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Reading the Pictures of the Apocalypse
GA 104a
Part One

Lecture II

Munich, May 1, 1907

Eight days ago began with a presentation to help us understand the language of John. We considered how the Apocalypse is to be read and what is hidden behind some of the mysterious expressions, for example, behind the lamb as the beast with seven eyes and seven horns. We also sought to explain the beast with two horns and considered the number 666 as an example of how we must live into this mysterious book. Today, we again seek to find the meaning of this book.

The record of the New Testament is a record of initiation. Using individual images as examples we have seen how deep their meaning really is. All the images have shown us that the Gospels express, in pictorial form, the deepest imaginable meaning of the evolution of the world. It could occur to someone to ask why there are contradictions in the individual Gospels, why they do not correspond to each other. What needs to be said concerning this is already laid out in my book, Christianity as Mystical Fact.1Rudolf Steiner, Christianity as Mystical Fact (Hudson, N.Y.:Anthroposophic Press, 1993). The Gospels are not records of the biography of Christ Jesus, but rather records concerning initiation. And the Apocalypse is the profoundest record. Augustine said: What is now called the “Christian religion” is the ancient true religion. What was the true religion, now is called the Christian religion.2Actual words: “For what is now called the Christian religion existed even among the ancients and was not lacking from the beginning of the human race until ‘Christ came in the flesh.’ From that time, true religion, which already existed, began to be called Christian.” Augustine, The Retractions Book I, chapter 12, section 3, trans. Mary Inez Bogan in The Fathers of the Church (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1968).

We understand what is meant by this statement when we consider the fundamental assertion of Christianity: “Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe.” John 20:29) In this way something entirely new has come into the world. The teachings are already contained in other religious systems. Among those who understood who “Christ” is the main emphasis was never placed on the content of this teaching. One can also find this content in records from earlier times. What is important with Christ is what this individual means for humankind. We can acquire an understanding for this most readily if we take a look at the ancient mystery centers.

Until the time of Christ only a few specially chosen people were initiated. After severe testing they were permitted to learn the teachings that can now be found in my book Theosophy.3Steiner, Theosophy (GA 9) (Hudson, N.Y.: Anthroposophic Press, 1993). One had to wait a long time until the higher degrees of vision were permitted. Only the most initiated knew the tradition of how to carry out an initiation. If someone wanted to become a pupil, as a first step they had to do this, as a second step, that, and so forth. The initiation concluded when the pupil had gone through the preparatory stages and was led by the wise ones into the mysteries themselves. That took place in a state of consciousness called “ecstasy,” a state of existence outside the physical body. It was connected with a diminution of consciousness, but at the same time with a vision of the spiritual world. An inner schooling consisting of certain will impulses, meditations, and a purification of the desires brought the pupil to a point where the last step was possible. Then the pupil was put by the initiator into a state that lasted three and a half days, a state like the one we enter when we fall asleep at night. External sense impressions disappeared. When we are asleep, nothing enters into the place where the sense impressions of sight and sound have disappeared, but with those being initiated a new world appeared. They were surrounded by a new world, a world of astral light, not the darkness, nothing of what today's human being experiences in the night appeared to them. The darkness was permeated by spiritual light and beings that are incarnated within the spiritual light. These beings became visible in the astral light. Then, after awhile, the astral world full of flowing light began to resound with the music of the spheres. What had merely been seen earlier began to be heard; it was a pure, spiritual music. External music is only a shadow-like reflection of the sounds of the spheres the seer hears, the seer who also perceives the inside of spiritual beings. Suppose we enter a large room filled with people; only when they begin to speak do they reveal their inner life to us. That is how it is in the spiritual world. First the beings become visible, then the inner life of the beings speaks to us. That is the harmony of the spheres.

Then, when the initiates were led back to vision of the physical world, they experienced themselves fully transformed into new human beings. Everyone who returned in this way then typically expressed: “My God, my God, how you have glorified me!” (Compare Matt. 27:46 and Mark 15:34)4ompare lecture of September 12, 1910 in The Gospel of St. Matthew (GA 123) (Hudson, N.Y.: Anthroposophic Press. 1965).

And so they returned, knowledgeable concerning the spiritual world out of their own experience. They were then seen as messengers from the spiritual world. What they had experienced up to the point of entering the spiritual world was prescribed precisely, stage by stage.

Although the rites of initiation were not recorded exactly, still there were canons of initiation containing prescriptions for all the steps. Everywhere, whether in the Egyptian schooling of Hermes, or in the Persian school, or in the Greek mysteries, or with the Druidic or Drotten mysteries, there were typical, traditional rules concerning what was to be experienced by anyone wanting to become an initiate.

