January 6th is The Feast of Epiphany, which in Greek means ‘Manifestation’. This day is also called: 12th night, Three Kings Day, The feast of La Bafana The Feast of Recognition, The Adoration of the Magi, The Manifestation of God, & Saturnalia.
Epiphany is older than Christmas, at one time the Nativity & Epiphany were celebrated together & were referred to as the first & second nativity; the second being Christ’s manifestation to the world, linked as it is with the cosmic event of Christ’s baptism.
Epiphany, like Easter & Pentecost are holy days traditionally set aside for initiation rites, emphasizing the mysterious relationship between the elements of fire & water. In both the Eastern & Western churches the feast additionally commemorates the marriage at Cana (see John 2:1-11), at which Christ performed his first miracle. The marriage at Cana is an allegory for the mixing of water & wine [liquid fire] changing water into fire, which the ancients called The Alchemical Marriage, or the Great Work.
In the Eastern church, the holy water, to be used all that year is blessed at Epiphany, a ritual customarily taking place on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter) in the Roman Catholic church.
The Three Kings from the East: Caspar, Melchior & Balthazar, were wise men initiated into the mysteries of the stars by Zarathustra. They followed the starry script written in the heavens that was foretold by the ancient prophets, to Bethlehem, where they paid homage to the Christ-child & presented him with gold, frankincense & myrrh.
Gold reflects the kingship of The Christ as a ‘Solar King’. Frankincense, which was used in worship & for meditative & invocational purposes, symbolizes his priestly role, & myrrh, because it was used in embalming & for burial, points to the crucifixion & resurrection.
On the evening before Three Kings, traditionally there were prayers, blessed dried herbs would be burnt &their aromatic smell would fill the house. Doorways would be sprinkled with holy water & the mistress of the house would write with chalk
C + M + B with the number of the year above the house or barn door & say: “Caspar, Melchior, “Balthasar, behütet uns auch für dieses Jahr, vor Feuer und. Protect our home from the perils of fire &water.” Our ‘modern’ family still does this every year.
In the Middle Ages the three wise men became popular personalities, & the ox was added to the manger scene, because of two texts discovered in the Old Testament. Isaiah 1:3 reads “The ox knows his owner, & the ass his Master’s crib.” & Habbakuk 3:2 (in the Septuagint version) reads: “Between two beasts are you known.” Thus an ox & an ass came to represent the expected Messiah.
As the two birth stories from the gospels of Luke & Matthew were both included in the liturgical calendar, they became one story in the minds of most Christians.
The twelve days of Christmas end with the Feast of Epiphany which comes with its own traditions, rituals & symbols for the common folk. Carolers go from house to house. In many homes the Christmas tree is taken down & in some areas is burnt in a big bonfire.
For the children this is an especially joyous occasion because, associated with taking down the tree goes the “plündern” (raiding) of the tree. The sweets, chocolate ornaments wrapped in foil or cookies, which have replaced the sugar plums, are the raiders’ rewards.
The French have kept many of their historic Epiphany feast day customs, including that of friends & family gathering for the traditional evening meal. The thirteen desserts of Christmas (fruits, nuts, sweetmeats, biscuits, cakes & pastries) remain on the table for the twelve days of Christmas & are also part of the meal. Galette des Rois or Gâteau des Rois (Kings Cake, named after the three Kings who arrived in Bethlehem to pay homage to the Infant Jesus) is the traditional Twelfth Night cake & friends & neighbors are all invited to share in the custom of cutting the cake.
At this time of year, the windows of French patisseries are crammed with the rich buttery cakes topped with gleaming gold paper crowns. Every galette (the word is derived from galet – a round flat pebble, which was the original shape of the cake) has a bean, (fève) charm or tiny figurine concealed within it, to represent the infant Jesus. Whoever is lucky enough to find this in their piece is crowned king or queen for the day and is allowed to choose his or her consort & can issue orders that must be obeyed by everyone present!
In Provence it is customary for the “king” or “queen” to invite those present to share another galette the following week. In fact, the celebrations often last throughout the month of January & provides a wonderful opportunity for friends to get together for a meal & a chat.
