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The Festivals and Their Meaning:
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Christmas

Schmidt Number: S-4335

On-line since: 23rd December, 1999

V

The Proclamations to the Magi and the Shepherds

Stuttgart, 1st January, 1921
GA 203

For a different translation of this lecture, see:
The Two Christmas Annunciations

WE will turn our thoughts to-day to the Festival which every year revives remembrance of the Mystery of Golgotha.

There are three such main Festivals in Christendom: at Christmas, Easter and Whitsuntide. Each of these Festivals brings man's life of soul into a different relation with the great events from which the whole of earth-evolution receives purpose and meaning.

The Christmas Festival is connected more directly with man's life of feeling. In a certain sense it has the most popular appeal of all the Festivals, because when rightly understood it deepens the life of feeling and is always dear to the human heart.

The Easter Festival makes great demands upon man's powers of understanding, because here some measure of insight is essential into the Mystery of Golgotha itself, into how a super-sensible Being entered the stream of earthly evolution. Easter is a Festival which carries the faculty of human understanding to the highest level, a level which is, of course, ultimately accessible to everyone; but the appeal of the Easter Festival can never be as widespread as that of Christmas.

Through the Whitsuntide Festival, relationship is established between the will and the super-sensible world to which the Christ Being belongs. It is of the impulses of will which then take effect in the world that the Whitsuntide Festival makes men conscious when its meaning is rightly understood.

And so the great Christian Mystery is illustrated in a threefold way by these Festivals. There are many aspects of the Christmas Mystery and in the course of years we have studied them from different points of view at the time of the Festival. To-day we will think of an aspect brought graphically before us in the Gospels.

The Gospels tell of two proclamations of the birth of Christ Jesus. The one proclamation is made to the simple shepherds in the fields, to whom — in dream or in some kindred way — an Angel announces the birth. In this case, knowledge of the event was brought by inner soul-forces which were of a particular character in the shepherds living near the birthplace of Christ Jesus. And the Gospels tell of another proclamation made to the Three Kings, the Three Magi from the East who follow the voice of a star announcing to them that Christ Jesus has come into the world.

Here we have an indication of two ways in which higher knowledge came to men in earlier times. This is again a matter of which the modern mind has no understanding. The idea prevailing nowadays is that man's faculties of apprehension and thinking — that is to say, inner powers of the soul — have for thousands and thousands of years been fundamentally the same as they are to-day, except that in earlier times they were more primitive. But we know from spiritual science that the tenor and mood of the human soul has undergone great changes in the course of the ages. In times of antiquity, let us say about six or seven thousand years ago, man had a quite different conception not only of his own life but also of the universe around him. His attitude of soul underwent continual change until, in the modern world, it amounts simply to intellectual analysis and a purely physical conception of things in the outer world. This development proceeds from an instinctive clairvoyance in ancient times, through the phase of our present mood-of-soul, in order, in the future, to return to a form of clairvoyant vision of the world pervaded by full, clear consciousness.

At the time when the Mystery of Golgotha took place on the earth, the old instinctive clairvoyance had already become dim. Although men's attitude of soul differed widely from that of to-day, they no longer possessed the powers of that ancient clairvoyance; neither were they able to apply the old forms of wisdom in seeking for intimate and exact knowledge of the world. The teachings of the ancient wisdom, as well as the faculties of instinctive clairvoyance, had lost their power when the Mystery of Golgotha took place. Nevertheless, echoes still survived, as the Gospels clearly indicate if we understand them aright. Echoes of the ancient wisdom survived here and there in certain exceptional individuals. These individuals might well have been the simple shepherds in the fields who with their great purity of heart possessed a certain power of clairvoyance which came over them like a dream. And there might also well have been individuals who had reached the heights of learning, like the Three Magi from the East, in whom the ancient faculty to gaze into the how of cosmic happenings had been preserved.

