Easter as a Chapter in the Mystery Wisdom of Man
20 April 1924, Dornach
It can be said that the original purpose of festivals was to induce men to look up from their dependence upon earthly things to their dependence upon extra-earthly things; and it is the Easter Festival in particular that can evoke such thoughts. During the last three to five centuries of civilization we have undergone a psycho-spiritual development that has led man farther and farther away from a clear conception of his connection with cosmic forces and powers. He has become ever more reduced to contemplating only his relation to earthly forces and powers, and it is quite true that with the means recognized today as legitimate it could not be otherwise. If someone imbued with the old Mysteries in the pre-Christian or early Christian centuries could learn of our modern knowledge, and if he approached the matter in the frame of mind prevalent in those days, he would not be able to understand how man could live without an awareness of his extra-earthly, cosmic connection.
I shall now merely sketch various matters which you will find dealt with in detail in this or that cycle. As these lectures are intended especially to acquaint you with the Easter idea there is naturally no time to elaborate all the points that I shall merely indicate.
Harking back to the various older systems of religion, we may take as an example the one with which the closest contact still persists: the Hebrew-Jewish system. In certain religious systems of Antiquity, provided they are monotheistic, we find the veneration, the worship, of a single divinity. It is the divinity we speak of in our Christian conception as the First Person of all divinity, as the Father-God.
Now, in all religions embodying the idea of this Father-God there obtained to a greater or lesser degree the connection of this Father-God with the cosmic Moon forces streaming down to Earth; and the Mystery priests in particular were fully aware of it. Nowadays little remains of this old awareness of the connection between the human being and the Moon forces but the inspiration they impart to the poetic soul; and in the realm of medicine, the counting of the ten lunar months of man's embryonic life. But in the older cosmogonies is to be found a clear consciousness of the permeation, the empowering by impulses emanating from the Moon at the time man descends to his physical existence from the spiritual world, where he had lived his pre-earthly life as a being of soul and spirit. When a man seeks that which gives him life, which lives in him as forces of digestion, of breathing and so forth — in short, all forces of growth — he must not look for these among the Earth forces but among extra-terrestrial forces. By examining the Earth forces — well, he can perceive how these act upon him; but if our body were not held together by cosmic forces, if these did not give our body its form, what could Earth forces contribute to its cohesion? The moment the cosmic forces leave the body and the latter is exposed to the terrestrial forces only, it breaks up, disintegrates, becomes a corpse. The Earth forces can only make a man into a corpse; they cannot create his form. It is to the mighty influence of the Moon that we are indebted for the forces so active in man as to lift him out of his physical limitations, to give him a cohesive organization which during life does not succumb to those forces that seize and destroy him at death; forces that combat this destruction during his entire Earth life — and this they must do.
If we know theoretically, on the one hand, that the Moon forces contain the potential human body, we must observe, on the other hand, how the old religions reverenced these forces that introduced man, so to speak, into physical existence through his birth — revered them as the Father forces, the forces of the divine Father. And the ancient Hebrew initiates were clearly aware that from the Moon emanated the forces which lead man into his Earth life, maintaining him there, and from which he severs himself, as physical man, when he passes through the portal of death.
To look up with loving soul to these divine Father forces and to relive them in the ritual and in prayer, that was the substance of certain ancient monotheistic religions. And these old monotheistic religions were more consistent than you might think: such matters are utterly misrepresented in history, because history is dependent upon material documents and has no access to what can be observed in spiritual vision.
The religions that focused on the Moon and the spiritual beings abiding there are really later religions: the primordial ones embraced in addition a clear idea of the Sun forces and even — as we must add here — of the Saturn forces; but particularly of the Sun forces.
You see, this leads to a study of history for which no material documents exist, a period antedating the foundation of Christianity by many millennia; it takes us back to the epoch which, in my Occult Science, I called the Ancient Indian — in order to give it a name and because it evolved in the locality that later became India. The civilization following this was the Ancient Persian. During these civilizations the manner in which man developed was very different from what it became later; and upon this development depended his creed. We human beings have been developing, during the last two thousand years or more, in such a way that we really do not notice any break in the continuity of our earthly development, and indeed, the break is scarcely noticeable. Something that takes place in us around our thirtieth year remains largely in the subconscious, unconscious mind of present-day man. This was by no means the case among those who lived eight or nine millennia before the beginning of our era. At that time a man's development was continuous up to about the thirtieth year, but then a mighty metamorphosis set in. I must express this rather drastically, for thus the facts in the case will best be made clear.
