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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Reading the Pictures of the Apocalypse
GA 104a
Part One

Lecture I

Munich, April 22, 1907

The Revelations of John seek to tell us what will happen in the course of time. The Apocalypse is written in pictures that express the appearance of the eternal spirit of the world. John, who beholds them, is to record these highest mysteries.

We are, to begin with, concerned with seven communities, represented symbolically by seven lamp stands and seven stars. The stars are the communities' geniuses watching over them.

In the second vision John sees the four apocalyptic living beings, the lion, the bull, the eagle, and Man, surrounding a throne where sits the spirit of God. Twenty-four elders are sitting around the throne of the spirit of God. “And I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals.” (Rev. 5:1) A lamb opens the book. The book contains, with the opening of the first four seals, what is expressed symbolically in the four apocalyptic riders; with the opening of the fifth seal the martyrs appear. These are those who have lifted themselves up to knowledge and life in the spirit. The opening of the sixth seal is followed by a horrible earthquake. With the seventh the revelation becomes audible: the seven trumpets sound forth. Mysterious pictures are then revealed; for example, a being whose legs are like two pillars, one foot stands in the sea, the other on the earth. “Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. He had a little scroll open in his hand.” (Rev. 10:1,2) John must eat the secret of this book. Then a woman appears dressed with the sun, and the moon at her feet.

We read further: “And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems upon its horns and a blasphemous name upon its heads.” (Rev. 13:1) The sound of trumpets accompanies this vision. The victory of good over evil is shown us in a picture. A beast is shown which, in a certain sense, is supposed to represent to us the principle of evil. It is the beast with seven heads and ten horns.

Then a beast appeared with two horns like a lamb, a beast that will appear in the future. “Then I saw another beast which rose out of the earth; it had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast ... And it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave to be marked on the right hand or the forehead so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast, or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom; let him who has understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty-six.” (Rev. 13: 11, 16–18)

It is further related how all enemies are eliminated: Michael conquers the dragon, the evil elements; then a new world arises. In the first Christian centuries this was prophesied and always understood as a reference to the future. Admittedly, the exegetes soon knew little more than that; but again and again, also in the Middle Ages, there were those who came forward to explain it. The year 1000 A.D. was often thought to be the time for the beast's appearance. The later the era the more senseless the explanations became, especially in the nineteenth century—when the ancient commentators were seen as children still able to believe in prophecy. The Apocalypse was seen as a historical document, as if everything described therein had already taken place when John wrote it. There were wars after the appearance of Christianity. John could have meant to express them with the red horse. The white horse would then symbolize the martyrs. Earthquakes such as John described with the opening of the sixth seal were also to be found at that time in Asia Minor. And neither was it difficult to prove the existence of locust plagues. But the passage concerning the two-horned beast was a real cross for the commentators. They had heard a rumor concerning the way numbers are to be read but it was dripping with occultism. How does one read in numbers? Every letter also signifies a number; the esotericists wrote in numbers when they wanted to hide something. One had to replace each number with the correct letter; one had to be able to read the letters and then also know what the resulting word meant. Who then, is the beast whose number is 666? The commentators thought it must be something in the past. One wrote the letters in Hebrew—wrongly—in the place of the numbers. That resulted in “Nero.” The horns were then related to the generals or the enemies of the Romans, for example, the Parthians. If one had written correctly with Hebrew letters (right to left) and then read correctly (also from right to left), the following would have resulted: 60, Samech, 6 Waw; 600 was written by esotericists as 200 + 400: 200 Resch + 400 Taw. Hence, we get 666, which in Hebrew letters spells “Sorat.” Sorat is also the corresponding word in Greek. Sorat has meant “Demon of the Sun” since ancient times. Every star has its good spirit—its intelligence—and its evil spirit—its demon. The adversary of the good powers of the sun is called Sorat. Christ was always the representative of the sun, namely, the intelligence of the Sun. Sorat is, then, the adversary of Christ Jesus. The sign for Sorat looks like this:

The sign of the intelligence of the Sun is the following:

This is, at the same time, the occult sign of the lamb. The lamb receives the book with the seven seals. “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” (Rev. 5:6) The seven corners of the sign are called “horns.” But what do the “eyes” mean?

