Rudolf Steiner Archive



(Part 7)

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The life of man between birth and death — in the post-Atlantean age — had, however, its influence also upon the body-free state after death. The more the human being turned his interest toward the physical-sensory world, the greater was the possibility of Ahriman penetrating into the soul during earth life and of his retaining power beyond death. Among the peoples of ancient India this danger was still insignificant, because they had, during earth life, felt the physical world of the senses to be an illusion. As a result, they were able to elude the power of Ahriman. The danger of the prehistoric Persian people was much greater, because in the life between birth and death they had turned their interest toward the physical world of the senses. They would have fallen prey to Ahriman to a high degree, had Zarathustra not through his teaching about the God of Light drawn attention in an impressive manner to the fact that behind the physical-sensory world there exists the world of the Spirits of Light. In proportion to the absorption into the soul of this visualized world by the people of the Persian culture did they escape from the clutches of Ahriman during earth life and likewise during the life after death, when they prepared for a new earth life. During earth life the power of Ahriman leads to the consideration of physical-sensory existence as the only one, thus barring all outlook into the spiritual world. In the spiritual world this power leads the human being to complete isolation, to concentration of all interests only upon himself. Human beings who at death are in the power of Ahriman are reborn as egotists.

At present we are able in spiritual science to describe life between death and a new birth as it is when the Ahrimanic influence has been overcome to a certain degree. In this way it has been described by the writer of this book in other writings and in the first chapters of this book, and thus it must be described in order to make plausible what the human being can experience in this state of existence when he has gained the true spiritual perception of what really exists. Whether the individual experiences it to a greater or lesser degree depends on his victory over the Ahrimanic influence. Man approaches more and more what is possible for him to be in the spiritual world. How this degree of attainment can be impaired by other influences must here be held clearly in mind in considering the path of human evolution.

It was the task of Hermes to see that the Egyptians prepared themselves during earth life for companionship with the Spirit of Light. Since, however, during that time human interests between birth and death were already shaped in such a way that it was possible only to a slight degree to penetrate the veil of the physical-sensory, the spiritual perception of the soul remained also clouded after death. The perception of the world of light remained dim. — The veiling over of the spiritual world after death reached a climax for the souls who entered the body-free state from an incarnation in the Greco-Latin culture. During earth life they had brought the culture of the sensory-physical existence to full flower, and they had thus doomed themselves to a shadow existence after death. The Greek, therefore, felt that his life after death was only a shadow-like existence; and it was not mere empty talk but the feeling for truth when the hero of that age, turning toward the sense world, says, “Rather a beggar on earth than a king in the realm of the shades.” This was still more evident among those Asiatic peoples who also in their reverence and adoration had only directed their gaze toward the sensory counterparts instead of toward the spiritual archetypes. During the time of the Greco-Latin cultural period a large part of mankind was in the condition here described. We can see how the mission of man in the post-Atlantean epoch, which consisted of his mastery of the physical sense world, had to lead of necessity to an estrangement from the spiritual world. Thus what is great on the one hand is of necessity connected with what is decadent on the other. — In the mysteries, the connection of the human being with the spiritual world was fostered. The initiates of these mysteries were able, in special states of the soul, to receive the revelations of this world. They were more or less the successors of the Atlantean guardians of the oracles. What was concealed through the impulses of Lucifer and Ahriman was unveiled to them. Lucifer concealed from the human being that part of the spiritual world that, without his cooperation, had poured into his astral body right up to the middle of the Atlantean epoch. If the ether body had not been partially separated from the physical, man would have been able to experience this region of the spirit world as an inner soul revelation. Because of the Luciferic impulse he could only experience it in special states of the soul. Then a spiritual world appeared to him in the vesture of the astral. The corresponding beings revealed themselves in shapes that bore only the higher members of human nature, and in these members they carried the astrally visible symbols of their special spiritual powers. Superhuman forms manifested themselves in this way. After the encroachment of Ahriman another kind of initiation was added to this one. Ahriman has concealed all that part of the spiritual world that would have appeared behind physical sense-perception, if his encroachment had not occurred after the middle of the Atlantean epoch. The initiates owed the revelation of this part of the spiritual world to the fact that they practiced in their souls all those faculties that the human being had acquired since that time to a degree far greater than the one required in order to gain the impressions of sensory-physical existence. Through it the spiritual powers lying behind the forces of nature were revealed to them. They were able to speak of the spiritual beings behind nature. The creative powers of the forces active in nature below the human being revealed themselves to them. What had continued to be active from the Saturn, Sun and the ancient Moon evolutions and had formed the human physical, ether, and astral bodies, as well as the mineral, plant, and animal kingdoms, formed the content of one type of mysteries. These mysteries were under Ahriman's influence. What had led to the development of sentient, intellectual, and consciousness soul was revealed in a second type of mystery. What, however, was only possible to be prophesied by the mysteries was that in the course of time a human being would appear with an astral body in which, despite Lucifer, the light world of the Sun Spirit would become conscious through the ether body without special soul states. And the physical body of this human being must be of such a nature that that part of the spiritual world would be manifest to him that Ahriman is able to conceal up to the time of physical death. Physical death cannot change anything for this human being during life; that is to say, physical death cannot have any power over him. In such a human being the ego manifests in such a way that the physical life contains at the same time the whole spiritual life. Such a being is the bearer of the Spirit of Light, to Whom the initiate lifts himself in a twofold way, either by being led to the spirit of the super-human or to the being of the powers of nature in special states of the soul. Since the initiates of the mysteries predicted that such a human being would appear in the course of time, they were the prophets of Christ.

