Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Lectures to Priests: The Apocalypse
GA 346

Lecture VI

Dornach, 10 September 1924

When someone became initiated in the ancient mysteries, one of the first things he experienced there was that his thoughts and his whole human soul mood were directed towards the significance of the cycles of world civilization which are based on the number seven. And we see a clear reflection of what arises from this initiation principle in the Apocalypse. The number seven is present in the construction, composition and content of the Apocalypse in a great variety of ways.

Now of course what is connected with this number seven was not connected with it in the external way that one usually imagines today, but one initiated the person concerned into the working and weaving of numbers in general. Now I would like to draw your attention to something which I explained over there in a quite different course on speech formation.

There I had to explain how an experience of speech sounds is possible, and that mankind has lost its ability to experience them. Just place the way elements of the creative word are given through these experiences of speech sounds and the way that the most manifold and wonderful content and even a whole world content can be given through combinations of about 32 sound elements before your souls. Now try to imagine what things were like at such a time—and there were times when something like this was a reality for mankind—a time that lived with these 32 elements in a very active way and which felt how wonderful it was to be able to shape a world out of this experience of 32 speech sounds. One really felt that something spiritual was weaving in speech formation and in the pictorial shaping of words when one spoke; one experienced that gods were living in the speech sounds.

If you take our 32 speech sounds, it will be easy for you to see that about 24 of them are consonants and that about 7 of them are vowels. Of course these things are always approximate, but you can now let some light from the beginning of John's gospel “In the beginning was the word” fall on that Apocalyptic Imagination of an Alpha and Omega surrounded by seven angels or vowels, and by 24 elders or consonants. One felt that the secret of the universe weaved and lived in what one intoned in holy cultic language in the way that I already explained to you. And when one celebrated a religious rite one felt the presence of the world's content which lived powerfully in this symbolic picture.

Mankind must again get a feeling for where the gods were located from the viewpoint of mystery wisdom. They weren't sought in the remote transcendental places one thinks of today. One sought their bodies in things like speech sounds; and when people spoke about the cosmic, word, they were speaking about the things which really weave through the world and which men participate in with their speech.

The same applies to numbers. Our present idea about numbers is very abstract, by comparison with the kind of thinking which still holds sway in the Apocalypse. Now you see, if one goes back to the first Christian centuries one finds that a few people have a certain understanding for something like the Apocalypse, because they still felt what the secret of numbers is and because they still experienced the peculiar proportions which are connected with a division into a series of numbers.

People definitely did not look upon a series of numbers as a kind of joining of one more unit to the previous number, but one experienced what is present in three and in four, namely, the closed nature of three, the open nature of four, and the five which is related to the human being. One felt something divine in numbers, just as one found something divine in speech sounds and letters.

When someone in the ancient mysteries had reached the point where he was initiated into this secret of numbers, it was his duty to think, feel and sense in accordance with this secret of numbers. Just think what this means. In music we have an octave of seven tones—for the eighth is the same as the first, in the rainbow 7 colors, and the number 7 is also present in other things in nature. Just suppose that it would occur to Nature to have a different arrangement in the rainbow,—the whole universe would be thrown into confusion; or suppose one would divide up the musical scale in a different way,—the music would become unbearable, and so on.

However, since this secret of numbers is also in man's soul being—there where the lawfulness is right—, just as the course of nature is in it, the candidate for initiation was told that he shouldn't toss his thoughts back and forth arbitrarily anymore after his initiation, but that it was his duty to think inwardly in numbers, just as Nature thinks in numbers; he was told to experience how the mystery of numbers weaves and lives in all beings and processes.

