Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

The Search for the New Isis, Divine Sophia
GA 202

III. The Magi and the Shepherds: The New Isis

25 December 1920, Dornach

When it is a question of understanding the Event of Golgotha in the sense of the Christmas Mystery we may look in two directions: Towards the starry heavens with all their secrets on the one side and towards the inner being of man with all its secrets on the other. During these lectures I have spoken of how the Magi from the East recognised, from the starry heavens, the Coming of Christ Jesus upon the earth and of how from the visions arising out of man's inner being the simple shepherds in the field received the proclamation of this Saviour of mankind. And once again today we will turn our attention to these two directions whence, in reality, all knowledge comes to man—whence the highest knowledge of all, the knowledge of the very meaning of the earth, had to come.

In the epochs which preceded the Mystery of Golgotha the attitude of the human soul to the universe and to itself was quite different from what it was after the Mystery of Golgotha. This fact, of course, is not very vividly apparent to an external study of history because the ancient form of knowledge belongs to ages lying long, long before, thousands of years before the Mystery of Golgotha. By the time the Mystery of Golgotha was drawing near, this form of knowledge had already become feebler, and truth to tell it was only individual, very outstanding men like the three Magi from the East who possessed such far-reaching knowledge as was then manifest. And on the other side it was only possible for men particularly sensitive to inner things like the shepherds—men of the people—to bring such visions out of sleep as these shepherds brought. But in both the Magi and the shepherds it was a legacy of that ancient knowledge through which men had once been related to the universe. Even in our time we could not say, especially not in regard to the actual present, that men give very clear expression to that form of knowledge which has entered into the evolution of humanity since the Mystery of Golgotha. Speaking generally, however, what we are going to speak about this evening, holds good. The pre-Christian attitude to the starry heavens was such that men did not regard the stars in the prosaic, abstract way that is current nowadays. The fact that these men of olden times spoke of the stars as if they were living Beings was not due, as an imperfect science believes, to mere fantasy, but to a spiritual, although instinctive, atavistic perception of the starry heavens. Looking at the starry heavens in olden times men did not merely see points or surfaces of light but something spiritual, something that made them able to describe the constellations as they did, for to them the several planets of our system were ensouled by living beings. Men beheld the spiritual in the wide heaven of the stars. They saw the starry heavens as well as the mineral and plant kingdoms in their spiritual reality. It was with one and the same faculty of knowledge that men of old beheld these three regions of existence. They spoke of the stars as beings endowed with soul and also of the minerals and the plants as beings endowed with soul.

We must not think that the faculties of knowledge in olden times were similar to ours. A little while ago I spoke to you about a stage of knowledge which, although it was not so very different from our own, is nevertheless difficult for many people today to picture. I said that the Greeks, in the earliest period of their culture, did not see the colour blue, that the heavens were not blue to them. They perceived the colours that lie more towards the active side, towards the side of red-yellow. Nor did they paint in the shades of blue known to us. Blue came only later into the range of human perception.

Think of all shades of blue being absent from the world, and therefore of green looking different from what it does today, and you will realise that the world around the Greek did not appear to him as it appears to humanity today. For the men of much earlier times the surrounding world differed still more. And then from the world seen by men of old, the spiritual withdrew—withdrew from the worlds of stars, of minerals, of plants. The vivid active colours became duller and out of the depths there appeared what is experienced as blue. As the faculty for the perception of blue, of the darker colours arose, what the men of old experienced in the astrology which spoke to them in a living language, active and full of colour, changed into the grey, colourless geometry and mechanics which, drawing it as we do from our inner being, no longer enables us to read from the environment the secrets of the starry worlds. The ancient astrology was transformed into the world we picture today in the sense of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, into the world of celestial mechanics, of mathematics.

