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Old and New Methods of Initiation
GA 210

Lecture III

8 January 1922, Dornach

Today we shall consider the differentiations in mankind from another viewpoint, namely that of history. With the express aim of promoting an understanding for the present time we shall look at human evolution starting at a point immediately following the catastrophe of Atlantis. If human evolution can be considered to encompass any evolution of civilization, then we shall find the first decisive period of development to be the culture epoch of ancient India. In my book Occult Science1 Rudolf Steiner, Occult Science—An Outline. For the post-Atlantean cultural periods see the chapter ‘Man and the Evolution of the World’. you will find this culture of ancient India described from a particular viewpoint. Though the Vedas and Indian philosophy are rightly admired, they are actually only echoes of that ancient culture, of which there exist no written records. In the words of today we have to describe the culture of ancient India as a religious culture in the highest sense. To understand this properly we shall have to discuss it more thoroughly.

The religious element of ancient Indian culture included what we today would call science and art. The total spiritual life of the whole human being was encompassed by this culture for which the most pertinent description is that it was a religious culture. This religious culture generates the feeling in human beings that in the depths of their being they are linked with a divine, spiritual world. This feeling was developed so intensely that the whole of life was illumined by it. Their clearer states of consciousness, which were preparations for today's waking state, and also their dream consciousness, which became lost in our chaotic dream and sleep life as evolution progressed, were both states of consciousness filled with an instinctive awareness of the links between the human realm and the divine, spiritual realm.

But our idea of religion today is of something rather general. The concept of religion makes us think too strongly of something general, something abstract and rather detached from everyday life. For the people about whom we are speaking, however, religion and the content they associated with it gave them a knowledge expressed in pictures, a knowledge of the being of man and an extensive picture knowledge of the structure of the universe.

We have to imagine, though, that what lived in these people's view of the world, by way of a picture knowledge of the structure of the universe, in no way resembled our modern knowledge of astronomy or astrophysics. Our astronomy and astrophysics show us the mechanics of the universe. The ancient Indian people had a universe of picture images populated with divine, spiritual beings. There was as yet no question, in the present sense, of any external, merely mechanical rules governing the relationships between heavenly bodies or their relative movements. When those people looked up to the starry heavens they saw in the external constellations and movements of the stars only something perfectly familiar to them in their picture consciousness. It was something which may be described as follows.

Suppose we were to see a vivid, lively scene with bustling crowds and people going about all kinds of business, perhaps a public festival with much going on. Then we go home, and next morning the newspaper carries a report about the festival we ourselves attended. Our eyes fall on the dead letters of the printed page. We know what they mean and when we read the words they give us a weak, pale idea of all the lively bustle we experienced the day before. This can be compared with what the ancient Indian people saw in their instinctive vision and in relation to this what they saw in the constellations and movements of the stars. The constellations and movements of the stars were no more than written characters, indeed pale written characters. If they had copied down these characters on paper, they would have felt them to be no more than a written description of reality.

What these people saw behind the written characters was something which they not only came to know with their understanding but also to love with their feelings. They were unable merely to take into their ideas all that they grasped in pictures about the universe; they also developed lively feelings for these things. At the same time they developed a permanent feeling that whatever they did, even the most complicated actions, was an expression of the cosmos filled with divine spiritual weaving. They felt their limbs to be filled with this divine, spiritual cosmic weaving. They felt their understanding to be filled with this divine spiritual weaving, and likewise their courage and their will. Thus, speaking of their own deeds, they were able to say: Divine, spiritual beings are doing this. And since in those ancient times people knew very well that Lucifer and Ahriman are also to be found among those divine, spiritual beings, so were they aware that because divine, spiritual beings worked in them, they were therefore capable of committing evil as well as good deeds.

With this description I want to call up in you an idea of what this religion was like. It filled the whole human being, it brought the whole human being into a relationship with the abundance of the cosmos. It was cosmic wisdom and at the same time it was a wisdom which revealed man. But then progress in human evolution first caused the most intense religious feelings to pale. Of course, religion remained, in all later ages, but the intensity of religious life as it was in this first Indian age paled. First of all what paled was the feeling of standing within the realm of divine, spiritual beings with one's deeds and will impulses. In the ancient Persian age, the second post-Atlantean cultural epoch, people still had this feeling to some extent, but it had paled. In the first post-Atlantean epoch this feeling was a matter of course. In the second cultural blossoming, the ancient Persian time, the profoundest, most intense religious feelings paled, so human beings had to start developing something out of themselves in order to maintain their link with the cosmic, divine spiritual realm in a more active manner than had at first been the case. So we might say: The first post-Atlantean period was the most intensely religious of all. And in the second period religion faded somewhat, but human beings had to develop something by inner activity , something which would unite them once more with the cosmic beings of spirit and soul.

