From Mammoths to Mediums
XV. Druid wisdom. Mithraic rites. Roman Catholic ritual. Masonic rites. Ritual of the Christian Community.
10 September 1923, Dornach
Gentlemen, it's been a long time since we were able to meet. Have you perhaps been able to think of something special, questions you'd like to discuss, during this time?
Member of the group: I would like to ask if the rite as it is celebrated today still has a connection with the world of the spirit, and how the rites of different nations relate to one another.
Rudolf Steiner: Well, gentlemen, here it will be interesting to consider the reason why a rite actually comes into existence, and what the intention is.
Perhaps I might just tell you something on this occasion which is of current interest because it has to do with my recent trip to Britain. It was really most appropriate that the course in Penmaenmawr 50See Steiner, R., The Evolution of Consciousness. As Revealed through Initiation Knowledge. Penmaenmawr. Thirteen lectures. Tr. V. E. Watkin, C. Davy. London: Rudolf Steiner Press 1966. was given near an ancient mystery site. This was on the west coast of Britain, in Wales. There is an offshore island called Anglesey and there you still have ancient sites everywhere in the hills. They are in decay, and today one really only sees broken stones, I'd say, but if one knows one's anthroposophy one can certainly see what they once meant to people in that very place.
You see it would be just like going out into our hills here and finding such sites in them. Over there you find them everywhere, as it were, in the hills, and above all if a hill levels out at the top, so that you have level ground and even a slight depression. That is where those ancient sites would be. Today they are heaps of stones, but you can still see quite clearly what they looked like in the past. The smaller ones consist of stones that were probably carried there once in the ice, and then dragged to the particular site where people wanted to have them. They were arranged in a kind of square, one beside the other, like this [Fig. 29]. Looking at them from the side, it would look like this. A large stone on top covered the others [Fig. 30]. The big mystery places would have similar stones [Fig. 31] placed in a circle, exactly 12 of them. The rite probably was at its height 3,000 or 4,000 years before our time, at a time when the area was only thinly populated, and there would be hardly anything except agriculture and animal husbandry. Writing and reading were quite unknown at the time when this rite was at its height. Writing and reading—they never even imagined that there might be such a thing.
Now we may ask what the significance was of that rite. Let me emphasize again that there was no reading and writing in those days. Now you know that when we want to get crops to grow in the field, to do really well, they have to be sown at particular times, and different things have to be done with them at particular times. And people also have to know the right times for getting their animals mated, and so on. This has to do with the way the earth relates to the whole of the cosmos around it, and I have told you about this on several occasions.
Now today people have their farmer's calendar and they'll look it up. It'll tell them what day of the year it is, and so they tend to forget that it is not a matter of arbitrary choice. You can't fix the dates whichever way you like, but have to fix them according to the movement of the stars, the position of the moon, and so on. Today's calendar makers calculate these things by following tradition. Calculations are made to show when this or that particular day will be. People are now working it out like this because at one time the days were calculated according to the position of the sun. You can still do it according to the sun today, but the people who generally observe these dates do not go by the position of the sun or of the stars but simply by the calendar, as it has been calculated.
In those earlier days that would have been unthinkable, for people could not read or write then. Such things only came later. So this takes us back 3,000 or 4,000 years, as I said. And reading and writing only came a little over 2,000 or 3,000 years ago in those regions. Those were early times, and the kind of reading and writing people had later on does not compare with what we have today, so you can't really say it existed then. At least the majority of the population did not know it in those days.
If you look at such a stone circle up on a hill you may think: The sun apparently — we know it is standing still, but you know we can put it like this because that is how things are, after all — the sun thus moves in orbit in cosmic space. It therefore casts a different shadow of this stone all the time, and you can follow this shadow all through the day. You can say that when the sun rises in the morning the shadow is there [drawing on the board], then it moves on a bit and the shadow is there, and so on. But the shadow also changes in the course of the year because the sun is always rising in a different place. It was like this in March, and a bit later on like this. And the wisdom of the learned person or the priest, if you like, the Druid priest who was appointed to observe such things in those times, lay in being able to judge this shadow. He would be able to know, therefore, that when the shadow reached this point here, this or that needed to be done in the fields. He was able to tell people this. He could see it from the position of the sun. Or if the shadow reached this point, let us say, the bull had to be taken around, the beasts had to be mated, for this had to be done on a particular day of the year. The priest would thus observe and know what needed to be done all through the year.
