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Occult History
GA 126

Lecture VI

1 January 1910, Stuttgart

In the lecture yesterday I drew your attention to the fact that very diverse Powers intervene in the course of human evolution. For this reason, and also because one mighty stream of influence intersects another, certain periods of ascent and equally of decline occur in definite spheres of civilisation. While older civilisations are still waning, while they are so to say passing over into external forms, the creative impulses which are to inaugurate later civilisations, to inspire them and bring them to birth, are being slowly and gradually prepared. So that in a general way the course of man's cultural life may be described briefly as follows.—We find cultural life rising from unfathomed depths and ascending to certain heights; then it ebbs, and indeed more slowly than it ascended. The fruits of a particular civilisation-epoch live an for a long time, penetrate into later streams and into folk-cultures of the most diverse character and lose themselves like a river which instead of flowing into the sea trickles away over lowlands. But while it is trickling away the new civilisations—which were still imperceptible during the decline of the old—are in preparation, in order eventually to begin their development and ascent, and to contribute in the same or a similar way to the progress of humanity. If we want to think of an eminently characteristic example of progress in culture we can surmise that it must be one in which the principle of the universal-human, the weaving of the ego in the ego, appeared in the most striking form. This, as we have shown, was the case in the culture of the ancient Greeks. We have there a clear illustration of a civilisation running its own characteristic course; for the achievements of the three preceding civilisation-epochs and of the epoch following that of Greece are modified in a quite different way by forces outside man. Hence what lies in the human being himself, whereby he makes his mark upon the world, everything which, proceeding from super-sensible powers, is able to express itself in him in the most characteristically human way—this is exemplified in the middle, the Fourth civilisation-epoch.

But in regard to this Greek civilisation, the following must also be said. It was preceded by the Third epoch, which then ebbed away, and during this period of decline Greek culture was being prepared. During the decline of the Babylonian culture, which streamed from the East towards the West, there was enshrined in the little peninsula of Southern Europe we know as Greece the seed of what was to sink into humanity as the impulse of a new life. True though it is that this Greek life brought pre-eminently to expression the essentially human element, that which man can find entirely within himself, it must not be thought that such things need no preparation. What we call the essentially human element—that, too, had first to be taught to men in the Mysteries by super-sensible Powers, just as now the still higher freedom which must be prepared for the Sixth civilisation-epoch is sustained and taught in super-sensible worlds by the Beings who lead and guide human evolution.

We must therefore realise that when Greek culture appears to outer observation. as if everything sprang from the essentially human element, it already has behind it a period when it was, so to speak, under the influence of the teachings of higher spiritual Beings. It was through these higher spiritual Beings that Greek culture was able to rise to the heights it achieved in bringing the essentially human element to expression. For this reason Greek culture too, when we trace it backwards, is lost sight of in the darkness of those prehistoric ages when, as its basis, there was cultivated in the Mystery-sanctuaries the wisdom which then, like a heritage, was clothed in majestic poetic form by Homer, by Aeschylus. And so, in face of the grandeur of there unparalleled figures, we must conceive that these men did indeed elaborate something that was entirely the product of their own souls, of the weaving of the ego in the ego, but that it had first been laid by higher Beings into these souls in the temple-sanctuaries. That is why the poetry of Homer and of Aeschylus seems so infinitely profound, so infinitely great. The poems of Aeschylus should not on any account, however, be judged from the translation by Wilamowitz, for it must be realised that the full greatness of what lived in Aeschylus cannot be conveyed in modern language, and that there could really be no worse approach to an understanding of his works than that tendered by one of the most recent translators.

