Rudolf Steiner Archive 

The European Mysteries and Their Initiates

Berlin, 6th May, 1909

In the last talk I referred to the fact that in the old times of European development with the different peoples a kind of old, original clairvoyance existed, and that the present consciousness has developed only from this former state of consciousness, from an old, clairvoyant ability. I have shown that what the old clairvoyant could perceive in certain conditions of his life is reflected in the legends and myths that deal with beings like albs, elves, dwarves, and lurs. These legends and myths are of a manifold kind. If we only surveyed what has remained in such myths coming from old, clairvoyant observations and legends in Europe, indeed, certain resemblances could be observed in all these traditions, but also again big differences because the clairvoyant abilities of the single human beings were very different.

A much bigger correspondence exists in the big myths, in the big legends of gods and heroes. In addition, these legends lead back to clairvoyant abilities, only in another way. They do not go back to experiences that the human being could attain by natural clairvoyant talent, but the big uniform legends, which we summarise as mythology, lead back to those experiences that the initiates had in the mysteries. There are a few preconditions in our educational consciousness to create a concept of mysteries and initiates. Because our external education, our external knowledge is far away from the being of initiation. If one wanted to characterise both with concepts usual in our time, one would have to say, the mysteries are schools in which abilities are fostered in the human soul by which the soul is led to own observing in the spiritual worlds. In particular, mysteries are such schools that give instructions in a quite methodical, systematic way to the human being who is ripe to get instructions so that his soul is transformed in such a way that he can perceive the higher worlds with spiritual eyes and ears. Although the modern education knows a little about the mysteries, which exist even today, nevertheless, they exist and lead up to the spiritual worlds. All contents of spiritual science are contents of mystery wisdom. He who trains his soul appropriately to observe in higher worlds is an initiate.

Such sites in which one attains the ability of the full-conscious clairvoyance always existed. I want to give aA sketchy overview about the European mysteries today. There we must go back to ancient times, which preceded Christianity, and try to imagine what has been done in the initiation schools or secret schools and what was imparted to the common culture.

I have often shown how the human being can start the way of initiation, how thinking, feeling and willing are trained to be able to start the “way to the mothers.” The students of all mysteries had to start this way to the mothers.

We had European mysteries of great significance and deep influence on the ancient European culture in different areas of France, Germany, and Britain. In all these areas, they were of a particular kind. The starting point was a certain knowledge as I suggested in the talk about Isis and Madonna. I pointed there to the fact that the human being has a spiritual origin, that he once lived in spiritual worlds, that the human soul and spirit are born out of the spiritual primeval worlds. I have pointed to the fact that the human being still feels with a deeper look into his soul that he has a last remainder of his former being in the spiritual world if he rises above the physical observation. This last remainder, the human soul, is enclosed in the physical body, which is a consolidation of the spiritual primeval being. The human being says about this enclosed soul and spirit: this shows me how I was once as a whole, how the ego was born out of the whole universe. Today, the universe appears to the external reason in all that spreads out before the senses; but behind all that is the spiritual universe. This is the primordial father or the primordial mother out of whom the soul is born that retains the forms even today, which also the body had at that time.

The body is also born out of the spiritual universe; it also had a spiritual figure. What shows the true figure of the human being is hidden today. As a concealed part of the visible human being, one also considered the human being in these old European mysteries. One saw in it an Isis who looks for that from which she has emerged. Initiation made the human being experience all procedures by which the human soul again could behold where from it is born. That means initiation develops the ability of the soul with which it can reunify itself with the spiritual primal ground. It is irrelevant whether in the deepness of a holy grove or in special mystery sites, everywhere the candidate was brought in such situations by which he could find the connection with the spiritual primal grounds of the human being.

