Our bookstore is now open. Shop today →

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

The Easter Festival in the Evolution of the Mysteries
GA 233a

Lecture III

Dornach, 21st April, 1924

As an extension of my comments of the last few days, I would like today to take a closer look at the astronomical aspect of Easter. To do this, however, I will first have to touch upon certain facts relating to the so-called mystery of the moon.

For as long as there was Mystery knowledge people spoke of a secret of the moon. Inasmuch as human beings participate in the cosmos as a whole, this secret was related to human nature. It must be understood that with respect to our whole nature we are connected with the cosmos, just as through our physical bodies we are connected with the earth. Our materialistic times, however, have deprived us of the ancient awareness of the spirituality pervading the universe, spirituality that lives in the forms of constellations and in the motions of heavenly bodies. Our perception of heavenly bodies is now purely external; all we can do with them is calculate their movements, as we do with the planets.

Such an approach to astronomy, however, is like studying the human organism while ignoring that it is animated by a being of soul and spirit. Attending only to measurable quantities and to mechanical laws of motion, we overlook the spirit and soul that express themselves through these phenomena.

This spirit and soul, as they manifest themselves in the human being, are unified by the ego into a single entity, whereas in the cosmos as a whole we have to do in spiritual observation not with one but with a multitude, an immeasurable, limitless multitude of spiritual beings. Some of these express themselves in the forms of the constellations, others in the wanderings of the planets, still others in the radiant light of the stars, and so on.

This many-faceted heavenly spirituality is related to humanity's inner nature in the same way that earthly foodstuffs are related to our physical nature. The secret of the moon represents the most basic of these inner relations between us and the cosmos.

To the earthly eye the moon appears engaged in a constant metamorphosis. From a round, luminous disk such as we see now, it diminishes to half, then to a quarter, until finally it vanishes from sight in a phenomenon we call the new moon. This is followed by a gradual growth in size back to the full moon.

The usual explanation for this is, of course, that the moon is just a body that moves about in space and is illuminated from different angles by the sun, so that its shape apparently changes. Such an explanation, however, does not encompass everything the moon means to earth and to earthly humanity. Instead it must be realized that when we look at something as physically conspicuous as the full moon, something that presents us with a physical aspect, we are dealing with a completely different thing than when the same object presents itself to us as the new moon, which obviously cannot manifest itself in a visible, physical way due to the celestial configuration connected with it. However, we must not conclude from this that the new moon is completely without effect. When the state of the heavens is such that we know the moon to be new, it is simply a matter of the moon being present in an invisible and therefore more spiritual manner than when it appears in the physical light as full moon. The moon is therefore present at one time in a completely physical way, at another in a completely spiritual way, always rhythmically alternating between these two forms of expression.

In order to understand why this is so, it is necessary to recall certain facts with which you may be familiar from the account I give of them in my Outline of Occult Science. [Rudolf Steiner, An Outline of Occult Science, (Spring Valley, N.Y.: Anthroposophic Press, 1972). ] We must particularly call to mind that the moon was once inside the earth. It was part of it. Then it split away, becoming a satellite, as they say, and since then has orbited around it. But during the time when it was still joined with the earth, it acted upon human beings from within it.

Humanity, of course, lived and developed completely differently on the earth when it still had the moon within it. Earth was impoverished when the moon split off, because the forces by which humanity was shaped and held fast from then on were entirely earthly rather than both earthly and lunar. Lunar forces that once acted upon human beings from within the earth now exert their influence from without.

At one time the lunar forces radiated into the human being from below upwards, affecting first the feet and legs and coursing upwards from there into the entire body. Since the moon split off, however, these forces have acted in the opposite direction, from the head downwards, and in doing so have acquired a completely different role in the life of humanity from the one they had previously.

Diagram 1

Where do we see this different function of the moon? In descending from pre-earthly existence to a new life on earth the human being has very definite experiences. When he has undergone everything necessary in the period between death and a new birth, the human being prepares to come down to earth, to unite himself with a physical body provided by an earthly father and mother. But before his ego and astral body can unite themselves with a physical body, he must clothe himself in an etheric body, which he gathers form the surrounding cosmos. It is here that the new role of the lunar forces comes to expression, for this process has changed fundamentally since the moon separated from the earth. Prior to that time, human beings who had completed the life between death and a new birth and again approached earth needed forces to gather the ether, which is scattered throughout the cosmos, around their ego and astral bodies, in order to fashion from it the shape of their etheric bodies. Such forces were provided by the moon from within the earth. Since the moon split off, human beings have obtained the necessary forces from outside the earth, that is, from the moon. Immediately before they enter earthly existence, then, human beings must call upon what lies in the moon forces, that is, upon something cosmic, in order to fashion their etheric bodies.

