THE Festival of Christmas which we shall soon be celebrating acquires
new life when a deeper, more spiritual conception of the world is
brought to bear upon it. In a spiritual sense the Christmas Festival
is a Festival of the Sun, and as such we shall think of it to-day. To
begin with, let us listen to the beautiful apostrophe to the sun which
Goethe puts into the mouth of Faust:
Life's pulses newly-quickened now awaken,
Softly to greet the ethereal twilight leaping;
Thou Earth through this night too hast stood unshaken,
And at my feet fresh breathest from thy sleeping.
Thou girdest me about with gladness, priming
My soul to stern resolve and strenuous keeping,
Onward to strive, to highest life still climbing.
Unfolded lies the world in twilight-shimmer;
With thousand throated song the woods are chiming;
The dales, where through the mist-wreaths wind, lie dimmer,
Yet heavenly radiance plumbs the deeps unnumbered,
And bough and twig, new-quickened, bud and glimmer
Forth from the fragrant depths where sunk they slumbered,
Whilst hue on hue against the gloom still heightens,
Where bloom and blade with quivering pearls are cumbered.
A very Paradise about me lightens!
Look up! The giant peaks that rise supernal
Herald the solemn hour; for them first brightens
The early radiance of the light eternal,
Upon us valley-dwellers later showered.
Now are the green-sunk, Alpine meadows vernal
With radiance new and new distinctness dowered,
And stepwise downward hath the splendour thriven.
He sallies forth, and I mine overpowered
And aching eyes to turn away am driven.
Thus when a yearning hope, from fear and wonder
Up to the highest wish in trust hath striven,
The portals of fulfilment yawn asunder.
Then bursts from yonder depths whose days ne'er dwindle
Excess of flame we stand as smit with thunder.
The torch of life it was we sought to kindle,
A sea of fire-and what a fire! hath penned us.
Is't Love? Is't Hate? that yonder glowing spindle
In bliss and bale alternating tremendous
About us twines, till we the dazed beholders
To veil our gaze in Earth's fresh mantle wend us.
Nay then, the sun shall bide behind my shoulders!
The cataract, that through the gorge doth thunder,
I'll watch with growing rapture, 'mid the boulders
From plunge to plunge down-rolling, rent asunder
In thousand thousand streams, aloft that shower
Foam upon hissing foam, the depths from under.
Yet blossoms from this storm a radiant flower;
The painted rainbow bends its changeful being,
Now lost in air, now limned with clearest power,
Shedding this fragrant coolness round us fleeing.
Its rays an image of man's efforts render;
Think, and more clearly wilt thou grasp it, seeing
Life in the many-hued, reflected splendour.
(Translation by Latham)
Goethe lets these words be spoken by Faust, the representative of
humanity, as he gazes at the radiant morning sun. But the Festival of
which we are now to speak has to do with a Sun belonging to a far
deeper realm of being than the sun which rises anew every morning. And
it is this deeper Sun that will be the guiding moth in our thoughts
And now we will listen to words in which the deepest import of the
Christmas Mystery is mirrored. In all ages these words resounded in
the ears of those who were pupils of the Mysteries before they were
allowed to participate in the Mysteries themselves:
Die Sonne schaue
Um mitternächtige Stunde.
Mit Steinen baue
Im lebenlose 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
Behold the Sun
At tire midnight hour;
Build with stones in the lifeless ground,
Thus in decay and in the night of Death
Find the Creation's new beginning,
Young morning's strength;
Glory in the heights the eternal Word of Gods;
Shelter in the depths the Powers of Peace.
In darkness dwelling, create a Sun.
In matter weaving, know the joy of Spirit!
Many to whom the Christmas Tree with its candles is a familiar sight
to-day, believe that it is a very ancient institution but this is
not the case. The Christmas Tree is a very recent European custom,
dating no further back than about a hundred years or so. Although,
however, the Christmas Tree is a recent custom, the Christmas Festival
is very ancient. It was celebrated in the earliest Mysteries of all
religions, not as a festival of the outer sun but as one which awakens
in men an inkling of the very wellsprings of existence. It was
celebrated every year by the highest Initiates in the Mysteries, at
the time of the year when the sun sends least power to the earth,
bestows least warmth. But it was also celebrated by those who might
not yet participate in the whole festival, who might witness only the
outer, pictorial expression of the highest Mysteries. This imagery has
been preserved through the ages, varying in form according to the
The Christmas Festival is the Festival of the Holy Night, celebrated
in the Mysteries by those who were ready for the awakening of the
higher Self within them, or, as we should say in our time, those who
have brought the Christ to birth within them.
