Background to the Gospel of St. Mark
IV. The Symbolic Language of the Macrocosm in the Gospel of St. Mark
6 December 1910, Berlin
At the beginning of this lecture Dr. Steiner emphasised that those relatively new to the study of Spiritual Science would find many things difficult to understand. He added that unless the necessary efforts were made by these recent Members to master the elementary principles of Spiritual Science, erroneous ideas would be inevitable.
My book Christianity as Mystical Fact will have made it clear to all of you that if the Gospels are to be rightly understood, they must be regarded as treatises of Initiation. This means that in essence they are adaptations of rites and rituals of Initiation. Scripts of this nature indicated the path along which the candidate was led step by step to the higher worlds, how he must undergo certain experiences and awaken forces slumbering in his soul, how each higher stage was related to the one below, until at the stage of Initiation itself the spiritual world penetrated into his soul and revealed its mysteries. At this stage he gazed into the spiritual worlds and a vista of the Beings of the Hierarchies lay open before him. The content of these Initiation-scripts, then, was a description of the experiences which every candidate for Initiation had to undergo.
In pre-Christian times many human beings were initiated in the different centres of the Mysteries. Generally speaking the process was the same, although there were variations in details. The candidates were led stage by stage to the point where they were able to gaze into the spiritual world and the Beings of the Hierarchies were before them as spiritual — not physical — realities. That is what happened in pre-Christian times. But what did Christianity, what did the Christ Impulse signify for those who had been initiated in the ancient Mysteries? It signified that a Being, known in the physical world as Jesus of Nazareth, had revealed the secrets of the spiritual world in a new way, not in the way that had been customary in the pre-Christian Mysteries. A man who had been initiated according to the ancient rites was able to speak to others about the secrets of the spiritual worlds. But the Christ Event meant that something had come to pass whereby without having traversed the usual paths, Jesus of Nazareth was able to speak of these secrets through what happened at the Baptism in Jordan, when the Christ Being entered into him. From the moment when in an event of supreme historical significance, Jesus of Nazareth was thus initiated, the Christ Spirit spoke to those around Him of the secrets of the spiritual worlds. Christ made manifest on the physical plane, for all the world to see, something that in former times could be attained only in the secrecy of the Mysteries by those who were to be initiated: they could then go forth and speak to their fellow-men of the secrets of the spiritual worlds. We can imagine ourselves looking into sanctuaries of the ancient Mysteries and seeing how the aspirants were initiated by the Hierophants and were then able to look into the spiritual worlds and go forth to teach of them. All the rites of Initiation took place in the deepest secrecy of the temples; and outside the Mysteries there was no possibility of speaking at first hand about the spiritual worlds. But now, what had been enacted time and time again in the secrecy of the Mysteries was brought into the open in Palestine, presented there as an historical event, as the story of Jesus of Nazareth, which culminated in an Initiation of supreme significance in world-history. This was the Mystery of Golgotha. The supreme Mystery enacted as an historic fact before the eyes of all the world — this is how we must picture the connection of the Mystery of Golgotha with the Mysteries of pre-Christian times.
Now the directives for Initiation, although concerned in essentials with the same stages, differed in details among the peoples living in different parts of the Earth and these directives were adapted to the nature of the individuals living in different places at different times. Let us think of the soul of one of those generally called the Evangelists who participated in the writing of our Gospels. From their own occult training such men had some knowledge of the directives for Initiation among various peoples and in various Mysteries. They knew what experiences a man must undergo before he could proclaim the secrets of the spiritual worlds and of the Hierarchies. And now, through the events in Palestine and the Mystery of Golgotha, they had been made aware that what could previously be witnessed only by those who had attained Initiation in the Mysteries, had taken place openly on the stage of world-history and would enter more and more deeply into the hearts and souls of all men.
The Evangelists were not biographers in our sense of the word. They did not include in their writings details of no significance to the world which it is quite unnecessary for anyone to know. They were not the kind of biographers who ferret out every detail of a man's private affairs. They described the life of Christ by saying that in Jesus of Nazareth, in whom the Christ was present, something happened which had been witnessed again and again in the Mysteries but never as an historic event, concentrated into a few years. It was now an historic reality, yet it was a repetition of the temple-rituals. — The life of Jesus could therefore have been described by specifying the stages passed through in other circumstances during the process of Initiation.
