Reflection 8

Mysteries of Birth, Life and Death week 8

Reflection: acquiring the resurrection body

As a person you are extremely vulnerable. From one moment to the next you may fall prey to rapid aging, injury, illness and death. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says: ‘There was a rich person who had a great deal of money. He said, ‘I shall invest my money so that I may sow, reap, plant, and fill my storehouses with produce, that I may lack nothing.’ These were the things he was thinking in his heart, but that very night he died. Anyone here with two ears had better listen’ (The gospel of Thomas, logion 63).

When you are deeply aware of your own mortality, you can discover what you really find important and then give attention to that. It is tempting to repress the thought of an end to your life, because it feels uncomfortable and you want to enjoy the time that you have been given as much as possible. You want to live from the motto ‘carpe diem’ (seize the day) or in other words: ‘let us eat and drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die’. It is excellent to enjoy life, but when all your time, attention and energy go in that direction, the soul languishes, because it wants to be nurtured and to grow stronger. From this insight we can well understand the rhetorical question that Jesus poses to his disciples: ‘For what shall a man be profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and forfeit his life?’ (Matthew 16:24).

In Europe in the Middle Ages people reflected more on the inevitability of death than they do today. People died relatively young than and more visibly, as a result of illness, famine, cold, violence and inadequate medical assistance. Christian faith strongly contributed to the fact that the motto ‘memento mori’ (remember, you must die) had a prominent place in consciousness in the Middle Ages.

Around the year 1500 the text of the play ‘Elckerlyc’ appeared in print in the Netherlands which, like the English version with the name ‘Everyman’, refers indeed to everyone. Death plays an essential role in this morality play, written in rhyme. The important messages in this short but profound story are that we are all mortal, that after the death of our body we have to take responsibility for the life we lived and that we would do well to live a pure life here and now. At that time, the text of ‘Elckerlyc’ and theatre performances that were made of it were extremely popular. It touched people much more than a general philosophical reflection on death, because they recognised themselves in the main character of Elckerlyc.

In the story we recognise the way of the hero, with his development as described by Joseph Campbell. The protagonist first leads a normal life, then at a given moment experiences difficulties, next receives an assignment and is faced with trials in which he must persevere. If he accepts this, he receives help which he experiences as grace. Thus a transformation takes place, which leads to a new state of being on a higher spiral of life.


The protagonist Elckerlyc – Everyman – represents man in general. He doesn’t lead a very morally upright life but rather lives from hand to mouth, perhaps similar to the prodigal son in the parable of Jesus, who also wasted his wealth in a life of excess (Luke 15:11-32). Such a person has become entangled in illusions and is stunned when Death visits him and says that God wants to close his account and that he must prepare to make his last journey.

Elckerlyc does not want to balance his account at all and even less depart from earth. That is why he first tries to bribe Death. He does not succeed, but he is allowed to take someone with him on his journey. First, he invites Company. She promises to comealong, but when it turns out that Elckerlyc is not going to a party but to the grave, she hastily departs. Elckerlyc subsequently receives a similar reaction from Family and from Possession.

He then finally asks Virtue to come with him. She would indeed like to accompany him but unfortunately, she is far too ill and weak for the journey. Virtue advises Elckerlyc to ask her sister Knowledge. Knowledge confronts Elckerlyc with his depravities and urges him to examine himself thoroughly and to turn to God. He does this and because of this, Virtue is cured, which enables her to accompany Elckerlyc. Virtue then encourages Elckerlyc to also ask Wisdom, Beauty and Power to come on his journey, and Knowledge advises to also invite the five Senses.

Elckerlyc makes his will and they all set out together. When they come close to the realm of death, Beauty decides not to continue and goes her own way. Later, Strength also gives up and leaves him. Finally, Wisdom and the five Senses also abandon Elckerlyc, but he is not afraid anymore now and quotes, full of confidence and with complete surrender, the last words that Jesus exclaimed from the cross: ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit’ (Luke 23:46). Virtue and Knowledge remain with Elckerlyc and are allowed to escort him when an angel comes to fetch him with the words:

‘Come, chosen bride
up here! – and hear the sweet sound of the angels
thanks to your virtue bright.
I’ll take the soul out of your body.
Her tally is now pure and clean.
And I shall bring her to the court of heaven’s hall.
Where all shall be together seen
the great ones and the small.’

Thus ends the story of Elckerlyc, a very ordinary person who lives his life just like everyone else. He has no distinction or specialty. At one point he is troubled by Death, personified here, and comparable to arcanum 13 of the tarot. Just as in the tarot, Death in this story stands not only for the discarding the physical body, but specifically for the transformation that will take place when the human being awakens inwardly.