Only those who have no inkling of the fact that as well as the
chemical and physical forces, spiritual forces are also at work and
that the workings of both kinds of forces take effect at definite
times and seasons in cosmic life, can imagine that the moment of the
awakening of the higher Self in man is of no importance. In the
Greater Mysteries man beheld the forces working through all existence;
he saw the world around him filled with spirit, with spiritual Beings;
he beheld the world of spirit around him, radiant with light and
colour. There can be no more sublime experience than this and in due
time it will come to everyone. Although for some it may be only after
many incarnations, nevertheless the moment will come for all men when
Christ will be resurrected within them and new vision, new hearing
will awaken. In preparation for the awakening, the pupils in the
Mysteries were first taught of the cosmic significance of this
awakening and only then was the sacred Act itself performed. It took
place at the time when darkness on the earth is greatest, when the
external sun gives out least light and warmth at Christmas time
because those who are cognisant of the spiritual facts know that at
this time of the year, forces that are favourable for such an
awakening stream through cosmic space. During his preparation the
pupil was told that one who would be a true knower must have knowledge
not only of what has been happening on the earth for thousands and
thousands of years but must also be able to survey the whole course of
the evolution of humanity, realising that the great festivals have
their own, essential place within that evolution and must be dedicated
to contemplation of the eternal truths. The pupil's gaze was directed
to the time when our earth was not as it is now, when there was no
sun, no moon out yonder in the heavens, but both were still united
with the earth, when earth, sun and moon formed one body. Even then
man was already in existence, but he had no body; he was still a
spiritual being. No sunlight fell from outside upon these spiritual
beings, for the sunlight was within the earth itself. This was not the
sunlight that shines from outside upon objects and beings to-day, but
it was inner sunlight that glowed within all beings of the earth. Then
came the time when the sun separated from the earth, when its light
shone down upon the earth from the universe outside. The sun had
withdrawn from the earth and inner darkness came upon man. This was
the beginning of his evolution towards that future when the inner
light will again be radiant within him. Man must learn to know the
things of the earth with his outer senses; he evolves to the stage
where the higher Man, Spirit-Man, again glows and shines within him.
From light, through darkness, to light such is the path of the
evolution of mankind.
The pupils of the Mysteries were prepared by these constantly
inculcated teachings. Then they were led to the actual awakening. This
was the moment when, as chosen ones, they experienced the spiritual
Light within them; their eyes of spirit were opened. This sacred
moment came when the outer light was weakest, when the outer sun was
shining with least strength. On that day the pupils were called
together and the inner Light revealed itself to them. To those who
were not yet ready to participate in this sacred enactment, it was
presented as a picture which made them realise: For you too the great
moment will come; to-day you see a picture only; later on, what you
now see as a picture will be an actual experience. Thus it was in the
lesser Mysteries. Pictures were presented of what the candidate for
initiation was subsequently to experience as reality. To-day we shall
hear of the enactments in the lesser Mysteries. Everywhere it was the
same: in the Egyptian Mysteries, in the Eleusinian Mysteries, in the
Mysteries of Asia Minor, of Babylon and Chaldea, as well as in the
Mithras-cult and in the Indian Mysteries of Brahman. Everywhere the
same experiences were undergone by the pupils of these Mysteries at
the midnight hour of the Holy Night.
Early on the previous evening the pupils gathered together. In quiet
contemplation they were to be made aware of the meaning and import of
this momentous happening. Silently and in darkness they sat together.
When the midnight hour drew near they had been for long hours in the
darkened chamber, steeped in the contemplation of eternal truths.