Here is something that could happen in those ancient times: before his thirtieth year, someone had become acquainted with another who was three or four years younger, and who thus passed through the metamorphosis at a later time. Now, if these two people had not seen each other for a certain time and then met again — I am using the language of today that shows the matter in a still more radical way — it could happen that the one who had experienced the metamorphosis would fail to recognize the other when addressed by him. So great was the change that had come over his memory.
In these very old times it was the custom in the small communities such as then existed to register events in the lives of young people, because they themselves forgot it all after passing through the mighty revulsion in their thirtieth year, and had to be informed of what they had experienced previously. And then, when these people realized that in their thirtieth year they had become different beings, that they had to go to the record office — to use a modern expression — in order to learn of their previous experiences — this was actually so — then, through the instruction they received, they became aware at the same time that before their thirtieth year it was exclusively the Moon forces that had acted upon them, and that now the Sun forces entered into the development of their earthly life.
The influence of the Sun forces on man is entirely different from that of the Moon forces; but what does present-day man know of the Sun forces? Only their external physical effect. He knows that they warm him, make him perspire; and he knows a bit about their therapeutic value — sun-baths and the like — but only in quite an external way. He cannot remotely conceive of the effect of the forces that are spiritually connected with the Sun.
Julian the Apostate, last of the pagan Caesars, still knew something of these Sun forces from reminiscences of the Mysteries; and because he tried to revive this knowledge he was murdered on his expedition to Persia. That shows us how strong were the powers that were out to exterminate the knowledge of such matters in the early Christian centuries. It is therefore not surprising that today it is impossible to learn about these things. — While the Moon forces determine man, permeate him with an inner necessity so that he must act according to his instincts, his temperament, his emotions — in fact, according to his whole physico-etheric body, the Sun forces liberate him from this necessity. They melt, so to speak, these forces of necessity, and it is really through their agency that he becomes a free being.
In ancient times these two influences were sharply divided. In his thirtieth year a man simply became a Sun-man, a free man, whereas up to that time he had been a Moon-man, un-free. Nowadays these conditions overlap: even in childhood the Sun forces are active along with the Moon forces, and the latter continue to influence later life, with the result that today compulsion and freedom interact. But as has been said, this was not always the case, and in the prehistoric times with which we are dealing the effects of the Moon and of the Sun were sharply separated in life's course. It was considered pathological, abnormal, when someone failed to experience the metamorphosis, the turning point in his life; therefore it was said of normal people that they were born not once, but twice. And when humanity began to develop in such a way that this second or Sun-birth (the first was called the Moon-birth) became less noticeable, certain exercises, certain cult rituals — in short, certain methods were applied to those who were to be initiated in the Mysteries. These experienced what no longer existed for mankind in general, and they were then the twice-born.
The term “twice-born” which we find nowadays in oriental writings is one of mere tradition. I should really like to ask every orientalist, every Sanscrit scholar, whether our knowledge of the Orient discloses the substance of the term in a clearly definable way. I believe our friend Professor Beckh is in our midst: you can ask him whether or not his studies in this field confirm my doubts. Quantities of formal explanations of the term are available, but the meaning of the substance is not known. Only those can understand it who know that it goes back to a reality such as I have just set forth. In such matters spiritual research alone can speak; and when it has spoken I should like to ask any unprejudiced exponent of external science whether all available documents do not bear out at every step the results of spiritual research. This will prove to be the case, provided things are seen in the right light. But certain matters antedating the science based on documents must be pointed out, for the latter cannot unlock the knowledge of human life.
So we look back to an epoch of Antiquity in which people spoke of the Moon-birth of the human being as the creation of man by the Father; and they understood that in the Sun-birth the rays of the Sun were permeated with the Christ force, the force of the Son, the liberating force. Consider: what does this Sun force effect? It enables us human beings upon Earth to make something of ourselves. Without the liberating Sun forces, without the impulses that break down compulsion, we would be strictly predestined, at the mercy of an inexorable natural necessity — not of the necessity imposed by destiny but by Nature.