One called what is hidden behind the sensory world like the sun behind the clouds the concealed spiritual beings “Hu;” “Ceridwen” was the searching soul. All procedures of initiation were in such a way that to the student was shown: death is a process in life like other processes also. It changes nothing in the inner life core of the human being. Where the druidic mysteries survived by name — druid means initiate of the third degree -, the neophyte was brought into a condition similar to death, so that he perceived nothing with the senses. His reason was quiet. Who lives only in his body and can only perceive with his physical mind whose tool is the brain has no consciousness in such a condition where the senses are quiet. Just this is initiation that the senses, the feeling, hearing and so on are quiet, and that still, even if the brain is quiet, the student has experiences and makes observations. One called that which does observations there in us the soul, Ceridwen. One called Hu what faced it as the external eye and ear face light and tone, the world of the spiritual facts. The initiates experienced the marriage of Ceridwen and Hu.

Such experiences are described in the myths. If to us is told that the ancestors had revered a god Hu and a goddess Ceridwen, it is only a paraphrase of initiation. This is the reason of the real myth. It is only empty rhetoricalness if one says, such myths have astronomical meaning, and Ceridwen is the moon and Hu the sun. Such myths could only originate because one was aware of an internal coherence between the soul which rises and the spirit of the sun, not of the physical sun. The mysteries of Hu and Ceridwen were those into which the human beings were initiated in these areas.

More in the north, in Scandinavia and in northern Russia, we find the drotten mysteries, founded by the original initiate Sieg, Siegfried, or Sigge. All legends about Siegfried go back to him. Just in these mysteries we see something that forms the basis of all mysteries that appears here, however, especially clear first. We want to ascend from a comparison to the real fact. To make that clear to us, we start from the human being as he faces us in life, with head, hands, and feet and so on. If we assume one of these organs away, the human being can no longer be a complete human being. We take the most important organs: heart, stomach, which have to contribute a certain part to the human life and do their service. It is only possible by the co-operation of these organs that in the human body a soul lives and develops. The soul lives in a physical body that is an assembly of many parts. From it we obtain the view that everywhere where the human soul or a higher being should live single parts must co-operate which must do their service. That is why we find the view in the Nordic mysteries that one can express this within the human world that one can establish an assembly of human beings, so that every single one takes over a certain task. For example, a person assumes the task to develop the ability of thinking, another the feeling force, a third one the willpower particularly. Subdivisions are also again possible here.

One assumed now that — if one gathers a circle of human beings in which everyone takes over a particular task, and who, nevertheless, co-operate in the whole — that then something invisible works in them like the soul in the human being. If the human beings assemble that way and everybody does its task, then they establish something like a higher organism, a higher body, and thereby they enable a higher spiritual being to live among them. Sieg established such a circle of twelve human beings of whom everybody developed his soul particularly. If these all co-operated, if everything flowed together at their holy assemblies, then they realised that among them a higher spiritual being lived like the soul in the human body, that the souls are the members of a higher body. The thirteenth lived among the twelve. They knew: we are twelve, and among us, the thirteenth lives. Alternatively, one took a thirteenth who represented the centre of attraction in the circle of the twelve for that which should descend. That means this thirteenth was the deputy of the godhead in the mystery sites. Because everything was related to the holy triad, one called that, who combined the being of the triad, the representative of the holy triad, and round him were the twelve who had particular functions like the limbs of an organism.

They were clear in their mind: if twelve human beings were combined who developed the force in themselves to have something higher among themselves, then one rose from the physical to the spiritual world; one rose to the god. They considered themselves as twelve attributes, twelve qualities of the god. All that was reflected as twelve Germanic gods in the Nordic legends of gods. He who wanted to be a member in this august circle had the task to look for Baldr. This was the initiation. Who was Baldr in reality? Baldr is the spiritual part of the human being. Who has killed Baldr? Those have killed Baldr who have killed the human clairvoyance, who have joined the physical, who have given the human being the sensuous vision, who could abuse the physical too fast: Loki, the fire power, and its expression Hodur (Höϑr, Hod, Hoder), the blind, that shows the human sensuousness that is incapable to behold into the higher, the spiritual world. This is the expression of the procedures during initiation, which the neophyte experienced. Sensuousness has made the human being blind; by initiation, he finds the access to the higher worlds again. Thus, the trained clairvoyance of the initiates towered above the general old clairvoyance. From druidic and drotten mysteries the European culture has originated in the pre-Christian age.

