WE CAN FIND an interesting parallel between what is revealed in the life of the individual and what rules in the development of humanity as a whole if we consider, for example, what the teachers and leaders of ancient Egypt told the Greeks about the guidance and direction of Egyptian spiritual life. The story is told that when an Egyptian was asked who had guided and led his people since ancient times, he answered that in remote antiquity gods had ruled and taught them and that only later did human beings become their leaders. He added that the first leader they acknowledged on the physical plane as a human-like being rather than a god was called Menes. 1Menes, c.3400 B.C., Egyptian king. First king of the first dynasty. In other words, according to Greek accounts, the Egyptian leaders asserted that the gods themselves had guided and directed their people in earlier times.
We must always take care to understand in the right way reports that have been handed down to us from ancient times. We need to think carefully about what the ancient Egyptians meant when they said that the gods had been their kings and great teachers. They meant that in ancient times those people who felt in their souls a kind of higher consciousness, a wisdom from higher worlds, had to put themselves into a clairvoyant state before they could find their true inspirer and teacher, for their true teacher would approach them only when their spiritual eyes were opened. Such a person when asked, “Who is your teacher?” would not have pointed to this or that individual, but would have entered a clairvoyant state — and we know from spiritual science that it was easier to achieve a clairvoyant state in ancient times than it is today. In that clairvoyant state, a person would have met his teacher, for in those days beings came down from the spiritual worlds who did not become incarnate in human bodies. Thus, in the remote past of ancient Egypt, the gods still ruled and taught, using human beings as their channels. At that time, however, the term “gods” referred to beings who had preceded human beings in their development.
Spiritual science teaches us that before becoming the “earth” as we know it today, the earth passed through an earlier planetary state or condition called the “moon state.” 2For a description of the planetary stages, see Steiner, Occult Science, 108–254. During this moon state, human beings were not yet human in our sense of the word. Nevertheless, there were other beings on the old Moon who had evolved to the same level as humans have now reached on the earth, though they looked very different from us. In other words, on the old Moon, which perished and later developed into our earth, there were beings we can consider as our forerunners. In Christian esoteric ism these beings are called angeloi (angels), while those beings above them, who reached the human stage of their development even earlier than the angels, are called archangeloi (archangels).
The angeloi, known as dhyanic beings or dhyani in oriental mysticism, reached the human level of their development during the Moon stage. Consequently, if they completed their evolution on the old Moon, they are now one level above us. At the end of earthly evolution, we will arrive at the level they reached at the end of the moon stage.
When the earth state of our planet began and human beings appeared on it, the angels could not manifest in outer human form because the human flesh body is essentially an earthly product appropriate only for beings now at the human stage of development. Since the angels are a level above the human, they could not incarnate in human bodies; they could participate in the government of the earth only by enlightening and inspiring human beings who had achieved a state of clairvoyance. These higher, angelic beings used clairvoyant individuals to intervene in the guidance of the earth's destiny. Thus the ancient Egyptians still remembered a time when their leaders were vividly conscious of their connection with these higher beings, called variously gods, angels, or dhyanic beings. These beings who influenced humanity without incarnating in human bodies, without taking on fleshly human form, were our forerunners; they had already outgrown the level of development we have reached only now.
The word “superhuman” 3riedrich Wilhelm Nietzche, 1844–1900, elaborated his idea of the “superhuman” in the character of Zarathustra in his Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883). He portrays a future wherein humanity attains dominance and the realization of its earthly purpose through the free exercise of creative power. Nietzche believed that modern spirituality is a symptom of decadence, and that the “superhuman” would triumph over declining Western culture. is often misused these days, but in this case we can use it correctly and apply it to those beings who had already achieved the human level of development during the moon period — the planetary stage preliminary to our earth — and have now grown beyond it. Such beings could appear on earth only in an etheric body and thus could be perceived only by clairvoyant individuals. 4Etheric body. See note 3, Lecture One That is how they came down to earth from the spiritual worlds and ruled on the earth even in post-Atlantean times. 5or a description of earth evolution during the post-Atlantean epochs, see Occult Science, 229–254.
