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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Egyptian Myths and Mysteries
GA 106

Lecture 3

The Old Initiation Centers. The Human Form as the Subject of Meditation.

4 September 1908, Leipzig

Yesterday we spoke of the mysterious connection between the earlier evolutionary conditions of our earth and the various world-conceptions of the successive post-Atlantean periods. The remarkable fact emerged that when the Atlantean catastrophe had altered the face of the earth, the holy pre-Vedic Indian culture, in its philosophical conceptions, showed something like a mirror-picture of the events that, in the beginning of the, earth's evolution, took place in that remote past when sun, moon, and earth were still united. What the eye of the spirit beheld at that time was nothing but a spiritually conceived form of what actually existed when our earth stood at the beginning of its evolution.

The second condition of the earth, when the sun had detached itself but earth and moon still formed one body, came to light during the second cultural period, the old Persian, as a philosophic-religious system in the opposition of the light-principle in the sun-aura to the principle of darkness, the opposition of Ormuzd to Ahriman. The third period, the Egyptian-Babylonian-Assyrian, is a spiritual reflection of what took place when earth, sun, and moon had become three bodies. We also pointed out that the trinity of Osiris, Isis, and Horus reflected the third epoch's astral trinity of sun, earth, and moon.

This separation occurred in the Lemurian time. After this followed the Atlantean time, the fourth evolutionary condition of the earth, in which there prevailed conditions of consciousness entirely different from those of today. Through these different forms of consciousness man lived with the gods, he was acquainted with the gods who were later named Wotan, Balder, Thor, Zeus, Apollo, etc. These were beings whom the Atlantean man could perceive with his clairvoyance. We have a repetition of the Atlantean perception of divine-spiritual beings in the memory of the peoples of the Greco-Latin time, and also among the peoples of northern Europe. It was a memory of the experiences of earlier conditions of consciousness. Be it Wotan or Zeus, be it Mars, Hera, or Athena, all were a memory of the spirit-forms of that old world of gods.

Today we must gradually penetrate a little more into the souls of the ancient Indian, Persian, and Egyptian cultures. If we want to form a true picture of the religious experiences of these ancient cultures, we must bear in mind that, the most important parts of the population among these ancient peoples, including the seers, prophets, and enlightened persons, were successors of men who had already lived in the Atlantean time. Furthermore, it was by no means the case that the whole of Atlantean culture was destroyed immediately after the great catastrophe; on the contrary, what remained was gradually carried over and planted into the new time. We will best understand the souls of the post-Atlantean descendants if we steep ourselves in the soul-life of the last Atlanteans.

In the latter Atlantean time men were different one from another, some having retained a high degree of clairvoyant ability. This faculty did not vanish suddenly, but was still present in many of the men who took part in the great migration from west to east. In others, however, it had already disappeared. There were advanced persons and retarded persons and, in accordance with the whole nature of evolution at that time, we can understand that the least advanced were those who were the most clairvoyant, for in a certain way they had remained stationary and had preserved the old Atlantean character. The most advanced were those who had already achieved a physical perceiving of the world, thus approaching our form of day-consciousness. It was they who, ceased to see the spiritual world clairvoyantly at night, and who during their waking hours saw objects with sharper contours. That little handful of whom we have already spoken, who were led by the greatest initiate (generally known as Manu1Echoes of this term were preserved by many peoples: e.g. Menes in Egypt, Manu in India, Minos in Crete, and Manitu in America. ) and his pupils deep into Asia and thence fructified the other cultures, just this handful, being composed of the most advanced men of that time, first lost the ancient gift of clairvoyance for the ordinary relationships of life. For them the true day-consciousness, in which we see physical objects sharply contoured, became ever clearer. Their great leader led this group farthest into Asia, so that they could live in isolation; otherwise they would have come too closely in touch with other peoples who still preserved the old clairvoyance. Only because they remained separated from other peoples for a time could they grow into a new type of man. A colony was established in inner Asia, whence the great cultural streams could flow into the most varied peoples.

Northern India was the first country to receive its new cultural current from this center. It has already been pointed out that these little groups of cultural pioneers nowhere found un-populated territory. Earlier still, before their great migration from west to east, there had been other wanderings, and whenever new stretches of land rose from the sea, they were peopled by the wanderers. The persons sent out from this colony in Asia had to mix with other peoples, all of whom were more backward than they who had been led by Manu. Among these other peoples were many persons who had retained the old clairvoyance.

