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The Easter Festival in the Evolution of the Mysteries

Easter Festival: Lecture IV:

Lecture IV

April 22, 1924

We have seen how the Mysteries provided human beings with a conscious connection to the world in such a way that this connection could be portrayed in the yearly cycle of festivals. In particular we have seen how Easter developed out of the principle of initiation. It should be obvious from all that has been said that the Mysteries played a highly significant role in humanity's development. Indeed, in ancient times essentially all of humanity's spiritual life and development originated within the Mysteries. To put it in modern terms, the Mysteries wielded great power in the overall guidance of spiritual life.

Human beings, however, were destined to achieve freedom, which meant that the Mysteries' powerful influence had to diminish and for a time leave human beings more or less to their own devices. Although today it can hardly be said that we have already achieved true inner freedom and are ready to proceed with the next evolutionary step, still a significant number of people have gone through incarnations in which the power of the Mysteries has been less palpable than it was in earlier times. The fruit of these incarnations, although not yet ripe, is alive in peoples' souls. And when an age finally dawns that is once again more spiritual, the current ignorance will be overcome. People will then freely greet with esteem and reverence the spiritual knowledge and experience that can be achieved through modern initiation. For without esteem and reverence, neither knowledge nor humanity's spiritual life would be possible.

One of the purposes of the festivals is to try to cultivate this reverence in ourselves by understanding how the spiritual has developed throughout human history. Through the festivals we can learn to look very intimately at how historical events pass spiritual contents on from one age to another. For even though human beings are the most fundamental link in the chain of historical development, in that they reincarnate and thereby carry experiences of earlier epochs into later ones, nevertheless each life is lived in a particular milieu, of which the Mysteries are of course a highly significant part. A most important factor for the progress of humanity is the carrying of the contents of Mystery experiences into later incarnations, where they are encountered again, either in new Mysteries, which in turn have their effect upon humanity as a whole, or in some other form of knowledge.

It is in some other form of knowledge that past Mystery wisdom must be experienced in our time, for the actual Mysteries have all but disappeared from outer life, and must rise again. I might say that if the impulse originating from the Christmas Conference that was held here at the Goetheanum truly takes hold within the Anthroposophical Society, then the Society, inasmuch as it leads to the Classes, which have already begun to be established, will become the basis for a renewal of the Mysteries. [The School for Spiritual Science, which was founded at the Christmas Conference in 1923, was divided into subject sections. In addition, the esoteric training was to progress through three classes, only the first of which had been established before Rudolf Steiner died in 1925. ] The Anthroposophical Society must consciously cultivate this renewal. The Society was, after all, witness to an event that, like the burning of the Temple at Ephesus, can be turned to good historical account. In both cases a grievous wrong was perpetrated. However, what is a terrible wrong on one level can turn out to be useful for human freedom on another level. Such harrowing events can indeed call forth a true step forward in human evolution.

To understand such matters we must examine them, as I mentioned before, on as intimate a level as possible. We must look at the particular way in which the world's spirituality lived within the Mysteries.

As I indicated yesterday, the fixing of Easter's date grew out of a spiritual appreciation of the constellation of the sun and the moon. I also indicated that moon-beings observe the planets, and that these observations guide human beings in their descent from pre-earthly into earthly life, guide them in the formation of their etheric bodies. Now in order to understand how the lunar forces or, one might say, the spiritual observatory on the moon makes etheric forces available to human beings, we can look to the cosmos; for, as we have had occasion to see, it is inscribed there, it exists there as a fact. However, it is also important to appreciate the interest human beings have taken in these matters throughout history. And that interest was nowhere more sincere than in the Mysteries at Ephesus.

Every aspect of the service to the goddess of Ephesus, known exoterically as Artemis, was designed to give an experience of the creative spiritual forces pervading the cosmic ether. When the participants in the Mysteries approached the statue of the goddess, they had the sensation of hearing her speak, in words such as this: “I delight in all that bears fruit within the vast cosmic ether.”

To hear the goddess thus express her heartfelt delight in everything that grows, buds, and sprouts within the cosmic ether was a truly profound experience. Indeed, the spiritual atmosphere of Ephesus was aglow with heartfelt sympathy for all budding and sprouting things. The Mysteries there were instituted in such a way that nowhere else could one find such sympathy with vegetative growth, with the budding and sprouting of the earth into the plant world.

