Mystery Knowledge and Mystery Centers. Lecture 12 of 14.
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, December 21, 1923:
In the course of the last few weeks I have drawn your attention to many different kinds of Mysteries, and we have especially attempted to obtain an insight into those Mysteries which were, so to say, the last of the great Mysteries which connected man's inner being directly with the life of nature, with the spirit of nature. These were the Mysteries of Hibernia; and we have seen how, through insight into man himself — an insight which was, however, of an intimate spiritual as well as an individual personal nature — the Mysteries of Greece also penetrated into the inner being of man. One can indeed say that as in the world of external nature the different regions of the Earth bring forth this or that kind of vegetation, so in the course of human evolution there streamed down into the different regions of the Earth the most manifold influences from the spiritual world, and these worked upon mankind.
If we were to pass over to the East, the Orient — as we are to do shortly in a historical connection — we should find there many other kinds of Mysteries; but today, as all our visitors are not yet present with us, I will link on rather to what we have already studied in preference to beginning something new.
If we look back at the course of human evolution we may say that there appears before our Imaginative consciousness, with all possible clearness, a threefold evolution. I say “before our Imaginative consciousness” because of course if we extend those epochs of which I am now speaking further back still, toward still earlier times, we naturally get a greater number than three, and this is also the case if we go further on into the future; but we will today take these middle stages of human evolution — which appear not through Inspiration but already in all clearness before our Imagination — these we will place before our souls today and study them from one particular point of view.
Now, even down to the Egyptian time it was still the case for humanity that, as regards the consciousness of that time — and this applies to the African and European races as well as to the Asiatic races — what we today call matter simply did not exist. Human consciousness did not even grasp the external coarse substances, let alone those abstractions which we today describe as carbon, hydrogen, sulphur, and so on. These things simply did not exist for them; but everything which was spread out externally in nature was seen directly as the body of divine spiritual beings, who revealed themselves in the whole of nature. Today we can go out into the mountains, we can tread on the rocks, we can even throw stones, and all these things we regard as indifferent neutral substances. In our consciousness today there is nothing in any way similar to what was in the consciousness of the ancient Egyptian or the ancient Oriental.
When we confront a human being today and take hold, let us say, of his hand, that which we touch as a human hand we do not regard as something indifferent. We regard it as something belonging to an entire human organism, and if we observe the tip of the index finger of a human being, we cannot do otherwise than say: this is part of a complete organism.
This was also the case with the ancient Egyptians and the ancient Easterns as regards their consciousness. If they trod on a stone or picked up a stone, that was not to them an indifferent object as it would be to us today; it was not for them just an ordinary earthly substance: it was part of a divine body, which was what the Earth appeared to them to be. These ancient peoples related themselves consciously to the entire surface, the external surface of the Earth, just as we relate ourselves in our consciousness to our skin. If today we approach a human being, and through something or other which comes to our consciousness he reminds us of another human being whom we know, but who is not there, and when it transpires that this human being is the brother or the sister of that other, then we realize that there exists between these two human beings a common flesh and blood, they belong together in a certain bodily way. And when an ancient Greek or an ancient Oriental directed his gaze to Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn and then looked down to the Earth, he saw in this Earth the divine body of the earthly god; but he saw at the same time in this Earth the sister or perhaps the brother, in short, a relation of those planets — Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, and so on — which travel in their orbits around the Earth.
Thus there was among the ancients something completely of a soul-spiritual nature in their perception of the whole cosmos and of the Earth as part of this cosmos.
You must realize clearly and deeply what an utterly different significance this had for those souls as compared with the man of today. It meant a great deal to look at the Earth as a divine body and to see in it a relative, a sisterly relation, as it were, to all the other planets of the cosmic system; for the ancients conceived the entire cosmos as filled by the gods. They conceived not only the whole Earth as being filled with gods, but beyond the planetary bodies they saw each single member of the planetary beings filled with gods. In stones, in trees, in the rivers, springs, clouds, in lightning — in all these things some sort of spiritual beings revealed themselves to them. This consciousness was awakened far and wide among the races over the Earth, and was specially deepened in the various Mystery centers which were to be found here and there upon the Earth.
