Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

From Beetroot to Buddhism
GA 353

VIII. Easter

12 April 1924, Dornach

Good morning, gentlemen. Next week I'll have to be in Bern and therefore won't be able to meet with you. Today I'd really like to speak of something else connected with our discussion of the Easter festival. Or do you have another question, something that is important right now?

Mr Burls: I would have a question, but it is not connected with Easter. There has been a newspaper article recently from Paris in which it says that it is possible to read, to see, with the skin. Could Dr Steiner say something about this? I was really surprised to hear this.

Rudolf Steiner: One has to be careful when something is presented in the form one gets in a newspaper article. It needs to be checked. It it said that some people—though the man says anyone—can be made to see with their skin, to read with some area of their skin.

This is something that has been known for a long time. It can be done with some people by training them to develop the ability to read with their skin, any area of skin. I'd like to use this opportunity to say that we should not be greatly surprised by such things. You have to remember that people do not learn everything they are capable of; they do not develop it. And it is possible to develop some things very quickly if one concentrates on them. It would of course be possible to train all children to read with their fingers by first of all taking individual letters and letting the children feel the paper. The paper is quite different in the parts where there is no letter than in the part where the letter has been put. Imagine that letters, which tend to be slightly raised, have been scraped out of the paper. Surely there is no reason why one should then not be able to read them quite easily! You can also read letters cut from wood with your eyes closed, and all one has to do is to refine the talent a little.

You see, when I was a boy I practised something that few people practise—to write with a pencil held between the big toe and its neighbour. You can learn to do that. We are able to learn all these things which otherwise we do not learn, and this develops certain abilities; these are refined and lead to something people think they ought to be amazed at. But it is not at all amazing. It is merely a matter of developing the sense of touch. We are able to use the sense of touch with any part of the body. And just as we are able to perceive the prick of a needle so are we able to perceive the fine scratches that make the letters. This, then, is the method for developing such things.

It does not, however, quite meet the case, for the man maintains that he is able to develop the ability to read with the skin in anybody. The way the article is written does not allow us to check every detail. Once a scientific basis has been given it will be easier to say if it is true that you can read a page in a book someone has put on your belly. We have to find out if it is a matter of developing extremely subtle perception, a subtle sense of touch, or if the man made it all up. The article does not show what lies behind it. I did not feel all that surprised at the matter, for I can imagine that it would be possible. What did surprise me was the silly remark the journalists have added, which is that if this were really true it should have been discovered long ago. Can you imagine anyone saying, for instance when the telephone was invented: 'If it were really true someone would have discovered it long ago and humanity would have known about it for a long time'? I've been more surprised that people could say such a thing than I have been about the matter itself. That is not all that amazing, for human beings can learn a great deal where their organs of touch and sensation are concerned. People simply do not notice what happens, and that is because they are able to focus their eyes on something in forming an opinion about objects. It is possible, for example, to train one's fingers and make them able to gain subtle perceptions of all kinds of things.

A genuine scientific approach has to be used to judge if when the man says that he can make any part of the body able to see this needs years of training or not. I have read German, English and French newspaper reports on this and it is impossible to say if the man is mad, telling stories or taking a genuinely scientific approach. That is the situation.

Now there is something else I want to tell you about Easter. Easter relates so well to what we have been saying about the Mystery of Golgotha because, as you know, it is a movable feast. It is celebrated at a different time each year. It fluctuates. Why does it do so? Because the date is set according to cosmic rather than earthly standards. It is set by asking oneself the date of the first day of spring, which, of course, is always on the 21st of March. Easter is never put before that date. One waits for the next full moon and the first Sunday after this. That will be the date set for Easter. The first full moon may be on the 22nd of March, and in that case the following Sunday will be Easter Sunday, which would be very early. The next full moon may, however, also be 29 days after the 21st of March. If we have a full moon on the 19th of March, for instance, the first day of spring follows this, and the next full moon will be 28 days later. The next Sunday four weeks later will then be Easter Sunday, taking us well into April. Easter may thus fall on any date between the 21st of March and the end of April.

The question is, gentlemen, why is the date of Easter set by heavenly standards? It is because, as I have told you, people knew in the past that moon and sun have an influence on everything on earth.

Consider a plant growing in the soil. If this is the soil [Fig. 3] and you want to have a plant, you take a tiny seed and put it in the soil. The whole plant, the whole life of the plant is concentrated in this tiny seed. What becomes of the seed? First of all the root. The whole of life expands into the root. Then it contracts again and grows in contracted form, becoming a stem. It then expands again and leaves develop. The flower follows. And then it contracts again in the seed which will wait for the following year. We thus have expansion, contraction, expansion, contraction, expansion, contraction in the plant.