In occult schools the signs of the seven planets are written next to the seven eyes. The seven eyes signify nothing other than the seven planets, while the names of the planets designate the spirits incarnated in them as their intelligence. “Saturn” is the name of the soul of Saturn. The names of the planets come from the spirits of the seven planets found around the earth. These have an influence on human life. The lamb, Christ, contains all seven. Christ is the alpha and the omega; the seven planets are related to him like members to an entire body. The entwining of the lines of the sign portray in a wonderful way the interaction between the seven planets. From Saturn one rises to the Sun, from there down to the Moon, then on to Mars, Mercury, and so forth. The same thing is expressed in the names of the seven days of the week: Saturday, Saturn; Sunday, the Sun; Monday, the Moon; Tuesday, Mardi, Mars; Wednesday, Mercredi, Mercury; Thursday, Jeudi, Jupiter; Friday, Vendredi, Venus. Christ is the regent of all these world spheres; their actions constitute only part of his being; he unites them all. In Rosicrucian schools a lamb is often drawn as a sign for the intelligence of the Sun.

We determine time according to the movement of the heavenly bodies. Was the method for calculating time always the same as today's? Important things have changed. If we look into the past a little we see the Atlantean culture before the great flood on earth. The Lemurian age preceded it. If we go even further back into the past the earth, sun, and moon are still united in a single body. Back then time had to he determined differently than today. Day and night were entirely different. In Lemuria, conditions for the whole earth were the same as it is today at the north pole, half a year day and half a year night. When sun, moon, and earth were still one this unified mass moved through space. Already back then this movement was calculated by occult wisdom, just as today one calculates time according to the sun which moves across the sky through the signs of the zodiac. Eight hundred years before Christ the sun stood in the sign of Aries. Christ was originally worshiped under the sign of the cross, with a lamb lying at the foot of the cross. The cross with Christ upon it appeared only in the sixth century. Before that the Bull, Taurus, was worshiped when the sun stood in its sign. Earlier, it was the Twin, Gemini, that was worshiped in Persia. The team of goats that pulled Thor's chariot had the same significance. Before that the Crab, Cancer, was worshiped, and so forth.

Before the Lemurian age the sun, moon, and earth, united in one body, moved forward in terms of the zodiac. Time was measured following this movement. For this reason, the twelve signs of the zodiac are characterized as the heavenly clock and drawn as such.

A planet alternates between pralaya, a cosmic night, and manvantara, a cosmic day, just as we alternately pass through day and night. The planet passes through the signs of the zodiac during both pralaya and manvantara; for that reason the twelve signs of the zodiac are counted twice, just as we also count two times twelve to equal twenty-four hours. The hours symbolize the signs of the zodiac. The united sun, moon, and earth also moved through the cosmic days and nights according to the heavenly clock. Then their separation occurred. But at that time human beings were not the same as we are now. The soul only gradually descended, and only gradually did the human being develop from the generic into a specific individual being. If one had taken together the generic souls of human beings during the Lemurian and Atlantean times, then one would have perceived something very strange. The aura of the human being is constantly changing; like all astral beings it is in constant motion. The generic souls were reflected in the forms of animals, for example, in sphinxes and so forth. The ancient Atlantean and Lemurian generic souls were constantly changing but they expressed themselves again and again in a fourfold way. The fourfold nature of human generic souls is characterized by the four living creatures of the Apocalypse: lion, bull, eagle, and Man. The lower human being is portrayed through these four living creatures, and the lamb symbolized the perfected human being—that is, the fifth living creature.

Twice twelve heavenly constellations and four living creatures were once the regents of the world. Mighty cosmic powers ensouled the signs of the zodiac and the four living creatures. The twenty-four elders in the Apocalypse are the two times twelve stars on the world clock who were once rulers. The evolution of the human being can be portrayed in this drawing:

The lowest point designates clear day-consciousness. In pre-Lemurian times the human being had a dull clairvoyance. At that time human beings were closer to God than today. Then they acquired day consciousness. Human beings will take that consciousness with them in the course of their further evolution when they again approach God and become clairvoyant. Every point on the descending line corresponds to a point on the ascending line. If we could live backward we would see all the things that we will see in the future in a different, clairvoyant way. In the future we will again see the twelve spirits of the planets, and the sun, moon, and earth will once again be united, “... and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood ...” and so forth. (Rev. 6:12)

When the soul first descended from the womb of God it found a human animal on earth. These human animals looked grotesque; they needed to be transformed, overcome. In the future, there will also be such an animal to overcome. That is what the beast with the two horns would say to us.

Only someone who explains the Apocalypse within its entire context can understand it properly. The Apocalypse is a cosmic explanation of the world. The author was an initiate. He spoke of universal laws that apply to the world from the beginning to the decline, from the alpha to the omega.

We should allow the holy symbols given in the Apocalypse to work upon us. The sign of the Sun intelligence, for example, should not remain a mere sign for us; we should immerse ourselves in this sign until we feel it is no longer dead but flowing with life. The signs should be for us doors connecting the physical to the spiritual world. Then we have fulfilled our duty: to connect the physical and the spiritual worlds.