Monday, May 21, 2018
Whitsuntide: Festival of the liberation of the human spirit
Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, Whit Monday, May 23, 1904:
It was to be expected that only a small company would gather here today. I have nevertheless decided to hold our meeting this evening to talk to those of you who are present about something connected with Whitsuntide.
Before I start I would like to report to you one result of my latest visit to London, which is that in all likelihood Mrs. Besant will be visiting us here in the autumn. We shall have the opportunity then of hearing again one of the personalities belonging to the most powerful spiritual influences of our time. The next two public lectures will be held in the Architektenhaus — on spiritualism a week hence, and on somnambulism and hypnotism, the following week. Then the usual Monday arrangements will take place again regularly. On the coming Thursdays I shall speak about theosophical cosmology, about theosophical ideas concerning the creation of the universe. Those of you who are interested in such things may hear much which is not already known from the usual theosophical literature. I wish to hold over till a later date the lectures on the rudiments of theosophy. What I wish to talk about today comes from an old occult tradition. The subject cannot, of course, be dealt with exhaustively today. Some of it may appear incredible.
I would request, therefore, that today's lecture be treated as an episode in which nothing is to be proved, but only things related.
People celebrate their festivals today without having an inkling of what is signified by them. In the newspapers, which constitute the main source of the education and enlightenment of most of our contemporaries, one can read many and various articles dealing with such festivals, the writers of which have not the slightest idea of the meaning of such a festival. But for theosophists it is necessary to look again at their inner meaning. And so I want today to direct your attention to the origin of such an age-old festival: the source of the Whitsuntide Festival.
Whitsuntide is one of the most important festivals, and one of the most difficult to understand. For Christian consciousness it commemorates the coming of the Holy Ghost. This event is described as a miracle: the Holy Spirit was poured out over the Apostles so that they started to speak in all manner of tongues. This means that they could enter into every heart and speak according to each one's understanding. That is one of the interpretations of Whitsuntide. If we wish to reach a more fundamental understanding of it, we must go still deeper into the matter. Whitsuntide — as symbolical festival — is connected with the most profound mysteries, with the holiest spiritual qualities, of humanity — that is why it is so difficult to talk about it. Today I should like at least to touch on just a few things.
What the Whitsuntide festival symbolizes, the underlying principle from which it receives its deep inner meaning, is preserved in a single manuscript copy which is to be found in the Vatican Library, where it is guarded with the greatest care. To be sure, no mention is made of Whitsuntide in this manuscript, but it certainly tells of that for which Whitsuntide is only the outer symbol. Hardly anyone has seen this manuscript, unless he has been initiated into the deepest secrets of the Catholic Church, or has been able to read it in the Astral Light. One copy is possessed by a personality who has been very much misunderstood in the world, but who is beginning to interest today's historians. I could equally well have said ‘was possessed’ instead of ‘is possessed’, but it would thereby cause a lack of clarity. Therefore I say again: a copy is in the possession of the Count of St. Germain, who is the only existing source of information about it.
I should like to give a few hints about this from a theosophical point of view. We shall be led thereby to something intimately connected with the evolution of mankind during the fifth Root Race. Man assumed his present-day form during the third Root Race, the time of ancient Lemuria, developed it further during the fourth Root Race, the time of ancient Atlantis, and then progressed to the fifth Root Race with what he had thus acquired. Whoever heard my Atlantis lectures will remember that a vivid memory of those times still existed among the Greeks.
To find our bearings, we must get a little insight into two currents belonging to our fifth Root Race, which are active as hidden powers in the souls of men and are often in conflict with one another. The one current is most clearly and best represented by what we call the Egyptian, Indian, and South European outlook on life. Everything belonging later to Judaism and even to Christianity contains a little of that. But in our European culture, on the other hand, this has been intermingled with that other current which is to be found in ancient Persia and — if we disregard what the anthropologists and etymologists say and go deeper into the matter — we find it again stretching westward from Persia to the regions of the Teutons.
Of these two currents I would maintain that two mighty and important spiritual intuitions underlie them. The one was best understood by the ancient Rishis. To them was revealed the intuition of beings of a higher order, the so-called Devas. He who has undergone occult training and can carry out investigations into these matters will know what Devas are. These purely spiritual beings, of the Astral or Mental Plane, have a twofold inner nature, whereas man's nature is threefold. For man consists of body, soul, and spirit, but the Deva nature — as far as can be investigated — consists only of soul and spirit. It may possess other members, but we are unable to find them, even by occult means. The Deva is an ensouled spirit. The impulses, emotions, desires, and wishes which live invisibly within man, but are seen as light effects by the seer, these soul powers, this soul body, which constitutes man's inner being, supported by the physical body, is the lowest body which the Devas possess. We can regard it as their body. The intuitive faculty of the Indian was concerned mainly with the worshiping of these Devas. The man of India sees these Devas all around. He sees them as creating powers when he penetrates the veil of outward appearance. This intuition is fundamental to the outlook on life of the peoples of the Southern Zone! It is expressed most powerfully in the Egyptians' conception of the world.