These beings had the remarkable characteristic indeed — they still have it today — that they did not need to think. In fact, it may be said that they cannot think at all the way we do. After all, how do we think? Well, usually we start from a particular point, and once we have understood it, we try to comprehend other things on the basis of this understanding. If our thinking did not follow this pattern, many people would have an easier time learning in school. Mathematics, for example, cannot be learned in a day because we must begin at one point and proceed slowly from there. This takes a long time. An entire world of ideas cannot be taken in at a glance because human thinking takes its course over time. A complex thought structure cannot be present in the mind all at once; rather, we must make an effort to follow it step by step.
The higher beings I have described are not encumbered by this peculiar characteristic of human thinking. Instead, they realize an extensive train of thought as quickly as animals know to grab something the moment their instinct tells them it is edible. In higher beings, then, instinct and reflective consciousness are one and the same. What instincts are for animals at their evolutionary level, in their kingdom, direct spiritual thinking, or direct spiritual conceptualization, is for these dhyanic beings or angels. And this instinctive, conceptualizing inner life is what makes these higher beings so essentially different from us.
Obviously, the angeloi cannot possibly use the kind of brain or physical body we have. They must use an etheric body because the human body and brain can process thoughts only over time. The angeloi do not form their thoughts over time; they feel their wisdom flash up in them by itself, as it were. They cannot possibly make mistakes in their thinking the way we can. Their thinking is a direct inspiration. The individuals who were able to approach these superhuman or angelic beings were therefore aware of being in the presence of sure and reliable wisdom.
In ancient Egypt, then, those who were teachers or rulers knew that the commandments which their spiritual guides gave them and the truths they uttered were immediately right and could not be wrong. And the people to whom these truths were then imparted felt the same way. The clairvoyant leaders of ancient times could speak in such a way that the people believed that their words came from the spiritual world. In short, there was a direct current flowing down from the higher, guiding spiritual hierarchies.
Thus, the next higher world of the spiritual hierarchies guides the entire evolution of humanity; it works both on the individual in childhood and on humanity as a whole. The angeloi or superhuman beings of this realm are one level above us and reach directly up into the spiritual spheres. From these spheres they bring to earth what works into human culture. In the individual, this higher wisdom leaves its imprint on the formation of the body during childhood, and it formed the culture of ancient humanity in a similar way.
This is how the Egyptians, who reported that they were in contact with the divine realm, experienced the openness of the human soul to the spiritual hierarchies. Just as the child's soul opens its aura to the hierarchies until the moment indicated in the previous lecture, so, through its work, humanity as a whole opened its world to the hierarchies with which it was connected.
This connection to the higher hierarchies was particularly significant in the case of the holy teachers of India. These were the great teachers of the first post-Atlantean epoch, of the first Indian culture that spread in the south of Asia. After the end of the Atlantean catastrophe, when the physiognomy of the earth had changed and Asia, Europe, and Africa had developed in the eastern hemisphere in their new form, but before the time documented in ancient records, the culture of the ancient teachers of India flourished.
People today generally have a completely false picture of these great Indian teachers. If, for example, an educated person of our time were to meet one of the great teachers of India, he or she would look puzzled and probably say, “This is supposed to be a wise man? That is not how I imagined a wise man.” According to our current definition of the terms “clever” and “intelligent,” the ancient holy teachers of India would not have been able to say anything intelligent. By today's standards, these teachers were simple and very plain people who would have given the simplest answers to questions, even to questions pertaining to everyday life. Often, it was scarcely possible to elicit anything from them other than some sparse utterance that would seem quite insignificant to the educated classes of our day.
However, at certain times, these holy teachers proved to be more than merely simple people. At these times they had to gather in groups of seven, because what each could sense individually had to harmonize as if in a seven-tone harmony with what the other six experienced. Each wise man was able to perceive this or that, depending on his particular faculties and development. And out of the harmony of the individual perceptions of these seven individuals, there emerged the primeval wisdom that resounds through ancient times. Its reverberation can be heard even today if we decipher the occult records correctly. The records I am referring to are not the revelations of the Vedas, though the Vedas are certainly marvelous in their own right. 6The Vedas are the most ancient of Hindu sacred texts. Steiner speaks of them in Occult Science, 231. Also The Bhagavad Gita and the Epistles of St. Paul (lecture 3 and lecture 4) (London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1945) and The East in the Light of the West (Blauvelt, NY: Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1986) 161ff. The teachings of these holy men of ancient India precede the writing of the Vedas by a long time. The Vedas, those tremendous works, are only a faint echo of those earlier teachings.
