The Apocalypse of St. John
19 June 1908, Nuremberg
Yesterday we described the spirit of the Apocalypse of John in a general way. We tried to give a few broad outlines showing that in this Apocalypse is described what may be called a Christian initiation. To-day it will be my task to present to you in general the nature of initiation, to describe what takes place in a man when through initiation he is enabled to see for himself those spiritual worlds which lie behind the sense worlds; and further it will be my task to give in broad outline a description of the experiences in initiation. For only by entering a little more closely into the nature of initiation can we gradually understand this significant religious record known as the Apocalypse.
First of all we must again consider closely the two states of human consciousness, the one lasting from morning when a person awakes until evening when he goes to sleep, and the other which begins when he goes to sleep and ends when he awakes. We have often brought to mind that man as we know him in his present form is, to begin with, a fourfold being; that he consists of the physical, etheric and astral bodies and the “I.” To spiritual vision these four principles appear in their external form as if the human physical body is enclosed in the centre like a kind of kernel. During the day this physical body is permeated by the so-called etheric or life-body which projects very slightly round about the head as a luminous halo, but which also completely permeates the head; further down it becomes more cloudy and indistinct and the more it approaches the lower parts of man the less definitely does it show the form of the physical body.
Now these two principles of the human being are during the day enveloped by what we call the astral body, which projects on all sides like an ellipse, in the shape of an egg, and in its fundamental form it has luminous rays which look as if their direction really were from outside inward, as if they would penetrate from outside to the inner part of the man. Within this astral body are outlined a great number of different figures, every possible kind of lines and rays, many like flashes of lightning, many in curious twists; all this surrounds the human being in the most varied manifestations of light. The astral body is the expression of his passions, instincts, impulses and desires, as also of all his thoughts and ideas. The clairvoyant consciousness sees portrayed in this astral body all that one calls soul-experiences, from the lowest impulses to the highest ethical ideals.
Then we have the fourth principle of the human being, which one might sketch as if something were sending in rays to a point lying about one centimetre (3/8 inch) behind the forehead. That would be the diagrammatic representation of the fourfold man. In the course of these lectures we shall see how the several parts are distinguished in the whole.
This is a picture of man during the day from moving when he wakes, until night when he goes to sleep. Now, when he goes to sleep, the physical and etheric bodies remain on the bed and a kind of streaming-out of the astral body takes place. “Streaming-out” does not express it quite exactly; it is really as if a kind of mist formed. So that in the night we see the astral body which has withdrawn from the physical and the etheric bodies like a kind of spiral mist around the man, while the fourth principle of the human being disappears almost entirely towards one side, that is, it disperses and becomes vague. The lower part of the astral body can only just be seen; it is the upper part which is indicated as the “astral body which has withdrawn.”
Yesterday we emphasized what has to happen to a person if he is to receive initiation. If he occupies himself only with the customary activities of the present day he is unable to receive initiation. He must be so prepared that during ordinary daily life he performs the exercises of meditation, concentration, etc., prescribed for him by the schools of initiation. The effect produced by these exercises is, on the whole, the same in all kinds of initiation. They only differ in that the further we go back into pre-Christian schools of initiation, they are directed more to the training of thought, to the exercise of the power of thinking. The nearer we approach to Christian times the more are these exercises directed to train the forces of feeling; and the nearer we come to modern times the more we see how, in the so-called Rosicrucian training — conditioned by the demands and requirements of humanity — a particular kind of will culture, the exercise of the will is introduced. Although the meditations are at first similar to those of pre-Christian schools, there nevertheless prevails everywhere at the basis of the Rosicrucian exercises a particular training of the element of Will. The chief aim is, so to influence a person during the day — even if only for a short time, perhaps five to fifteen minutes — that the effect continues when the pupil falls asleep and the astral body withdraws. This effect was produced by the exercises given in the Oriental Mysteries, in the Egyptian Mysteries, in the Pythagorean schools, and it also resulted from the exercises of meditation based chiefly upon the Gospel of John. The astral body of a man who performs such, shall we say, occult exercises, gradually manifests many different changes at night. It manifests different light-effects; it shows that plastic formation of the organs of which we have already spoken and this becomes ever more distinct. The astral body gradually acquires an inner organization such as the physical body possesses in its eyes, ears, etc.