One consequence of this was that the lessons, if I may call them that, that dealt with the mystery of the moon, of which I spoke yesterday, could be given at Ephesus with particular force and clarity. As a result of such instruction, each student was able to experience himself as a figure of light formed by the moon. One exercise in particular directly placed a person capable of performing it into a process of building himself up out of sunlight transformed by the moon. In the midst of this the sounds I, O, A * rang forth, as if emanating from the sun.

[ *Translator's note: Pronounced as in English “eagle,” “boat,” “father.” ]

These sounds, the Mystery student knew, enlivened his ego and astral body. I, O: ego, astral body, and with A, the approach of the luminous etheric body: I, O, A. As these sounds vibrated within him, he experienced himself as ego, as astral body, and as etheric body. Then, as if resounding from the earth, for the student was now outside the earth, came the sounds eh-v, which mingled with the I, O, A.

Diagram 1

In this word, IehOvA, the Mystery student experienced himself as a complete human being. Through the consonants, he felt a premonition of his earthly physical body. These consonants are bound up with the vowels, I O A, which express the ego, astral body, and etheric body.

It was through such immersion in the word IehOvA that the Ephesian apprentice was able to experience the final stages of his descent out of the spiritual world. As he did so, however, he felt himself living within the light. Now truly human, he was a sounding ego and sounding astral body within a light-filled etheric body. Sound within light — such is the cosmic human being.

In this way it was possible to take in what is visible in the cosmos, just as what happens in the earth's physical surroundings can be taken in through the eyes.

While carrying I O A within himself, the Ephesian student felt himself transported to the sphere of the moon, where he shared in the observations that could be made from there. In this condition he was still a human being in general, undifferentiated; only upon descending to earth did he become man or woman.

It was a pre-earthly state into which the student was transported, a state preparatory to the descent to Earth. In the Ephesian Mysteries this self-elevation into the sphere of the moon was an especially vivid experience, which the initiates inwardly cherished, and whose content might be expressed in the following words:

Cosmic-born being, thou clothed in light,
Strengthened by sun in the realm of moon's might,

Blessed art thou by Mars' creative ringing
And Mercury's swiftness, mobility bringing,

Illumined by wisdom from Jupiter raying
And by Venus's beauty, love portraying —

So that Saturn's venerable spirit-ways
Might consecrate thee to the world of space and time.

Every Ephesian bore this reality within himself, counting it among the most important things that permeated his being. Indeed, he felt himself to be truly human when these verses sounded in his ears, to use a somewhat trivial expression. For he associated them with a newly-awakened consciousness of his connection with all the planets through his etheric body's forces. The verses, pregnant with meaning, were addressed by the cosmos to the etheric body:

Cosmic-born being, thou clothed in light,
Strengthened by sun in the realm of moon's might,

The human being is experiencing himself here within the power of the shining moon.

Blessed art thou by Mars' creative ringing.

Creative tones resonate forth from Mars. Then comes the force that animates our limbs, makes us into beings of movement:

And by Mercury's swiftness, mobility bringing.

Jupiter sends forth its rays:

Illumined by wisdom from Jupiter raying.

As does Venus:

And by Venus's beauty, love portraying.

So that Saturn may gather all together and complete our inner and outer development, preparing us to descend to Earth and to clothe ourselves in a physical body, so that we might live on Earth as physical beings who carry the god within us:

So that Saturn's venerable spirit-ways
Might consecrate thee to the world of space and time.

From these descriptions you may gather that a brilliant inner light permeated the spiritual life of Ephesus. In fact, all that had ever been known about humanity's true stature within the cosmos was gathered and preserved there in the concept of Easter.

Yesterday I mentioned that certain people wandered from place to place in order to experience the totality of Mystery wisdom. Of these, many expressed wonder at the richness of the spiritual life at Ephesus. They assure us repeatedly that nowhere but there could they perceive so clearly and richly the harmony of the spheres as heard from the standpoint of the moon. The most brilliant astral light of the cosmos appeared to them there: they sensed it in the sunlight glimmering around the moon, pervading that light with spirit in the same way that the human soul pervades the physical body. Nowhere else than in Ephesus could they experience this, at least not with the same sense of joy or artistic vision.

Such was the Mystery center that went up in flames through the deed of a criminal or a madman. Ephesian initiates later reincarnated in Aristotle and Alexander, as I mentioned at the Christmas Conference. [Alexander the Great, 356–323 B.C., king of Macedonia 336–323, conqueror of Greek city-states and of the Persian empire. Pupil of Aristotle.
Aristotle, 384–322 B.C. Greek philosopher, pupil of Plato. Tutor of Alexander the Great.
] These individualities then came into contact with what remained of the Mysteries of Samothrace.

