The Foundations of Esotericism
Berlin, 8th October 1905
The present lecture is inserted into this course to shed light on many things spoken of in the other lectures. It will deal with the activity and the nature of the Devas.
At the present time it is very difficult to speak about the Gods or Devas because even those people who still have a positive attitude towards religion and still believe in the Gods, no longer have any living relationship to divine spiritual beings. This living relationship to the Gods, to beings, that is to say, who are exalted far above human beings, has disappeared in the course of the age of materialism. Especially during the materialistic age, which developed from the turning point of the 15th and 16th centuries on into our own time, this living connection with the Gods has been lost. It makes little difference whether a person takes his stand on Darwinian materialism or whether he speaks about the Gods in a more or less religious sense. It is much more to the point to become livingly aware that we ourselves have ascended from lower stages of existence and have yet to ascend to higher stages. We must realise that we have a relationship both with what is below and what is above.
Instruction about the Gods was first systematised by Dionysius the Areopagite, 42In the Acts of the Apostles Chapter 17 v.34 he is mentioned as a pupil of St. Paul. At the end of the 5th century there appeared in Syria under his name the following writings: The Celestial Hierarchies and On the Hierarchy of the Church which in the 9th century were translated from the Greek into Latin by Scotus Erigena. the pupil of the apostle Paul. It was however not written down until the 6th century. This is why scholars deny the existence of Dionysius the Areopagite and speak about the writings of the Pseudo-Dionysius, as though it was in the 6th century that old traditions were first put together. The truth of the matter can only be substantiated by reading in the Akashic Chronicle. The Akashic Chronicle does however teach that Dionysius actually lived in Athens, that he was initiated by Paul and was commissioned by him to lay the foundation of the teaching about the higher spiritual beings and to impart this knowledge to special initiates. At that time certain lofty teachings were never written down but only communicated as tradition by word of mouth. The teaching about the Gods was also given in this way by Dionysius to his pupils, who then passed it on further. These pupils in direct succession were intentionally called Dionysius, so that the last of these, who wrote down this teaching was one of those who was given this name.
This teaching about the Gods, as given by Dionysius, encompasses three times three ranks of divine beings. The three highest are: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones. The next degree: Dominions, Mights, Powers. The third degree: Primal Beginnings, Archangels and Angels.
In the Bible the words ‘In the Beginning’ often occur. They refer to the Primal Beginnings or Archai. ‘In the Beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ This means: The God of the Beginnings, who stands at this stage, created heaven and earth. It was one of the Archai belonging to the Third Rank of the Hierarchies.
Above the Seraphim stand divine Beings whose nature is so exalted that the human power of understanding is not able to comprehend them. After the Third Rank follows the Fourth Hierarchy: Man, as the tenth in the entire sequence.
The names of the Hierarchies do not refer to individuals but to certain stages of consciousness of the great universe, and the Beings move from one stage to another. Eliphas Levi perceived this clearly and laid stress on the fact that with these names one has to do with stages of development, with Hierarchies.
The basis of the Organisation of the Church goes back also to the same Dionysius who formulated the teaching about the Gods. The Church Hierarchy was to be an outer image of the inner Hierarchy of the World. This grandiose thought could only have been carried through if the time had been ripe for an understanding of all this in its true form. Dionysius had bequeathed to his pupils such a teaching in regard to the Church, so that, could it have been realised, a powerful and magnificent Organisation would have come into being. At that time the attempt was made to promulgate the teachings in such a way that the thread was never broken from one teacher to the next, who then also carried on the name. It is therefore not so astonishing that as late as the 6th century a Dionysius committed the teachings to writing. These teachings however could not find general understanding because for this humanity was not yet ripe. They therefore remain as a kind of testament. 43For detailed descriptions of the spiritual hierarchies see Rudolf Steiner: The Spiritual Hierarchies and their Reflection in the Physical World, Zodiac, Planets, Cosmos, and The Spiritual Beings in the Heavenly Bodies and in the Kingdoms of Nature
The further we go back the more living are the concepts man had about Beings standing above humanity.
Now let us develop certain concepts as to how man — the ordinary person in the average cultural environment of our time — meets the Gods. After death the human being first goes through Kamaloka, the condition in which he gradually gets rid of the habits of earthly life and frees himself from his desires. It is actually only in its first stages that the sojourn in Kamaloka is often frightening and terrible. Later man goes through that period of Kamaloka when he has to purify himself from the more delicate connections with the earthly world. This sojourn in Kamaloka is not only important for the person in question; as we shall see, the activity of human beings in the higher conditions of Kamaloka can also be made use of in the world outside them. After Kamaloka man enters into the Devachan condition, where, using the faculties he has won for himself, he works over everything which is necessary in order to build up a new etheric body. On the Arupa Plane of Devachan he has to lay aside everything that he gained by his experiences on the Physical Plane. This is why in esotericism the Greek priests called the soul a bee, the Arupa Plane a beehive and the Physical Plane the flowering meadow.
There is however no need for man to be inactive in the higher regions. During the time he is passing through Kamaloka and the lower Devachanic Planes it might appear that he has nothing else to do than to allow what he began earlier to come to fruition. But man is not inactive there; what he experiences in these conditions is significant for the whole world.