When these wise teachers faced one of the angeloi or superhuman forerunners of humanity, and looked clairvoyantly into the higher worlds, listening all the while clairaudiently to this being, their eyes shone like the sun. And what they were able to impart then had an awe inspiring effect on the people around them; all who heard them knew that they were not speaking out of human wisdom or human experience, but that gods, superhuman beings, were intervening in human culture.
The ancient cultures originated from this influx of divine wisdom. The gate to the divine-spiritual world was completely open for the human soul during Atlantean times. In the course of the post-Atlantean periods, however, gradually the gate closed. Little by little, people in many countries felt that human beings had to rely more and more on themselves. Here we can see again that the development of humanity as a whole parallels that of the child. At first the divine-spiritual world still extends into the child's unconscious soul, which is active in the formation of the body. Then comes the moment when each person begins to perceive himself or herself as an I, the first moment one can remember. Before this lies a time we cannot in any ordinary way usually recall. This is why it is said that even the wisest among us can still learn something from the soul of the child as it is in the time before memory develops. Thereafter, the individual is left to his or her own devices; I-consciousness appears, and we become able to remember our experiences.
In the same way there came a time when nations began to feel themselves cut off from the divine inspiration of their forefathers. For just as we are separated more and more from the aura guiding us during our early childhood years, so in the life of nations the divine forebearers gradually and increasingly withdrew. As a result, human beings were left to their own research and their own knowledge. In historical records that describe this development, we can feel the intervention of the guides of humanity.
The ancient Egyptians called the first founder of culture, who was human rather than divine, “Menes.” And they dated the human possibility of error from the same moment, because from then on human beings had to rely on the instrument of the brain. The ancient Orientals likewise gave the name “Manes” to the human being as thinker and called the first bearer of human thinking “Manu.” The Greeks called the first developer of the principle of human thought “Minos” with whom the legend of the labyrinth is associated. The fact that human I beings can fall into error is symbolized by the labyrinth. Labyrinths were first built at the time when the gods withdrew from human beings. They are, of course, images of the convolutions of the brain, in which the thinker can get lost. At the time of Minos people sensed that they had gradually moved away from being guided directly by the gods and were developing a new form of guidance in which the I experienced the influence of the higher spiritual world.
To summarize: Besides the forerunners of the human race, who completed their human stage on the Moon and have now become angels, there are other beings who did not complete their development at that time. While the angeloi or dhyanic beings advanced one level above ours at the moment when human evolution began on earth, these other beings, like the higher categories of luciferic beings, did not complete their human evolution on the old Moon, and thus remain somehow incomplete.
Thus when the earthly condition of our planet began these early human beings were not alone; they received inspiration from divine-spiritual beings. Without their inspiration, like children without guidance, these early human beings would have been unable to progress. Therefore the beings who had completed their evolution on the old Moon were indirectly present on the earth with them. Between these angelic beings and early, childlike humankind, however, there lived beings who had not completed their evolution on the old Moon. These beings, of course, were on a higher level than we are because they could have become angels during the old Moon period. But they had not reached full maturity then and thus remained below the angels, although they are still far superior to us in terms of typically human attributes. Indeed, these beings who stand between us and the angels occupy the lowest level among the multitudes of luciferic spirits — the realm of the luciferic beings begins with them.