When a man imbued with the old cosmogonies looked up to the Sun he knew that this world-eye, from which the power of the Christ streamed forth, released him from bondage in that inexorable necessity into which he had been born through the Moon forces, and subject to which he would otherwise have had to develop throughout life. He knew that these Sun forces, these Christ forces raying down upon him through the cosmic eye of the Sun, enabled him to make something of himself through his inner freedom, something he had not been through the agency of the Moon forces when he entered life. — What the Sun forces gave to man was this consciousness of his ability to transform himself, to make something of himself.
For completeness' sake and parenthetically I should add that the third source to which men looked were the Saturn forces. In these they saw all that sustained the human being after passing through the portal of death; that is, when he experienced the third earthly metamorphosis.
Physical birth — Moon-birth
Second birth — Sun-birth
Third birth (physical death) — Saturn-birth
After death the human being was sustained by the forces of Saturn, which at that time was considered to lie at the extreme periphery of the Earth's planetary system. These were the forces that bore him up and out into the spiritual world, that maintained the cohesion of his being when the third metamorphosis occurred. There is no doubt that this was part of the ancient cosmogonies.
But humanity changed as a result of evolution, and the time came when only the effects of the Sun forces were known in the Mysteries. The knowledge of these survived longest in the therapeutic sections of the Mysteries, because the same forces that give man his freedom, the ability to make something of himself — namely, the Sun forces, the Christ forces — are also found in certain plants and other beings and things of the Earth, and in this form contain healing properties.
For the most part, however, mankind lost just this contact with the Sun. For a long time people were still aware of their dependence upon the Moon forces, the Father forces; but the consciousness of being dependent upon the Sun forces for their liberation disappeared much earlier. And what we today call forces of Nature — about the only ones mentioned in our philosophies — are really nothing but the Moon forces reduced to complete abstractions. But One Who still knew the Sun forces and was able to be guided by them was the Christ Bearer, Jesus of Nazareth. He had to know them because it was His mission to receive them in His own body as they streamed down to Earth, whereas in the old Mysteries they could be reached only by ascending in vision to the Sun.
I explained that yesterday; but the essential point is that in the thirtieth year of His life a transmutation occurred in the body of Jesus of Nazareth; the same transformation that took place in everyone in primeval times, except that then the rays, so to speak, of the spiritual Sun entered into all men, whereas here it was the primal Being of the Sun, the Christ Himself, Who descended to enter human evolution and took up His abode in the body of Jesus of Nazareth. That is what underlies the Mystery of Golgotha as the primal fruit of the whole life of the Earth.
You will now be able to understand the whole context of these matters by considering the manner in which Easter was celebrated in the older Mysteries. Easter, as I might put it, existed as a quite human institution in those days, for it meant initiation. Primarily this comprised three stages; but the first requirement for attaining to true enlightenment, to initiation, was that everything offered the candidate by the Mysteries should engender in him a degree of inner humility such as nowadays hardly anybody can even dimly imagine. Today people consider themselves enormously modest in respect of their achievements, even in cases where one who can see through them knows that they are veritably possessed by vanity. At the inception of an initiation, the most important realization that had to come to the neophyte was that he could not think of himself as a human being at all: that it still remained for him to become one. Today it would be asking too much of anyone to admit that at any given period of his life he was not a human being. But that was the very first requirement, and the neophyte had to meditate as follows: Before descending into an earthly body I was indeed a human being; in pre-earthly existence I was a human being of soul and spirit. In this form I then descended into the physical body, received from my mother, from my parents. I was then — not clothed in a physical body — that would be a wrong term: I was permeated by this physical body.
