something different in olden times from what he hears to-day when he listens to nature. Let us make the transition clear by choosing a simile, which, taken at random, can still make the difference clear. To-day you look at nature with your eyes, you see the green of the plants, the blue-green of the forests, the blue of heaven, the many-coloured brightness of the carpet of flowers. Imagine that a revolution were to come into human evolution through an iron necessity in such a way that the possibility of seeing colours should cease, that the whole of nature would appear only grey upon grey, that you would look up to heaven and see another different shade of grey, as if you looked at grey meadows and were to see only different shades of grey, black and white instead of the coloured carpet of flowers. Imagine such a revolution in seeing nature, and you would have a comparison for what in fact appeared in time, when the possibility of beholding in the meadows all the manifold elementary beings which are bound up with the growing and weaving and being of nature, of the flowers and the blossoms, disappeared. At such a time through a mighty revolution in the perception of nature men could no longer look up to the stars and see in them the spiritually living planetary Spirits weaving round the stars in the ether. I have often declared that to say nature makes no jumps is one of the most untrue assertions. It is untrue, for just as there was a jump from the green leaf to the flower, so the loss of the old clairvoyance was a mighty jump in human evolution. From the old clairvoyance where elementary spirits were seen weaving and living where we to-day see only the coloured carpet of flowers, men passed over to the later sight. That was a mighty jump. And those people who constituted the population of Europe, when the Mystery of Golgotha took place in the East, had still a living feeling that an old clairvoyance of this kind had once existed, that their ancestors had lived under conditions in which they could see the beings weaving in the meadows and the forests and in the infinite expanse of the starry heavens. Now all this had vanished and died away.

They had a feeling that when in earlier days men lifted their eyes to the Moon at night, it did not simply appear in the form of the clear sickle; but this clear sickle was surrounded by living planetary spirituality which had much to reveal to the human soul. And they felt that this had vanished in the times in which they now must live.

And when the human soul asked what had happened that nature was thus deprived of the gods, that darkness extended where spiritual light had been, the leader of the people replied: ‘There was once in the world of gods, Balder, who united in himself the force of the sunlight. But Balder, on account of the hatred of the dark elements, had to transfer his dwelling place which he had extended to the horizon of men’s Earth, to Hel in the underworld. The force of vision of the old times vanished. The clear sunlight was submerged, the shining radiance of the old gods was lost, and only the dead semblance of the sunlight was reflected through the light of the Moon’s sickle. The world has become material. Nature over which men lament, over which they mourn, which they charge with the conceptions of sin and guilt, this nature appears like the mourning survivor which was once united with the divine and which sent into all souls the ray of the divine.’ And thus arose the feeling which the people had when they heard the death-song of the old Sun god Balder. He is no longer there outside perceptible to our vision; the god Balder has gone into the underworld, and for us he has left behind the nature which mourns. But where has he gone? Where is the kingdom of Hel, that realm of darkness into which Balder has withdrawn? Where is it? Our materialistic age will only be able to prepare itself for such ideas by acquiring conceptions of this nature.

Let us ask ourselves, my dear friends, what it meant in primeval times when people said, turning towards nature: ‘Balder is there’? What did it mean? It meant something really actual, something which, however, those will not understand who believe that human civilisation has been in all ages what it is to-day. When man in primeval times saw the meadows, he knew that those living elementary spirits of which I have spoken appeared to him there, he could not always see them, he could only see them at certain times. How was it then when man at certain times could see these elementary spirits? That was no mere seeing, that was not a dead reception of what was seen, but it was united with a living feeling, with a living perception. People went through the forests, they gazed at the spirits, at the elementary beings, but they did not merely see them. I might say they absorbed the essence of these spirits into their souls, they felt their breath as a spiritually psychic draught of refreshment. They felt themselves drawing into their etheric bodies the breath that came from the elementary spirits which they saw in the forest and in the meadows. ‘They make us young,’ thus could they feel, when they went out in the morning and when the lingering dawn made the elementary spirits of the forest visible. They made men young, they bestowed force upon them. And this force then lived on in them. Men took part in this rejuvenation which the spirits brought about. They took part in it. But what happened to all these rejuvenating forces? They vanished from the outer world, man could only have a sad, half-conscious connection with them. Where did they go? They worked further, but they worked to a certain extent unseen, unheard; they worked, but they worked upon human nature in such a way that man with his consciousness had no longer a part in their working. And as the time drew on when man became aware of this, he had to say to himself: ‘Within my nature, forces are at work of which formerly I not only knew that they worked in darkness upon me, but I could clearly perceive and observe the flowing of these forces from the outer world into myself.’ The god Balder has withdrawn into the kingdom of Hel, into man’s own darkness, into the subterranean depths of man’s soul. Where is Balder? The priest who had to explain the Mystery to man when he asked: ‘Where is Balder?’ had to say: ‘Balder is not in the visible world. Because you as man needed those shaping forces, those rejuvenating forces, which formerly you were able to take up half-consciously, these work now without your knowledge in your inner being, so that you perceive nothing of them through your faculty of knowledge. Because you needed these forces in your invisible being, Balder has vanished from the kingdom of the visible, has withdrawn himself to the world of your own subconscious inner nature.’ Then the feeling came over man, which we can designate with the following words: ‘Thus I as man stand in the kingdom of Hel with a part of my nature. I cannot see how the forces which shape my life out of the kingdom of Hel intervene in my psychic bodily nature; the god Balder is in the underworld, he is with Hel, he works upon me in the invisible. Vanished is the vision of Balder's kingdom of the Sun.’ That is the mood of lamentation, of sadness which must call forth suffering of soul, for that is no fortuitous egoistic human lamentation, it is the lamentation which man feels in connexion with the cosmos; it is a cosmic lamentation, a cosmic sadness, a cosmic suffering.