Yet this would never lead one to see much, particularly in the case of the man of the present day; the pupil, however, has some slight perception when his inner organs have been developed to a certain extent. He begins to become conscious during sleep. A spiritual environment gleams forth from the otherwise universal darkness. He perceives wonderful pictures of plant life; this was more especially the case in ancient times: to-day it takes place more seldom. These are the most primitive achievements of clairvoyance. Where previously there had been only the darkness of unconsciousness there now arises something of a dreamlike plant structure yet living and real. Much of what is described in the mythologies of ancient peoples was seen in this way. When we read in legends that Woden, Willy and Weh found a tree on the seashore and that from it they created man, this indicates that it was first seen in such a picture. In all the mythologies you may perceive this primitive kind of sight, this vision of plants. Paradise is also the description of such a vision, Paradise with its two trees of knowledge and of life. It is the result of this astral vision. It is not without cause that in Genesis itself is indicated that Paradise, together with all that is described in the beginning of the Bible, was seen in this manner. First we must learn to read the Bible, then we shall understand how closely and significantly it portrays this mysterious condition in its descriptions. In former times they did not teach of Paradise, of the beginning of the Bible, as we do now. The early Christians were told that “Adam fell into a sleep,” and that this was the sleep in which Adam, looking back, perceived the visions described in the beginning of Genesis. It is only in our day that the belief has grown that such words as “Adam fell into a sleep” are just an accident. They are no accident. Every word in the Bible has a deep meaning and only he can understand the Bible who knows how to value every single word.
That is the first thing. Then, however, in the pre-Christian Mysteries something special had to take place. When the pupil had performed his exercises for a long period — and this lasted for a very long time — when he had received what was necessary to produce order in the soul., when he had absorbed what we now call Anthroposophy, then he was at last able to participate in the old initiation proper. In what did this old initiation consist?
It is not sufficient that organs be formed in the astral body. They must be imprinted in the etheric body. Just as the letter of a seal is imprinted in sealing wax, so must the organs of the astral body be imprinted in the etheric body. For this purpose the neophyte in ancient initiations was brought into a particular condition. For three and a half days he lay in a death-like condition. We shall see more and more that this condition cannot and may not be brought about in our day, but that there are now other means of initiation. I am now describing the pre-Christian initiation, in which the neophyte was for three and a half days put into a death-like condition by the hierophant. Either he was laid in a kind of small chamber, a kind of grave where he lay in a death-like sleep, or he was bound in a particular position with outstretched hands on a cross, for this facilitated the arrival of the condition aimed at.
From many different lectures we know that death takes place in a man through the etheric withdrawing together with the astral body and the “I,” and only the physical body remaining behind, At death something takes place which otherwise has never occurred between birth and death in the ordinary course of life. The etheric body never, even in the deepest sleep, leaves the physical body, but is always within it. At death it leaves the physical body. Now during the death-like condition part at least of the etheric body leaves the physical body, so that a part of the etheric body which was within it before, in this condition finds itself outside. This is described, as you know, in more exoteric lectures by saying that the etheric body is withdrawn. That is not actually the case, for we can only now make the necessary fine distinctions. In the three and a half days during which the Priest-Initiate carefully watched over the neophyte, only the lower part of the body of the pupil was united with the etheric body. This is the stage when the astral body, with all the organs formed in it, imprints itself in the etheric body. At this moment illumination takes place. When the neophyte was awakened after three and a half days, what is called illumination had come to him, that which had to follow after purification, which consists merely in the development of the organs of the astral body. The pupil was now a “knower” in the spiritual world; what he had previously seen was only a preparatory stage of vision. This world consisting of forms somewhat resembling plants was now supplemented by essentially new structures.
