Christianity As A Mystical Fact - And The Mysteries of Antiquity
by Rudolf Steiner
Previous Part     1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Thence Socrates goes on to characterise intellectual cognition. What is it after all, to cognise? Undoubtedly we arrive at it by forming judgments. I form a judgment about some object; for instance, I say to myself, what is in front of me is a tree. How do I arrive at saying that? I can only do it if I already know what a tree is. I must remember my conception of a tree. A tree is a physical object. If I remember a tree, I therefore remember a physical object. I say of something that it is a tree, if it resembles other things which I have previously observed and which I know to be trees. Memory is the medium for this knowledge. It makes it possible for me to compare the various objects of sense. But this does not exhaust my knowledge. If I see two similar things, I form a judgment and say, these things are alike. Now, in reality, two things are never exactly alike. I can only find a likeness in certain respects. The idea of a perfect similarity therefore arises within me without having its correspondence in reality. And this idea helps me to form a judgment, as memory helps me to a judgment and to knowledge. Just as one tree reminds me of others, so am I reminded of the idea of similarity by looking at two things from a certain point of view. Thoughts and memories therefore arise within me which are not due to physical reality.

All kinds of knowledge not borrowed from sense-reality are grounded on such thoughts. The whole of mathematics consists of them. He would be a bad geometrician who could only bring into mathematical relations what he can see with his eyes and touch with his hands. Thus we have thoughts which do not originate in perishable nature, but arise out of the spirit. And it is these that bear in them the mark of eternal truth. What mathematics teach will be eternally true, even if to-morrow the whole cosmic system should fall into ruins and an entirely new one arise. Conditions might prevail in another cosmic system, to which our present mathematical truths would not be applicable, but these would be none the less true in themselves.

It is only when the soul is alone with itself that it can bring forth these eternal truths. It is at these times related to the true and eternal, and not to the ephemeral and apparent. Hence Socrates says: "When the soul returning into itself reflects, it goes straight to what is pure and everlasting and immortal and like unto itself; and being related to this, cleaves unto it when the soul is alone, and is not hindered. And then the soul rests from its mistakes, and is like unto itself, even as the eternal is, with whom the soul is now in touch. This state of soul is called wisdom.... Look now whether it does not follow from all that has been said, that the soul is most like the divine, immortal, reasonable, unique, indissoluble, what is always the same and like unto itself; and that on the other hand the body most resembles what is human and mortal, unreasonable, multiform, soluble, never the same nor remaining equal to itself.... If, therefore, this be so, the soul goes to what is like itself, to the immaterial, to the divine, immortal, reasonable. There it attains to bliss, freed from error and ignorance, from fear and undisciplined love and all other human evils. There it lives, as the initiates say, for the remaining time truly with God."

It is not within the scope of this book to indicate all the ways in which Socrates leads his friends to the eternal. They all breathe the same spirit. They all tend to show that man finds one thing when he goes the way of transitory sense-perception, and another when his spirit is alone with itself. It is to this original nature of spirit that Socrates points his hearers. If they find it, they see with their own spiritual eyes that it is eternal. The dying Socrates does not prove the immortality of the soul, he simply lays bare the nature of the soul. And then it comes to light that growth and decay, birth and death, have nothing to do with the soul. The essence of the soul lies in the true, and this can neither come into being nor perish. The soul has no more to do with the becoming than the straight has with the crooked. But death belongs to the becoming. Therefore the soul has nothing to do with death. Must we not say of what is immortal, that it admits of mortality as little as does the straight of the crooked? Starting from this point, "must we not ask," adds Socrates, "that if the immortal is imperishable, is it not impossible for the soul to come to an end when death arrives? For from what has been already shown, it does not admit of death, nor can it die any more than three can be an even number."

Let us review the whole development of this dialogue, in which Socrates brings his hearers to behold the eternal in human personality. The hearers accept his thoughts, and they look into themselves to see if they can find in their inner experiences something which assents to his ideas. They make the objections which strike them. What has happened to the hearers when the dialogue is finished? They have found something within them which they did not possess before. They have not merely accepted an abstract truth, but they have gone through a development. Something has come to life in them which was not living in them before. Is not this to be compared with an initiation? And does not this throw light on the reason for Plato's setting forth his philosophy in the form of conversation? These dialogues are nothing else than the literary form of the events which took place in the sanctuaries of the Mysteries. We are convinced of this from what Plato himself says in many passages. Plato wished to be, as a philosophical teacher, what the initiator into the Mysteries was, as far as this was compatible with the philosophical manner of communication. It is evident how Plato feels himself in harmony with the Mysteries! He only thinks he is on the right path when it is taking him where the Mystic is to be led. He thus expresses himself on the subject in the Timaeus. "All those who are of right mind invoke the gods for their small or great enterprises; but we who are engaged in teaching about the universe,—how far it is created and uncreated,—have the special duty, if we have not quite lost our way, to call upon and implore the gods and goddesses that we may teach everything first in conformity with their spirit, and next in harmony with ourselves." And Plato promises those who follow this path, that divinity, as a deliverer, will grant them illuminating teaching as the conclusion of their devious and wandering researches.

* * * * *

It is especially the Timaeus that reveals to us how the Platonic cosmogony is connected with the Mysteries. At the very beginning of this dialogue there is mention of an initiation. Solon is initiated by an Egyptian priest into the formation of the worlds, and the way in which eternal truths are symbolically expressed in traditional myths. "There have already been many and various destructions of part of the human race," says the Egyptian priest to Solon, "and there will be more in the future; the most extensive by fire and water, other lesser ones through countless other causes. It is also related in your country that Phaethon, the son of Helios, once mounted his father's chariot, and as he did not know how to drive it, everything on the earth was burnt up, and he himself slain by lightning. This sounds like a fable, but it contains the truth of the change in the movements of the celestial bodies revolving round the earth and of the annihilation of everything on the earth by much fire. This annihilation happens periodically, after the lapse of certain long periods of time." This passage in the Timaeus contains a plain indication of the attitude of the initiate towards folk-myths. He recognises the truths hidden in their images.

The drama of the formation of the world is brought before us in the Timaeus. Any one who will follow up the traces which lead to this formation of the cosmos arrives at a dim apprehension of the primordial force from which all things proceeded. "Now it is difficult to find the Creator and Father of the universe, and when we have found Him, it is impossible to speak about Him so that all may understand." The Mystic knew what this "impossibility" means. It points to the divine drama. God is not present in what belongs merely to the senses and understanding. In those He is only present as nature. He is under a spell in nature. Only one who awakens the divine within himself is able to approach Him. Thus He cannot at once be made comprehensible to all. But even to one who approaches Him, He does not appear Himself. The Timaeus says that also. The Father made the universe out of the body and soul of the world. He mixed together, in harmony and perfect proportions, the elements which came into being when He, pouring Himself out, gave up His separate existence. Thereby the body of the world came into being, and stretched upon it, in the form of a cross, is the soul of the world. It is what is divine in the world. It found the death of the cross so that the world might come into existence. Plato may therefore call nature the tomb of the divine, a grave, however, in which nothing dead lies but the eternal, to which death only gives the opportunity of bringing into expression the omnipotence of life. And man sees nature in the right light when he approaches it in order to release the crucified soul of the world. It must rise again from its death, from its spell. Where can it come to life again? Only in the soul of initiated man. Then wisdom finds its right relation to the cosmos. The resurrection, the liberation of God, that is wisdom. In the Timaeus the development of the world is traced from the imperfect to the perfect. An ascending process is represented imaginatively. Beings are developed. God reveals Himself in their development. Evolution is the resurrection of God from the tomb. Within evolution, man appears. Plato shows that in man there is something special. It is true the whole world is divine, and man is not more divine than other beings. But in other beings God is present in a hidden way, in man he is manifest. At the end of the Timaeus we read: "And now we might assert that our study of the universe has attained its end, for after the world was provided and filled with mortal and immortal living beings, it, this one and only begotten world, has itself become a visible being embracing everything visible, and an image of the Creator. It has become the God perceptible to the senses, and the greatest and best world, the fairest and most perfect which there could be." But this one and only begotten world would not be perfect if the image of its Creator were not to be found amongst the images it contains. This image can only be engendered in the human soul. Not the Father Himself, but the Son, God's offspring, living in the soul, and being like unto the Father, him man can bring forth.

Philo, of whom it was said that he was the resurrected Plato, characterised as the "Son of God" the wisdom born out of man, which lives in the soul and contains the reason existing in the world. This cosmic reason, or Logos, appears as the book in which "everything in the world is recorded and delineated." It also appears as the Son of God, "following in the paths of the Father, and creating forms, looking at their archetypes." The platonising Philo addresses this Logos as Christ, "As God is the first and only king of the universe, the way to Him is rightly called the 'Royal Road.' Consider this road to be philosophy ... the road which the company of the ancient ascetics took, who turned away from the entangling fascination of pleasure and devoted themselves to the noble and earnest cultivation of the beautiful. The law names this Royal Road, which we call true philosophy, God's word and spirit."