And so the whole of life was really governed by the movements of the sun. Today people never think that they are doing the same thing, because they look in the calendar, as I told you. But in those days you had to go to the actual sources, you had to discover these things by considering the universe, as it were.
At any particular time, let us say in autumn, for example, it would be clearly established what had to be done in the fields, and the 'bull festival' would also be laid down for a particular time in the year from the things these people said. Then the bull would be taken round; at other times it would be kept away from the cows, and so on. The feasts of old were also fixed accordingly, and they would be very much in connection with these things. Today such an arrangement of stones would be called a Druid circle. This here [Fig. 30] is a dolmen or cromlech, with the stones characteristically standing like this, and covered at the top, so that the inside is in shade.
Now you see, gentlemen, people know, more or less, that the sunlight is sometimes more and sometimes less powerful, for they can feel it from the way they sweat or feel cold. What people do not know, however, is that the shade also varies, just as the light does. It varies in accord with the way the light varies. But people are not in the habit today of considering differences in a shadow. In those earlier times, people first of all developed the ability to tell the differences in a shadow. Within the shadow you see the spiritual aspect. The sun's rays have not only physical qualities but also spiritual qualities. And the Druid priest would observe the spiritual quality of the sun's rays in there, and it would depend on this if it was better to grow one particular plant in a particular country or another, for this depended on the spiritual quality that came down to the earth from the sun. The shadows also gave excellent opportunity to observe the moon influences. These play a particular role when it comes to mating farm animals, for example, so that the time for mating could be determined. And the whole year was really considered according to those observations made of the sun.
Now if we were to dig down underneath such a cromlech, we would find that it also served as a burial place. These stones were set up in places where people were also buried. The significance of this is that when a human being has left his body, that body has a composition which is different from everything else. The soul, the spirit, has dwelt in the body for a whole lifetime. When the body dissolves, the powers in it are different from those in the rest of the hills. And those powers would stream up and make it easier for people to see things rightly inside, in the shade. Those people still knew powers of nature that were very different from the powers people were to know later on.
And when one sees individual stones raised high up in some hilly regions — this is something one also sees in other parts of Britain; I saw it in Ilkley, for instance, where the first course was given during my visit to England 51See Steiner, R., A Modern Art of Education (GA 307). Tr. J. Darrell. L13 by G. Adams. London: Rudolf Steiner Press 1970. — with the site well chosen — one had a wide view over the area from up there — you'll find such signs there [Fig. 32], swastikas, a symbol used to create much mischief in Germany today. This swastika is now being worn by people who have no idea that it was once a sign used to indicate to people who came from a long way off that the people in that place saw not only with their physical eyes but also with the eye of the spirit. In my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds I have described them as lotus flowers. The intention was to let people know they were able to see with these lotus flowers.
So you have a rite here which essentially consisted in people wanting to bring the spiritual element from the cosmos down to the earth for their social and life situations. You can still see it there today, and it makes the area extraordinarily interesting. These were the last of those ancient sites, places on the west coast to which people withdrew at the time, for after this, people came from the east and writing was introduced. That early form of writing was called runes. The runes were sticks that would be put together to form letters; very different therefore from today. And only then did Norse mythology develop, which is what we call it today — Odin, Thor and so on. This only came later, and it came because writing was transplanted to that region.
You need not be all that surprised to hear me talk of the shadow like this, for even an animal sees something in a shadow. Just watch the strange way a horse will behave when it is standing somewhere along a road at night, where there are lights, and looks at its shadow on a wall. One just has to know that an animal, a horse, does not see its shadow the way we do. Our eyes are set in such a way that they look ahead. The horse's eyes are set in such a way that they look to the side. Because of this the horse does not actually see the shadow itself, but perceives the spiritual element in the shadow. People will of course say the horse is afraid of its shadow. But the fact is that it does not see the shadow at all, but perceives the spiritual element in the shadow. And those primitive peoples also perceived differences in the shadow all the year round, just as we note differences in the sun's heat and in cold temperatures. So that was a rite which people had then. And you can realize from what I have told you that the rites which developed in ancient times were something that was really needed. They existed because people needed them. They took the place of all the things that could later be read, and at the same time it was a matter of communion between human beings and the gods. People did not pray so much, but they made these things known to others, and this then became part of life; it had a relationship to life, a significance in life.
