The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Christianity as Mystical Fact
GA 8

VI. The Mystery Wisdom of Egypt

When leaving thy body behind thee thou soarest up into the ether,
Then thou becomest a god, immortal, beyond the power of death.

In this utterance of Empedocles (cf. p. 46) is epitomized what the ancient Egyptians thought about the eternal clement in man and its connection with the Divine. Proof of this may be found in the so-called Book of the Dead, which has been deciphered by the diligence of nineteenth-century scholars. 1(Cf. Lepsius, Das Totenbuch der alten Ägypter, (The Book Of the Dead of the Ancient Egyptians.) Berlin, 1842). It is “the greatest coherent literary work that has come down to us from ancient Egypt.” It contains all kinds of instructions and prayers that 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 views point to a conception of the gods similar to that of Greek mysticism.

Osiris gradually became the preëminent and most universally recognized of the various deities worshipped in different parts of Egypt. In him were comprized 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 herself. Everything said about death and the dead shows this plainly. While the body is given to earth and kept by it, the Eternal in 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 in man depends on the verdict of these judges. If the soul has confessed her sins, and has been deemed reconciled to eternal justice, invisible powers approach her 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 in man is itself addressed as an Osiris. After the name Osiris comes the deceased person’s own name; and the one who is uniting with the eternal cosmic order also alls himself “Osiris”. “I am the Osiris N. Growing under the blossoms of the fig-tree is the name of Osiris N.” Thus man 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 more than a perfect man, Between being human and being 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 he exists, nevertheless, undivided in each human soul. Every human being is an Osiris, yet the One Osiris must be represented as a Separate being. Man is in course of development, and at the end of his evolutionary career he becomes divine. In taking this view we must speak of Divine-ness, or becoming divine, rather than of a finished divine being, complete in himself.

It cannot be doubted 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. This lends a deeper significance to the Osiris myth. It becomes the ideal of the man who wishes to awaken the Eternal within himself.

Osiris is torn to pieces, 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, who at the outset is of a transitory nature; but as such she i destined to give birth to the Eternal. Man may there: fore regard himself as the tomb of Osiris. Man's lower nature (Typhon) has killed his higher nature. Love in his soul (Isis) must nurture the dead fragments of his body, and then the higher nature, the eternal soul (Horus) will be born, who can progress to Osiris existence. The man aspiring to the highest kind of existence must repeat in himself microcosmically the macrocosmic universal Osiris process. This is the meaning of Egyptian initiation. What Plato (cf. p. 66) describes as a cosmic process — 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 redemption of this crucified soul, — this process had to be enacted in man on a smaller scale if he was to be qualified for Osiris-existence. The candidate for initiation had to develop himself in such a way that his soul-experience, his becoming an Osiris, 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 a cosmic genesis. Man who proceeded from the Father was to give birth to the Son in himself. What he actually bears within him, that is, Divinity 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.

This clarifies what we are told about the incidents of initiation. The candidate was subjected to mysterious procedures by means of which his earthly nature was killed and his higher nature awakened. It is not Necessary to study these procedures in detail if we understand their meaning. This meaning is contained in the confession possible to everyone who went through initiation. He could say: “I envisioned the endless perspective at the end of which lies the perfection of the Divine. I felt that the power of this Divine is within me. I buried what keeps down that bower in me. 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, with those who have already become part 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 a different being. I have nothing more to do with perishable nature. For me this has 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 the 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 for him. It was an experience of the highest kind that the neophite passed through.

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”. In this sense initiation was a miracle. One who really wished to understand it must have awakened within himself 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 to that purpose. In whatever way these prepared experiences took place in individual cases, they are always found to be of quite a definite type; so an initiate’s life is a typical one. It may be described quite apart from the single personality. In fact, 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. Jesus appeared as such a personality to his followers. 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. 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 that 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, 1, 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 11, 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,” that is, 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 favorite 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 trans: figuration 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. What differentiates Buddha from Christ exists in the conditions necessitating the extension of the life of Christ Jesus beyond the scope of the Buddha life. Buddha and Christ will not be understood by merely mixing them. (This will become clear in the course of this book.) Other accounts of Buddha's death need not here be considered, even though they reveal profound aspects.

The agreement in the lives of the two redeemers 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 God-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 God-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 fortuitous biography, but by giving its typical features that 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 of the Christ Jesus in the ordinary sense. In neither is the merely accidental given; both relate the course of life marked out for a world-redeemer. The pattern of the two accounts is to be found in the Mystery traditions, not in outer physical history. Jesus and Buddha are, to those who have recognized their divine nature, initiates in the most eminent sense. (Jesus is the initiate by virtue of the Christ Being dwelling in Him.) Hence their lives are lifted out of things transitory, and what is known about initiates applies to them. The fortuitous incidents in their lives are not narrated, but rather it is said of them:

“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.” (St. John I, 1 and 14).

But the life of Jesus contains more than does the life of Buddha. Buddha’s life 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, dissolves into the blissful life of the universal spirit. Christ Jesus once more calls the universal spirit into Present existence in human form. Such an event had formerly taken place at the higher stages of initiation in a symbolical sense. Those initiated in the spirit of the Osiris myth attained in their consciousness to such a resurrection as a symbolical experience. In the life of Jesus, this “great” initiation was added to the Buddha initiation, not as a symbolical experience, but as reality. 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 itself 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; in Him who was initiated in a manner unique in its magnitude. 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 mystic methods could be replaced in the Christian community by the conviction that the Divine had been manifested in the Word present among them. Not that for which each individual soul underwent a long preparation was now alone 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 under " stood, “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 propaBates truth itself. To the confidence in the mystical forces that spring up in the inmost being of man durIng initiation was to be added the confidence in the One, in the 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 was divine in Jesus became so for all His followers. “Lo, I am with you alway even unto the end of the world.” (St. Matthew, XXVIII 20). The one who was born in Bethlehem has an eternal character. The Christmas anthem rightly sings 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, today the angels are singing on earth.”

In the Christ-experience we should recognize 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 that enabled him to perceive something spiritually — in higher worlds — to which no fact in the world of sense corresponded. He experienced in the higher world what the Mystery of Golgotha comprises. Now, when the Christian mystic goes through this experience by initiation he at the same time beholds the historical event that took place on Golgotha, and he knows that in that event, enacted within the physical world, there is the same content that existed formerly only in the super sensible facts of the Mysteries. Thus there was poured out on the Christian community, through the Mystery of Golgotha, that which formerly had been poured out on the mystics within the temples. And initiation gives Christian mystics the possibility of discerning 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 pervaded the spiritual life of humanity.