This etheric body must be shaped in such a way that it has, so to speak, an outside and an inside. This may be depicted as follows:

Diagram 2

In fashioning the outer side of the etheric body human beings need forces of light, for in addition to other substances the etheric body is composed primarily of the streaming light of the cosmos. Sunlight, however, is of no use for this. Sunlight cannot bestow the forces that enable human beings to shape their etheric bodies. To obtain these we need the light that shines from the sun to the moon and is then reflected back, for in this process the light is essentially changed. All the light we receive from the moon, the light that the moon sends out into the cosmos, contains the forces we need to form the outside of our etheric bodies. Conversely, the spiritual forces that radiate from the new moon are the ones we need to shape the inside of our etheric bodies.

Thus our ability to form the outside and inside of our etheric bodies is related to the moon's rhythmic alternation between light and darkness. And this is possible only because the moon, contrary to the idle chatter of modern science, is really more than just a body in space; in reality it is permeated with spirit; it bears a multiplicity of spiritual beings within it.

On various occasions I have explained that when the moon separated from the earth not only did physical matter stream out into space but also a class of spiritual beings who had lived on earth in spiritual rather than physical form and who were mankind's original teachers. These beings went with the moon into space and founded a sort of lunar colony. We must therefore distinguish between the moon's physical-etheric and its soul-spirit aspects, keeping in mind that the latter is a multiplicity rather than a unity.

The activity of the moon's spiritual beings is entirely determined by how they view the surrounding world from their standpoint. To express myself pictorially, these beings first direct their gaze to what is most important to them, namely, to the planets. All occurrences on the moon, including those that assure human beings of the forces they need to fashion their etheric bodies, depend upon the results of observations that the beings living in the moon make of our solar system's planets — Mercury, sun, moon, and so on.

This was known in certain of the old Mysteries. Initiates of such Mysteries were aware that the moon-beings acted according to observations of the planets' positions and motions. This was expressed by bringing the moon, by which celestial configurations important to the fashioning of the human etheric body were determined, into human awareness and in connection with the other planetary forces. This was done by means of the names given to the days of the week:

Moon: Monday: Monday:


From this point the other planets could be observed:

Mars: Marsday (in French mardi):


Mercury: Mercury's day (mercredi):


Jupiter: Jupiter's day (Jupiter being the German Donar, Donnerstag):


Venus: (the German Freya, Freitag):


Saturn: Saturn's day:


and finally the sun, whose forces cannot directly influence the etheric body's formation, but rather only indirectly, by reflection from the moon: Sunday


In this way the moon's viewpoint was incorporated into a structuring of time that reminded human beings of the entire planetary context. In this way the ancient Mysteries attempted to awaken people's memories of pre-earthly existence, of a time when they had needed forces created on the moon by the moon-beings' observation of the planets. People were to be reminded that they owed the particular form of their etheric bodies to what the moon had been able to glean from Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and so on.

Thus we have on the one hand the moon's rhythmic oscillation between light and darkness as it orbits around the earth, and on the other the entire planetary system, inscribed into human consciousness by the names of days of the week. And to this the Mysteries could add even more. They taught, for example, that because the moon-beings can look toward Mars, we receive etheric bodies endowed with the capacity for speech. Likewise, because the moon-beings can observe Mercury, our etheric bodies are infused with the capacity for movement. In fact, if we consider these same teachings from an altogether different point of view, we can discover how eurythmy arises from human speech. Eurythmy develops out of speech when we explore the mysteries of speech by asking the moon-beings about their observations of Mars, and then watch how these observations change when they shift their gaze to Mercury. If we transform the Mars experiences of the moon-beings into their Mercury experiences, then we see the capacity for eurythmy develop out of our capacity for speech. This is the cosmic perspective on how speech is metamorphosed into eurythmy.

The capacity for wisdom that lives within us is made possible by the moon-beings' experiences of Jupiter. Our ability to love and to appreciate beauty derives from their experiences of Venus. Inner warmth of soul is planted into our etheric bodies by what the moon-beings learn from observing Saturn. And in order that our etheric body's formation not be disturbed during the period immediately preceding our descent to earth, everything that derives from the sun is kept at a distance; one could almost say, it is pushed away. It is from the sun or rather from the sight of the sun that protective forces must shield us if we are to become self-contained beings through the formation of an etheric body.

