The Foundations of Esotericism
Berlin, 3rd October 1905
The different incarnations of the human individuality are a kind of swinging of the pendulum to and fro until the rhythm is brought to rest and the higher part of man has found in the physical a fitting expression, a suitable instrument. Approximately ever since human beings have reincarnated, the position of sun, moon and earth has existed as it is now. We must understand that man belongs to the great cosmic organism. In the times in which great changes take place in the life of humanity, mighty changes also occur in the cosmos. Earlier than this, before there was reincarnation, sun, moon and earth were not yet separated as now. Kant and Laplace made their observation from the physical plane only, and to this extent their theory is quite correct, but they did not know the connection with spiritual forces. When out of the primal fire-vapour sun, moon and earth came into existence as separate bodies, man also began to incarnate. When human incarnations will have come to an end, the sun also will be re-united with the earth. On the large scale as in the single details, one must bear in mind these relationships of man to the universe.
You will often have heard that man usually incarnates after a period of about two thousand years. One can investigate when people who are alive today had their earlier incarnation. The souls who are now incarnated, one finds as a rule about 300 to 400 years after the birth of Christ. In addition, however, one finds others who are incarnated at various times, some earlier, some later. But there is another way to determine incarnations, a way which leads more certainly to the goal. One can say: Were the human beings who die today to return in a short time they would meet almost the same conditions as now. But man ought to learn as much as possible on the Earth. This can only happen when in the next incarnation he finds something new which is essentially different from the earlier conditions.
Let us for instance imagine ourselves back into the time about 600 to 800 years before Christ; that is about the time of the Iliad and the Odyssey. With the advanced peoples of that time the conditions of life were quite different from what they are now. One would for instance be astonished to see with what curious implements people ate. At that time also people had not yet learnt to write. The great poems were transmitted by word of mouth. When a person of those times is reincarnated today he must as a child learn quite other things. As a child he must learn to write. The stream of culture has meanwhile progressed. One must distinguish between the stream of culture and the development of the individual soul. As a child one must catch up with the civilisation and for this reason one must be born again as a child.
Now we must ask: What causes such utterly different conditions on earth? This is connected with the progression of the spring equinox. About 800 years before Christ the sun in spring entered the constellation of Aries, of the Ram. Every year at the vernal point it shifts a little. Because of this the conditions on the earth are always slightly changing. Eight hundred years before Christ the sun stood in the constellation of Aries. Earlier it stood in the constellation of Taurus, still earlier in Gemini and still earlier in Cancer. Now already for some hundred of years it rises in the constellation of Pisces. After this comes Aquarius. The advance of civilisations is also connected with the progression of the sun from one constellation to the other.
At the time when the sun rose in the constellation of Cancer the ancient Vedic culture of the Indians, the culture of the Rishis reached its highest point. The Rishis, those still half-divine beings, were the teachers of men. The Atlantean civilisation had met its destruction; a new impulse broke in. In occultism this is called a ‘vortex’ (wirbel). This is also why, in the age in which the sun stood in the constellation of Cancer, the sign was made in this way:
Cancer signifies a breaking in of something new, a ‘vortex’ (a double spiral).
The second cultural epoch is named the constellation of the Twins. At that time the dual nature of the world was understood, the opposing forces of the world, Ormuzd and Ahriman, Good and Evil. Thus the Persians also speak of the Twins.
The third cultural epoch is that of the Sumerians in Asia Minor and of the Egyptians. The constellation of the Bull corresponds to this epoch. This is why in Asia the Bull was venerated and in Egypt, Apis. At that time in Babylon and Assyria the Sumerian language was the language of wisdom. Then the Bull fell into decadence and the Ram came into the ascendant. The first indication of this is the Saga of the Golden Fleece.
The fourth culture is that of the Ram, or Lamb; Christ stands in the sign of the Ram, or Lamb; hence he calls himself the Lamb of God.
As fifth culture the external materialistic civilisation follows, in the constellation of the Fishes. This developed principally from the 12th century onwards and reached its climax about the year 1800. This is the culture of the Fifth sub-race, the present time.
In the constellation of the Water-Man in the future, the new Christianity will be proclaimed. ‘Water-Man’ is also the one who will bring it, he who has already been here: John the Baptist. Later he will again be the forerunner of Christ, when the Sixth, the spiritual sub-race will be founded. The Theosophical Movement should be the preparation for that time.
In the New Testament the expression ‘on the mountain’ is used on various occasions. ‘On the mountain’ means: in the mystery, in the innermost, in the intimate. Even the Sermon on the Mount is not to be understood as a sermon for the people, but as an intimate teaching for the disciples. The Transfiguration on the Mountain has also to be understood in this sense. Jesus went up into the mountain with the three disciples, Peter, James and John. There, we are told, the disciples were caught up out of themselves; then Moses and Elias appeared on either side of Jesus. For a moment space and time were extinguished and the disciples found themselves with their consciousness on the mental plane. Those who were no longer physically present, Moses and Elias, appeared. In direct revelation they had before them: ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.’ The way = Elias, Moses = the truth, Christ = the life. This appeared here to the disciples in actual form. Jesus once said to them: ‘Elias has come again; 29Matthew, Chapter 17. 12 – 13 John was Elias, he has only not been recognised.’ But he said further: ‘Tell it to no man until I come again.’ Christianity was not to teach reincarnation for two thousand years, not for any arbitrary reason, but on educational grounds. People were to know nothing of it for two thousand years. In the gospel of St. John there is an indication of this in the miracle of the wedding at Cana where water is turned into wine. In the old Mysteries only water was distributed, but in the Christian Mysteries wine. For in the priesthood, through the partaking of wine, knowledge of reincarnation was blotted out. Whoever partakes of wine cannot attain to any true knowledge of Manas, Buddhi and Atma. He can never comprehend reincarnation. By his coming again Christ means his reappearance in the Sixth sub-race when he will be proclaimed by the ‘Water-Man’. Theosophy actually carries out the testament of Christianity and works towards this epoch of time.