It is extraordinarily easy to misunderstand these beings. We could ask why the divine spirits, the rulers of the good, permitted such beings to remain behind, thus allowing the luciferic principle to enter humanity. While we may object that the good gods will certainly turn everything to the good, this question nevertheless suggests itself. Another misunderstanding arises if we consider these beings as simply “evil.” To think that these beings are “evil,” however, is to misunderstand them because, although they are the source of evil in human evolution, they are not “evil” at all. Rather, they just stand midway between us and the superhuman beings. In a certain way, indeed, these beings are more perfect than we are. They have already achieved a high level of mastery in all the capacities we still have to acquire. At the same time, unlike the angelic forerunners of the human race, these luciferic beings, because they did not complete their human stage of development on the old Moon, are still able to incarnate in human bodies during earthly evolution. The angeloi, on the other hand, the great inspirers of humanity upon whom the ancient Egyptians still relied, cannot appear in human bodies but can only reveal themselves through human beings. Thus, in the remote past, besides human beings and angels, there existed beings who were neither angels nor humans and were able to incarnate in human bodies. Indeed, in Lemurian and Atlantean times a number of individuals bore such “retarded” angelic beings within them as their innermost core. During those periods ordinary human beings, who were to develop through successive incarnations to an appropriate level of the human ideal, coexisted with beings who looked outwardly like ordinary people. These luciferic beings had to clothe themselves in human bodies because earthly conditions require the outward form of a physical body. Thus, particularly in ancient times, humanity lived side by side with these other beings who belong to the lowest category of luciferic individualities.
While the angels worked on human culture through human individuals, the luciferic beings incarnated and founded cultures in various places. The legends of ancient peoples often talk about great persons who established cultures in this or that particular place. These were embodied luciferic beings. However, it would be wrong to assume that because such an individual was an incarnation of a luciferic being he or she was therefore necessarily evil. In fact, human culture has received countless blessings from these beings.
According to spiritual science, in ancient times, specifically in the Atlantean period, there existed a kind of human primal or root language that was the same over all the earth because speech in those times came much more out of the innermost core of the soul than it does today. The following will make this clear. In Atlantean times people experienced outer impressions in such a way that to give expression to something external the soul was compelled to use a consonant. Thus, what was present in space — the universe and everything in it — induced people to imitate everything around them with consonants. People felt the wind blowing, the sound of waves, the shelter a house provides, and imitated these experiences by means of consonants. On the other hand, people's inner experiences, such as pain or joy, were imitated by vowels. Thus, one can see that in speech the soul became one with external events or beings.
The Akashic chronicle reveals, for example, that when people in the past approached a hut arching over a family, sheltering and protecting the people, they observed primarily its shape curving around the inhabitants. 7The Akashic Chronicle refers to a pictorial record of every thought, feeling, and deed occurring since the world began. Accessible to psychic vision. This protective curving of the hut was expressed through a consonant, but the fact that there were ensouled bodies in the hut — people could feel this sympathetically was expressed through a vowel. Gradually, the concept of protection emerged: “I have protection, protection for human bodies.” This concept was expressed in consonants and vowels, which were not arbitrary, but an unambiguous and direct expression of the experience. This was the case everywhere on earth. The existence of a “primal language” common to all people is not a figment of the imagination. To a certain extent, the initiates of every nation are still able to understand this original language. Every language contains certain sounds reminiscent of it; in fact, our modern languages are the relics of the primeval, universal human language.
This original language was inspired by the superhuman beings, our true forerunners, who completed their development on the Moon. If there had been no other influence than this, the entire human race would basically have remained unified; there would have been one universal way of speaking and thinking everywhere on earth. Individuality and diversity could not have developed, and human freedom likewise could not have been established. Divisions and splits in humanity were necessary for the development of human individuality. Languages became different in each region of the earth because of the work of those teachers who were an incarnation of a luciferic being. These luciferic or “retarded” angelic beings used the language of the nation in which they incarnated for their teaching. Thus, we owe the fact that every nation speaks a particular, non-universal language to the presence of such great, enlightening teachers, who were, in fact, “retarded” angelic beings who had reached a far higher level than the human beings around them. Beings like the early heroes celebrated by the ancient Greeks who worked in human form, for example, as well as beings who worked in human form in other nations, were such incarnations of angelic beings who had not completed their development.