The directives for Initiation in the ancient Mysteries are found again in the Gospels and indications are given there of the reason why what had formerly taken place in the deep secrecy of the temples had now been transferred to the great arena of world-history. And it is the writer of St. Mark's Gospel who, at the outset, states why he is in a position to write of an historic event which in fact fulfils a rule of Initiation though enacted on an infinitely greater scale. From the beginning he speaks of how humanity has developed in such a way that this great event might come to pass and Initiation might be transferred from the secrecy of the temple-sanctuaries to the arena of history. He proclaims that this is connected with an event foretold by the Hebrew prophets. For the Mystery of Golgotha had been foreseen and foretold by the true Initiates, among whom the Hebrew prophets may, in a certain sense, be included.
If we try to penetrate into the soul of a man such as the prophet Isaiah, the meaning of the words at the beginning of St. Mark's Gospel is approximately this: that a time will come when the souls of men will not be as they are at present. This time is already now being prepared for. — This was Isaiah's view in his own day. What did he really mean? The deeply impressive words of this prophet with which St. Mark's Gospel begins, are, as you know, usually rendered:
‘Behold, I send my messenger before thy face which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness. Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.' 1Dr. Steiner quoted the translation by Carl Weizsacker.
In these words the prophet Isaiah points to the greatest event in all world-history — the Mystery of Golgotha in Palestine. You know what trouble we have had when studying the other Gospels to make the most important passages to some extent intelligible in translation. What really matters is to render the turns of phrases in a way that will convey the profound meaning of the original language. The words should not merely lend themselves to theoretical interpretation but be able to arouse feelings similar to those aroused in men who understood the inherent character of the language in current use. Language at that time was not as abstract, dry and prosaic as it has now become. Its character as the means of verbal expression was such that in addition to the usual meaning of the words spoken the hearer was always aware of a richer significance and fullness of content and knew precisely what that content indicated. At that time a whole world of meaning was heard in the words. The ancient Hebrew language was particularly rich in this respect, even when the picture used was drawn from the realm of the senses. Phrases such as ‘prepare the way’ or ‘make his paths straight’ are pictures derived entirely from the sense-world — as if a way, or a path, were being prepared with spades and shovels. But it was a peculiar feature of Hebrew — a language of outstanding grandeur among the others — that behind these expressions which were applied to outer things, spiritual worlds could be apprehended with great exactness. Fanciful interpretations were unheard of and the procedure was unlike that adopted by our modern scholars when they read all sorts of implications into the works of poets. Arbitrary interpolations were quite impossible. This was partly because in the ancient Hebrew language the vowels were not marked in the script, and by varying them, world-secrets could be revealed in the sounds themselves. In those days men had a true feeling for all this.
In Greek — the language of the Gospel texts — this was no longer the case to the same extent. All the same, far better renderings than those produced by most translators of the Gospels would have been possible, even without occult knowledge. What has happened is that for the most part one translator has just copied another without any searching philological study of the passages in the Greek texts. Later on I will give you definite examples of errors that have been made. I do not want to interrupt our study to-day and will try, not on a philological basis but with the help of knowledge derived from spiritual-scientific investigations, to clarify the most significant passage occurring at the beginning of the Gospel of St. Mark. The following is a prophecy of Isaiah, showing what the event of Palestine was to mean.
The Greek text is as follows:
(Idou egō apostellō ton angelon mou pro prosōpou sou, hos kataskeuasei tēn hodon sou emprosthen sou,
Phōnē boōntos en tē erēmō: Hetoimasate tēn hodon Kyriou, eutheiās poieite tās tribous autou.) 2Translation in the Authorised Version. Mark i, 2-3: ‘Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’
It is essential to realise from the beginning that the word Angelos (‘angel’ or ‘messenger’) was used in those ancient times only in the sense in which we use it when, in speaking of the Hierarchies, we are referring to the Beings of the hierarchical rank immediately above man. When the words τόѵ ἂγγελόѵ occur, we must realise that a Being of this rank is meant; otherwise the whole sense of the passage will be lost. Spiritual Science alone can provide the basis for understanding such a passage. But once understood it can be a foundation for what occultism has to say about the Christ-event. What is the fundamental significance of the Christ Impulse? We have expressed it as follows. — Through the Christ Impulse the human soul became conscious for the first time that an Ego, an ‘I’, was to find a place within it, a self-conscious ‘I’ through which in the further course of Earth-evolution there must be revealed all the secrets formerly revealed by the astral body through natural clairvoyance.