Of the manner in which, over a long period of time, the spirit and the soul pervade the physical body — the nervous-sensory system, the rhythmic system, the metabolic-limb system — of all this men are completely unaware. They know nothing of it. They are conscious of perceiving with their senses, of seeing their physical surroundings with their eyes. But when soul and spirit have so far permeated a man's physical body that he considers himself a fully developed adult, where has he actually arrived? He can only see out of his eyes, listen out of his ears, perceive warmth and cold, roughness and smoothness, through his skin: he can only perceive outward, not inward. He cannot look into himself with his eyes: the most he can do is to dissect the human corpse and then imagine he is looking into himself. But in reality he is not. Supposing here is a house. It has windows, but I do not look in through them. Instead, I procure some tools, and if I am strong enough I demolish the house. Then I have all the separate bricks before me; but is it not childish to imagine I am looking into the house when I am only looking at this pile of rubbish? Yet that is the way people go to work nowadays. They dissect the human being and cut him up in order to learn to know him; but in that way they do not learn to know him, for that is not at all the human being. If we would learn to know the human being we must be able to look back inward through the eyes, to listen back inward through the ears, just as today we perceive outward through the senses.
All that taken together — eyes, ears, the whole skin as an organ of touch and temperature — was called in the Mysteries the Door to Man, the Gate to Man. The point of departure in the initiations was the candidate's realization that he could know nothing of the human being; and having no human self-consciousness, he could not even be a human being. He must first learn to look inward through his senses as previously he had only looked outward. That was the first stage of initiation in the old Mysteries. And the moment the neophyte learned this looking inward he experienced himself also in his pre-earthly existence, for then he knew that he was in his spirit-soul element.
So the neophyte learned to look inward instead of outward, and in so doing he became aware of what had entered him through eyes, ears, skin, and so forth, as prenatal existence. At this point he was told that only now could he come to understand what today we would call natural science. How do we of today go about studying natural science? We are taught to observe the phenomena of Nature, to describe them, and so on. But this is the same as though I had known someone very well, and I were told to forget, when
I meet him again, everything we had ever had in common. Fancy, if you can, a married couple meeting again after a separation and being obliged to forget everything in the way of their common experiences! Well, I can imagine that occasionally it might be pleasant to do so; but life could not be maintained under such conditions.
Yet those are exactly the conditions imposed upon men of our time by our system of civilization, for they did learn to know the kingdoms of Nature from their spiritual aspect before descending to Earth. And while today men are encouraged to forget all they had learned about the minerals, plants and animals before descending to Earth, the old initiate, in the so-called first Mystery stage, was instructed somewhat as follows: he was shown, for example, a block of quartz; and then everything possible was done to recall to his memory what he had known, before descending to Earth, about quartz — or about the lily, or the rose, as the case may have been. Recognizing was the factor taught as natural science; and when the candidate had learned to study Nature in the light of what he had seen in his prenatal life, he was admitted to the second stage.
In the second stage he learned music and what was then architecture, geometry, surveying, etc.; for this second stage comprised everything the neophyte could perceive when he not only looked inward through his eyes and listened inward through his ears, but actually entered into himself. Then he was told that he was about to enter the human Temple Grotto, and this he came to know. It meant that which was physically permeated by the psycho-spiritual forces that constitute man before he descends to life on Earth. There he penetrated into himself. This Temple Grotto, he was told, was made up of three chambers. The first was the chamber of thought, where one learned everything connected with thinking. Seen from without, the head is small; but if one enters into it and looks at it from within, it is as comprehensive as the world, and there one's spiritual activity becomes manifest. That was the first chamber. In the second chamber one learned to know feeling; and in the third, willing.
In this way the initiate learned how man is organized in respect of his organs of thinking, feeling and willing; he learned about the factors concerned in the Earth life. Knowledge of Nature has significance not only in connection with the Earth: it is acquired before one descends to Earth. Here we must remember that yonder in the spiritual world houses are not built with tellurian architecture. There is music there, but it is spiritual melos. What we know as music is projected down into our air; it is a projection of heavenly music, but as we experience it, it is of this Earth It is the same when we survey: we measure the Earth; and surveying, geometry and the like are earthly sciences. It was important for the candidate for the second stage to have his attention drawn to the fact that all thought of gaining enlightenment or knowledge by earthly means alone is delusive, except in the case of geometry, architecture or surveying; that a genuine science of Nature must consist in recalling prenatal knowledge. That is what he was taught; and he came to understand that geometry, architecture, music and surveying were the sciences that can be learned here on Earth.