In this way we come to know what takes place on the moon, as well as how the etheric body is fashioned as the human being descends from pre-earthly into earthly existence. These are the facts I mentioned relating to the secret of the moon.

Such things may be spoken of today. In certain of the older Mysteries they were not merely spoken of, but actually lived through. What I wrote on the blackboard was not just known, but inwardly experienced:

Tuesday Language
Wednesday Movement
Thursday Wisdom
Friday Love, beauty
Saturday Inner warmth of soul
Sunday Protective Forces

The Mysteries of which I spoke to you yesterday enabled initiates to transcend the merely external use of their bodily senses, to free or distance themselves from their physical bodies, and to live exclusively in their etheric bodies. When they did so, however, they lived with all the realities of which I have just spoken. Rather than the speech that is formed in the larynx, they experienced the cosmic language that resonates from Mars. Their movements, too, were in harmony with the guidance Mercury exerts over the cosmos. They moved, that is, not with feet and legs, but in their essential being in accordance with Mercury's direction. And instead of having the wisdom we normally acquire with such difficulty as we progress through childhood and youth — nowadays it is really a lack of wisdom — the initiates lived entirely within the wisdom of Jupiter, not directly, but by uniting themselves with the moon-beings who observed it.

Through this form of initiation one could live entirely in the moon's radiant light. One actually left the earth.

No longer a being of earthly flesh and blood, one lived within the moonlight, but in the moonlight structured and modified by what lived in the other planets of the solar system. Through this kind of spiritual observation one actually became a light-being of the moon.

This must not be taken symbolically or abstractly. Just as today when we take a walk into Basel and back, we are fully conscious that what we are experiencing is real, so at that time people could be conscious of actually paying the moon-beings a visit through initiation. Initiates were conscious of taking leave for a while of their physical bodies and of moving into the moon's luminous realm as beings of spirit and soul. Clothed in bodies of light and united with the moon-beings, they could gaze out into the solar system and observe what revealed itself there.

Primary among the things they observed was that sun-beings exerted forces that could not be permitted to play any part in the fashioning of the human etheric body. They perceived, that is, that the sun tends to disintegrate or destroy the etheric body. And for that reason they knew that the forces emanating from the sun-beings must be received by the higher human members, the ego and the astral body, but not by the etheric body. Only upon the higher members could the sun-forces be allowed to work. For the etheric body, on the other hand, one turned not to the sun but to the planets. For the astral body and even more so for the ego's full inner power one had to turn to the sun.

This was the second thing revealed by the Mysteries that had access to the secret of the moon. Initiates knew that through their etheric bodies they belonged to the system of the planets, but that their ego forces in particular and also those of their astral bodies derived from the sun. In other words, through this form of initiation they became one with the moonlight, but looked at the same time toward the sun.

Initiates grasped that the sun shines its light upon the moon because it may not directly transmit that light to human beings. We then have moonlight in conjunction with the influences of the planets, out of which, as we have seen, the human etheric body is fashioned. That was the knowledge conveyed by this particular form of initiation, which thus also revealed the extent to which an initiate carried within himself the power of the spiritual sun. The initiate observed this directly, achieving thereby the level of a Christ-bearer. He became the bearer of a sun-being, not a vessel, but a bearer. Just as the moon itself, when it is full, is a sunlight-bearer, the initiate became a Christ-bearer, a christophor. His initiation into this was a thoroughly real experience. He escaped form the earth and ascended to become a being of light.

Now try to imagine this real experience, this earlier, inner Easter experience, transformed into a cosmic festival. In later times people no longer knew that they could rise above the earthly, unite themselves spiritually with the moon, and from there observe the sun. However, a reminder of all this had to be preserved, and it was preserved in the Easter festival.

Although in later times people with a more materialistic outlook could not recognize the possibility of such experiences, they did retain an abstract recollection of them. Rather than looking within themselves and knowing that they could unite themselves with the moonlight, they looked up to the full moon, imagining that not they but rather the entire earth was striving up towards it.

At no time could this be experienced more strongly than at the beginning of spring, when forces rise upward from the earth's surface out of the seeds buried in it.

Even after developing into plants these forces continue to stream upward into the cosmos. In the ancient Mysteries it was known that human beings could most readily achieve the lunar and solar initiation and become christophors when the earth's inner forces streamed up in this way into the cosmos through the stems and leaves of plants. The Mysteries represented this in the image of a human being floating upward on these forces toward the moon. This could only happen, however, when the moon was full.