Now to another rite, remnants of which you still find above all in Central Europe where you find sacred sites and specific images. The images show a bull, with a kind of rider on the bull wearing a Phrygian cap, a kind of revolutionary cap. This was later adopted from those origins. And down below in the same picture you'd see a kind of scorpion which is biting into the bull's genitals. Then one also sees the individual who is sitting on top thrusting a sword into the front part of the bull's body. And if it is like this [drawing on the board], with this rider up there, the scorpion here, there the thrusting sword, you see from it how the starry heavens are configured up above. Up there are the starry heavens. These rites were known as Mithraic rites. So the first ones were Druid rites, and what I am describing now are the Mithraic rites, as they were called. The Druid rites were on the west coast — one does also find them in other areas, but I have just been telling you of an area where I have been able to see this for myself. These other rites, the Mithraic rites, once spread from Asia across and along the whole of the Danube, through southern Russia as we know it today, Bulgaria, Hungary, Bavaria, the Odenwald, Black Forest areas, and so on. And this meant something quite specific. For you see, why did they have a bull just there? This is the first question we have to ask ourselves.
I have told you that the sun rises in a particular constellation in the zodiac in spring, today essentially in the Fishes. The astronomers still give the Ram. This is wrong, however, for in reality it is the Fishes. For a long time, a period of 2,000 years, the sun would rise in the constellation of the Ram, and before that in the Bull. And people would then say to themselves: Tn the spring, when things begin to grow, the sun always rises in the Bull.' and they quite rightly connected the principle that above all has to do with growth in the human body — not in the head, but in the rest of the body — with the fact that the sun's rays change, and that behind this is the constellation of the Bull. And so they would say: 'If we want to refer to the animal human being, we have to draw a bull, with the actual human being, who is governed by his head, sitting on the bull.' The bull thus represents the lower, animal human being, and the one who is sitting up there, wearing his Phrygian cap, represents the higher human being. The whole is however really just one human being — lower human being and higher human being.
And the people would say to themselves: 'Oh, it is bad when the lower human being rules, when the human being gives himself up completely to his animal drives, only obeying his passions which come from the belly, from his sexuality and so on. The higher human being must govern the lower one.' And they would put it like this: 'This one, who rides on top, has the sword and thrusts it into the flanks of the lower human being. This means that the lower human being has to grow small compared to the higher human being. And then there is also the scorpion, biting into the genitals to show that if the lower human being is not made small by the higher one, lower human nature also harms itself, for the powers of outer nature come upon him and destroy him.' The image therefore showed the whole of this human destiny between the lower and the higher human being.
Above were the starry heavens. It is highly significant that the starry heavens spread above. The sun rises in a particular point in the spring, in those days in the constellation of the Bull. But it moves on a little bit day by day. This movement happens in two ways. In the first place the spring point moves on. The following spring the sun will rise a little bit further along from the point where it rose the previous spring, so that 3,000 years ago it would have risen in the Ram, and even earlier than that in the Bull. Today it rises in the Fishes in spring. And so it gradually goes all the way round. In the course of 25,920 years the sun goes right round. But it also goes around within each year, so that it will not rise in the spring point the next day — it only rises there on 21 March — the next day it will have moved on a little, and so on. It also moves through all the constellations of the zodiac in the course of a year.
Now the people who served in the Mithraic rites had to observe when the lower human being, the animal human being, was more difficult to control — when the sun was in the Bull, that is, encouraging mainly the powers of growth. Yet when the sun was in the Virgin, 52The reference to the sun in the Virgin in this passage is puzzling. When the Bull stood at the spring equinox the Virgin was adjacent to the summer solstice, then occupied by the Lion. The Scorpion stood at the autumn equinox and the Waterman at the winter solstice. It would make more sense, therefore, if the passage read 'Yet when the sun stood in the Waterman ...' (which it would have done in December). Three of these zodiacal regions are reflected in the Mithras myth —the Bull, the Scorpion and the Man (Waterman) on the bull's back. The Lion represented a grade of initiation in the mysteries of Mithras while the sun in the Waterman has always been a symbol of resurrection and rebirth. Since Steiner was not in a position to check the transcript of these lectures for accuracy himself, it is important that attention should be drawn to what appear to be errors of fact. Editor. let us say, which would be in October — at that time more towards December, actually — the lower human being would not be so powerful, and less control would be needed. The people in general had no feeling for these things, but those who observed the Mithraic rites had to know them. And so the people who served in the Mithraic rites were able to say: 'It is more difficult to control the lower human being now that it is spring; and now again it is easier, for it is a particular time in winter.' And so the human being himself was used in those rites to get to know the seasons of the year, and of course the whole way the sun and moon would move through the zodiac. With the Druids, it was more the outer signs that were used, the shadows; here, in the Mithraic rites, it was more the effect on the human being which was used. And so the Mithraic service was also very much related to life.