Thus the mystic entered into himself and came to know the human being as consisting of three chambers, as opposed to the human being of one particular incarnation, which is all one encounters by knowing him only from the outside. — And in the third stage the neophyte learned the nature of man as it was when he not only entered into himself, comprehending his spiritual self, but when his spiritual self learned about the body as well. In all the old Mysteries this was therefore the stage inevitably called the Portal of Death. There the initiate learned what he was like after laying aside the earthly body. But there was a difference between this actual death and the death of initiation. Why this had to be so I shall explain in the following lectures; at the moment I am merely emphasizing the facts.
When we actually die we discard the physical body and are no longer bound to it. It ceases to respond to Earth forces, and we are free of these. But one who is still bound to the physical body, as was the case in the initiations of old, must obtain by his own strength and efforts what comes to him automatically through death, namely, this freedom from the body; and he must sustain this condition for a certain length of time. Initiation demanded the attainment of these strong inner forces of the soul by which the latter could remain independent of the physical body; and these forces at the same time provided higher cognition of matters not to be perceived by the senses or thought by the intellect. They transported the initiate as a human being into the spiritual world, just as man is placed by his physical body into the physical world.
But at that point the candidate was far enough advanced to recognize himself as a psycho-spiritual human being, as an initiate, while still in his Earth existence. From that time onward he saw the Earth as a star existing detached from man; and in the older Mysteries it was with the Sun in particular that he had to live, instead of with the Earth. He knew what came to him from the Sun and how the Sun forces worked in him.
The stage that followed the one I have just described, the fourth, may be explained in this way: When a man eats on this Earth he knows, this is cabbage, that is game — he drinks various things, and he knows that now these things are outside him, now inside. He breathes the air which is alternately outside and inside. He is connected with the Earth forces in such a way as to carry within him the forces and substances of the Earth that are otherwise outside him. It was made clear to the candidate that before being initiated he was an Earth-carrier, a carrier of cabbage, game, pork, and so forth. But if you have completed the third stage of initiation, so he was told, and if you receive what you are now able to receive by having freed yourself from the body, you will no longer be a carrier of cabbage, pork and veal, but you will be a bearer of what the Sun forces give you. — And this spiritual gift of the Sun forces was called in all the Mysteries christos. Hence the neophyte who had passed beyond the third stage and could now feel himself as a bearer of the Sun forces — just as on Earth he could feel himself to be a cabbage carrier — was called a christophor, a Christ bearer. In the majority of the old Mysteries that was the appellation of a neophyte of the fourth stage.
In the third stage certain things had to be thoroughly understood, in particular, that the craving for the physical body must cease if enlightenment was to enter; and the neophyte had clearly to realize that while he belonged to the Earth as far as his physical body was concerned, yet the function of the Earth was really to destroy that physical body, not to build it up. Now he came to know the constructive forces that derive from the cosmos.
And he learned something else when he became a christophor, namely, that even in the Earth's matter there are spiritual forces at work, only they are not perceptible to earthly senses. Another language was current in those times, but in modern words — and I can use only these — the sense of what was made clear to the candidate was this: if you would know the science of matter, know how different elements combine or separate, you must look to the spiritual forces that permeate matter out of the cosmos. That is impossible if you are not initiated: it is necessary to have passed through the fourth stage. You must be able to see by means of the forces of the Sun existence — then you can study chemistry.
Imagine nowadays confronting a candidate for the doctor's degree in pharmacology or chemistry with the requirement that he must first be able to feel himself in the same relation to the forces of the Sun as he does to the cabbage of the Earth! It would seem quite mad. — But in the old days realities were dealt with, and people came to understand that by means of all the forces active in the body — forces employed for ordinary learning — only geometry, surveying, music and architecture can be studied. Not chemistry. Today chemistry is studied from the outside, and so it has been since the old initiation wisdom was lost. In fact, anyone who seeks genuine enlightenment must despair at the official chemistry of today, for it is based wholly upon data, not upon inner penetration of the subject. And if people were open-minded they would realize that something more is necessary, that other things must be understood if chemistry is to be studied. What stifles such impulses in man is the cowardice of modern cognition in which he has been reared.
