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Star Wisdom, Moon Religion, Sun Religion
GA 353

II. The Easter Festival and Its Background

12 April 1924, Dornach

(The first few paragraphs contain the answer given by Dr. Steiner to a question. The lecture on the Easter Festival begins on page 25.)

Dr. Steiner: As I shall be away next week I wanted to speak to you to-day about the Easter Festival. Or have you some other question of importance at the moment?

Questioner: I had a question but it has nothing to do with the Easter Festival.

An article in a recent Parisian newspaper stated that it is possible to be taught to read and to see with the skin. Would Dr. Steiner say something about this? I was very astonished by it.

Dr. Steiner: A great deal of caution is necessary when information about a matter of this kind comes from a newspaper and careful investigation is called for. The article says that certain people ... the man really means everyone ... can be trained to see with the skin, to read with certain parts of the skin.

Now this has been known for a long time. It is possible to train certain people to read with some part of their skin. But let me say at once that such a thing is really not so very astonishing. Human beings do not by any means learn everything that they could learn; they do not develop all their powers. Many faculties could be developed quite quickly by setting to work in earnest. Children, for example, could all be trained to read with their finger-tips by making them touch and feel letters on a piece of paper. In the blank spaces between the letters the paper is quite different to the touch. If you were to make letters which stand out a little from the paper it would be quite easy to read them! Letters made of wood could be read by touch with the eyes shut. It is only a matter of refining this faculty, making it more delicate.

When I was a boy I trained myself to do something rather unusual, namely, to hold a pencil between the big toe and the next toe and write with it. All these things that one does not generally learn can be learnt and then certain faculties will develop. These faculties can become so delicate and sensitive that the result is quite astonishing. But it really need not be so; what has happened is that the power of touch has been greatly enhanced, and every part of the body has this power. Just as we become aware of a jab from a nail, so we can become aware of the tiny roughnesses caused by letters on paper.

This, however, does not quite cover the case you mentioned, for the man claims that he can develop in everyone the faculty of being able to read with the skin. From the statement as it stands, the details could not all be put to the test and it would be better to wait for scientific confirmation before believing that if a page of a book were placed, say, over your stomach, you would eventually be able to read it. One must be able to discriminate whether it is a matter of a delicate and highly sensitive faculty of touch or whether there is something bogus about it—and this cannot be discovered from the newspaper report. I myself was not at all astonished at the statement because I can well imagine that such a thing might be possible; but what did astonish me was the stupid comment of the journalists, who said that if such a thing were really true, then it must have been discovered a long time ago.—I ask you, how can anyone say about the telephone, for example: If this is really true, then it must have been known for a very long time! This kind of comment astonished me far more than the phenomenon itself. The phenomenon itself is not so very astonishing because a human being can do a great deal towards developing his organs of feeling and touch. Seeing with the eyes is not everything. The fingers, for example, can be developed into most delicate organs of perception. And so reliable scientific investigation would be necessary in order to prove whether or not, after years of training, the man can make every part of the body able to see. I have read reports in German, English and French newspapers and I find it impossible to gather from them whether the man in question is a lunatic, a humbug or a serious scientist.

Now let us think about the Easter Festival in connection with the Mystery of Golgotha. As you know, Easter is a movable festival—every year it is celebrated on a different date. Why is the date variable? Because it is determined, not by terrestrial but by celestial conditions. It is fixed by asking: When does spring begin? March 21st is always the beginning of spring and the Easter Festival takes place after this. Then there is a period of waiting until the Moon comes to the full, then another pause until the following Sunday, and Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full Moon after the beginning of spring. The first full Moon can be on 22nd March, in which case Easter is very early; or the first full Moon can be a whole twenty-nine days after 21st March. If, for example, there is a full Moon on 19th March, spring has not yet begun and then after some twenty-eight days the Moon is again full; the Easter Festival in that year will fall on the next Sunday—quite late in April.