If, therefore, we study Greek culture against the deep background of the Mysteries, we can begin to divine its real nature. And because the secrets of the life in super-sensible worlds were conveyed in a certain human form to the artists of Greece, they were able in their sculptures to embody in marble or in bronze, what had originally been hidden in the secrecy of the Mysteries. Even what confronts us in Greek philosophy clearly shows that its highest achievements were in truth ancient Mystery-wisdom translated into terms of intellect and reason. There is a symbolic indication of this when we are told that Heraclitus offered up his work, On Nature, as a sacrificial act in the temple of Diana at Ephesus. This means that he regarded what the weaving of the ego in the ego enabled him to say as an offering to the spiritual Powers of the preceding epoch with whom he knew himself to be connected. This is an attitude which also sheds light an the profound utterance of Plato, who was able to impart a philosophy of such depth to the Greeks and yet found himself compelled to affirm that all the philosophy of his time was as nothing compared with the ancient wisdom received by the forefathers from the spiritual worlds themselves.36Timaeus, 22, 23. “In the Egyptian Delta, at the head of which the River Nile divides, there is a certain district which is called the district of Sais, and the great city of the district is also called Sais. ... To this city came Solon, and was received there with great honour; he asked the priests who were most skilful in such matters, about antiquity, and made the discovery that neither he nor any other Hellene knew anything worth mentioning about the times of old. On one occasion, wishing to draw them an to speak of antiquity, he began to tell about the most ancient things in our part of the world. ... Thereupon one of the priests, who was of a very great age, said: O Solon, Solon, you Hellenes are never anything but children and there is not an old man among you. Solon in return asked him what he meant. I mean to say, he replied, that in mind you are all young; there is no old opinion handed down among you by ancient tradition, nor any science which is hoary with age. ... just when you and other nations are beginning to be provided with letters and the other requisites of civilised life, after the usual interval, the stream from heaven, like a pestilence, comes pouring down, and leaves only those of you who are destitute of letters and education, and so you have to begin all over again like children, and know nothing of what happened in ancient times, either among us or among yourselves. ...” In Aristotle everything appears as though in forms of logic—indeed, here one must say that the ancient wisdom has become abstraction, living worlds have been reduced to concepts. But in spite of this—because Aristotle stands at the terminal point of the ancient stream—something of the old wisdom still breathes through his works.37World-History in the light of Anthroposophy, p. 102. In his concepts, in his ideas, however abstract, an echo can still be heard of the harmonies which resounded from the temple-sanctuaries and were in truth the inspiration not only of Greek wisdom but also of Greek art, of the whole folk-character. For when such a culture first arises, it takes hold not only of knowledge, not only of art, but of the whole man, with the result that the whole man is an impress of the wisdom and spirituality living within him. If we picture Greek civilisation rising up from unknown depths even during the decline of Babylonian culture, then, in the age of the Persian Wars we can clearly perceive the effects of what the Greek character had received from the old temple-wisdom. For in these Persian Wars we see how the heroes of Greece, aflame with enthusiasm for the heritage received from their forefathers, fling themselves against the stream which, as an ebbing stream from the East, is surging towards them. The significance of their violent resistance, when the treasures of the temple-wisdom, when the teachers of the ancient Greek Mysteries themselves were fighting in the souls of the Greek heroes in the battles against the Persians, against the waning culture of the East—the significance of all this can be grasped by the human soul if the question is asked: What must have become of Southern Europe, indeed of the whole of later Europe, if the onset of the massive hordes from the East had not been beaten back at that time by the little Greek people? What the Greeks then achieved contained the seed of all later developments in European civilisation up to our own times.

And even the outcome in the East of what Alexander subsequently carried back to it from the West—albeit in a way that from a certain point of view is not justifiable—even that could develop only after what was destined to decline in respect also of its physical power had first been thrust back by the burning enthusiasm in the souls of the Greeks for the temple-treasures. If we grasp this we shall see how not only the teaching concerning Fire given by Heraclitus, not only the all-embracing ideas of Anaxagoras and of Thales, work on, but also the actual teachings of the guardians of the temple-wisdom in prehistoric Greek civilisation. We shall feel all this as a legacy of spiritual Powers who imbued Greek culture with what it was destined to receive. We shall perceive it in the souls of the Greek heroes who defied the Persians in the various battles. This is how we must learn to feel history, for what is offered us in the ordinary way is, at its best, only an empty abstract of ideas. What works over from earlier into later times can be observed only when we go back to what was imparted to the souls of men through a period lasting for thousands of years, taking definite forms in a certain epoch.

Why was it that in this upsurge of the old temple-treasures something so great could be imparted to the Greeks The secret lay in the universality, the comprehensiveness, of these temple treasures, and in their aloofness from anything of lesser account. It was something that was given as a primal source, something that could engross the whole man, bringing with it, so to say, a direct forte of guidance.