Of course, the personality conscious that develops here is also a danger. It is a much bigger danger than in other areas. The personality consciousness forms an undertone of all cultures in Europe. More than in the East, where the human being devoted himself with pleasure to Brahman, the personality consciousness existed in Germanic countries. The danger was obvious because those who were initiated could misunderstand, misuse very fast what was offered to them in the initiation so that they represented it in caricatures and distorted pictures. Initiation also leads to the handling of spiritual forces. He who learns to use them learns easily to misuse them. Hence, it occurred that the mysteries of old Europe easily went to ruin, that the initiates proved to be not ripe and caused multiple horrors, so that they became the loathing of the people in many areas. Various things, which one tells about the mysteries today, refer to the decay of the mysteries, even if not everything. The fact that the mysteries can be often misunderstood does not need to astonish the modern human being so much. If none can get to know by spiritual science what was done in the mysteries, but if he can only accept what was written down later, that world-historical gossip and tittle-tattle, can get to the wildest views about the mysteries in the course of times. Think only that somebody is in a bad way if he wants to inform himself about anthroposophy and the anthroposophic movement by that what is informed outdoors: he would get a nice picture! If one kept what one tells today, something much worse would result than that about the mysteries.

It would be a nice task to lead back various things from the European world of legends to the events in the mysteries. We would come to the legends of the Nibelungs and Siegfried and find many things that one has to lead back to the old mysteries. However, you are not allowed to deduce. The only thing that decides whether a feature is dreamt up or goes back to the mysteries can only be just the knowledge of the mysteries and the ability to pursue these matters up to the mysteries.

In all these mysteries wherever we investigate them, a feature prevails that one could call a tragic one. One may express it in such a way: indeed, the initiate of the old druidic or drotten mysteries could get to the union with Hu or Baldr, but this spiritual world did not appear to him as the highest. Something else had to be above it. Alternatively, popularly expressed: our gods to whom we rise are mortal, are doomed. Hence, the myth of the twilight of the gods, the tragic prophecy of the doom of gods.

The strong Christ impulse occurred that could work stronger here than somewhere else, the message that the highest spiritual, the Christ principle, has lived in an earthly body among human beings. Everything that one could experience in the mysteries became historical fact. In the old mysteries, the initiate was not completely victorious over death. However, the great Mystery of Golgotha faced him. Just within the European mysteries, this historical mystery was accepted with the deepest understanding, different from somewhere else. A mood prevailed there which can be expressed possibly as follows. The human beings said to themselves, when we were initiated, it meant an ascent to a divine-spiritual world, but the breath of mortality penetrated it. However, someone who can settle in that what one can experience in the figure of Christ, in this biggest impulse, who finds a relationship to Christ can know: as well as the sun illumines the plant and wakes up life in it, the Christ impulse can flow into the human soul. Thereby it takes up the force that gives the soul knowledge of its eternity and immortality, knowledge of the victory over death. Because the soul gets a right understanding of Christ, it is animated. The human being said to himself, there is still an inner knowledge except that which can be taught externally about Christ, the search of the soul, Ceridwen, for Hu or Baldr, but for another Baldr, who accomplished the Mystery of Golgotha. — If the soul experiences this, it attains a higher clairvoyance than by the old mysteries. Here in Europe, one soon understood quite deeply, what that means.

I have already often explained what a jolt the human development did by the Christ impulse. Let us go again back to the old Hebrew consciousness. There we have the feeling of security of the ego if the human being feels one with his fathers and ancestors. It was a significant feeling to the human being of the Old Testament if he could say to himself, I am one with my ancestors. That for what I can say “I” is enclosed between birth and death; but my blood runs down from Father Abraham up to me. The blood that runs in my veins is the expression of my ego, of my own individuality, the bloodstream that goes through generations is the expression of my God. — He felt secure in the big whole; he liked to be immersed in the bloodstream that runs through the generations.