Now why has the Easter Festival been fixed according to conditions in the heavens? This is connected with what I have been telling you. In earlier times men knew that the Moon and the Sun have an influence upon everything that exists on the Earth.

Think of a growing plant. (Sketch on the blackboard.) If you want to grow a plant, you take a tiny seed and lay it in the soil. The whole plant, the whole life of the plant is compressed into this tiny seed. What comes out of this seed? First, the root. The life expands into the root. But then it contracts again and grows, still in a state of contraction, into a stem. Then it expands and the leaves come and then the blossom. Then there is again contraction into the seed and the seed waits until the following year. In the plant, therefore, we see a process of expansion—contraction; expansion—contraction.

Whenever the plant expands, it is the Sun which draws out the leaf or the blossom; whenever the plant contracts (in the seed or the stem) the contraction is due to the forces of the Moon. Between the leaves, the Moon is working. So that when we take a plant with spreading leaves and root, we can say, beginning with the seed: Moon—then Sun—again Moon—again Sun—again Moon, and so forth ... with the Moon at the end of the process. In every plant we see Sun forces and Moon forces working in alternation. In a field of growing plants we behold the deeds of Sun and Moon. I told you that the fashioning and shaping of the physical human being when he comes into the world, is dependent on the Moon;1See the previous lecture. inner forces which make it possible for him to transform his own character, come from the Sun. I told you this when we were speaking about the Mystery of Golgotha.

In earlier times these things were known but they have all been forgotten. Men asked themselves: When is there present in spring the influence that does most to promote the thriving and growth of vegetation? It is when the influences of Sun and Moon together are at their strongest. This is the case when the rays of the first full Moon after the beginning of spring shine down upon the Earth, adding strength to the rays of the Sun. The influences of Sun and Moon are mutually enhanced when the springtime Sun at its strongest works in conjunction with the Moon which is also at its strongest when its cycle of four weeks has been completed. The time for Easter, therefore, is the Sunday—the day dedicated to the Sun—after the first full Moon of spring. The date of the Easter Festival was based on knowledge relating to the winter solstice and the subsequent beginning of spring.

Now the Easter Festival did not begin in the Christian era before the rise of Christianity there was an old pagan festival—the Adonis Festival as it was called. What was this Adonis Festival? It was instituted by the Mysteries—those places for the cultivation of art, learning and religion which I have described to you recently. And Adonis was personified in a kind of effigy or image, representing the spirit-and-soul in man. It was known, furthermore, that man's life of spirit-and-soul is united with the whole universe. The ancient pagan peoples took account of spiritual conditions and celebrated this Adonis Festival in the autumn. The old Easter Festival—which in a certain way resembled our own—fell in the autumn.2Dr. Steiner spoke in similar terms in four lectures given at Dornach, 19th–24th April, 1924.

The Adonis Festival was celebrated in the following way.—The image of the eternal, immortal part of man was submerged in a pond, or in the sea if the place happened to be near the coast, and left there for three days, to the accompaniment of songs of mourning and lamentation. The submerging of the image was the occasion of solemnities resembling those which might be associated with the death of a member of a very united family. It was essentially a ceremony which had to do with Death, and it always took place on the day of the week we now call Friday. The name “Karfreitag” originated when the custom found its way into the Germanic regions of Middle Europe. “Kar” comes from “Chara” (Old High German) meaning mourning. It was therefore the Friday of sadness or mourning.

So little is known of these things to-day that in England this Friday is called “Good” Friday, whereas in olden time it was the Friday of Death, the Friday of mourning and lamentation. It was a festival connected with Death, dedicated to Adonis. And in places where there was no water, an artificial pond was contrived into which the image or effigy was plunged and taken out after three days, i.e., after the Sunday.

The image was taken out of the water amid songs of jubilation and rejoicing. For three days, therefore, the people were filled with deep sorrow and after these three days with ecstatic joy. And the theme of their songs of jubilation was always: “The God has come to us again!”