It is like an initiation to Philo when he enters upon this path, in order to meet the Logos who, to him, is the Son of God. "I do not shrink from relating what has happened to me innumerable times. Often when I wished to put my philosophical thoughts in writing, in my accustomed way, and saw quite clearly what was to be set down, I nevertheless found my mind barren and rigid, so that I was obliged to desist without having accomplished anything, and seemed to be hampered with idle fancies. At the same time I could not but marvel at the power of the reality of thought, with which it rests to open and to close the womb of the human soul. Another time, however, I would begin empty and arrive, without any trouble, at fulness. Thoughts came flying like snowflakes or grains of corn invisibly from above, and it was as though divine power took hold of me and inspired me, so that I did not know where I was, who was with me, who I was, or what I was saying or writing; for just then the flow of ideas was given me, a delightful clearness, keen insight, and lucid mastery of material, as if the inner eye were able to see everything with the greatest distinctness."

This is a description of a path to knowledge so expressed that we see that any one taking this path is conscious of flowing in one current with the divine, when the Logos becomes alive within him. This is also expressed clearly in the words: "When the spirit, moved by love, takes its flight into the most holy, soaring joyously on divine wings, it forgets everything else and itself. It only clings to and is filled with that of which it is the satellite and servant, and to this it offers the incense of the most sacred and chaste virtue."

There are only two ways for Philo. Either man follows the world of sense, that is, what observation and intellect offer, in which case he limits himself to his personality and withdraws from the cosmos; or he becomes conscious of the universal cosmic force, and experiences the eternal within his personality. "He who wishes to escape from God falls into his own hands. For there are two things to be considered, the universal Spirit which is God, and one's own spirit. The latter flees to and takes refuge in the universal Spirit, for one who goes beyond his own spirit says that it is nothing and connects everything with God; but one who avoids God, abolishes the First Cause, and makes himself the cause of everything which happens."

The Platonic view of the universe sets out to be knowledge which by its very nature is also religion. It brings knowledge into relation with the highest to which man can attain through his feelings. Plato will only allow knowledge to hold good when feeling may be completely satisfied in it. It is then more than science, it is the substance of life. It is a higher man within man, that man of which the personality is only an image. Within man is born a being who surpasses him, a primordial, archetypal man, and this is another secret of the Mysteries brought to expression in the Platonic philosophy. Hippolytus, one of the Early Fathers, alludes to this secret. "This is the great secret of the Samothracians (who were guardians of a certain Mystery-cult), which cannot be expressed and which only the initiates know. But these latter speak in detail of Adam, as the primordial, archetypal man."

The Platonic Dialogue on Love, or the Symposium, also represents an initiation. Here love appears as the herald of wisdom. If wisdom, the eternal word, the Logos, is the Son of the Eternal Creator of the cosmos, love is related to the Logos as a mother. Before even a spark of the light of wisdom can flash up in the human soul, a dim impulse or desire for the divine must be present in it. Unconsciously the divine must draw man to what afterwards, when raised into his consciousness, constitutes his supreme happiness. What Heraclitus calls the "daimon" in man (see p. 49) is connected with the idea of love. In the Symposium, people of the most various ranks and views of life speak about love,—the ordinary man, the politician, the scientific man, the satiric poet Aristophanes, and the tragic poet Agathon. They each have their own view of love, in keeping with their different experiences of life. The way in which they express themselves shows the stage at which their "daimon" has arrived (cf. p. 49). By love one being is attracted to another. The multiplicity, the diversity of the things into which divine unity was poured, aspires towards unity and harmony through love. Thus love has something divine in it, and owing to this, each individual can only understand it as far as he participates in the divine.

After these men and others at different degrees of maturity have given utterance to their ideas about love, Socrates takes up the word. He considers love from the point of view of a man in search of knowledge. For him, it is not a divinity, but it is something which leads man to God. Eros, or love, is for him not divine, for a god is perfect, and therefore possesses the beautiful and good; but Eros is only the desire for the beautiful and good. He thus stands between man and God. He is a "daimon," a mediator between the earthly and the divine.

It is significant that Socrates does not claim to be giving his own thoughts when speaking of love. He says he is only relating what a woman once imparted to him as a revelation. It was through mantic art that he came to his conception of love. Diotima, the priestess, awakened in Socrates the daimonic force which was to lead him to the divine. She initiated him.

This passage in the Symposium is highly suggestive. Who is the "wise woman" who awakened the daimon in Socrates? She is more than a merely poetic mode of expression. For no wise woman on the physical plane could awaken the daimon in the soul, unless the daimonic force were latent in the soul itself. It is surely in Socrates' own soul that we must also look for this "wise woman." But there must be a reason why that which brings the daimon to life within the soul should appear as an outward being on the physical plane. The force cannot work in the same way as the forces which may be observed in the soul, as belonging to and native to it. We see that it is the soul-force which precedes the coming of wisdom which Socrates represents as a "wise woman." It is the mother-principle which gives birth to the Son of God, Wisdom, the Logos. The unconscious soul-force which brings the divine into the consciousness is here represented as the feminine element. The soul which as yet is without wisdom is the mother of what leads to the divine. This brings us to an important conception of mysticism. The soul is recognised as the mother of the divine. Unconsciously it leads man to the divine, with the inevitableness of a natural force.

This conception throws light on the view of Greek mythology taken in the Mysteries. The world of the gods is born in the soul. Man looks upon what he creates in images as his gods (cf. p. 33). But he must force his way through to another conception. He must transmute into divine images the divine force which is active within him before the creation of those images. Behind the divine appears the mother of the divine, which is nothing else than the original force of the human soul. Thus side by side with the gods, man represents goddesses.

Let us look at the myth of Dionysos in this light. Dionysos is the son of Zeus and a mortal mother, Semele. Zeus wrests the still immature child from its mother when she is slain by lightning, and shelters it in his own side till it is ready to be born. Hera, the mother of the gods, incites the Titans against Dionysos, and they tear him in pieces. But Pallas Athene rescues his heart, which is still beating, and brings it to Zeus. Out of it he engenders his son for the second time.

In this myth we can accurately trace a process which is enacted in the depths of the human soul. Interpreting it in the manner of the Egyptian priest who instructed Solon about the nature of myths (cf. p. 78 et seq.), we might say, it is related that Dionysos was the son of a god and of a mortal mother, that he was torn in pieces and afterwards born again. This sounds like a fable, but it contains the truth of the birth of the divine and its destiny in the human soul. The divine unites itself with the earthly, temporal human soul. As soon as the divine, Dionysiac element stirs within the soul, it feels a violent desire for its own true spiritual form. Ordinary consciousness, which once again appears in the form of a female goddess, Hera, becomes jealous at the birth of the divine out of the higher consciousness. It arouses the lower nature of man (the Titans). The still immature divine child is torn in pieces. Thus the divine child is present in man as intellectual science broken up. But if there be enough of the higher wisdom (Zeus) in man to be active, it nurses and cherishes the immature child, which is then born again as a second son of God (Dionysos). Thus from science, which is the fragmentary divine force in man, is born undivided wisdom, which is the Logos, the son of God and of a mortal mother, of the perishable human soul, which unconsciously aspires after the divine. As long as we see in all this merely a process in the soul and look upon it as a picture of this process, we are a long way from the spiritual reality which is enacted in it. In this spiritual reality the soul is not merely experiencing something in itself, but it has been released from itself and is taking part in a cosmic event, which is not enacted within the soul, in reality, but outside it.

Platonic wisdom and Greek myths are closely linked together, so too are the myths and the wisdom of the Mysteries. The created gods were the object of popular religion, the history of their origin was the secret of the Mysteries. No wonder that it was held to be dangerous to "betray" the Mysteries, for thereby the origin of the gods of the people was "betrayed." And a right understanding of that origin is salutary, a misunderstanding is injurious.



The Mystic sought forces and beings within himself which are unknown to man as long as he remains in the ordinary attitude towards life. The Mystic puts the great question about his own spiritual forces and the laws which transcend the lower nature. A man of ordinary views of life, bounded by the senses and logic, creates gods for himself, or when he gets to the point of seeing that he has made them, he disclaims them. The Mystic knows that he creates gods, he knows why he creates them, he sees, so to say, behind the natural law which makes man create them. It is as though a plant suddenly became conscious, and learned the laws of its growth and development. As it is, it develops in lovely unconsciousness. If it knew about the laws of its own being, its relation to itself would be completely changed. What the lyric poet feels when he sings about a plant, what the botanist thinks when he investigates its laws, this would hover before a conscious plant as an ideal of itself.