That is the one side. The other side is that in those olden times men possessed a deep, inner faculty for perceiving what was streaming around them out of the earth—the fluids of the earth. The fluids of the earth, the qualities of earth announced themselves as the counterpart of the starry heavens to certain inner faculties of perception. Man in olden times was highly sensitive to the characteristics of the climate of his country, of the soil on which he lived. A chalk or granite soil was experienced as different radiations from the Earth. But this was not a dim feeling or experience; it arose like colours or clouds inwardly felt, inwardly experienced. Thus man experienced the earth's depths; thus, too, the soul in his fellow-man and the life of animals. The experiences were more living, more intense. It was with a faculty of external knowledge that man gazed into the spirituality of the starry heavens, into the spirituality of the minerals and plants, with his atavistic, instinctive clairvoyance; and it was with instinctive inner vision that he perceived what was living spiritually in the earth's depths. He spoke not merely of chalk soil but he experienced specific elemental beings: one kind from chalk soil, other kinds from granite or gneiss. He felt what was living in other human beings as an aura but an aura bestowed upon man from the earth; particularly did he feel the animals with their aura as beings of the earth. It was as though the ground, soil and the inner warmth of the earth continued on in the whole animal world. When a man of old saw the butterflies over the plants he saw them drawing along with them what was rising from the earth; as in an auric cloud he saw animal life flowing over the earth.

All this gradually withdrew and the prosaic world remained for man's faculty of perception which now became external He began now to behold the world around him as we behold it, in its colours and so forth—without perceiving the spiritual. And what man had once seen through faculties of inner perception was transformed into our modern knowledge of nature; what he had seen spiritually through faculties of external knowledge was transformed into our modern mathematics and mechanics.

Thus out of the qualities which the simple shepherds in the field brought to their inner vision we have developed the modern view of nature; and out of what the Magi from the East brought to their faculty of perceiving the Star, we have developed our dry mathematics and mechanics. The faculties of outer and inner perception were still so rich in individual men at that time that the mystery of the birth of Jesus could announce itself from these two sides.

What really underlay this faculty of perception? During the period between death and a new birth, during the time through which we lived before entering through birth into earthly existence we have literally passed through the cosmic expanses. Our individuality was not then bound to the space enclosed by the skin; our existence was spread over cosmic expanses. And the faculty of magical vision still possessed by the wise men from the East was essentially a faculty which entered strongly into the human being from the period between death and birth—that is to say, it was a ‘pre-natal’ faculty. What the soul lived through before birth within the world of stars awakened to become a special faculty in those who were pupils of the Magi. And when the pupils of the Magi developed this particular faculty they were able to say: “Before I came down to this earth I had definite experiences with Mercury, with Sun, with Moon, with Saturn, with Jupiter.” And this cosmic memory enabled them to behold the spiritual in the whole external world as well, to see the destiny of man on earth. They saw it out of their memory of existence before birth within the world of stars.

The faculties by means of which the earth's depths, the mysteries of the souls of men and of the nature of the animals were perceived, were faculties which at first developed in germinal form in the human being and which manifested for the first time after death—but they were youthful faculties, potentially germinal. Although it is after death that these faculties become particularly creative, in earthly life they arise as potentially germinal forces during the first period of earthly life, in the child. The forces of growth in the child which bud and sprout forth from the spiritual, these forces of the child withdraw in later life from the human being. They withdraw and we are then filled more with those forces which were there before birth. But after death these child forces appear again. It was only specially gifted men who retained them on into old age. I have already said here that such faculties of genius as we have in the later years of life are due to the fact that we have remained more childlike than those who do not have these faculties or have them in a lesser degree. The maintenance of childlike faculties on into later life equips us with inventive faculties and the like. The more we can retain childlike faculties in mature years, the more creative we are. But these creative forces appear again more particularly after death.

Among individual peoples of pre-Christian times it had been possible for the after-death faculties to be fructified by those that had remained from before birth. Because such men allowed the kind of knowledge possessed by the Magi from the East to withdraw and the after-death knowledge to come more to the fore, and because the pre-birth faculties were able to fructify the after-death faculties, the gift of prophecy developed in these men, the gift of foretelling the future prophetically with the after-death faculties. Those whom we call the Jewish Prophets were men in whom the after-death faculties were particularly developed; but these faculties did not remain merely in the instinctive life as in the simple shepherds in the field to whom the annunciation was made, they were penetrated by those other faculties which had developed to greater intensity among such people as the Magi from the East, and which led to special knowledge relating to the secrets of the stars and the happenings in the heavens.