In a kind of dream-condition, the simple shepherds in the fields were able inwardly to realise what was drawing near in the event of the birth of Christ Jesus. On the other hand, the knowledge possessed by the three Magi from the East enabled them, by contemplating the phenomena of the heavens, to discern that an event of a significance far transcending that of the ordinary course of life was taking place on the earth.

Our attention is therefore directed to two definite but quite distinct forms of knowledge. We will think, first, of the knowledge possessed by the three Magi as a last remnant of an ancient wisdom. It is clearly indicated that these Magi were able to read the secrets of the movements of the stars. The story of the three Kings or Magi points to the existence of an ancient lore of the stars, an ancient knowledge of the secrets of the worlds of stars in which the secrets of happenings in the world of men were also revealed. This ancient lore of the stars was very different from our modern astronomical science — although in a certain respect it too is prophetic in that eclipses of the sun, of the moon, and the like, can be predicted. But it is a purely mathematical science, speaking only of conditions and relationships in space and time in so far as they can be expressed in terms of mathematics. What plays with a higher significance into man's inner life from beyond space and time, but into the world of space and time, was read by an ancient star-lore from the courses and movements of the stars, and it was this star-wisdom that formed the essential content of the science belonging to an earlier epoch. Men sought in the stars for explanations of what was happening on the earth. But to such men the world of stars was not the machinelike abstraction it has now come to be. Every planet was felt to have reality of being. In a kind of inner speech of the soul, these men of old conversed, as it were, with each planet, just as to-day we converse with one another in ordinary speech. They realised that what the movements of the stars bring about in the universe is reflected in man's inmost soul. This was a living, spirit-inwoven conception of the universe. And man felt that as a being of soul and spirit he himself had his place within this universe. The wisdom relating to cosmic happenings was also cultivated in Schools of the Mysteries where the pupils were prepared, carefully and intimately, to understand the movements of the stars in such a way that human life on earth became intelligible to them.

What form did these preparations take? These preparations for knowledge of the stars and their workings consisted in training the pupils, even in the times of instinctive clairvoyance, to unfold a more wide-awake consciousness than that prevailing in normal life. The masses of the people possessed faculties of instinctive clairvoyance which were natural in a life of soul less awake than our own. In ancient times the wide-awake thinking of to-day would not have been possible. Nor could mathematics or geometry be grasped in the way they are grasped by the modern mind. Man's whole life between birth and death was a kind of dreamlike existence, but on that very account he had a far more living awareness of the world around him than is possible in our fully wide-awake consciousness. And strange as it seems, in the age which lasted into the second millennium or even as late as the beginning of the first millennium B.C. (— it was to the last surviving remains of this age that men like the three Magi belonged —) individual pupils in the Mysteries were initiated into a kind of knowledge resembling our geometrical or mathematical sciences. It was Euclid (Note 1) who first gave geometry to the world at large. The geometry presented to mankind by Euclid had already been cultivated for thousands of years in the Mysteries, but there it was communicated to chosen pupils only. Moreover it did not work in them in the same way as in men of later time. Paradoxical as it seems, it is nevertheless a fact that the geometry and arithmetic learnt by children to-day was taught in the Mysteries to individuals specially chosen from the masses on account of their particular gifts who were then received into the Mysteries.

One often hears it said to-day that the teachings given in the Mysteries were secret and veiled. In their abstract content however, these so-called ‘secret’ teachings were no different from what is now taught to children at school. The mystery does not lie in the fact that these things are unknown to-day but that they were imparted to human beings in a different way. For to teach the principles of geometry to children by calling upon the intellect in an age when from the moment of waking until that of falling asleep the human being has clear day-consciousness, is a very different matter from imparting them to pupils specially chosen because of their greater maturity of soul in the age of instinctive clairvoyance and dreamlike consciousness. A true conception of these things is rarely in evidence to-day.