Every time the plant expands it is the sun which draws forth a leaf, for instance. Every time the plant contracts, being either seed or stem, it is the moon which causes the contraction. The moon is thus active there, between the leaves. If we have a plant therefore where the leaves have spread and the root has spread we can say it is first, in the seed, the moon, then the sun; moon again, sun again, moon again, sun and in conclusion moon. We can thus see sun actions alternating with moon actions, powers of sun and powers of moon. Looking at the field full of growing plants all around us we thus see the actions of sun and moon. As I have told you, when human beings come into the world, the configuration of their physical bodies depends on the moon; their inner powers, the capacity to change themselves, depend on the sun. I spoke of this in connection with the Mystery of Golgotha.

Fig. 3

You see, this is something people would have known in the past, but it has been forgotten. People would say to themselves: 'When do we have the most powerful activity going on in the spring that enables plants to thrive and grow to be most beneficial for humanity?' 'When sun and moon work together in the right way.' This is the case when the full moon sends all its rays to the earth for the first time, supporting the sun's rays. This is when sun and moon come together and work together most effectively, the sun having its greatest power in the spring and the moon at its greatest power every four weeks. Easter thus came on the Sunday dedicated to the sun, after the first full moon in spring. The people who set the date for Easter in the past knew that this was something to be fixed as the beginning of spring after the winter solstice.

Easter does not have its origin in Christian times but in an ancient pagan festival, a festival I have mentioned to you before and which I'll now describe more fully. It was the feast of Adonis. It was celebrated in the art, educational and religious centres I have spoken of as the mysteries. Adonis was a kind of image people had of the element in man that is soul and spirit. And people would say that this element of soul and spirit in human beings was also in accord with the whole world. We have to note, however, that the pagans, who still took account of the whole situation in the realm of the spirit, originally celebrated the feast in the autumn.

This autumn feast of Adonis would be celebrated as follows. The image of this eternal, immortal aspect of the human being, of the human soul and spirit, would be immersed in a pond—or in the sea if it was on the coast—and left there for three days. People would sing laments and dirges as the image was lowered into the water. This was a solemn moment, as solemn as the occasions when people had seen a member of their family or a friend die—a real celebration of death. This was always on a day that we would call Friday today. The term used in German, Karfreitag, only came up when Christianity reached central Europe; it is based on chara, which is to lament. The English call the day Good Friday.52Good Friday. Good is not Indo-European but an entirely Germanic word derived from gath- (as in 'gather' and 'together'), to 'bring together', meaning 'brought together in the right way'. The kara in the German Karfreitag relates to English 'care', meaning 'sorrow'. Also, Middle English chari, 'careful', 'sorrowful' derives from Old English cearig, sorrowful. Translator. If there was no body of water in the region they would make an artificial one into which they would lower the image, which was a statue, lifting it out again after three days, that is, after the Sunday. So you see, gentlemen, it was a real feast of death. When the statue was raised again hymns of joy would be sung. For three days, emotions of deepest mourning had lived in human souls, and after three days the greatest joy. Those hymns of joy would always be about the god having risen again.

The question is, gentlemen, what was the meaning of this feast? I must stress again that originally it was celebrated in the autumn.

I have told you on other occasions that when human beings die they put aside their physical body. Family and friends will mourn and, depending on the prevailing mood, the mourning feast would naturally come to be like the one when the Adonis statue was lowered into the water. Another aspect of it was missing, however. I have told you that a human being looks back on his life on earth for three days after death. He has put aside his physical body but he still has an ether body. This grows bigger and bigger and finally evaporates in the world. After that the human being is only in his astral body and his I.

The people who created the feast of Adonis said to themselves: 'People should know that a human being does not merely die when his physical body dies but rises again in the world of the spirit after three days.' The feast of Adonis was created to remind people of this year after year. When it was celebrated in the autumn, they would say: 'You see, nature is dying. The trees are dropping their leaves; the earth is covered with snow; it grows cold and sharp winds come; the earth loses its fertility; it looks just as a human being does when he dies.' When it is the earth, however, we must wait until spring for it to rise again, whereas the human being rises again in soul and spirit after three days. This had to come to awareness, and therefore the feast of death was followed immediately by the feast of resurrection, but in autumn, when it would be possible to show that human beings are the opposite of nature. Nature has to submit and remains dead throughout the winter, for it is but nature. The human being lives on in the world of the spirit after death, which is the opposite of nature. When the leaves drop, snow is falling and the cold winds blow, people must be made aware that they are different from nature, for when they die they rise again after three days.

