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Festival of Easter
GA 233a

Lecture I

19 April 1924, Dornach

Countless numbers of human beings have felt the Festival of Easter to be something that is related on one side to the profoundest feelings of the human soul and on the other to very profound cosmic mysteries. Our attention is attracted to the connection of this festival with the mysteries of the universe by the fact that it is what is called a moveable feast and has to be regulated year by year according to those constellations of which we propose to speak more exactly during the next few days. When it is noted how all through the centuries religious customs and ceremonies having an intimate connection with humanity have been associated with the festival of Easter, we realise the very special value that has gradually come to be placed on it in the course of man's historical development.

From early Christian centuries—not indeed from the immediate foundation of Christianity, but from its early centuries—this has been a festival of the greatest importance, one associated with the fundamental idea and the fundamental impulse of Christianity, as revealed to Christian consciousness in the fact of the resurrection of Christ.

The Festival of Easter is the festival of resurrection, but points to times even before Christianity. It points to festivals connected with the period of the Spring equinox, which have certainly had something to do with the fixing of Easter, a festival that was associated with the re-awakening of Nature and the reviving life of the earth.

With this we have reached the point where we will at once speak of “Easter as a page from the History of the Mysteries,” in so far as the subject is one that can be dealt with in words. As a Christian festival Easter is a festival of resurrection. The corresponding heathen festival, which took place approximately at the same time, was a kind of resurrection-festival of Nature, a re-awakening of the objects of Nature, which had slumbered, if I may so express it, during the winter. Here I must explain that the Christian festival of Easter is absolutely not a festival that, according to its inner meaning and nature, is comparable with the heathen festival held at the time of the Spring equinox; but if we think of it as a Christian festival, it coincides absolutely with very ancient heathen festivals that had their source in the Mysteries and occurred in the Autumn. The strangest thing regarding the fixing of Easter, which quite obviously, according to its whole content, is connected with certain procedures in the Mysteries, is that it directs our attention to a radical and profound misunderstanding that has come to pass in the general acceptance of one of the most important facts concerning our human evolution. This is nothing less than that the Festival of Easter has been confused, in the course of the early Christian centuries, with an entirely different festival, and has on this account been changed from an Autumn to a Spring festival. This fact indicates something prodigious in human evolution. But let us consider for a moment the content of the Easter festival. What is most essential in it? The most essential thing in it is: that the Being who stands in the centre of Christian consciousness, Christ Jesus, passed through death; of this Good Friday reminds us. Christ Jesus then rested in the grave during the period of three days; this represents the union of Christ with earthly existence. The time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is held by Christians as a solemn festival of mourning. Then Easter Sunday is the day on which the central figure for all Christendom rose from the grave, the day on which this fact is held in remembrance. The essential content of the Easter festival is: the death, burial, the repose in the tomb (Grabes-ruhe), and resurrection of Christ Jesus.

Let us now consider some of the features of the corresponding ancient heathen festival. Only by doing this can we arrive at an inner comprehension of the connection between the Festival of Easter and the living content of the Mysteries (Mysterien-wesen). In many places, among many people we find ancient heathen festivals which in outward form and ceremonial resemble absolutely the main features of those of the Christian Easter. From among numerous ancient feasts let us take that of Adonis. This was met with among certain peoples, and over long periods of the past, in Asia-Minor. A statue provided its central point. This statue represented Adonis the spiritual prototype of all youthful growing forces, all the beauty of man.

It is true that ancient peoples have in many respects confused the image with what it represented. In this way these old religions have frequently acquired a fetishlike character. Many people saw in the statue the actual god of beauty—the youthful forces of man, the evolving germinal powers revealing in splendid life all that was glorious in existence, all that man possessed or could possess of inner worth and inner greatness.