Elckerlyc is frightened by the visit of Death, just as Christian Rosycross is frightened by the angel who hands him the invitation to the royal wedding and leaves with a blast on her trumpet. Elckerlyc must also go on his journey but he wants to take with him everything that he has received or acquired in his earthly life. However that is not possible. Those who want to enter the new field of life must gradually leave behind all that hinders them on this path.

That is why Jesus said to the rich young man who asked him how he could obtain eternal life: ‘If thou wouldest be perfect, go, sell that which thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me’ (Matthew 19:21).

Virtue and Knowledge

Attachments associated with Companions, Family and Possessions can indeed be hindrances on the Gnostic Christian path. That is why the pupil of the soul, symbolised by Elckerlyc, must let these attachments go, though without forgoing the responsibilities that are bound up with them. Only after these purifications does Elckerlyc meet Virtue: the as yet insignificant glow of the newly awakened spirit-spark. The force emanating from the centre of the microcosm is still weak . Virtue is therefore ailing but can be cured thanks to the advice of her sister Knowledge, meaning inner knowledge, or gnosis. This gnostic Knowledge relates to the deep self-knowledge of which the ancients said ‘He who knows himself, knows the All’, and about which Jesus said:

‘If those who lead you say to you:
See, the kingdom is in heaven,
then the birds of the heaven will go before you;
if they say to you: It is in the sea,
then the fish will go before you.
But the kingdom is within you, and it is outside of you.
When you know yourselves,
then you will be known,
and you will know that you are the sons of the living Father.
But if you do not know yourselves,
then you are in poverty, and you are poverty’.
(The Gospel of Thomas, logion 3)

Virtue in the story of Elckerlyc does not refer primarily to certain positive qualities, such as those known as ‘the seven virtues’, but to the Christ-principle that can awaken in the heart through the Christ radiations, also referred to as the blood of the lamb. When that happens, certain qualities develop in the personality that can be used on the path and which in Elckerlyc are referred to as Wisdom, Beauty, Power and the ability to consciously work with the five Senses. We can see this development as a renewal and dynamization of the personality through successively the mental body, the astral body, the ether body and finally the physical body. At death, those qualities cannot be taken with us over the threshold of death. They will at that moment be released via the dissolved blood soul, which can then become available to spiritually aspiring people on earth. The titles of the reflection texts in this book are themes that we can also recognise in the story of Elckerlyc.

  1. Accepting the Word. Elckerlyc is at first fully absorbed in the sensory world and has forgotten his calling. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. Death awakens him from his symbolic sleep and thus he realises that he lives in sin, that he is not sailing the right course and that he therefore misses the true purpose of his life. He is informed that he shortly has to make a pilgrimage because that is part of the plan of God, the Word. Initially he struggles against this because his ego does not want to go at all, but later he realises that it is inevitable and, like John the Baptist, he prepares to straighten his paths for his Lord.
  2. Incarnating on earth. Like Moses, Elckerlyc realises through this extraordinary encounter that he was born to fulfil an assignment, to lead the aspects of his inner being – his people – from slavery in the sensory world to the freedom of the children of God.
  3. Fathoming cycles. Like Ecclesiastics, Elckerlyc experiences through his encounter with Death that everything that begins at some point also must come to an end, and that it is therefore important during one’s life to pay attention to that which is eternal.
  4. Coping with loss. Job lost his children and his possessions. Elckerlyc notices that Companions, Possession and Family cannot join him on his journey and that he has to say goodbye to them inwardly.
  5. Making the two into one. Elckerlyc goes on his pilgrimage through a threefold process of awareness, purification and renewal. His soul becomes pure and powerful so that he can celebrate his ‘wedding in Cana’. His soul is invited as the bride to unite with the bridegroom, the Spirit.
  6. Using your talents. When the inner lamp of Elckerlyc burns – as Virtue – he receives true Self-knowledge, and on that basis he receives the talents that he must use for his lord: Wisdom, Beauty, Power and the five Senses.
  7. Becoming free from illusion. Elckerlyc discovers that he lives in illusion and experiences that he can be released from it on the basis of Virtue, by paying attention to the light of the kindled spirit-spark.
  8. Acquiring the resurrection body. During the pilgrimage of Elckerlyc an imperishable spiritual body develops, he weaves a wedding garment for his spiritual wedding that is detached from the body when it is completed (the inner descent from the cross) so that it can ascend and live in the forecourt of heaven.

Elckerlyc has gone the path through the Mysteries and may therefore look forward with confidence to the death of his physical body, because in him a spiritual body has been raised, in accordance with the joyful vision that Paul paints for us:
‘For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory’ (1 Corinthians 15:53-54).