As an example of how a seemingly meaningless outer coincidence can actually be of great significance in the world's spiritual evolution, I may mention, as I have before, indeed for many years now, that the temple at Ephesus was burning at the very moment as Alexander the Great was born. As it burned, however, something else happened as well.

Consider for a moment how much the devotees of the temple had experienced throughout the centuries, how much spiritual light and wisdom had passed through its halls. All that was passed on to the cosmic ether by the flames. One might indeed say that the temple's continuous, concealed celebration of Easter was henceforth inscribed, although in somewhat less legible characters, into the vault of the heavens, to the extent that that vault is etheric. This is also true of much other human wisdom as well. Surrounded in ancient times by temple walls, it later escaped and was written into the cosmic ether, where those who have risen to true Imagination may perceive it directly. Because of this, Imagination may be said to be an interpreter of the secrets of the stars. It is the key to former temple secrets now inscribed into the cosmic ether.

The same thought may be expressed in another way. Imagine that you are looking at a crystal clear night sky, allowing your perceptions to sink deep into your soul. Provided you are properly prepared, the forms of the constellations, the movements of the planets will all begin to transform themselves into something like a cosmic script. And by reading this script you will grasp the outlines of the mystery of the moon, which I set forth yesterday. Such things can be read in the cosmic script, provided the stars are no longer seen merely as objects of mathematical and mechanical calculation, but as letters of a cosmic alphabet.

To continue with the Ephesian Mysteries: as I mentioned, Aristotle and Alexander came into contact with the Cabeirian Mysteries in Samothrace at a time when all the ancient Mysteries were in decline. At Samothrace, however, these Mysteries were remembered and preserved, even practiced. Under their influence, Alexander and Aristotle experienced something akin to a memory of Ephesus, in whose spiritual life both had of course participated in an earlier incarnation. Once more the I O A sounded forth for them, as well as the verses:

Cosmic-born being, thou clothed in light,
Strengthened by sun in the realm of moon's might,

Blessed art thou by Mars' creative ringing
And Mercury's swiftness, mobility bringing,

Illumined by wisdom from Jupiter raying
And by Venus's beauty, love portraying —

So that Saturn's venerable spirit-ways
Might consecrate thee to the world of space and time.

But this was more than just a memory of times past. Rather, it gave them the strength to create something new, something unusual and hence little regarded by humankind. Before I reveal it, you must understand just what kind of creation it was.

Take any significant work of literature, for example, the Bhagavad Gita, or Goethe's Faust, or Iphigenia, in short, any work that you admire, and think about its richness and powerful content. Now, how is that content transmitted to you? Let us assume that it was transmitted in the usual way, that is, that at some point in your life, you read it. Physically speaking, what precisely did you have before you? Nothing but combinations of letters of the alphabet on paper. The entire magnificent content comes to you through mere combinations of the twenty odd letters of the alphabet. But provided you can read, something comes to life through these twenty odd letters that enables you to experience the entire rich content of Goethe's Faust.

On the other hand, you may decide that the alphabet is a frightfully boring thing, that such a concatenation of letters is the most abstract thing imaginable. And yet these little abstract letters, properly combined, can give you all of Goethe's Faust!

When Aristotle and Alexander heard the celestial harmonies once again at Samothrace, they realized what the burning of the temple at Ephesus had meant. They perceived that the Ephesian Mysteries had been carried out by the flames into the vast cosmic ether. At that moment they became inspired to found the cosmic script, which is composed not of letters of the alphabet, but of thoughts.

Thus the letters of the cosmic script were discovered, which in their own way are as abstract as the alphabet:

Quantity (amount)
Quality (trait)

What we have here is a collection of concepts, first introduced by Aristotle to his pupil Alexander. One can learn to use them in much the same way that one learns to use the letters of the alphabet and read the cosmic script with them.

In later times, particularly in the abstract phase of scholastic logic, a very unusual thing occurred. Imagine a school in which the students are taught not to read, but rather only to learn the various letters of the alphabet in every imaginable combination — ac, ab, ae, and so on. In essence, this is what happened to Aristotelian logic. Works on logic would enumerate the above concepts, called categories. Students would learn them by heart, but not know what else to do with them next. It was as if they learned the alphabet but never learned to spell.