Of all the words we know, there is one we could use to describe this, although it was coined in a later age. It comes from an age which still possessed an awareness of what had once been a part of human evolution in ancient times. When an ancient Indian looked up to the heavens, he sensed the presence of individual beings everywhere, one divine spiritual being next to another—a whole population of divine spiritual beings. But this faded, so that what had been individualized, what had been individual, divine, spiritual beings faded into a general, homogeneous spiritual cosmos. Think of the following picture: Imagine a swarm of birds close by. You see each individual bird, but as the swarm flies further and further away it becomes a black blur, a homogeneous shape. In the same way the divine spiritual cosmos became a blurred image when human beings moved spiritually away from it.

The ancient Greeks still had an inkling of the fact that once, in the distant past, something like this had been at the foundation of what human beings saw in the spiritual world. Therefore they took into their language the word ‘sophia’. A divine, spiritual cosmos had once, as a matter of course, poured itself into human beings and had taken human beings into itself. But now man had to approach what he saw from a spiritual distance—a homogeneous cosmos—by his own inner activity. This the Greeks, who still had a feeling for these things, called by the expression: ‘I love’; that is: ‘philo’. So we can say that in the second post-Atlantean period, that of ancient Persia, the initiates had a twofold religion where earlier on religion had been onefold. Now they had philosophy and religion. Philosophy had been achieved. Religion had come down from the more ancient past, but it had paled.

Passing now to the third post-Atlantean period, we reach a further paling of religion. But we also come to a paling of philosophy. The actual, concrete process that took place must be imagined as follows. In ancient Persian times there existed this homogeneous shape made up of cosmic beings and this was felt to be the light that flooded through the universe, the primeval light, the primeval aura, Ahura Mazda. But now people retreated even further from this vision and began in a certain way to pay more attention to the movements of the stars and of the starry constellations. They now sensed less in regard to the divine, spiritual beings who existed in the background and more in regard to the written characters. From this arose something which we find in two different forms in the Chaldean wisdom and the Egyptian wisdom, something which comprised knowledge about the constellations and the movements of the stars. At the same time, the inner activity of human beings had become even more important. They not only had to unite their love with this divine Sophia who shone through the universe as the primeval light, but they had to unite their own destiny, their own position in the world, with what they saw within the universe in a cosmic script provided by the starry constellations and the starry movements. Their new achievement was thus a Cosmo-Sophia. This cosmosophy still contained an indication of the divine, spiritual beings, but what was seen tended to be merely a cosmic script expressing the deeds of these beings. Beside this there still existed philosophy and religion, which had both faded.

In order to understand this we must realize that what we today call philosophy is naturally only an extremely weak, pale shadow image of what was still felt to be more alive in the Mysteries of the third post-Atlantean period and what in an even paler form the Greeks later called philosophy. In the culture of the third post-Atlantean period we see everywhere expressions of these three aspects of the human spirit: a cosmosophy, a philosophy and a religion.2 See also Rudolf Steiner, Philosophy, Cosmology and Religion, Anthroposophic Press, New York 1984, and Rudolf Steiner's own reports of these lectures in Cosmology, Religion and Philosophy, Anthroposophic Press, New York 1984. And we only gain proper pictures of these when we know we have to remind ourselves that right up to this time human beings lived in their soul life more outside the earthly realm than within it. Looking for instance at the Egyptian culture from this point of view—and it was even more pronounced in the Chaldean—we see it rightly only if we remind ourselves that those who had any part in this culture indeed took the most intimate interest in the constellations of the stars as evening approached. For example they awaited certain manifestations from Sirius, they observed the planetary constellations and applied what they saw there to the way the Nile gave them what they needed for their earthly life. But they did not speak in the first instance of the earthly realm. This earthly realm was one field of their work, but when they spoke of the field they were tilling they did so in a way which related it to the extraterrestrial realm. And they named the varying appearances of the patch of earth they inhabited in accordance with whatever the stars revealed as the seasons followed one upon another. They judged the earth in accordance with the heavens. From the soul point of view, daytime brought them darkness. Light came into this darkness when they could interpret what the day brought in terms of what the starry heavens of the night showed them.

