Christmas as Symbol of the Sun's Victory
Berlin, 14th December 1905
Let us try to think once about the fact how many people are still able to evoke a clear, somewhat more in-depth idea in their souls walking through the streets and looking at the preparations of Christmas everywhere. There are slightly clear ideas about this festival today and they correspond less to the intentions of those — we are allowed to speak as theosophists this way — who once used these great festivals as symbols of the infinite and imperishable in the world. You can convince yourselves of it adequately if you have a look at the so-called Christmas considerations of our newspapers. There probably cannot be anything bleaker and stranger at the same time to that which it concerns than what is disseminated by the printed paper into the world at this time. Let a kind of summary of that pass before our souls that these various autumn talks on the spiritual-scientific horizon have brought us. It should not be a pedantic, schoolmasterly summary, but a summary of the kind as it can arise in our hearts if we link on Christmas from the spiritual-scientific point of view. The spiritual-scientific view of life should not be a grey theory, not an external confession, not a philosophy, but it should pulsate in our life directly. The modern human being is estranged to the immediate nature, much more than he thinks, much more than still at the time of Goethe.
On the other hand, does anyone still feel the whole depth of that saying by Goethe, which the great poet spoke when he entered the circles of Weimar and began a life epoch extremely important for him at the same time? At that time, he addressed a hymn, a kind of prayer to Nature with her mysterious forces:
Nature! We are surrounded and embraced by her — unable to come out of her, and unable to go deeper into her. Uninvited and not warned she takes us up in the circulation of her dance and drifts away with us, until we are tired and drop out of her arm.
She creates forever new figures; what is there was never, what was does not come again — everything is new and, nevertheless, always the old.
We live in the middle of her and are strange to her. She speaks continually with us and does not betray her mystery to us. We continuously work on her and, nevertheless, do not exercise power over her.
She seems to be out for individuality of everything and makes nothing of the individuals. She is always building and always destroying, and her workshop is inaccessible.
She lives in nothing but children; where is the mother? She is the only artist: from the simplest material to the biggest contrasts; by all appearance without effort to the biggest completion — to the most precise assertiveness, always covered with something soft. Any of her works has own being, any of her phenomena the most isolated concept, and, nevertheless, everything constitutes one.
She plays a game: whether she sees it herself, we do not know, and, nevertheless, she plays it for us who stand in the corner.
It is an everlasting life, becoming and moving in her, and, nevertheless, it does not move further along. It changes forever and no moment of standstill is in her. She has no concept of remaining and curses the standstill. She is firm. Her step is measured, her exceptions are seldom, and her principles are unalterable...
We all are her children. If we believe to act according to her principles least of all, maybe, we act most of all according to this big principle that floods through Nature and streams into us. Who does feel the other significant saying by Goethe so deeply even today with which Goethe tried not less to express the empathy with the concealed forces common to Nature and the human being, where Goethe approaches Nature not as a lifeless being like the modern materialistic thinking where he speaks to her like a living spirit:
Spirit sublime, all that for which I prayed,
(Faust I, Forest and Cave, v. 3217-3234)
Goethe tried out of his feeling of nature to refresh something of that, which flowed out of emotion and knowledge at the same time by this mood. This is the mood of the times in which wisdom still was in league with nature, when those symbols of empathy with nature and the universe were created, which we recognise as the great festivals from the spiritual-scientific point of view. Such a festival has become something abstract, almost uninteresting to the soul and to the heart. Today often the word about which we can argue to which we can swear weighs much more than that which should apply to this word originally. This external word should be the representative, the announcement, the symbol of the big creative word that lives in the outside nature and in the whole universe. It revives again in us if we recognise ourselves correctly, and all human beings have to become aware of it with those opportunities that are in particular suited to it according to the course of nature. This was the intention when the great festivals were established. Let us attempt to apply our knowledge we have got in the course of the spiritual-scientific talks to understand something that the old sages expressed in the Christmas.