And here we come to the essential characteristic of a culture which is rising towards its peak. During this period, everything that is an active stimulus in man—beauty, virtue, usefulness, purposiveness, what he wishes to achieve and realise in life—all this is seen as proceeding directly from wisdom, from the spiritual. Wisdom embraces virtue, beauty and everything else as well. When man is permeated by, inspired by, the temple-wisdom, the rest follows of itself. That is the feeling which prevails during these times of ascent. But the moment the questions, the perceptions, fall asunder—the moment when, for example, the question of the good or the beautiful becomes independent of the question of its divine origin—the period of decline begins. Therefore we may be sure that we are living in a period of decline when it is emphasised that, independently of a spiritual origin, this or that must be especially cultivated, this or that must be the main consideration. When man lacks the confidence that the spiritual can bring forth of itself everything that human life requires, then the streams of culture, which an the arc of ascent form a unity, fall apart into separate streams. We sec this where interests outside wisdom, outside the spiritual impetus, begin to infiltrate Greek life; we see it in the political life, we see it, too, in that part of Greek life which especially interests us, in the spiritual life immediately preceding Aristotle. Here, side by side with the question: What is the true?—which embraces the question: What is good and practically effective?—the latter question begins to be an independent one. Men ask: How should knowledge be constituted in order that one can attain a practical goal in life? And so in the period of decline we see the stream of Stoicism arising. With Plato and Aristotle the good was directly contained in the wise; impulses of the good could proceed only from the wise. The Stoics ask: What must man do in order to become wiser in the practice of living, in order to live to some purpose? Goals of practical life insert themselves into what was formerly the all prevailing impetus of truth.

With Epicureanism comes an element that may be described as follows.—Men ask: How must I prepare myself intellectually in order that this life shall run its course with the greatest possible happiness and inner peace? To this question, Thales, Plato and even Aristotle would have answered: Search after the truth and truth will give you the supreme happiness, the germinating seed of love.—But now men separate the one question from the question of truth, and a stream of decline Sets in. Stoicism and Epicureanism are a stream of decline, the invariable consequence being that men begin to question truth itself and truth loses its power. Hence, simultaneously with Stoicism and Epicureanism in the period of decline, Scepticism arises—doubt in regard to truth. And when Scepticism and doubt, Stoicism and Epicureanism, have exercised their influence for a time, then man, still striving after truth, feels cast out of the World-Soul and thrown back upon his own soul. Then he looks around him, saying: This is not an age when Impulses flow into humanity from the on working stream of the spiritual Powers themselves. He is thrown back upon his own inner life, his own subjective being. In the further course of Greek life, this comes to expression in Neo-Platonism, a philosophy which is no longer concerned with external life, but looks within and strives upwards to truth through the mystical ascent of the individual. One stream of the cultural life is mounting, another declining, stage by stage. And what has developed during the ascent peters slowly and gradually away, until with the approach of the year 1250 there begins for humanity an inspiration not easy to observe but no less great for all that, which I characterised yesterday in a certain way. This again has been petering away since the 16th century. For since then all the specialised questions have again arisen by the side of those concerning truth itself; again an attitude is taken which wants to separate the question of the good and of the outwardly useful from the one supreme question of truth. And whereas those leading personalities in whom the impulses of the year 1250 were working contemplated all human currents in their relation to truth, we now see coming into prominence the fundamental separation of the questions of practical life from those that are intrinsically concerned with truth. At the portal leading to the new period of decline, the period which so clearly signifies the downward surge in spiritual life—at this portal stands Kant. In his preface to the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, he says expressly that he had to set limits to the striving after truth in order to make room for what practical religion requires.38Immanuel Kant (1724–1804). “I must, therefore, abolish knowledge, to make room for belief”Preface to the 2nd ed. of the Critique of Pure Reason. (Tr. J. M. D. Meiklejohn, p. xxxv. London, 1860.) Hence the strict separation of Practical Reason from Theoretical Reason: in Practical Reason, the postulate of God, Freedom and Immortality is based entirely on the element of the good; in Theoretical Reason, any possibility of knowledge penetrating into any spiritual world is demolished. That is how things are, when viewed in the setting of world-history. And we may be sure that the striving for wisdom in our age will follow in the wake of Kant. When our own spiritual Movement points to the ways in which the capacity for knowledge can be so extended and enhanced as to enable it to penetrate into the super-sensible, we shall for a long, long time continue to hear from all sides: “Yes, but Kant says! ...” The historical evolution of mankind takes its course in antitheses of this kind. In what arises instinctively, like a dim inkling, we can see that underneath what is pure maya but accepted as the truth, underneath the stream of maya, human instincts do hit upon things which to a great extent are right. For it is extraordinarily interesting that in certain inklings arising out of folk-instincts for practical life, we can perceive the descending course of human evolution until the Greco-Latin epoch and the re-ascent now demanded of us.