It was a lovely feast which was celebrated throughout antiquity. People would gather at the mystery centres and remain there for the whole period of their Easter. They would join in the lamentations and on the third day they would know: Every soul, every I and every astral body rises again in the world of the spirit three days after death. Taking part in the feast they would enter into the world of the spirit, turning away from the physical world during Easter. This was possible then, for the times were different from the way they are now. Now people celebrate Easter in spring, and if they are country people they are also busy with other things. The old Easter festival, the feast of Adonis, was celebrated when the crops had all been gathered, the grapes had been picked and people were going to have a rest through the winter. This was a time when they wanted to wake up in the spirit. And so they celebrated the feast of Adonis. Adonis would have different names in different places, but the feast was celebrated in all areas where people had the old religions. For this was how all the old religions spoke to people of the soul's immortality.

In the early Christian centuries Easter, too, was not celebrated the way we do now. It slowly changed to what it is today in the third and fourth centuries. Then people no longer understood anything; all they wanted to do was look at nature. They were only concerned with the natural world. And then they said: 'How can we celebrate the resurrection in the autumn? Nothing is resurrected at that time!' They no longer knew that man rises again and so they said to themselves: 'Nothing rises in autumn, when snow covers everything; all things rise in spring, so let us have the Easter festival in spring.' This is one of the fruits of materialism, though a materialism in which people still looked up to the heavens and set the date of Easter according to sun and moon. Materialism had already developed in the third and fourth centuries, but a materialism where people still looked out into the cosmos, not the earthworm materialism where people look only at the soil. It is an earthworm materialism because earthworms are always underground, emerging only when it rains.

Modern people look only at the things that are of the earth. In the early times materialism was still of a kind that people did believe the millions of stars to have an influence on the human being. But this, too, has been forgotten from the fifteenth century onwards. Easter then became a spring festival. Christians were concerned to get rid of all the old truths. I mentioned this when I spoke of the Mystery of Golgotha. They desired to get rid of the old truths. In the eighth and ninth centuries people then no longer knew that the coming of the Christ had anything to do with the sun.

You see, it is rather interesting to consider two Roman emperors of the fourth century. Constantine I,53Constantine I, the Great (285?–337), Emperor of Rome (306- 37). a vain man, founded Constantinople. He had a treasure that had originally been taken from Troy to Rome, carried from Rome to Constantinople and buried in the ground. Above it he built a column that supported a statue of the ancient pagan god Apollo. He sent to the Orient for wood—said to be taken from the cross on which Christ died—and had a radiant halo made of it. And people were supposed to see Constantine in that halo. From then on Constantine was venerated as the figure on the column built over the greatest jewel Rome possessed. He arranged things in an outer way so that people would no longer know of the secrets of the cosmos, or that the Christ was connected with the sun.

The other emperor, Julian,54See note 22. had been trained in the mysteries which still existed at that time, though they found it difficult to survive. Struggling to survive for centuries, they were later eradicated by the emperor Justinian.55Justinian I (483–565), Byzantine emperor 527-65. They were no longer wanted; Christians hated them like poison. Julian had still been trained in the mysteries, however, and therefore knew that there was not just one sun but that there were three suns. People were enraged to hear him say there were three suns, for that was a secret belonging to the ancient mysteries.

You see, the sun is first of all the yellow or white physical body you see. But it has a soul, and that is the second sun. A third sun also exists—the sun of the spirit. Just as human beings have body, soul and spirit, so does the sun have body, soul and spirit. Julian spoke of three suns, wanting it to be recognized in Christianity that the Christ came from the sun and entered into the human being called Jesus.

The Church did not want people to know this. Churchmen did not want people to know about Christ Jesus, but only the things they decreed. Julian was therefore murdered during a campaign in Asia, so as to get rid of him. He was always called Julian the Apostate, which means dissenter or heretic. He wanted people to see the link that existed between Christianity and the old wisdom, believing that Christianity would fare better if it had wisdom and not only the decrees of priests.

At the time when Easter was moved to the spring, people still knew it had to do with a resurrection. They no longer knew about the resurrection of the human being, but they celebrated the resurrection that occurred in nature. Gradually this, too, was forgotten in places where Easter was still celebrated though people no longer knew its significance. Today we have reached a point where people ask themselves: 'Why does the date of Easter have to be set by the sun, moon and stars? It should simply be the first Sunday in April, for that would make bookkeeping much easier.' People would like to set the date on a commercial basis. The people who want to do this are really more honest than those who set the date according to the cosmos though they no longer know why. It is more honest to say, if that is your point of view: 'We can do without the date being set this way.' The sad thing is that we can only be honest because no one knows the real situation any more. Today it is our task to make people aware again that the spirit is the major influence in everything.