With mournful singing and ceremonies expressive of the profoundest human grief and woe the divine image was on this day (if the sea happened to be near) sunk beneath the waves, where it remained for three days; otherwise an artificial tank was constructed so that it could be lowered into it. During these three days profound quiet and sorrow lay upon the whole community of those who followed this religion. When the three days were over the image was raised again from the water. The earlier songs of sorrow were turned into songs of joy, into hymns about the risen god, the god who had come back to life.

This was an outward ceremony, one that deeply stirred the hearts of wide circles of people. It recalled, by means of an outward act, what happened to every one attaining to initiation in the Holy Mysteries. Every man attaining initiation in these ancient times was conducted into a special chamber. The walls were black; the whole room, in which was nothing but a coffin, was dark and gloomy. The aspirant for initiation was then laid in the coffin by those who had conducted him there with solemn dirges, and was treated as one about to die. He was made to realise that, now he was placed in the coffin, he had to pass through what a man experiences when going through the gates of death, and during the three days following. The arrangements were carried out in such a way that he who was in the act of being initiated reached full inner comprehension of what a man experiences in the first three days after death.

On the third day there rose in a particular place before the eyes of him who lay in the coffin a budding branch representing springing life. The former songs of woe turned into hymns of joy. The neophyte, who had experienced all this, now rose from the grave with a changed consciousness. A new language had been imparted to him and a new writing: the language and the writing of the spirit.

If what took place in the depths of the Mysteries to those about to experience initiation were to be compared with the religious ceremony performed outside, this would have to be done in a figurative way, though similar in form, to that which was experienced by carefully selected individuals in the Mysteries. And the ceremony—take that of the cult of Adonis, for instance—was explained to those participating in it in an appropriate way. It was a religious act that took place in the Autumn, and those who took part in it were instructed as follows: Behold it is Autumn; the earth now loses its green plants, all its leafy covering. Everything withers. Instead of the fresh, green, sprouting life which arose to deck the earth in Spring, all is now bleak and bare, or perhaps covered with snow. Nature is dying. But when all around you dies, you must experience that which in man resembles to some degree the death you see in surrounding Nature. Man also dies, Autumn comes to him also. When life draws to an end it is well that the human heart and soul of those who survive should be filled with deepest sorrow. And in order that the full seriousness of the passage through the gates of death should rise before your souls, that you not only experience death when it comes but that you are reminded of it again and again each year, for this reason you are shown every Autumn how that Divine Being who represents the beauty, youth, and greatness of man dies, how he goes the way of all natural things. But just at the moment when Nature is most desolate and dreary, when death is near, you have to remember something else. You have to remember that though man passes through the gates of death, though here in earthly existence he only experiences things of a nature similar to that which perishes in Autumn, that so long as he lives on earth he only experiences temporal things, when once he is withdrawn from earth his life will continue on into the wide spaces of universal ether. There he sees himself grow ever larger and larger—he becomes one with the whole world. During the three days his life expands to the confines of the universe. While here, earthly eyes are directed to the image of death, to that which is mortal and perishable; out there, after three days, the immortal soul awakens. About three days after death it rises again; it is born anew in the land of the spirit.

All this was brought about in the depths of the Mysteries through an impressive inner transformation of the body of the neophyte who had presented himself for initiation. The notable impression, the tremendous forward push that human life received in this ancient form of initiation, was the awakening of the inner soul-forces, the waking of sight. This brought to him the knowledge that henceforth he lives not merely in the world of the senses but in the world of the spirit.

The teaching that from this time onwards was given on suitable occasions to the pupils of the Mysteries I can describe somewhat as follows:—They were told: what takes place in the Mysteries is a picture of what takes place in the spiritual world, and what takes place in the cosmos is a model for that which takes place in the Mysteries. What everyone who was admitted to the Mysteries had to realise was: the mysteries veil in earthly acts performed by men, what is experienced by them in other states of existence, and in the wide astro-spiritual spaces of the cosmos.