Then, towards midnight, mysterious tones, now louder, now gentler,
resounded through the space around them. Hearing these tones, the
pupils knew: This is the Music of the Spheres. Then a faint light
began to glimmer from an illumined disc. Those who gazed at it knew
that this disc represented the earth. The illumined disc became darker
and darker until finally it was quite black. At the same time the
surrounding space grew brighter. Again the pupils knew: the black disc
represents the earth; the sun, which otherwise radiates light to the
earth, is hidden; the earth can see the sun no longer. Then, ring upon
ring, rainbow colours appeared around the earth-disc and those who saw
it knew: This is the radiant Iris. At midnight, in the place of the
black earth-disc, a violet-reddish orb gradually became visible, on
which a word was inscribed, varying according to the peoples whose
members were permitted to experience this Mystery. With us, the word
would be Christos. Those who gazed at it knew: It is the sun which
appears at the midnight hour, when the world around lies at rest in
deep darkness. The pupils were now told that they had experienced what
was known in the Mysteries as "seeing the sun at midnight."
He who is truly initiated experiences the sun at midnight, for in him
the material is obliterated: the sun of the Spirit alone lives within
him, dispelling with its light the darkness of matter. The most holy
of all moments in the evolution of man is that in which he experiences
the truth that he lives in eternal light, freed from the darkness. In
the Mysteries, this moment was represented pictorially, year by year,
at the midnight hour of the Holy Night. The picture imaged forth the
truth that as well as the physical sun there is a Spiritual Sun which,
like the physical sun, must be born out of the darkness. In order that
the pupils might realise this even more intensely, after they had
experienced the rising of the spiritual Sun, of the Christos, they
were taken into a cave in which there seemed to be nothing but stone,
nothing but dead, lifeless matter. But springing out of the stones
they saw ears of corn as tokens of life, indicating symbolically that
out of apparent death, life arises, that life is born from the dead
stone. Then it was said to them: Just as from this day onwards the
power of the sun awakens anew after it seemed to have died, so does
new life forever spring from the dying.
The same truth 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, he whose festival day in the
course of the year falls at midsummer this John must decrease and
in this decreasing there grows the power of the coming spiritual
Light, increasing in strength in the measure in which John
decreases. Thus is the new life, prepared in the seed-grain which
must wither and decay in order that the new plant may come into being.
The pupils of the Mysteries were to realise that within death, life is
resting, that out of the decaying and the dying the new flowers and
fruits of spring arise in splendour, that the earth teems with the
powers of birth. They were to learn that at this point of time
something is happening in the innermost being of the earth: the
overcoming of death by life, by the life that is present in death.
This was portrayed to them in the picture of the Light gradually
conquering the darkness; this is what they experienced as they saw the
Light beginning to shine in the darkness. In the rocky cave they
beheld the Light that rays forth in strength and glory from what is
seemingly dead. Thus were the pupils led on to believe in the power of
life, in what may be called man's highest Ideal. Thus did they learn
to look upwards to this supreme Ideal of humanity, to the time when
the earth shall have completed its evolution, when the Light will
shine forth in all mankind. The physical earth itself will then fall
into dust, but the spiritual essence will remain with all human beings
who have been made inwardly radiant by the spiritual Light. And the
earth and humanity will then waken into a higher existence, into a new
phase of existence.
When Christianity came into being it bore this Ideal within it. Man
felt that the Christos would arise in him as the representative of the
spiritual re-birth, as the great Ideal of all humanity and moreover
that the birth takes place in the Holy Night, at the time when the
darkness is greatest, as a sign and token that out of the darkness of
matter a higher Man can be born in the human soul.
Before men spoke of the Christos, they spoke in the ancient Mysteries
of a Sun Hero who embodied the same Ideal which, in Christianity,
was embodied in the Christos. Just as the sun completes its orbit in
the course of the year, as its warmth seems to withdraw from the earth
and then again streams forth, as in its seeming death it holds life
and pours it forth anew, so it was with the Sun Hero, who through the
power of his spiritual life had gained the victory over death, night
and darkness. In the Mysteries there were seven degrees of Initiation.