Christmas is not only a Christian festival. It existed where religious feeling expressed itself. If you look around in old Egypt, thousands and thousands years before our calendar, if you walk across to Asia, even if you go up into our areas, again many years before our calendar, everywhere you find this same festival during the days in which also the birth of Christ is celebrated by the Christians.
What a festival was celebrated everywhere on earth since ancient times during these days? — We want to refer to nothing but to those marvellous fire festivals, which were celebrated in the areas of Northern and Central Europe in old times. During these days, that festival was mainly celebrated in our areas, in Scandinavia, Scotland, England, within the circles of the old Celts by their priests, the so-called druids. What did one celebrate there?
One celebrated the ending wintertime and the springtime announcing itself again bit by bit. Of course, we still approach wintertime advancing to Christmas. But in nature a victory has already announced itself there which can just be the symbol of a festival of hope for the human being, or better said — if we use the word that exists for this festival almost in all languages — the symbol of a festival of confidence, of trust and faith.
The victory of the sun over the opposing powers of nature: this is the symbol. We have felt the shorter and shorter growing days. This decreasing in length of the days is an expression of a decease, better said of the natural forces falling asleep up to the day at which we celebrate Christmas and at which our ancestors celebrated the same festival. During this day, the days start becoming longer. The light of the sun celebrates its victory over darkness. Today, this appears to us, thinking materialistically, even more than we believe it, as an event about which we do no longer think in particular. It appeared to those who had a lively feeling and wisdom connected with this feeling as a living expression of a spiritual experience, of an experience of the divinity, which leads our life. As if in the single human life an important event takes place that decides something, one felt such a solstice in that time as something important in the life of a higher being. Yes, even more: one did not feel this decreasing and increasing of the days immediately as an expression of such an event in the life of a higher being, but still more like a reminiscent sign of something much bigger, something unique. Thus, we conceive of the great basic idea of Christmas as a universal festival, a festival of humanity of the highest rank.
In the times in which a real secret doctrine one saw something occurring in nature at Christmas that was considered as a commemoration of a great event which had taken place once on earth. The priests, who were the teachers of the peoples, gathered the faithful around themselves during these days at midnight and tried to reveal a great mystery to them and spoke about the following. I do not tell anything sophisticated to you here, anything found by the abstract science, but I say something that lived in the mysteries, in secret cult sites, because the priests gathered their faithful around themselves by that which they said to them to give them strength for their teachings.
Today, they said, we see the victory of the sun over the darkness announcing itself. Thus, it also was once on this earth. There the sun celebrated the great victory over the darkness. This happened in such a way: until then all physical, all bodily life on our earth had almost only reached the stage of animals. What lived on our earth as the highest realm was only on the level to be prepared to receive the immortal human soul. Then a moment came in this prehistoric time, a great moment of human development, when the immortal imperishable human soul descended from divine heights. The wave of life had developed up to that time in such a way that the human body had become able to take up the imperishable soul in itself. Indeed, this human ancestor ranked higher than the materialist naturalists believe. However, the spiritual part, the immortal part was not yet in him. It descended only from another, higher planet to our earth, which should now become the scene of its work, the place of residence of that which is now undetachable to us, of our soul.
We call these human ancestors the Lemurian race. The Atlantean race and then ours, which we call the Aryan race, followed it. Within this Lemurian race, the human bodies were fertilised by the higher human soul. Spiritual science calls this great moment of human development the descent of the divine sons of the spirit.
Since that time, this human soul forms and works in the human body for its higher development. Unlike the materialist natural sciences imagine, the human body was fertilised by the imperishable soul at this time. At that time contrary to the view of the materialist naturalists, something happened in the big universe that belongs to the most important events of our human development.
At that time, that constellation, that mutual position of earth, moon, and sun gradually appeared, which made the descent of the souls possible. The sun became significant for growth and thriving of the human being and of the plants and animals belonging to him. Only somebody who realises spiritually the whole becoming of humanity and earth correctly sees this connection of sun, moon, and earth with the human beings living on earth.