In Eastern literature there is a Hymn to the God Varuna which says that Varuna is revealed in the air and in the winds blowing through the forests, in the thunder rolling from the clouds, in the human heart when it is kindled to acts of will, in the heavens when the sun passes across the sky, and is present on the hills in the soma juice. You will generally find it stated in books today that nobody knows what this soma-juice really is. Modern scholars assert that nobody knows what soma-juice is, although, as a matter of fact, there are people who drink it by the litre and from a certain point of view are quite familiar with it. But to know things from the vantage-point of the Mysteries is quite different from knowing them as a layman from the standpoint of the experiences of ordinary waking consciousness. You may read to-day about the ‘Philosopher's Stone’ for which men sought in an epoch when understanding of the nature of substances was very different from what it is today. And again, those who write about alchemy assert that nothing is known about the Philosopher's Stone. Here and there in my lectures I have said that this Philosopher's Stone is quite familiar to most people, only they do not know what it really is nor why it is so called. It is quite well known, because as a matter of fact it is used by the ton.

The modern mind with its tendency to abstraction and theory and its alienation from reality, is incapable of grasping these things. Nor is there any understanding of what is meant by saying that our geometrical and arithmetical sciences were once imparted to mature souls quite different in character from the souls of modern men, In my book Christianity as Mystical Fact I have indicated the special nature of the Mystery-teachings but these significant matters are not as a rule correctly understood; they are taken far too superficially. The way in which the subject-matter of the Mystery-teachings in ancient times was imparted — that is what needs to be understood.

Novalis was still aware of the human element, the element of feeling in mathematics which, in utter contrast to the vast majority to-day, he regarded as being akin to a great and wonderful Hymn. (Note 2) It was to an understanding of the world imbued with feeling but expressed in mathematical forms that the pupil of the ancient Mysteries was led. And when this mathematical understanding of the universe had developed in such a pupil, he became one whose vision resembled that of the men described as the three Magi from the East. The mathematics of the universe which to us has become pure abstraction, then revealed reality of Being, because this knowledge was supplemented and enriched by something that came to meet it. And so the science and knowledge of the outer universe belonging to an ancient culture which in its last echoes survived in the Magi, was the origin of the one proclamation — the proclamation made by way of wisdom pertaining to the outer universe.

On the other side, inner feeling of the secrets of the evolution of humanity could arise in men of a disposition specially fitted for such experiences. Such men are represented by the shepherds in the fields. These inner forces must have reached a certain stage of development and then instinctive-imaginative perception became direct vision. And so, through their faculty of inner vision, the simple shepherds in the fields were made aware of the proclamation: ‘The God is revealing Himself in the heavenly Heights and through Him there can be peace among all men who are of good-will.’

Secrets of the cosmos were thus revealed to the hearts of the simple shepherds in the fields and to those who were the representatives of the highest wisdom attainable by the human mind at that time. This is the revelation made to the three Magi from the East. The great mystery of earth-existence was proclaimed from two sides.

What was it that came to the knowledge of the Magi? What kind of faculties developed in specially prepared pupils of the Mysteries through the mathematics imparted to them?

The philosopher Kant says of the truths of mathematical science that they are a priori. By this he means that they are determined before the acquisition of external, empirical knowledge. (Note 3) This is so much lip-wisdom. Kant's a priori really says nothing. The expression has meaning only when we realise from spiritual-scientific knowledge that mathematics comes from within ourselves, rises into consciousness from within our own being. And where does it originate? In the experiences through which we passed in the spiritual world before conception, before birth. We were living then in the great universe, experiencing what it was possible to experience before we possessed bodily eyes and bodily ears. Our experiences then were a priori — a form of cognition independent of earthly life. And this is the kind of experience that rises up, unconsciously to-day, from our inmost being. Man does not know — unless, like Novalis, he glimpses it intuitively — that the experiences of the life before birth or conception well up when he is engrossed in mathematical thought. For one who can truly apprehend these things, mathematical cognition is in itself a proof that before conception and birth he existed in a spiritual world. Of those to whom this is no proof of a life before birth, it must be said that they do not think deeply and fundamentally enough about the phenomena and manifestations of life and have not the faintest inkling of the real origin of mathematics.