The new incarnation of the human being only has a purpose if he meets conditions which are totally different from the earlier ones. In normal circumstances he returns when the whole situation is so different that what he finds around him is entirely new, so that what he adds to his previous achievement is entirely new. This happens in that period of cosmic time when the sun has progressed from one constellation of the Zodiac to the next. For instance, about 800 BC the sun in spring entered the constellation of the Ram or Lamb and this continued until 1800 AD. Now, at the beginning of spring, it stands in the constellation of the Fishes. Two thousand, six hundred years elapse before the sun passes from one constellation of the zodiac to the next. During this time conditions undergo a fundamental change.
Reincarnation is connected with these epochs, during which the human being is usually incarnated once as a masculine and once as a feminine individuality. In any particular incarnation one is in fact only half a human being. A masculine and a feminine incarnation belong together. Owing to the entirely different physical conditions on the earth a new incarnation is not without purpose. If for example someone was incarnated at the time of Homer (in the sign of the Ram or Lamb, Jason, the Golden Fleece) he would have experienced something quite different from what he would experience now.
These incarnations taken by themselves might appear to be part of a completely mechanical process. There is however nothing outward that is not brought about from within. One must accustom oneself to speak everywhere of a real spirit, to seek for it, and to perceive what is actually happening.
When one looks at the flora and fauna of Europe in our epoch one has to differentiate three zones: a western, a central and an eastern zone. The eastern zone coincides with the Slavonic peoples, the central with the Germanic and the western with the Latin peoples. The materialist believes that human beings have adapted themselves to their circumstances, but this is not so. The different peoples have themselves created their physical conditions. The Folk Spirit works first on the earth, on the plants and the animals into which he enters. The Western European territory has been prepared by the Latin peoples, the Central European by the Germanic, the Eastern European by the Slavonic peoples. Thus human beings first build themselves the house in which they later reside. Now let us ask: When does man work upon the external configuration of the earth? As with everything else in the earthly world, destiny too is prepared by man for himself, and this is partially the case here.
In Kamaloka man is actually engaged in collaborating with work on the animal kingdom, in the transformation of species. The force which brings this about is called by natural scientists ‘adaptability’. Everything however that is called adaptability conceals human activity on the other side of existence. Everything which appears as metamorphosis in the animal kingdom, influencing and altering animal instincts so that animals undergo transformation, takes place through human beings in Kamaloka who are preparing for their next incarnation. There man works on his own house in preparation for his next life. In Kamaloka man works on the fauna and in Devachan on the flora. The transformation of the plant world is the result of Devachanic forces. And the physical world which also changes, the outer conditions of Nature, are influenced from the Arupa Plane, (Higher Devachan). There, man is a co-worker on the rocks, on the mineral kingdom of the earth. It is certainly necessary to have some measure of occult powers in order to make such observations in the appropriate place. It is not by chance that miners [Steiner refers to miners of metals and minerals, not coal] in particular make such observations underground. Novalis's 44See The Christian Mystery, Novalis the Seer lecture 22.12.1908 in the Anthroposophical Quarterly 1967. famous occult faculties are connected with the fact that he was a mining engineer.
When one considers that in the super-sensible regions man is developing certain forces, although while there he has not as yet his full consciousness, one understands that these forces are guided by higher beings, by the Devas. We distinguish different stages of Devas: astral, Rupa-mental and Arupa-mental. Astral Devas have as their lowest member the astral body, just as we have the physical body. Like man, the astral Deva consists of seven members. He possesses therefore, as the seventh, yet another member which is higher than Atma. The Devas are all constituted according to the same principles as man. As development progresses to higher planes a being gains conscious mastery over the corresponding lower planes. On the physical plane today man is only master of the mineral kingdom. There he himself can construct something, but he cannot yet construct a plant or an animal. In the mineral kingdom he has the component parts clearly before him. On the next stage he consciously brings forth the plants (Fifth Round) and then the animals (Sixth Round) and finally he consciously brings forth himself (Seventh Round).
The beings whom we call Devas can do much more than human beings of the Seventh Round. They can make use of regions that lie below their own world. They can, for a particular purpose, form for a short time the body that they need. Thus an astral Deva, if he so wish, can incarnate physically at a definite time.
We can only form definite ideas about the Devas when we take our start from human activity. Up to a certain point, man is free, able to do as he pleases. People however do not work harmoniously together, and therefore the various forces which proceed from human beings must be brought into harmony. What people do must have a general effect, and this must be made to serve a useful purpose in the world. The beings who bring this about are the Devas. They also regulate collective karma. As soon as people unite in a common purpose they have a collective karma which binds them together and leads them on their way, weaving a common karmic thread.