We have now to describe more exactly what the initiate then began to see. When he had been led to illumination it was clear to him when he was awakened, that he had seen something which he had previously never been able consciously to grasp. What then had he seen? What was he able to call up in a certain sense before his soul as an important memory-picture of his vision? If we wish to understand what he had seen we must cast a glance at the evolution of man. We must remember that man has only gradually gained the degree of individual consciousness he now possesses. He could not always say “I” to himself as he does to-day. We need only go back to the time when the Cherusci, the Heruli, etc., lived in the parts now inhabited by the Germans. The different human beings did not then feel themselves as separate human egos, but as members of the tribe. Just as a finger does not feel itself to be something existing independently, so each Cheruscan did not feel that he could unconditionally say “I” to himself; his “I” was the “I” of the whole tribe. The tribe represented a single organism and a group of men who were related by blood had one “I”-soul in common. In those days you yourselves were members of a great community, just as to-day your two arms belong to your “I.” This may be clearly seen in the case of the people dealt with in the Old Testament. Each single member felt himself to be a member of the race. The individual did not speak of himself in the highest sense when he uttered the ordinary “I,” but he felt something deeper when he said “I and the Father Abraham are one.” For he felt a certain “I”-consciousness which descended from Abraham through all the generations to each member of the race. That which was related by blood was included in one “I.” It was like a common group-soul-“I” which included the whole race and those that understood the matter said: That which really forms our inmost immortal being dwells not in the separate members but in the entire race. All of the several members belong to this common “I.” Hence one who understood the matter knew that when he died he united himself with an invisible being which reached back to Father Abraham. The individual really felt that he returned into Abraham's bosom. He felt that his immortal part found refuge, as it were, in the group-soul of the race. This group-soul of the entire race could not descend to the physical plane. The people themselves saw only the separate human forms, but these were to them not the reality, for this was in the spiritual world. They dimly felt that that which flowed through the blood was the Divine. And because they had to see God in Jehovah they called this Divinity “Jahve” or also his Countenance, “Michael.” They considered Jahve as the spiritual group-soul of the people.
The individual human being on the physical plane could not see these spiritual beings. The initiate, on the other hand, who experienced the great moment when the astral body was imprinted in the etheric body, was able to see first of all the most important group-souls. When we look back into ancient periods of humanity we everywhere find that the present “I” has developed from such a group-consciousness, a group-ego; so that when the seer looks back he finds that the individual human beings flow together more and more into the group-souls. Now there are four chief types of group-souls, four prototypes. If we observe all the various group-souls of the different souls we notice a certain similarity but there are also differences. If we classify them there are four groups, four types. The spiritual observer sees them clearly when he looks back to the time when man was not yet in the flesh, when he had not descended to the earth. We must now consider more exactly the moment when from the spiritual regions man descended into flesh. This can only be represented in great symbols.
There was a time when our earth was composed of very much softer material than it is now, when rock and stone were not so solid, when the forms of the plants were quite different, when the whole was as if embedded like a primeval ocean in water-caves, when air and water were not separated, when all the beings now dwelling on the earth, the animals and plants, were developed in water. When the minerals began to assume their present form, man emerged from invisibility. The neophyte saw it in this way: Surrounded by a kind of shell, man descended from the regions which are now the regions of air. He was not yet as physically condensed when the animals already existed in the flesh. He was a delicate airy being even in the Lemurian epoch and he so developed that the spiritual picture presents the four group-souls: On one side something like the image of a Lion, on the other the likeness of a Bull, up above something like an Eagle and below something similar to Man. Such is the spiritual picture. Thus man moves forth from the darkness of the spirit-land. And the force which formed him appears as a kind of rainbow. The more physical powers surround the entire structure of this human being like a rainbow (Rev. 4). We have to describe this development of man in various realms and in various ways. The above description represents the way it appears to the investigator when he looks back and sees how these four group-souls have developed out of the common Divine-human which descends. From time immemorial this stage has been symbolized in the form represented in the second of the so-called seven seals. 1Dr. Steiner is referring to the seven symbolic Seals which had been drawn from his indications. They showed stages of human evolution visible in the astral world to the seer. See Occult Seals and Columns with introduction by Rudolf Steiner. That is the symbolic representation, but it is more than a mere symbol.