Clearly, then, these beings cannot be dismissed as completely “evil.” On the contrary, they have provided what has destined the human race to be free by introducing diversity into what would otherwise have remained universally uniform over the whole earth. This is true for many other aspects of life as well as for languages. Individualization, differentiation, and freedom are due to the beings who remained behind on the Moon.
To be sure, it may be said that the wise leadership of the world intended to guide all beings to their goal in the planetary evolution. However, if this had been done directly, certain other things would not have been achieved. Certain beings are held back in their development because they have a special task in the evolution of humanity. The beings who had completely fulfilled their task on the Moon would have created only a uniform humanity and, therefore, they had to be opposed by the luciferic beings. And this in turn gave these luciferic beings the possibility of changing something that was actually a defect into something good.
On this basis we can consider the question of why evil, imperfection, and disease exist in the world from a wider perspective. We can look at “evil” in exactly the same way we have just looked at the imperfect, “retarded” angelic beings. Everything that is at one time imperfect or retarded in its development is changed into something good in the course of evolution. This is, of course, no justification of our evil deeds.
This also tells us why the wise government of the world holds back the development of certain beings and prevents them from reaching their goal. The reason is that the holding back will serve a good purpose in subsequent evolutionary periods. In ancient times, when the nations were not yet able to direct themselves, teachers guided particular eras and particular individuals. In a sense, all the teachers of the nations — Kadmos, Kekrops, Pelops, Theseus, and so on — bore an angelic being in the innermost depths of their soul. 8Kadmos, founder of the ancient Greek city of Thebes and its first ruler. Kekrops, legendary king of Athens. Pelops, son of Tantalus. King in Elis, father of Atreus and Thyestes. Theseus, king of Athens. Conquered the Minotaur. This is a clear indication that humanity is in fact subject to guidance and direction in this respect as well.
Thus, at each stage of evolution there are beings who fail to reach the goal they should have attained. In ancient Egyptian civilization, which flourished several thousand years ago on the banks of the Nile, superhuman teachers revealed themselves to the people and were considered by them to be divine guides. At the same time, however, other beings were active who had not yet completely reached the level of angels.
The ancient Egyptians had attained a certain level of development — that is, the souls of people today had developed to a certain level during the Egyptian period. Thus the guidance I am talking about here has a twofold benefit: it helps the person who is guided to achieve something, and it also helps the guiding beings to advance in their development. For example, an angel is more after having guided people for a while than it was before taking this guiding role. In other words, angels advance through their guiding work — “full” angels as well as those who have not yet completed their development. All beings can advance at all times; everything is in continuous development. Nevertheless, at each stage some beings remain behind and fail to complete their development.
Ancient Egyptian culture, therefore, was influenced by three categories of beings: divine leaders or angels, semi-divine leaders who had not yet fully reached the level of angels, and human beings. Now while the human beings on earth progressed in their evolution during the ancient Egyptian period, some superhuman beings or angels were held back, that is, they did not fulfill their guiding role in a way that would have allowed them to bring all of their powers to expression. Consequently, these beings remained behind as angels and did not develop further. Similarly, the imperfect, “retarded” angelic beings, who had not yet developed to the level of the “full” angels, were also arrested in their development. Thus, when the Egypto-Chaldean cultural period drew to a close and the Greco-Latin period began, guiding beings from the earlier cultural epoch who had not finished their development were still present. However, they could now no longer use their powers because their place in guiding humanity had been taken over by other angels or semi-angelic beings. As a result, these beings who were left over, so to speak, were unable to continue their own evolution. Thus we have a category of beings who could have used their powers during the Egyptian period, but did not do so to the full extent possible and so were unable in the subsequent Greco-Latin period to use their own forces because other guiding beings had taken their place. In addition, the nature and character of the Greco-Latin epoch also made their intervention impossible.
Earlier we saw that the beings who had not evolved to the level of angels on the old Moon later had the task of actively participating in the earthly evolution of humanity. By the same token, those guiding beings who did not complete their development in the Egypto-Chaldean period are similarly meant to intervene in human development in a later epoch. This is to say that, in a given later cultural epoch, the normal progress of human evolution is to be directed by beings whose turn it is to take on a guiding role; but, at the same time, other beings will be active who did not develop fully in earlier times, for instance, those who failed to complete their development in the ancient Egyptian epoch. This characterization applies to our own period as well; that is, we live in a time when, besides the normal leaders of humanity, the incompletely developed beings from the ancient Egypto-Chaldean cultural period actively intervene.