First, the degree of the Ravens who might approach only as far as the
portal of the temple of Initiation. They were the channels between the
outer world of material life and the inner world of the spiritual
life; they did not belong entirely to the material world but neither,
as yet, to the spiritual world. We find these Ravens again and
again; everywhere they are the messengers who pass hither and thither
between the two worlds, bringing tidings. We find them too, in our
German sagas and myths: the Ravens of Wotan, the Ravens who fly around
the Kyffhäuser. At the second degree the disciple was led from the
portal into the interior of the temple. There he was made ready for
the third degree, the degree of the Warrior who went out to make known
before the world the occult truths imparted to him in the temple. The
fourth degree, that of the Lion, was reached by one whose
consciousness was no longer confined within the bounds of
individuality, but extended over a whole tribal stock. For this reason
Christ was called "the Lion of the stem of David." To the fifth degree
belonged a man whose still wider consciousness embraced a whole
people. He was an Initiate of the fifth degree. He no longer bore a
name of his own but was called by the name of his people. Thus men
spoke of the Persian, of the Israelite. We understand now why
Nathaniel 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. We must understand the meaning of this appellation. Then we
shall realise what awe and reverence surged through the soul of a
pupil of the Mysteries who knew of the existence of a Sun Hero. He was
able in the Holy Night to participate in the festival of the birth of
a Sun Hero.
Everything in the cosmos takes its rhythmic course: the stars, as well
as the sun, follow a regular rhythm. Were the sun to abandon this
rhythm even for a moment, an upheaval of untold magnitude would take
place in the universe. Rhythm holds sway in the whole of nature, up to
the level of man. Then, and only then is there a change. The rhythm
which through the course of the year holds sway in the forces of
growth, of propagation and so forth, ceases when we come to man. For
man is to have his roots in freedom; and the more highly civilised he
is, the more does this rhythm decline. As the light disappears at
Christmas-time, so has rhythm apparently departed from the life of
man: chaos prevails. But man must give birth again to rhythm out of
his innermost being, his own initiative. By the exercise of his own
will he must so order his life that it flows in rhythm, immutable and
sure; his life must take its course with the regularity of the sun.
Just as a change of the sun's orbit is inconceivable, it is equally
inconceivable that the rhythm of such a life can be broken. The Sun
Hero was regarded as the embodiment of this inalterable rhythm;
through the power of the higher Man within him, he was able to direct
the rhythm of the course of his own life. And this Sun Hero, this
higher Man, was born in the Holy Night. In this sense, Christ Jesus is
a Sun Hero and was conceived as such in the first centuries of
Christendom. Hence the festival of His birth was instituted at the
time of the year when, since ancient days, the festival of the birth
of the Sun Hero had been celebrated. Hence, too, all that was
associated with the history of the life of Christ Jesus; the Mass at
midnight celebrated by the early Christians in the depths of caves was
in remembrance of the festival of the sun. In this Mass an ocean of
light streamed forth at midnight out of the darkness as a remembrance
of the rising of the spiritual Sun in the Mysteries. Hence the birth
of Christ in the cave again a remembrance of the cave of rock out
of which life was born life symbolised by the ears of corn. As
earthly life was born out of the dead stone, so out of the depths was
born the Highest Christ Jesus. Associated with the festival of His
nativity was the legend of the three Priest-Sages, the Three Kings.
They bring to the Child: gold, the symbol of the outer, wisdom-filled
man; myrrh, the symbol of the victory of life over death; and
frankincense the symbol of the cosmic ether in which the Spirit lives.
And so in the whole content of the Christmas Festival we feel
something echoing from primeval ages. It has come over to us in the
imagery belonging to Christianity. The symbols of Christianity are
reflections of the most ancient symbols used by man. The lighted
Christmas Tree is one of them. For us it is a symbol of the Tree of
Paradise, representing all-embracing material nature. Spiritual Nature
is represented by the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life.
There is a legend which gives expression to the true meaning of the
Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life. Seth stands before the Gate of
Paradise, craving entry. The Cherubim guarding the entrance with a
fiery sword, allow him to pass. This is a sign of Initiation. In
Paradise, Seth finds the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge firmly
intertwined. The Archangel Michael who stands in the presence of God,
allows him to take three grains of seed from this intertwined Tree.
The Tree stands there as a prophetic indication of the future of
mankind. When the whole of mankind has attained Initiation and found
knowledge, then only the Tree of Life will remain, there will be no
more death. But in the meantime only he who is an Initiate may take
from this Tree the three grains of seed -the three seeds which
symbolise the three higher members of man's being. When Adam died,
Seth placed these three grains of seed in his mouth and out of them
grew a flaming bush. From the wood cut from this bush, new sprouts,
new leaves burst ever and again. But within the flaming ring around
the bush there was written: "I am He who was, who is, who is to be"
in other words, that which passes through all incarnations, the power
of ever-evolving man who descends out of the light into the darkness
and out of the darkness ascends into the light.