What did this Festival signify?—I must emphasise again that originally it was celebrated in the autumn. On other occasions I have told you that when the human being dies, the physical body is laid aside. Those who have been bereaved mourn in their own way for the dead with solemnities not unlike those which accompanied the submerging of the Adonis image. But there is something else as well. For a period of three days after death, the human being looks back upon his earthly life. His physical body has been laid aside but his ether-body is still with him. The ether-body expands and expands and finally dissolves into the universe. The human being then lives on in the astral body and the “I.”

The purpose of those who instituted the Adonis Festival was to make men realise that the human being does not only die but after three days comes to life again in the spiritual world. And in order that this might be brought every year to men's consciousness, the Adonis Festival was instituted. In the autumn it was said: Lo, nature is dying; the trees lose their leaves, the earth is covered with snow; winds are cold and biting; the earth loses her fertility and looks just as the physical human being looks in death. We must wait until spring for the earth to come to life again, whereas the human being comes to life again in soul and spirit after three days. Of this men must be made conscious! ... A festival of Death was therefore followed immediately by a festival of Resurrection!—But this festival took place in the autumn—the season when it is easy to realise the contrast between man and nature. Nature is about to consolidate her life; she will lie dead through the whole winter. But in contrast to nature, man lives on after death in the spiritual world. When nature sheds her leaves, is covered with snow, when cold winds blow, then is the time to make man conscious: You are different from nature, inasmuch as when you die, after three days you live again!

It was a most beautiful festival, celebrated through long ages of antiquity. Men gathered together at the places of the Mysteries for the period of this festival, joining in the songs of mourning; and then, on the third day, the consciousness came to them that every soul, every “I” and every astral body come to life again in the spiritual world three days after death. Their attention was turned away from the physical world and their hearts and minds were drawn to the spiritual world. The very season of the year played a part, for in those days the festival did not take place in the spring when the people who lived on the land were occupied with other tasks. The old Easter Festival, the Adonis Festival, was celebrated when the fruit had been harvested and the grape picking was over, when winter was approaching. It was the appropriate season for an awakening in the Spirit, and so the Adonis Festival was celebrated. The name varied in different territories but the festival was celebrated in all ancient religions. For all ancient religions spoke in this way of the immortality of the human soul.

Now in the first centuries of the Christian era itself, the Easter Festival was not celebrated at the time it is celebrated to-day; not until the third or fourth century did it become customary to celebrate Easter in the spring. But by that time men had lost all understanding of the spiritual world; they had eyes only for nature, concerned themselves only with nature. And so they said: It is not possible to celebrate resurrection in the autumn, when nothing comes to life!—They no longer knew that the human being comes to life again in the spiritual world, and so they said: In the autumn there is no resurrection; the snow covers everything. Whereas in the spring, all things burst into life. Spring, therefore, is the proper time for the Easter Festival.—This kind of thinking was already an outcome of materialism, although it was a materialism which still looked up to the heavens and fixed the Easter Festival according to Sun and Moon. By the third and fourth centuries of the Christian era, materialism was already in evidence but at least it still looked out into the universe; it was not the “earth-worm” materialism which has eyes only for the Earth and has been described as such because the earthworms live under the soil and only come up when it rains. And so it is with the men of modern times; they look simply at what is on the Earth. When the Easter Festival began to be celebrated in the spring, even materialism still believed that the myriad stars have an influence upon human beings. But from the fifteenth century onwards, that too was forgotten. At the time when the Easter Festival was transferred to the spring, certain attempts were being made by the Christians to sweep away the ancient truths.—I mentioned this when we were speaking about the Mystery of Golgotha.—By the eighth or ninth centuries, men had not the remotest inkling that Christ's Coming was in any way connected with the Sun.

In the fourth century there were two Emperors, one a little later than the other. The first was Constantine, the founder of Constantinople and an extremely vain man. He ordered a certain treasure that had once been brought from Troy to Rome to be transferred to Constantinople and buried in the ground under a pillar which had upon it a statue of Apollo, the old pagan god; then he sent to the East for wood said to have been taken from the Cross of Christ, and caused a wreath to be carved, with rays springing from it. But in the figure crowned with this wooden wreath, people were expected to behold Constantine! And so from then onwards, veneration was paid to Constantine, standing there on the pillar that had been erected over the precious Roman treasure. By external measures, you see, he brought it about that men ceased to know anything about cosmic secrets, about the fact that Christ is connected with the Sun.