In earlier times, therefore, people would wait for the first full moon in autumn and celebrate the feast of Adonis on the following Sunday. The date of the feast was thus set by the moon and other heavenly bodies. And people knew that when the heavens sent snow—the feast of Adonis was always celebrated between the end of September and the end of October—this was the best time to think of the resurrection of the human being. They did not need a resurrection in nature. In the early days of holding the Easter festival it was at least still known that the feast celebrated death and resurrection. This, too, has been lost. We have to say, therefore, that it really is necessary for us to remember the original meaning of the festivals when we celebrate them, for we need to find the spirit again. To find the spirit it will not do to celebrate Christmas and Easter in an unthinking way. We have to see clearly that they must have real meaning.

We can't turn the world upside down, of course. People would not be keen to celebrate Easter in the autumn. But we can see that it has meaning if people remember: 'Human beings lay aside their physical body when they go through death and look back on their life on earth. They then lay aside the ether body and are pure spirit and soul in the world of the spirit, having their resurrection in that world. This also gives the Mystery of Golgotha deeper meaning. It showed in outer reality what had always been shown in image form in the feast of Adonis. The ancients had an image. The Christians have the historical event. But the historical event took the same course as the old image cult. At the feast of Adonis, the image would be lowered into the water and resurrected after three days. It was a true Easter festival. Then, however, the event always presented as an image became reality. The Christ was in the man Jesus, who died. He rose again in the way I have told you. And this is what we should remember today; this is the Easter festival we should celebrate year by year.

This would have been exactly right to begin with. For why did people always have an image at the ancient feast of Adonis? Because they needed something they could perceive with the senses. It was exactly at the time when the world was still seen in the spirit that people wanted to have an image they could perceive with the senses. But when the Christ had gone through the Mystery of Golgotha, they thought there was no longer any need for an image. It was then considered right to remember what had happened there in mind and spirit only. Easter should be celebrated more in mind and spirit. People should not produce a pagan image but remember in heart and mind only. This, it was thought—and the mysteries still continued at the time of Christ Jesus—would make the Easter festival spiritual.

After all, what was the ancient feast of Adonis really about? You see, as Europeans you cannot really get a clear picture of how the pagans of old celebrated their feasts. If such a feast were to be celebrated in your area you would say: 'But it is only an image, and indeed an image for people initiated in the mysteries; but the statue would be fetched out and immersed every year for the populace at large.' This has led to something called fetishism. A statue like that was a fetish, a statue with a god inside; veneration of such an object would be called fetishism. This was, of course, something that should be given up. Something of this has, however, survived in Christianity. For the monstrance which I drew for you the last time, with the holy of holies placed on it, is venerated as Christ in person in the Roman Catholic Church. They say that bread and wine change physically into the body and blood of Christ. This is something left over not from enlightened paganism, where people would see the spirit behind everything, but from a paganism that had deteriorated, with people taking the statue for the god.

You see, gentlemen, I say you have no idea of this, for today one has to have real inner experience of such things if one is to really see how strong people grow in their belief in such an idol. I knew a very clever professor once—you still get clever people in the academic world; they are really all of them clever, but modern science does not help them to find the spirit. This man was a Russian travelling from the East, from Japan, through Siberia. In the middle of Siberia he began to feel rather uncomfortable. He felt lonely and abandoned. So what did he do? Something I am sure you or anyone living in the West would never do, but he was half Asiatic, however learned he might be. He made himself a wooden idol which he took with him as he continued on his travels, and he truly venerated it. When I got to know him he was terribly anxious and twitchy. This was because of the wooden idol. You simply cannot imagine what it means to venerate such a wooden idol.

The mysteries that still existed at the time when Christianity began were designed to help people come closer to the spirit. Things that had previously happened before people's eyes at the feast of Adonis were now to come alive only as memories, through prayer.