The staff with which Moses performed his miracles is cut from the wood
of the bush; the door of Solomon's Temple is made of it; the wood is
carried to the waters of the pool of Bethesda and from it the pool
receives the healing properties of which we are told. And from this
same wood the Cross of Christ Jesus is made, the wood of the Cross
which is a symbol of life that passes into death and yet has within it
the power to bring forth new life. The great symbol of worlds stands
before us here: Life the conqueror of Death. The wood of this Cross
has grown out of the three grains of seed of the Tree of Paradise.
The Rose Cross is also a symbol of the death of the lower nature and
the resurrection of the higher. Goethe expressed the same thought in
"As long as thou best it not,
This Dying and Becoming,
Thou'rt but a dreary guest
Upon the dark earth."
The Tree of Paradise and the wood of the Cross are connected in a most
wonderful way. Even though the Cross is always an Easter symbol, it
deepens our conception of the Christmas Mystery too. We feel how in
this night of Christ's Nativity, new, upwelling life streams towards
us, This thought is indicated in the fresh roses adorning this Tree;
they say to us: the Tree of the Holy Night has not yet become the wood
of the Cross but the power to become that wood is beginning to arise
in it. The Roses, growing out of the green, are a symbol of the
Eternal which springs 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 for Spirit-Self, Life-Spirit, Spirit-Man.
Above the triangle is the symbol for Tarok. Those who were initiated
into the Egyptian Mysteries knew how to interpret this sign. They knew
too, how to read the Book of Thoth, consisting of 78 leaves on which
were inscribed all happenings in the world from the beginning to the
end, from Alpha to Omega and which could be read if the signs were
rightly put together. These pictures gave expression to the life that
dies and then springs again to new life. Whoever could combine the
right numbers with the right pictures, were able to read the Book.
This wisdom of numbers and of pictures had been taught from time
immemorial. In the Middle Ages it was still in the fore ground
although little of it survives to-day.
Above this symbol is the Tao the sign that is a reminder of the
conception of the Divine held by our early forefathers; it comes from
the word: TAO. Before Europe, Asia and Africa were scenes of human
civilisation, these early forefathers of ours lived on the continent
of Atlantis which was finally submerged by mighty floods. In the
Germanic sagas of Nifelheim or Nebelheim, the memory of Atlantis still
lives. For Atlantis was not surrounded by pure air. Vast cloud-masses
moved over the land, like those to be seen to-day clustering around
the peaks of high mountains. The sun and moon did not shine clearly in
the heavens they were surrounded by rainbows by the sacred Iris.
At that time man understood the language of nature. To-day he no
longer understands what speaks to him in the rippling of waves, in the
noise of winds, in the rustling of leaves, in the rolling of thunder
but in old Atlantis he understood it. He felt it all as a reality.
And within these voices of clouds and waters and leaves and winds a
sound rang forth: TAO That am I. The man of Atlantis heard and
understood it, feeling that Tao pervaded the whole universe.
Finally, the cosmic symbol of Man is the pentagram, hanging at the top
of the tree. Of the deepest meaning of the pentagram we may not now
speak. But it is the star of humanity, of evolving humanity; it is the
star that all wise men follow, as did the Priest-Sages of old. It
symbolises the very essence and meaning of earth-existence. It comes
to birth in the Holy Night because the greatest Light shines forth
from the deepest Darkness. Man is living on towards a state where the
Light is to be born in him, where words full of significance will be
replaced by others equally significant, where it will no longer be
said: The Darkness comprehendeth not the Light, but when the truth
will ring out from cosmic space: The Darkness gives way before the
Light that shines in the Star of Humanity and now the Darkness
comprehendeth the Light!
This should resound and the spiritual Light ray forth from the
Christmas Festival. We will celebrate this Christmas Festival as the
Festival of the supreme Ideal of mankind, for then it will bring to
birth in our souls the joyful confidence: I too shall experience the
birth of the higher Man within me! In me too the birth of the Saviour,
the birth of the Christos will take place!
Positions of the symbols on the Christmas Tree