Now the Apocalypse was written at a time when such an insertion of man into the cosmic secret of a 7 or 12 or 24 or 3 was absolutely valid. Since the beginning of our consciousness soul age, that is, since the first third of the 15th century, we are running into things which are similar to those which took place before the time in which the number 7 was strictly valid, so that displacements in the number 7 are gradually appearing. We are no longer in the fortunate position of experiencing an evolution which occurs exactly according to the number 7 We are already in that evolutionary stage of the earth where irregularities are beginning with respect to the secret of numbers, so that the secret of numbers has acquired a new significance for us. If we enlighten ourselves through the secret of numbers which exists in documents like the Apocalypse, we find that we gradually become able to grasp what is increasingly occurring outside the secret of numbers with our senses. And so in a certain sense, we're living our way out of the secret of numbers. But we have to find out what it is, so that we can use it in the forms which are suitable for the earthly human events which are to be guided by the priesthood in the religious sphere.

Although I'm assuming this, I can nevertheless speak about certain phenomena as if they were occurring in accordance with the secret of numbers, because world events will probably only emerge from the secret of numbers slowly, as they move into a mode which is not in accordance with numbers. In any case, in the ancient mysteries people thought in terms of larger, smaller and very, small cycles of seven.

Thus we have seen the continuation of old cultures and the beginning of new cultural periods in the 7 communities or churches, which were also real, concrete formations on earth. On the other hand, we have a smaller cycle, and the Apocalypse helps us to understand this in a certain way. Just consider what this smaller cycle consists of.

If we look back to the time in which the Mystery of Golgotha took place upon earth, we see that Oriphiel, the archangel who gets most of his impulses from Saturn, was ruling human spiritual development. Then we come into an age where Anael is the ruling archangel, then to the age of Zachariel, then we come to the age of Raphael, then of Samael, of Gabriel and into the present Michael age; we have the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh ages; so that we're in the seventh age of this smaller cycle within our fifth larger cycle.

If we wanted to write what they wrote in ancient times in a modern form, we would have to say that we are living in the 5/7 age, that is, we're in a larger, fifth cycle, and we're also in a seventh cycle which intersects this. A seventh cycle signifies an end condition. It was preceded by the sixth Gabriel cycle. A great deal is always decided in a sixth cycle; the end is prepared, and the previous age still works into this sixth cycle. The Michael cycle begins about 1879, the Gabriel cycle begins about 1471. Before that was the fifth Samael cycle, and this archangel gets his impulses from Mars.

The archangel of the fifth smaller cycle was reigning when the fifth post Atlantean epoch began. However, he had already been reigning for 3 to 4 centuries in this fifth archangel cycle when he ushered in the fifth post Atlantean cycle. Thus the small cycle overleaps the beginning of the large cycle. However, this means that the large cycles are brought about by spirits in the middle hierarchies; the third hierarchy, which includes the archangels, are the servants of the higher hierarchies. But the law of numbers works in such a way that the fifth archangel's main activity coincides with that of a being from a higher hierarchy who is also connected with the number five at the beginning of the fifth cycle.

It's been a relatively long time since anyone has spoken about these things, but they were discussed over a period which is longer than most people think. These secrets were discussed in places like the School of Chartres in the 12th century. They still had an apocalyptic language then, for the latter is always one which looks upon the universe from the perspective or point of view of numbers, and also from other viewpoints.

When Plato says that God geometrizes and mathematizes he doesn't mean our rather abstract geometry or mathematics, but that deep experience which people in ancient times had in connection with forms and numbers. And although it is ridiculed by materialism, one can see everywhere that the law of seven also applies to organic life. One will find that the law of seven is at work in the time it takes for larvae and butterflies to develop and crawl out, and in the development of certain diseases, and in many other things. These initiates were told that numbers are something which arise out of the nature of things, and this helped them to see the way things really are.

For one really becomes attentive to things if one has to tell oneself that the archangel who stands in the number five spot helps to begin the fifth post Atlantean age with Mars forces. Everyone knows that there is something warlike about Mars. If we look at the successive cultural periods, we see that they are separated by important events.

If we look back at the last big event which separates the Atlantean age from the present age which is now in its fifth cultural period, we have what is known as the ice age or flood between the two the sinking of Atlantis and the rising of new continents.