Typical, similar characteristics appear wherever the lives of the great apostles of religions or world-views are described. The lives of Orpheus, Pythagoras, Hermes, and Buddha have many features in common, features that are important for all religious heroes. Why is this? Superficial researchers have believed that one borrowed from the other. But that is not true. Nevertheless, all of these typical religious heroes passed through these steps up to the highest stage of initiation. There were no biographies in ancient times that took into consideration the external conditions of a person's life. The further back we go before the turning point of time, the less value we find ascribed to the externals of life. Absolutely nothing was said concerning what the very greatest heroes of humankind experienced externally on the physical plane. Their lives were entirely dedicated to initiation. Telling the story of their initiation meant telling the story of their life. The main thing about a Hermes or a Buddha was what he had experienced until the initiation. Since the stages of initiation were similar everywhere, one heard a spiritual description of the life of the great initiates.

What in the past had been experienced only in secret became historical fact in Christianity. What could be described of Herme' experience took place in inner mysteries, at locations far removed from profane eyes.

In Christianity, for the first time, something was experienced as an external physical event that otherwise only took place in the mystery centers. The course Christ's life followed is the same as that experienced by all initiates when, to begin with, they had their etheric bodies lifted out of their physical. Everything that Christ Jesus experienced physically, on the physical plane, they had experienced in the etheric realm. Their last words were also, “My God, my God, how you have glorified me!” They had experienced earlier in the etheric body what Christ experienced in a physical body. In this way the prophecies of the prophets were fulfilled. This one time only experience of Christ represents the greatest decisive turning point in our world history and separates it into two parts.

The evangelists did not write ordinary biographies, but took rather the existing canonical initiation books. All four Gospels are to be seen as initiation writings, each presented from a different perspective. Since, however, initiation is described everywhere in the same way, the Gospels are in agreement on the most important things. We can describe the life of an initiate if we consider it as a life dedicated wholly to initiation. It would have seemed unholy to the evangelists to give an ordinary, external, historical biography of Christ Jesus. They had to take the building blocks for their writings from books derived from the mysteries. Hence, to a certain extent, what the prophets had said was fulfilled.

In a certain sense the Apocalypse represents a new kind of initiation; it shows how the old mysteries were transformed into Christian mysteries. When we look back at the old mysteries we find in them a more or less unified feature. It consisted of the following: Whether we go to Egypt, or to Persia, or to India, whether we are deepened in the Orphic or the Eleusinian mysteries, we find there complete agreement in one feature: a prophecy concerning the One who is to come.5Compare the lecture cycle Wonders of the World, Ordeals of the Soul, and Revelations of the Spirit (GA 129) (London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1963); Mystery Centers (GA 232) (London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1973); and World History in the Light of Anthroposophy (GA 233) (London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1977). This trait is also found in the Northern European mysteries. There was an initiate in the most ancient times who was signified by the name “Sig.” The Drotten mysteries, which were in Russia and Scandinavia, the Druidic mysteries in Germany all derived from an initiate with the name Sig, who was the founder of the northern mysteries. What happened in the mysteries has been preserved in the various myths and legends of the German nation and other Germanic peoples. The myths and legends are pictorial representations of what was experienced. In the Siegfried legend6Compare the lecture of October 21, 1904: “Die Siegfriedsage” in Esoterik und Weltgeschichte in der grieschischen und germanischen Mythologie [“The Legend of Siegfried” in Esoteric and World History in Greek and German Mythology] (Dornach, Switzerland: Rudolf Steiner Verlag, 1955). we see most clearly that feature that seeks for an end. This feature is expressed in mythological terms in the “Gotterdammerung,” the twilight of the gods.7Compare the lecture of August 14. 1908 in the lecture cycle Universe, Earth and Man (GA 105) (London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1987). This is characteristic of all the northern mysteries.

In all mysticism the image of the feminine is used for the soul; this image is also used by Goethe in his “chorus mysticus,” in the concluding scene of the second part of Faust. It is the eternal in the human being, the divine soul that draws the human being forward. Just as initiation was described in ancient Egypt and Persia as the union of the soul with the spiritual, so was it also described here in the north. Here in the north it was understood best that a man proved his worth on the field of battle. Those who counted for something in the north were honored as fighters who fell in the field of battle; those were the ones who entered into eternal life; the others died in their sleep. The fallen fighters were received by the Valkyries,8he virgin heroines of Germanic mythology. their own soul; union with the Valkyries was union with the eternal. It was said of Siegfried that he had already united with the Valkyries here on earth; that shows he was an initiate. The meaning of the story, that Siegfried had already experienced union with the Valkyries here on earth, is that he was an initiate. This legend tells us something with the death of Siegfried. When experiencing initiation in the ancient mysteries the initiate is told: We can only bring you to a certain point ... further than this only another can bring you—this other one is Christ Jesus—all that we can give you will be darkened when he comes, the One who will bring the new initiation. Siegfried is vulnerable to Hagen9One of the main heroes of the Nibelungen saga: he treacherously suffocates Siegfried after a hunt while Siegfried is drinking at a fountain. on his back because the cross has not yet been placed on the back of the one who will take over from the ancient initiation. This part of the body will one day be made invulnerable when the cross has been laid across it. In this way the northern mysteries alluded to Christ Jesus.