What picture, then, must have come before the minds of men who had a feeling for such things When they looked back to the great figures of history in pre-Christian times—or, we had better say, pre-Grecian times—how must they have thought of all those whom we described as the instruments of Beings of the higher Hierarchies They must have said to themselves—and even the Greeks still did so: This has come to us through men who were played into by superhuman, divine forces.—And in all the ages of antiquity we find that the leading personalities, down to the figures of the Hermes, and even Plato, were regarded as “sons of the gods”; that is to say, when men looked back to olden times, heightening their vision more and more, they saw the divine behind there personalities who appeared in history; and they regarded the beings who appeared as Plato and in the Hermes as having come down, as having been born from, the gods. That is how they rightly saw it—the sons of the gods having united with the daughters of men, in order to bring down the spiritual to the physical plane. In those ancient times men beheld sons of the gods—divine men, that is to say, beings whose nature was united with the divine. On the other hand, when the Greeks came to feel: Now we can speak of the weaving of the ego in the ego, of what lies within the human personality itself—then they spoke of their supreme leaders as the Seven Sages, thus indicating that the nature of those who once were sons of the gods had now become purely and essentially human.

What was bound to come about in the instincts of the peoples in post-Grecian times? It was now a matter of indicating what man elaborates on the physical plane, and how he carries the full fruit of this into the spiritual world. Thus, while the feeling in much earlier times was that the spiritual must be recognised as taking precedence of the physical man and the physical man regarded as a shadow-image, and while during the Greek epoch there were the sages in whom the ego works in the ego, in the epoch after Greece attention was turned to personalities who live on the physical plane and rise to the spiritual through what is achieved in the physical world. This concept developed out of a certain true instinct of knowledge. Just as the pre-Grecian age had sons of the gods and the Greeks had sages, the peoples of the post-Grecian age have saints—human beings who lift themselves into the spiritual life through what they carry into effect on the physical plane. Something is alive there in the folk-instinct, enabling us to glimpse how behind maya itself there is a factor which impels humanity forward.

When we recognise this, the impulses at work in the epochs of time throw light upon the individual human soul, and we understand how the group-karma is inevitably modified by the fact that men are at the same time instruments of the process of historical evolution. We are then able to grasp what the Akasha Chronicle reveals—for example, that in Novalis we have to see something that goes back to Elijah of old. This is an extraordinarily interesting sequence of incarnations.39See Rudolf Steiner, Earthly and Cosmic Man, Lecture IV. In Elijah the element of prophecy comes strongly to the fore, for it was the mission of the Hebrews to prepare that which was to come in later time. And they prepared it during the period of transition from the Patriarchs to the Prophets, via the figure of Moses. Whereas in Abraham we see how the Hebrew still feels the working of the God within him, in his very blood,41See Rudolf Steiner, Deeper Secrets of Human History in the light of the Gospel of St. Matthew. Lectures II and III. in Elijah we see the transition to the ascent into the spiritual worlds. Everything is prepared by degrees. In Elijah there lives an individuality already inspired by what is to come in the future. And then we see how this individuality was to be an instrument for preparing understanding of the Christ Impulse. The individuality of Elijah is reborn in John the Baptist.40See Rudolf Steiner, Earthly and Cosmic Man, Lecture IV. John the Baptist is the instrument of a higher Being. In John the Baptist there lives an individuality who uses him as an instrument, but in order to enable him to serve as such an instrument, the lofty individuality of Elijah was necessary.

Then, later on, we see how this individuality is well fitted to pour impulses working towards the future into forms that were made possible only by the influence of the Fourth Post-Atlantean culture-epoch. However strange it may seem to us, this individuality appears again in Raphael, who unites in his paintings what is to work in all ages of time as the Christian impulse, with the wonderful forms of Greek culture. And here we can realise how the individual karma of this entelechy is related to the outer incarnation. It is required of the outer incarnation that the power of an age shall be able to come to expression in Raphael; for this power the Elijah-John individuality is the suitable bearer. But the epoch is only able to produce a physical body bound to be shattered under such a power; hence Raphael's early death.