Those who in olden times were not admitted to the Mysteries, who on account of the degree of ripeness they had acquired in life were not fitted to receive direct vision of the spiritual world, had communicated to them in the ceremonies carried on in the Mysteries—that is in pictures—what was suited to them. So the purpose of the Mystery-Festival, which we have come to know as the one corresponding to the festival of Adonis, was for the purpose of arousing in the consciousness of men, or at least for placing before their eyes in pictures, the certainty that at the time of autumnal decay, when death overtakes everything in Nature, it also overwhelms Adonis, the representative of all youth and beauty, all the grandeur of the human soul. The god Adonis dies also. He passes into the water, into the earthly representative of the cosmic ether. But just as after three days he rises out of the water, or is taken from it, so the human soul is raised out of the water of the world; or in other words, out of the cosmic ether, some three days after passing through the gates of death. The secret of death is what these Ancient Mysteries sought to reveal, aided by the appropriate Autumn festival. It was clearly demonstrated and made obvious through the fact that the first half—the one side of the religious ceremony—accorded with dying Nature, but the other half with its opposite, with what is most essential to man's own existence. It was intended that man should look upon dying Nature so as to realise that, though to outward seeming he dies, according to inner reality he rises again in the spiritual world. The meaning of these old heathen festivals that were associated with the Mysteries was to reveal the truth concerning death.

In the course of human evolution a most important thing now took place, which was, that what the pupil passed through on a certain plane in regard to the death and resurrection of the soul when preparing himself for initiation into the Mysteries was consummated by Christ Jesus down to the physical body (bis zum Leibe). For how did the Mystery of Golgotha appear to one who was an adept in the Mysteries? Such an adept gazed into the ancient Mysteries. He saw how anyone preparing for initiation was led according to the state of his soul through death to resurrection, which meant to the awakening of the higher consciousness of his soul. The soul dies so that it may rise again in a higher state of consciousness. What has to be firmly maintained here is that the body does not die, but that the soul dies so that it may be awakened to a higher consciousness.

What the soul of every man experienced who passed through initiation was experienced by Christ Jesus as far as to the body; that simply means, it was experienced on a different plane, for Christ was no earthly man, but a Sun-being within the body of Jesus of Nazareth, and could experience in every part of his human nature what the ancient Initiate of the Mysteries experienced in his soul. Those who still existed as “Knowers” of the ancient Mysteries, who were conversant with the ceremony of initiation, were such men as have even to this day a deep understanding of what happened on Golgotha. What could such men say of it? They could say: Through thousands of years men have been brought to the secrets of the spiritual world through the death and resurrection of their souls. The soul was separated from the body during the ceremony of initiation. Through death it was led to everlasting life. What was experienced there by a few exceptional men has been experienced in the body by a Being who came down from the Sun at the baptism in Jordan and entered into the body of Jesus of Nazareth. That which for long thousands of years had been an ever-recurring procedure of the Mysteries had now become an historic fact. The most essential fact for men to know was this: that because the Being who entered into the body of Jesus of Nazareth was a Sun-being, that which could only take place as regards the souls, and in the soul-experiences of those presenting themselves for initiation, could now take place as far as bodily existence. In spite of the death of the body, in spite of the dissolving of the body of Jesus of Nazareth in the mortal earth, a resurrection of Christ could take place, because the Christ rose higher than the souls of those seeking initiation. Such men could not take their bodies into the deep regions of sub-material existence (tiefe Regionen des Untersinnlichen) as Christ Jesus did; and for this reason they could not rise so high at resurrection as the Christ did; to make the infinite difference of this apparent, the ancient ceremony of initiation was enacted as an historic fact for all the world to see on the place of consecration—on Golgotha.