All the ancient mysteries looked toward him who was to come, who will live on the physical plane so as to found a new world order. The new initiation is what will occur through the impulses he gave. We find a portrayal of this in the Apocalypse. It tells us how initiation will proceed until Christ Jesus comes again in a new form. The Apocalypse refers to the time when an organ for receiving Christ will be developed. The time until Christ Jesus again will approach is described in the Apocalypse. We will understand the individual words if we adopt the way of thinking of one who has experienced such an initiation. We remember here the words of Christ—if we understand them we will also understand the Apocalypse—“Before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58) Christ directs his view from the past over to the present because for him there is an eternal present.

If we wish to understand what is meant by this we need only remember the fourfold human being who consists of physical body, etheric body, astral body, and I. When the I lights up in the course of evolution then the astral and etheric bodies are changed; and then finally the physical body too. The I is here for eternity; it is born out of the womb of a higher spirituality. Whether we look into the past or into the future, this I is what is eternal. If we observe an individual we can ask the question: What transformation has this person's I gone through? If we look back to the great Atlantean flood and then further back we do not find the I in a body such as exists today. At that time we were in a state wherein we could not think as well as we can now. When we look into the future we find the I in bodies ever more perfect, bodies having a perfection that we today with our thinking cannot even imagine. We cannot now imagine the perfection of thinking, the purity of feeling, and so forth in the future bodies of humankind. Initiates must make use of the form the human body has at any given time. Christ, too, had to use the ordinary form of the human body in his time. Still, when we look deeper we see in him a stage of evolution that humankind will only achieve in the distant future. Christ Jesus was the first born among those who could overcome death.

Let us compare the two ways of developing. The human being is born, goes through a life on earth, dies, goes through an astral condition, through devachan, and is then born again. When we go back to the beings who were present before the Lemurian age we have beings who do not die and are not reborn. They are constantly exchanging sheaths, as we do between physical birth and death. Then a certain revolution enters in. Today, human beings alternate between spiritual and physical life. With the group souls of animals it happens this way: Individual animals discard their bodies but the group souls themselves never die.

If we try to imagine the very highest being, the one who was as highly developed at the beginning as others will be at the end of evolution, then we have the image of Christ. He was the I that was as highly developed at the beginning as the human being will be at the end. “Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come ...” (Rev. 1:4) He is the first and the last.

The one who gives the Revelation to John is thus described. It is a Christian book; that is proven by the passage that reads: “... and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the first born of the dead and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (Rev. 1:5,6)

Christianity represents the greatest possible individualization of the human being, the freedom of the human being as an individual. At the beginning of the human race we see small communities held together by blood ties. Love was limited to those of the same blood. Now Christ Jesus comes and expands all ethnic groups and communities to include all of humanity. All ethnic religions are overcome through him. Christianity is the religion of the world. Within it there are only human beings; Christianity knows only human beings. Christianity would never be able to speak of the community of religions, but only of community of human beings. An age began when the secret mysteries became accessible to everyone through the mystery of Golgotha, which was placed in the center of the world. The chosen priests and kings gradually cease to exist. A final state is pointed to wherein everyone is a priest and a king, a state wherein all distinctions are swept away and all human beings are made equal. Therefore, the Apocalypse speaks of: “... a Kingdom, priests to his God and Father.” (Rev. 1:6)

The book portrays a real initiation, an ascent, to begin with, through learning on the physical plane. This step is portrayed in the words concerning the seven letters to the seven communities. The seven letters present what must first be learned. Then a number of pictures lead us to the astral plane. We see groups of beings undergoing transformation in the astral light: “... and he who sat there appeared like jasper and carnelian, and, round the throne was a rainbow that looked like an emerald.” (Rev. 4:3) “And before the throne there is as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.” (Rev. 4:6) The quality and being of the astral light is indicated by the transparency. In the astral light we can see through objects; they appear like glass. The entire astral world is like a glass sea.

The four living creatures then follow; they are to represent the human group souls. They were full of eyes within and without and had no peace day or night. There is constant movement in the astral world—astral eyes are everywhere and everything is transparent to them, both within and all around.

We see how, at first, the mysteries of the physical plane are described and then, out of the sealed book, the astral imaginations. They approach us in pictures.

After the seer has perceived the spiritual beings in the astral light for awhile, they begin to sound forth. This is described in the resounding of the trumpets when the sixth seal is opened. That is the condition of devachan. The seer becomes “clairaudient,” able to hear spiritual sounds—the spiritual ear is opened.

The stage then follows when the seer expands his consciousness over the entire earth. This is indicated in the swallowing of the book. It expresses the ascent into the higher regions of the spiritual worlds.