The other Emperor, Julian, had received instruction in the Mysteries which still survived, although under very difficult conditions. Later on they were exterminated altogether by the Emperor Justinian but for centuries already their existence had been highly precarious. They were not wanted; Christianity was their bitter enemy. Julian the Emperor, however, had received instruction in the Mysteries and he knew: There is not only one Sun, but there are three Suns3See the lecture: The Threefold Sun and the Risen Christ. Given in London, 24th April, 1922.—This announcement caused an uproar, for it was a secret of the Mysteries.

When you look at the Sun you see a whitish-yellowish orb or body—it is the physical Sun. But this Sun has a soul: it is the second Sun. And then there is the third Sun: the spiritual .Sun. Like man, the Sun has body, soul and spirit. Julian spoke of three Suns and maintained that in Christianity men should be taught: Christ came from the Sun and then, as Sun Being, entered into the man Jesus.

Now the Churches did not wish this knowledge to be in the possession of men. The Churches did not want the real facts about Christ Jesus to come to light, but only such knowledge as was authorised by them. Julian the Emperor was treacherously murdered on a journey to Asia, in order that the world might be rid of him. That is why Julian is always known as the Apostate, the heretic: Julian the Heretic! He desired that the connection between Christianity and the ancient truths should be maintained, for he thought: It will be easier for Christianity to make progress if it contains the truths of the ancient wisdom than if men are allowed to believe only what the priests tell them. So you see, at the time when the Easter Festival was transferred to the spring, knowledge that this festival is connected with resurrection still survived. Although knowledge of the resurrection of man had been lost, the resurrection of nature continued to be celebrated in a festival. But even that has been forgotten in places where Easter is still celebrated without any inkling of what it really signifies; and to-day people have come to the point of asking: Why need Sun and Moon have anything to do with the date of Easter? If Easter were always to fall on the first Sunday in April, book-keeping would be greatly simplified! The suggestion, therefore, is that the date should be determined by commercial considerations! ... As a matter of fact, the people who clamour for this are more honest than the others who insist that conditions in the heavens shall still be the determining factor, without having the slightest notion of what this means. Those who say from their own point of view that conditions in the heavens need not be taken into account are really the more honest. But the sad thing is that people can only be honest about this because they know nothing of the real connections. What we have to do to-day is to emphasise that the Spiritual must always be the decisive factor!

And so in olden times men waited for the last full Moon after the beginning of autumn and celebrated the Adonis Festival on the preceding Sunday. Sun and Moon were taken into account but it was known that conditions are quite different, indeed the reverse, when snow will soon be falling from the heavens. The old Easter Festival, the Adonis Festival, always took place between the end of September and the end of October. This was the best time to be reminded of the resurrection of man, because at that season of the year there was no question of a resurrection in nature. This early festival, therefore, was known to be connected with Death and also with Resurrection ... but this knowledge too has been lost.

It is important to be reminded of the ancient significance of these festivals, for we have again to find the way to the Spirit. We must not celebrate Christmas and Easter thoughtlessly but realise that such festivals have deep meaning.

Now the world cannot be turned topsy-turvy; nobody would wish the Easter Festival to be transferred to the autumn. But it is good to be reminded that when a man dies, he lays aside his physical body and looks back upon his earthly life; then he lays aside the ether-body and comes to life again in the spiritual world as a being of spirit-and-soul. Such knowledge can greatly deepen our understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha.

The Mystery of Golgotha presents in external reality what was always presented in an image at the Adonis Festival. The men of antiquity had an image; Christians have the actual, historical event. But in the historical event there are certain points of resemblance with the imagery used in olden times. At the Adonis Festival the image of Adonis was submerged and raised after three days. It was a true Easter Festival.—But then, what had once been presented as an image, came to pass as an actual happening. The Christ was in Jesus. He died and rose to life again. And at Easter now, this is all that is remembered.