There was a time — one taught this at these old times —, when the earth was one with the sun and moon. They were one body. The beings still possessed figures and appearances different from those living on earth today, because they were adapted to that world body which consisted of sun, moon and earth together. Everything that lives on this earth received its being because first the sun and then the moon separated, and that these heavenly bodies interrelated now externally with our earth. The mystery of the togetherness of the human spirit with the entire universal spirit is based on this relationship. Spiritual science calls the universal spirit logos, which encloses sun, moon, and earth at the same time. We live, we work and we are in it.
As well as the earth was born out of the body which enclosed sun and moon at the same time, the human being was born out of a spirit, of a soul to which sun and earth and moon belong at the same time. If the human being looks at the sun, at the moon, he should see not only these external physical bodies, but he should regard them as external bodies of spiritual beings. Modern materialism has admittedly forgotten this. However, who can no longer regard sun and moon as the bodies of spirits can also not recognise the human body as the body of a spirit. As true as the human body is the bearer of a spirit, as true the heavenly bodies are the bearers of spiritual beings.
The human being also belongs to these spiritual beings. As well as his body is separated from the forces which prevail in the sun and moon, and, nevertheless, as his external physical accommodates forces which are active in the sun and moon, the same spirituality, which rules on the sun and the moon is also active in his soul. While the human being became this being on earth, he became dependent on that effect of the sun, which it causes as a special body shining on the earth.
Our ancestors felt as spiritual children of the whole universe that way, and they said to themselves, we have become human beings because the spirit of the sun caused our spiritual form. The victory of the sun over the darkness signifies to us a memory of the victory, which our soul gained in those days, in the times in which the sun appeared for the first time in such a way as it shines now onto the earth. It was a victory of the sun, when the immortal soul entered the physical body in the sign of the sun, when it descended into the darkness of desires and passions.
Let us imagine the life of the spirit. The darkness precedes the solar victory. It followed a former solar time only. Thus, it was also with the human soul. This human soul originates from the original divinity. However, it had to disappear for a while in unconsciousness to build up the lower human nature within this unconsciousness; since this human soul itself built up the lower human nature gradually to inhabit this house built by itself. If you imagine that a master builder builds a house, according to his best forces, and enters it later, you have a right simile of the entry of the immortal human soul into the human body. The human soul could work only unconsciously in that time on its house. This unaware work is expressed in the simile by the darkness. The emergence of consciousness, the lighting up of the conscious human soul is expressed in the simile by the solar victory.
Thus, this solar victory signified to those who still had a lively feeling of the connection of the human being with the universe the moment in which they had received the most important of their earthly existence. This great moment was maintained in that celebration.
At all times one imagined the way of the human being on earth in such a way that this human being becomes more and more similar to the regular rhythmical way of nature. If we look from the human soul at that which encloses its life now, at the way of the sun in the universe and at all with which this way of the sun is connected, something becomes clear to us that is infinitely important to feel. It is the big rhythmical, the big harmonious in contrast to the chaotic, to the unharmonious in the own human nature. Look at the sun, pursue it on its way, and you see how rhythmically, how regularly its phenomena return in the course of the day and of the year. You see how regularly and rhythmically everything is connected in nature under the influence of the sun.
On occasion, I have already emphasised that everything is rhythmical with the beings ranking below the human being. Imagine the sun deviating for a moment, for a fraction of a second only, and imagine the unbelievable, indescribable mess, which would be caused in our universe.
The rhythmical life processes of all beings that are dependent on the sun are connected with this harmony. Imagine the sun in the course of the year how it evokes the beings of nature in the spring, imagine how little you are able to think that the violet blossoms at a time different from that when you are used. Imagine that the seeds are sown at another time and the harvest may take place at another time than it takes place. Up to the animal life, everything appears to you depending on the rhythmical way of the sun. Even with the human being, everything is rhythmical, regular, and harmonious, as far as it is not subjected to the human passions, instincts or even to the human mind. Observe the pulse, the way of digestion, and admire the big rhythm and feel the great, infinite wisdom that floods through the whole nature, and then compare the irregular, the chaotic to it which prevails in the human passions and desires and in particular in the human mind and thinking. Try once to let the regular of your pulse and your breath pass yourselves by, and compare it to the irregularity of your thinking, feeling and willing. They wander around aimlessly.