Every time the sun progresses from one sign of the Zodiac to another incisive changes take place in civilisation. In between there elapses a period of about two thousand six hundred years. 30Later Rudolf Steiner indicated these epochs more precisely. According to this the point at which the sun rises on the vernal equinox moves backwards through the 12 constellations of the Zodiac in 12 x 2160 = 25,920 years — the Platonic World Year — generally speaking, re-embodiments are connected with these epochs of 2160 years (though there are exceptions). See: Theosophy of the Rosicrucian, Rhythms in the Cosmos and in the Human Being (Typescript) 18.104.22.168.1923 If we take the moment of time when the sun entered the sign of the Ram or Lamb, about 800 years before Christ and 1800 years after Christ, then we have two thousand six hundred years. About the year 1800 we entered the sign of the Fishes. This is the time when materialistic culture reached its highest point. It was prepared for in the Middle Ages and has now begun to decline. About the year 4,400 mankind enters the sign of spiritual culture, that of the Water-Man. Preparation has also to be made for this.
Thus conditions change also with the constellation. With the progression from one sign to another new conditions also arise, so that rebirth has meaning. The human being is reborn approximately every two thousand six hundred years, but the experiences he makes as man and as woman are so radically different that two such incarnations, as man and as woman, are reckoned as one. About one thousand three hundred years elapse between two incarnations as man or as woman, and about two thousand six hundred years between such double incarnations if one reckons both as one. The human being is only man or woman in regard to the physical body. When the physical body is masculine the etheric body is feminine; and vice versa, when the physical body is feminine the etheric body is masculine. Only the astral body is at the same time masculine and feminine. The human being bears within him the opposite sex as etheric body. Thus in the etheric the man is feminine and in the etheric the woman masculine. The physical woman has therefore many concealed masculine qualities; the physical incarnation is present only exoterically. The human being therefore goes through a constellation every time as man and as woman. This is why the Master said to Sinnett that the human being is incarnated about twice in a sub-race. Occultly both incarnations are reckoned together as one. There must come a time in which the woman actually approaches the culture dominated by the man. The present woman's movement is to be recognized as the preparation for another later and quite different woman's movement. In the future, sex differentiation will be totally overcome.
There was a special reason why, for about two thousand years, the teaching of reincarnation was completely suppressed. The human being was to learn to know and value the importance of the one life. Every slave in Ancient Egypt was still convinced of the fact that he would return, that one day he would be master instead of slave, but that he had to pay his karmic debts. The single life was therefore not so important to him. But the lesson people now had to learn was to gain firm ground under their feet; thus during one life, reincarnation was to remain unknown. Christ therefore expressly forbade any teaching about reincarnation. But from 800 years before Christ until about 1800 years after Christ, the time had elapsed during which nearly everyone had gone through the one life without experiencing anything of reincarnation. The great Masters 31According to Rudolf Steiner these are beings of great significance for the evolution of mankind. ‘These lofty beings have already left behind them the path that the rest of mankind has yet to tread. They work now as the great Teachers of Wisdom and of the Harmony of Feeling.’ (Letter to a member 2.1.1905.) See also lecture 13.10.1904. have the task not always to impart the whole truth at any one time, but only that part needed by man. This withholding of the consciousness of reincarnation came to poetic expression in this epoch in Dante's Divine Comedy. In monastic esotericism on the other hand, reincarnation was definitely taught when the occasion arose. The Trappists 32Order founded in 1140 in the Cistercian monastery of La Trappe in France. The reform in 1665 imposed strict ascetic practices and silence. had to remain silent throughout one incarnation, so that in the next they might become eloquent speakers. They were intentionally trained in this way to become eloquent speakers, for of these the Church can make good use. When St. Augustine put forward the doctrine of predestination he was entirely consistent. 33The teaching of God's eternal decree which results in only a part of humanity being chosen for salvation while the other part is doomed to perdition. Compare lecture 7.10.1917 ‘The Crumbling of the Earth and the Souls and Bodies of Men’ Anthroposophical Quarterly Volume 19 No. 1. Because in the age of materialism reincarnation was not to be taught, the Augustinian doctrine of predestination had to make its appearance. Only in this way could the differences in people's circumstances be explained.
Connected with this is the deeply materialistic character of traditional Christianity, which lies in the fact that the Beyond is made dependent on one physical existence. This materialistic teaching of Christianity has, so to say, borne its fruit. Today there is no longer any consciousness of the Beyond. Social democracy is the ultimate consequence of traditional Christianity. But now a new impulse must come into the world. When one epoch comes to an end something new breaks in. Christianity worked towards the gradual dawning of the materialistic age. In order to bring about the materialistic civilisation, human beings for a period of one thousand three hundred years had to have such a teaching as was brought by Christianity; namely, that man should make the whole of eternity dependent upon one earthly life. Urban bourgeoisie then became the actual founder of the age of materialism. Already at the time of Christ the spiritual had to be betrayed by the purely material. Judas Iscariot had to betray Christ. One can however say: had there been no Judas there would also have been no Christianity. Judas is the first to attach prime importance to money, that is to say, to materialism. In Judas was incarnated the entire materialistic age. This materialistic age has obscured and darkened the spiritual. Through his death Christ becomes the Redeemer of materialism.