We are living in the fifth post Atlantean period, a sixth one will follow and a seventh one will follow. The catastrophe which then separates us from the next large period which will come the fifth from the sixth period will not just be an external event in nature like the ice age or flood was. This separation of the fifth from the sixth period will become manifest in a more moral way. As I have often mentioned, a war of all against all or a moral catastrophe will separate the fifth from the large sixth earth period.

Of course, this will also be connected with events in nature, but the latter will be less important. It is introduced by what comes from Mars through Samael, the spirit of conflict, when warlike elements for initiation were brought from the spiritual world. At the beginning of our fifth, smaller consciousness soul age we have a preview of the way our larger age will end after our fifth cultural epoch has been followed by the sixth and seventh ones.

If we listen to what people who still knew something about the secret events which stand behind the public ones said around the beginning of the 15th century when Samael was reigning under the influence of Mars we will get an inkling of the way our large epoch will end. One finds one's way into apocalyptic thinking if one connects numbers with events. If one learns to look at the world in an apocalyptic way, one will, as it were, be able to read the apocalyptic universe, and one will find that countless secrets are revealed to one.

Now consider the fact that the small Michael cycle is in our fifth post Atlantean cultural epoch and in the larger fifth earth period. Let's take a look at what this means.

We are living in the post Atlantean epoch or in the fifth large earth period. This fifth epoch has in a way strongly separated men from the world of the gods. Atlantean men still felt that they were permeated by God; they felt that they were like a covering for the godhead, and not like individual human beings. Atlantean men felt that the godhead existed, but not individual human beings.

The main thing that our epoch is for is to make men independent and to separate him from the godhead, and this has been happening slowly and gradually for four cultural periods. It was happening slowly in the ancient Indian cultural epoch, and one could still see the after effects of this in the Ephesian mysteries. During, the ancient Indian cultural age men felt that they were still almost entirely embedded in the godhead. They separated themselves from it considerably during the ancient Persian period. They were relatively independent in the third, so that they already felt death approaching from a distance. Death was felt to such an extent during the Græco-Roman cultural period that it gave rise to that well known saying, “It's better to be a beggar in the upper world than a king in the realm of the shades.”

Now that we're gradually supposed to have death beside us as a companion in the fifth post Atlantean cultural age, as I said yesterday, we will need moral strength in order to bear this continual presence of death. In the immediate present and in the age where the consciousness soul and the accompaniment by death are beginning for us, it is important that this coincides with the time of Michael's reign—a reign that signifies an end in a certain sense and a kind of an attainment of perfection; or decadence and perfection at the same time.

At the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, Michael, who lived in the sun and who was the most important servant of the Christ spirit in the sun, experienced this event from the other side.

Humanity on earth experienced the Mystery of Golgotha in such a way that it saw the Christ approaching, whereas Michael and his hosts, who were still in the sun at that time experienced it in such a way that they had to say farewell to the Christ.

One must let the two poles of this event which surpassed everything else which was happening in the cosmos work upon one's soul,—the hosanna on earth when Christ arrived there, and his departure from Michael's hosts up above, for they belong together.

But Michael has undergone a great metamorphosis in our age, and the beginning of his reign signifies a following of Christ down to the earth, and in the future it will signify a walking before Christ's deeds upon earth. And then one will begin to understand again what “Michael walks before the Lord” means.

In the Old Testament the initiates of Asia said that Michael went before Jehova, just as a man's face precedes him as his foremost part; for there was a Michael reign before Oriphiel's. They spoke of Michael as the countenance of Jehova. We must learn to speak of Michael as the countenance of Christ, but we're in a different age now. Certain things must attain the greatest perfection; we must, as it were, learn to make things productive which couldn't be productive before.

Let's take the seven churches. If we assign one of them which we can do to the period which went parallel with the Christ event and the beginnings of Christianity, which was still underway when the Apocalypse was being written—if we take this first time period, it is represented by the church in Ephesus. And then we see that the people in this Ephesian community were the ones whose first love united them with Christianity around the time the Apocalypse was written and also afterwards. All of this should be understood out of the secret of numbers.