In the early Christian centuries only a few people were aware that a Sun-Being—a Cosmic Being—had lived in Jesus of Nazareth, and that the earth had thereby been fructified (befruchtet); that a Being had actually descended to earth from the sun—a Being such as until then it had been possible to see only in the sun from the earth, through methods employed in the centres of initiation. The most essential fact regarding Christianity as accepted by those who had a real knowledge of the ancient mysteries was expressed as follows: The Christ to whom we could rise through initiation, the Christ we could find when we rose to the Sun in the ancient Mysteries, has descended into a mortal body, the body of Jesus of Nazareth. He has come down to earth. At first it was more what might be described as a holy attitude of mind—a solemn feeling of reverence, experienced in mind and soul, that made some understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha possible at the time. What formed the living content of human consciousness at that time gradually became, through events we shall learn of later, a festival of remembrance recalling the historical event of Golgotha.

As this memory developed, people lost the consciousness, more and more, of Christ as a Sun-Being.

Adepts in the wisdom of the Mysteries could not be in any uncertainty as to the nature of Christ. They knew well that true Initiates, those who had been initiated and had therefore become free from their physical bodies and had experienced death in their souls, rose as far as the Sun-sphere, and that there they found the Christ, that from Him, the Christ in the Sun, their souls received the impulse to resurrection; they knew who the Christ was, because they had raised themselves up to Him. These ancient Initiates, who understood what took place during initiation, knew from what took place on Golgotha that the same Being who formerly had to be sought in the Sun had now come down to men on earth. How did they know this? Because the proceedings in the Mysteries, undergone by the neophyte that he might rise to Christ in the sun, could no longer be carried out in the same way as before, for the simple reason that human nature had in the course of time become different. The ancient ceremony of initiation had become impossible because of the way in which the being of man had evolved. The Christ could no longer be sought in the Sun according to the methods of ancient initiation. He therefore came down to earth, there to accomplish a deed through which men might now find Him. That which is contained in this Mystery (Geheimnis) belongs to the most sacred things that can be spoken of on earth.

For how actually did the Mystery of Golgotha appear to men living in the centuries immediately following it? In ancient places of initiation men looked up towards existence on the Sun (Sonnendasein) and became aware, through initiation, of the Christ in the Sun. They looked out into space in order to draw near to Christ.

If I represent diagrammatically how evolution progresses in the ensuing years, I must represent it in time; that means I must represent the earth—in one year, in another, in a third year, as progressing in time. Spatially, the earth is always there, but the passage of time must be represented thus. (A diagram was shown).

The Mystery of Golgotha then took place. Let us suppose that a man who lived in the 8th century, instead of looking out from the Mysteries to the Sun in order to find Christ, looked to the turning-point of time at the beginning of the Christian era, looked to the time after the Mystery of Golgotha, he was then able to see the Christ in an earthly happening—in the Mystery of Golgotha. What had previously been perceived spatially had now, because of the Mystery of Golgotha, to be seen in time. (Sollte nun zeitliche Anschauung werden.) This was the fact of greatest importance.

It is especially when our souls are affected by all the things which took place in the Mysteries, and which were an image of the death of man, and the resurrection that followed, and when added to these we consider the form of the religious procedure, more especially at the festival of Adonis (which was again an image of what took place in the Mysteries), that we realise how these three things, united and raised to their highest aspect, were concentrated within the historic deed on Golgotha.

There now was seen on the outward plane of history what formerly had been enacted in deep inwardness in the sacred precincts of the Mysteries; what formerly had only been for Initiates was now there for all mankind to see. No longer was an image required that had to be sunk symbolically in the sea and raised from it again. Instead, men were to have the memory of what had actually happened on Golgotha. Instead of the outward symbol connected with an event that was experienced in space, inward, intangible, formless thoughts were to arise—thoughts that lived only in the soul, thoughts of the historical deed done on Golgotha.