In a way, the concepts of quantity, quality, relation, and so on, are as simple as the letters of the alphabet, but knowledge of them is required in order to read in the cosmic script, just as to read Faust one must know the alphabet. And in essence, all past and future achievements of anthroposophy are experienced in terms of these concepts. For all the secrets of the physical and spiritual worlds are contained in them. These simple concepts, in other words, constitute the alphabet of the cosmos.

Starting in the time of Alexander, the earlier, direct perceptions characteristic of practices at Ephesus were replaced by something deeply hidden, something esoteric, that really began to develop only during the Middle Ages and that is embodied in the above-mentioned eight concepts (they may actually be expanded to ten). We are learning to live more and more with these, but we must strive to keep them as alive in our souls as the letters of the alphabet are when we read any rich and spiritual work of literature.

And so you see how ten concepts, whose illuminating and effective power has yet to be rediscovered, came to embody an enormous wisdom known instinctively for thousands of years. And although this light-filled wisdom lies, as it were, in the grave, someday it will rise again. People will then be able to read once again in the cosmic script, and to experience the resurrection of what has been hidden in the time between the two spiritual epochs.

It is of course our mission, my dear friends, to bring to light what has been hidden. We are here, after all, to find the human meaning of Easter. On another occasion I said that anthroposophy is a Christmas experience, but in all its endeavors it is also an Easter experience, a resurrection experience, bound up with the experience of the grave. It is essential, particularly at an Easter gathering such as this, to experience something of the solemnity, if I may put it that way, of our anthroposophical striving. We should sense the presence of a spiritual being just beyond the threshold to whom we can go and say: “How blessed mankind once was by divine-spiritual revelation! How glorious that revelation was in the temple at Ephesus! Now all that is buried; where must I dig for it?” To which the being beyond the threshold will reply, just as another did on a similar occasion, “What you seek is no longer here; it is in your hearts, if only you know how to open them.”

Anthroposophy is indeed in people's hearts, and these hearts need only be opened in the right way. That should be our conviction, and if it is, we shall be led back, not instinctively as in ancient times but in full awareness, to the wisdom that lived and shone in the Mysteries.

I offer you these Easter words in the hope that they might reach your hearts, for by devotedly cultivating the solemn mood that anthroposophy can enkindle within our souls, we reach up into the spiritual world. At the same time, this solemn mood is connected with the Christmas impulse given at Dornach, which must not be allowed to remain abstract or intellectual, but must issue from the heart. Avoiding both joylessness and sentimentality, it must be a natural expression of the solemn facts.

Just as the fire of Ephesus flared anew within the hearts of Aristotle and Alexander, after scorching the cosmic ether and revealing to them the secrets that they compressed into the simplest of forms, just as they used the burning of Ephesus, so too must we — and this may be said in all modesty — be able to make use of what the flames of the Goetheanum carried out into the ether as the substance of our anthroposophical aims, both past and to come.

It was in keeping with this, my dear friends, that at Christmas time, at the beginning of the new year, the very time of year in which our misfortune occurred, we were permitted to let issue forth a new impulse from the Goetheanum. Why? Because we could feel that a previously earthly concern had been carried out by the flames into the vastness of the cosmos, and that because of this misfortune, what we represent is no longer a merely earthly concern, but rather of significance for the whole cosmic-etheric world. This world, filled with spiritual wisdom, has adopted the Goetheanum's cause, which was carried out by the flames. The Goetheanum impulses with which we imbue ourselves now stream in from the cosmos.

Take this any way you like; take it as a picture. But as a picture it points to a profound reality. To put it simply, since the impulse at Christmas all anthroposophical endeavor must be infused with esotericism. This is because impulses are now working their way in from the cosmos as a result of the astral light that streamed up from the burning Goetheanum. These impulses can strengthen the anthroposophical movement, provided we are in a position to receive them. If we are, then everything anthroposophical, including the Easter mood, will be sensed as an essential part of the whole that is anthroposophy.

The anthroposophical Easter mood convinces us that the spirit never dies, that though it may die to the world, it always rises again. Anthroposophy must base itself upon this spirit that rises ever anew from its eternal foundations.

Such is the feeling and concept of Easter that we may take into our hearts. And from this gathering, my dear friends, we shall carry away courage and strength for our work in other places.

Last Modified: 15-Nov-2017
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