Starry heavens ................................ 
Earth's depths
Mineral world ................................. 
Human soul
Plant world ................................... 
Animal life
Pre-birth faculties ........................... 
After-death faculties

It will now be clear to you that the proclamation to the shepherds in the field and the knowledge of the Magi from the East were necessarily in agreement. The knowledge possessed by the Magi from the East was such that they were able to behold deep secrets of the starry heavens. Out of those worlds in which man lives between death and a new birth, out of those worlds whence came the faculties enabling them to penetrate the starry heavens, out of an enhancement of this knowledge this vision came to them: From that world which does not primarily belong to life between birth and death but to the life between death and a new birth—from that world a Being, the Christ, is coming down to the earth. The approach of Christ was revealed to the Magi out of their knowledge of the stars.

And what was the revelation to the shepherds in the field whose special faculty was to experience the Earth's depths?—The Earth became something different when the Christ was drawing near. The Earth felt this approach of Christ, bore in herself new forces because of Christ's approach. The pure-hearted shepherds in the field felt, from out of the depths, what the Earth was reflecting, the way in which the Earth was reacting to the approach of Christ. Thus the cosmic expanses proclaimed to the Magi from the East the same as the earth's depths proclaimed to the shepherds.

This happened at a time when remains of the old knowledge were still in existence. We are concerned here with men who were exceptional, even in those days, with men like the three. Magi from the East and these particular shepherds in the field. Both had retained, each in their own way, what had more or less disappeared from humanity in general. This was the reason why the Mystery of Golgotha, when its time was drawing near, could be proclaimed to them as it was.

In studying these things we must add to the ordinary, historical view, the knowledge that comes from Spiritual Science. We must try, as it were, to fathom the expanses of space and the depths of the life of the soul. And if we fathom the expanses of space in the right way we begin to understand how the wise men from the East experienced the approach of the Mystery of Golgotha. If we try to plumb the depths of the life of soul we begin to understand how the shepherds received the tidings of what was coming so near to the earth that the earth herself became aware of the approach of these forces. The faculties connected with existence before birth, which were manifested in the Magi, correspond more to an intellectual element—different, of course, in those times from what it is today; they correspond more to knowledge. What worked in the shepherds corresponds more to will, and it is the will that represents the forces of growth in the universe. The shepherds were united in their will with the Christ Being Who was approaching the earth. We feel, too, how the stories of the wise men from the East—although they are so inadequately recorded in the modern Bible—we feel how they express the kind of knowledge with which the wise men approached the Mystery of Golgotha; it came from their consciousness to the external universe. We feel that the story of the proclamation to the shepherds points to the will, to the heart, to the life of inner emotion. “Revelation of the God from the heavens and Peace to those men on Earth who are of good will.” We feel the streaming of the will in the proclamation to the shepherds. The light-filled knowledge possessed by the Magi is of a quite different character.

We realise the profundity and significance of the knowledge in the Magi and the proclamation to the shepherds as narrated in the New Testament when we try to fathom the nature of human knowledge and of human will—faculties connected with existence before birth and after death.

Starry heavens

Earth's depths

Mineral world

Human soul

Plant world

Animal life










I have said that what was a world of spirit to the men of old—the stars, the minerals, the plants—I have said that this has become for us the tapestry of the sense-world; what was formerly inner knowledge has drawn to the surface. If we picture to ourselves the knowledge in the shepherds as being inward and what manifested in the Magi as being outward, it was this outward external knowledge in the Magi which reached out into space and there perceived the spirit The inner life leads to perception of the earth's depths.

The inner kind of knowledge manifested in the shepherds (red in diagram) grows, during the further evolution of humanity, more and more outwards and becomes the external perception of today, becomes what we call empirical perception. What gave the Magi their knowledge of the world of stars draws inwards, more backwards towards the brain and becomes our mathematical, mechanistic world (green in diagram). A crossing took place; what was inner knowledge, pictorial, naive, instinctive imagination in pre-Christian times becomes our external knowledge, perception through the senses. What was once external knowledge encompassing the world of stars draws inwards and becomes the dry, geometrical-mathematical, mechanistic world which we now draw forth from within us.