It is thus with the Mystic with regard to the laws, the forces working within him. As one who knew, he was forced to create something divine beyond himself. And the initiates took up the same attitude to that which the people had created beyond nature; that is to the world of popular gods and myths. They wanted to penetrate the laws of this world of gods and myths. Where the people saw the form of a god, or a myth, they looked for a higher truth.

Let us take an example. The Athenians had been forced by the Cretan king Minos to deliver up to him every eight years seven boys and seven girls. These were thrown as food to a terrible monster, the Minotaur. When the mournful tribute was to be paid for the third time, the king's son Theseus accompanied it to Crete. On his arrival there, Ariadne, the daughter of Minos interested herself in him. The Minotaur dwelt in the labyrinth, a maze from which no one could extricate himself who had once got in. Theseus desired to deliver his native city from the shameful tribute. For this purpose he had to enter the labyrinth into which the monster's booty was usually thrown, and to kill the Minotaur. He undertook the task, overcame the formidable foe, and succeeded in regaining the open air with the aid of a ball of thread which Ariadne had given him.

The Mystic had to discover how the creative human mind comes to weave such a story. As the botanist watches the growth of plants in order to discover its laws, so did the Mystic watch the creative spirit. He sought for a truth, a nucleus of wisdom where the people had invented a myth.

Sallust discloses to us the attitude of a mystical sage towards a myth of this kind. "We might call the whole world a myth," says he, "which contains bodies and things visibly, and souls and spirits in a hidden manner. If the truth about the gods were taught to all, the unintelligent would disdain it from not understanding it, and the more capable would make light of it. But if the truth is given in a mystical veil, it is assured against contempt and serves as a stimulus to philosophic thinking."

When the truth contained in a myth was sought by an initiate, he was conscious of adding something which did not exist in the consciousness of the people. He was aware of being above that consciousness, as a botanist is above a growing plant. Something was expressed which was different from what was present in the mythical consciousness, but it was looked upon as a deeper truth, symbolically expressed in the myth. Man is confronted with his own sense-nature in the form of a hostile monster. He sacrifices to it the fruits of his personality, and the monster devours them, and continues to do so till the conqueror (Theseus) awakes in man. His intuition spins the thread by means of which he finds his way again when he repairs to the maze of the senses in order to slay his enemy. The mystery of human knowledge itself is expressed in this conquering of the senses. The initiate knows that mystery. It points to a force in human personality unknown to ordinary consciousness, but nevertheless active within it. It is the force which creates the myth, which has the same structure as mystical truth. This truth finds its symbol in the myth.

What then is to be found in the myths? In them is a creation of the spirit, of the unconsciously creative soul. The soul has well-defined laws. In order to create beyond itself, it must work in a certain direction. At the mythological stage it does this in images, but these are built up according to the laws of the soul. We might also say that when the soul advances beyond the stage of mythological consciousness to deeper truths, these bear the same stamp as did the myths, for one and the same force was at work in their formation.

Plotinus, the philosopher of the Neo-Platonic school (A.D. 204-269), speaks of this relation of mythical representation to higher knowledge in reference to the priest-sages of Egypt. "Whether as the result of rigorous investigations, or whether instinctively when imparting their wisdom, the Egyptian sages do not use, for expressing their teaching and precepts, written signs which are imitations of voice and speech; but they draw pictures, and in the outlines of these they record, in their temples, the thought contained in each thing, so that every picture contains knowledge and wisdom, and is a definite truth and a complete whole, although there is no explanation nor discussion. Afterwards the contents of the picture are drawn out of it and expressed in words, and the cause is found why it is as it is, and not otherwise."

If we wish to find out the connection of mysticism with mythical narratives, we must see what relationship to them there is in the views of the great thinkers, those who knew their wisdom to be in harmony with the methods of the Mysteries. We find such harmony in Plato in the fullest degree. His explanations of myths and his application of them in his teaching may be taken as a model (cf. p. 78 et seq.). In the Phaedrus, a dialogue on the soul, the myth of Boreas is introduced. This divine being, who was seen in the rushing wind, one day saw the fair Orithyia, daughter of the Attic king Erectheus, gathering flowers with her companions. Seized with love for her, he carried her off to his grotto. Plato, by the mouth of Socrates, rejects a rationalist interpretation of this myth. According to this explanation, an outward, natural fact is poetically symbolised by the narrative. A hurricane seized the king's daughter and hurled her over the rocks. "Interpretations of this sort," says Socrates, "are learned sophistries, however popular and usual they may be.... For one who has pulled to pieces one of these mythological forms must, to be consistent, elucidate sceptically and explain naturally all the rest in the same way.... But even if such a labour could be accomplished, it would in any case be no proof of superior talents in the one carrying it out, but only of superficial wit, boorish wisdom, and ridiculous haste.... Therefore I leave on one side all such enquiries, and believe what is generally thought about the myths. I do not examine them, as I have just said, but I examine myself to see whether I too may perhaps be a monster, more complicated and therefore more disordered than the chimaera, more savage than Typhon, or whether I represent a more docile and simple being, to whom some particle of a virtuous and divine nature has been given."

We see from this that Plato does not approve of a rationalistic and merely intellectual interpretation of myths. This attitude must be compared with the way in which he himself uses myths in order to express himself through them. When he speaks of the life of the soul, when he leaves the paths of the transitory and seeks the eternal in the soul, when, therefore, images borrowed from sense-perception and reasoning thought can no longer be used, then Plato has recourse to the myth. Phaedrus treats of the eternal in the soul, which is portrayed as a car drawn by two horses winged all over, and driven by a charioteer. One horse is patient and docile, the other wild and headstrong. If an obstacle comes in the way of the car the troublesome horse takes the opportunity of impeding the docile one and defying the driver. When the car arrives where it has to follow the gods up the celestial steep, the intractable horse throws the team into confusion. If it is less strong than the good horse, it is overcome, and the car is able to go on into the supersensible realm. It thus happens that the soul can never ascend without difficulties into the kingdom of the divine. Some souls rise more to the vision of eternity, some less. The soul which has seen the world beyond remains safe until the next journey. One who, on account of the intractable horse, has not seen beyond, must try again on the next journey. These journeys signify the various incarnations of the soul. One journey signifies the life of the soul in one personality. The wild horse represents the lower nature, the docile one the higher nature; the driver, the soul longing for union with the divine.

Plato resorts to the myth in order to describe the course of the eternal spirit through its various transformations. In the same way he has recourse, in other writings, to symbolical narrative, in order to portray the inner nature of man, which is not perceptible to the senses.

Plato is here in complete harmony with the mythical and allegorical manner of expression used by others. For instance there is in ancient Hindu literature a parable attributed to Buddha.

A man very much attached to life, who seeks sensuous pleasures and will die at no price is pursued by four serpents. He hears a voice commanding him to feed and bathe the serpents from time to time. The man runs away, fearing the serpents. Again he hears a voice, warning him that he is pursued by five murderers. Once more he escapes. A voice calls his attention to a sixth murderer, who is about to behead him with a sword. Again he flees. He comes to a deserted village. There he hears a voice telling him that robbers are shortly going to plunder the village. Having again escaped, he comes to a great flood. He feels unsafe where he is, and out of straw, wood, and leaves he makes a basket in which he arrives at the other shore. Now he is safe, he is a Brahmin.

The meaning of this allegory is that man has to pass through the most various states before attaining to the divine. The four serpents represent the four elements, fire, water, earth, and air. The five murderers are the five senses. The deserted village is the soul which has escaped from sense-impressions, but is not yet safe if it is alone with itself, for if its lower nature lays hold of it, it must perish. Man must construct for himself the boat which is to carry him over the flood of the transitory from the one shore, the sense-nature, to the other, the eternal, divine world.

Let us look at the Egyptian mystery of Osiris in this light. Osiris had gradually become one of the most important Egyptian divinities; he supplanted other gods in certain parts of the country; and an important cycle of myths was formed round him and his consort Isis.

Osiris was the son of the Sun-god, his brother was Typhon-Set, and his sister was Isis. Osiris married his sister, and together they reigned over Egypt. The wicked brother, Typhon, meditated killing Osiris. He had a chest made which was exactly the length of Osiris' body. At a banquet this chest was offered to the person whom it exactly fitted. This was Osiris and none other! He entered the chest. Typhon and his confederates rushed upon him, closed the chest, and threw it into the river. When Isis heard the terrible news she wandered far and wide in despair, seeking her husband's body. When she had found it, Typhon again took possession of it, and tore it in fourteen pieces which were dispersed in many different places. Various tombs of Osiris were shown in Egypt. In many places, up and down the country, portions of the god were said to be buried. Osiris himself, however, came forth from the nether-world and vanquished Typhon. A beam shone from him upon Isis, who in consequence bore a son, Harpocrates or Horus.