To understand the unfolding of events and beings, we must see events in the physical world as effects (revelations) of causes or archetypes that lie in the spiritual world. Our culture, by and large, is characterized by a trend toward spirituality. The urgent striving for spirituality we see in many people is the result of the work of those spiritual guides who have attained the developmental level appropriate to them. These normally developed spiritual guides of our evolution are at work in everything that can lead us to the great treasures of spiritual wisdom that theosophy [ anthroposophy] can impart to us.
However, the beings who did not develop properly during the Egypto-Chaldean period are also shaping the cultural trends of our time. They are at work in much that is thought and done in the present and the near future. In particular, these beings are active in everything that gives our culture a materialistic cast, but often their influence can be felt even in the trend toward the spiritual. Indeed, we are experiencing what amounts to a resurrection of Egyptian culture in our time.
The beings invisibly guiding events in the physical world thus belong to one of two classes. The first comprises those spiritual individualities who developed properly and normally up to our time. These were able to help in the guidance of our culture at the time when the leaders of the Greco-Latin period preceding our own gradually completed their mission of guiding humanity through the first Christian millennium. The second class works together with the first and consists of those spiritual individualities who did not complete their development in the Egypto-Chaldean period. These had to remain inactive during the Greco-Latin period, but they can actively participate in guiding us now, because our time is very similar to the Egypto-Chaldean period.
That is why much in contemporary culture seems to be a resurrection of ancient Egyptian forces. However, the forces that worked spiritually in ancient Egypt now frequently appear recast in materialistic form. Let us look, for example, at the way ancient Egyptian knowledge is being revived today. In this connection, we may think of Kepler, who was imbued with a sense of the harmony of the structure of the cosmos and expressed this harmony in the important mathematical laws of celestial mechanics called Kepler's laws. 9Johannes Kepler, 1571–1630, German astronomer, physicist, and mathematician. These laws may appear to us now rather dry and abstract, but they grew directly out of Kepler's perception of the harmony of the universe. Kepler himself wrote that to be able to make his discoveries he had to penetrate the holy mysteries of the Egyptians and steal the holy vessels from their temples. 10Steiner here refers to a passage in Kepler's foreword to the fifth volume of his work Harmonices Mundi (1619), which reads as follows: “Yes, I am the one; I have stolen the golden vessels of the Egyptians to build a shrine to my God out of them far beyond the boundaries of Egypt. If you can forgive me, I will be glad; if you will be angry with me, I will bear your anger. Here I cast the die and write this book for today's readers as well as for those of the future — what does it matter? Even if it has to wait a hundred years for its reader: God Himself has waited for six thousand years for him who looks at His creation with understanding.” What he thus brought the world will not be understood in its full significance for humanity until much later.
Kepler's words are not mere phrases; rather, they indicate that he vaguely sensed that he was re-experiencing what he had learned in Egyptian times during his incarnation in that epoch. Indeed, we can assume that, in a past life, Kepler had deeply studied and penetrated ancient Egyptian wisdom which then reappeared in his soul in a new form appropriate to modern times. Understandably, the Egyptian spirit brings a materialistic trend into our culture since a strong element of materialism existed in Egyptian spirituality. For example, the Egyptians embalmed corpses, that is, they attached great importance to the preservation of the physical body. Our funerary customs, though with appropriate modifications, derive from this Egyptian tradition.
The same forces that failed to develop properly at that time are now again actively participating in human evolution — though, of course, in a different way. The modern worship of mere matter grew out of the outlook that made the embalming of bodies important. The Egyptians embalmed the bodies of their dead and thus preserved something they considered very important. They believed that the further development of the soul after death was linked to the preservation of the physical body. In the same way, modern anatomists dissect the physical body and think that they are learning something about the laws of the human organism.