In a way, there is a good side to this. For why was an image always set before the people at the Adonis Festival? It was because they needed something that their senses could perceive. Although they still looked at the universe in a spiritual way, in the material world they needed an image. But when Christ had passed through the Mystery of Golgotha there was to be no image; men were called upon to remember purely in the Spirit what had happened at that time. The Easter Festival was to be an essentially spiritual celebration. Men must no longer make a pagan image but perform the act of remembrance entirely within the life of soul. It was thought—and Mysteries still existed in the days of Christ Jesus—that the Easter Festival would in this way be spiritualised.

Think once again of the old Adonis Festival. It is impossible in present-day Europe to realise what such festivals meant to the ancient pagan peoples. You yourselves would say: This is only an image—and those at least who had been initiated in the Mysteries would have regarded it as such. But every year the statue of the god was displayed to large numbers of the people and then submerged. This gave rise to what is known as fetishism. A statue of such a kind was a fetish, an idol, a god; worship of such an object was called fetishism—and that of course is undesirable. And yet in a certain respect, an element of the same tendency has remained in Christianity, for the Monstrance with the Sanctissimum, the Sacred Host, is worshipped in Catholicism as the Real Christ. It is said that the Bread and the Wine are transformed, in the physical sense too, into the Body and Blood of Christ. This is a survival, not of enlightened pagan wisdom which beheld the Spiritual behind every sense-phenomenon, but of the fetish-worship in which the statue was taken to be the god himself.

Nowadays—unless examples have occurred in one's own experience—it is almost impossible to picture the intensity with which people believed in these images of the god I myself once knew a very clever professor—all such men are clever, only modern science does not lead them to the Spiritual. The man was a Russian and he made a journey from Japan across Siberia. In the middle of Siberia he became aware of a deep uneasiness, he felt lonely and forsaken. And what did he do? Something that none of you, nor indeed any Westerner, would ever think of doing. But although this man was very learned, he was half-Asiatic. He made a figure of a god out of wood, took it with him on his further travels and prayed to it fervently. When I knew him his nerves were in a terrible state; the illness had come from worshipping his wooden god. It is difficult for you to conceive what it means to worship an idol of this kind!

Now the Mysteries still existing at the time of the founding of Christianity were deeply concerned as to how men might be led to the Spiritual. And so what in earlier epochs had been presented before their eyes in the Adonis Festival was now to be revived in remembrance only, by prayer. This was the intention ... but instead of becoming spiritual, everything became materialistic; it was all externalised, made formal. By the third and fourth centuries A.D. all kinds of emotions were aroused in the people on “Kar” Friday; the priests offered up prayers; and at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, the hour at which Christ is said to have died, the bells stopped ringing. Everything was still. And then, outwardly again, just as in the old Adonis Festival, the Crucifix, a figure of Christ on the Cross, was buried; at a later period it was covered with a veil. After three days came Easter—the festival of Resurrection. But the manner and form of the celebration are the same, fundamentally, as in the old Adonis Festival. The form of the celebration indicates that little by little the souls of men were coming under the authority of Rome.

In many districts, for example in the place where my youth was spent—whether it happens here I do not know—it is customary on the Friday before Easter for the boys to gather around the Church with rattles and musical toys, singing the words:

Wir rätschen, wir rätschen am Dom.
Die Glocken ziehen nach Rom
.4Approximate translation: We shake our rattles around the church ... but the bells draw us to Rome.

Everything, you see, pointed towards Rome, especially at the time of the Easter Festival.