In the days when the play of Elckerlyc appeared, the population had great fear of death. The church told them that they should focus on good works, penance and confession, because only then could their sins be forgiven, and could they enter heaven after their death. Anyone who doubted the purity of his soul and was afraid of ending up in hell could buy so-called indulgences at extortionate prices, through which sins were forgiven and a comfortable place in heaven assured.


The reformer Martin Luther quite rightly denounced the practice of indulgences in the theses he nailed to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg in 1517, with which he wanted to provoke an academic debate, though not a church reform. However Luther is still seen as the spiritual father of the movement of the Reformation, which arose from the Renaissance era and later became a major impetus for progress. The Reformation stimulated individual responsibility and led to the relationship between God and man being re-thought and reworded.

The ideas of the Reformation are often summarised in five Latin terms – the Solas – that are presented as a unit since the twentieth century:

    • Sola Scriptura – Only through the scripture
    • Sola Gratia – Only through grace
    • Sola Fide – Only through faith
    • Solus Christ – Only through Christ
    • Soli Deo Gloria – Only to God the glory

Great truths can be found in these solas. They have contributed to people no longer letting themselves be led by fear of death but receiving strength from a sense of grace. Unfortunately the solas are also often rendered absolute, causing fundamentalism, fanaticism, short-sightedness, division and the consequent unpleasant conflicts. The five solas were formulated at that time to answer the very pressing question of when one can be sure that he is saved and when not. From a universal perspective, that question is irrelevant because the primary concern is that, as human beings, we must live in such a way that the inviolable glory of God – Dei gloria intacta – will be manifested in the soul. If that fails in one lifetime, the microcosm will experience as many rebirths and as much guiding help as needed until it succeeds. That is a comforting thought, but it is not intended that we postpone going the narrow path. Procrastinating behaviour does not always have to be negative, because it can also mean that an inner maturation process is still going on.

On the path of the disciple of the soul, it is primarily about being faithful to one’s deepest inner self who wants to reveal itself more and more – called Virtue in ‘Elckerlyc’ – and to grow to an ever-expanding inner knowing – portrayed as Knowledge in ‘Elckerlyc’. On the basis of Virtue and Knowledge, emanating from the awakened spirit-spark, forces can be attracted that perform transfiguration. That is an alchemical conversion, in which the new, incorruptible human being comes into being, the last Adam in whom male and female are united. In the terminology of Paul, a spiritual body has then been erected and the living soul has merged into the life-giving spirit.

Leadership from above

The healing process mentioned is grand and far-reaching and requires time and attention. Why should we be punished if we cannot accomplish that in one life? Or can we trust in the promise that God will not let go of the works of his hands (Psalm 138:8)? We are known and we are guided! And if we open ourselves to this higher-level guidance, we may experience it as it was once sung by the Psalmist.

‘O Jehovah, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising; Thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, And art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, But, lo, O Jehovah, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, And laid thy hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, And thy right hand shall hold me’ (Psalm 139:1-10).

The Lord is with also in the realm of the dead and are we guided by members of the divine hierarchy. How is it there on the other side of the veil of death? Many people think that this question is not relevant because it is only important what we do with our current life here on earth.

Our life here and now is indeed important, but if we would have some understanding of life after death, we would shape our lives differently and above all more purposefully. Many people who have had a near-death experience live a very different life after this event, according to scientific research. They attach less importance to their possessions, power and fame and become more sensitive, milder and more spiritual.

In ancient mystery schools it was deemed important that the students of the mysteries were informed with regard to life after death based on their own experiences. It was recognised that most people were not ready for this knowledge, and that is why only students who were demonstrably ready for it were admitted to this experience. At a certain high-level initiation in the process of the splitting of the personality, the pupil was put to sleep with certain drugs by a priest, the sleep lasting for three and a half days.

Initiation sleep

During that initiation sleep, the astral body of the student of the mysteries was detached from the physical body and he had, in full consciousness, access to all strata of the astral sphere. He could descend into the hellish levels as well as ascend into the heavenly spheres. When he was awakened from his initiation sleep by the priest after about 84 hours, he was an initiate, who had acquired first-hand knowledge of the mysteries of life and death and understood the phenomenon that we know as microcosmic reincarnation. The teachings on reincarnation were part of the mysteries in ancient times and were taught only to pupils in the mystery schools, who had to remain silent about them.

Rudolf Steiner considers the so-called revival of Lazarus from the dead, described in the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John, as an initiation that Jesus performed. Lazarus had been lying in a grave in a cave for three days, but was not dead as the story suggests, but asleep. According to Steiner, Jesus performed an old-style initiation with Lazarus which would become later become obsolete due to the Mystery of Golgotha. The tearing of the veil in the temple at the time of Jesus’ death is symbolic of the fact that humanity can from that time on go the mystery path in self-authority without direct guidance from priests, the way of the cross to the eternal home.