Today, the forces of the ancient Egyptian and Chaldean worlds that were progressive then have become regressive and are at work in modern science. To fully appreciate the character of our present time, we must come to know these forces. If we remain ignorant of their significance, these forces will harm us. Only if we are aware of their activity and can find a right relationship to them will they not be harmful. Only through knowing them will we be able to guide these forces to good ends. They must be put to use, for without them we would not have the great achievements of technology, industry, and so on. These forces belong to the lowest rank of luciferic beings. We must see them for what they are. Otherwise, we begin to believe that no other impulses than the modern materialistic ones exist, and we fail to see other forces that can guide us upward to the spiritual realm. For this reason, we must clearly distinguish two spiritual streams in our time.
If the wise powers guiding the world had not retarded the development of these luciferic beings during the Egypto-Chaldean period, our era would lack a certain necessary gravity. Only the forces that would bring us at all costs into the spiritual realm would then be working on us. Of course, we would be only too inclined to give in to them and would become dreamers and visionaries; we would be interested in life only if it became spiritualized as quickly as possible. A certain contempt for the physical-material world would then be our typical attitude. However, to fulfill its mission, our present cultural epoch has to bring the forces of the material world fully to fruition, so that their sphere can be conquered for spirituality.
We can be tempted and seduced by the most beautiful things if we pursue them one-sidedly, and this one-sidedness, if it takes hold, can also turn every good endeavor and striving into fanaticism. It is true that humanity advances through its noble impulses, but it is also true that the impassioned and fanatic advocacy of the noblest impulses can bring about the worst results for our development. Only when we strive toward the highest goals with humility and clarity, and not out of impassioned enthusiasm, will wholesome and healthy developments for the progress of humanity result.
Therefore, the wisdom at work in guiding the world arrested the development of those forces that should have fully evolved during the Egyptian cultural epoch. This was done to give the achievements of our era a certain necessary weight, thereby enabling us to understand the material world, the things on the physical plane. These same forces now direct our attention toward physical life.
Thus, humanity develops under the guidance of beings that have progressed properly and of other beings that failed to do so. People with clairvoyant vision can observe the cooperation of the two classes of beings in the supersensible world. They can understand the spiritual processes of which the physical events around us are the manifestation.
Of course, opening our spiritual eye or spiritual ear to the spiritual world through exercises of some kind is not sufficient to enable us to understand what is happening in the world process. It only allows us to see what is there, to recognize that there are spiritual beings of the soul or the spiritual realm. In addition to this, we must also be able to distinguish, to cognize the different kinds of spiritual beings involved in the world process. We cannot tell just by looking whether a being of the soul or spiritual realm is developing appropriately or whether its development has been arrested. We do not know whether it advances or hinders our evolution. If we develop clairvoyant abilities but do not also gain a full understanding of the conditions of human development as we have described them, we will never be able to tell what type of being we are encountering. Thus, clairvoyance must always be accompanied by a clear assessment of what we perceive in the supersensible world.
This is particularly necessary in our own time. It was not always so. In very ancient cultures, things were quite different. In ancient Egypt, for example, clairvoyants could identify to what group a being of the supersensible world belonged, because that information was as if written on its forehead. Therefore, clairvoyants could not mistake one being for another. Nowadays, however, the danger of misunderstanding and mistaking one being for another is very great. In ancient times, people were still close to the realm of the spiritual hierarchies and could recognize the beings they encountered. Now, however, errors are easily possible, and the only way to protect ourselves against serious harm is to make an effort to grasp concepts and ideas such as those presented here.
In esotericism, a person who is able to see into the spiritual world is called a “clairvoyant.” But, as I have said, just being a clairvoyant is not enough, because clairvoyants, though they can see in the supersensible world, cannot distinguish. Therefore, people who have developed the ability to distinguish between the beings and events of the higher worlds are called “initiates.” Initiation is what enables us to distinguish between various types of beings. People can be clairvoyant and see into the higher worlds without also being initiates. In ancient times, being able to distinguish between these beings was not especially important, for once the ancient mystery schools had brought their students to the point of clairvoyance, there was no great danger of making mistakes. Now, however, the danger of falling into error is very great. Therefore, in all esoteric schooling the development of clairvoyance must always be accompanied by initiation. As people become clairvoyant, they must also become able to distinguish between the particular types of supersensible beings and occurrences they perceive.