Figure 1

Through inner enlightenment man of today experiences a mathematical, mechanistic world. It is only outstanding persons like Novalis who were able to feel and give expression to the poetry and deep imagination of this inner, mathematical world. This world of which Novalis sings the praises in such beautiful language is, for the ordinary man of today, the dry world of triangles and quadrangles, of squares and—sums and differences. The ordinary human being is prosaic enough to feel this world to be barren, dry; he has no love for it. Novalis, who was an outstanding person, sings its praises because there was still alive in him an echo of what this world was before it had drawn inwards. In those times it was the world out of which the Jupiter Spirit, the Saturn Spirit, the Spirit of Aries, of Taurus, of Gemini was perceived. It was the ancient light-filled world of stars which has withdrawn and in the first stage of its withdrawal becomes the world which seems to us to be dry, mathematical, mechanistic.

The faculty that intensified in a different form in the shepherds in the field to a perception of the voice of the Angel in the heights has become dry, barren and feeble in us—it has become our perception of the external world of sense; with it today we perceive minerals and plants, whereas with the old faculty, although it was hardly articulate, men perceived the earth's depths or the world of men and animals.

What today has faded into the mathematical-mechanistic universe, what was once astrology, contained such a power that the Christ was revealed to the Magi as a Being of the Heavens. What today is our ordinary knowledge through the senses, with which we see nothing but the green surface of grass, the brown skins of animals and the like—to this kind of knowledge when it was still inward, when it had not yet drawn outwards to the eyes, to the skin, there was revealed to the shepherds in the field the deep influence on the earth, the power with which the Christ would work in the earth, what the Christ was to be for the earth.

We, my dear friends, must find the way whereby the inner faculty that is now dry mathematics may intensify pictorially to Imagination. We must learn to grasp the Imagination given us by Initiation Science. What is contained in these Imaginations? They are in truth a continuation of the faculty with which the Magi from the East recognised the approach of Christ. The Imaginations are the budding, the offspring of what the men of old saw in the starry constellations, the star-imaginations, the mineral imaginations, in gold, silver, copper. The men of old perceived in Imaginations, and their offspring are the mathematical faculties of today. The mathematical faculties of today will become those faculties which understand the Imaginations. Thus by the development of the inner faculties men will have to seek for the understanding of the Christ Being.

But external perception must also be deepened, become more profound. External perception has itself descended from what was once the life of inner experiences, of instinct in man. The power which among the shepherds in the field was still inward, in their hearts, is today only in eyes and ears; it has shifted entirely to the external part of man and therefore perceives only the outer tapestry of the sense-world. This power must go still further outwards. To this end man must be able to leave his body and attain Inspiration. This Inspiration—a faculty of perception which can be attained today—will then, out of Initiation Science, be able to give the same as was given in the proclamation to the naive, inner knowledge of the shepherds in the field.

Astrology as it was to the Magi, heart-vision as it was in the shepherds. With the knowledge that comes from Initiation Science through Imagination and Inspiration modern man will rise to the spiritual realisation to the living Christ. Men must learn to understand how Isis, the living, divine Sophia, had to disappear when the time came for the development which has driven astrology into mathematics, into geometry, into the science of mechanics. But it will also be understood that when living Imagination resurrects from mathematics, phoronomy and geometry, this means the finding of Isis, of the new Isis, of the divine Sophia whom man must find if the Christ Power that is his since the Mystery of Golgotha is to become alive, completely alive, that is to say, filled with light within him.

We are standing before this very point of time, my dear friends. The outer earth will not provide man with those things which he has become accustomed to desire in modern times. The conflicts called into being by the terrible catastrophes of recent years have already changed a large part of the earth into a field where culture lies in ruins. Further conflicts will follow. Men are preparing for the next great world war. Culture will be wrecked in more ways. There will be nothing gained directly from what seems to modern humanity to be of most value for knowledge and the will External earth life, insofar as it is a product of earlier times, will pass away—and it is an entirely vain hope to believe that the old habits of thought and will can continue. What must arise is a new kind of knowledge, a new kind of willing in all domains. We must familiarise ourselves with the thought of the vanishing of a civilisation; but we must look into the human heart, into the spirit dwelling in man; we must have faith in the heart and the spirit of man in order that through all we are able to do within the wreckage of the old civilisation, new forms may arise, forms that are truly new.