The customs associated with the galette have pagan origins, which can be traced back to the Roman winter festival of Saturnalia, when the master of the winter revels was chosen by means of a bean hidden in a cake. Traditionally the warm galette is brought to the table where it is generally admired before being cut into pieces. The youngest child goes to hide under the table. To the summons ‘Apollo’ or ‘Phoebe’ the child answers ‘Domine’ (master). As he cuts each slice of galette the ‘master’ asks ‘For whom is this piece?’ & the child chooses the names of the guests until everyone has a slice. With much excitement everyone starts to eat his or her cake to find out who has the bean in his or her slice. Long ago, songs, processions, the giving of alms, etc, would have accompanied the cutting of the cake.
During the Revolution attempts were made to replace the galette with a cake of Liberty or Equality shared out during a ‘Good Neighbour’ festival. The attempts however proved unsuccessful & the galette along with its traditions has endured.
Provençal children are told that if they get up at midnight on the eve of Epiphany they will see the Three Kings making their way towards the church.
In medieval Lorraine the first slice of the cake was for God & the second for the Virgin Mary. These slices were given to the first poor people to request them.
Traditionally in old England a gender swapping masquerade ball is held, again an old tradition from the Roman Saturnalia, where the king’s cake’ is baked with a dried bean somewhere inside, who ever receives the bean in their slice of cake becomes king for the night, the king choosing his queen, with a sort of marti grai, baccanalian, free for all to follow.
In later years, charms with symbolic meanings were also hidden in the cake. Our present day Christmas cake is the direct descendant of the Twelfth Night cake, & the tokens or charms were transferred to the Christmas Pudding.
In Italy there remains a legend involving a witch named La Befana. She appears in street processions as a masked figure with her consort Befano, guiding a band of jester-like followers who receive offerings from the people, Befana in turn gives them the gift of prosperity. Music fills the streets & families place Befana dolls in their windows, welcoming her blessings into their homes. At the end of the Befana celebration the dolls are burned in effigy. This is done to burn the bad things of the old year & to wish the best things into the new coming.
Since the feast of epiphany is the celebration in remembrance of the magi’s visit to the Christ-child, there is a legend that La Befana was invited by these wise men [who were astrologers from the far east] to accompany them in their quest for the sweet baby Jesus whose rising natal star fulfilled ancient prophecy of the messiah, but La Befana who was busy with household tasks at the time told them she would meet up with them when she was finished thank-you very much, so when she was done she ran out to catch up with them still carrying her broom along with a sack full of presents for the babe, magically of course she began to fly on her broom. She never did catch up to the wise men since they went home a different way to avoid the persecution of Heroid, so she gave the gifts she carried to the children as she went on her way. This is how the tradition in Italy started where children would have their stockings hanging by the hearth or their shoes at the door for Her to fill with goodies as she flies by.
A bowl of water is set out on this night for Befana that she might read in it the future. Through Befana’s timeless visits to the hearth, her function is that of reaffirming the bond between the family & the ancestors through an exchange of gifts, & like the ‘moral’ of Shakespeare’s play 12th night, remind us, that we must make the best of the now, for this is what shapes the future…
The Festivals and Their Meaning: VI On The Three Magi, Berlin, 30th December, 1904 GA B60 by Rudolf Steiner, edited & complied by hag
You will remember that I have spoken of the meaning of the Christmas Festival in its connection with the evolution of races, or, better said, the epochs of civilisation, and indeed the significance of the Festival lies in this very connection both in respect of the past and of the future.
I want to speak to-day about a Festival to which in modern times less importance is attached than to the Christmas Festival itself, namely, the Festival of the Three Kings, of the Magi who came from the East to greet the newly born Jesus. This Festival of the Epiphany (celebrated on the 6th of January) will assume greater and greater significance when its symbolism is understood.
It will be obvious to you that very profound symbolism is contained in the Festival of the Three Magi from the East. Until the 15th century, this symbolism was kept very secret and no definite indications were available. But since that century some light has been thrown on the Festival of the Magi by exoteric presentations. One of the Three Kings — Caspar — is portrayed as a Moor, an inhabitant of Africa; one as a white man, a European — Melchior; and one — Balthasar — as an Asiatic; the colour of his skin is that of an inhabitant of India. They bring Myrrh, Gold and Frankincense as offerings to the Child Jesus in Bethlehem.