It was not the custom of the initiates to establish colonies as this is done today; they colonized in a different way. They knew that they had to start with the souls of the persons whom they met in the lands that were to be colonized. The emissaries did not impose what they had to say. They reckoned with what they found. A balance was reached that took into account the needs of the old inhabitants. This reckoned with their religious views, which were based on the memory of earlier epochs, and also with the old clairvoyant disposition. So it was natural that only a handful of the most advanced could develop true concepts. The great masses could form only ideas that were a sort of compromise between the old Atlantean and the post-Atlantean attitudes. Therefore, we find in all these countries, in India, in Persia, in Egypt, whenever the different post-Atlantean cultures appeared, religious ideas which for that age are less advanced, less cultivated; which are nothing but a sort of continuation of the old Atlantean ideas.

To understand what kind of conceptions really appeared in these folk-religions we must form a picture of them. We must transport ourselves into the souls of the last Atlantean population. We must bear in mind that in the Atlantean time man was not unconscious at night, but that he could then perceive just as he perceived by day—if we can speak at all of night or day in that time. By day he perceived the first traces of what we today so clearly see as the world of sense-perceptions. By night he was the companion of the divine spiritual beings. He needed no proof of the existence of gods, just as we today need no proof of the existence of minerals. The gods were his companions; he himself was a spiritual being during the night. In his astral body and ego he wandered about the spiritual world. He was himself a spirit and he met beings who were of like nature with himself.

Naturally, man did not meet only these higher spiritual beings. He also met beings lower than those who were later known as Wotan, Zeus, etc. These were the choicest figures, but by no means the only ones. It was like seeing kings and emperors to day. Many do not see them, yet still believe that there are kings and emperors.

In this state, which was common to everyone, man perceived the surrounding objects in a way different from his perception today. This was true even while he was conscious during the day. We must try to understand what this consciousness of the latter Atlanteans was.

We have described how the divine beings became imperceptible to man when he dived down into his physical body in the morning. He saw objects as though they were surrounded by mist. These were the images of his waking day at that time. But these pictures had another remarkable property, which we must grasp clearly. Let us suppose that such a man approached a pond. He did not see the water in the pond so clearly defined as we do today, but when he directed his attention to it he experienced something quite different. In approaching the pond a feeling arose in him, merely through looking at it, that was like a taste of what lay before him physically, without his having to drink the water. Simply through looking at it he would have felt that the water was sweet or salty. It was not at all like our seeing water today. We see only the surface and do not penetrate into the inner qualities. But while a dim clairvoyance still prevailed, the man who approached the pond had no alien feeling toward it. He felt himself as being within the properties of the water; he did not stand over against the object as we do; it was as though he could penetrate into the water.

If we had encountered a block of salt at that time, we would have noticed its taste as we approached it. Today we must lick it before we perceive what was then given through mere sight. Man was, as it were, within the whole, and he perceived things as though they were ensouled. He perceived beings that imparted a salty taste to the block. Everything was ensouled for him; air, earth, water, fire. Everything revealed something to him. He could feel himself into the interior of objects; he experienced their inner essence. Nothing appeared to him as a soulless object in the modern way. Therefore man felt everything with sympathy and antipathy because he saw its inner nature. He felt, he experienced, the inner being of the objects.

Memories of these experiences remained everywhere. The parts of the Indian population encountered by the colonists had such a relation to things. They knew that souls lived in things. They had preserved the ability to see the properties of things. Let us bear in mind this whole relationship of men to things. At that time man could perceive how the water tasted as he approached the pond. There he saw a spiritual being, who gave the water its taste. He could meet this spiritual being during the night if he lay down by the water and fell asleep. By day he saw the material; by night he saw what lived in things. By day he saw stones, plants, and animals, he heard the wind blow and the waters roar; by night he saw within himself, in its true form, what he only sensed by day—the spirits that live in all things. When he said that spirits live in the minerals, in the plants, in the water, in the clouds, in the wind, this was for him no poetic license, no mere fantasy, but something that he could see.