On the other hand, imagine how wisely the life powers are arranged how the rhythmical has to overcome the chaos. Which crimes do not all human passions and hedonism commit against the rhythm of the human body! On occasion I have already mentioned here how marvellous it is for him who gets to know the heart by anatomy, this wonderfully arranged organ of the human body, and must say to himself what has it to bear because the human being enjoys tea, coffee and so on that has an effect on the rhythmical, harmonious heartbeat. Thus, it is with the entire rhythmical, divine nature that our ancestors admired and the soul of which is the sun with its regular way.
While the sages and their followers looked at the sun, they said to themselves, you are the picture of that which is not yet this soul, which is born with you, but which it should become. — The divine world order presented itself to these sages in its whole glory. The Christian worldview also says that the glory is in the divine heights (Latin gloria in excelsis deo). The word “glory” means revelation, not honour, or splendour.
One should not say, glory to God in highest heaven — but God is revealed in the heavens today. — This is the true meaning of the sentence. In this sentence, one can fully feel the glory flowing through the world. In former times, one felt in such a way that one established this world harmony as a great ideal for that who should be the leader of the remaining humanity. Therefore, one spoke at all times and everywhere where one was aware of these matters of the “sun hero.”
In the temple sites where the initiation was carried out one distinguished seven degrees. I use the Persian terms of these degrees. The first degree is that where the human being went beyond the everyday feeling, where he came to a higher mental feeling and to the knowledge of the spirit. One called such a human being “raven.” Hence, the ravens are those, which announce to the initiates in the temples what takes place outdoors in the world. When the medieval poetry of wisdom wanted to portray an initiate in the person of a medieval ruler, for example, Barbarossa who should wait inside of the earth with the treasures of wisdom of the earth for that big moment when Christianity should rejuvenate humanity, it let the ravens be again the messengers. Even the Old Testament speaks of the ravens of Elias (Elia, Elijah).
The initiates of the second degree are the “occult.” The third degree is that of the “fighters,” the fourth degree is that of the “lions.” The initiates of the fifth degree are called with the name of their own people: Persian or Indian and so on, because only the initiate of the fifth degree is the true representative of his people. One called the sixth degree “sun hero” or “sun runner.” The seventh degree had the name “Father.”
Why did one call the initiate of the sixth degree a sun hero? Who had climbed up so high on the ladder of spiritual knowledge had to have developed such an inner life at least that it ran after the pattern of the divine rhythm in the whole universe. He had to feel, to think in such a way that anything chaotic, anything arrhythmic, anything inharmonious no longer existed with him. This was the demand, which one made on him in the sixth degree of initiation. One considered them as holy human beings, as a pattern, as ideals, and said about them, as big as the misfortune would be to the universe if it were possible that the sun deviated from its way for a quarter of a minute. It would also be a big misfortune if it were possible for a sun hero to deviate from the way of the big morality, from the road of the soul rhythm. — One called somebody a sun hero who had found such a sure way in his mind like the sun outdoors in the universe. All nations had such sun heroes.
Our scholars know so little about these matters. Indeed, it strikes them that sun myths about the lives of all great religious founders formed. However, they do not know that one was in the habit of creating the leading heroes sun heroes with the ceremonies of initiation. It is not miraculous at all, if that which the ancient peoples had attempted to put into them is found out again by the materialist research. With Buddha and even with Christ, one looked for such sun myths and found them. Here you have the reason why one could find this with them. They were put into them first, so that they showed an immediate imprint of the solar rhythm. Then these sun heroes were the big pattern that one should try to equal.