The other intuition was the basis upon which the ancient Persian mysticism was founded, and this led to the veneration of beings who were also only twofold in their nature: the Asuras. They, too, possessed what we call soul, but the soul organ was enclosed within a physical body developed in sublime and titanic fashion. The Indian view of the world, which clung to the Deva worship, looked upon the Asuras as something inferior; whereas those who inclined to the viewpoint of the Northern peoples adhered to the Asuras, to physical nature. Thus there developed in the Northern Zone more especially the impulse toward controlling the things of the sense world in a material way, toward an ordering of the world of realities by means of the highest technical advancement, through physical arts and so on. Nowadays there is nobody who still persists in Asura worship, but there are many among us who still have something of this within them. Thence comes the tendency toward the materialistic side of life, and that is the basic tendency of the Northern peoples. Whoever acknowledges purely materialistic principles can be sure that he has something of the Asuras in his nature.
Among the Asura adherents there then developed a strange undertone of feeling. It first made its appearance in the spiritual life of Persia. The Persians developed a kind of fear of the Deva nature. They experienced fear, apprehension, and dread in face of what was of a purely soul-spirit nature. That was the reason for the great contrast which we now observe between the Persian and the Indian attitude. In the Persian attitude those things were often venerated which to the Indians were bad and inferior, and just those things were avoided by the Persians which the Indians held in veneration. The Persian experience of the world was steeped in a mood of soul which feared and avoided a being of the nature of a Deva. In short, it was the picture of Satan which arose in this view of the world. Lucifer, the being of Spirit and Soul, became an object of fear and dread. That is where we have to look for the origin of the belief in the Devil. This mood of soul has also been absorbed into the modern view of the world; Lucifer became a much-feared and avoided figure in the Middle Ages. Lucifer was definitely shunned.
We learn particulars about it in the manuscript already mentioned. If we follow in it the course of earth evolution we shall find that in the middle of the third Root Race, the Lemurian Epoch, mankind was clothed in physical matter. It is a wrong conception when theosophists believe that reincarnation had no beginning and will have no ending. Reincarnation started in the Lemurian Age and will cease again at the beginning of the sixth Root Race or Age. It is only a certain period of time in earth evolution during which mankind reincarnates. It was preceded by a most spiritual condition which precluded any necessity for reincarnation, and there will follow again a spiritual state which will likewise obviate the necessity for reincarnation.
Simultaneously with its first incarnation in the Lemurian Age, the untarnished human spirit, consisting of Atman-Buddhi-Manas, sought its primal physical incarnation. The physical development of the earth with its animal-like creatures had not evolved so far at that time; the whole of this animal-human organism was not so far advanced then that it could have incorporated the human spirit. But a part of it, a certain group of animal-like beings, had evolved so far that the seed of the human spirit could descend into it to give form to the human body.
Some of the individualities who incarnated at that time formed the small nucleus of those who later spread over the whole earth as the so-called Adepts. They were the original Adepts, not those whom we call initiated today. Those whom we call initiates today did not go through incarnation at that time . Not all incarnated at that time who would have been able to find human-animal bodies; only some of them. Some others were opposed to the process of incarnation for a particular reason. They delayed that until the time of the Fourth Age. The Bible hints at that in a concealed and profound way: ‘The Sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair, and they took them wives of all which they chose.’
That is to say, the incarnation of those who had waited began at a later time. We call this group the ‘Sons of Wisdom’, and it almost appears as if there were a kind of arrogance, a sort of pride, about them. We shall make an exception of the small group of Adepts. Had these other ones also incarnated at the earlier period, mankind would never have been able to acquire the clarity of consciousness which he possesses today. He would have been held fast in a dull trance-like state of consciousness. He would have developed that kind of consciousness which is to be found in people who have been hypnotized, sleepwalkers and the like. In short, man would have remained in a kind of dreamlike state. But one thing would have been lacking then — one thing of great importance, if not of the utmost importance — he would have lacked a feeling of freedom, a capacity to exercise his individual discrimination with regard to good and evil by means of his own consciousness, his own human ego.
This postponement of incarnation — in the form it assumed in consequence of that feeling of dread of the Devas which I characterized — this is called in the Book of Genesis ‘the Fall of Man’. The Devas delayed their incarnation and only descended to the earth to take possession of physical bodies when humanity had reached a further stage in its development. Through this they were able to evolve a more mature form of consciousness than would have been the case earlier.