The pupils of the ancient Mysteries who had absorbed the kind of wisdom which in its last echoes had survived in the three Magi from the East, had this clear impression: If as we contemplate the stars we see in them the expressions of mathematical, arithmetical progression, we spread over universal space the experiences through which we lived before birth. A pupil of the Mysteries said to himself: Living here on the earth, I gaze out into the universe, beholding all that is around me in space. Before my birth I lived within these manifestations of cosmic realities, lived with the mysteries of number connected with the stars, with all that I can now only mentally picture in terms of mathematics. In that other existence my own inner forces led me from star to star; I had my very life in what is now only a mental activity. Such contemplation made vividly real to these men what they had lived through before birth, and these experiences were sacred to them. They knew that this other world was a spiritual world — their home before they came down to the earth. The last echoing remains of this knowledge had survived in the Magi from the East and through it they recognised the signs of the coming of Christ.

Whence came the Christ Being? He came from the world in which we ourselves live between death and a new birth, and united Himself with the life that extends from birth to death. Knowledge of the world in which our existence is spent from death to a new birth can therefore shed light upon an event like the Mystery of Golgotha. And it was through this knowledge that the Mystery of Golgotha, the Christmas Mystery too, was announced to the Magi.

While man is living on the earth and unfolding the forces which bring knowledge of the world around him, while he is unfolding the impulses for his actions and social life, he is unconsciously experiencing something else as well. He has no knowledge of it, but just as he experiences the aftereffects of his life before birth, so does he also experience what finally passes through the gate of death to become the content of the life after death. These forces are already present in germ between birth and death but come to fruition only in the life after death. They worked with intense strength in the old, instinctive clairvoyance, and in their last echoes they were still working in the simple shepherds in the fields because of their purity of heart. We live within the play of these forces above all during sleep, when the soul is outside the body, within the outer universe. The soul is then living in the form of existence in which it will live consciously after death, when the physical body has been laid aside.

These forces from the world of sleep and dream which in certain conditions can penetrate into waking life, were very active in the old, instinctive clairvoyance, and they were working in the simple shepherds to whom the Mystery of Golgotha was proclaimed in a way other than to the three Magi.

What kind of knowledge is brought by the forces that are paramountly active between death and a new birth, if, as was the case with the Magi, they have been kindled during life between birth and death? It is a knowledge of happenings in the world beyond the earth. The human being is transported from the earth into the world of the stars in which he lives between death and a new birth. This was the world into which the three Magi from the East were transported — away from the earth into the heavens.

And what kind of knowledge is brought by the forces that well up from the inmost being of man, above all in the world of dream? These forces bring knowledge of what is coming to pass within the earth itself. In this kind of knowledge it is earthly forces that are most strongly at work, the forces we have through the body, through existence in the body. These are the forces which are particularly active between sleeping and waking. Then too we are within the outer universe, but the outer universe that is especially connected with the earth.

You will say: this contradicts the statement that during sleep we are outside the body. But in reality there is no contradiction. We perceive only what is outside us; we do not perceive that within which we actually live. Only those who lack real knowledge and are satisfied with phrases speak of such things in glib words to the effect that it is meaningless to base spiritual science upon knowledge acquired outside the human being, for what really matters is that knowledge of outer nature shall be gained through the forces within man. ‘Schools of Wisdom’ like the one in Darmstadt (Note 4) may be based on high-sounding principles of this kind, but a man can remain a phrasemonger in spite of being the founder of such a ‘School of Wisdom.’ We must understand the inner nature of the world before we can acquire super-sensible knowledge, and it is only then that we can penetrate into the nature of our own inmost being. Men like Keyserling speak of the need to view things from the vantage-point of the soul, but they do not penetrate into the inmost being of man; they simply pour out phrases.

