The Christmas festival, which we are about to celebrate, gains new
life through a deepened spiritual world view. In a spiritual sense the
Christmas festival is a sun festival, and as such we shall become
acquainted with it today. To begin, we shall hear that most beautiful
apostrophe to the sun that Goethe puts in the mouth of Faust.
Refreshed anew life's pulses beat and waken
To greet the mild ethereal dawn of morning;
Earth, through this night thou too hast stood unshaken
And breath'st before me in thy new adorning,
Beginst to wrap me round with gladness thrilling,
A vigorous resolve in me forewarning,
Unceasing strife for life supreme instilling.
Now lies the world revealed in twilight glimmer,
The wood resounds, a thousand voices trilling;
The vales where mist flows in and out lie dimmer,
But in the gorges sinks a light from heaven,
And boughs and twigs, refreshed, lift up their shimmer
From fragrant chasms where they slept at even;
Tint upon tint again emerges, clearing
Where trembling pearls from flower and leaf drip riven:
All round me is a Paradise appearing.
Look up! The peaks, gigantic and supernal,
Proclaim the hour most solemn now is nearing.
They early may enjoy the light eternal
That later to us here below is wended.
Now on the alpine meadows, sloping, vernal,
A clear and lavish glory has descended
And step by step fulfils its journey's ending.
The sun steps forth! Alas, already blinded,
I turn away, the pain my vision rending.
Thus is it ever when a hope long yearning
Has made a wish its own, supreme, transcending,
And finds Fulfilment's portals outward turning;
From those eternal deeps bursts ever higher
Too great a flame, we stand, with wonder burning.
To kindle life's fair torch we did aspire
And seas of flame and what a flame! embrace us!
Is it Love? Is it Hate? that twine us with their fire,
In alternating joy and pain enlace us,
So that again toward earth we turn our gazing,
Baffled, to hide in youth's fond veils our faces.
Behind me therefore let the sun be blazing!
The cataract in gorges deeply riven
I view with rapture growing and amazing.
To plunge on plunge in a thousand streams it's given,
And yet a thousand, downward to the valleys,
While foam and mist high in the air are driven.
Yet how superb above this tumult sallies
The many-colored rainbow's changeful being;
Now lost in air, now clearly drawn, it dailies,
Shedding sweet coolness round us even when fleeing!
The rainbow mirrors human aims and action.
Think, and more clearly wilt thou grasp it, seeing
Life is but light in many-hued reflection.
Goethe lets his representative of mankind speak these mighty words in
the presence of the radiant, rising morning sun. But it is not this
sun, awakening anew every morning, with which we have to deal in the
festival we will speak about today. This sun is a being of much
profounder depths, and the nature of it shall be the leitmotif of our
We shall now hear the words that reflect the deepest meaning of the
Christmas Mystery. These words have been heard by the pupils of the
Mysteries of all ages before they entered the Mysteries themselves:
Behold the Sun
At midnight hour,
And build with stones
In lifeless clay.
So find in world decline
And in the night of death
Creation's new beginning
And morning's youthful strength.
Let heights above reveal
The Gods' eternal word,
May depths preserve and seal
The peaceful treasure-hoard.
In darkness living
O now create a Sun!
In substance weaving
O know the Bliss of Spirit.
Die Sonne schaue
um mitternächtige Stunde.
Mit Steinen baue
im leblosen Grunde.
So finde im Niedergang
und in des Todes Nacht
der Schöpfung neuen Anfang,
des Morgens junge Macht.
Die Höhen lass offenbaren
der Götter ewiges Wort;
die Tiefen sollen bewahren
den friedensvollen Hort.
Im Dunkel lebend
erschaffe eine Sonne.
Im Stoffe webend
erkenne Geistes Wonne.
Many people who today merely know the Christmas tree with its candles
believe that to have a tree symbolizing Christmas is a traditional
custom dating from ancient times. This, however, is not the case. On
the contrary, the custom of decorating a tree at Christmas is most
recent and does not date back more than a few centuries. The custom of
decorating a Christmas tree is a recent phenomenon, but the
celebration of Christmas is old. The festival at Christmas time was
known in the most ancient Mysteries of all religions everywhere, and
has always been celebrated. It is not merely an outer sun festival,
but one that leads man to a divination of the sources of existence. It
was celebrated annually by the highest initiates in the Mysteries at
the time of year when the sun's force was weakest and bestowed least
warmth upon the earth. It was also celebrated by those who were unable
to participate in the entire celebration, but were permitted to
experience only the outer pictorial expression of the highest
Mysteries. This imagery has been preserved throughout the ages and has
assumed forms in accordance with the various religious confessions.