In modern times, the powers guiding humanity are faced with the special task of creating a balance between the principles of clairvoyance and initiation. At the beginning of the modern period, the leading spiritual teachers necessarily had to consider what I have just explained. As a matter of principle, therefore, the esoteric spiritual movement that is suited to our time works to establish the right relationship between clairvoyance and initiation. This balanced relationship became necessary when, in the thirteenth century, humanity underwent a crisis in regard to its faculty of higher cognition. Around the year 1250, in fact, we find the period in which people felt most cut off from the spiritual world.
Clairvoyant exploration of this time reveals that even the outstanding minds striving for higher cognition had to admit that their ability to know the physical world was limited by their reason, intellect, and spiritual knowledge. They felt that human research and the human capacity to know would never enable them to reach the spiritual world. In fact, they only knew of the existence of a spiritual world because reports of it had been handed down from previous generations. In the thirteenth century, then, direct spiritual perception of the higher worlds had become darkened and more difficult. It was with good reason, therefore, that at the height of scholasticism people believed that human knowledge was restricted to the physical world. 11Scholastic thought was dominant in medieval Christian Europe from the 9th–17th centuries. Steiner describes the characteristics of scholasticism in Eleven European Mystics, (Blauvelt, NY: Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1971), 168–174. Also The Redemption of Thinking, (Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1983).
By about 1250, people had to draw the boundary between what they believed on the basis of the traditions handed down to them and what they could perceive and understand on their own. The latter was limited to the physical, sensory world. Later, a new era dawned when it began to be possible again to gain direct insight into the spiritual world. However, this new clairvoyance is different from the old one that had more or less disappeared by the year 1250.
For this new form of clairvoyance, Western esotericism had to lay down the strict principle that initiation must always guide our spiritual ears and eyes. This characterizes the special task that the esoteric stream, then introduced into Europe, had taken upon itself. As the year 1250 approached, a new way of guiding human beings toward the supersensible worlds began to take hold.
This new guidance was prepared by the spirits that worked in that time behind the outer events of history. Already centuries earlier, they had prepared what would be necessary for esoteric schooling under the conditions that would prevail after 1250. If the term “modern esotericism” is not a misnomer, we can apply it to the spiritual work of these more highly developed individuals. Conventional history, focusing only on outer events, knows nothing of them. But their deeds have affected all cultural developments in the West since the thirteenth century.
The significance of the year 1250 for the spiritual development of humanity becomes especially clear if we consider the following result of clairvoyant research. Even individualities who had already reached high levels of spiritual development in their previous incarnations and incarnated again around 1250 had to experience a complete, though temporary, obscuring of their direct vision of the spiritual world. Even completely enlightened individuals were as though cut off from the spiritual world and knew about it only from their memories of earlier incarnations. From this we can see that a new element obviously had to appear in the spiritual guidance of humanity. This new element is true modern esotericism. It enables us to fully understand how what we call the Christ-impulse can take part in guiding humanity as well as each individual in all activities and aspects of life.
The Christ-principle was first assimilated by human souls in the period between the Mystery of Golgotha and the advent of modern esotericism. During this period, people accepted Christ unconsciously as far as their higher spiritual forces were concerned. Later, when people had to accept Christ consciously, they made all sorts of mistakes. In their understanding of Christ they were led into a labyrinth. In those first years of Christianity, the Christ-principle took root in lower, subordinate soul forces. This was followed by a time, one in which we are still living, in which people began to understand the Christ-principle with their higher soul capacities. In fact, even today, we are only at the beginning of this understanding. Indeed, as I will explain in the next chapter, the decline of supersensible cognition up to the thirteenth century and its slow revival in a new and different form since then coincide with the intervention of the Christ-impulse in human history. Modern esotericism, therefore, may be understood as the elevation of the Christ-impulse into the leading element in the guidance of those souls who want to work on gaining a knowledge of the higher worlds that is appropriate to current developmental conditions.