The truth is that between sleeping and waking we look back, feel back, as it were, into our body. We become aware of how our body is connected with the earth — for the body is given by the earth. The revelation to the shepherds in the fields was the revelation given by the earth, proceeding from their bodily nature. In a state of dream the voice of the Angel made known to them what had come to pass.

And so the contrast is complete:

To the Magi: revelation through heavenly lore.
To the Shepherds: revelation given by the earth.

That the revelation should have been from two sides is entirely in keeping with the Mystery of Golgotha. For a heavenly Being, a Being Who until then had not belonged to the earth, was drawing near. And the coming of such a Being must be recognised through wisdom pertaining to the heavens, through wisdom that is able to reveal the descent of a Being from the heavens. The wisdom of the shepherds is knowledge proceeding from the earth; the weaving life of the earth becomes aware of the coming of the Being from heaven. It is the same proclamation, only from another side — a wonderful, twofold proclamation to mankind of a single Event.

The attitude with which the Event of Golgotha was received by mankind is to be explained by the fact that only vestiges of the ancient wisdom remained. In the first centuries of our era, certain Gnostic teachings were able to shed light upon the Mystery of Golgotha, but as time went on, men strove more and more to understand it through purely intellectual analysis and reason. And in the nineteenth century, naturalism invaded this domain of belief. There was no longer any understanding of the super-sensible reality of the Event of Golgotha. Christ became the ‘wise man of Nazareth’ — in the naturalistic sense. What is necessary is a new, spiritual conception of the Mystery of Golgotha. The Mystery of Golgotha as such must never be confused with the attitude adopted to it by the human mind.

The mood-of-soul prevailing in the shepherds and in the Magi was in its final phase at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha. Everything in the evolution of humanity undergoes constant change and metamorphosis. What has the wisdom possessed by the Magi from the East now become? It has become our mathematical astronomy. The Magi possessed super-earthly knowledge which was actually a glorious remembrance of life before birth. This knowledge has shrivelled away into our mathematical-mechanistic conception of the heavens, to the phenomena of which we apply only mathematical laws. What wells up from within us in our mathematical astronomy is the modern metamorphosis of the knowledge once possessed by the Magi.

Our outer, sense-given knowledge, conveyed as it is merely through eyes and ears, is the externalised form of the inner knowledge once possessed by men like the shepherds in the fields. The mood-of-soul in which the secrets of earth-existence were once revealed to the shepherds now induces us to look at the world with the cold detachment of scientific observation. This kind of observation is the child of the Shepherd-wisdom — but the child is very unlike the parent! And our mathematical astronomy is the child of the Magi-wisdom. It was necessary that humanity should pass through this phase. When our scientists are making their cold, dispassionate researches in laboratories and clinics, they have very little in common with the shepherds of old, but this attitude of soul is nevertheless a metamorphosis leading back directly to the wisdom of the shepherds. And our mathematicians are the successors of the Magi from the East. The outer has become inward — the inner, outward. In the process, understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha has been lost, and we must be fully conscious of this fact. Understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha has vanished most completely of all, perhaps, in many of those who claim to be official ministers of Christianity to-day.

With the forces of knowledge, feeling and belief possessed by modern men, the true reality of the Event of Golgotha can no longer be grasped. It must be discovered anew. The Magi-wisdom has become inward; it has become our abstract, mathematical science by which alone the heavens are studied. What has become inward in this way must again be filled with life, re-cast, re-shaped from within.

And now, from this point of view, try to understand what is contained in a book like my Outline of Occult Science.

