Marriage at Cana

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Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, The Wedding at Cana, 1820

The Marriage at Cana or Wedding at Cana is only mentioned in the New Testament in the 2nd chapter of the Gospel of John. Jesus Christ here transformed water into wine in the presence of his mother as the first sign of his divine work.

Whether the biblical Cana is identical with the Cana in Galilee is not considered completely certain by external research. Occasionally it is also equated with the southern Lebanese village of Qana (also spelled Cana), but from a spiritual point of view one may confidently follow the Bible's words.

The account of the Gospel of John

„1 On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. 9 When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.“

The gradual increase of the power of Christ

The incarnation of Christ on Earth is not a sudden process, but a gradual one that is ultimately only completed on Golgotha. Connected with this is a gradual transformation and increase of Christ's power, which John's Gospel illustrates above all through the sequence of the seven miraculous signs, the first of which is the transformation of water into wine at the wedding of Cana. Here the Christ is still dependent on the blood forces that unite him with his mother. Rudolf Steiner therefore translates the corresponding passage in John 2:4 as follows: "O woman, this goes from me to you", in order to refer to the forces weaving between the Christ and his mother. Furthermore, the Christ also needs the natural powers of the freshly drawn spring water.

„112“ (Lit.:GA 158ff)

So here he still makes use of the old forces that were dominant in pre-Christian times, but by performing the miracle at Cana he begins to overcome them at the same time. The wedding at Cana is thus at the same time a telling image of the necessary overcoming of the old natural blood forces.

Galilee as a land of mixed blood - near marriage and distant marriage

It was not by chance that the wedding took place outside Judea. Galilee (Hebrewהַגָּלִיל Ha-Galil) is the land of the mingled, of those not connected by blood. The ancient clairvoyant abilities were linked to the close blood relationship, to the near marriage. Closely connected to this was a certain group soulishness of the people. This was now to be overcome in order to give individuality the space to develop. For this purpose, the close marriage had to be overcome by the distant marriage, by the mixing of blood. This also opens up a new source of morality.

„In the primeval times of all peoples we have the very special phenomenon of the so-called near marriage. We have the small groups of peoples who all marry within the blood relationship. But with every people we meet the transition to long-distance marriage, so that an intensive mixture of blood occurs. Earlier groups of peoples were therefore related by blood; they had a common ancestor who enjoyed special veneration, for example, Tuisto, the progenitor of the German tribes.

The sagas faithfully preserve for us the conflicts that arose when blood ties were broken. The blood of such close-knit communities was influenced by the lower parts of the nervous system. This gave man clairvoyance and the intuitive discernment of good and evil; he had a sure moral instinct. At the moment when man steps out of near marriage, he finds it impossible to delve into clairvoyance from within, from the sympathetic nervous system. With distant marriage, the instinctive guidance ceases and the external law begins. The original moral instinct disappeared with the distant marriage; the outer law had to enter. Out of the night of the old instinct dawned a moral starlight. Then came the Mosaic religion of law as the guardian of morality. This is finally replaced by a new light, the Christ-light, the spiritual guidance.

What the moral instinct was for the individual tribe, Budhi or the Christ principle is for all humanity. In Christ this process became flesh. Christ came when the tribal blood ties were sufficiently loosened so that the tribal God could now be transformed into a God of all men, blood brotherhood could and should be extended into duty to every fellow man, tribal loyalty into loyalty to self and to God. What the sunlight is to matter, what intelligible truth is to the intellect, that is the Christ-light in Budhi, the grace coming from above. Through Budhi the former is now no longer authoritative, neither the moral instinct given by blood ties nor the priestly law, neither Moses nor any tribal authorities at all, the last of which was Jehovah. Now the sentence applies: "Whoever does not leave father and mother and brother for my sake cannot be my disciple." That is, he who does not forget the old tribal principles, and does not transfer the love of blood to all men, cannot follow Christ. The old tribal gods had indissoluble marriages with their peoples, and with their peoples they had to perish. The Christ represents in the world an entirely new spirit which entered into humanity, and this spirit united itself with the human soul which passes through the whole of evolution. Those who bore the name of John, the leading men of that time, were so far as to feel with the greatest strength the burning longing for something above mere lawfulness and justice, that is, they thirsted for the new Son of Man. He who satisfied this longing was the Christ, the Bridegroom of the human soul in general; humanity was the Bride. Thus Christ or Budhi is indeed the unitedly born Son of God: "He must increase, but I must decrease" was the saying of John the Baptist.

One of the greatest symbols of this wedding feast is the wedding at Cana in Galilee, a place where all kinds of peoples came together in a colourful, international mixture. We see a wedding feast being celebrated there. "And the mother of Jesus was also there", we are told. In the Gospel of John, the mother of Jesus is never called "Mary", just as the writer of the Gospel of John, the disciple whom the Lord loved, is never called "John". The mother of Jesus is the human soul, and this must first mature before Christ can work in it. Hence the words: "Woman, what have I to do with you? My hour has not yet come. Never would such a high individuality as Christ otherwise have spoken thus to his bodily mother.“ (Lit.:GA 94, p. 251ff)

Through wine the knowledge of reincarnation is suppressed

The deeper spiritual meaning of the wedding of Cana is to be seen in the fact that man had to be cut off from the immediate seeing of the spiritual world for a certain time through the drinking of wine. In the Greco-Latin period, faith was to take the place of seeing: Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe! (John 20:29) In particular, wine obscured the knowledge of reincarnation and karma, which allowed man to develop his individual personality undisturbed on Earth. Since this task has already been largely fulfilled today, wine has meanwhile lost its spiritual significance. But it was quite necessary for man to go through an incarnation at least once in which he had no knowledge of the previous earthly lives - and this also applies to the Christian initiate:

„In order that man should think that one incarnation was the only one, it was necessary that something should cut off the brain from the knowledge of the higher principles in man, from Atma, Buddhi, Manas, and from the knowledge of reincarnation. For this purpose wine was given to the people. Earlier, only water was used in all temple worship. Then the use of wine was introduced, and even a divine being, Bacchus, Dionysus, was the representative of wine. The most deeply initiated disciple, John, reveals in his Gospel what wine means for inner development. At the wedding of Cana in Galilee, water is transformed into wine. Through the wine, man was prepared in such a way that he no longer understood reincarnation. At that time the sacrificial water was changed into wine, and we are now again changing the wine into water. He who wants to ascend to the higher realms of existence must abstain from every drop of alcohol.“ (Lit.:GA 97, p. 22)

„At the wedding at Cana, the water is turned into wine. A symbolic universal meaning is attached to this fact: in religious worship, the water sacrifice is to be temporarily replaced by the wine sacrifice.

There was a time in human history when wine was unknown. At the time of the Vedas it was hardly known. Now, as long as people did not drink alcoholic beverages, the idea of previous stages of existence and of the multiplicity of earth lives was widespread everywhere, and no one doubted it. Since mankind began to drink wine, the idea of reincarnation darkened very quickly and finally disappeared from general consciousness. It was only preserved by the initiates who abstained from drinking wine. For alcohol has a special effect on the human organism, especially on the etheric body, where memory has its seat. Alcohol obscures memory, darkens it in its inner depths. Wine creates forgetfulness, they say. This is not a superficial, momentary forgetting, but a deep and permanent forgetting, an eclipse of the power of memory in the etheric body. Therefore, when people began to drink wine, they gradually lost their original feeling for re-embodiment.

Now, however, the belief in re-embodiment and in the law of karma had a powerful influence not only on the personality but also on their social feeling. It made them accept the inequality of human circumstances. When the unfortunate Egyptian labourer worked on the pyramids, when the Hindu of the lowest class built the gigantic temples in the heart of the mountains, he told himself that another existence would compensate him for the hard work bravely endured, if he was good; that his master had already passed through similar trials; or that he would have to pass through still harder trials later on, if he doubted righteousness and was evil-minded.

But as Christianity approached, humanity was to pass through an epoch in which it was to be fully attuned to its earthly task. It was to work on the improvement of this life, on the development of the intellect, on the rational scientific knowledge of nature. The consciousness of re-embodiment was to be lost for two thousand years. And the means used for this purpose was wine.

This is the deep reason for the worship of Bacchus, the god of wine, of drunkenness. This was the popular form of the Dionysus of the ancient mysteries, which in itself had a quite different meaning. This is also the symbolic meaning of the wedding at Cana. The water plays its part in the old sacrificial service, the wine in the new. The words of the Christ, "Blessed are they that see not, and yet believe," refer to the new era of man, where man, wholly devoted to his earthly tasks, shall have neither the memory of former incarnations nor the direct vision of the spiritual world.“ (Lit.:GA 94, p. 50ff)

According to Rudolf Steiner, another effect of wine is that it prepares the physical body in such a way that it develops a certain attraction to the phantom body of Christ risen from the grave. In the sacrament of the altar, water and wine are mixed together in the chalice. The chalice thus becomes an image of the human being, whose fluid organism consists of water and the "wine" produced in itself, thus combining the cosmic and the earthly elements. At the same time, the physical body is thereby prepared in such a way that it develops a certain attraction to the phantom body of the Christ risen from the grave. This effect is considerably strengthened by the Christian initiation.

„This is given in actual alchemy, in that man - I only hinted at this to you yesterday by way of example - continually develops alcohol in himself as he needs it. Now, 90% of the human being is a column of water, the rest is only incorporated into it. Therefore, in the chalice we also have an image of the human being made of water and wine, in that you do not merely take the wine, but mix the wine, which is a product of the human being, with the water.

You can only unite with Christ because Christ has passed into the phantom of the physical human body. This is contained in the words: "... entering into the physical earth"; and this is what man finds when he links the physical - even if it is already corrupted as a physical - precisely to Christ. Thus the renewal happens in the connection with Christ which is there as a result of the Mystery of Golgotha.“ (Lit.:GA 344, p. 163f)

Mystical Death and Mystical Wedding

Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, The Wedding at Cana, 1820

Mystical death, the mystical union of the soul with the astral world, is occultly also called mystical marriage or mystical wedding. The Gospel of John refers to this in its description of the Marriage at Cana. The relationship of the physical body to the astral body is like that of mother to son:

„Now read how this process is figuratively, symbolically described in the Gospel of John 8:58–59: "Jesus said to them: Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. - Then they took up stones to cast at him. But Jesus hid himself, and went out into the temple, passing through the midst of them", through the hindrances. This is the end of the eighth chapter. This is the process of the astral body coming out of the physical body. Usually such a process, a final act that leads to this emergence, in order to make the human being completely sighted, takes three days. When these three days are up, the human being attains the same consciousness on the astral plane as before on the physical plane. Then he unites with the higher world.

In occult language, this union with the higher world is called the marriage of the soul with the powers of the higher world. When one has emerged from the physical body, the physical body stands opposite one, just as the child, if it could have consciousness, would stand opposite the mother from whom it was born at birth. Thus the physical body faces one, and the astral body can quite well say to the physical body: This is my mother. When it has celebrated its wedding, then it can say that, then it looks back on the union that existed before. After three days this can happen. Such is the occult process for the astral plane. Chapter 2:1, it says, "And on the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there." That's the figurative expression for what I just said. On the third day it came to pass.“ (Lit.:GA 94, p. 198)


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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