In the epoch of post-Atlantean culture preceding our own, men were still endowed, to some extent, with faculties of clairvoyance which enabled them to see into the spiritual world. In certain abnormal conditions of soul the secrets of the spiritual world streamed into them and they were able to gaze into the realms of the Hierarchies. Vision of the Hierarchy of the Angels persisted the longest and was the most frequent. The Angels were known as Beings belonging to the rank immediately above man. In the times of ancient clairvoyance men were not aware that they themselves possessed a faculty capable of leading them into the spiritual worlds; they regarded this possibility as a grace vouchsafed to them from without, as the implanting of spiritual powers in their souls. Hence the Prophets could point to the future, saying: “The time will come when man will be conscious of his ‘I’ and know that it is by the self-conscious ‘I’ that the secrets of the spiritual worlds will be unveiled. Man will be able to say: I penetrate into the secrets of the spiritual world through the power of the ‘I’ within me.”
But preparation was necessary before this stage could be reached. As the lowest rank of the Hierarchies, man had to be prepared by being sent an example of what he must become. The ‘Messenger’ or ‘Angel’ was to proclaim to man that he was to become an ‘I’ in the full sense of the word. And whereas the mission of earlier Angels had been to reveal the spiritual world, it was now the mission of a particular Angel to carry the revelations to a further stage, to make known to man that he was to enter into full possession of the Ego, the ‘I’. The earlier revelations were of a different character, not intended for a self-conscious ‘I’.
Isaiah proclaimed that the time of the mystery of the ‘I’ was to come and that from the host of the Angels one would be deputed to announce this. — Only in this sense can we understand what is meant when it is said that the Angel, the Messenger, was ‘sent before’ — that is to say, sent before man who was to become a self-conscious ‘I’. The one who had been ‘sent before’ was to come as a Being of the Hierarchy of Angels. No Angel had yet spoken to man as a self-conscious ‘I’. So this messenger of whom the prophet Isaiah speaks is to make men aware that they must prepare to make a place in their souls for the ‘I’, the fully independent ‘I’. This passage therefore draws attention to a great revolution in the development of the human soul: whereas hitherto men had always to go out of their bodies in order to reach the spiritual world, henceforward they would be able to remain within their own ‘I’ and draw forth from the ‘I’ itself the secrets of that world.
Let us compare a soul of remote antiquity with a soul living near the time of Christ. When a man of very early pre-Christian centuries strove to rise into the higher worlds he could not retain even the degree of self-consciousness so far developed. He was obliged to discard all consciousness of self and be transported into the world of the Hierarchies, the world of pure spirituality. His consciousness was entirely suppressed. — Such were the conditions in the early pre-Christian era.
What, then, was the situation of a man living in times when in order to enter the spiritual world it was no longer necessary for self-consciousness to be suppressed but when the stage had been reached for the development of the ‘I’? Even in the Atlantean epoch the ‘I’ was already present — in a certain sense; but complete assurance that the greatest secrets and mysteries could flow from the ‘I’ itself was brought by the Christ Impulse. That is why a man who had achieved the old type of Initiation felt that if he desired to penetrate into the spiritual world and receive its revelations, he must suppress a certain part of his soul and make other parts of it particularly active. The part of his inner being that was gradually to grow into the ‘I’ had to be suppressed, darkened, to become a desolate waste in the soul. On the other hand the astral body — the body which could make a certain degree of clairvoyance possible — must be fired into activity. And then the old clairvoyant visions lit up within it.
I said that the ‘I’ was in a certain sense already present, but could not be used to investigate the secrets of the spiritual world. The ‘I’ had to be suppressed, the astral body fired into activity. But more and more it became impossible to quicken the impulses in the astral body. In olden times one of man's most elementary powers was that he was able to suppress the ‘I’ and kindle the astral body into activity; the secrets of the spiritual world then streamed into him. But progress in evolution was actually achieved just because the astral body became more and more incapable of receiving the secrets of the spiritual world. Man was obliged to admit to himself that his astral body was becoming more and more incapable of attaining what human beings had once been able to attain with the old faculty of clairvoyance, and the ‘I’ within him was not strong enough yet to achieve anything itself.