If we trace the development of Greek life to that time when the external greatness of Greece gradually diminished into simply a kind of chaos of its various peoples, at the time when the Macedonian nation arose, we find how at that time there flowed over into human knowledge what we learned to know in the last lecture here in the form of Aristotelianism, that which Alexander the Great, in a spiritual sense, regarded as his racial task. But when we come on the one hand to this culminating point in the history of Greece, and on the other to the downfall of Greece and the rise of the Macedonian nation, we see how, besides what outer history relates, which is legendary compared with the reality, out of the depths of the consciousness of the deeper spirits there came an impulse received from those Mysteries of which Aristotle does not speak, but to which he was closely related. These were the Mysteries which in the deepest sense aroused into the full life of consciousness in the pupils the fact that the whole cosmos is a theogony, an evolution of the gods, and that one only regards the cosmos in an illusory way if one believes that anything else exists in the cosmos but the gods, the divine beings, those gods who stand there as the Essences, the life and essence of the cosmos. It is the gods, the divine beings, who have experiences in this cosmos, they it is who bring about the deeds. What man sees as cloud formations, what he hears as thunder, what he perceives as lightning, what he perceives on Earth as rivers, and as mountains, and the mineral kingdom: all these are simply manifestations, expressions, of the destiny of the gods who conceal themselves behind these. Even that which appears outwardly as cloud-formations, thunder and lightning, trees, rivers and mountains is nothing but what divine existence reveals, just as the skin of man reveals the inner being of a soul behind the skin. If the gods are everywhere, then man has to distinguish — and this was taught to the Mystery pupils in northern Greece — between the lesser gods, those who revealed themselves in the different beings and processes of nature, and the great gods, who expressed the beings of Sun, Mars, and Mercury, and of a fourth which cannot be made visible through any picture or form. These were the great gods, the great planetary spirits, those great planetary gods who were regarded in such a way that when man turned his gaze outward toward the cosmic spaces it was not only his eye which was kindled, but also his entire heart learnt to perceive what lived in the Sun, Mars, and Mercury — and not only lived externally in this small circle of the cosmos, but everywhere in cosmic space, and above all draws near to man.
Then after a majestic impulse was awakened in the pupil of the northern Greek Mysteries through his gaze having been first directed toward the planetary orbits themselves, it was then deepened, in a human sense, so that his vision was taken possession of as it were by the heart; and he learnt to see psychically, with the soul. Then the pupil understood why on the altar there were placed before him three symbolic vessels, pitchers.
We once made use of a copy of these vessels here in a Eurythmy presentation of Faust, and as you saw these three vessels, so they were seen in the Samothracian Mysteries, the northern Greek Mysteries; but the essential thing was that through these vessels, these pitchers, in their whole symbolic form, a sacrificial ritual, a ritual of consecration, took place. A kind of incense was put into these three vessels, which was then kindled, and when the smoke poured out, three words — of which we shall speak further tomorrow — were uttered with mantric power by the celebrant. These words were uttered into the smoke which rose up above the vessels, and then there appeared the forms of the three Kabiri. They appeared because the human breath breathed out through the mantric words fashioned itself, and then imparted its form to the rising smoke, the incense arising from the substance which was incorporated into these symbolic vessels. While the pupil learnt to read in this way what was written in the smoke by his own breathing, he learnt to read, at the same time, what the mysterious planets spoke to him from out of the great universe. Now he knew that the form assumed by the first of the Kabiri through the mantric word and its power represented the reality behind Mercury; in the form assumed by the second Kabiri he learnt the reality of Mars; and in that of the third Kabiri he learnt the reality of Apollo, the Sun.