And now let us compare this myth with the view which the Greek philosopher, Empedocles (B.C. 490-430) takes of the universe. He assumes that the one original primeval being was once broken up into the four elements, fire, water, earth, and air, or into the multiplicity of being. He represents two opposing forces, which within this world of existence bring about growth and decay, love and strife. Empedocles says of the elements:

They remain ever the same, but yet by combining their forces Become transformed into men and the numberless beings besides. These are now joined into one, love binding the many together, Now once again they are scattered, dispersing through hatred and strife.

What then are the things in the world from Empedocles' point of view? They are the elements in different combinations. They could only come into being because the Primeval Unity was broken up into the four essences. Therefore this primordial unity was poured into the elements. Anything confronting us is part of the divinity which was poured out. But the divinity is hidden in the thing; it first had to die that things might come into being. And what are these things? Mixtures of divine constituents effectuated by love and hatred. Empedocles says this distinctly:

See, for a clear demonstration, how the limbs of a man are constructed, All that the body possesses, in beauty and pride of existence, All put together by love, are the elements there forming one. Afterwards hatred and strife come, and fatally tear them asunder, Once more they wander alone, on the desolate confines of life. So it is with the bushes and trees, and the water-inhabiting fishes, Wild animals roaming the mountains, and ships swiftly borne by their sails.

Empedocles therefore must come to the conclusion that the sage finds again the Divine Primordial Unity, hidden in the world by a spell, and entangled in the meshes of love and hatred. But if man finds the divine, he must himself be divine, for Empedocles takes the point of view that a being is only cognised by its equal. This conviction of his is expressed in Goethe's lines: "If the eye were not of the nature of the sun, how could we behold light? If divine force were not at work in us, how could divine things delight us?"

These thoughts about the world and man, which transcend sense-experience, were found by the Mystic in the myth of Osiris. Divine creative force has been poured out into the universe; it appears as the four elements; God (Osiris) is killed. Man is to raise him from the dead with his cognition, which is of divine nature. He is to find him again as Horus (the Son of God, the Logos, Wisdom), in the opposition between Strife (Typhon) and Love (Isis). Empedocles expresses his fundamental conviction in Greek form by means of images which border on myth. Love is Aphrodite, and strife is Neikos. They bind and unbind the elements.

The portrayal of the content of a myth in the manner followed here must not be confused with a merely symbolical or even allegorical interpretation of myths. This is not intended. The images forming the contents of a myth are not invented symbols of abstract truths, but actual soul-experiences of the initiate. He experiences the images with his spiritual organs of perception, just as the normal man experiences the images of physical things with his eyes and ears. But as an image is nothing in itself if it is not aroused in the perception by an outer object, so the mythical image is nothing unless it is excited by real facts of the spiritual world. Only in regard to the physical world, man is at first outside the exciting causes, whereas he can only experience the images of myths when he is within the corresponding spiritual occurrences. In order, however, to be within them, he must have gone through initiation. Then the spiritual occurrences within which he is perceiving are, as it were, illustrated by the myth-images. Any one who cannot take the mythical element as such illustration of real spiritual occurrences, has not yet attained to the understanding of it. For the spiritual events themselves are supersensible, and images which are reminiscent of the physical world are not themselves of a spiritual nature, but only an illustration of spiritual things. One who lives merely in the images lives in a dream. Only one who has got to the point of feeling the spiritual element in the image as he feels in the sense-world a rose through the image of a rose, really lives in spiritual perceptions. This is the reason why the images of myths cannot have only one meaning. On account of their illustrative character, the same myths may express several spiritual facts. It is not therefore a contradiction when interpreters of myths sometimes connect a myth with one spiritual fact and sometimes with another.

From this standpoint, we are able to find a thread to conduct us through the labyrinth of Greek myths. Let us consider the legend of Heracles. The twelve labours imposed upon Heracles appear in a higher light when we remember that before the last and most difficult one, he is initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries. He is commissioned by King Eurystheus of Mycenae to bring the hell-hound Cerberus from the infernal regions and take it back there again. In order to undertake the descent into hell, Heracles had to be initiated. The Mysteries conducted man through the death of perishable things, therefore into the nether-world, and by initiation they rescued his eternal part from perishing. As a Mystic, he could vanquish death. Heracles having become a Mystic overcomes the dangers of the nether-world. This justifies us in interpreting his other ordeals as stages in the inner development of the soul. He overcomes the Nemaean lion and brings him to Mycenae. This means that he becomes master of purely physical force in man; he tames it. Afterwards he slays the nine-headed Hydra. He overcomes it with firebrands and dips his arrows in its gall, so that they become deadly. This means that he overcomes lower knowledge, that which comes through the senses. He does this through the fire of the spirit, and from what he has gained through the lower knowledge, he draws the power to look at lower things in the light which belongs to spiritual sight. Heracles captures the hind of Artemis, goddess of hunting: everything which free nature offers to the human soul, Heracles conquers and subdues. The other labours may be interpreted in the same way. We cannot here trace out every detail, and only wish to describe how the general sense of the myth points to inner development.

A similar interpretation is possible of the expedition of the Argonauts. Phrixus and his sister Helle, children of a Boeotian king, suffered many things from their step-mother. The gods sent them a ram with a golden fleece, which flew away with them. When they came to the straits between Europe and Asia, Helle was drowned. Hence the strait is called the Hellespont. Phrixus came to the King of Colchis, on the east shore of the Black Sea. He sacrificed the ram to the gods, and gave its fleece to King AEetes. The king had it hung up in a grove and guarded by a terrible dragon. The Greek hero Jason undertook to fetch the fleece from Colchis, in company with other heroes, Heracles, Theseus, and Orpheus. Heavy tasks were laid upon Jason by AEetes for the obtaining of the treasure, but Medea, the king's daughter, who was versed in magic, aided him. He subdued two fire-breathing bulls. He ploughed a field and sowed in it dragon's teeth from which armed men grew up out of the earth. By Medea's advice he threw a stone into their midst, whereupon they killed each other. Jason lulls the dragon to sleep with a charm of Medea's and is then able to win the fleece. He returns with it to Greece, Medea accompanying him as his wife. The king pursues the fugitives. In order to detain him, Medea slays her little brother Absyrtus, and scatters his limbs in the sea. AEetes stays to collect them, and the pair are able to reach Jason's home with the fleece.

Each of these facts requires a deep elucidation. The fleece is something belonging to man, and infinitely precious to him. It is something from which he was separated in times of yore, and for the recovery of which he has to overcome terrible forces. It is thus with the eternal in the human soul. It belongs to man, but man is separated from it by his lower nature. Only by overcoming the latter, and lulling it to sleep, can he recover the eternal. This becomes possible when his own consciousness (Medea) comes to his aid with its magic power. Medea is to Jason what Diotima was to Socrates, a teacher of love (cf. p. 88). Man's own wisdom has the magic power necessary for attaining the divine after having overcome the transitory. From the lower nature there can only arise a lower human principle, the armed men who are overcome by spiritual force, the counsel of Medea. Even when man has found the eternal, the fleece, he is not yet safe. He has to sacrifice part of his consciousness (Absyrtus). This is exacted by the physical world, which we can only apprehend as a multiple (dismembered) world. We might go still deeper into the description of the spiritual events lying behind the images, but it is only intended here to indicate the principle of the formation of myths.

Of special interest, when interpreted in this way, is the legend of Prometheus. He and his brother Epimetheus are sons of the Titan Iapetus. The Titans are the offspring of the oldest generation of gods, Uranus (Heaven) and Gaea (Earth). Kronos, the youngest of the Titans, dethroned his father and seized upon the government of the world. In return, he was overpowered, with the other Titans, by his son Zeus, who became the chief of the gods. In the struggle with the Titans, Prometheus was on the side of Zeus. By his advice, Zeus banished the Titans to the nether-world. But in Prometheus there still lived the Titan spirit, he was only half a friend to Zeus. When the latter wished to exterminate men on account of their arrogance, Prometheus espoused their cause, taught them numbers, writing, and everything else which leads to culture, especially the use of fire. This aroused the wrath of Zeus against Prometheus. Hephaistos, the son of Zeus, was commissioned to make a female form of great beauty, whom the gods adorned with every possible gift. She was called Pandora, the all-gifted one. Hermes, messenger of the gods, brought her to Epimetheus, the brother of Prometheus. She brought him a casket, as a present from the gods. Epimetheus accepted the present, although Prometheus had warned him against receiving any gift from the gods. When the casket was opened, every possible human evil flew out of it. Hope alone remained, and this because Pandora quickly closed the box. Hope has therefore been left to man, as a doubtful gift of the gods. By order of Zeus, Prometheus was chained to a rock on the Caucasus, on account of his relation to man. An eagle perpetually gnaws his liver, which is as often renewed. He has to pass his life in agonising loneliness till one of the gods voluntarily sacrifices himself, i.e., devotes himself to death. The tormented Prometheus bears his sufferings steadfastly. It had been told him that Zeus would be dethroned by the son of a mortal unless Zeus consented to wed this mortal woman. It was important for Zeus to know this secret. He sent the messenger Hermes to Prometheus, in order to learn something about it. Prometheus refused to say anything. The legend of Heracles is connected with that of Prometheus. In the course of his wanderings Heracles comes to the Caucasus. He slays the eagle which was devouring the liver of Prometheus. The centaur Chiron, who cannot die, although suffering from an incurable wound, sacrifices himself for Prometheus, who is thereupon reconciled with the gods.