It was the best clairvoyants who were the most strongly aware of something barren, something desolate in the soul. This was the ‘I’, to which no impulse had yet been given. They were aware, too, how impossible it was to reach the spiritual world through the ‘I’. This will give you an idea of the feelings and mood of a man living in the period just before the coming of Christ. Such a man was bound to say to himself that he could no longer unfold in his astral body the powers it once possessed: but as yet he had no alternative impulse, so that there was something barren in his soul, something that could not rise into the spiritual world.
When the time for the Christ Impulse was drawing near, certain methods of training were adopted with the object of acquainting men with that province of the soul which could not yet be filled with the spirit. An individual who aspired to gain entry into the higher worlds was told that he could not rise into those worlds in his astral body, that he must withdraw into that province within him where he would feel as though he had no contact at all with the external world.
This was the mood of soul in an aspirant for Initiation at the time of the Christ Impulse. He said to himself: I must abandon all hope of reaching the spiritual world through the powers of my astral body; the time for that is past and the ‘I’ is still not ready. But from something within me that is trying to emerge and to penetrate into the spiritual world, I can surmise — no more than surmise — that it is striving with might and main to receive the spiritual impulse.
This experience, known in those days to every seeker for the light of the spirit, was called ‘the way into the solitude of the soul’, or also, ‘the way into the solitude’. The messenger who was to prepare for the Christ-event had therefore to describe the way into the solitude to those who wished to hear about the approaching Impulse. He had himself to know the depths of solitude, to preach from actual experience of the solitude of the soul.
In your study of St. Mark's Gospel you will come to realise more and more clearly that certain lofty spiritual Beings through whom matters of vital importance in human evolution are to take place, look for their instruments in suitable beings of flesh and blood and then descend to live in the soul incarnated in such a body. The messenger of whom Isaiah spoke — who must not be thought of as a man in the ordinary sense — took possession of the soul of the reincarnated Elias — John the Baptist — lived in him and was destined to proclaim to men that the Christ Impulse was at hand.
Where, then, did the voice of this messenger resound? It resounded in what I have just described to you as. ‘the solitude of the soul’. In St. Mark's Gospel we read: ‘Hear the cry in the solitude of the soul’. ὲν τῇ ὲpήμω (tē erēmō) must not be translated as if the image of a ‘wilderness’ were meant in an external sense. ὲν τῇ ὲpήμω really means: in the solitude. The imagery used helps us to glimpse the spiritual world.
We shall have a truer understanding of this expression if we devote a little study to the meaning conveyed by another word, Kyrios, or Lord, as in the usual rendering of this passage. ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord.’ The actual meaning is still discernible in the Greek but can be confirmed by comparison with ancient tradition. In the language of those early times the meaning of a word such as this was not as abstract and shallow as it is to-day. In the age of materialism men have become superficial in their attitude to language and no longer feel as they once did, that words are the bodies of soul-beings, soul-realities, that a whole world lives in the words. The most that can be done to-day is to try to revive something of this feeling, as I have attempted to do in the Mystery Play, The Portal of Initiation.
What men felt when they uttered the word Kyrios in circumstances such as those indicated, was that it was an image, a picture, of happenings in the inner life of the soul. They felt the ‘I’ rising upwards from the depths towards the surface of the soul as the appearance of a Lord and Master, the Director and Ruler of the soul-forces. Nowadays we speak of thinking, feeling and willing as servants of the soul. But within the soul there is a Lord, a Kyrios: the ‘I’ or Ego. In olden times man could not say: ‘I think’. He said: ‘It thinks’ — or, ‘it feels, it wills in me.’
At the time when the Lord of the soul-forces, the ‘I’, appeared as Ruler, the result of this crucial change in the evolution of humanity was that man now said: ‘I think, I feel, I will.’ Hitherto the soul had lived in a certain subconscious state, the captive as it were of its own forces. Now, the Lord of those forces, the ‘I’, was at hand. This passage in St. Mark's Gospel does not refer to any personality or being but to the emergence of the ‘I’ as the Lord in the whole structure of the soul. ‘The Lord within the soul is at hand.’