There you see these four group-souls emerging from an indefinite background, the rainbow surrounding it and the number twelve. Now we must understand what this number twelve signifies. When that which has just been described is seen coming forth, there is a clairvoyant feeling that it is surrounded by something of an entirely different nature from that which emerges from the indeterminate spiritual. In ancient times that by which it is surrounded was symbolized by the Zodiac, by the twelve signs of the Zodiac. The moment of entering into spiritual vision is connected with many other experiences. The first thing perceived by one whose etheric body goes forth is that it seems to him as if he grew larger and larger and extended himself over what he then perceives. The moment comes when the initiate says: “I do not merely see these four forms, but I am within them, I have expanded my being over them.” He identifies himself with them. He perceives that which is symbolized by the constellations, by the number twelve. We shall best understand that which spreads itself around, that which reveals itself, if we remember that our earth has passed through previous incarnations. We know that before the earth became earth it went through the condition of Saturn, then through that of Sun, then through that of Moon, and only then did it become our present earth. This was necessary, for only in this way was it possible for the beings we see on the earth around us to come forth as they have done. They had gradually to work through those changing forms.
So when we look back into the primeval past we see the first condition of our earth, that of ancient Saturn which at the beginning of its existence did not even shine. It consisted of a kind of warmth. You would not have been able to see it as a shining globe, but had you approached you would have come into a warmth space, because it then consisted only of warmth.
Someone might now ask: Did then the development of the world begin with Saturn? Have not perhaps other conditions brought about that which became Saturn? Was not Saturn preceded by other incarnations? It would be difficult to go back before Saturn because only with Saturn begins something without which it is impossible to go beyond Saturn, namely, that which we call time. Previously there were other forms of being; that is to say, we cannot really speak of a “before,” because time did not yet exist. Even time had a beginning! Before Saturn there was no time, there was only eternity, duration. All was then simultaneous. Only with Saturn did it come about that events followed one another. In that state of the world where there is only eternity, duration, there is also no movement. For time belongs to movement. There is no circulation, no revolution; there is duration and rest. As one says in Spiritual Science: there is blissful rest in duration. That is the expression for it. Blissful rest in duration preceded that Saturn condition. The movement of the heavenly bodies only entered with Saturn. The path indicated by the twelve signs of the Zodiac was conceived of as signs, and the time during which a planet passed through one of these constellations was spoken of as a cosmic hour; twelve cosmic hours, twelve hours of day and twelve of night! To each cosmic body, Saturn, Sun and Moon, is reckoned a consecutive number of cosmic hours which are grouped into cosmic days; and of these periods of time seven are outwardly perceptible and five are more or less outwardly imperceptible. We distinguish there-fore seven Saturn revolutions or seven great Saturn days and five great Saturn nights. We might also say five days and seven nights, for the first and last “days” are twilight days. We are accustomed to call these seven revolutions, these seven cosmic days, Manvantaras, and the five cosmic nights, Pralayas. If we wish to have it exactly correspond to our reckoning of time, we reckon two planetary conditions together, that is, Saturn and Sun, Moon and Earth; and we then get twenty-four revolutions. These twenty-four revolutions form important epochs in the representation of the world and we picture these twenty-four revolutions ruled by beings in the universe who are represented in the Apocalypse as the twenty-four Elders, the twenty-four rulers of the cosmic revolutions, the cosmic periods. In the seal (shown by Dr. Steiner) they are typified as the cosmic clock. The numbers on the clock are here only interrupted by the double crowns of the Elders to indicate that these are the Time-Kings because they rule the revolutions of the cosmic bodies. The initiate sees this when he first looks back into the picture of the past.