We must live, deeply into these souls in order to understand them. Then we understand what dreadful folly it is when our scholars speak of animism and allege that it is the “folk-imagination” that ensouls and personifies things. There is no such folk-imagination. One who really knows the folk does not speak in this way. Repeatedly we find this singular analogy; just as a child, bumping against a table, strikes the table in revenge because (so say the scholars) it thinks of the table as having a soul, so did the primeval man in his childishness ensoul the objects of nature, such as the trees. This is repeated ad nauseam. Certainly there is imagination here, but it is the imagination of the scholars rather than of the folk. It is the scholars who are dreaming. Those who originally saw everything as ensouled were not dreaming; they only reported what they actually saw.

As a sort of remnant, this kind of perception emerged among the ancient peoples as a memory. But the error in the above analogy is that the child does not see the table as ensouled; he does not yet feel a soul in himself, but regards himself as a lump of wood. Feeling himself soulless, he places himself on the same level as the soulless table that he bangs. The fact is just the opposite of what we read in the learned books. Whether we look at India, Persia, Egypt, Greece, or any other place, we find everywhere the same images that were described above, and into these images was poured the culture that was given out by the old initiates.

In ancient India the Rishis guided the culture. We must try to understand something of what gave the impulse to a form that developed into one of the most important forms of the Indian outlook. We know that in all ages there have been so-called mystery schools, where those who could develop their spiritual faculties learned to see more deeply into the world-all, awakening the slumbering faculties so as to see the spiritual connections of things. From these mystery-places proceeded the spiritual impulses of the various cultures. In order really to understand the initiates, we usually consider them as they were in post-Atlantean times, since their nature at that time is most easily comprehensible. But in Atlantis we could encounter something similar to initiate-schools. In order to understand them thoroughly, let us examine the methods of such an ancient Atlantean initiation-school.

If we go back to those times, we find that the above-described conditions of consciousness prevailed and also that man did not then have his present shape. He had quite a different form.2The genesis of the human form is much discussed in this and succedding chapters. The reader will find Dr. H. Poppelbaum's book Man and Animal (Rudolf Steiner Press, London, 1960) to be a helpful companion in this study. Let us go back to the first half of the Atlantean period. Man consisted already of physical, etheric, and astral bodies, plus the ego, but the physical body still looked quite different. We might compare it with the bodies of certain sea-animals, transparent, hardly to be seen, although laced with luminous threads in certain directions. It was much softer than today, having as yet no bones. It is true that there was already cartilage in some parts, but in these ancient times the physical body was definitely not of its present form.

The etheric body was a much more important member. The physical body was then more or less the same size as now, but the etheric body was extraordinarily large. This etheric body varied among individuals, but one could perceive four different types. One part of mankind would resemble one type, another part another. These four types may be designated by the names of the apocalyptic beasts: bull, lion, eagle, man. It would not be correct to imagine that these beasts were exactly similar to the present animals, but the impression that they made reminds us of these. The impressions that the etheric bodies made can be understood through the picture of a lion, bull, eagle, or man. We can compare with the bull the portion of mankind that gave the impression of having powerful reproductive forces or an unusual appetite. Another portion lived more in the spiritual; these were the eagle men, who felt less at home in the physical world. Then there were men in whom the etheric body was already similar to the present-day physical body; it was not quite identical, but it was like the human form. However, we must not imagine that each man represented only one type; all four types would show some traces in each person, but one or another would predominate.

Such were the etheric bodies of the Atlantean population. As to the astral body, it was especially powerful but largely undeveloped, while the ego was still wholly outside of man. People were entirely different at that time from today. Naturally, some men matured earlier and assumed the ultimate form before the others, but in the main one can describe the men of that time as we have just done. This was the normal condition of the average man.

It was entirely different with the more advanced persons, with the pupils of the mystery-places, who strove after the initiation of the ancient Atlantis. Let us enter in spirit such a center of initiation and try to picture what the teacher had to give. First, what was this teacher himself?

If one meets an initiate today, there is nothing in his general appearance by which he can be recognized. Few persons would recognize him today. The initiate must live in a physical body, and the physical body has developed a long way; hence it differs from others only in certain inner refinements. At that time, however, the initiate was vastly different from other men. The others still had a more animal-like form; the physical body was small in comparison with the gigantic etheric bodies, forming a clumsy animal-like mass. The initiate differed from these in that his physical body was more similar to the modern formation; his countenance was similar to that of modern man, and he had a forebrain such as that of the average man of today. His brain was highly developed, which was not true of other men at that time. These initiates had their schools, into which they admitted pupils who, having proved themselves mature and sufficiently developed, were selected out of the ordinary run of men by special methods.