What did one imagine what happened in the soul of such a hero who had found such an inner harmony? — One imagined that in such a way that now no longer only a single human soul lived in him, but that in him something of the universal soul had emerged which flows through the whole universe. In Greece, one called this universal soul, which flows through the whole universe, Chrestós, and the most elated sages of the East know it as buddhi. If the human being has stopped only feeling as the bearer of his individual soul and if he experiences anything of the universal, then he has created an image of that in himself, which combined at that time as a solar soul with the human body; then he has reached something tremendously important on the road of humanity.
If we look at this human being with such an ennobled soul, we are able to put the future of the human race and the whole relationship of this human future with the idea, the image of humanity generally, before ourselves. As humanity faces us today, one can imagine only that certain matters are decided by the fact that people bring about a decision in quarrel and discord by a kind of majority, by a majority decision. Because where one still looks at such majority decisions as something ideal, there one has not yet understood what truth is. Where does truth live in us? Truth lives in us where we pledge ourselves to think logically. On the other hand, would it not be nonsense to decide by majority decision whether two times two are four or three times four are twelve? If the human being has recognised once what is true, then millions may come and say, it is different, nevertheless, he has his assurance in himself.
So far, we are in relation to the scientific thinking, to that thinking, which is no longer affected by human passions, desires, and instincts. Where passions, desires and instincts play a part, the human beings are still in quarrel, in confused mess as the instincts form a wild chaos generally. However, if once the desires, instincts, and passions are purified, have become what one calls buddhi or the Chrestós, if they are developed up to that height on which today the logical thinking is without passion, then that the human ideal is attained which shines to us in the old religions of wisdom, in Christianity, in the anthroposophic spiritual science. If our thinking and feeling is so purified that that which one feels harmonises with that which our fellow men feel, if on this earth the same epoch has arrived for the feeling and the sensation, as it has come for the equalising intellect, if buddhi is on this earth, if the Chrestós is embodied in the human race, then the ideal of the old teachers of wisdom, of Christianity, of anthroposophy is fulfilled. Then one needs to vote just as little about that which one regards as good, noble and right as one needs to vote about what one has recognised as logically wrong or right. Everybody can put this ideal before his soul, and doing this, he has the ideal of the sun hero before him, the same that all esoteric teachers also have who are initiated in the sixth degree.
Even our German mystics of the Middle Ages felt this, while they pronounced a word of deep meaning, the word deification or apotheosis. This word existed in all religions of wisdom. What does it signify? It signifies the following: once also those at whom we look today as the spirits of the universe passed a chaotic stage which humanity experiences today. These leading spirits of the universe brought themselves up to their divine stage where their manifestations of life sound harmoniously through the universe. What appears to us today as the harmonious way of the sun in the course of the year, with the growth of the plants, in the life of the animals, was once chaotic and brought it to this great harmony. Where these spirits stood once, the human being stands today. He develops from his chaos to a future harmony that is modelled after the present sun, the present universal harmony.
The anthroposophic mood of Christmas results from this, not as a theory, not as a doctrine, but as a living feeling lowered into our souls. If we feel it so sure that the splendour, the revelation of the divine harmony, appears in the heights of the heavens, and if we know that the revelation of this harmony sounds once from our own soul, then we feel the other that will happen within humanity due to this harmony. Then we feel the peace of those who are of good will (Latin: et pax hominibus bonae volutatis). Thus, two feelings are connected as Christmas feelings. If we look into the divine world order, into the revelation, at its splendour in the heights of the heavens, and look at the human future, we can already feel that harmony in advance which takes place on earth in the human beings in the future who have the feeling and the sensation of it. The more that lowers itself into us what we feel outdoors in the world as harmony, the more peace and harmony will be on this earth.
Thus, the great ideal of peace places itself as the highest feeling of nature before our souls if we feel the way of the sun in nature in the right way during Christmastide. If we understand the victory of the sunlight over the darkness during these days, we take the big confidence, the big trust from it that connects our own developing souls with this world harmony, and then we let that be known not for nothing, which lives in this world harmony in our souls. Then something lives in us that is harmonious, then the seed falls into the soul that brings peace on this earth, in the sense of the peace between the religions. Those human beings are of good will who feel such peace, such a peace, as it spreads over the earth if that higher stage of the unity of feeling is attained which is attained only in the equalising intellect today. Then love flowing through everything replaces quarrel and discord. Goethe said in the same hymn I have quoted that a few swallows from this cup of love compensate a life full of trouble.