Nor will these forms arise if we do not bear in mind with all seriousness what it is that must happen for the sake of humanity. Read in the book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and you will find it said that a man when he desires to attain higher knowledge must understand what is there called the meeting with the Guardian of the Threshold. It is said that this meeting with the Guardian of the Threshold means that willing, feeling, thinking separate in a certain way, that a trinity must arise out of the chaotic unity in man. The understanding that must come to the pupil of Spiritual Science through his knowledge of what the Guardian of the Threshold is, must come to the whole of modern mankind in regard to the course of civilisation. In inner experience, though not in outer consciousness, humanity is passing through the region that can also be called a region of the Guardian of the Threshold.

It is so indeed, my dear friends; modern humanity is passing over a threshold at which stands a Guardian, a Guardian full of meaning, and grave. And this grave Guardian speaks: “Cling not to what has come as a transplant from olden times; look into your hearts, into your souls, that you may be capable of creating new forms. You can only create these new forms when you have faith that the powers of knowledge and of will for this spiritual creation can come out of the spiritual world.” What is an event of great intensity for the individual who enters the worlds of higher knowledge, proceeds unconsciously in present-day mankind as a whole. And those who have linked themselves together as the anthroposophical community must realise that it is one of the most needed of all things in our days to bring men to understand this passing through the region which is a threshold.

Just as man, the knower, must realise that his thinking, feeling and willing separate in a certain sense and must be held together in a higher way, so it must be made intelligible to modern humanity that the spiritual life, the life of rights, and the economic life must separate from one another and a higher form of union created than the State as it has been up to now. No programmes, ideas, ideologies can bring individuals to recognise the necessity of this threefoldness of the social organism. It is only profound knowledge of the onward development of mankind that reveals this development to have reached a threshold where a grave Guardian stands. This Guardian demands of an individual who is advancing to higher knowledge: Submit to the separation in thinking, feeling and willing. He demands of humanity as a whole: Separate what has up to now been interwoven in a chaotic unity in the State idol; separate this into a Spiritual Life, an Equity State, and an Economic State ... otherwise there is no progress possible for humanity, and the old chaos will burst asunder. If this happens it will not take the form that is necessary to humanity but an ahrimanic or luciferic form. It is only through spiritual-scientific knowledge of the passing of the threshold in our present day that can give the Christ-form to this chaos.

This, my dear friends, is something that we must say to ourselves at the time of Christmas too, if we rightly understand Anthroposophy. The little child in the crib must be the child representing the spiritual development towards man's future. Just as the shepherds in the field and the Magi from the East went after the proclamation to see how that which was to bring humanity forward appeared as a little child, so must modern man make his way to Initiation Science in order to perceive, in the form of a little child, what must be done for the future by the Threefold Social Organism based on Spiritual Science. If the old form of the state is not made threefold it will have to burst—and burst in such a way that it would develop on the one side a wholly chaotic spiritual life, completely ahrimanic and luciferic in character, and on the other side an economic life again luciferic-ahrimanic in character. And both the one and the other would drag the state in rags after them. In the Orient there will take place the development more of ahrimanic-luciferic spiritual states; in the West there will be the development more of ahrimanic-luciferic economic life—if man does not realise through the permeation of his being by Christ how he can avoid this, how out of his knowledge and out of his will he can proceed to bring about the ‘threefolding’ of what is striving to separate.

This will be human knowledge permeated by Christ; it will be human willing permeated by Christ. And it will express itself in no other way than that the idol of the unitary state will become threefold. And those who stand properly in the spiritual life will recognise, as did the shepherds in the field, what it is that the earth experiences through the Christ. And those who stand rightly within the economic life, within the economic associations will unfold, in the true sense, a will that brings a Christ-filled social order.