As special prophet in this sense, a personality arose in a people that through natural heritage bore within itself the characteristics of the peoples of the Middle East and, through education, the teachings of the Egyptians; these people were the Israelites. The prophet was Moses.. So many influences of initiation had entered the soul of Moses that in special states of consciousness the spiritual being who had assumed, in the normal course of Earth evolution, the role of molding human consciousness from the moon, manifested himself to him. In thunder and lightning Moses recognized not only the physical phenomena, but the manifestations of the spirit just described. At the same time, however, the other kind of mysteries had affected his soul to such a degree that he perceived in astral visions how the super-human spirit becomes human through the ego. Thus the Being Who had to come revealed Himself to Moses from two directions as the highest form of the Ego.

With Christ there appeared in human form what the high Sun Being had prepared as the exalted paragon of earthly man. With this appearance all mystery wisdom had in a certain regard to assume a new form. Previously this wisdom existed exclusively in order to enable the human being to bring himself to a soul state that allowed him to behold the kingdom of the Sun Spirit outside of earthly evolution. Now mystery wisdom was allotted the task of making the human being capable of recognizing the Christ Who had become man, and from this center of all wisdom to understand the natural and spiritual world.

At the moment in the life of Christ Jesus, when His astral body contained everything that the Luciferic impulse can conceal, He assumed His mission as teacher of mankind. From this moment onward the aptitude was implanted in human earth evolution for receiving the wisdom through which the physical earthly goal can by degrees be attained. At the moment when the event of Golgotha was accomplished, the other aptitude was injected into mankind by which it is possible to turn the influence of Ahriman to good. Henceforth the human being is able to carry with him out of life through the portals of death what releases him from isolation in the spiritual world. The event of Palestine is not only the center of the physical evolution of mankind, but it is also the center of the other worlds to which the human being belongs. When the “Mystery of Golgotha” was accomplished, when “Death on the Cross” was suffered, the Christ appeared in the world in which souls tarry after death, and in that region He set bounds to the power of Ahriman. From this moment the realm that was named by the Greeks the “kingdom of the shades” was illuminated by that spiritual lightning flash that showed its inhabitants that henceforth light would again appear in it. What was attained through the Mystery of Golgotha for the physical world threw its light into the spiritual world. — Thus the post-Atlantean human evolution was, up to this event, an ascent for the physical world of the senses, but it was at the same time a descent for the spiritual. Everything that flowed into the world of the senses poured forth from what had already existed in the spiritual world from primeval ages. Since the Christ event, human beings who elevate themselves to the Christ mystery are able to carry with them into the spiritual world what they have acquired in the sense world. It flows back again from the spiritual world into the earthly-sensory world by human beings bringing back with them into reincarnation what the Christ impulse has become for them in the world of spirit between death and rebirth.

What the Christ event bestowed upon mankind's evolution acted within it like a seed. The seed can ripen only gradually. Only the very smallest part of the new wisdom's profundity has penetrated physical existence up to the present. This existence stands just at the beginning of Christian evolution. During the succeeding centuries that have elapsed since that event, Christian evolution has been able to unveil only as much of Its inner nature as human beings, peoples, were capable of receiving, were capable of absorbing with their mental capacities. The first form into which this knowledge could be poured may be described as an all-encompassing ideal of life. As such it opposed what in the post-Atlantean humanity had fashioned itself as modes of life. We have already described the conditions that prevailed in the evolution of mankind since the repopulation of the earth in the Lemurian age. The human beings, as to their soul nature, may thus be traced back to various beings who, returning from other worlds, incarnated in the bodily descendants of the ancient Lemurians. The various human races are a result of this fact, and, in consequence of their karma, the most varied life-interests appeared in the reincarnated souls. As long as the after-effects of all this prevailed, the ideal of a “common humanity” could not exist. Mankind proceeded from a unity, but Earth evolution up to the present has led to differentiation. In the Christ-concept an ideal is given that counteracts all differentiation, for in the human being Who bears the name of Christ live also the forces of the exalted Sun Being in Whom every human ego finds its origin. The Israelites felt themselves still as a folk, the human being as a member of this folk. At the outset the fact that in the Christ Jesus lives the ideal man Who is not touched by the conditions of separation was only comprehended in thought, and Christianity became the ideal of an all-encompassing brotherhood. Disregarding all separate interests and separate relationships, the feeling arose that the inmost ego of every human being has the same origin. (Alongside all earthly forefathers the common father of all human beings appears. “I and the Father are One.”)