In the centuries that followed we now become aware of an extraordinary development in humanity. The penetration of mankind into what was spiritual declined more and more. The spiritual content of the Mystery of Golgotha could no longer find a place in the souls of men. Evolution tended towards the training of a materialistic intelligence. Men lost the inward emotional understanding of such things as, for instance, that where the transitory quality of external Nature is revealed—at the moment when the life of Nature is seen to be most desolate and as if dying—is exactly the moment when the vitality of the spirit becomes most apparent. Mankind also lost understanding of the external festivals of the year: understanding that the coming of Autumn, bringing as it does death to the outward things of Nature, is the time when it is most easy to realize that the death of all these things is connected with the resurrection of what is spiritual.

Along with this, Autumn lost the possibility of being the season of resurrection; it lost the possibility of directing the mind, by way of the fleeting things of Nature, to the everlasting quality of the spirit. Man has need of the support of substance. He needs the support of that which does not die in Nature but springs again, the germinating power of seeds which fall to the ground in Autumn but rise again. Man accepts substance as a symbol of what is spiritual, because he is no longer capable of being stirred by substance to perceive spirit in its reality. Autumn has no longer power to demonstrate the immortality of spiritual things, as compared to the mortality of natural things, through the inner force of the human soul. Man has need of the support of Nature, of external resurrection. He likes to see how plants spring from the earth, how the strength of the sun increases, and the coming of light and warmth; he needs the resurrection of Nature in order to cultivate thoughts of resurrection.

But with this the direct connection linking it with the festival of Adonis disappears, as also that which can link it with the Mystery of Golgotha. That inner experience that comes to every one at earthly death loses power when the soul knows: man passes through earthly death, and during the three days that follow undergoes certain experiences of a very solemn nature; but later the soul is filled with inner joy and happiness, because it knows that after these three days it rises from death to spiritual immortality.

The power contained in the festival of Adonis was lost. Humanity was so organised at one time that this power could be developed with the greatest intensity. When looking on the death of the god, men saw the death of all that was beautiful in humanity, the death of all its splendour and youthful powers. With great sadness the god was laid beneath the waves on a day of mourning—Good Friday (Char-Freitag, Day of Mourning). People felt the deep solemnity of this, because it was intended to evoke in them realization of the frailty of all natural things. But it was intended that this feeling regarding the mortality of natural things should then be changed into a feeling concerning the super-sensible resurrection of the human soul after three days. As the god, or rather the likeness of the god, was raised from the water, the well-instructed believer saw in this image the representative of the human soul a few days after death. Behold! they said to him, what happens in spirit to those who die. What happens is brought before your soul in the likeness of the risen god—the god of beauty and of youthful vigour.

This outlook, which was bound up so deeply with the destiny of humanity, was brought directly before the human spirit every Autumn. It would not have been thought possible at that time to associate this with external Nature. What could be experienced in spirit was represented symbolically in ceremonial acts. But the image of a former time had to be effaced, it had to emerge again as memory—as formless, inward, soul-felt memory of the Mystery of Golgotha, which represented the same thing; at first men had not the power to carry out this change, because the spirit had passed into the subconscious part of human souls (in die Untergründe der Seele des Menschen ging). So things remained until our day; men had need of the support of external nature. But external nature provides no image—no complete image of the destiny of man after death. Thoughts about death persisted. Thoughts about resurrection faded more and more. Even if people spoke of resurrection as part of their belief it was not a vital fact in the lives of the men of later times. But it must become so once more; it must become so, because the Anthroposophical outlook stirs men's minds to true thoughts concerning resurrection.

If on one side it is said, at the appropriate season, thoughts on Michael are precious to the soul of the Anthroposophist as bringing thoughts of annunciation, if thoughts concerning Christmas give depth to his soul, those on Easter must be specially thoughts of joy. For Anthroposophy must add to the thought of death the thought of resurrection. She must herself become like a festival of resurrection within the souls of men, bringing an Easter spirit into their whole outlook on life. This Anthroposophy will do, when people have realised how the old thoughts of the Mysteries can live on in rightly conceived thoughts of Easter; when they have acquired a right understanding of the body, soul, and spirit of man, and of the destiny of these in the physical, psychic, and spiritual heavenly worlds.