The Titans are the force of will, proceeding as nature (Kronos) from the original universal spirit (Uranus). Here we have to think not merely of will-forces in an abstract form, but of actual will-beings. Prometheus is one of them, and this describes his nature. But he is not altogether a Titan. In a certain sense he is on the side of Zeus, the Spirit, who enters upon the rulership of the world after the unbridled force of nature (Kronos) has been subdued. Prometheus is thus the representative of those worlds which have given man the progressive element, half nature-force, half spiritual force, man's will. The will points on the one side towards good, on the other, towards evil. Its fate is decided according as it leans to the spiritual or the perishable. This fate is that of man himself. He is chained to the perishable, the eagle gnaws him, he has to suffer. He can only reach the highest by seeking his destiny in solitude. He has a secret which is that the divine (Zeus) must marry a mortal (human consciousness bound up with the physical body), in order to beget a son, human wisdom (the Logos) which will deliver the deity. By this means consciousness becomes immortal. He must not betray this secret till a Mystic (Heracles) comes to him, and annihilates the power which was perpetually threatening him with death. A being half animal, half human, a centaur, is obliged to sacrifice itself to redeem man. The centaur is man himself, half animal, half spiritual. He must die in order that the purely spiritual man may be delivered. That which is disdained by Prometheus, human will, is accepted by Epimetheus, reason or prudence. But the gifts offered to Epimetheus are only troubles and sorrows, for reason clings to the transitory and perishable. And only one thing is left—the hope that even out of the perishable the eternal may some day be born.

The thread running through the legends of the Argonauts, Heracles and Prometheus, is continued in Homer's Odyssey. Here we find ourselves compelled to use our own method of interpretation. But on closer consideration of everything which has to be taken into account, even the sturdiest doubter must lose all scruples about such an interpretation. In the first place, it is a startling fact that it is also related of Odysseus that he descended into the nether-world. Whatever we may think about the author of the Odyssey in other respects, it is impossible to imagine his representing a mortal descending to the infernal regions, without his bringing him into connection with what the journey into the nether-world meant to the Greeks. It meant the conquest of the perishable and the awakening of the eternal in the soul. It must therefore be conceded that Odysseus accomplished this, and thereby his experiences and those of Heracles acquire a deeper significance. They become a delineation of the non-sensuous, of the soul's progress of development. Hence the narrative in the Odyssey is different from what is demanded by a history of outer events. The hero makes voyages in enchanted ships. Actual geographical distances are dealt with in most arbitrary fashion. It is not in the least a question of what is physically real. This becomes comprehensible, if the physically real events are only related for the sake of illustrating the development of a soul. Moreover the poet himself at the opening of the book says that it deals with a search for the soul:

"O Muse, sing to me of the man full of resource, who wandered very much after he had destroyed the sacred city of Troy, and saw the cities of many men, and learned their manners. Many griefs also in his mind did he suffer on the sea, although seeking to preserve his own soul, and the return of his companions."

We have before us a man seeking for the soul, for the divine, and his wanderings during this search are narrated. He comes to the land of the Cyclopes. These are uncouth giants, with only one eye and that in the centre of the forehead. The most terrible, Polyphemus, devours several of Odysseus' companions. Odysseus himself escapes by blinding the Cyclopes. Here we have to do with the first stage of life's pilgrimage. Physical force or the lower nature has to be overcome. It devours any one who does not take away its power, who does not blind it. Odysseus next comes to the island of the enchantress Circe. She changes some of his companions into grunting pigs. She also is subdued by Odysseus. Circe is the lower mind-force, which cleaves to the transitory. If misused, it may thrust men down even deeper into bestiality. Odysseus has to overcome it. Then he is able to descend into the nether-world. He becomes a Mystic. Now he is exposed to the dangers which beset the Mystic on his progress from the lower to the higher degrees of initiation. He comes to the Sirens, who lure the passer-by to death by sweet magic sounds. These are the forms of the lower imagination, which are at first pursued by one who has freed himself from the power of the senses. He has got so far that his spirit acts freely, but is not initiated. He pursues illusions, from the power of which he must break loose. Odysseus has to accomplish the awful passage between Scylla and Charybdis. The Mystic, at the beginning of the path wavers between spirit and sensuousness. He cannot yet grasp the full value of spirit, yet sensuousness has already lost its former attraction. All Odysseus' companions perish in a shipwreck; he alone escapes and comes to the nymph Calypso, who receives him kindly and takes care of him for seven years. At length, by order of Zeus, she dismisses him to his home. The Mystic has arrived at a stage at which all his fellow-aspirants fail; he alone, Odysseus, is worthy. He enjoys for a time, which is defined by the mystically symbolic number seven, the rest of gradual initiation. Before Odysseus arrives at his home, he comes to the isle of the Phaeaces, where he meets with a hospitable reception. The king's daughter gives him sympathy, and the king, Alcinous, entertains and honours him. Once more does Odysseus approach the world and its joys, and the spirit which is attached to the world, Nausicaa, awakes within him. But he finds the way home, to the divine. At first nothing good awaits him at home. His wife, Penelope, is surrounded by numerous suitors. Each one she promises to marry, when she has finished weaving a certain piece of work. She avoids keeping her promise by undoing every night what she has woven by day. Odysseus is obliged to vanquish the suitors before he can be reunited to his wife in peace. The goddess Athene changes him into a beggar so that he may not be recognised at his entrance; and thus he overcomes the suitors. Odysseus is seeking his own deeper consciousness, the divine powers of the soul. He wishes to be united with them. Before the Mystic can find them, he must overcome everything which sues for the favour of that consciousness. The band of suitors spring from the world of lower reality, from perishable nature. The logic directed against them is a spinning which is always undone again after it has been spun. Wisdom (the goddess Athene) is the sure guide to the deepest powers of the soul. It changes man into a beggar, i.e., it divests him of everything of a transitory nature.

* * * * *

The Eleusinian festivals, which were celebrated in Greece in honour of Demeter and Dionysos, were steeped in the wisdom of the Mysteries. A sacred road led from Athens to Eleusis. It was bordered with mysterious signs, intended to bring the soul into an exalted mood. In Eleusis were mysterious temples, served by families of priests. The dignity and the wisdom which was bound up with it were inherited in these families from generation to generation. (Instructive information about the organisation of these sanctuaries will be found in Karl Boetticher's Ergaenzungen zu den letzten Untersuchungen auf der Akropolis in Athen, Philologus, Supplement, vol. iii, part 3.) The wisdom, which qualified for the priesthood, was the wisdom of the Greek Mysteries. The festivals, which were celebrated twice a year, represented the great world-drama of the destiny of the divine in the world, and of that of the human soul. The lesser Mysteries took place in February, the greater in September. Initiations were connected with the festivals. The symbolical presentation of the cosmic and human drama formed the final act of the initiations of the Mystics, which took place here.

The Eleusinian temples had been erected in honour of the goddess Demeter. She was a daughter of Kronos. She had given to Zeus a daughter, Persephone, before his marriage with Hera. Persephone, while playing, was carried away by Hades (Pluto), the god of the infernal regions. Demeter wandered far and wide over the earth, seeking her with lamentations. Sitting on a stone in Eleusis, she was found by the daughters of Keleus, ruler of the place; in the form of an old woman she entered the service of his family, as nurse to the queen's son. She wished to endow this boy with immortality, and for this purpose hid him in fire every night. When his mother discovered this, she wept and lamented. After that the bestowal of immortality was impossible. Demeter left the house. Keleus then built a temple. The grief of Demeter for Persephone was limitless. She spread sterility over the earth. The gods had to appease her, to prevent a great catastrophe. Then Zeus induced Hades (Pluto) to release Persephone into the upper world, but before letting her go, he gave her a pomegranate to eat. This obliged her to return periodically to the nether-world for evermore. Henceforward she spent a third of the year there, and two-thirds in the world above. Demeter was appeased and returned to Olympus; but at Eleusis, the place of her suffering, she founded the cult which should keep her fate in remembrance.