We must bear one thing in mind if we wish fully to understand what follows. We must realize that in the course of time the power of man's spiritual members over his physical body has almost completely disappeared. The man of today has a certain degree of control over his body. He can move his arms and legs, pedal on bicycles, and exercise some command over his physiognomy, but this is only a last meager remnant of the mastery over the physical body that obtained in ancient Atlantean times. In those days the thoughts and feelings had a much greater influence over the physical body. If today a person were to concentrate for weeks, months, or even years on a certain thought, only in exceptional cases would this influence more than the etheric body. Seldom would the physical body be influenced by a meditation. If, for example, someone should succeed by this means in making his brain move further forward, thus working even on the bones of his forehead, this would be an astounding achievement. Very, very seldom does this happen today. Extraordinary energy would have to be developed today for a thought to work on the physical body. It is easier to affect the blood-circulation or the breathing, but even this is difficult. Thoughts can work on the etheric body today, and in the next incarnation they will have worked so powerfully as to alter the external physical structure. Man should work today in the knowledge that he is working not for one incarnation but for many incarnations to come. The soul is eternal; it continually returns.

Things were different in the ancient initiation schools. Thinking had such mastery there that it could influence the physical body in a comparatively short time. The pupil of the mysteries could mold his own organization until it resembled the human. One could accept a pupil out of the normal run of men and had only to give him the right impulse. The pupil himself did not have to think; through a sort of suggestion thoughts were implanted in his soul. A definite spiritual form had to stand before his soul, and the pupil had to steep himself in this form. Everywhere the Atlantean initiates gave to their pupils a thought-form, into which the pupils had to immerse themselves over and over again. What kind of picture was this? What did the pupil have to think? What did he meditate on?

We have already pointed to the original condition of the earth, sketching out the whole of evolution and mentioning the light-form in the primeval dust. Had one at that time looked about clairvoyantly, the archetype of the man of, today would have arisen. This grew out of that pollen, out of that primeval atom. Not the form of ancient man or of Atlantean man, but the form of modern man grew out of that atom. And what did the Atlantean initiate do? He placed before the soul of his pupil precisely this archetype that reared itself out of the primeval seed.

The pupil had to meditate on this archetype. The initiate placed before the pupil's gaze the human shape as a thought-form, with all the impulses and feelings that were contained in it. Whether the pupil was of the lion type or of one of the others, he had to hold before himself this picture of what man was to become in post-Atlantean times. He received this thought-picture as an ideal. He had to will the thought, “My physical body must become like this picture.” Through the power of this picture his body was so influenced that it became different from the bodies of other men. Certain parts were transformed, and gradually the most advanced pupils became more similar to the man of today.

Thus we look back on remarkable mysteries, the mysteries of ancient Atlantis. No matter how the various men might be formed, there floated before their souls, as a picture, a thing that was already present as a spiritual picture when the sun was still united with the earth. This picture emerged more and more as the meaning of the earth, as what lies spiritually at the foundation of the earth. This picture did not appear to them as this or that form, as the picture of this or that race; it appeared to them as the universal ideal of mankind.

This is the feeling that the pupil was to develop through this picture: “The highest spiritual beings have willed this picture, through which unity comes into mankind. This picture is the meaning of the earth's evolution; to bring this picture to realization the sun separated itself from the earth and the moon detached itself. Through this man could become man. This is the One who will at last appear as the high ideal of the earth.”

Into this high ideal streamed the feelings that enlivened the pupil in his meditation.

So did things stand about the middle of the Atlantean epoch. We will see later how this picture, which stood before the pupil as the human form, transformed itself into something different, and how this was salvaged after the Atlantean catastrophe. This is what lived again in the Indian initiation-teaching, where it was summed up in the ancient sacred name of Brahm. What the God-head willed as the meaning of the earth was the most sacred thing for the ancient Indian initiate. He spoke of it as Brahma. From this sprang later Zarathustra's teaching and the Egyptian wisdom, both of which will be discussed later. How it transformed itself from Brahma to the Egyptian wisdom we will see tomorrow.