And now came the news that that which had thus withdrawn into the kingdom of Hel had been newly revived through another power which we can find again when we gaze deeply into our own inner being, into which the old power of Balder had vanished. Balder is in the kingdom of Hel, but the Christ has gone down into the kingdom of Hel, into the kingdom of mankind’s own subconscious human nature; there He calls Balder to life. And when man has steeped himself deeply enough in that which he has become in the course of earthly evolution, then he finds again the rejuvenating shaping forces. ‘You find again what you have lost, for the old Balder has descended into your own kingdom of darkness. The Christ has found him there, he has brought to life again that which once was yours through Balder’s power.’ Thus could the priest proclaim to the men who felt the deep secrets of the message of the Mystery of Golgotha in these regions.

And the Easter message appeared like a memory, like a sacred memory of primeval holy times, but a memory which gave new life. The people were able to say: ‘That power of the old Balder was too small to extend over the whole of human evolution. A higher power had to appear in order to give again to men what they had to lose in Balder.’ So rang out in the announcement of the Christ, the remembrance of the old Balder and of his death; so there rang out the resurrection of the ancient glory in the human soul, which had disappeared through Balder’s death; that power, which has now been newly awakened.

We must, my dear friends, approach more nearly to that which the Mystery of Golgotha is, as the meaning of earthly evolution, so that we ask ourselves: ‘With what perceptions, with what feelings did. historical humanity meet the historical Christ?’ For the point is not that we should gain an abstract idea of the nature of Christ or of the Mystery of Golgotha, but the point is that we should be able to answer the question for ourselves: ‘What can that Impulse bring to life in the deepest depth of the human sold, that Impulse which has passed through the Mystery of Golgotha?’

Let us look at it, this Mystery of Golgotha and see how it is still celebrated by the different religious creeds of the old world. On Good Friday is celebrated Christ’s entombment. The bells are silent; silence is spread over the Earth. The man who lived in the centuries I have described said to himself: ‘Mute, without sound has the world become, Christ has descended into those parts of the human soul-existence and of cosmic-existence, into which Balder had to descend because his power did not suffice for the complete elevation of the human soul. There He is below, in the mysterious depths in which I myself stand, when I gaze upon the subconscious shaping forces in my own inner nature.’ The human heart can thrill mysteriously when it reflects: ‘The impulse of Golgotha has departed from this silent world. It rests below where you yourself are. Wait, wait and this impulse of Golgotha will unite with you in the spiritual worlds to which your soul may belong, if it will only descend with Balder into its own depths. It will call Balder to life in these days. And in your inner being, O man, you shall find again what has vanished and faded away with the vanishing of Balder out of the world around into your own depths. Take up, O man, the living conception of the Christ who has gone through the Mystery of Golgotha, Who will be able to rise again not to your external eyes, but indeed to your soul’s vision, if it becomes conscious of its inner being, which came down from the Moon, from out of the Sun—as that elementary force, that shaping force which makes the soul alive. Wait, wait till He rises again, the re-awakener of Balder. A world was once yours, in which your senses had only to be directed to nature around you and the life-giving ensouling force flowed out of the elementary part of this outer nature to meet you, without any effort of your own. A kingdom of the Spirit was woven through all natural existence, and you yourself lived, if you waited for the right moment, not only in nature bereft of Spirit; you lived in what is behind nature, of which it is only the expression; you lived in the life of nature. Now when you find no longer the spiritual in nature, you must seek it through plunging into and calling to life your own inner being with the force which has passed through the Mystery of Golgotha. O Nature, you were once full of expression, so full of expression that man’s real true home could be seen in your forms. Balder has taken this home with him, it is no longer there, it is in realms which your outer sight does not behold. But this ancient kingdom exists, of whose forms, surrounding nature was once the expression—this kingdom still exists. But you do not find it, when you go the way of nature only; you find it when you unite yourself with the Impulse which has passed through the Mystery of Golgotha. Nature is not just sinful and guilty; she is forsaken by that home which man must seek, inwardly permeated by the power of the Christ.’