The celebration of Christmas is the festival of the Sacred Night,
which, in the great Mysteries, was celebrated by those personalities
who were ready to bring about the resurrection of the higher self
within their inmost being. Today we would say, "Within their inmost
being they gave birth to the Christ."
Only those who know nothing of the fact that, besides the chemical and
physical forces, spiritual forces are active, and that, just as the
chemical and physical forces have definite times in the cosmos for
their action, so likewise have the spiritual forces only such
people can remain indifferent when the awakening of the Higher Self
occurs. In the great Mysteries man was permitted to behold the active
forces in colored radiance, in brilliant light. He was permitted to
perceive the world around him filled with spiritual qualities, with
spiritual beings, to behold the world of the spirit around him in
which he underwent the greatest experience possible.
This moment will arrive at some time for everyone. All men will
ultimately experience it, even though perhaps only after many
incarnations. The moment will arrive for everyone when the Christ will
rise within them and new seeing, new hearing will awaken within them.
Those who were prepared for the awakening, as were pupils of the
Mysteries, were first taught what the awakening signifies in the great
universe; only then was the rite of awakening performed. It took place
at the time when darkness on earth is greatest, when the outer sun has
reached its lowest point at Christmas time, because those who are
acquainted with spiritual facts know that at that time of year, forces
stream through cosmic space that are favorable to such an awakening.
In his preparation, the pupil was told that the one who really wished
to know should not merely know what has taken place during thousands
and thousands of years on earth, but he must learn to survey the
entire course of human evolution, realizing that the great festivals
have their place within this, and that they must be dedicated to the
contemplation of the great eternal truths. The pupils directed their
thoughts toward the time when the earth had not yet become what it is
today. Sun and moon did not yet exist but were both united with the
earth, and the earth, sun and moon still formed one body. Man already
existed at that time but he had no body; he was a spiritual being upon
whom no external sunlight shone. The sunlight was within the earth
itself. Its nature differed from the present sunlight, which shines
upon beings and things from without. It had the quality of being able
to radiate within itself and, at the same time, to radiate within the
inner nature of every earthly being. Then the moment arrived when the
sun separated from the earth and its light fell upon the earth from
without. The sun had withdrawn from the earth and the inner being of
man had become dark. This was the beginning of his evolution toward
that future time when he is to find the inner light again radiating in
his inner nature. Man must learn to know the things of earth by means
of his outer nature. He will evolve to the time when in his inner
nature the higher man, the spirit man, will glow and radiate again.
From light, through darkness, to light such is the course of the
evolution of mankind.
The pupils were prepared by these teachings, which were constantly
impressed upon them. Then they were led to their awakening. The moment
arrived when, as chosen ones, they experienced by means of their
awakened spirit organs, the spiritual light within them. This holy
moment came when the outer light was weakest, on the day when the
outer sun shines least. On that day the pupils were gathered together,
and the inner light revealed itself to them.
Those who were still unable to participate in this celebration were
able to experience at least an outer likeness of it from which they
learned that for them, too, the great moment would come. "Today," they
were told, "you behold only an image; later you will experience what
you now see as a likeness." These were the lesser Mysteries. They
showed in pictures what the neophyte was to experience later. We shall
hear today of what took place in the lesser Mysteries on Christmas
eve. It was the same everywhere -in the Egyptian Mysteries, the
Eleusinian Mysteries, the Mysteries of the Near East, the
Babylonian-Chaldaic Mysteries, as well as in the Mysteries of the
Persian Mithras cult and the Indian Mysteries of Brahman. Everywhere
the pupils of these Mystery Schools had the same experience at the
midnight hour on the Night of Consecration.
The pupils gathered in the early evening. In quiet contemplation they
had to make clear to themselves what this most important event
signified. In deep silence they sat together in the darkness. By the
time midnight drew near, they had been sitting in the dark room for
hours. Thoughts of eternity pervaded their souls. Then, toward
midnight, mysterious tones arose, resounding through the room, up
welling and diminishing. The pupils who heard these tones knew that
this was the music of the spheres. Then the room became dimly lit, the
only light emanating from a dimly lighted disc. Those who saw this
knew that this disc represented the earth. The illumined disc became
darker and darker, until finally it was quite black. Simultaneously
the surrounding space grew brighter. Those who saw this knew that the
black sphere represented the earth. The sun, however, which ordinarily
irradiates the earth was concealed; the earth could no longer see the
sun. Then around the earth-disc, at the outer edge, rainbow colors
formed, ring upon ring. Those who saw it knew that this was the
radiant Iris. At midnight a violet-reddish circle gradually arose in
place of the black earth sphere. On it a Word was written. This Word
varied according to the peoples whose members were permitted to
experience this Mystery. In our language the Word would be Christos.