Thus in Russia there existed the sect of the Dukhobors 45Knights of the Spirit or Fighters for the Spirit. They also called themselves ‘Christians of the Spirit’ and believed essentially in inner revelation. The sect arose in the middle of the 18th century and was later dispatched to Trans-Caucasia. Towards the end of the 19th century many of them emigrated to Cyprus and Canada. Tolstoi, who had a strong inner link with them, wrote about them in Followers of Christ in Russia in the year 1895. (warriors of the spirit) who were deeply religious. In naive, but in very beautiful, form they possessed the teachings of Theosophy. These people were banished and apparently no longer had any visible influence. Materialists will say: ‘What purpose could this have served?’ The Dukhobors perished. But all those who were united in this sect will in their next incarnation be united by a common tie, in order later to pour into humanity what they have learned. In such a way groups which have come together work on humanity in subsequent incarnations. The idea that was embodied in their lives then flows out again into the world. One finds the same idea in a deeper form in another such group.
Thus there existed for instance in the Middle Ages the sect of the Manicheans. 46The Manichaeans. Founded by Mani (215 or 216 – 276 A.D) originating in Asia Minor. ‘A powerful spiritual stream to which belonged the Albigenses, Waldenses, and Cathars of the Middle Ages. More distantly connected were the Templars and, through a remarkable interweaving of connections, the Freemasons. This is where the Freemasons actually belong although they had allied themselves with the Rosicrucians.’ Thus run the notes of a lecture by Rudolf Steiner on the Manichacans given in Berlin 11.11.1904. See also Albert Steffen: Mani. The secret of the Manicheans was that they realised that in the future there would be two groups of human beings, the good and the bad. In the Fifth Round there will no longer be a mineral kingdom, but instead a kingdom of evil. The Manicheans knew this. They therefore made it their task already then so to educate people that later they might become educators of the evil men. Again and again a deeper profundity is seen in the sect of the Manicheans.
We have to distinguish the separate wills of individual human beings from the powers which stand behind them in order to unite these individual wills into a common will. In this way we have a collective Karma.
The Rosicrucians spoke about Beings who are connected with groups of people. The physical body belongs to the single human being; the astral body on the other hand already belongs to a group. In one part of his astral body man is connected with a Group Soul. What he cannot yet do for himself is today done for him by a Deva. They are still working on man's astral body. The Devas co-operate even more strongly in what man achieves today through work on his etheric body. We have seen that in a part of Kamaloka man's forces are used in the service of the animal kingdom, but they are guided by the Devas. Thence man is progressing ever further on his way to Devachan.
A special class of Devas are the Planetary Spirits — the Dhyan-Chohanic beings who earlier reached the stage which human beings will only attain much later. They stand at the stage that will only be reached by man in the Sixth and Seventh Rounds. A Planetary Spirit is engaged with others in creative work on certain aspects of planetary evolution.
At present man is active on the physical, astral and devachanic planes. Everything is activity. Now what significance have the Planetary Spirits for man in any particular situation? The activity which is at present being carried out by man, was carried out by the Planetary Spirits during previous stages of evolution, during previous planetary conditions. What they then absorbed they now have within them as wisdom. This enables them to become the teachers of the next planetary epoch. Those Devas who were actively engaged in the formation of the earth were not yet able to recognise the underlying laws; this was only possible for beings at the higher stage of Wisdom. Above the stage of Wisdom is the stage of Will, of manifested activity. The Spirits of Wisdom (Kyriotetes) and the Spirits of Will (Thrones) are the actual leaders of planetary evolution.
At the time when man was still an astral being, before the Lemurian Age, the Devas worked within him and built into him in advance what came forth from him later. Before the Lemurian Age there rose up in the inner being of man a picture of his environment. Feelings of sympathy and antipathy also arose in picture form within him. All this was brought about by the Devas. At that time he was governed by the regency of the Devas. Later he assumed in some measure the regency over himself, becoming a subordinate member in the service of the Devas. Now he is to some extent Godforsaken. Only in the part that is not Godforsaken do the Devas still work within him. The Chela consciously brings to life within him that world which man in the Pre-Lemurian Age had learned to know in pictures. Then desires and passions approached him in the form of auric pictures in which lived the thoughts of the Devas, but it was all in deep twilight consciousness. Now after all this had been lost, man had to struggle to attain conscious seeing of an external world. The further development of Chela-ship consists in gaining this also in complete awareness. He retains throughout full consciousness. The medium, that is to say, mediumship, is a relapse into an earlier age.
What the human being experiences on the physical plane is the skeleton of his creative activity; the foundation for the following periods of evolution. Through his contact with the outer world, faculties are formed within him according to which later planetary activity is ordered, after man himself will have become a planetary spirit.
In our speech we create the foundation for later planetary conditions. What we speak today will actually be present there as foundation, just as the rocks and stones form the foundation of the earth. In one sphere the experiences pass through an involutionary process so that in another sphere they may be able to evolve. An individuality is divine in so far as he is able to breathe out again what he has taken in. The Devas become Devas as soon as they are able to give back again what they have previously absorbed.
It is a primeval wisdom that was absorbed earlier and is now being given back. It is ‘Theosophy’ in as much as the Gods themselves were once the teachers of mankind.
Karma is the law. The Deva is the one who brings the law into application. The angel of the rotation of time brings about the application of the law governing groups of human beings. The single person in a group acts instinctively. The Deva guides the Folk Soul; he is in fact the Folk Soul. The Folk Soul is no abstraction, but a living spirit.