It is not difficult to discover the meaning of the myth of Demeter and Persephone. It is the soul which lives alternately above and below. The immortality of the soul and its perpetually recurring transformation by birth and death are thus symbolised. The soul originates from the immortal—Demeter. But it is led astray by the transitory, and even prevailed upon to share its destiny. It has partaken of the fruits in the nether-world, the human soul is satisfied with the transitory, therefore it cannot permanently live in the heights of the divine. It has always to return to the realm of the perishable. Demeter is the representative of the essence from which human consciousness arose; but we must think of it as the consciousness which was able to come into being through the spiritual forces of the earth. Thus Demeter is the primordial essence of the earth, and the endowment of the earth with the seed-forces of the produce of the fields through her, points to a still deeper side of her being. This being wishes to give man immortality. She hides her nursling in fire by night. But man cannot bear the pure force of fire (the spirit). Demeter is obliged to abandon the idea. She is only able to found a temple service, through which man is able to participate in the divine as far as this is possible.

The Eleusinian festivals were an eloquent confession of the belief in the immortality of the human soul. This confession found symbolic expression in the Persephone myth. Together with Demeter and Persephone Dionysos was commemorated in Eleusis. As Demeter was honoured as the divine creatress of the eternal in man, so in Dionysos was honoured the ever-changing divine in the world. The divine poured into the world and torn to pieces in order to be spiritually reborn (cf. p. 90) had to be honoured together with Demeter. (A brilliant description of the spirit of the Eleusinian Mysteries is found in Edouard Schure's book, Sanctuaires d'Orient. Paris, 1898.)



When leaving thy body behind thee, thou soarest into the ether, Then thou becomest a god, immortal, not subject to death.

In this utterance of Empedocles (cf. p. 55) is epitomised what the ancient Egyptians thought about the eternal element in man and its connection with the divine. The proof of this may be found in the so-called Book of the Dead, which has been deciphered by the diligence of nineteenth-century investigators (cf. Lepsius, Das Totenbuch der alten Aegypter, Berlin, 1842). It is "the greatest continuous literary work which has come down to us from ancient Egypt." All kinds of instructions and prayers are contained in it, which were put into the tomb of each deceased person to serve as a guide when he was released from his mortal tenement. The most intimate ideas of the Egyptians about the Eternal and the origin of the world are contained in this work. These ideas point to a conception of the gods similar to that of Greek mysticism.

Osiris gradually became the favourite and most universally recognised of the various deities worshipped in different parts of Egypt. In him were comprised the ideas about the other divinities. Whatever the majority of the Egyptian people may have thought about Osiris, the Book of the Dead indicates that the priestly wisdom saw in him a being that might be found in the human soul itself. Everything said about death and the dead shows this plainly. While the body is given to earth, and kept by it, the eternal part of man enters upon the path to the primordial eternal. It comes before the tribunal of Osiris, and the forty-two judges of the dead. The fate of the eternal part of man depends on the verdict of these judges. If the soul has confessed its sins and been deemed reconciled to eternal justice, invisible powers approach it and say: "The Osiris N. has been purified in the pool which is south of the field of Hotep and north of the field of Locusts, where the gods of verdure purify themselves at the fourth hour of the night and the eighth hour of the day with the image of the heart of the gods, passing from night to day." Thus, within the eternal cosmic order, the eternal part of man is addressed as an Osiris. After the name Osiris comes the deceased person's own name. And the one who is being united with the eternal cosmic order also calls himself "Osiris." "I am the Osiris N. Growing under the blossoms of the fig-tree is the name of the Osiris N." Man therefore becomes an Osiris. Being Osiris is only a perfect stage in human development. It seems obvious that even the Osiris who is a judge within the eternal cosmic order is nothing else but a perfect man. Between being human and divine, there is a difference in degree and number. The mystic view of the mystery of "number" underlies this. Osiris as a cosmic being is One, yet on this account he exists undivided in each human soul. Each person is an Osiris, yet the One Osiris must be represented as a separate being. Man is in course of development; at the end of his evolutionary career, he becomes divine. In taking this view, we must speak of divinity, or becoming divine, rather than of a separate divine being, complete in himself.

It cannot be doubted but that according to this view only he can really enter upon the Osiris existence, who has reached the portals of the eternal cosmic order as an Osiris. Thus, the highest life which man can lead must consist in his changing himself into Osiris. Even during mortal life, a true man will live as a perfect Osiris as far as he can. He becomes perfect when he lives as an Osiris, when he passes through the experiences of Osiris. In this way, we see the deeper significance of the Osiris myth. It becomes the ideal of the man who wishes to awaken the eternal within him.

Osiris is torn to pieces and killed by Typhon. The fragments of his body are preserved and cared for by his consort, Isis. After his death he let a ray of his own light fall upon her, and she bore him Horus. This Horus takes up the earthly tasks of Osiris. He is the second Osiris, still imperfect, but progressing towards the true Osiris.

The true Osiris is in the human soul, which at first is of a transitory nature; but as such, it is destined to give birth to the eternal. Man may, therefore, regard himself as the tomb of Osiris. The lower nature (Typhon) has killed the higher nature in him. Love in his soul (Isis) must take care of the dead fragments of his body, and then the higher nature, the eternal soul (Horus) will be born, which can progress to Osiris life. The man who is aspiring to the highest kind of existence must repeat in himself, as a microcosm, the macrocosmic universal Osiris process. This is the meaning of Egyptian initiation. What Plato (cf. p. 80) describes as a cosmic process, i.e., that the Creator has stretched the soul of the world on the body of the world in the form of a cross, and that the cosmic process is the release of this crucified soul,—this process had to be enacted in man on a smaller scale if he was to be qualified for Osiris life. The candidate for initiation had to develop himself in such a way that his soul-experience, his becoming an Osiris, became blended into one with the cosmic Osiris process.

If we could look into the temples of initiation in which people underwent the transformation into Osiris, we should see that what took place represented microcosmically the building of the cosmos. Man who proceeded from the "Father" was to give birth to the Son in himself. What he actually bears within him, divinity hidden under a spell, was to become manifest in him. This divinity is kept down in him by the power of the earthly nature; this lower nature must first be buried in order that the higher nature may arise.

From this we are able to interpret what we are told about the incidents of initiation. The candidate was subjected to mysterious processes, by means of which his earthly nature was killed, and his higher part awakened. It is not necessary to study these processes in detail, if we understand their meaning. This meaning is contained in the confession possible to every one who went through initiation. He could say: "Before me was the endless perspective at the end of which is the perfection of the divine. I felt that the power of the divine is within me. I buried what in me keeps down that power. I died to earthly things. I was dead. I had died as a lower man, I was in the nether-world. I had intercourse with the dead, i.e., with those who have already become part of the chain of the eternal cosmic order. After my sojourn in the nether-world, I arose from the dead. I overcame death, but now I have become different. I have nothing more to do with perishable nature. It has in me become saturated with the Logos. I now belong to those who live eternally, and who will sit at the right hand of Osiris. I myself shall be a true Osiris, part of the eternal cosmic order, and judgment of life and death will be placed in my hands." The candidate for initiation had to submit to the experience which made such a confession possible to him. Thus this was an experience of the highest kind.

Let us now imagine that a non-initiate hears of such experiences. He cannot know what has really taken place in the initiate's soul. In his eyes, the initiate died physically, lay in the grave, and rose again. What is a spiritual reality at a higher stage of existence appears when expressed in the form of sense-reality as an event which breaks through the order of nature. It is a "miracle." So far initiation was a miracle. One who really wished to understand it must have awakened within him powers to enable him to stand on a higher plane of existence. He must have approached these higher experiences through a course of life specially adapted for the purpose. In whatever way these prepared experiences were enacted in individual cases, they are always found to be of quite a definite type. And so an initiate's life is a typical one. It may be described independently of the single personality. Or rather, an individual could only be described as being on the way to the divine if he had passed through these definite typical experiences.

Such a personality was Buddha, living in the midst of his disciples. As such an one did Jesus appear to his community. Nowadays we know of the parallelism that exists between the biographies of Buddha and of Jesus. Rudolf Seydel has convincingly proved this parallelism in his book, Buddha und Christus. (Compare also the excellent essay by Dr. Huebbe-Schleiden, "Jesus ein Buddhist.") We have only to follow out the two lives in detail in order to see that all objections to the parallelism are futile.

The birth of Buddha is announced by a white elephant, which descends from heaven and declares to the queen, Maya, that she will bring forth a divine man, who "will attune all beings to love and friendship, and will unite them in a close alliance." We read in St. Luke's Gospel: "To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, 'Hail, thou that art highly favoured.... Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest.'"