What people in those times saw might be expressed thus: The face of the earth is dark when the sun obscures my vision with dazzling brightness; but light falls on the field of my daily work when my soul shines upon it through starry wisdom.

Writing down a sentence like this gives us a sense for what the realm of feeling in this third post-Atlantean period was like. From this in turn we sense how those who still stood in the after-echoes of such a realm of feeling could say to the Greeks, to those who belonged to the fourth post-Atlantean cultural period: Your view of the world, indeed your whole life, is childlike, for you have knowledge only of the earth. Your ancestors in ancient times knew how to illumine the earth with the light of the heavens, but you live in the darkness of earth.

The ancient Greeks experienced this darkness of earth as something light. Their inclination was gradually to overcome and transform the older cosmosophy. So, as everything that looked down from the broad heavens became paler still, they transformed the older cosmosophy into a geosophy. Cosmosophy was nothing more than a tradition for them, something they could learn about when they looked back to those who had passed it down to them from earlier times.

Pythagoras, for instance, stood at the threshold of the fourth post-Atlantean period when he journeyed to the Egyptians, to the Chaldean and even further into Asia in order to gather whatever those who lived there could give him of the wisdom of their forefathers in the Mysteries, whatever they could give him of what had been their cosmosophy, their philosophy and their religion. And what was still comprehensible for him was then just that: cosmosophy, philosophy, religion.

However, there is something we today take far too little into consideration: This geosophy of the ancient Greeks was a knowledge, a wisdom which, in relation to the earthly world, gave human beings a feeling of being truly connected with the earth, and this connection with the earth was something which had a quality of soul. The connection with the earth of a cultured Greek had a quality of soul. It was characteristic for the Greeks to populate springs with nymphs, to populate Olympus with gods. All this points, not to a geology, which envelops the earth in nothing but concepts, but to a geosophy in which spiritual beings are livingly recognized and knowingly experienced. This is something which mankind today knows only in the abstract. Yet right into the fourth century AD it was still something that was filled with life.

Right into the fourth century AD a geosophy of this kind still existed. And something of this geosophy, too, came to be preserved in tradition. For instance we can only understand what we find in the work of Scotus Erigena,3 Johannes Scotus Erigena c.810-877. Irish philosopher and theologian, one of the most notable thinkers of the Carolingian Middle Ages. His principal work De divisione naturae was burnt by Pope Honorius in Paris in 1225. who brought over from the island of Ireland what he later expressed in his De divisione naturae, if we take it as a tradition arising out of a geosophical view. For in the fifth post-Atlantean period, which was in preparation then and which began in the fifteenth century, geosophy, too, paled. There then began the era in which human beings lost their inner connection with, and experience of, the universe. Geosophy is transformed, we might say, into geology. This is meant in the widest possible sense and comprises not only what today's academic philosophy means by the term. Cosmosophy was transformed into cosmology. Philosophy was retained but given an abstract nature—which in reality ought to be called philology, had this term not already been taken to denote something even more atrocious than anything one might like to include in philosophy.

There remains religion, which is now totally removed from any real knowledge and basically assumed by people to be nothing more than tradition. People of a nature capable of being creatively religious are no longer a feature of civilized life in general in this fifth post Atlantean period. Look at those who have come and gone. None have been creatively religious in the true sense of the word. And this is only right and proper. In the preceding epochs, in the first, second third and fourth post-Atlantean periods, there were always those who were creatively religious, personalities who were creative in the realm of religion, for it was always possible to bring down something from the cosmos, or at least to bring something up out of the realm of the earth. So in the Greek Mysteries—those called the Chthonian Mysteries in contrast to the heavenly Mysteries—which brought up their inspiration out of the depths of the earth in various ways—in these Mysteries geosophy was chiefly brought into being.

By entering into the fifth post-Atlantean period and standing full within it, human beings were thrown back upon themselves. The now made manifest what came out of themselves, ‘-logy ‘, the lore the knowledge out of themselves. Thus knowledge of the universe becomes a world of abstractions, of logical concepts, of abstract ideas. Human beings have lived in this world of abstract ideas since the fifteenth century. And with this world of abstract ideas, which they summarize in the laws of nature, they now seek to grasp out of themselves what was revealed to human beings of earlier times. It is quite justified that this age no longer brings forth any religiously creative natures, for the Mystery of Golgotha falls in the fourth post-Atlantean period, and this Mystery of Golgotha is the final synthesis of religious life. It leads to a religion that ought to be the conclusion of earthly religious streams and strivings. With regard to religion, all subsequent ages can really only point back to this Mystery of Golgotha.

