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Rudolf Steiner Archive Section Name Rudolf Steiner Archive

The Festivals and Their Meaning
Ascension and Pentecost

On-line since: 1st June, 2000

the Festival of the free Individuality

“You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free”

AS AWAKENERS of ancient memories, festivals turn our thoughts and feelings to the past. Through what they signify they awaken in us thoughts that link us to all that our souls held holy in distant ages. But other thoughts also are roused through the understanding of the content of these festivals, thoughts which turn our eyes to the future of mankind, which, for us, means the future of our own souls. Feelings are awakened which lend us the enthusiasm to live on into the future, and inspire our wills with strength so to work that we may grow ever more and more adequate for our future tasks.

It is with this backward and forward vision that we become able to describe, in the deeper sense of the word, the nature of the Whitsun festival. What it signifies for Western humanity is put before us in a mighty picture which speaks to the very depths of our soul. It is a picture we all know well. The Founder and Inaugurator of Christianity, after having accomplished the Mystery of Golgotha, dwelt for a time among those who were able to perceive Him, in that bodily form which He assumed after the Mystery of Golgotha. The events which followed that period are brought before our souls in a most significant series of pictures. In a mighty vision, known as the Ascension, His closest disciples visibly beheld the dissolution of that bodily form which He had assumed. Then ten days later there followed what is expressed for us in another picture, speaking powerfully to all hearts which have the will to understand it. The disciples of Christ are gathered together, those who were the first to understand Him. Deep in their hearts they feel the mighty impulse which through Him has entered into the evolution of humanity, and, after the promise given to them of the happenings they were to experience in their very souls, they are waiting in utmost expectation, gathered together in deepest devotion on the Day of Pentecost, the time-honoured festival of their people. First there takes place that which is presented in the picture of the “rushing mighty wind.” Through this their souls are lifted up into higher vision. They are summoned as it were to turn their gaze on what is yet to come to pass, on what will await them when, with the fire-impulse they have received into their hearts, they live on this earth in incarnation after incarnation in the future.

There is next portrayed before us the picture of the “tongues of fire” which descend upon the head of each of the disciples, and here another tremendous vision reveals to them what the future of this Christ Impulse is to be. For gathered together, and beholding in spirit the spiritual world, these men, who were the first to understand the Christ, feel as if they were not speaking to people near to them in space or in time: they feel their hearts borne far, far away, among the different peoples of the earth-sphere, and they feel as if something lives in their hearts which is translatable into all languages, and which can be brought to the understanding of the hearts of all men. In this mighty vision of the future of Christianity which rises before them, these first disciples feel themselves as though surrounded by future disciples out of all the peoples of the earth, and as if they will, one day, have the power to proclaim the Gospel in words that will be understandable, not only to those directly near to them in time and space, but to all who live on the earth as human beings conscious of their destiny. This it was which was born out of the first Christian Pentecostal festival as the inner content of soul and feeling of these earliest disciples of Christ.

Let us now consider the interpretation of these pictures in their deepest esoteric Christian meaning. — The Spirit, also rightly named the Holy Spirit — for so he is — sent his forces down to the earth in the first descent to the earth of Christ Jesus. He next manifested himself when Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist. Now, once again, this same Spirit, in another form, in the form of many single, shining, fiery tongues, descended upon each single individual of the first Christian believers.

We are told about this Holy Spirit at the Whitsun festival in a quite special way, but we must get clear in our minds the meaning of the words “Holy Spirit,” as they are used in the Gospels. In the first place, how was the Spirit usually spoken of in ancient times, the times preceding those of the Gospel? In olden times the Spirit was spoken of in many connections, but in one connection particularly. Through the new knowledge which Spiritual Science gives us, we are enabled to say that when a man passes through birth into his existence between birth and death, the body in which the individuality is incarnated is determined in two ways. Our bodily nature has actually a double function to fulfil: it makes us a human being, but it also makes us members of this or that people, this or that race or family