This was also made known in the temples where preparation was in train for what was now to take place in mankind. In a mood of holy awe and reverence it was affirmed: Hitherto the soul has had within it only the forces of thinking, feeling and willing — they are its servants: but now the Lord, the Kyrios, is drawing near. — This mighty process will continue to unfold until the end of the Earth-period and its power will constantly increase. The impulse is given by Christ and His life marks the supreme moment in earthly time. The hour on the cosmic clock indicates the point when the ‘I’ becomes more and more powerful as Lord of the soul-forces. The goal will be attained when the Earth dies in the Cosmos and man rises to higher stages of existence.
Only if you are able to feel what this means can you have an idea of what was prophesied by Isaiah and repeated by John the Baptist. Both of them wished to call attention to the crucial event in the evolution of the human soul. But the word εὐθεἱαç (eutheiās) must not be translated ‘straight’, as is usual; the right rendering is ‘open’ — that is to say, not only ‘straight’ but ‘open’, meaning that the paths along which the Kyrios comes to the human soul are clear. But man must himself do something to enable the Kyrios to take hold of the soul. The way must be made free, must be made open. In short, if the passage is to be translated at all intelligibly and at the same time kept fairly close to the conventional version, it would run somewhat as follows:
‘Mark well!’ — ‘behold’ is not really correct — ‘I send my angel before the ‘I’ in you; he will prepare the way. Hear the cry in the solitude of the soul’ — the cry for the Lord of the soul. (The word ‘soul’ is not actually used but was intuitively understood.) ‘Prepare the way of the Lord of the soul; labour to make the path open for him.’
These sentences give an approximate idea of what can be felt in the words of Isaiah. The Angel in the soul of John the Baptist used them once again.
What made this possible? To answer this question we shall have to give some thought to the nature of John the Baptist's own Initiation and to its effect in his soul.
You know from earlier lectures 3See Macrocosm and Microcosm, notably lectures 1 and 3. A course of eleven lectures given in Vienna, March 1910. that a man can be initiated either by descending into the depths of his own soul or by being prepared in such a way that his soul passes out of the body and its forces pour into the Macrocosm. Among different peoples these two paths were adopted in very diverse forms. When a man wished to pour his soul into the Macrocosm, the twelve stages to be passed were symbolised, so to speak, by the twelve signs of the Zodiac. The souls flowed out in particular directions, to particular regions of the Macrocosm. Generally speaking, a very great deal was achieved, especially for the realisation of some particular purpose in world-evolution, when a soul had developed so far that it could receive all the forces originating from the cosmic secrets of a particular zodiacal constellation. The practice in all the ancient rites of Initiation was that a candidate should be initiated into the secrets of the Macrocosm in such a way that his soul flowed out in the direction, let us say, of Capricorn, or in the case of other candidates, in the directions of Cancer, Libra, Virgo, and so on. I have said repeatedly that there are twelve different possibilities of passing out into the Macrocosm, directions indicated symbolically by the twelve constellations of the Zodiac. If a candidate was unable at once to attain the highest Initiation, the Sun Initiation, but could achieve a partial Initiation only, his soul was directed to the secrets connected with one particular constellation. But his vision must become independent of everything material. This meant that either in the rites of the Mysteries or, as in the case of John the Baptist, by grace from above, the candidate's gaze was guided to a constellation when the Earth lay between him and the constellation — that is to say, by night. Physical eyes see the physical constellation only. But when vision can penetrate through the material Earth — which means that the constellation is masked by the material Earth — then what is seen is not the physical but the spiritual reality, that is to say, the secrets which the constellation expresses.
The vision of John the Baptist was trained in such a way that at night he could look through the material Earth into the constellation of Aquarius. When the Angel took possession of his soul he had attained the Aquarius Initiation. Thus John the Baptist was able to place all his faculties and all he knew and felt at the disposal of the Angel, in order that through the Angel the secrets connected with the Aquarius Initiation might be proclaimed and the announcement made of the coming of the ‘I’, the χὐριοç, the Lord of the soul-forces.