The Magi gazed at the worlds of the stars; therein they beheld the Spiritual, for they could behold man's experiences in his life before birth. In our mathematics this has become pure abstraction. But the same forces that are unfolded in our mathematical thinking can again be filled with life, enriched and intensified in Imaginative perception. Then, from our own inner forces there will be born a world which, although we create it from within, can be seen as the outer universe, embracing Saturn, Sun, Moon, Earth, Jupiter, Venus, Vulcan. We then behold the heavens through inner perception, inner vision, as the Magi discerned the secrets of the Mystery of Golgotha through outer perception. The outer has become inward, has become mathematical abstraction. Therefore what is now inward must be expanded into perception of the outer universe; inward perception must lead to a new astronomy, to an astronomy inwardly experienced.

It is only by striving for a new understanding of Christ that we can truly celebrate the Christmas Festival to-day. Can it be said that this Festival still has any real meaning for the majority of people? It has become a beautiful custom to take the Christmas Tree as the symbol of the Festival, although as a matter of fact this custom is hardly a century old. The Christmas Tree was not adopted as a symbol of the Festival until the nineteenth century. What is the Christmas Tree, in reality? When we endeavour to discover its meaning and know of the legend telling that it grew from the tiny branch carried in the arms of the boy Ruprecht on the 6th of December, when we follow its history, it dawns upon us that the Christmas Tree is directly connected with the Tree of Paradise. The mind turns to the Tree of Paradise, to Adam and Eve. This is one aspect of the way in which the Mystery of Golgotha can again be proclaimed in our time. The mind turns from the Mystery of Golgotha, back to the world's beginning. The meaning of world-redemption is not understood and the mind turns again to the Divine creation of the world. This comes to expression in the fact that the real symbol of Christmas — the Crib — so beautifully presented in the Christmas Plays of earlier centuries, is gradually being superseded by the Christmas Tree which is, in reality, the Tree of Paradise. The old Jahve religion usurped the place of Christianity and the Christmas Tree is the symbol of its recrudescence. But in its reappearance the Jahve religion has been split into multiple divisions. Jahve was worshipped, and rightly worshipped, as the one, undivided Godhead in an age when his people felt themselves to be a single, self-contained unity not looking beyond their own boundaries and full of the expectation that one day they would fill the whole earth. But in our time, although people speak of Christ Jesus, in reality they worship Jahve. In the various nations (this was all too evident in the war), men spoke of Christ but were really venerating the original Godhead who holds sway in heredity and in the world of nature — Jahve. Thus we have the Christmas Tree on the one side, and on the other, national Gods at a level inferior to that of the Christian reality. These were the principles by which men's comprehension of the Mystery of Golgotha was diverted back again to the conceptions belonging to a much earlier epoch. The assertion of the principle of nationality, the claiming of national Gods, denotes a step backward into the old Jahve religion. Those who see fit to worship Christ as a national God — it is they who deny Him most deeply.

What must never be forgotten is that the proclamations to the Shepherds and to the Kings contained a message for all mankind — for the earth is common to all. In that the revelation to the shepherds was from the earth, it was a revelation that may not be differentiated according to nationality. And in that the Magi received the proclamation of the sun and the heavens, this too was a revelation destined for all mankind. For when the sun has shone upon the territory of one people, it shines upon the territory of another. The heavens are common to all; the earth is common to all. The impulse of the ‘human universal’ is in very truth quickened by Christianity. Such is the aspect of Christmas revealed by the twofold proclamation.

. . . .

When we think of the Christmas Mystery, our minds must turn to a birth, to something that must be born anew in our time. For true Christianity must verily be born anew. We need a World-Christmas-Festival, and spiritual science would fain be a preparation for this World-Christmas-Festival among men.


Note 1:
About 300 B.C.
Note 2:
None really comprehend mathematics who do not undertake the study with reverence and devotion as a revelation from God." (From Thoughts on Physics).
Note 3:
"Mathematics and physics are the two theoretical sciences of reason which have to determine their objects a priori." (From the Preface to the 2nd ed. of The Critique of Pure Reason, 1787).
Note 4:
Founded in 1920 by Count Hermann Keyserling (1880-1946).

 



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