All kinds of different rites thus existed. We have to understand of course that to observe the kind of thing the Druids once observed one needs to have quite specific regions on earth. You can still see this today. Living over there in Wales — the course of lectures took a fortnight — one always had rapid changes in the weather from small cloudbursts, I'd say, to sunshine and back again. It changes by the hour, so that the air there is quite different from the way it is here; it is always more full of water. If you have air like it is over there, where the Druids were, you can make such observations. You could not have made such observations in the regions where the Mithraic rite was more widespread, for there the climate would be different, and you had to take your observations more from the inner human being. People were more sensitive to such things then. And the rites therefore differed according to the region.
The Mithraic rites were common in the region of the Danube, in Bavaria and also in this part of Switzerland, though less so, even in earlier times, I think. It continued for a long time even when Christianity was coming to these regions. The last remnants were still to be found when Christianity had come to those regions, especially the Danube region. You still find these images in caves there, in the rocks. For those observations and rites were made and held in caves. They did not need the outer light of the sun but the stillness and quiet of a cave in the rocks. The spiritual influences of the sun and the stars go into those places as well.
Now that I have told you about two different rites you can see the meaning of ritual altogether. The Negroes still have their rites today. These are simpler, more primitive, but in their simple way they also show the desire to learn about the spiritual cosmos that surrounds us. At one particular time — this was about one and a half or two millennia ago — something developed from all the different rituals that were followed above all in Asia and Africa. They fused, as it were. Something was taken from one rite, something else from another, and the fusion of many different rites, above all the Egyptian, Persian rites, resulted in what you know as the Roman Catholic rite today. It is a fusion of all those things. You can see that it is a fusion if you look at the altar, for instance. You need not go very far and you'll see that today's altar is something like a tombstone. Even though there is no dead body beneath it, the form is that of a tombstone. In earlier times people knew that powers arise from a dead body, and this is still reflected in the shape of the altar today.
It is interesting to note that in Roman Catholic churches you also find a hint of the relationship to the sun and to the moon. You'll know that for particularly solemn celebrations the monstrance, the holy of holies, is placed on the altar [Fig. 33], This, gentlemen, is in fact a sun, with the host, conceived as a sun, at the centre of the sun, and down below here the moon, a sign that this rite comes from a time when. people sought to observe sun and moon directly, as I have shown when I told you of the Druid rites. This has been forgotten. When writing came and everything that goes with it, people no longer looked out into the vast spaces of nature. They then looked in a book, and the Gospels are of course also books. But a memorial remains in the sign of sun on moon which we see when the monstrance is placed on the altar.
It is therefore possible to show in every single detail that the Roman Catholic rite in particular goes back to the ancient rites that still related to the great universe. People have completely forgotten this, of course. The situation was that in the first three or four centuries after Christ people everywhere still knew a great deal about this real meaning of the rite, for the present rite was developed in Rome at that time and spread from there. It was made up of many different individual rites. In this part of Switzerland, too, and above all in the region of the Danube, the Mithraic rite was still known. One could see that it still related to the universe. In those early centuries, everything that still survived of the ancient rites was systematically eradicated, eaving only rites that did not show their relationship to the universe. And people look at the Roman Catholic rite today, you see, and it is considered most important that they actually do not understand, that they do not realize that it once related to the sun and the moon. For in ancient days religion and science were one, and art, too, was part of it.