Instead of becoming spiritual, the whole unfortunately became highly materialistic; it became superficial and a matter of form. During the third and fourth centuries it gradually evolved that the priests would pray on Good Friday, and the people would be put in all kinds of moods. And at three in the afternoon, the time when the Christ was said to have died, the bells would cease ringing. All was quiet. And then the crucifix would be lowered into the water, again an external act, just like the old feast of Adonis; later they would merely cover it with something. Three days later Easter would be the resurrection festival. It is the same, however, as the old feast of Adonis. The very way in which it is celebrated has gradually brought it about that souls were governed from Rome. In some areas, for instance where I was born—I don't know if the same thing is done here as well—it is like this. On Good Friday, when the Christ lies on his bier, the young men go around carrying rattles, which are instruments used instead of bells, swinging their rattles and saying:

We swing our rattles, here by the dome.
The bells are going to Rome.

It is thus particularly at Easter that everyone can clearly see how everything tends towards Rome.

Today it is our task to leave materialism behind and learn to see things in the spirit again, see Easter, too, in terms of the spirit. For you see, why do we celebrate Easter? Every year we are able to remember at Easter that when a human being goes through death the chara, the lament for the dead, is sung to remind people that the individual is leaving the physical world. But he only looks back to this world for three days; then he lays aside his second body, the ether body, and rises again in the world of the spirit as an I and astral body. This must also be remembered. It would be bleak, brutal, if people were to break into joyful song three days after someone has died. But we can remember those hymns of joy when we think in general terms of the immortality of the human soul which is resurrected in the world of the spirit after three days.

Many strange things have evolved from this. You see, Easter is connected with every single human death because of this. And we should really say to ourselves of every such occasion: 'We mourn; but Easter is coming. Then we shall remember that every human being rises again in the world of the spirit after death.' You will know, I am sure, that today the festival of remembrance of all who have died is celebrated as All Souls in the autumn. All Saints was made to precede it when people no longer knew that Easter was part of it. These things go together. They have been torn apart and are more than six months apart now. The way the year is organized today one can no longer understand what really lies behind it all.

You see the situation is that everything on earth does not go by the earth but by the heavens. We are surprised if it snows at Easter, for there really shouldn't be any more snow at that time and the plants should be sprouting from the ground, for we know that Easter is intended to be a festival for remembering the resurrection and man's immortality.

Seen in this light, Easter will again be a festival celebrated in our hearts and minds, with people remembering that it relates to something connected with the human being. Easter will then be a festival of strength and people will know why they need it so that they may remember. Today we only know that man relates to the seasons because he must put on winter clothes in winter and summer clothes in summer, that he feels hot in summer and cold in winter. This is only the material aspect. People do not know that when spring comes spiritual powers draw the plants from the soil and that it is also spiritual powers that destroy everything in autumn. When this is understood, people will find life everywhere in nature, they will find the whole of it full of life. Most people talk nonsense about the natural world today. They will tear a plant from the ground and botanize, knowing nothing about it. It would be a nonsense to tear out a hair and describe it, for a hair can only grow on an animal or a human being; it does not arise by itself. You can't put something on a lifeless piece of rock and say a hair is to grow there. It needs a basis in life. Plants are the hairs of the earth, for the earth is a living organism. And just as human beings need air to live, so does the earth need the spiritual light of the stars. It inhales this in order to live. And just as a person walks around on the earth, so does the earth move around in the cosmos. It lives in the whole of the universe. The earth is a living entity.

We may say, therefore, that the least we can achieve when it comes to Easter is to realize the earth itself is a living entity. It grows young when it lets plants sprout, just as a child is young when the baby hair grows. An old man loses his hair, just as the earth loses its plants in autumn. That is a life which merely has a different rhythm, youth in spring, old age in autumn, youth again, and old age again. It merely takes longer in human beings. And everything in the cosmos really lives like this. Thinking of Easter, think that this festival can be something for us—at least at the present time—where we say to ourselves as we see nature coming alive again: 'It is not true that all of it is dead. It is merely that life forms must go through death. Life is the primal element and always conquers death. Easter exists to remind us of life's victory over death and thus gives us strength.' If people are able to gain strength again in this way, they will also be able to use common sense and improve external conditions. Not the way it is generally done today. But we must first of all have this spiritual quality in the science of the spirit, so that we may be in harmony again with the world of the spirit which is also alive and not dead. Let me then wish you a truly beautiful Easter, gentlemen, hoping it will be as beautiful in your hearts as the spring flowers that grow from the soil. After Easter we'll return to scientific questions.

What we should feel about Easter is this, therefore. Human beings can take up their work again joyfully and with renewed zest. I think it is often not possible for people to look forward to their work, but perhaps this is a place where we can. Here we may have occasion to look forward even to our work! I very much wanted to see you again, gentlemen, to tell you this and to wish you a truly beautiful Easter in the spirit that can be gained from the science of the spirit. I'll see you again after Easter.