We must now ask: Why does the initiate see this picture? Because in it are represented symbolically in astral pictures the forces which have formed the human etheric body in its present shape, and corresponding with this the physical body. Why this is so you may easily imagine. Imagine a man lying in bed. With his astral body and “I” he leaves the physical body and etheric body. But now the physical and etheric bodies as they are to-day, belong to the present physical human body; and to the present etheric body belong the astral body and the “I.” This physical and this etheric body cannot exist alone. They have become what they are because the astral body and “I” have been membered into them. Only a physical body which contains neither blood nor nerves can exist without an astral body and “I.” That is the reason why the plant can exist without astral body and “I,” because it has neither blood nor nervous system, for the nervous system is connected with the astral body and the blood with the “I.” There is no being having a nervous system in the physical body which is not permeated by an astral body and there is no human being having a blood system in the physical body into which the “I” has not entered. Think of what you do every night. You callously desert your physical and etheric bodies and leave them with the blood and nervous systems to themselves. If it merely depended upon you, your physical body would have to die every night through your deserting your nervous and blood systems; it would die the very moment the astral body and “I ” left the physical and etheric bodies. But the spiritual investigator sees how other beings, higher spiritual beings, then occupy it. He sees how they pass into it and do what man does not do in the night, namely, take care of the blood and nervous systems. These are the same beings, however, who have created man, in so far as he consists of a physical body and etheric body, not only to-day but from incarnation to incarnation. They are the same beings who caused the first rudiments of the physical body to originate upon ancient Saturn and who formed the etheric body upon the Sun. These beings who from the very beginning of the Saturn and Sun periods have ruled in the physical and etheric bodies, now rule every night while man is asleep and basely leaves his physical and etheric bodies, surrendering them to death, so to speak; they penetrate and take care of his blood and nervous systems.
Hence, too, it is comprehensible that at the moment when the astral body touches the etheric body in order to imprint itself in it, man is then pervaded by those forces which have formed him; he then sees the picture of the forces which are symbolized in the seal. That which upholds him in life and connects him with the whole universe flashes out at this moment of initiation. He sees what has formed the two members of his being, the physical body and etheric body, that which preserves their life every night; but he himself has still no share in it for he cannot yet work into these two principles of his being. If it depended upon man, the physical body and the etheric body, which during the night lie on the bed, would be condemned to a plant existence, for he leaves them to themselves. Hence to man the state of sleep is an unconscious condition such as the plant always possesses.
Now what has happened, in the case of an ordinary man, with that which has withdrawn during sleep? What has become of the astral body and the “I”? These also are unconscious during the night. The ordinary man experiences nothing in his astral body during sleep at night. But suppose a person were passing through the seven stages of the John-initiation — those important stages in Christian initiation — he experiences not merely what has been described up to now; quite apart from the fact that when the astral body touches the etheric body he is able to develop clairvoyant power, something else would come about. He becomes conscious of the soul-peculiarities, the human soul-qualities of the astral and devachanic worlds from which his soul is really born. To this picture is added a still higher symbol which seems to fill the whole world. To this symbol of the old initiation there is added for one who passes through the stages of the initiation of John something else which may best be represented by the first seal. The Christian initiation possessed this as the symbol of the old initiation. We are now presenting these things from the standpoint of Christianity, which, however, has to receive then and change them into something different. He sees a spiritual vision (Rev. i, 12) of the Priest-king with the golden girdle, with feet which seem to consist of cast metal, his head covered with hair as of white wool, out of his mouth a fiery sword flaming and in his hand the seven cosmic-stars, Saturn, Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus.
The form in the centre of the second picture seal was only indicated in the old initiation as the fifth of the group-souls. It is that which only existed germinally in ancient humanity and only came forth as what is described as the Son of Man who rules the stars when he fully appears to man in his true form.
Thus from this symbolical representation we must first of all clearly understand that the separation of the various principles in present-day humanity — physical body and etheric body on the one hand and astral body and “I” upon the other — may be so considered, that each may contribute its part, as it were, to initiation, first of all through the form of initiation when the astral body touches the etheric body, when the four group-souls flash out, and then in the treatment of the astral body so that this too acquires the ability to see. Previously the highest vision in the super-sensible world had only reached as far as a kind of plant experience of the world. Through the Christian initiation a higher stage of initiation is reached in the astral body. Here you have the two things mentioned at the beginning of the Apocalypse described from the principle of initiation itself. The writer of the Apocalypse has, however, described them in the reverse order, and rightly so. He first describes the vision of the Son of Man, the appearance of Him Who is, Who was and Who is to come — and then the other. Both are symbols of what the initiate experiences during initiation.
Thus we have described what happens in certain cases of initiation and what at first is experienced. In our next lecture we shall proceed further to the details of these real, actual experiences and we shall find them reflected in the mighty presentation given in the Apocalypse of John.