This individuality had then to give effect to the other side of his being in an age when the single streams were dividing once more; he appears again as Novalis. We see how there actually lives in Novalis, in a particular form, all that is now being given us through Spiritual Science. For outside Spiritual Science nobody has spoken so aptly about the relation of the astral body to the etheric and physical bodies, about the waking state and sleep, as Novalis, the reincarnated Raphael.42See inter alia, Hymns to the Night, the most recent translation of which is by Mabel Cotterell, with an introduction by August Closs, published by the Phoenix Press, London, 1948. Translations were made at the end of the 19th century of Heinrich von Ofterdingen, The Disciples at Sais, of many “Fragments,” and other “Songs.” Carlyle's Essay on Novalis is well known. Apart from there publications, however, the English reader will have some difficulty in finding works in his own language that will enable him to acquire any real insight into the writings of Novalis. A great deal, of course, has been and is continuing to be written in Germany of the one of whom Tieck wrote in 1846: “Few authors have ever produced so great an impression on the world of German thought as Novalis.” The biography by Friedrich Hiebel, Novalis, der Dichter der blauen Blume, is of great value. Students of Spiritual Science will be particularly interested in Novalis in anthroposophischer Betrachtung by Monica V. Miltitz, published in 1956. But Rudolf Steiner alone was able to unveil the mystery enshrouding the personality of Novalis. Among many passages occurring in his lectures, the following is of outstanding importance: “... A deeply shattering event in life made him (Novalis) aware, as by a magic strike, of the relation between life and death and, as well as the great vista of past ages of the earth and cosmos, the Christ Being Himself appeared before his eyes of Spirit. ... In the rase of Novalis we cannot really speak of a self-contained lifc, for his was actually like a remembrance of an earlier incarnation. The initiation he had received as it were by Grace, brought to life within him experiences of an earlier incarnation; there was a certain mysterious consolidation of the fruits of insight acquired in an earlier life. And because he looked back through the ages with his own awakened eyes of spirit, he was able to say that to him nothing in life was comparable with the momentous event when in his inmost self he had discovered what Christ truly is. This experience was like a repetition of the happening at Damascus, when Paul, who had hitherto persecuted the followers of Christ and rejected their message, received in higher vision the direct proof that Christ lives, that He is present! ...” This quotation is from Rudolf Steiner's lecture entitled, The Christinas Mystery. Novalis the Seer. Not yet printed in English. Berlin, 22.XII.08. These are things which show us how individualities are the instruments of the onflowing stream of man's evolution. And when we observe the course of human development, when we perceive this enigmatic alternation in the happenings of history, we can dimly glimpse the working of deep spiritual Powers. The earlier passes over into the later in strange and remarkable ways.

To some of you I have already said43The lecture, not yet printed in English, was entitled: The Human Spirit and the Animal Spirit, Berlin, 17.XI.10. that a momentous vista of history is revealed by the transition from Michelangelo to Galileo. (Mark well, I am not speaking of a reincarnation here; it is a matter of historical development.) A very intelligent man once drew attention to the striking fact that the human spirit has woven into the wonderful architecture of the Church of St. Peter in Rome what he calls the science of mechanics. The majestic forms of this building embody the principles of mechanics that were within the grasp of the human intellect, transposed into beauty and grandeur. They are the thoughts of Michelangelo! The impression made by the sight of the Church of St. Peter upon men expresses itself in many different ways, and perhaps everyone has felt something of what Natter, the Viennese sculptor,44Heinrich Natter 1846–92). experienced, or what was experienced in his company. He was driving with a friend towards St. Peter's. It was not yet in sight, but then, suddenly, the friend heard Natter exclaim, springing from his seat and as though beside himself: “I am frightened!”At that moment he had caught sight of St. Peter's ... afterwards he wanted to obliterate the incident from his memory. Everyone may experience something of the kind at the sight of such majesty And now, in a professorial oration, a very clever man, Professor Müllner, has made the point that Galileo, the great mechanistic thinker, taught humanity in terms of the intellect what Michelangelo had built into spatial forms in the Church of St. Peter. So that what stands there in the Church of St. Peter like crystallised mechanics, principles of mechanics grasped by the human mind, confronts us once again, but now transposed into intellectuality, in the thoughts of Galileo. But it is strange that in this oration the speaker should have called attention to the fast that Galileo was born on the day Michelangelo died (18th February, 1564). Hence there is an indication that the intellectual element, the thoughts coined by Galileo in the intellectual forms of mechanics, arise in a personality whose birth occurs on the same day as the death of the one who had given them expression in space. The question therefore inevitably arises in our minds: Who, in reality, built into the Church of St. Peter, through Michelangelo, the principles of mechanics only subsequently acquired by humanity through Galileo?

My dear friends, if the aphoristic and isolated thoughts that have been presented in connection with the historical development of humanity unite in your hearts to produce a feeling of how the spiritual Powers themselves work in history through their instruments, you will have assimilated there lectures in the right way. And then it could be said that the feeling which arises in our hearts from the study of occult history is the right feeling for the way in which development and progress occur in the stream of time. To-day, at this minor turning-point of time, it may be fitting to direct our meditation to this feeling of the progress of men and of gods in the flow of history. If in the heart of each one of you this feeling for the science of occult progress in time were to become clear perception of the weaving, creative activity in the becoming of our own epoch, if this feeling could come alive within you, it might perhaps also live as a New Year's wish in your souls. And at the close of this course of lectures, this is the New Year's wish that I would fair lay in your hearts: Regard what has been said as the starting-point of a true feeling for time. In a certain way it may be symbolical that we should have been able to use this minor transition from one period of time to another as an opportunity for allowing ideal which embrace such transitions in their sweep, to take effect in our souls.