And what about the resurrection of Jesus? His spiritual resurrection body had been ready well before his death on the cross, in accordance with a remark in paragraph 17 of the ‘Gospel of Philip’: ‘Those who say that the Lord died first and (then) rose up are in error, or he rose up first and (then) died. If one does not first attain the resurrection, he will not die’.

Jesus had overcome death long before he was put to death in a humiliating way. In fact, the Christ spirit had already bonded with him at the time of his baptism in the river Jordan. Max Heindel writes that the violent death of Jesus, in which much blood was shed, was necessary because it enabled the Christ spirit to withdraw swiftly from the body of Jesus without hindrance of the impurities of that human vehicle.

Most biblical historians agree that the death on the cross of Jesus has indeed taken place, but they are divided on the matter of the resurrection. Understandably, because there is no convincing historical evidence that a dead body has ever come alive again. In earliest Christianity, images of the crucifixion are often of a spiritual-metaphorical nature. Paul for instance talks about the crucifixion of the old man, through which the new man can come to resurrection. He writes: ‘They that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof ’ (Galatians 5:24).

And how may we see the appearances of the resurrected Jesus of which the sacred writings speak? Little to nothing indicates that in earliest Christianity the resurrection of Jesus was understood as a physical resurrection. Paul names a number of apostles to whom the risen Christ appeared and is himself the last one in this list (1 Corinthians 15:8). His description of his encounter with Christ leave little room for the concept of a physical encounter with the resurrected Jesus.

Church fathers in the second and third century left room for a belief in a physically materialised form of Jesus. According to them, his resurrection body was densified into a figure his physical body had before his death in which he could thus physically show himself to his disciples. They thought a resurrection in ‘the old flesh’ to be absurd. Historical research shows that the doctrine of the atoning sacrifice, on which outer Christianity largely relies, cannot be upheld when traced back to the teachings of Jesus and earliest Christianity. This dogma, which teaches that Jesus took on all the sins of humanity through his death on the cross, and that every human being who believes in him is saved by this, was certainly a treasured concept in history, but can now be an obstacle to a further spiritual development of humanity. Fortunately though, there is such a thing as a forgiveness of debts.

Jakob Boehme writes about this doctrine: ‘Sin is like a shell, out of which the new man grows, and he then throws the shell away. This is called ‘forgiveness’. This reminds us of the butterfly crawling out of his cocoon, abandoning it to fly to freedom. James writes in his letter: ‘For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, even so faith apart from works is dead’ (James 2:26). And Paul writes to the church of Philippi: ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling’ (Philippians 2:12).

These statements make it clear that a passive attitude towards faith is not recommended. The expression ‘fear and trembling’ has nothing to do with fear. Fear means awe and here trembling indicates that the lofty vibrations of grace are experienced physically. The word ‘salvation’ refers to the state of being in which the person concerned is a spirit-inspired person and thus transformed into a new person. Other Bible translations use the words ‘glory’, ‘deliverance’ or ‘redemption’ instead of the word ‘salvation’.

Those indications are also correct provided these terms are correctly understood. Salvation, redemption and glory do not refer to a deliverance from being thrown in hell, eternally burning, but to the inner liberation from the wheel of birth and death. It is the resurrection of the human being from the grave of nature, of which the Gospels testify, and which is represented in arcanum 20 of the Hermetic tarot.

The essence of this consideration is aptly summarised in the following text by Jan van Rijckenborgh from his book ‘The Confession of the Brotherhood of de the Rosycross’.
‘Do you know what man’s vocation is? Do you know of what he is capable? We are of God’s lineage! We have been created in His image. Within us, the divine spark glows! These are not cheap words, honeyed phrases spoken for your edification, but living flames of the eternal truth. You should free yourself of your limitations, of your spiritual slavery. You must become conscious of your kingship! […] The mission of the Order of the Rosycross and its servants is to show the paths to liberation, for all are bowed under the yoke of slavery, as regards body, soul and consciousness. Something of a new, holy yearning must enter into you, the holy need for liberation of which the psalms sing. Something of the true knowledge of God must find a place within you, the daily walking with Christ. There are thousands of people who say they know Christ. They mouth His words with their lips, but their hearts remain unmoved and their minds do not understand Him. […] That is why the mission of the Order of the Rosycross is to tell you who, what and how the Christ is, what this tremendous Sun-Spirit desires for you, does for you, and wants from you: not only the devout folding of your hands in prayer, not only the singing of a hymn, not the negative expectation that He will make everything right. No, you must do it yourself! That is what is so tremendous about Christianity. The flames of the love of the Spirit must burst forth within you. The royal butterfly must break loose in you, so that you leave the pigsty, and return to your Father.’