Those who saw it knew that this was the sun, which appeared to them at
the midnight hour, when the world around rests in deepest darkness.
The pupils were now told that what they had experienced was called,
"Seeing the sun at the midnight hour."
Whoever is really initiated learns to experience the sun at the
midnight hour, for in him all matter is obliterated. The sun of the
spirit alone lives in his inner self and radiates over all the
darkness of matter. This is the moment of highest bliss in the
evolution of man, when he has the experience that he lives in the
eternal light freed from darkness. Year after year, at midnight on the
Night of Consecration, this moment was thus represented in the
Mysteries. This image represented the fact that alongside the physical
sun there is a Spiritual Sun, which, like the physical sun, is born
out of darkness. In order to make this clearer to the pupils, after
they had experienced the rising of the Sun, of the Christos, they were
led into a cave in which there was seemingly nothing but stone
dead, lifeless matter. There they beheld stalks of grain arise from
the stones as a sign of life, as a symbolical indication of the fact
that from apparent death life springs forth, that from dead stone,
life is born. They were told that just as the sun force, after it had
seemingly died, waxes anew from this day on, so does new life forever
arise out of dying life.
The same event is indicated in the Gospel of St. John in the words,
"He must increase, but I must decrease." John, the herald of the
coming Christ, of the Spiritual Light, whose festival day falls in the
course of the year in mid-summer John must decrease, and
simultaneously with his decrease the force of the coming light waxes,
increasing in strength as John decreases. In like manner the new, the
coming life prepares itself in the seed that must wither and decay in
order that the new plant may spring forth from it. The pupils of the
Mysteries were to experience that in death life resides, that out of
decaying matter the new, glorious blossoms and fruits of spring arise,
that the earth teems with the forces of birth. They were to learn that
at this time something happens in the inner being of the earth the
overcoming of death by life that is present in death. This was shown
them in the conquering light. This they felt and experienced when they
saw the light arise and shine in the darkness. They beheld in the
stone cave the sprouting life arising in splendor and abundance out of
the seemingly dead.
Thus, faith in life was fostered in the pupils. Thus were they led to
arouse in themselves what may be called faith in man's greatest ideal.
Thus they learned to look up to the highest ideal of mankind, to the
time when the earth will have completed its evolution and the Light
will shine forth in all mankind. The earth will then crumble to dust
but the spiritual essence will remain with all men who have become
radiant in their innermost nature through the spiritual Light. Earth
and humanity will then awaken to a higher existence, to a new phase of
When Christianity arose in the course of evolution, it bore this ideal
within it in the highest sense. Man felt that within Christianity the
Christos was to appear as the great Ideal of all men, that He had been
born on the Night of Consecration about the time of deepest darkness
as a sign that out of the darkness of matter a higher man can be born
in the human soul.
In the ancient Mysteries, before men spoke of a Christos, they spoke
of a Sun Hero who embodied the same ideal as is connected with the
Christos in Christianity. The bearer of this ideal was called the Sun
Hero. Just as the sun completes its orbit in the course of the year
bringing about an increase and decrease in light, and its warmth
apparently withdraws from the earth and then again radiates anew, just
as it contains life in its death and lets it stream forth anew, so
like wise does the Sun Hero, through the power of his spiritual life,
become master over death and night and darkness.
In the Mysteries there were seven degrees of initiation. First the
degree of the "Ravens," who were able to approach only as far as the
portal of the temple of initiation. They became the intermediaries
between the external world of material life and the inner world of
spiritual life, and no longer belonged to the material nor yet to the
spiritual world. These Ravens are to be found everywhere. They are
always the messengers who pass to and fro between the two worlds and
transmit messages. They are to be found in the Germanic sagas and
myths also. The Ravens of Wotan, the Ravens who fly around the
mountain of Kyffhäuser.
In the second degree the disciple was led away from the portal into
the interior of the temple of initiation. There he matured until he
reached the third degree, the degree of the "Warrior," who stepped
before the world to proclaim the occult truths that he was permitted
to experience in the interior of the temple.