Christ says, Before Father Abraham was, the “I-am” was, and he says, “The Father and I are one.” Our ego has connections in itself to a spiritual world, which everybody can find in his own individuality. The ego that is put on its own, nevertheless, does not deny the connection by blood bonds, does not despise them, has an understanding of the physical, this ego became understandable to the human being by the Mystery of Golgotha. Therefore, one saw in the blood that runs from the wounds of the Saviour the expression of the general human ego, and one said to himself: someone who brings this blood back to life in himself gets to real clairvoyance.

However, the world was not yet ripe to accept the real secret of Golgotha. Also during the following centuries after the arrival of Christ, the world was not yet ripe and it is not yet even today. Paul beheld the living Christ in the spiritual world. Who understands the profound letters of Paul, this initiate, and who characterises the disciple of Paul, Dionysius the Areopagite correctly? Nevertheless, there were always Christian mysteries.

In the mysteries, which I have now described to you, in Wales and Britain, just the teachings by Dionysius were accepted. Thus, the Christ mystery impregnated and interspersed the druidic and drotten mysteries. Thereby they became completely aware of the fact that that what one searched in Hu and Baldr has come as Christ. However, one said to oneself that the human beings were not ripe in general to accept consciously what Christ brought: the blood running from the wounds of the Saviour that runs through all human beings.

Only in small circles of initiates, this had survived as the holy Christian mystery. Who was initiated, however, into this mystery experienced the overcoming of the usual ego directed to the sensory world. However, he experienced it as follows. He asked himself, how have I lived up to now?

When I wanted to know the truth, I went to the things of the outside world. However, when the initiates of the Christian mystery have accepted me, they demanded from me that I do not wait until the outside things say to me what is true, but that I ask in my soul for the invisible, not only inspired by the outside world. — One called the questions of the soul for the highest things the mystery of the Holy Grail in the later times outside. The Grail legend, the Parzival legend, is nothing else than an expression of the Christ mystery. The Grail is that holy chalice, in which Christ took the Last Supper, in which Joseph of Arimathea collected the blood of Christ as it flowed on Golgotha. The blood of Christ was brought to a holy place in such a chalice. As long as the human beings do not ask for the invisible, they experience the same as Parzival. Only when he asks, he becomes an initiate of the Christ mystery.

So we realise how Wolfram von Eschenbach (~1170-~1220, German poet and Minnesinger) interweaves three stages of the human soul in his representation which starts from the external sensuous perception first where it gets to know what is true from the material spirit. This is the soul in its “Tumbheit” (guilelessness) as Wolfram expresses it.

Then the soul recognises that the outside world gives illusions only. If the soul notices that in that what natural science is able to give no answers are to be found but only questions, it becomes addicted to “Zwifel” (doubt). Then, however, it rises to “Saelde,” to bliss, to the life in the spiritual worlds. These are the three stages of the soul.

All mysteries of the later time, which the Christ impulse illumines, have a particular feature. Thereby they tower above all old mysteries. Any initiation is based on the fact that the human being rises to a higher view, to a higher development of the soul.

Before he rises in such a way, he has three abilities in his soul: thinking, feeling, and willing. He has these three soul forces in himself. As long as he normally lives in the modern world, these three soul forces are in an intimate connection. With his ego, he is interwoven in thinking, feeling, and willing because the human being has not worked from the ego on the development of the higher bodies, before he ascends by initiation. At first his astral body is purified, that is his emotions and sensations, impulses and desires are purified. The spirit self or “manas” emerges from it. Then the human being comes so far at first that he intersperses any thought with a certain feeling, that any thought becomes cold or warm, that he transforms his etheric body or life body. This is the transformation of feeling, and there emerges “buddhi.” Then the will is still transformed in the physical body into “atman” or spirit man. Thus, the human being transforms his thinking, feeling, and willing and with it his astral body to manas or spirit self, the etheric body to buddhi or life spirit, the physical body to atman or spirit man. This transformation is the expression of the systematic work of the initiate on his soul by which he ascends to the spiritual worlds.