These three offerings are full of meaning and in keeping with the whole symbolism of the Festival celebrated on the 6th of January. Exoterically, the date itself throws some light; esoterically, the Festival is pregnant with meaning. The 6th of January is the same date as that on which, in ancient Egypt, the Festival of Osiris was celebrated, the Festival of the re-finding of Osiris. As you know, Osiris was overcome by his enemy Typhon: Isis seeks and eventually finds him. This re-finding of Osiris, the Son of God, is represented in the Festival of the 6th of January. The Festival of the Three Kings is the same Festival, but in its Christian form. This Festival was also celebrated among the Assyrians, the Armenians and the Phoenicians. Everywhere it is a Festival connected with a kind of universal baptism — a rebirth from out of the water. This in itself points to the connection with the re-finding of Osiris.
What does the disappearance of Osiris signify? It signifies the transition from the epoch before the middle of the Lemurian race to the epoch after the middle of that race. Before the middle of the Lemurian race, no human being was endowed with Manas. It was not until the middle of the race that Manas came down as a fertile seed into men. Manas (Spirit-Self) was now disseminated among men and in each single individual a grave was created for Manas — for the dismembered Osiris. The Divine Manas was disseminated and thereafter dwelt in men. In the Egyptian Mystery-language, the bodies of men were called the ‘graves of Osiris’ Manas was fettered until it was freed by the new revelation of Love.
What is the new revelation, the new manifestation of Love? The descent of Manas somewhere around the middle of the Lemurian epoch, was accompanied by the penetration into mankind of the principle of desire, or passion. Before that time there had been no desire-principle in the real sense. The animals of the preceding epochs were cold-blooded; even man himself at that time, had no warm blood. In the Old Moon period and, correspondingly, in the Third Earth-Round, men may be likened to fishes, in the sense that their own warmth and the warmth of their environment were equal in degree. Of this epoch the Bible says: ‘The Spirit of God brooded over the waters.’ The principle of Love was not within the beings, but outside, manifesting as earthly Kama (that is to say, earthly passion or desire). Kama is egotistic love. The first bringer of Love free of all egoism is Christ Who appeared in the body of Jesus of Nazareth.
Who are the Magi? They represent the Initiates of the three preceding races or epochs of culture, the Initiates of mankind up to the time of the coming of Christ, the Bringer of the Love that is free of egoism — the resurrected Osiris. The Initiates — and so too the Three Magi — were endowed with Manas. They bring gold, frankincense and myrrh as their offerings. And why are their skins of three colours: white, yellow and black? One is European — his skin is white; one is Indian — his skin is yellow; one is African — his skin is black. This indicates the connection with the so-called Root Races. The remaining survivors of the Lemurian race are black; those of the Atlantean race are yellow; and the representatives of the Fifth Root Race, the Post-Atlantean or Aryan race, are white.
Thus the Three Kings or Magi are representatives of the Lemurians, the Atlanteans and the Aryans. They bring the three offerings. The European (Melchior) brings gold, the symbol of wisdom, of intelligence which comes to expression paramountly in the Fifth Root Race. The offering of the Initiate representing the Fourth Root Race (Balthasar) is frankincense, connected with what was intrinsically characteristic of the Atlanteans. They were united more directly with the Godhead, a union which took effect as a suggestive influence, a kind of universal hypnosis. This union with the Godhead is betokened by the offering. Feeling must be sublimated in order that God may fertilise it. This is expressed symbolically by the frankincense, which is the universal symbol for an offering that has something to do with Intuition.