In Europe in the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries A.D. a cultural age was prepared that began in the fifteenth century and still continues today. It was gradually to replace the fourth, Greco-Latin, period. It is the fifth post-Atlantean culture period. The peoples, which after various migrations and most manifold destinies had made themselves pillars of this age, were descendants of those Atlanteans who had had the least contact with what had occurred in the meantime in the four preceding cultural epochs. They had not penetrated into the regions in which the cultures in question took root, but they had in their way continued the Atlantean cultures. There were among them many people who had preserved to a high degree the heritage of the ancient dreamlike clairvoyance, the intermediate state between waking and sleeping already described. Such individuals were acquainted with the spiritual world through their own experience and were able to communicate what takes place in that world to their fellow-men. A treasure house of narrative about spiritual beings and spiritual events was built up. The treasures of folk fairy tales and myths arose originally from such spiritual experiences. For the dreamlike clairvoyance of many people lasted right on into times not far removed from our present day. There were other human individuals who had lost their clairvoyance but who acquired the faculties of perception in the sensory-physical world through feelings and sensations that corresponded to these clairvoyant experiences. Here, also, the Atlantean oracles had their successors. There were mysteries everywhere. In these mysteries, however, the kinds of secrets of initiation were predominantly developed that led to the revelation of the region of the spirit world that Ahriman keeps concealed. It is the spiritual powers behind the forces of nature that were revealed in these mysteries. In the mythologies of the European nations are contained the remnants of what the initiates of these mysteries were able to communicate to human beings. These mythologies, however, contained also the other concealed wisdom, although in less complete form than it was contained in the Southern and Eastern mysteries. Superhuman beings were also known in Europe. Yet they appeared in a state of constant strife with the companions of Lucifer. The God of Light was proclaimed, but in such a form that it was impossible to say whether He would overcome Lucifer. But as a compensation for this, the future Christ form shone also into these mysteries. It was proclaimed that His kingdom would replace the kingdom of the other God of Light. (All myths about the Twilight of the Gods — the Gotterdammerung — and similar events have their origin in this knowledge of the European mysteries. Such influences caused a cleavage in the soul of the human beings of the fifth cultural epoch that still continues on into the present and shows itself in the most manifold phenomena of life. The soul did not preserve from ancient times the urge toward the spirit so strongly that it would have been able to retain the connection between the spirit and sense worlds. It retained it merely in the development of its feelings and sensations, but not, however, as a direct perception of the supersensible world. On the other hand, the attention of the human being was directed more and more toward the world of the senses and its control. The powers of the intellect that awoke in the last part of the Atlantean epoch, all the forces in the human being of which the physical brain is the instrument were developed for the sense world and for its knowledge and control. Two worlds, so to speak, developed in the human breast. One is turned toward sensory-physical existence, the other is receptive to the revelation of the spiritual in order to penetrate it through feeling and sensation, but without perceiving it. The tendencies toward this cleavage of the soul were already present when the teaching of Christ streamed into the regions of Europe. This evangel of the spirit was received into human hearts, penetrated sensation and feeling, but could not find the connection with what the intellect, directed toward the senses, explored in the physical-sensory existence. What we know today as the contrast of outer science and spiritual knowledge is but a consequence of this fact. The Christian mysticism of Eckhardt, Tauler, and others, is a result of the permeation of feeling and sensation with Christianity. The science of the sense world and its results in life are the consequences of the other side of the soul's capacities. We owe the progress in the field of outer material culture entirely to this separation of capacities. Because the human faculties that have the brain as their instrument turned one-sidedly to physical life, they were able to attain to the increase in power that made possible modern science and technology. This material culture could originate only among the nations of Europe, for they are the descendants of Atlantean ancestors who developed the tendency for the physical sense world into faculties only when this tendency had attained a certain maturity. Previously these descendants let it slumber, and they were nourished by the heritage of Atlantean clairvoyance and the communications of their initiates. While outwardly spiritual culture had yielded only to these influences, the sense for the material domination of the world gradually matured.

At present, however, the dawn of the sixth post-Atlantean cultural period already proclaims itself. For what is to arise in human evolution at a certain time begins to ripen in the preceding age. What is already able to show its beginnings at present is the discovery of the link that unites the two impulses in the human breast: material culture and life in the world of the spirit. For this purpose it is necessary that the results of spiritual perception are comprehended, and also that the manifestations of the spirit are recognized in the observations and experiences of the sense world. The sixth cultural epoch will bring the harmony between these two impulses to complete development. With this, the considerations of this book have advanced to a point where they can pass over from a view of the past to one of the future. It is, however, better if this view is preceded by a consideration of the knowledge of the higher worlds and of initiation. Then we shall have an opportunity to present briefly this view of the future, as far as this is possible within the framework of this book.

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