However, something particular occurs if the initiation is performed in full seriousness, not as a playing. If the initiation is performed with dignity, it is, as if the human organisation were separated in three parts and the ego sits enthroned as a king above these three parts. Whereas the three spheres of thinking, feeling, and willing are normally not distinctly separated, the human being developing higher is more and more able to think in such a way that the thoughts are not brought immediately to feelings but are brought to sympathy and antipathy by the ego by free choice. The feeling does not join a thought immediately, but the human being splits in an emotional human being, in a thinking human being and in a willing human being.

The human being feels as an ego-king that sits enthroned above a triad. He disintegrates into three human beings. This takes place at a certain stage of initiation. He realises that he experiences all thoughts relating to the spiritual world by his astral body. By the etheric body, he experiences everything that penetrates the spiritual world as feelings, by the physical body, he experiences all will impulses penetrating the spiritual world. One says, the human being feels as a king within the holy triad. However, someone who is not able and ripe to endure that he is split cannot receive the fruits of initiation. He is restrained by that for which he is not yet ripe, he faces grief by grief. Someone who comes unworthily close to the Holy Grail becomes a sufferer like Amfortas whom only someone can relieve only who brings the good forces in his nearness. Parzival relieves him.

Let us go now again back to the principle of initiation. The searching soul finds the spiritual world, the Holy Grail, which is the symbol now, the expression of the spiritual world. Single initiates really experienced what I have described. They walked the way of Parzival. However, they were similar to those who looked back as kings at the three bodies. Those, who experienced that, said to themselves, I sit enthroned about my purified astral body that is only purified following Christ. He was not allowed to adhere to any external, to anything that connects him with the outside world, but he had to combine in the innermost soul with the Christ principle. Everything that ties him to the sensory world had to fall down at the highest moments, the mystic moments.

The representative of an initiate is Lohengrin. One is not allowed to ask him for name and class that means for that which connects him with the sensory world. Someone who has no name and class is called a “homeless” human being. The Christ principle has penetrated him. He also looks down at the etheric body or life body that has become life spirit as at something that is separated from the astral body. It carries him upwards to the higher worlds where space and time do not exist. This etheric body and its organs correspond to the swan. It carries Lohengrin across the sea in a small boat, across the material in the physical body. One feels the physical body as the small boat. Elsa of Brabant symbolises the searching soul on earth, which experiences something new by initiation. We have the opportunity here to characterise the legend of Lohengrin, which still has many other meanings, as an expression of the initiation within the mysteries, which surround the Holy Grail.

The secrets that were taught following the Christ mystery were expressed in the mystery of the Holy Grail in the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries that way. The knights of the Holy Grail were the later initiates. The exoteric Christianity faced them, whereas the esoteric Christianity was always fostered in the mysteries that searched a relation to Christ, so that the external Christ waked up the inner Christ in the soul whom a dove symbolises.

The whole progress of the European mysteries still expresses itself in another mythology. However, it is very difficult to illumine it. It happens later. Today we want only to illumine looking for the reflection in that which outwardly seeped through and appeared in a strange mythology. It is a legend, relatively little known, which Konrad Fleck transformed into poetic form in 1230. It belongs to the legends and myths of the Provence, and joins the initiation of the Grail knights. It tells about an old couple “Floris and Blancheflour.” This means in our language: the flower with red petals or the rose, and the flower with white petals or the lily. Many things were once connected with this legend. I can only outline it sketchily today. Floris and Blancheflour are souls incarnated in human beings that have lived already once. The legend brings them together with the grandparents of Charlemagne. Those who dealt with the legends more intimately considered Charlemagne as that figure which connected the inner esoteric Christianity with the exoteric one in certain ways. This is expressed in the imperial coronation. If one goes back to his grandparents, to Floris and Blancheflour, the rose and the lily lived in them that should retain the pure esoteric Christianity that goes back to Dionysius the Areopagite. Now one saw in the rose, in Floris or Flos the symbol of the human soul that has accepted the impulse of personality, of the ego in itself, which brings the spiritual into effect from its individuality, which has brought the ego-impulse into the red blood. However, one regarded the lily as the symbol of the soul, which can thereby only remain spiritual that the ego remains outside, approaches only up to the border. Thus, rose and lily are two contrasts. The rose has the self-consciousness completely in itself, the lily completely outside itself. However, the union of the soul that is within, and the soul that animates the world outside as world spirit has been there. Floris and Blancheflour express that the human soul, the human ego finds the world soul, the world ego.