And in these Christian times we could fancy, my dear friends, that some memory of the death of Balder still comes through to us, connecting itself with tho message of the Mystery of Golgotha—it seems to us as though the sound of lamentation, of sadness towards nature, as we have described it above, has only very gradually become lost and died down. Certainly in the Christian conception, the mood which looks solely up to the self-sacrificing Christ, up to the heavenly home, is also present. And in European peoples gradually the mood becomes distinct, which looks upon nature as the child on a lower level, but not as the forsaken child. But if we listen to the impression the words give (not merely in their abstract sense), at the time when in the eighth and ninth centuries the announcement of the Mystery of Golgotha had been already spread over certain regions of Europe—when we listen to the way in which it is said that we cannot find our true home in the earthly world, then we can still feel something of the old tragic mood towards nature, bereft of Balder. As we have said, we must listen not only to the words and to the abstract sense of the words, but to the way there rings through the words what is felt concerning nature and what is felt concerning a different home of the human soul than nature can now be. Something of this kind still rang out, even after Christianity had been spread abroad. That this could be perceived even after people had tried to spread Christianity in the form in which it had been received in the East, we can see from the many publications of the eighth and ninth centuries, if we only attend to the feeling in them. We have some so-called European Gospels, belonging to these times, and one of these is the ‘Gospel-Harmony,’ the so-called ‘Diatessaron’ of Otfried, a monk living in Alsace, who had learned the Mysteries of Christianity through Hrabanus Maurus, and who had then tried to transcribe into the language of his home what the Gospel meant for him, what the message of the death and resurrection of the Christ had become for him. Otfried was born in Weissenburg in Alsace. He had translated what the Gospel had become to him in his feeling, into a language which was at that time spoken in Alsace. Let us listen to one or two extracts, my dear friends, of what just in connection with our study to-day may interest us from the Christian message of this Alsatian monk in the ninth century; and let us try to hear not only the abstract sense of the words, but to hear through the words what can be felt as sorrow concerning man’s forsaken home of nature.

(Dr. Steiner here read the poem in its original language.) He then continued: Let us try to give the poem in our modern language as nearly as we can:

We sorrow and suffer want for much that was dear to us,
And bitter times are now our heritage;
In our sorrow we grieve in this land here below,
Held in bondage manifold by our sins.
Care and sorrow are here our portion;
Of all knowledge of our home bereft,
Our plaints go up, we orphans all forsaken!
Alas I thou strange land, how hard thou art,
A hard Mother ever do I find thee;
Bereft and full of care we wander.
Within me ever have I felt that nothing dear I find in thee,
I find in thee none other good, but cause for constant lamentation,
Heart full of care and pain both great and manifold.

Thus from the soul of this monk sounds forth what was felt with regard to nature.

It is to-day difficult, my dear friends, very, very difficult to recall to mind the way in which the great festivals were raised above the whole horizon of daily life in an age in which people still felt in a more living way, the memory of Balder’s death; and to realise what they welcomed—after they had experienced the sad time when they were forsaken—what they received once again from Him Who passed through the Mystery of Golgotha. They had first known the whole bitterness of death, when the old elementary life forces no longer blossomed forth for human sight from the regions of Earth, when the Earth in its forms seemed to fashion death only, death with which Balder had united himself. And now, when they instituted the festivals of Good Friday and Holy Saturday, up to the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, and when they represented this death which they had first learnt to know in its bitterness, they felt that it concealed the triumphant force of Life which had passed through the Mystery of Golgotha, and which always should permeate those souls attuned to the sad and glorious festivals of these days, in which, according to the saying of Angelus Silesius, there should be a ‘celebration’ of the passage of the Christ through death, and of His resurrection. Infinitely more living was the power of Christ’s death and sacrifice when they were still brought into connection with the dead Balder. In the kingdom of the zEsir, looking down upon the earth from Breidablik, his stronghold, was Balder, like unto the silvery sun-moonlight, Balder in his power of giving life to the elemental nature of the Earth; into the dark depths had he gone on Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Holy Saturday night. The gaze was directed to Balder’s new kingdom of death, but with the knowledge: ‘There beneath in the kingdom of death, rests the germ which unites itself with the evolutionary impulses of the Earth, and which will bring forth a new life, when it rises again. It is that death which is experienced in the germinal force of the plants, dead in the depths of the Earth; that force which brings forth the new plants again.

