The origin and true message of Easter is the subject of this fourth of a series of weekly quarter-hour broadcasts on Theosophy begun last Spring over radio station XQHB, Shanghai, China. This talk was broadcast on April 13th by Miss Inga Sjostedt, President of the Shanghai Theosophical Lodge.
Good evening, Everybody: Today is Easter Sunday, a day celebrated by Christians all over the world, so this evening I would like to explain the esoteric or hidden meaning of what the majority of the Western nations erroneously suppose to be a purely Christian festival.
The celebration of Christmas, Easter, and other so-called Christian festivals dates back to pagan times and the sacred Mystery-Schools of the ancients. These Mystery-Schools were seats of learning to which only the elect were admitted, and in them were taught the then secret sciences, such as physiology, astronomy, astrology, occult philosophy, and also magic. Every founder of some great religion has had two teachings, one for the masses and one for the worthy disciples who were initiated into the deeper occult knowledge of the Teacher. Buddha, Jesus, Zoroaster, and other great teachers of mankind were familiar with the secret sciences which the multitude knew nothing about, and to their worthy followers they imparted as much of this occult wisdom as the times permitted. The average modern Christian believes that the teaching of Christ was simple and equal for all, but some of the alleged sayings of Jesus, as recorded in the New Testament, show just the contrary to have been the case. In the Gospel according to St. John, chapter 16, verse 25, Jesus says: "These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs; but the time cometh when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall show you plainly of the Father." In the Gospel according to St. Matthew, chapter 13, verses 34 and 35, we read: "All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them. That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world." And here is one more quotation from 1st Corinthians, chapter 2, verse 17: "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory." These verses from the New Testament show plainly that Jesus had one teaching for the simple multitude, and quite another, deeper teaching for his own disciples, which is in accordance with the tradition of every promulgator of the Secret Wisdom which we today call Theosophy, and which has been taught under various names in all ages. The Egyptians and Greeks had their Mystery-Schools where they taught the Secret Wisdom. The Chaldeans and Druids and the Jewish Kabbalists had their occult teachings which they carefully guarded from the uninitiated. Thus initiation from immemorial times has always been the way to obtain Truth.
Let us now consider the word Initiation. This word has the vaguest of meanings in the Western world. Initiation means the awakening of the dormant spiritual faculties in the human soul, the recognition and comprehension of the divine Self in man. This was the aim of the Mystery-Schools, and was attained through rigorous training and religious and philosophical teaching. Through countless initiations a man may attain to the spiritual grandeur of a Buddha, of a Christ. These initiations have taken place since the days of remotest antiquity, and continue even today in various parts of the world. No need to point out that these solemn events take place in the utmost secrecy and retirement, away from the distractions of public places.
Now, among the ancients such initiations were several in number and took place at certain times of the year, the most important being that of the Winter Solstice, on or about the date when we now celebrate Christmas. Another of these sacred seasons of initiation took place on or about the date of the Spring Equinox, that is near March 21st, and became first the pagan Spring festival and later the Christian Easter. The Christians have borrowed generously from the pagans, and nearly every symbol, every outstanding event in the life of Jesus is taken from the ancient Mystery-schools. In fact, the entire story of the life of Jesus is the story of initiation.
Every nation had its own Mysteries; they varied in detail but were identical in essence. All of them taught about the "Mystical Death," that is the death of the personal life and the awakening of the Divine Self through initiation. There was always the "descent into Hades or Hell'; there was always the "resurrection," the Rising, usually after "three days'; and the "glorification" at the end of the trial — a complete picture of the supposed life of Jesus, and also a complete picture of the supposed lives of many other Saviors.
After successfully passing through the trials of initiation the candidate was called the "unconquered Sun." We think today that the ancients were sun-worshipers, that they worshiped the physical sun we see in the sky; but they did nothing of the sort. They worshiped the Spiritual Sun, the invisible, divine power which rules our Cosmos. It is quite likely that thousands of years hence the Christians of today will be called pagans because they symbolize Christ as the Lamb of God — which is as much a symbol as the Spiritual Sun of the ancients.
Even the early Christians identified Jesus with the Spiritual Sun. On a pillar of stone, which was found in Germany many years ago, was an inscription wherein the Sun was called the "Firstborn," the "Son of God," the "Word" or Logos — all of them names which the Christians later applied to their particular Savior, Jesus. In ancient Greece the sun was also frequently called "the only Begotten."
In the 5th century, Pope Leo the First wrote in one of his sermons that what made the Christmas festival so sacred was not so much the alleged birth of Jesus on that date but the return, or, as he expressed it, "the new birth" of the Sun. Cyprian and Ambrose, two orthodox saints of the Christian Church, referred to Christ as the "true sun" and "our new Sun" respectively.
We see thus that Christianity in its beginnings had more than a suspicious resemblance to Sun-worship. To the Christian layman today this must seem rather shocking and pagan, but we must not forget the underlying meaning here. Just as the physical sun is the center of our planetary system, and therefore its Lord and Regent, just so the spiritual Sun stands for the Supreme Divine Monarch of our Cosmos — or, in other words, God. Even some of the early Christians believed that the physical planets and suns were merely the bodies of divine entities, and that, just as Theosophy teaches today, there is a center of divinity in all things whatsoever — planets, atoms and men. It is then not difficult to understand the deification of the sun, our physical life-giver and light-bringer.
Easter, as well as Christmas, is an important time of initiation. We must not think, however, that only great souls like Christ and Buddha are initiated during their life on earth. The path to God-hood is open to all, and there are many men and women today who are following that path. India and Tibet abound in tales about ascetics and yogis who live holy lives in retirement and solitude and whose aim it is to reach what to the average man would seem perfection. Those who have already attained spiritual mastery over their lower selves we call in Theosophy Masters of Wisdom, Adepts, or Initiates. They are not gods come to earth from a higher sphere: they are simply perfect men, who, like Gautama the Buddha, the Light of Asia, have accomplished a union with the god within them. Strange as this teaching must seem at first sight, it is not strange when we consider the seat of consciousness in living entities. For instance, the consciousness of a tree functions in its physical surroundings only: it is alive, it imbibes its vitality from the earth and the air, but it is not conscious in other ways, properly speaking. The seat of an animal's consciousness is in its instincts and desires. An animal can feel rage and maternal love, fear and shame, but it is not conscious on the mental plane as we understand it. Then think of a savage, a human being of low development. His consciousness is awake on the mental plane, but on the lower mental plane only. He is chiefly concerned with his daily life and his personal interests, and the impersonal abstract thinking of a philosopher is completely beyond him. Then, take a truly great man, a genius, an artist, a philosopher or social reformer. A man like that directs his mental energy beyond his personal concerns. He has trained himself in abstract or impersonal thinking. His consciousness is active on a wider field than that of the average man. Then finally we have a Christ or a Buddha. Their consciousness. Penetrated even beyond abstract thinking and functioned on a spiritual plane from which they derived their super-human wisdom and greatness. Initiation trains a man to make his consciousness Christ-like or Buddha-like.
Just as an unselfish action on the part of a man can have beneficent consequences for several other individuals, so a successful major initiation must benefit all humanity, for a Master of Wisdom, on attaining Universal Consciousness, attains also Universal Compassion, and from then on becomes a worker for mankind — sometimes publicly like Jesus, but more often secretly and without the recognition of the world.
This is the true message of Easter: mental and spiritual purification for the ordinary man, and initiation for the Great Ones, the Masters of Life. The origin of Easter is ancient, pagan, and deeply mystical. (1)
1. Several passages in the above are taken from Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy by G de Purucker. — I. S. (return to text)