So the statement, that since the beginning of the fifth post-Atlantean period it is no longer possible for religiously productive individuals to appear, is not a criticism or a reprimand aimed at historical development. It is a statement of something positive because it can be justified by the occurrence of the Mystery of Golgotha.

In this way we conjure up before our eyes the course of human evolution with regard to spiritual streams and spiritual endeavours. In this way we can see how it has come about that we stand today in the midst of something that is, basically, no longer connected with the world about us but has come out of the human being, something in which the human being is productive and must become ever more productive. By further developing all these abstract things human beings will ascend once more through Imaginations to a kind of geosophy and cosmosophy. Through Inspiration they will deepen cosmosophy and ascend to a true philosophy, and through Intuition they will deepen philosophy until they can move towards a truly religious view of the world which will once more be able to unite with knowledge.

It is necessary to say that today we are only in the very first, most elementary beginnings of this progress. Since the final third of the nineteenth century there has shone into the earthly world from the spiritual world something which we can take to be a giving-back of spiritual revelations. But even with this we stand at the very beginning, a beginning which gives us a picture with which to characterize the attitude brought by external, abstract culture towards the first concrete statements that come from the spiritual world. When the representatives of current recognized knowledge hear what we have to say about the spiritual world, the understanding they bring to bear on what we say is of a kind that it can only be called a non-understanding. For it can be compared with the following: Suppose I were to write a sentence on this piece of paper, and suppose someone were to try to understand what I had written down by analysing the ink in which it is written. When our contemporaries write about Anthroposophy it is like somebody analysing the ink of a letter he has received. Again and again we have this impression. It is a picture very close to us, considering that we took our departure from a description of how, for human beings, in early post-Atlantean times even the starry constellations and starry movements were no more than a written expression for what they experienced as the spiritual population of the universe.

Such things are said today to a certain number of people in order to give them the feeling that Anthroposophy is not drawn from some sort of fantastic underworld but from real sources of knowledge, and that it is therefore capable of understanding the human beings of the earth to the very roots of their nature. Anthroposophy is capable of throwing light on today's differentiation of human beings into those of the West, of the middle realm and of the East, in the way mentioned yesterday. It is also capable of throwing light on differentiations which have existed in human evolution during the course of time. Only by connecting everything we can know about the differentiations according to regions of the earth with what we can know about how all this has come about can we gain an understanding of what kind of human beings inhabit our globe today.

Traditions of bygone ages have always been preserved, in some regions more, in others less. And according to those traditions the peoples of this globe are distinguished from one another. Looking eastwards we find that in later ages something was written down which during the first post-Atlantean period had existed unwritten, something which shines towards us out of the Vedas and their philosophy, something which touches us with its intimacy in the genuine philosophy of yoga. Letting all this work on us in our present-day consciousness, we begin to sense: If we immerse ourselves ever more deeply in these things, then we feel that even in the written works something lives of what existed in primeval times. But we have to add: Because the eastern world still echoes of its primeval times it is unsuited to receiving new impulses.

The western world has fewer traditions. At most, certain traditions stemming from the third post-Atlantean period, the age of cosmosophy, are contained in the writings of some secret orders. But they are traditions which are, no longer understood and are only brought before human beings in the form of incomprehensible symbols. But at the same time there is in the west an elemental strength capable of unfolding new impulses for development.

We might say that originally the primeval impulses existed. They developed by becoming ever weaker and weaker until, by about the fourth post-Atlantean period, they so to speak lost themselves in themselves, in what became Greek culture as such. Out of that, pointing towards the new, developed the abstract, prosaic sober culture of the Romans. (The lecturer draws on the blackboard). But this in turn must take spirituality into itself; it must, by becoming ever stronger and stronger, be filled with inner spirituality. Here, then, we have the symbol of the spiralling movement of humanity's impulses throughout the ages.

This symbol has always stood for important matters in the universe. If we have to speak of an atomistic world, we should not imagine it in the abstract way common today. We should imagine it in the image of this spiral, and this has often indeed been done. But on the greatest scale, too, we have to see this spiralling movement. Today I consider that we have arrived at it in a perfectly elementary manner by way of a concrete consideration of the course of human spiritual evolution.