At the same time, however, the Baptist proclaimed that the time had come when this Aquarius Initiation must be replaced by another, which would make fully intelligible the approaching rulership of the ‘I’. Therefore he said to his intimate disciples: I am one who is able to place at the disposal of my Angel all the forces coming from the Aquarius Initiation: but after me must come one whose forces are derived from an even higher source.
If you follow the course of the Sun in the daytime from the constellation of Aries, through Taurus, Gemini and so on, to Virgo, you must follow its progress at night from Libra on to Aquarius and Pisces. This is the direction of the spiritual Sun. John had attained the Aquarius Initiation and announced that He who was to come after him would possess the powers of the Pisces Initiation — the Initiation that followed his own and was regarded as the higher. Hence John the Baptist declared to his disciples: Through the Aquarius Initiation I can place at the disposal of my Angel only those powers which enable him to proclaim the coming of the χὐριοç the Lord; but there will come One who has the powers symbolised by the Pisces Initiation; and into him the Christ Himself will enter!
With these words John the Baptist pointed to Jesus of Nazareth; and for this reason, tradition assigned to Christ Jesus the symbol of Pisces, the Fishes. Moreover because every outer event is a symbol for inner happenings, fishermen were assigned as helpers of the Pisces Initiate. All these happenings are external, historical events and at the same time profoundly symbolic of the spiritual secrets.
John proclaimed: A higher form of Initiation will be vouchsafed to mankind! He himself could give only the Initiation that comes from Aquarius and he called himself an Aquarian, a Water-man. We must realise more and more clearly that astronomical and cosmic secrets are connected with the images used to express the secrets of Man. John said: ‘I have baptised you with water!’ Baptism with water lay within the power of those who had received from heaven the Initiation of Aquarius. The spiritual Sun progresses from Aquarius to Pisces (representing the progress from John the Baptist to Jesus of Nazareth) and when a being appeared in the world who had attained the Initiation of the Fishes and was therefore able to receive the spiritual impulse which must be the instrument of the Pisces Initiation — it was then possible for him to baptise, not only as John had baptised, with water, but in the higher sense described by John as ‘baptism with the Holy Ghost’.
In this lecture I have put a twofold conception before you. First: the words at the beginning of St. Mark's Gospel indicate processes in the historical evolution of humanity and speak of a higher Power — an Angel who speaks through the body of John the Baptist. Second: the passages in question relate to happenings in the heavens — the progress of the spiritual Sun from the constellation of Aquarius to the constellation of Pisces. Every line of St. Mark's Gospel contains something that can be read rightly only if in following the words we always have in mind both a human and a cosmic-astronomical meaning, and when we realise that there lives in man something that in its true significance can be found only in the heavens.
We must grasp the connection between the secrets of the Macrocosm and the secrets of human nature more exactly than is usual. At the end of this lecture I can do no more than hint at what lies behind this and I have only wished to give certain hints of these things. In studying St. Mark's Gospel we shall have to plumb depths of wisdom about which you will have to ponder for a very long time if hints are to lead to anything more. I will try to make clear to you in the following way how this Gospel should be read.
A rainbow appears to a child as something real in the sky and until it is explained to him, he thinks that he can touch and take hold of it with his hands. Later on he learns that a rainbow appears only when there is a certain combination of rain and sunshine; when the conditions of rain and sunshine change, the rainbow disappears. The rainbow is therefore not a reality in itself but only a mirage, an illusion; a combination of rain and sunshine is the reality.
Once we make a little progress on the path of occult knowledge we are likely to have an experience which will remind us of the sort of thing I have said about the rainbow, namely that ultimately there is in the external world no solid reality but only appearances which are sustained by factors outside themselves. — And do you know what this chimera is? It is man himself! Man himself is also such an appearance. If you take him as you see him with your physical senses as being reality, you are much mistaken. You are in fact surrendering to maya, to the great ‘non-being’. The word ‘maya’ is derived from mahat aya — mahat = great; ya = being; a = non, negation; hence maya = the great non-being.