Thus, you see, the cost of man's freedom was the deterioration of his nature, by waiting for his incarnation till he could descend into denser physical conditions. A deep understanding of this has been preserved in Greek mythology. Had man descended earlier into incarnation — so says the Greek myth — then that would have happened which Zeus wanted when man was still living in Paradise. He wished to make man happy — but as an unconscious being. Clear consciousness would have been possessed solely by the gods, and man would have been without a feeling of freedom. The rebellion of the Lucifer Spirit, the Deva Spirit within humanity, who wished to descend in order to rise up again out of his own freedom, is symbolized by the saga of Prometheus! But Prometheus had to suffer for his endeavors by having an eagle — symbol of inordinate desire — gnawing at his liver and causing him the most deadly pain.
Man had thus descended more deeply and now had to achieve through his own free conscious activity what he would have attained by magical arts and powers. But because he had descended deeper, he must suffer pains and torment. This is also indicated in the Bible with the words: ‘In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread’, etc. That is no less than to say: mankind must raise itself again with the help of culture.
Through the figure of Prometheus, Greek mythology has symbolized free humanity struggling toward culture. He is the representative of suffering mankind, but at the same time the giver of freedom. The one who sets Prometheus free is Heracles, of whom it is said that he underwent initiation in the Eleusinian Mysteries. Whoever descended to the underworld was an initiate, for the descent into the underworld is a technical term denoting initiation. This journey to the underworld is attributed to Heracles, Odysseus, and to all who are initiates who wish to lead man of his epoch to the source of primeval wisdom, to a life of the spirit.
Had mankind retained the attitude of Lemurian times we would have been dreamers today. Through his Deva nature, mankind fructified his lower nature. Out of his self-awareness, out of his awareness of freedom, man now has to reawaken that spark of awareness which he brought down from heaven in justified presumption; he has to reawaken that spiritual knowledge which he had received without his own striving when he was still unfree. There lies in human nature itself that satanic rebelliousness which, however, in the form of luciferic aspiration is the only safeguard of our freedom. And out of this freedom we shall again wrest spiritual life. It will be reawakened in the man of the fifth Root Race, our present epoch. This form of consciousness will again be conveyed through initiates. It will not be a dreamy, but a clear consciousness. It is the Heraclean spirits, the initiated ones, who will help mankind forward and reveal to him his Deva nature, his knowledge of the spirit. That was also the endeavor of all the great founders of religion, that they should restore to mankind the knowledge of the spirit which had been lost in physiological existence. The fifth epoch still contains much of the material life within it. This materialistic culture of the present time shows us how far man has become embedded in purely physical-physiological nature, as Prometheus was enmeshed in his chains. But it is equally certain that the vulture, the symbol of lust and craving, gnawing at our liver, will be thrust aside by spiritual men. That is the goal to which the initiates would lead mankind through consciousness of self, by means of such movements as the theosophical movement, so that it can raise itself up in full freedom.
The moment which we have to regard as the one in which spiritual life poured into the self-conscious human being is indicated precisely in the New Testament. It is alluded to in the profoundest of the Gospels, the one which is misunderstood by today's theologians, the St. John's Gospel, when it speaks of the Feast of the Tabernacles which was attended by Jesus. The founder of Christianity there speaks of the outpouring of spiritual life with which humanity was to be endowed. It is a remarkable passage. For the Feast of the Tabernacles, the people had to visit a spring from which water flowed. There followed a festival which intimated to man that he should call to mind again his spiritual nature, his Deva and spiritual strivings. The water which flowed there was to remind him of the soul and spirit world. After repeated refusals Jesus finally went up to the feast. The following happened on the last day of the feast (John 7:37): ‘In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.’ Those who drank celebrated a feast in which the spiritual life was brought to recollection. But Jesus connected something else with it, as can be seen in the following words of St. John's Gospel: ‘He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified)’.
Here the Whitsuntide mystery is indicated. It is intimated that man has to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. When the moment arrives in which man is able to kindle the spark of spiritual life within him, when the physiological nature of man is able to attempt the ascent by means of its own forces, then will the Holy Spirit descend upon him and the time of spiritual awakening will be at hand.
Man descended as far as the physical body, and so, in contrast to the nature of the Devas, he is built up out of three principles: Spirit, Soul, and Body. The Devas are at a higher stage than man, but they do not have to surmount physical nature as man does. This physical nature has to be transfigured so that it can absorb the life of the spirit. Man's consciousness in the body, his physiological consciousness of today, will itself be able to enkindle the spark of spiritual existence in freedom.
Christ's sacrifice is an example which shows that man will be able to unfold a higher form of consciousness out of his life in the physical plane. His lower individuality lives in the physical body, but it must be enkindled so that the higher personality can develop. Only then can the ‘rivers of living water’ flow from man's ‘belly’. Then can the Holy Spirit appear and be poured forth upon humanity. Man, as an ego being, must be as though dead to physiological existence.