Men of the present age must emerge from materialism into a life of spiritual knowledge; they must learn to understand things in a spiritual way, above all such things as the Easter Festival. Every year at the Easter Festival we can remind ourselves that the day of mourning, the Chara, commemorates the departure of the human being from the physical world; for three days after death he is still looking back on the physical world; then he lays aside his ether-body as a second corpse; but then in his astral body and “I,” he rises to life again in the spiritual world. This, too, is part of the act of remembrance, although it would be barbarous to expect songs of jubilation three days after a death has occurred. And yet we can be reminded of these songs of jubilation when we think of the immortality of the human soul and of how, after three days, the soul comes to live again in the spiritual world.

There is a connection between the Easter Festival and every human death. At every human death our attitude should be that although mourning is inevitable, the Easter Festival is near, when we shall remember that every soul after death rises to life again in the spiritual world.—You know, of course, of the festival which commemorates the death of all human beings: it is called the Festival of All Souls and is still celebrated in the autumn. When the knowledge of its connection with the Easter Festival had been lost, the Day of All Saints, All Saints' Day, was placed before it in the calendar. But All Souls' Day should, in reality, be celebrated as the day of the Dead and the Easter Festival as the day of Resurrection. They belong together although they are separated now by the span of nearly half a year! From the calendar as it now stands it is often impossible to understand what really lies behind these festivals.

But remember: everything on Earth is in reality directed by the Heavens. People are surprised if it ever snows at Easter because that is the time for the plants to be sprouting, not for snow. They are surprised because they feel that the Easter Festival is intended to commemorate the resurrection, the immortality of the human soul.

This attitude and knowledge make the whole Easter Festival into a deep, heart-felt experience, reminding those who celebrate it of something that is connected with man himself and with his life as the seasons of the year run their course. The only kind of connection with the yearly seasons to which any thought is given to-day is that in the winter one puts on a winter coat and in the summer a summer coat, that one sweats in the summer and shivers in the winter—all purely material considerations. What is not known is that with the coming of spring, spiritual forces are actively at work drawing forth the plants from the Earth and that with the coming of autumn, spiritual forces are again in operation as forces of destruction. When this is understood men will see life and being in the whole of nature. Much of what is said about nature to-day is nonsense. People see a plant, tear it out of the soil and set about studying botany ... because they know nothing about the essentials. If I were to tear out a hair and proceed to describe it, this would be nonsense, because the hair cannot arise of itself; it must be growing on a human being or an animal. Nothing that you might apply to any part of a lifeless stone will make a hair grow from it. For a hair to grow, life must be at the source. The plants are like the hair of the Earth, because the Earth is a living being. And just as man needs the air in order to live, so does the Earth need the stars with their spirituality; the Earth breathes in the spiritual forces of the stars in order to live. Man moves over the Earth and the Earth moves through the Cosmos, lives in. the Cosmos. The Earth is a living being.

This remembrance at least can still come to us at the Easter Festival—the remembrance that the Earth herself is a living Being. When the Earth brings forth the plants she is young, just as the child is young when the soft hair grows. The old man loses his hair just as in autumn the Earth loses the plants. It is only that the Earth's life runs its course in a different rhythm: youth in the spring, age in the autumn; youth again, age again—whereas in man the periods are much longer. Everything in the universe is alive. In thinking of the Easter Festival and with the spectacle of newly awakening nature before us, we can say: Death is not ever-present; beings have to pass through death but life is the essential reality. Life is everywhere victorious over death. The Easter Festival is there to remind us of this victory and to give us strength. If men gain this kind of strength it will enable them to set about the improvement of external conditions with insight and intelligence—not in the way that is usual at the present time. First and foremost we need Spiritual Science in order again to ally ourselves with the spiritual world—which is a world of life, not of death.

In this sense I hope that the Easter Festival will be as full of beauty in your souls as are the spring flowers growing out of the Earth.—After Easter we shall meet together again and speak about scientific matters.

At the Easter Festival, then, let us feel: Men can go to their work with fresh courage and with joy. Even if in these days there are not many opportunities of finding joy in daily work, perhaps here it is different! In any case I wanted to say these things to you to-day and to wish you a beautiful Easter in the sense of the knowledge born from Spiritual Science.