In the language of esotericism, myrrh is the symbol of dying, of death. What is the meaning of dying and of resurrection, as exemplified in the resurrected Osiris? I refer you here to words of Goethe: “So long as thou hast it not, this dying and becoming, thou’rt but a dull guest on the dark earth.” Jacob Boehme expresses the same thought in the words: “He who dies not ere he dies, perishes when he dies.” Myrrh is the symbol of the dying of the lower life and the resurrection of the higher life. It is offered by the Initiate representing the Third Root Race (Lemurian). A deep meaning lies in this. Jesus of Nazareth is a very highly developed individuality. In the thirtieth year of his life he gives up his own life to the descending Christ, the descending Logos. All this the Magi foresaw. The great sacrifice made by Jesus of Nazareth is that he gave up his ‘ I ’ to make way for the Second Logos. There is a definite reason for this sacrifice. Not until the Sixth Root Race will it become possible, and then only gradually, for the human body to receive into itself the Christ Principle from childhood onwards. Only then, in the Sixth Root Race, will mankind have reached such maturity that the body will not need years of preparation but will be able from the beginning, to receive the Christ Principle. In the fourth sub-race of the Fifth Root Race it was necessary for a body to be prepared for thirty years. (In the Northern regions we find something similar, in that the personality of Sig was so prepared that he could place his body at the disposal of a higher Being, and, in fact, did so). In the Sixth Root Race it will be possible for a man to place his body at the disposal of a sublime Being, as did Jesus of Nazareth when Christianity was founded. At the time of the founding of Christianity it was still necessary for an advanced individuality to sacrifice his own ‘ I ’ and send it into the astral realm, in order that the Logos might dwell in the body. This is an act upon which light is shed by the last words on the Cross. What other meaning could these words contain: “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” These words give expression to the mystical fact then consummated. At the moment of Christ’s death, the Divine Being had departed from the body, and it is the body of Jesus of Nazareth that utters these words — a body so highly developed that it could voice the reality. And so these words give expression to an event of untold significance. All this is represented by the myrrh. Myrrh is the symbol of sacrifice, of death, the sacrifice of the earthly in order that the Higher may come to life. In the middle of the Lemurian epoch, Osiris came to his grave; Manas drew into human beings. Men were educated under the guidance of the Initiates until the principle of Love (Budhi) could shine forth in Christ Jesus. Budhi is the heavenly Love. The lower, sexual principle is ennobled through the Christ Love. Kama is purified in the fire of the Divine Love.
Melchior is the representative of the principle of wisdom, of intelligence — the task of the Fifth Root Race. This is symbolised by his offering — gold.
The principle of sacramental offering is represented by the frankincense. This offering symbolises the principle that was dominant in the Fourth Root Race, the Atlantean. The task of Christianity is fulfilled in the Sixth Root Race, when material existence will be fraught with sacramentalism and sacramental deeds. Sacraments have very largely lost their meaning to-day; the feeling of their significance has disappeared. But this feeling will be kindled to life again when the higher man is born. It is this that is symbolised by the frankincense.
In the Lemurian Race, Osiris meets his death, in the Sixth Root Race, Osiris is resurrected. Thus the offerings made by the Three Kings indicate the connection of the Festival with the Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Root Races. By what are the Three Holy Kings guided, and whither are they led? They are guided by a Star to a grotto, a cave in Bethlehem. This is something that can be understood only by one who has knowledge of the so-called lower, or astral mysteries. To be led by a Star means nothing else than to see the soul itself as a Star. But when is the soul seen as a Star? When a man can behold the soul as a radiant aura. But what kind of aura is so radiant that it can be a guide? There is the aura that glimmers with only a feeble light; such an aura cannot guide. There is a higher aura, that of the intelligence, which has, it is true, a flowing, up-surging light, but is not yet able to guide. But the bright aura, aglow with Budhi, is in very truth a Star, is a radiant guide. In Christ, the Star of Budhi lights up — the Star which accompanies the evolution of mankind. The Light that shines before the Magi is the soul of Christ Himself. The Second Logos Himself shines before the Magi and over the cave in Bethlehem.
The grotto or cave is the body wherein dwells the soul. The seer beholds the body from within. In astral vision, everything is reversed — for example, 365 instead of 563. The human body is seen as a cave, a hollow. In the body of Jesus shines the Christ Star, the soul of Christ. This must be conceived as a reality, taking place in the astral world. It is an enactment of the Lesser Mysteries. There, in very truth, the Christ Soul shines as an auric Star, and it is by this Star that the Initiates of the three Root Races are led to Jesus in Bethlehem. The Festival of the Three Kings is celebrated every year on the 6th of January, and its significance will steadily increase. Men will understand more and more what a Magi is, and what the great Magi, the Masters, are. And then understanding of Christianity will lead to understanding of spiritual science.