On the path of occult development a man reaches the point where he begins to think of himself as something like the rainbow. He is a chimera, like everything that comes before his physical senses. Even the Sun seen as a physical globe is a chimera. When physical science describes it as a globe of gas in cosmic space, that is good enough for practical purposes; but anyone who takes the globe of gas to be a reality is becoming a victim of maya, of illusion, of non-being. The truth is that the Sun is a meeting-place for Hierarchies of spiritual Beings, whose deeds come to expression in the warmth and light streaming from the Sun. The warmth and light themselves are an illusion; our other perceptions are also illusions. Normally we picture ourselves as having a heart in our breast; but that heart is nothing more than an appearance. What we see as a heart is rather like the rings we see around street lamps when we go out in the evening in an autumn mist; the rings are not really there but are the result of definite conditions. This is also true of the human heart. Imagine that this circle represents the vault of heaven and imagine various kinds of forces streaming in from different directions of the heavens and meeting at a particular point of intersection. In ultimate reality, where we think our heart is there is nothing but these heavenly forces that stream in and intersect. If you can somehow ‘think away’ everything except those instreaming forces, then the point of intersection actually is your heart. The same sort of thing is true of our other organs which are in reality only the outcome of intersecting cosmic forces.
Look at it from another point of view. When you move from one place to another you probably think that it is some impulse inside yourself that makes you move. If you do, then you are falling a victim to what we have called maya. The real fact is that there are forces streaming in from the Macrocosm which intersect, and thus evoke an illusion about the direction in which you are walking and the forces which make you walk. Down on Earth all that you really experience is the intersection of cosmic forces. If we want to get at the truth we have to find out what is going on in the Macrocosm and what the upper and lower cosmic forces are doing. Those forces create the effect of making us think we have a heart or a liver and talk as if we were going from place to place. If we want to express all this in terms of actual reality we should have to describe the movements of cosmic forces.
If we want to give an adequate description of the reality of the Baptism administered by John the Baptist, we should have to refer to what the cosmic forces — those symbolised in Aquarius — were requiring him to do. The ultimate decision had been taken in the great World Lodge and in consequence the necessary forces were sent into John. We must therefore read in the cosmic language accounts of what happened at a particular place on Earth. The writer of St. Mark's Gospel read in the heavens the processes corresponding to the events in Palestine. It is cosmic-astronomical events which he is describing, and so he says: Look at things in this way: here you have a wall on which you can see shadows playing, and if you want to know what ‘causes’ the shadows you must look upward to what is casting those shadows. I am giving you an account of what happened at the Jordan, but those happenings are really the means by which others are reflected on Earth. These things that I am describing come about through the interplay of macrocosmic forces active in the heavens.
The writer of this Gospel is therefore describing cosmic forces, phenomena and happenings in the heavens. And what he describes is the expression, the projection, the shadow-image cast by the happenings in the Macrocosm upon the little area of Palestine on the Earth. Only if we are quite clear about this will any real understanding of the greatness and significance of the Gospel of St. Mark be possible. We had first to form an idea of its contents and to understand what is said at the beginning, namely this: The prophet Isaiah foretold that the Lord of the soul-forces will come to men and that the ‘messenger’ will live in John the Baptist; he will prepare men for the approach of the Lord of the soul-forces.
This messenger had to take up his dwelling in the body of a man who had passed through the Aquarius Initiation. John could thus make possible on Earth the work of an individual such as Jesus of Nazareth; Jesus, on His side, had been prepared for the Pisces Initiation and through it was able to receive the Christ into himself.
Events on the Earth are the reflections of cosmic happenings, related to cosmic evolution as the rainbow is related to rain and sunshine. We must study rain and sunshine if we are to describe the true nature of the rainbow. And if we want to understand what lived in the heart of John the Baptist or in the heart of Jesus of Nazareth who became the vehicle of the Christ, we must study cosmic happenings. For the whole Universe was speaking to men in what took place in Palestine and on Golgotha. The Gospel of St. Mark as it stands merely provides the letters for accounts of mighty cosmic happenings. Whoever thinks otherwise is like someone who sees one set of ink-marks here and another there but has no conception of what the word ‘Lord’ signifies. The truth is that what is recounted in this Gospel amounts only to the letters — and moreover even they are an outermost shell. We must rouse ourselves to understand to what the events in Palestine are pointing, as it were in a play of shadows.
Try to grasp what is meant by saying that earthly events are shadows of macrocosmic events and you will then have taken the first step towards a gradual understanding of St. Mark's Gospel — one of the greatest sacred records in the world.