Now, when you look at those fashion-plate figures (and you must pardon me for using this strong expression) which are unfortunately mostly to be seen in picture galleries of the later Greek sculpture, and which are greatly valued because people have no idea from what these forms have arisen — if one considers these fashion-plate figures of Apollo, Mars, and Mercury, one should look at them with, as it were, the gaze of Goethe, that gaze which Goethe applied during his Italian journey in order, through these fashion-plate forms, to get some idea of what Greek art really was in its freshness, that Greek art which was destroyed with so much else during the first few centuries after the foundation of Christianity. If one is able as it were to look through those later Greek plastic forms, which in one sense are rightly valued because they are signposts, but which being simply descendants from what lived before should not be considered great — if one looks back to that from which they came, one sees that in the older Greek art, copies were made of sacrificial revelations, revelations which arose in a much earlier epoch in a much more majestic and mighty way than we find them later in Samothrace, in these Mysteries of the Kabiri. One looks back to those times in which the mantric word was uttered into the sacrificial smoke, and the true form of Apollo, of Mars, and of Mercury then appeared.
Those were times in which man did not say abstractly: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and a God was the Word”; those were times when man could say something else, when he could say: “My out-breathing fashions itself, it takes form; and while this expiration takes form in a regular way, it reveals itself as an image of cosmic creation, because it creates for me from the sacrificial smoke forms which for me are a living script, a living writing; and this writing reveals to me what the planetary worlds desire to say to me.”
When the pupil of the Kabiri Mysteries in Samothrace approached the portals of these temples of initiation, then, because of the instruction he had gone through, he had this feeling: “Now at last I am entering something which reveals to me the magical deeds of the sacrificial Father”; for in these Mysteries the initiating celebrant was called “Father.” What did the magical powers of this celebrant Father reveal to the pupil? Through that which the gods laid down in man (i.e. the power of speech) this priestly magician and sage, this hierophant, was able to write certain signs in the sacrificial smoke — certain characteristics — and these uttered the secrets of the universe.
Therefore the pupil, when he approached the temple of initiation, could say in his heart: “I am now entering something which reveals to me a mighty spirit: the great gods, those great gods who through these sacrificial rites reveal on the Earth the secrets of the cosmos.”
That was a speech which was there spoken, a writing which was there written, which truly did not appeal to the intellect of man, but which made a claim on the whole being of man. In the Samothracian Mysteries there still existed something of a knowledge which today has quite disappeared. Man is today capable of saying, with truth, what a quartz crystal feels like, what a hair feels like, what the human skin feels like, what the skin of an animal feels like, what silk or velvet feel like. Man is today capable of that. He can realize all these things vividly in his feeling. In the Samothracian Mysteries something else existed by means of which man could realize with truth how the gods could be felt. For the sense of touch in these ancient times was still such that man was capable of feeling, of contacting, the gods. The most marvelous thing is really the following, and one has to go back to these ancient times if one ventures to say that man could assert with truth: “I know through my fingertips how the gods contact one another.” In these Samothracian Mysteries there existed another method by which one could touch, contact, the gods, and this consisted in the following.
While the priestly magician spoke into this sacrificial smoke the mantric words, while he caused these words to resound forth in his expiration, he felt in his outgoing breath just as man usually feels when he stretches out a hand to touch something; and just as we know the different feeling in our fingertips when they are contacting, say. silk, to what they feel when they contact velvet or touch the fur of a cat or the skin of a human being, in the same way the Samothracian priestly magician felt with the air he breathed out, which went forth into the sacrificial smoke, an utterance of something which came from himself. He felt his expiration as an organ of touch, which went into the smoke. He felt the smoke; and in the smoke he felt these great gods, the Kabiri, streaming toward him. He felt how the smoke took form and that those forms which developed in the smoke came from outside to the expiration of breath. These out-breathings formed here into curves, there into angles, while at times something as it were grasped him; thus the whole divine form of the Kabiri was experienced by means of the mantric words in which the breath was clothed. Through the words which came out of the heart the sacrificing hierophant contacted these great gods, the descending Kabiri, who came to him in the sacrificial smoke. There was a living interchange between the Logos in man and the Logos outside in the cosmic spaces.