Now the neophyte had attained to the still higher stage of astronomus. The external study of the stars, by computation and the like, was considered wholly futile: spiritual beings inhabit the stars, and these can be known only after physical observation has been surmounted — after even geometry has been overcome — so that one can live in the universe and get to know the spiritual nature of the stars. Then the neophyte became a resurrected one; then he could really see the Moon and Sun forces at work upon earthly man.
Today I have described to you from two aspects how Easter was inwardly experienced in the old Mysteries — not at a given season but at a certain degree of human maturity: Easter was the arising of the psycho-spiritual man out of the physical body in the spiritual universe; and those who still knew something of Mystery wisdom saw the Mystery of Golgotha in this light when it took place. They asked themselves: What would have happened to humanity if the Mystery of Golgotha had not intervened? In olden times it was possible to be initiated into the secrets of the cosmos, for in still older times it was a matter of course for a man to experience his second birth in his thirtieth year or thereabouts. And later on there were at least memories, as well as the science of the Mystery schools, that kept alive in tradition what in earlier epochs had been actually experienced. At the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, however, all that had been lost or forgotten; and humanity would have fallen into complete decadence had not that power, to which the initiate attained in becoming a christophor, descended into a Jesus of Nazareth and henceforth remained on Earth, so that man could be united with this power through Christ Jesus.
Undoubtedly, then, the Easter Festival as we know it is linked with a phase of the Mysteries, and we can really become conscious of the substance of our Easter only by reviving this aspect of them. You will readily understand that in this way we can at least approximate a realization of what the ancient neophyte experienced at his initiation. This will be the subject of further consideration. The neophyte could say to himself: Initiation has disclosed to me how Sun and Moon act within me in their mutual celestial relationship. For now I know that as a physical being I am constituted in a certain way. The circumstance that my eyes, my nose — my whole bodily form within and without — are shaped thus and so, that this bodily form could grow and is still growing through being nourished, all this depends upon the Moon forces, as does everything in the way of necessity. But that I can be active within my bodily nature as a free inner being, can transmute and master myself, this is due to the Sun forces, the Christ forces. These I must activate if I would, by conscious effort, build within me what otherwise they would have to bring about by compulsion.
From all this we can understand why even today we look to Sun and Moon and their relative position to determine the date of Easter. Nothing remains of all this but our calculation, When is the first Sunday after the first full Moon after the spring equinox? We place Easter on the Sunday following this first full Moon, thus indicating that in the nature and form of Easter we see something that must be determined from above, from the cosmos. I shall elaborate that tomorrow. But what must be grasped anew is the idea of Easter. This can only be done by contemplating the old Mysteries, which first of all drew attention to what was experienced by introspection — the portal of man; by the achievement of freedom — the portal of death; by moving freely in the spiritual world — becoming a christophor.
The Mysteries themselves, of course, began to disappear when the time came for the development of human freedom to assert itself; but now the time has come to rediscover them. We must find and make them our own again; and we must fully realize that today efforts are necessary to this end.
With this in mind the Christmas Conference was held, for there is urgent need of a sanctuary on Earth where Mysteries can once more be established. The Anthroposophical Society must lead the way in its further development to the modern Mysteries. It will be one of your tasks, my dear friends, to collaborate in this way with the right understanding. But in order to succeed you will have to reflect on human life in its three stages: that of introspection, that of self-penetration, and that of a consciousness such as results in outer reality only through death.
And to remind us of what has been said in this hour, let us carry away with us and meditate upon these words:
Stand at the portal of man's existence,
Read above its arch stones cosmic scripture.
Dwell in the deep of man's inner soul-life,
Feel within its orbit the world's beginning.
Ponder the end of man's earth-chapters,
Find thou there the turning-point of spirit. 1Translation by Barbara Betteridge.
Steh' vor des Menschen Lebenspforte;
Schau an ihrer Stirne Weltenworte.
Leb' in des Menschen Seeleninnern;
Fühl' in seinem Kreise Weltbeginnen.
Denk an des Menschen Erdenende;
Find' bei ihm die Geisteswende.