The Brahmins, or Indian priests, who know what the birth of a Buddha means, interpret Maya's dream. They have a definite, typical idea of a Buddha, to which the life of the personality about to be born will have to correspond. Similarly we read in Matthew ii. et seq., that when Herod "had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born." The Brahmin Asita says of Buddha: "This is the child which will become Buddha, the redeemer, the leader to immortality, freedom, and light." Compare with this Luke ii. 25: "And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.... And when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel."

It is related of Buddha that at the age of twelve he was lost, and found again under a tree, surrounded by poets and sages of the olden time, whom he was teaching. With this incident the following passage in St. Luke corresponds: "Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day's journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers" (Luke ii. 41-47).

After Buddha had lived in solitude, and returned, he was received by the benediction of a virgin, "Blessed is thy mother, blessed is thy father, blessed is the wife to whom thou belongest." But he replied, "Only they are blessed who are in Nirvana," i.e., who have entered the eternal cosmic order. In St. Luke's Gospel (xi. 27), we read: "And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice and said unto him, 'Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked.' But he said, 'Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.'"

In the course of Buddha's life, the tempter comes to him and promises him all the kingdoms of the earth. Buddha refuses everything in the words: "I know well that I am destined to have a kingdom, but I do not desire an earthly one. I shall become Buddha and make all the world exult with joy." The tempter has to own that his reign is over. Jesus answers the same temptation in the words: "Get thee hence, Satan, for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him" (Matthew iv. 10, 11). This description of the parallelism might be extended to many other points with the same result.

The life of Buddha ended sublimely. On a journey, he felt ill; he came to the river Hiranja, near Kuschinagara. There he lay down on a carpet which his favourite disciple, Ananda, spread for him. His body began to be luminous from within. He died transfigured, his body irradiating light, saying, "Nothing endures."

The death of Buddha corresponds with the transfiguration of Jesus. "And it came to pass about eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering."

Buddha's earthly life ends at this point, but it is here that the most important part of the life of Jesus begins,—His suffering, death, and resurrection. Other accounts of Buddha's death need not here be considered, even though they reveal profound aspects.

The agreement in these two redemptive lives leads to the same conclusion. The narratives themselves indicate the nature of this conclusion. When the priest-sages hear what kind of birth is to take place, they know what is involved. They know that they have to do with a Divine man; they know beforehand what kind of personality it is who is appearing. And therefore his course of life can only correspond with what they know about the life of a Divine man. In the wisdom of their Mysteries such a life is traced out for all eternity. It can only be as it must be; it comes into manifestation like an eternal law of nature. Just as a chemical substance can only behave in a certain definite way, so a Buddha or a Christ can only live in a certain definite way. His life is not described merely by writing a casual biography; it is much better described by giving the typical features which are contained for all time in the wisdom of the Mysteries. The Buddha legend is no more a biography in the ordinary sense than the Gospels are meant to be a biography in the ordinary sense of the Christ Jesus. In neither is the merely accidental given; both relate the course of life marked out for a world-redeemer. The source of the two accounts is to be found in the mystery traditions and not in outer physical history. Jesus and Buddha are, to those who have recognised their Divine nature, initiates in the most eminent sense. Hence their lives are lifted out of things transitory, and what is known about initiates applies to them.[4] The casual incidents in their lives are not narrated. Of such it might be announced "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a God and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us."

But the life of Jesus contains more than that of Buddha. Buddha's ends with the Transfiguration; the most momentous part of the life of Jesus begins after the Transfiguration. In the language of initiates this means that Buddha reached the point at which divine light begins to shine in men. He faces mortal death. He becomes the light of the world. Jesus goes farther. He does not physically die at the moment when the light of the world shines through him. At that moment he is a Buddha. But at that very moment he enters upon a stage which finds expression in a higher degree of initiation. He suffers and dies. What is earthly disappears. But the spiritual element, the light of the world, does not. His resurrection follows. He is revealed to his followers as Christ. Buddha, at the moment of his Transfiguration, flows into the blissful life of the Universal Spirit. Christ Jesus awakens the Universal Spirit once more, but in a human form, in present existence. Such an event had formerly taken place at the higher stages of initiation. Those initiated in the spirit of the Osiris myth attained to such a resurrection. In the life of Jesus, this "great" initiation was added to the Buddha initiation. Buddha demonstrated by his life that man is the Logos, and that he returns to the Logos, to the light, when his earthly part dies. In Jesus, the Logos himself became a person. In him, the Word was made flesh.

Therefore, what was enacted in the innermost recesses of the temples by the guardians of the ancient Mysteries has been apprehended, through Christianity, as a historical fact. The followers of Christ Jesus confessed their belief in Him, the initiate, of unique and supreme greatness. He proved to them that the world is divine. In the Christian community, the wisdom of the Mysteries was indissolubly bound up with the personality of Christ Jesus. That which man previously had sought to attain through the Mysteries was now replaced by the belief that Christ had lived on earth, and that the faithful belonged to him.

Henceforward, part of what was formerly only to be gained through mystical methods, could be replaced, in the Christian community, by the conviction that the divine had been manifested in the Word present amongst them. Not that for which each individual soul underwent a long preparation was now decisive, but what those had heard and seen who were with Jesus, and what was handed down by them. "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which ... our hands have handled, of the Word of life ... that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us." Thus do we read in the first Epistle of St. John. And this immediate reality is to embrace all future generations in a living bond of union, and as a church is mystically to extend from race to race. It is in this sense that the words of St. Augustine are to be understood, "I should not believe the Gospels unless the authority of the Catholic Church induced me to do so." Thus the Gospels do not contain within themselves testimony to their truth, but they are to be believed because they are founded on the personality of Jesus, and because the Church from that personality mysteriously draws the power to make the truth of the Gospels manifest.

The Mysteries handed down traditionally the means of arriving at truth; the Christian community itself propagates the truth. To the confidence in the mystical forces which spring up in the inmost being of man, during initiation, was added the confidence in the One, primordial Initiator.

The Mystics sought to become divine, they wished to experience divinity. Jesus was divine, we must hold fast to Him, and then we shall become partakers of His divinity, in the community founded by Him; this became Christian conviction. What became divine in Jesus was made so for all His followers. "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." The one who was born in Bethlehem has an eternal character independent of time. The Christmas anthem thus speaks of the birth of Jesus, as if it took place each Christmas, "Christ is born to-day, the Saviour has come into the world to-day, to-day the angels are singing on earth."

In the Christ-experience is to be seen a definite stage of initiation. When the Mystic of pre-Christian times passed through this Christ-experience, he was, through his initiation, in a state which enabled him to perceive something spiritually,—in higher worlds,—to which no fact in the world of sense corresponded. He experienced that which surrounds the Mystery of Golgotha in the higher world. If the Christian Mystic goes through this experience by initiation, he at the same time beholds the historical event which took place on Golgotha, and knows that in that event, enacted within the physical world, there is the same content as was formerly only in the supersensible facts of the Mysteries. Thus there was poured out on the Christian community, through the "Mysteries of Golgotha," that which formerly had been poured out on the Mystics within the temples. And initiation gives Christian Mystics the possibility of becoming conscious of what is contained in the "Mystery of Golgotha," whereas faith makes man an unconscious partaker of the mystical stream which flowed from the events depicted in the New Testament, and which has ever since been pervading the spiritual life of humanity.


[4] The great initiates raised themselves through initiation up into the sphere of the Logos and carried this Logos influence with them in their human life. The fundamental difference between them and Jesus was the fact that the Logos in the course of its evolution individualised itself into One Divine Individuality who descended into Jesus of Nazareth at the Baptism, and so that the Logos manifested its whole Divine individuality through the personality of Jesus as far as it was possible to express Divinity by human means. Such was the unique character of the Christ Jesus.



The accounts of the life of Jesus which can be submitted to historical examination are contained in the Gospels. All that does not come from this source might, in the opinion of one of those who are considered the greatest historical authorities on the subject (Harnack), be "easily written on a quarto page."

But what kind of documents are these Gospels? The fourth, that of St. John, differs so much from the others, that those who think themselves obliged to follow the path of historical research in order to study the subject, come to the conclusion: "If John possesses the genuine tradition about the life of Jesus, that of the first three Evangelists (the Synoptists) is untenable. If the Synoptists are right, the Fourth Gospel must be rejected as a historical source" (Otto Schmiedel, Die Hauptprobleme der Leben Jesu Forschung, p. 15). This is a statement made from the standpoint of the historical investigator.

In the present work, in which we are dealing with the mystical contents of the Gospels, such a point of view is neither to be accepted nor rejected. But attention must certainly be drawn to such an opinion as the following: "Measured by the standard of consistency, inspiration, and completeness, these writings leave very much to be desired, and even measured by the ordinary human standard, they suffer from not a few imperfections." This is the opinion of a Christian theologian (Harnack, Wesen des Christentums).