Thus while the initiating Father led the pupil before the sacrificial altar and gradually instructed him in the way in which he learnt to feel while speaking, and while the pupil progressed more and more and learnt to feel himself in this element of speech, he finally came to that stage of inner experience in which he had a clear consciousness of how Hermes or Mercury was fashioned, of how Apollo was fashioned, and of how Aries or Mars was fashioned. It was as though the entire consciousness of man was lifted out of his body and what the pupil formerly knew as the content of his head was lifted out and remained above it. It was as though the forces of his heart were pressed into a different place, as though the forces of the heart were driven into the head. And in this human being really transcending, going out of himself, there arose something which formed these words: “It is thus that the Kabiri, the great gods, desire you to be.” From that moment the pupil knew that Mercury lived in his limbs, the Sun in his heart, and Mars in his speech.
You see it is not only the processes and being of nature in the external world that were brought before the pupil in these ancient times; what was brought before him was neither one-sided naturalistically nor in a moral way. It was something in which morality and nature flowed together in unity; and that was just the secret of these Samothracian Mysteries, that the pupil received this consciousness directly: “Nature is Spirit : Spirit is Nature.”
In the times which found their last echo in the Samothracian Kabiri service, arose the insight which can bring earthly substances into harmony with the entire heavens. In these ancient times a man could not say, when he looked at that reddish-brown material which has the shining appearance of copper, at that substance which we today call copper, he could not say as one does today: “That is copper; that is a constituent of the Earth.” At that time such a thing would have been inconceivable. Copper was no constituent of the Earth for these ancient peoples, but the deed of Venus in the Earth which revealed itself as copper. The Earth only allows stones such as sandstone, chalk, to arise, in order to receive into her bosom what the heavens imprinted into the Earth. Just as little as we today are able to say that the seed simply grows out of the Earth, so little at that time could one say, in regard to the surface of the Earth, and copper ore in the Earth: “This copper ore is a constituent of the Earth.” What one had to say then was: “The Earth here with its sandstone or other soil is simply the basis, the soil; and what exists by way of metal inside it has been placed in the Earth by the planets.” This is a seed implanted in the Earth by a planet, and everything which exists in this way on the Earth was then seen as something impelled into the Earth from the heavens.
We today describe the Earth with the substances in it, as we may see in any book on mineralogy or geology; but the ancient science would not have described things in the same way. At that time a man could let his gaze roam over the Earth, but when he saw the substances with it he had to take the heavens into consideration; and it was in the heavens that he saw the real beings of substances. It is only apparently that copper, tin, lead, etc., lie in the Earth. In reality they are simply the seeds which have been implanted into the Earth during the ancient Sun and Moon existence, implanted from the heavens into earthly existence.
Now, this was still the teaching of the Kabiri in the Samothracian Mysteries, and that finally was something which gave at any rate the atmosphere of the knowledge in which Aristotle and Alexander the Great worked. And then the beginning was created for something quite different.
Humanity did not descend at once with this insight on to the Earth: humanity had first to pass through a transitional period in these ancient times. Now, even in these echoes of the ancient times which we find in the Samothracian Mysteries, when the metals of the Earth or even other substances of the Earth such as sulphur or phosphorus were to be described, then the heavens were described as we describe the plant when we seek to know the nature of the seed. We cannot recognize a seed, we cannot get to know the nature of a seed, unless we know the plant. What should we do, for instance, with a seed which appears like this [draws on board] unless we knew, at the same time, what the aniseed plant looks like? The ancients would have said: “What can you make of the copper which is found in the Earth unless you know how Venus appears spiritually, psychically, and bodily, up above in the heavens?”
Out of this knowledge of the heavens there gradually arose what I must call a knowledge of the atmosphere, wherein men in studying the Earth no longer described the stars in their living essence, but when they saw an earthly being, they said: In this there lives first of all that which we see in solid Earth; then also there is that which we see tending toward the drop-form of the liquids; then there lives that which seeks to expand itself on all sides, that which is airy, that which lives, for instance, in the human organism in breath and in speech; finally there lives the fiery element, which dissolves each individual being, so that out of the dissolved constituents new beings can arise. These elements live in every earthly formation.