This legend also expressed what happened later in the legend of the Holy Grail. It is no exterior couple. In the lily the soul is expressed which finds its higher egoity. In the union of the lily soul and the rose soul, one saw that which could find a connection with the Mystery of Golgotha. Hence, one said, compared with the current of European initiation that Charlemagne had caused and by which exoteric and esoteric Christianity are forged together, the pure Christianity should stay alive, should be continued purely. In the circles of initiates, one said, the same soul, which was in Floris or Flor and is sung in the poem, appeared as the founder of a new mystery school, of Rosicrucianism reincarnated in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. This school has to foster the Christ mystery in a new way corresponding to the modern times. The secret of the rose already faces us in a relatively old time. The legend is even already transferred into the time before Charlemagne. Thus, the esoteric Christianity sought refuge in Rosicrucianism. Rosicrucianism trained the initiates since the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries who were the successors of the old European mysteries and the successors of the school of the Holy Grail.

Many a thing of the Rosicrucian mysteries seeped through. However, what is told is often a caricature of the truth. Profound achievements of spiritual life lead back to Rosicrucianism, from which mysterious threads always lead to the external culture. For example, a connection exists between the Nova Atlantis by Francis Bacon (1561–1626) and Rosicrucianism. Bacon represented more than a utopia with it. He wants to point to higher stages, which revive the vague, clairvoyant abilities of old Atlantis. However, what of the external society of Rosicrucians is attached to it is charlatanism and quackery, which cannot stay away in our time since the invention of the art of printing.

Since then, it is no longer possible to keep a secret secret as in old times. It depends on maturity or immaturity, everything is easily distorted, is disfigured. This can happen with the teachings of the anthroposophic movement quite extraordinarily! If it were what one tells in the circles, which know nothing about it and, nevertheless, talk about it, it would be unbearable! In truth, this element is nourished from the mysteries more than anything else is. It has brought about, indeed, the best achievements of all times in humanity. Goethe's greatest poetic deeds are fed from the sources of Rosicrucianism. Goethe spoke not without reason in his poem The Secrets about a human being who is led to a house that is decorated with a rose cross. “Who has associated the roses to the cross?” Who were the initiates of the European mysteries who associated the secret of the roses to the secret of the cross? It becomes obvious that Goethe had penetrated these secrets, gathering twelve human beings as already in the old drotten mysteries. Oh, Goethe knew all these things! However, those who study Goethe today resemble that Goethe whom they can understand. Goethe was allowed to express this only in mysterious ways; but today it is the time to speak openly about the object of initiation. These talks owe their existence to this fact.

More and more the knowledge comes by anthroposophy that spiritual science does not change human beings to out-of-touch romanticists, but to such human beings who are practical and competent in life. It gives them hope and confidence. Thinking develops more and more, so that one could say what Faust says about Wagner, the representative of the materialist thinking, “he digs with greedy hand for treasures, and is happy if he finds earthworms!” — Really, materialism is happy if it finds earthworms and can prove that they are necessary in certain way to the cycle of everything that lives and works on earth. However, what flows as spirit from the mysteries makes the human thinking smooth to familiarise itself with all possible situations. How it could be different, because the sense of the world evolution is regiven in the secrets of spiritual science!

I wanted to bring home to you in the talks that the sense, which prevails in the world, returns in spiritual science. If I have fairly succeeded in that, the modest aim is attained which I have targeted.

It has become obvious that the world with all that lives in it is born out of the spirit, and that the human being is born and destined to rise to the spirit. Spiritual science shows us that in the material the spirit is enchanted, that the sensuous-material is the magic dress of the spiritual. The human being is destined to disenchant the spirit from this magic dress of the material. The spiritual finds its resurrection in the human being, in the human soul towering above itself. However, it is the task of spiritual science to make the soul find the way to itself. Spirit finds spirit that way. The human being understands the spirit more and more, while he makes himself similar to it more and more.

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