One who takes his stand on a mystical origin of the Gospels easily finds an explanation of what is apparently contradictory, and also discovers harmony between the fourth Gospel and the three others. For none of these writings are meant to be mere historical tradition in the ordinary sense of the word. They do not profess to give a historical biography (cf. p. 140 et seq.). What they intended to give was already shadowed forth in the traditions of the Mysteries, as the typical life of a Son of God. It was these traditions which were drawn upon, not history. Now it was only natural that these traditions should not be in complete verbal agreement in every Mystery centre. Still, the agreement was so close that the Buddhists narrated the life of their divine man almost in the same way in which the Evangelists narrated the life of Christ. But naturally there were differences. We have only to assume that the four Evangelists drew from four different mystery traditions. It testifies to the extraordinary personality of Jesus that in four writers, belonging to different traditions, he awakened the belief that he was one who so perfectly corresponded with their type of an initiate, that they were able to describe him as one who lived the typical life marked out in their Mysteries. They each described his life according to their own mystic traditions. And if the narratives of the first three Evangelists resemble each other, it proves nothing more than that they drew from similar mystery traditions. The fourth Evangelist saturated his Gospel with ideas which are, in many respects, reminiscent of the religious philosopher, Philo (cf. p. 82). This only proves that he was rooted in the same mystic tradition as Philo.

There are various elements in the Gospels. Firstly, facts are related, which seem to lay claim to being historical. Secondly, there are parables, in which the narrative form is only used to symbolise a deeper truth. And, thirdly, there are teachings characteristic of the Christian conception of life. In St. John's Gospel there is no real parable. The source from which he drew was a mystical school which considered parables unnecessary.

The part played by ostensibly historical facts and parables in the first three Gospels is clearly shown in the narrative of the cursing of the fig tree. In St. Mark xi. 11-14, we read: "And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when he had looked round about upon all things, and now the eventide was come, he went out unto Bethany with the twelve. And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: and seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever." In the corresponding passage in St. Luke's Gospel, he relates a parable (xiii. 6, 7): "He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?" This is a parable symbolising the uselessness of the old teaching, represented by the barren fig tree. That which is meant metaphorically, St. Mark relates as a fact appearing to be historical. We may therefore assume that, in general, facts related in the Gospels are not to be taken as only historical, or as if they were only to hold good in the physical world, but as mystical facts; as experiences, for the recognition of which spiritual vision is necessary, and which arise from various mystical traditions. If we admit this, the difference between the Gospel of St. John and the Synoptists ceases to exist. For mystical interpretation, historical research has not to be taken into account. Even if one or another Gospel were written a few decades earlier or later than the others, they are all of like historical value to the mystic, St. John's Gospel as well as the others.

And the "miracles" do not present the least difficulty when interpreted mystically. They are supposed to break through the laws of nature. They only do this when they are considered as events which have so come about on the physical plane, in the perishable world, that ordinary sense-perception could see through them offhand. But if they are experiences which can only be fathomed on a higher stage of existence, namely the spiritual, it is obvious that they cannot be understood by means of the laws of physical nature.

It is thus first of all necessary to read the Gospels correctly; then we shall know in what way they are speaking of the Founder of Christianity. Their intention is to relate his life in the manner in which communications were made through the Mysteries. They relate it in the way in which a Mystic would speak of an initiate. Only, they give the initiation as the unique characteristic of one unique being. And they make salvation depend on man's holding fast to the initiate of this unique order. What had come to the initiates was the "kingdom of God." This unique being has brought the kingdom to all who will cleave to him. What was formerly the personal concern of each individual has become the common concern of all those who are willing to acknowledge Jesus as their Lord.

We can understand how this came about if we admit that the wisdom of the Mysteries was imbedded in the popular religion of the Jews. Christianity arose out of Judaism. We need not therefore be surprised at finding engrafted on Judaism, together with Christianity those mystical ideas which we have seen to be the common property of Greek and Egyptian spiritual life. If we examine national religions, we find various conceptions of the spiritual; but if, in each case, we go back to the deeper wisdom of the priests, which proves to be the spiritual nucleus of them all, we find agreement everywhere. Plato knows himself to be in agreement with the priest-sages of Egypt when he is trying to set forth the main content of Greek wisdom in his philosophical view of the universe. It is related of Pythagoras that he travelled to Egypt and India, and was instructed by the sages in those countries. Thinkers who lived in the earlier days of Christianity found so much agreement between the philosophical teachings of Plato and the deeper meaning of the Mosaic writings, that they called Plato a Moses with Attic tongue.

Thus Mystery wisdom existed everywhere. In Judaism it acquired a form which it had to assume if it was to become a world-religion.

Judaism expected the Messiah. It is not to be wondered at that when the personality of an unique initiate appeared, the Jews could only conceive of him as being the Messiah. Indeed this circumstance throws light on the fact that what had been an individual matter in the Mysteries became an affair of the whole nation. The Jewish religion had from the beginning been a national religion. The Jewish people looked upon itself as one organism. Its Jao was the God of the whole nation. If the son of this God were to be born, he must be the redeemer of the whole nation. The individual Mystic was not to be saved apart from others, the whole nation was to share in the redemption. That one is to die for all is founded on the fundamental ideas of the Jewish religion.

It is also certain that there were mysteries in Judaism, which could be brought out of the dimness of a secret cult into the popular religion. A fully-developed mysticism existed side by side with the priestly wisdom which was attached to the outer formalism of the Pharisees. This mystery wisdom is spoken of among the Jews just as it is elsewhere. When one day an initiate was speaking of it, and his hearers sensed the secret meaning of his words, they said: "Old man, what hast thou done? Oh, that thou hadst kept silence! Thou thinkest to navigate the boundless ocean without sail or mast. This is what thou art attempting. Wilt thou fly upwards? Thou canst not. Wilt thou descend into the depths? An immeasurable abyss is yawning before thee." And the Kabbalists, from whom the above is taken, also speak of four Rabbis; and these four Rabbis sought the secret path to the divine. The first died; the second lost his reason; the third caused monstrous evils, and only the fourth, Rabbi Akiba, went in and out of the spiritual world in peace.

We thus see that within Judaism also there was a soil in which an initiate of an unique kind could develop. He had only to say to himself: "I will not let salvation be limited to a few chosen people. I will let all people participate in it." He was to carry out into the world at large what the elect had experienced in the temples of the Mysteries. He had to be willing to take upon himself to be, in spirit, to his community, through his personality, that which the cult of the Mysteries had heretofore been to those who took part in them. It is true he could not at once give to the whole community the experiences of the Mysteries, nor would he have wished to do so. But he wished to give to all the certainty of the truth contemplated in the Mysteries. He wished to cause the life, which flowed within the Mysteries, to flow through the further historical evolution of humanity, and thus to raise mankind to a higher stage of existence. "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." He wished to plant unshakably in human hearts, in the form of confidence, the certainty that the divine really exists. One who stands outside initiation and has this confidence will certainly go further than one who is without it. It must have weighed like a mountain on the mind of Jesus to think that there might be many standing outside who do not find the way. He wished to lessen the gulf between those to be initiated and the "people." Christianity was to be a means by which every one might find the way. Should one or another not yet be ripe, at any rate he is not cut off from the possibility of sharing, more or less unconsciously, in the benefit of the spiritual current flowing through the Mysteries. "The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." Henceforward even those who cannot yet share in initiation may enjoy some of the fruits of the Mysteries. Henceforth the Kingdom of God was not to be dependent on outward ceremonies: "Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, Lo there! for, behold, the Kingdom of God is within you." With Jesus the point in question was not so much how far this or that person advanced in the kingdom of the spirit, as that all should be convinced that that kingdom exists. "In this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven." That is, have confidence in the divine. The time will come when you will find it.



Amongst the "miracles" attributed to Jesus, very special importance must be attached to the raising of Lazarus at Bethany. Everything combines to assign a prominent position in the New Testament to that which is here related by the Evangelist. We must bear in mind that St. John alone relates it, the Evangelist who by the weighty words with which he opens his Gospel claims for it a very definite interpretation.

St. John begins with these sentences: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was a God.... And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, a glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."

One who places such words at the beginning of his narrative is plainly indicating that he wishes it to be interpreted in a very deep sense. The man who approaches it with merely intellectual explanations, or otherwise in a superficial way, is like one who thinks that Othello on the stage really murders Desdemona. What then is it that St. John means to say in his introductory words? He plainly says that he is speaking of something eternal, which existed at the beginning of things. He relates facts, but they are not to be taken as facts observed by the eye and ear, and upon which logical reason exercises its skill. He hides behind facts the "Word" which is in the Cosmic Spirit. For him, the facts are the medium in which a higher meaning is expressed. And we may therefore assume that in the fact of a man being raised from the dead, a fact which offers the greatest difficulties to the eye, ear, and logical reason, the very deepest meaning lies concealed.

Previous Part     1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse