Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, April 12, 1905:
Goethe has in various ways expressed a certain feeling he has often had, he says: When I observe the inconsequence of human passions, desires, and actions, I experience the strongest impulse to turn to nature and seek support against the structure of her consequence and logic. — The arrangement of our festivals rests upon the endeavor of humanity since the earliest day to raise our eyes from the chaotic life of human desires, impulses, and actions to the great consequential facts of all-powerful nature. It is admirable, how well the big festivals are directly related to corresponding phenomena of nature. One such is the Easter festival, representing for the Christian a commemoration of his Redeemer's resurrection, and was earlier celebrated as the awakening of something of especial importance for mankind.
We look back to ancient Egypt with its Osiris-Isis-Horus cult expressing the uninterrupted rejuvenation of eternal nature. We then consider Greece, and find there a festival in honour of the god Bacchus — a spring festival, connected in one way or another with the awakening of nature in spring. In India we have a spring festival dedicated to Vishnu. The Godhead of the Brahman is divided into three aspects — Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Brahma is rightly called the Great Architect of the universe, bringing thereinto order and harmony; Vishnu is described as a kind of redeemer, awakener of slumbering life, rescuer; and Shiva is he who sanctifies and elevates the life awakened by Vishnu to the highest possible perfection. A sort of festival was also dedicated to Vishnu. It is said he falls into a sleep at the time of the year when we celebrate Christmas, to awake again at Easter. Those calling themselves his servants celebrate the entire intervening time in a most significant manner: they abstain from certain foods and drinks, and also meat. In that way they prepare themselves for gaining an understanding of the meaning involved when, at the Vishnu festival, the resurrection is celebrated, — the awakening of entire Nature. The Christmas festival also has a significant relation to great natural phenomena — the power of the Sun becomes weaker, days shorter, and also that the Sun radiates more heat from Christmas onwards, so that Christmas becomes the festival of the reborn Sun. In this sense the Winter festival was felt by Christians. When Christianity, in the 6th and 7th centuries, wished to connect itself with ancient, holy events, the birth of Christ was transformed to the day on which the Sun again rose to a higher altitude. The spiritual significance of the World redeemer was brought into revelation with the physical Sun and awakening, resurrected life.
The Easter festival of spring also is brought into connection — as is usual with other festivals — certain solar phenomenon, one coming into expression even in common custom. During the first Christian century the symbol of Christianity was the Cross, at the foot of which is the lamb. Lamb and Ram are synonymous. During the time when Christianity was in preparation, the Sun appeared in the constellation of the Ram or Lamb. The Sun passes through the signs of the Zodiac; each year the Sun advances some distance. About 600-700 years before Christ the Sun had advanced into this zodiacal sign. For 2500 years it advances through it. Before that the sun was in the constellation Taurus — Bull. In those days the nations celebrated events which appeared significant to them in connection with human evolution through the Bull, because the Sun occupied that sign or constellation. As the Sun enters the sign of Aries — Ram or Lamb — the myths and legends of the people contained references to the Ram as something significant. The Ram's skin brings Jason across from Colchis. The Christ Jesus speaks of himself as the Lamb of God, and during the early period of Christianity is symbolized by the Lamb at the foot of the Cross. Thus can Easter be brought into relation with the constellation of the Ram or Lamb, and be considered the festival of the Redeemer's resurrection, because he summons everything to a new life after the death of winter.
With these characteristics only in your mind, the two festivals Christmas and Easter seem rather similar, for the Sun has gained more power since its own festival of resurrection — the Christmas festival; therefore something more should be expressed by Easter. The festival of Easter in its deepest meaning will always be felt to be the festival of the greatest mystery of humanity — not merely as a sort of nature-festivity, related to the Sun, but essentially something more; It is indicated in the Christian meaning of resurrection after death. Also in the awakening of Vishnu the awakening after death is indicated. The awakening of Vishnu falls into the period in which the Sun in winter resumes its ascent, and the festival of Easter is a continuation of that ascending solar power which commenced at the festival of Christmas. We must look into the mysteries of human nature very deeply if we would understand the experiences of the old initiates when trying outwardly to express the essentials of the festival of Easter.
Man appears as a dual being, connecting a psycho-spiritual essentiality on one side with a physical substantiality on the other. The physical part is the convergence of all other natural phenomena in the environment of man; they all appear as a delicate extract in human nature. Paracelsus significantly describes man as a confluence of all outside nature, which is like letters of which man forms the word.
The sublimest wisdom lies in his organization; physically he is a temple of the soul. All the laws we can observe in the lifeless stone, the living plant, the animal as subject of pleasure or pain, all these are compounded together in man: in wisdom they are there fused into a unity. When we contemplate the wonderful structure of the human brain with its countless number of cells working together so that all the thoughts and feelings of man may be expressed — everything that, in one way or another, affects the soul — we realize the all-ruling wisdom in the construction of his physical body. When we look out upon the entire outer world we perceive crystallized wisdom. And if we would penetrate all the laws of our surrounding world with our perceptive faculties and then look back upon man, we see concentrated in him the whole of nature, as a microcosm in a macrocosm. It was in this sense that Schiller said to Goethe: “You take into consideration the whole of nature in order to gain light concerning the detail. In the totality you seek the explanation for the individual. From the simple organism you pass step by step to the more complex, so to finally arrive at the most complex of all — man — and construct him genetically from the materials of the all-embracing structure or Nature.”
It is by means of that marvel of construction, the human body, that the soul can direct her eye upon her environment. Through the senses the psychic man observes the world around him, seeking slowly and laboriously to fathom the wisdom by which it has been built.
Let us consider an as yet very undeveloped human being from the following point of view: — his body is the most reasonable creation possible; it is a concentration of the entire Divine reason. But in it resides a very immature soul incapable of developing even an initial thought for the comprehension of the mysterious power ruling in the heart, brain, or blood. Very gradually this soul develops to an understanding of the forces which have worked in the construction of this human body. But upon it is impressed the soul of a remote past; man stands there as the crown of creation. Aeons had to pass away before cosmic wisdom was united within that human body.
But in the soul of the undeveloped man the cosmic wisdom first begins to grow. At first she barely dreams of the profound thoughts of the universal spirit — the architect of the human being.Yet, everything lying within man in a state of sleep — the psycho-spiritual constitution — will in future be understood by man. Cosmic thought has worked through countless ages — worked creatively in nature in order ultimately to build the crown of its agelong activity: the human body. In it slumbers the cosmic wisdom, so as to recognize itself in the human soul, to construct in the human being an eye with which to perceive itself. Cosmic wisdom without — cosmic wisdom within — operative in the present as in the past — operative far into a future whose sublimity may only be surmised. The most profound human emotions are evoked when we thus ponder the past and future.
When the soul begins to understand the wonder constructed by the wisdom of the cosmos — when she attains thoughtful clarity and illumined knowledge — then the Sun may represent the most glorious symbol of this inner awakening which opens for the soul the outer world through the medium of the senses. Man receives the light because the Sun illuminates objects. What man sees in the outer world is the reflected sunlight. The Sun awakens in the soul the power to perceive the outer world. The awakening Sun-soul in man, beginning to discover cosmic thought in the seasons of the year, recognizes in the rising Sun her liberator.
When the Sun again begins to ascend in the heavens and the days lengthen, the soul looks toward the Sun, saying: To you I owe the possibility of seeing cosmic thought spread out in my environment — cosmic thought that sleeps in me, as in all else. Then man looks upon his earlier existence — the ages preceding his groping search for cosmic thought.
Man is indeed very, very much older than his senses. Spiritual investigation enables us to arrive at the point of time when the senses are only beginning their development, when they are at their weakest. At that time the senses were not yet the doors through which the soul could perceive her surroundings. Shopenhauer realized this fact and described the turning-point where man became able to use his sense perceptions in the world. That is his meaning, when he says:: The visible world came into being only when an eye existed with which to perceive it. — The Sun formed the eye — light created light. Formerly, before any such outer vision existed, man possessed an inner light. In the remote past of human evolution no exterior object stimulated man to outer perception, but from his inner self arose imaginations, ideas: the primitive vision was a vision in the astral light. Humanity possessed a dull, dim clairvoyance.
In the Germanic world of the Gods man could also perceive the Gods through a sort of dim, misty astral light. But it gradually became more dim and dark and slowly vanished; It became extinguished by the fierce light of the physical Sun which appeared in the heavens and the physical world it illuminated. So the astral vision of man receded, declined. When man looks to the future, it becomes clear that this astral sight must return upon a higher level; all that which has become extinguished by physical vision must again live, so that a fully conscious clairvoyance may be developed in mankind. To the normal vision of day will be added a still brighter and more luminant human life in the light of the future. To physical vision will come vision in the astral light.
The leaders of humanity are those individualities whose renunciations during Earth-life enabled them to experience — before death — the state of consciousness called “passing through the portals of death.” This contains all those experiences which later will be the possession of all humanity when they have evolved astral perception which makes visible the psychic and spiritual. This making visible of the psycho-spiritual environment was always called by the initiate the “awakening,” “resurrection,” “spiritual rebirth” — giving to man a supplement to his gifts of the physical senses, the senses of the Spirit. He celebrates an inner Easter festival who discerns within him the awakening of the new astral vision.
So we can understand why this spring festival is related to symbolic ideas such as death and resurrection. In man, the astral light is “dead.” It sleeps. But it will again be resurrected in man. Easter is the festival indicating this future awakening of this astral light.
The sleep of Vishnu begins at the Christmas time when the astral light sank into sleep and physical light awoke. When man has advanced sufficiently far to renounce the personal, the astral light re-awakens in him; he can celebrate the feast of Easter: Vishnu can again awaken in his soul.
In cosmic spiritual perception the Easter festival is not connected with the awakening of the Sun only, but with the reappearance of the world of plantlife in the spring also. As the seed is laid into the soil and there decays in order to awaken to a new life, so had the astral light to sink into sleep in the human body so that it may be rejuvenated. The symbol of Easter is the seed which sacrifices itself so that a new plant may arise. It is the sacrifice of one phase of nature for the sake of creating a new one. Sacrifice and becoming (germination of the new) — these two are intimately linked together in the Easter festival. Richard Wagner felt this thought profoundly. When he lived in a villa on the banks of Lake Zurich in 1887 and looked out upon awaking nature, his thoughts concerning it gave rise to others — the deceased and resurrected World Savior, the Christ Jesus, and the thought of Parzifal seeing the Holy of Holies in the soul.
All leaders of mankind, who were aware of how the higher spiritual life of man arises out of his lower nature, have comprehended the significance of Easter. Dante therefore described his awakening — in his Divine Comedia — as taking place on Good Friday. That is clear at the very beginning of the poem. Dante experienced his sublime vision in the 35th year of his life; that is the middle of a normal human life. So he reckons 35 years for the development of man's physical perceptive powers; till then he continues absorbing new physical experiences. After that, man is sufficiently matured for spiritual experience to augment the physical; he is ripe for spiritual perception. When the growing, evolving physical powers in man are united, the time is ripe for the awakening of the spiritual. For that rise Dante's vision falls into the period of the Easter festival.
A certain contradiction has been said to exist between the Christian conception of Easter and the idea of karma inherent in spiritual science. Certainly, karma and redemption through the Son of Man do appear to oppose one another. This state of indecision is common with people who know little of the basic idea of this anthroposophical thought — a paradox seemingly existing in the simultaneous acceptance of salvation through Christ Jesus and the idea of karma. Such people say that the idea of a redeeming God contradicts self-redemption through karma. They fail to understand, in the true sense, the Easter of redemption, nor can they grasp the idea of karmic justice. It would be wrong to withhold aid from someone suffering by saying: “You yourself are the cause of the trouble” — refuse him help because it must work itself out. That is a misunderstanding of karma. Karma, to the contrary, says to you: “Help him who suffers, for you exist to help.” You help to improve the credit balance of the karmic account of necessity when aiding your fellow man. You give him the opportunity and the strength to carry his karma; and you, to that extent, are a redeemer from evil .
In a similar way, instead of helping the single individual, one can come to the assistance of a whole group or nation of man.
When a mighty individuality like that of the Christ Jesus comes to the aid of entire humanity, it is his sacrifice in death which permeates the karma of mankind. He helped to carry the karma of the whole of humanity, and we may be quite sure that redemption through Christ Jesus was absorbed and assimilated by the totality of human karma.
The fundamental significance of the resurrection and redemption concept will be made really comprehensible only through spiritual science. A Christianity of the future will unite karma with redemption. Because cause and effect are complementary in the spiritual world, this great act of sacrifice must also have its effect upon human life. Upon these thoughts of the Easter festival also does spiritual science have a deepening effect. The thought of Easter which appears to be written in the stars and which we believe to read in them is fundamentally deepened by spiritual science. We also see the profound meaning of the Easter concept in the ascendance of the spirit about to be realized in the future.
At present, mankind exists amid inharmonious, disordered conditions. But man knows how the world has emerged from chaos, and that out of his chaotic inner being harmony will ultimately arise. Like the regular paths of the planets around the Sun, so will the inner savior of mankind arise — herald and creator of unity and harmony amid all disharmony. All humanity shall be reminded by the Easter festival of the resurrection of the spirit from the present obscurity of human nature.
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