A time did come, of course, when people said to themselves: 'Well, what is the point of it all? Surely it means nothing at all! The festivals, the seasons when particular things need to be done — they can be found in the calendar!' People therefore said it meant nothing. And the iconoclasts came, the image-breakers, Protestantism, the Protestant principle, going against ritual. Reflecting on this, we can now see why on the one hand everything once happened for people through their rites, and how on the other hand they all turned against ritual. At the time of the Druid rites — well, gentlemen, the enthusiasm people sometimes have for some movement or other today simply does not compare with the tremendous enthusiasm people had for their Druid rites in those days. They would have let themselves be stoned or beheaded for those Druid rites. The question is, why? Because they knew that one simply cannot live unless one has proper knowledge of what happens in the universe, one can't celebrate the bull festival at the right time, one can't sow one's grain, one's rye, at the right time.
Later it all became blurred, and then people said: 'But things must have a purpose in life!' Human attitudes to these things differ greatly at different times, and we can only understand this if we realize that things have been happening, such as the matter being completely forgotten, so that today we can only see how things once were from these symbols, as they are called. Understanding is at its weakest where you have symbols in a place, for you do not need symbols if you have the real thing. When an altar was built the way the Druids did in order to observe the sun itself, they would not put an image of the sun on it!
And it is this, for example, which has made certain rites, apart from the Roman Catholic ones, persist to the present day with hardly any change.
You see, this Druid rite was solely connected with agriculture and animal husbandry when it was at its height, for these made up people's lives then. Later on, skilled crafts or trades also developed in areas where until then people had lived solely from the agriculture and animal husbandry which had given their rite its full justification. Tilling the soil and looking after animals was all there was when the Druid cult had its flowering. People dressed in skins, and so on. Craft skills — there were no machines as yet — were such then that everything they made was made to meet a need. If a man had the time, he'd make something he needed to wear, or an object such as a knife made of very hard stone, for example, which he would work on, and so on. The important things were the crops and the animals, and for these, people wanted to know from their gods when they should do particular things. Gradually, however, trade skills became more important. Now you see, gentlemen, skilled trades do not relate as strongly to the starry heavens as do crops and animals. On the other hand, habits had developed, and so a kind of rite was also developed for crafts; it was taken from the ancient rites that related to the heavens.
One of the rites that has persisted and hardly changed at all is Freemasonry. It is all symbol, however. People really no longer know what these symbols refer to. Indeed, when civil engineering came in they applied the rites they habitually used for mason's work also to civil engineering. With architecture there is some point to it, if one wants to do really fine work. The designs are based on what the stars are saying, and so on, if one wants to do proper building work. And so Freemasonry developed. But when the rite developed people no longer knew the meaning of the individual Symbols. And today it is all symbols, with people having no idea what they refer to, and saying the wildest things about them. I think it is fair to say that the more a rite is carefully maintained, the less do people know about things. And the most widely used rites today are really the ones where people understand least of all.
But you see, those earlier people used the rites for their life in the outside world. If we want to have rites again today — we are working on this, on a renewal of Christianity, and there are already some churches under Dr Rittelmeyer 53Friedrich Rittelmeyer, PhD (1872-1938), German Protestant pastor; well-known preacher at Nuremberg from 1902 to 1916, later at the Neue Kirche in Berlin; co-founder and first leader of the Christian Community when this was founded in 1922 (movement for religious renewal). in Germany — well, if you want to do this today it has to mean something a bit different from those ancient rites. For the ancient rites served an immediate purpose; today we simply know these things from calculations in ordinary astronomy — which particular day, 21 March, and so on. The ancients were not able to do that. They had to point to the shadow in their time, as I have described it for you. But today we need something different. What is needed today is that people altogether find a way again to understand anything whatsoever of the things that exist in the spiritual universe. No astronomy, nothing in the world will tell people today what is going on in the universe!