After this we find the age of Anael, who draws his forces from Venus. We find the great deeds of love which spread Christianity during this age, countless deeds of love, namely those deeds of love which live in the footsteps of the Irish monks as they spread Christianity in Europe. And we find that love is also the predominant thing in the rest of Christian life during this reign of Anael.

The reign of Zachariel follows; he draws his forces from Jupiter, mainly forces of wisdom, but forces which could be but little understood during this age. Instead of a real Jupiter reign, the reign of the archangels began to retire more into the background at this time. In a way humanity no longer reached up to the region of Jupiter, and they denied the Jupiter spirit. The significant eighth Council of Constantinople, which took away a great deal from the evolution of humanity and which eliminated the trichotomy, took place during this period.

Then comes the age in which events occur that are more or less ignored in outer history. After the age of Zachariel is over, humanity's soul is basically sick. Humanity is very sick, and pathogenic substances spread from east to west. Terrible pathogenic substances exist which are dangerous to Christianity, because the period of Jupiter wisdom has ended. These pathogenic substances came from materialism, for it was this which pressed into Christianity, and it thereby took hold of the whole Christian culture.

However, something strange stands behind all of what is only present on earth as a projection. The age of Raphael, the doctor among the archangels, stands behind the sick things which were left behind from the age of Zachariel. This was the age which began in the 10th and 11th centuries, where things were healed behind the scenes not in an outwardly manifest way but mostly within. Namely, much was healed in connection with the rescue of certain moral qualities which were on the verge of being ruined; a great deal was healed in this way. But in contrast to the pathological substances which were brought to Europe by Mohammedanism, something was summoned which was permeated by the Christian principle and which had to come from the Orient in a different form. One must become aware of the great will impulse which was behind the crusades. One of the causes of the crusades was the principle to heal mankind, to cure it of the materialism which was threatening it from both Mohammedanism and Roman Catholicism. And Raphael, the doctor among the archangels, is basically the inspirer of those who prepared mankind, to look for the part of the Orient towards which the crusades were directed. However, the crusades are in the fourth small cycle in the fourth post Atlantean age which was almost over. Here we are in the fourth smaller cycle in the fourth larger one which is the fourth Græco-Roman age. But this fourth, larger period was the one which was chosen to include the Mystery of Golgotha. The fourth, smaller cycle or Raphael cycle is closely connected with the basic structure, of the fourth, larger one. For we see how Raphael the archangel implements Christ's impulses as he inspires people to go on the crusades and to look fervently towards the Orient in order to find Christ's mystery there, and we see that a kind of spiritual atmosphere floats above the ground and above all the events. The people who could look behind the scenes at all at the time were really only separated by a thin spider's web from a directly adjacent world, just as we were only separated from it by a spider's web in the last third of the 19th century, when Michael became visibly active on earth.

Joachim of Floris, Alanus ab Insulis and other outstanding spirits in the Raphael age could see this activity of Raphael and this healing of humanity which was going on behind the scenes. This was the background for the age of pathogenic spiritual materials, which is confirmed by the fact that people began to really understand Luke's gospel of healing in this age. Thus if one looks at periods from a numerical point of view, one finds important things which can help one to interpret events.

This was followed by the Samael age, which gets its main impulses from Mars. Quarrelsome forces arise and mankind is inoculated with them. Five becomes opposed to four. This is the strange thing in transitions from four to five, that the five always becomes opposed to the four. If we go back to the ancient mysteries, where pupils or adepts were initiated into the secrets of numbers for a long time, we find that after a while pupils left their classes with a deep conviction which they formulated as follows: Now I know that five is the number which represents evil.

According to the secret of numbers, wherever five is at work in the universe, one has to do with the evil sphere; it opposes four and this gives rise to great decisions which enable one to go up to six in either a good or an evil way. Tomorrow we will dis cuss the extent to which this leads to concrete things, such as to the wisdom of the heart and of the human soul. I wanted to show you how one becomes able to describe events if one lets one's thoughts be guided by the thread of numbers.