Like mighty words of God had the news come to men, who had learned to comprehend death in the fate of their Balder. Three days long they could feel that that had become active which had killed Balder, and which Balder himself had not been able to conquer. On this account the feeling must be of a special kind which brings life to our souls in the silence of the world for these three days through which we are now passing. Of a special kind must this feeling be; it must express itself somewhat in this way: that for the sake of man’s further development, death must intervene in earthly evolution in a more and more intense way; that nature once radiant as Paradise must become dark and silent as death around man, but that the eternal power of life triumphant ripens in nature’s graveyard. Thus we see it during these three days. He rests beneath, the Christ, in the dark abyss of nature permeated with death. There within we follow Him, because we know that we extend with a part of our own nature into this abyss of universal being and because we know: ‘When we unite ourselves with that, which in us would otherwise be death alone, by means of the Power which has experienced the Mystery of Golgotha, only then shall we bear upwards that part of us which extends beneath into the abyss of the universal death of nature.’ So we step down into the depths and know that we must differentiate our feelings; that we are not acting rightly if we do not distinguish between the different feelings for certain days. Rather should we learn to recognise: Now is the time when the soul must unite itself with that which it can learn concerning death, concerning the death which made it necessary, which from an iron necessity brought it about, that the Christ descended to death.

We shall to-morrow direct our attention to the Mystery of Golgotha from another side; for, as we have said, many ways lead up to the summit where the deep meaning of the Mystery of Golgotha becomes gradually more and more comprehensible. It can only become comprehensible when we not merely place before us one-sidedly the triumphant Christ, but when we also place before our soul the Christ Who unites Himself with death. And what death signifies for the whole of human life, my dear friends, may become perhaps a little clearer, when we deepen ourselves in the feelings which we can experience in the Balder Myth, when we realise what Balder is, what the life-giving Sun-force is, working in the elemental world, after it has experienced death. If we still keep alive in the soul this feeling of the loss of Balder, in that we say: ‘What should we have to feel in a world yet to come when we recollect that the Gods were there once, they let us see the surrounding world in the coloured brilliancy of the senses, but now all is grey on grey.’ That would have been so, if the Christ had not come into the world. That it will not be so, the triumphant power of Christ will bring about. That which to-day men do not believe, they will some day believe: that which to-day can only work as Christ power in the human heart itself, will become actively felt, permeating the whole cosmos, namely, the earthly part of the cosmos, in so far as this cosmos gives rejuvenating, life-giving force to men. Of this we shall speak further to-morrow, my dear friends.

To-day, however, let us call before us how right it is, in regard to the feeling of the human soul in connection with the cosmic Christ, to ponder over what the Gospel says concerning the cosmic power of the Christ; when this Gospel reveals how the Christ is an universal cosmic Power, and how He commanded the winds and the waves. The people of the eighth and ninth centuries had a special feeling just for this aspect of the Christ working through the winds and the waves. They said: ‘It was Balder indeed who brought it about that we once saw the weaving and living elemental world around us in its wonderful working. Balder is dead. But Christ has the power, when we take Him up into our soul-forces, again to awaken that which was lost through Balder’s death. As Balder appeared through the winds and the waves, so the Christ also appeared in the winds and the waves. It is no abstract soul force, it is a force that works through the winds and the waves.’

If we listen attentively to the Gospel text of the ‘Heliand,’ a second Gospel poem of the ninth century, we can still hear this feeling implied if not expressed. ‘Out in nature Balder lived.’ Certainly the poet of the Heliand had long ago abolished this Balder, he had no interest in spreading with the abstract intelligence this idea among his people; he wished rather to stamp it out. But in the way in which he lays stress upon the words, in the way in which he becomes earnest when he wants to bring before us how the power of Christ works through nature, through the winds and the waves, just there it seems as if, even if he did not consciously perceive it himself, we must be conscious of the following: ‘A force has worked through the winds and waves, the power that is greater than Balder, the power that has passed through the Mystery of Golgotha.’ And we also find something of this in the words in which he describes the scene where Christ stills the winds and the waves, according to the Gospel story. That makes a special impression on him. There he chooses—especially when he turns in his mystic way to the feeling the soul can have for nature’s activity, in that through Christ, nature has become divine—he chooses quite special words in which the greatness of Christ can be impressed upon the soul, through which the peculiar cosmic power of Christ can speak to the soul.‘

‘When the people saw how Christ had commanded the winds and the waves’ ... (the Heliand expresses with special warmth how the people felt towards this Christ Power, this Christ Being, this Christ personality which passed through the Mystery of Golgotha.) ‘When the people saw how Christ had commanded the winds and the waves, the people began amongst themselves to wonder and some spake with these words: “What a mighty man this is, that the winds and the waves obey His words; They both pay heed to His message!” This Child of God had delivered the people out of their distress, and had saved them. The ship sailed on—the wooden ship—the disciples and the people came to land and said: God be praised! And they glorified His, namely, God’s, magical power.’

So says this poet of the Heliand, in one of the first Gospel poems which tells of the greatness of the Christ, Who to-day lies symbolically in the depths of the realms of death.