People fall into the greatest possible errors. They'll use telescopes to look at the world of the stars, for example, and they'll see a star when they look in a particular direction. And, gentlemen, if I move the telescope I'll see another star that is in another direction [drawing on the board]. On the other hand people calculate that the stars are so far away that one can no longer see this clearly but has to calculate in light years, which means the speed at which a ray of light travels. 54The distance light travels in a year (at a rate of c. 300,000 km/ s) is approximately 9.46 x 1012km. They calculate the distance travelled by a light ray in a year. This is even more difficult to put in figures than paying for your midday meal with inflation money in Germany today — which is certainly difficult enough to put in figures! But the figure needed to say how fast a light ray moves, the distance it covers in a year, is thousands of millions. A star is so far away that the light would need so and so many light years. And so I turn my telescope in that direction, gentlemen, look into it and see the star. It needs 300,000 light years, let us say, to get here; the light needs that long. Another star may be a very long way off, taking perhaps 600,000 light years. When I look in that direction I am not at all seeing the star as it is now, but only the way it once was. And if I look there, what I see is actually not the reality. The star presents itself, but I am only seeing what it once was, because it took the light 300,000 years to get to me. So I am seeing an object which in reality is not there at all, having taken 300,000 years before it became visible! So you see, looking at the world through a telescope you simply do not see the starry heavens as they are! So that is one thing.
The other is this. People think when they see stars that there is something there. But the truth is that there is nothing there, for the ether actually comes to an end there where we see stars. This is not so with the sun and the moon — with the sun a little bit, but the moon not at all. With a star there is nothing there! There's a hole in the universe. It is indeed remarkable that this is exactly where we seem to be coming together with conventional science. When we established our institutes in Stuttgart, 55Der Kommende Tag Scientific Institute (including a biological department), and Der Kommende Tag Institute of Clinical Medicine. I said that one of the first things we had to do was to show that nothing at all exists in the place where a star is, that a nothing is shining there. It is because there is something all around it there that we see a kind of light in the place where there is nothing. Now you know, we are really poor people with our research institutes, and the Americans are rich. And news has since come from America that in conventional science, too, it has been found that there is really nothing there in the places where the stars are.
Anthroposophy is thus actually working with the most advanced science. But it is easier to judge things with anthroposophy. You know, I am telling you this because you can see from it that people really do not know anything about the universe today. They judge things wrongly all the time. And why is that so?
You see, gentlemen, this is for a particular reason. Imagine this is a human head [drawing] and there's the brain. When someone perceives something on the outside, using his eye, for example, he takes note of it, using his brain to enable him to do so. But inside the brain is a small brain, right back there [Fig. 34]. This is built in quite a different way from the big brain. If you cut through it, it is as if it was made up of leaves. And this is back there.
This small brain does not perceive anything that comes from the outside. We need the big brain — I've made it green here in my drawing — to get impressions of things outside. The small brain perceives nothing that comes from outside. But when someone deepens his inner life — I have shown how to do it in my books — this small brain begins to be particularly active and you get an inner feeling as if this small brain were getting bigger and bigger, as if it were growing. So it grows, and little by little you feel as if you were standing under a tree. This is why Orientals speak o| Buddha under the Bodhi tree. He still experienced this small brain, called the cerebellum, as an organ of perception, and this is something we are rediscovering today. This small brain begins to be active if one does inner work as a human being. You do not perceive the material things that are outside, however, but the spiritual element. You begin to perceive the things of the spirit again with your cerebellum, and the laws and so on that belong to it. These must be part of the rites we create today. The inmost life of the human being needs to be made part of a ritual today because it is this inner part of the human being, this small brain which is separate from the big one, which is the organ that will take him out into the world of the spirit.
Today this way of developing a ritual out of the inmost life of the human being can at most only be a beginning. It was through the Druid rites that people knew how to garland the bull, set the time for the bull festival, walk the bull through the local village so that reproduction would be properly regulated, and if we develop a rite that will serve to develop perception in the spirit sustained by the cerebellum, we shall know what needs to be done in social life. Until then there can only be speculation, people will think things up, will do the kind of thing that is now being done in Russia. When it can be admitted that we must first of all know in the spirit what has to happen in the human world, because it flows from the universe, we will at last have a proper social science, and this will be something willed from the cosmic world that surrounds us.
That is how we must learn to think. And when one sees such things as the ruined stone monuments today, with only traces to show how things once were on Anglesey or in the other places on that coast, in Penmaenmawr where the course was held — yes when one finds such things one can see that much of what we need has been lost to humanity, and today we need new insights particularly when it comes to things of the spirit. We have to have new insights with which to work.
This is what I wanted to say in answer to your question. I think you can see from it that originally a rite was needed just as much as one needs a knife in everyday life, and that later on when it had become useless that it was actually wiped out; yet people would continue with it though they no longer understood it.
I have to go to Stuttgart again, but will be back in a few days. I'll ask them to tell you next week when we can meet again.