That is why Christmas was a festival of confidence, of trust and hope in all religions of wisdom because we feel during these days that the light must be victorious. Out of this big universal feeling, the Christian church determined in the fourth century to reschedule the birthday celebration of the Saviour on the same day in which with all great religions of wisdom the victory of the light over the darkness was celebrated. Until the fourth century Christmas, Christ's birthday celebration was completely variable. Only in the fourth century, one decided to let the Saviour be born on that day when this victory of the light over the darkness has always been celebrated.
Today we cannot deal with the Christian teachings of wisdom, which will be an object of a talk next year. But one thing should and must be said already today that nothing was more justified than to reschedule the birthday celebration of that divine individuality in this time, which offers the guarantee, the confidence to the Christian that his soul, his divinity will carry off the victory over everything that is darkness in his only outward world. Thus, Christianity is in harmony with all great world religions. When the Christmas bells sound, the human being may probably remember that during these days this festival was celebrated all over the world. Everywhere it was celebrated where one had understood the true big progress of the human soul in this world, where one knew something of the significance of spirit and spiritual life, where one tried to practice self-knowledge in the practical sense.
We have today not spoken of an uncertain, an abstract feeling of nature, but we have spoken about a feeling of nature in any lively spirituality. If we go back to the word of Goethe: “Nature, we are surrounded and embraced by her” and so on, we may be clear in our mind that we interpret nature, not in the materialistic sense, but that we see the external expression and the physiognomy of the universal divine spirit in her. As the physical is born from the physical, the mental and spiritual from the divine-mental and divine-spiritual, and as the physical, the body combines with merely material forces, the soul combines with the spirit.
The great annual festivals are there as symbols for humanity to feel this in connection with the whole universe and to use our knowledge, our thinking to feel one with the whole universe not uncertain but most certain. If one feels anything about it again, these festivals will be different from today, then they will plant themselves again vividly in soul and heart, then they will be to us that which they should be really to us: nodal points of the year, which connect us with the universal spirit.
If we have fulfilled our duties, our tasks of everyday life all the year round, at these points of the year, we look at that which connects us with the everlasting. Even if we know that we had to grind out quite a few in the course of the year, during these days we get a feeling of the fact that there is peace and harmony beyond all fight and chaos. Therefore, these festivals are annual festivals of the great ideals; and Christmas is the birthday celebration of the greatest ideal of humanity, the ideal that humanity must gain if it wants to reach its destination generally. The birthday celebration of that which the human being can feel and want is Christmas if one understands it properly.
The anthroposophic spiritual science wants to go making understandable this festival again. We want to announce not a dogma, no mere doctrine, or philosophy to the world but life. This is our ideal that everything that we say and teach, and is included in our writings, in our science passes into life. It passes into life if the human being practices spiritual science also in the everyday life everywhere, so that we do no longer need to speak of spiritual science, if from all pulpits spiritual-scientific life sounds through the words, which are spoken to the believers, without saying the word theosophy or spiritual science. If at all courts the human actions are considered with spiritual-scientific feeling, if at the sickbed the doctor feels spiritual-scientifically and heals spiritual-scientifically, if at school the teacher develops spiritual science for the adolescent child, if in all streets one thinks, feels, and acts spiritual-scientifically, so that the spiritual-scientific doctrine becomes superfluous — then our ideal is attained, then spiritual science will be mundane. Then, however, spiritual science will also be in the great festive turning points of the year. The human being connects his everyday tasks with the spiritual using the spiritual-scientific thinking, feeling, and willing. On the other hand, he lets the everlasting and imperishable, the spiritual sun shine in his soul at the great annual festivals. They remind him that in him a true, higher self is, a divine, a sun-like, a light that will forever win over all darkness, over all chaos, that gives a soul peace, that will always compensate all fight, all war and strife in the world.