Herein lies what is truly Christian, and it also embodies the deeper mystery contained in the Whitsuntide festival. Man lives primarily in his lower organism, in his consciousness imbued with desires. It is right that this is so, because it is only this consciousness which can provide him with awareness of his true goal: to attain freedom. He should not remain there, however, but must raise his ego to the nature of a Deva. He must develop the Deva within him, bring it to birth so that it becomes a spirit of healing — a Holy Spirit. To that end he must consciously sacrifice his earthly body, he must experience that ‘dying and becoming’ so that he does not remain a ‘gloomy guest’ on this dark earth.
Thus the Easter mystery is only revealed in its fullness when taken together with the Whitsuntide mystery. We see the human ego, exemplified in its Divine Representative, divesting itself of the lower ego and dying in order to be completely transfigured in its physical nature and offered up again to the Godhead. Ascension is the symbol of this. When man has become transfigured in the physical body, has offered it up again to the Spirit, he will be ripe to receive the outpouring of spiritual life, to experience what is called the ‘coming of the Holy Spirit’ according to the explanation of One Who is mankind's greatest Representative. Therefore it is also said: ‘And there are three that bear witness in earth: (Note 19) the Spirit, the water, and the blood.’ Whitsuntide is the outpouring of the Spirit into man.
The highest goal of humanity is symbolically expressed by means of the Whitsuntide festival; that is, that mankind must progress once more from an intellectual to a spiritual life; just as Prometheus was set free from his suffering by Heracles, so will mankind be set free by the power of the Spirit. By descending into matter, mankind has attained self-consciousness. Through the fact that he ascends again. he will become a self-aware Deva. Those who worshiped the Asuras and regarded the Devas as beings of a satanic nature, who did not wish to descend into the innermost depths, regarded this descent as something devilish.
That, too, is referred to in Greek mythology. The one whose state of consciousness is not free — the contemplator — the one who does not wish to win redemption in complete freedom and therefore is the opponent of Prometheus — is Epimetheus. Zeus gives him Pandora's box, the contents of which — sufferings and plagues — fall on mankind when it is opened. The only gift which is left behind is hope; the hope that one day, in a future state, he will also progress to this higher, clear consciousness. He is left with the hope that he will be set free. Prometheus advises him against accepting this doubtful gift from the god Zeus. Epimetheus does not listen to his brother, but accepts the gift. The gift which Epimetheus receives is not worth as much as the one belonging to his brother Prometheus.
Thus we see that there are two ways of life open to men. Some of them cling to a feeling of freedom and — although it is dangerous to develop spirituality — they search for it in freedom nevertheless. The others are the ones who find their satisfaction in the dull round of life and in blind faith, and who suspect danger in the luciferic endeavors of their fellow men. The founders of the Church's outward doctrine have distorted the deeper meaning of luciferic striving. The ancient teachings on the subject are contained in hidden manuscripts (Note 20) in undisclosed places, where they have hardly been seen by anyone. They are available to a few people who are able to see them in the Astral Light, and otherwise only to a few initiates. The path is fraught with danger, but it is the only one which leads to the sublime goal of spiritual freedom.
The spirit of man should be free and not dull. That is also the aim of Christianity. Health and healing are connected with holy. A spirit which is holy is able to heal, it sets men free from sufferings and torments. Healthy and free is the human being who is released from the bondage of his physiological state. For only the free spirit is the healthy one, whose body is no longer gnawed by an eagle.
Thus Whitsuntide can be looked upon as the symbol of the freeing of the human spirit, as the great symbol of mankind's struggle for freedom, for consciousness of his own freedom.
If the Easter Festival is the festival of resurrection in nature, then the Whitsuntide Festival is the symbol of the becoming conscious of the human spirit, the festival of those who know and understand and — penetrated through and through by this — go in search of freedom.
Those spiritual movements of modern times which lead to a perception of the spiritual world in clear day consciousness — not in trance or under hypnosis — are the ones which lead to an understanding of such important symbols as this. The clear consciousness, which only the spirit can set free, is what unites us in the Theosophical Society. Not the word alone, but the spirit gives it its meaning. The spirit which emanates from the great Masters, which flows through a few people only who are able to say: ‘I know they are there, the great Adepts, who are the founders of our spiritual movement — not our society’ (Note 21) — this spirit flows into our present civilization and bestows on it the impulse for the future.
Let a spark of understanding of this Holy Spirit flow again into the misunderstood Whitsuntide festival; then it will be revivified and gain meaning once more. We want to live in a world that makes sense. Whoever celebrates festivals without sparing them a thought is a follower of Epimetheus. Man must see what binds him to his surroundings and also to what is invisible in nature. We have to know where we stand. For we humans are not confined to a dull, dreamy, semi-existence, we are destined to develop a free, fully conscious unfolding of our whole being.