Now, as formerly in the ancient Mysteries man could look to the salt element — which is of course fashioned cosmically, but into the fashioning of which the Earth intervenes — they saw in that salt element that which Mother Earth brought to the metals; and in the mercurial element, everything which streamed out of the cosmos in order to become metal.
Indeed it is infinitely childish when people begin today to give descriptions of what Mercury was still supposed to be in the Middle Ages. Behind all those descriptions there stands in the background the idea that Mercury in the Middle Ages was something similar to quicksilver, or at any rate that some particular metal was understood by that; but that is absolutely not the case. Mercury is every metal insofar as it stands under the influence of the entire cosmos; for how would copper come into being if the cosmos from its periphery alone worked on this metal? In that case copper would be of a drop-form quicksilver. How would lead appear if the cosmos alone worked? Lead would also appear in drop-formation, as quicksilver also. How would tin appear if the cosmos alone worked? Tin also would be in drop-form. Each metal, if only the cosmos worked, would be quicksilver; for all metals are mercury in so far as the cosmos works on them; only the actual present-day quicksilver still takes the drop-form on Earth. What then is quicksilver really? The fact is, the other metals — lead, copper, tin, iron — have transcended the drop-form. When the whole Earth still stood under the influence of the spherical cosmos, all metals were mercury, but they have transcended the mercurial form and so today they are crystallized in other shapes. Only the actual quicksilver, what we today know as such, has remained stationary at that early stage.
What then would the ancients and even the medieval alchemists have said of quicksilver? They would have said: “Copper, tin, lead are the good metals, because they have progressed with evolution. Quicksilver is the Lucifer among the metals, because it has remained stationary in an earlier form.” That was the way in which in these ancient times men spoke of the Earth; for at the same time, in truth, they spoke of the heavens.
From then on they gradually came to speak of that which lies between the environment and the Earth. Now, between the environment and the Earth there lies below first the earth itself, then the watery element, then the airy element, then the fiery element. Thus the ancient peoples saw everything which was on the Earth in the aspect of the heavens; and then came a middle epoch, which passed away in the first third of the 14th century, when people saw everything in the aspect of the environment, of the atmosphere. Then in the 14th and 15th centuries came the great transformation, when man dropped with his perceptions wholly on to the Earth. The elements of water, air, fire, were separated in man's consciousness. They were split up into sulphur, carbon, hydrogen. Man then saw everything in an earthly aspect.
Therewith begins an epoch which I indicated when we spoke about the Hibernian Mysteries. There begins that epoch when man embraces the Earth with his knowledge, and heaven becomes for him something mathematical. He begins to calculate the size of the stars and their movements and distances, and so on; the heavens become an abstraction for him.
Not only had the heavens become an abstraction to man in this third period. The image of the heavens in the living man is his head, and what he can know of the heavens lives in his head; thus since man learnt only to know of the heavens mathematically, which means logically and abstractly, there lives in his head only the logical and abstract; but from that time on there existed no further possibility for man of drawing down the spiritual into his concepts and ideas. So where man sought the spirit, there began that great conflict between what he can acquire with the intellectual content of his head and that which the gods sought to reveal to him of the heavens; and most intensely and gigantically was this conflict fought out in the true forms of the Rosicrucian Mysteries in the Middle Ages. There, in preparation for true knowledge, man was made to feel the powerlessness of modern man.
This was indeed something which could be felt as mighty in the circles of the true Rosicrucian initiation. What was so mighty consisted in the fact that it was made clear to the pupil, not in an abstract way but in an inner living way: “You as modern man can only enter the world of ideas; but in so doing you lose the living nature of your own humanity.”
When the pupil felt that that which characterized this new epoch could no longer lead him to what his true being really is, he felt: “You must either doubt your own knowledge or you must pass through a kind of death, a kind of killing of the pride of abstraction.” The Rosicrucian pupil felt — that is, the true Rosicrucian pupil felt — as if the master had struck him a blow in the neck, to indicate to him that the abstraction of the modern head is not adapted for entering the spiritual worlds, and that the pupil must renounce what is merely abstract if he wishes to enter the spiritual worlds. That was one mighty preparatory moment, in what we may call the Rosicrucian initiation.
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