The fourth degree, that of the "Lion," was attained by one whose
consciousness was not merely that of an individual human being, but
encompassed an entire tribe. Thus the Christ was called "the Lion of
the Tribe of David." A man whose consciousness encompassed a whole
nation had attained the fifth degree. He no longer had a name of his
own but was designated by the name of his nation. Thus, people spoke
of the "Persian," or the "Israelite." Now we can understand how it was
that Nathanael, for instance, was called a "true Israelite." It was
because he had reached the fifth degree of initiation.
The sixth degree was that of the "Sun Hero," and we must understand
what this name signifies. We shall then realize what awe and reverence
passed through the soul of the pupil of the Mysteries who knew
something of a Sun Hero, and who experienced at Christmas the Birth
Festival of a Sun Hero.
Everything in the cosmos takes its rhythmic course. The stars as well
as the sun follow a great rhythm. Were the sun to change this rhythm
but for a moment, were it to leave its orbit only for a moment, a
revolution would result in the entire universe of quite unheard-of
significance. Rhythm rules all nature, right up to man. Only with man
does the situation change. The rhythm that rules until death
throughout the course of the seasons in the forces of growth,
propagation, etc., ceases with man. He is to stand in freedom, and the
more highly civilized he is, the more does this rhythm decrease. Just
as the light disappears at Christmas, so apparently has rhythm
disappeared from the life of man and chaos prevails. Man, however,
gives birth to this rhythm out of his own initiative out of his own
inner nature. He must so fashion his life out of his will that it
takes its course within rhythmical boundaries, steadfast and sure,
like the course of the sun. Just as a change in the course of the sun
is unthinkable, even so is it unthinkable that the rhythm of such a
life be interrupted. The embodiment of such a life rhythm was to be
found in the Sun Hero. Through the strength of the higher man born in
him, he gained the power to rule the rhythm of the course of his life.
This Sun Hero, this higher man, was born in the Night of Consecration.
Christ Jesus was also a Sun Hero and was conceived as such in the
first centuries of Christianity. His birth festival was, therefore,
placed at the time of year when, since primeval days, the birthday of
the Sun Hero has been celebrated. This is also the reason for all that
was linked with the life story of Christ Jesus. The Midnight Mass,
which the first Christians celebrated in caves, was in memory of the
Sun Festival. In this Mass an ocean of light streamed forth at
midnight out of the darkness as a memory of the rising sun in the
Mysteries. Christ was thus born in a cave in remembrance of the cave
of rock out of which, symbolized in the growing stalks of grain, life
was born. Earthly life was born out of the dead stone. So, too, out of
the lowly, the Highest, Christ Jesus, was born!
The legend of the three priest-sages, the three kings, was linked with
the Christ Birth Festival. They brought to the Child gold, the symbol
of the wisdom-filled outer man; myrrh, the symbol of life's victory
over death, and finally, frankincense, the symbol of the cosmic ether
in which the spirit lives.
Thus, in the meaning of the Christmas Festival, we feel something
echoing to us from the most ancient ages of mankind, and it has come
down to us in the special coloring of Christianity. In its symbols we
find images for the most ancient symbols of mankind. The Christmas
tree with its candles is one of them. For us, it is a symbol of the
Tree of Paradise, which represents all of material nature. Spiritual
nature is represented by the tree in Paradise that encompassed all
Knowledge, and by the Tree of Life. There is a narrative that imparts
clearly the significance of the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of
Life. Seth stood at the Gates of Paradise and begged to be allowed to
enter. The Archangel guarding the portal let him pass. This is a sign
Seth, now in Paradise, found the Tree of Life and the Tree of
Knowledge closely intertwined. The Archangel Michael, who stands in
the presence of God, let him take three seeds from these intertwining
trees, which, standing there as a single tree, pointed prophetically
to the future of mankind. Then the whole of humanity shall have been
initiated and shall have found knowledge. Only the Tree of Life will
still exist and death will be no more. For the time being, however,
only the initiate may take the three seeds from this Tree, the three
seeds that signify the three higher members of man.
When Adam died, Seth placed these three seeds in Adam's mouth, and
from them grew a flaming bush. From the wood cut from this bush, new
shoots and green leaves continually burst forth. Within the flaming
circle of the bush, however, was written, "I am He Who was, Who is,
Who is to be." This points to the entity that passes through all
incarnations, the force of evolving man repeatedly renewing himself,
who descends from light into darkness and ascends from darkness into
The rod with which Moses performed his miracles was carved from the
wood of the flaming bush. The portal of Solomon's Temple was fashioned
from it. This wood was carried to the waters of the pool of Bethesda,
and from it the pool derived its power.