Something of this knowledge survived into later times, but it became abstract. “The moon must be full.” Dimly, no longer realizing it could be an actual human experience, people subconsciously imagined something other than themselves streaming upward in the spring toward the first full moon. The moon itself, they thought, then looked toward the sun, that is, toward the first following Sunday. In other words, instead of a christophor looking at the sun from his newly-gained vantage point in the moon, people imagined that the moon looked at the sun, that is, at its symbolization in Sunday. Thus we have the following sequence:

March 21: Full moon: Sunday.

March 21 is the beginning of spring; the earth's forces burgeon forth into the cosmos. One must then wait until the proper observer, the full moon, is there. The moon then observes the sun, making the following Sunday Easter. Our method for fixing Easter's date is thus an abstract vestige of what was once a thoroughly real Mystery procedure, one that in ancient times many people experienced.

This procedure, however, is different from the one I described the day before yesterday. The latter, as you will recall, led to an understanding of the nature of death. I said that the process of resurrection, which was symbolized by the rituals of the Adonis cult and of others like it, demanded that one first undergo a kind of death experience in order to rise in the spiritual world after three days. For reasons I have already set forth, this resurrection process took place in the fall. By contrast, the procedure I have described today was celebrated or enacted in a different set of Mysteries, those conferring the solar and lunar initiation. It carried the initiates back before the beginning of earthly life.

Thus we look back to a time when certain Mysteries recognized our descent from pre-earthly into earthly life, while others, the autumnal Mysteries, recognized our ascent into the spiritual. In later times, however, when people no longer sensed this living relationship between themselves and the cosmos, the autumnal Mystery of ascent was mistakenly combined with the spring Mystery of descent.

Here materialism began to show its effects. For materialism not only gave rise to false opinions, it cast people into total confusion concerning things that had previously lent a kind of sacred order to human existence.

Part of that sacred order was that when fall came, a cosmic festival was observed that pointed toward a Mystery procedure, the spirit of which might be captured by the following words: “Nature is falling into decay, withering away. In this it resembles the decay of our own physical being. However, even as we look at nature, perceiving only transient things, the eternal lives within us. This must be viewed with spiritual eyes and is not affected by what happens in nature. After death it rises again in the spiritual world.”

Through the spring Mysteries, on the other hand, humanity realized that nature is overcome by the spirit.

Spirit works in from the cosmos, causing physical life to burgeon and sprout forth from the earth. People were thus reminded, not of how we proceed into the spiritual world at death, but rather of how we emerge from it and descend to earth. In other words, precisely when nature was on the rise, human beings were reminded of their descent into the physical, while when nature fell into decay, they were to reflect upon their rise, their resurrection, into the spiritual.

You can imagine the extent to which inner life was deepened by this experience of humanity's relation to the cosmos.

Different regions stressed different festivals. In ancient times there really were peoples who were more autumnal, while others were more vernal. The autumnal peoples celebrated Mysteries like those of Adonis; the others had Mysteries based upon such realities as I have described today. Only people of whom it is reported, and correctly so, that they traveled like Pythagoras from place to place, from Mystery center to Mystery center seeking knowledge, were able to have the entire range of human experience. Traveling from one place to another, they might at one time behold the autumnal Mystery, which is actually the Mystery of the sun, and at another the spring Mystery, which is the Mystery of the moon. This is why the ancient universal initiates are always portrayed as traveling from one Mystery center to another. And it may truly be said that they thereby inwardly experienced the year through the various festivals. Coming to a place where an Adonis festival was celebrated, they might say: “I behold the cosmic autumn and the radiance of the spiritual sun at the onset of winter's night.” Where a spring Mystery was celebrated they might say: “I behold the Mystery of the moon.” In this way they came to know the year's full inner meaning.

Thus, as you can see, Easter as we know it today is encumbered with things that do not really belong to it. It should actually be a ceremony of burial, one that goads us into working, just as the spring festivals did for ancient peoples. Such festivals gave them the spiritual incentives they needed for work in the summer; in other words, Easter was an admonishment to prepare for the summer's work. By contrast, the fall festival of resurrection was celebrated at a time when human beings left work behind. In leaving it behind, however, they experienced within themselves something of supreme importance to beings of spirit and soul, namely, an awakening to the eternal in them. This they experienced by contemplating the soul's resurrection in the spiritual world three days after death.

By proceeding from earthly Mysteries to cosmic Mysteries, from earthly knowledge to cosmic knowledge, we thus begin to recognize the year's inner structure as revealed through the festivals, even though much of the festivals' hidden meaning has been lost. Tomorrow, as time permits, I will try to go more deeply into matters that have been described today in more general, cosmic terms, by focusing on particular Mystery centers.