From the same wood the Cross of Christ Jesus was fashioned, the wood
of the Cross that shows us life passing into death, but which at the
same time bears the power in itself to bring forth new life. The great
world symbol stands before us here life, which overcomes death. The
wood of this Cross grew out of the three seeds from the Tree of
The Rose Cross also expresses this symbol of the death of the lower
nature and, springing from it, the resurrection of the higher. Goethe
expressed the same thought in the words:
As long as you have not
Died and been reborn,
You are but a gloomy guest
Upon the darkened earth.
What a wondrous connection there is between the Tree of Paradise and
the wood of the Cross! Even though the Cross is a symbol of Easter, it
also deepens our Christmas mood. We feel in it how the Christ Idea
streams toward us in new welling life on this night of Christ's
Nativity. This idea is indicated in the living roses that adorn this
They tell us that the tree of the Sacred Night has not yet
become the wood of the Cross, but the power to become this wood begins
to arise in it. The roses that grow from the green symbolize the Eternal
that grows from the Temporal.
The square is the symbol of the fourfold nature of man: physical body,
ether body, astral body and ego.
The triangle is the symbol of the higher man: Spirit Self, Life Spirit
and Spirit Man.
Above the triangle is the symbol of the Tarok. Initiates of the
Egyptian Mysteries knew how to read this sign. They also knew how to
read the Book of Thoth, which consisted of seventy-eight cards on
which were recorded all world events from beginning to end, from Alpha
to Omega, and which could be read if they were joined and assembled in
the right way. The Book of Thoth, or Hermes, contained in pictures the
life that fades in death and again sprouts forth anew into life.
Whoever could combine the right numbers with the right pictures was
able to read it. This wisdom of numbers and pictures has been taught
since primeval ages. In the Middle Ages it still played an important
role, but today there is little left of it.
Above the Alpha and Omega is the sign of Tao. It reminds us of the
worship of God by our primeval ancestors because this worship took its
origin from the work Tao. Before Europe, Asia and Africa were lands of
human culture, our ancestors lived on Atlantis, which was submerged by
a flood. In the Germanic sagas of Niflheim, the land of the mists, the
memory of Atlantis still lives. For Atlantis was not surrounded by
pure air. Its atmosphere was filled with enormous masses of mist
similar to the clouds and mists in high mountains. The sun and moon
were not seen clearly in the sky, but were surrounded by a rainbow,
and sacred Iris. At that time man still understood the language of
nature. What speaks to him today in the lapping and surging of the
waves, in the whistling and rushing of the wind, in the rustling of
the leaves, in the rumbling of thunder, is no longer understood by
him, but at that time he could understand it. He felt something that
spoke to him from everything about him. From the clouds and waters and
leaves and winds the sound rang forth: Tao (the I am). Atlanteans
heard it and understood it, and knew that Tao streamed through the
Finally, all that permeates the cosmos is present in man and is
symbolized in the pentagram at the top of the tree. The deepest
meaning of the pentagram may not now be mentioned, but it is the star
of mankind, of mankind developing itself. It is the star that all wise
men follow as did the priest-sages in ancient ages.
It symbolizes the earth that is born on the Night of Consecration,
because the most sublime light radiates from the deepest darkness. Man
lives on toward a state when the light shall be born in him, when one
significant saying shall be replaced by another, when it will no
longer be said, The Darkness does not comprehend the Light but when
the truth will resound into cosmic space with the words, Darkness
gives way to the Light that radiates toward us in the Star of Mankind,
Darkness yields and comprehends the Light.
This shall resound from the Christmas celebration, and the spiritual
light shall radiate from it. Let us celebrate Christmas as the
festival of the most lofty ideal of the Idea of Mankind, so that in
our souls may rise the joyful confidence: Indeed, I, too, shall
experience the birth of the higher man within myself. The birth of the
Savior, the Christos, will take place in me also.
- Note 1:
- From Goethe's Faust, translated by George Madison Priest;
copyright by, and reprinted here with permission of
Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
- Note 2:
- Translated by Henry B. Monges.
- Note 3:
- By Rudolf Steiner.
- Note 4:
- This lecture was delivered beside a lighted Christmas tree adorned
with the signs depicted here, as well as with thirty-three wax
candles and fresh red roses.