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Reading the Pictures of the Apocalypse
GA 104a
Part One

Lecture III

Munich, May 8, 1907

A day of remembrance such as we have today1Day of remembrance of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (born 1831) who died on May 8, 1891. In 1875 with Henry Steel Olcott (1832 – 1907) she founded the Theosophical Society. means much to those who belong to the theosophical movement, who feel that they belong to a spiritual movement. It means something entirely different from a day of remembrance for others, for those departed human beings who were firmly anchored in our materialistic culture. Such a day for us is also a day of gathering together; for what would the teachings of Theosophy be if they did not enter into every fiber of our hearts and there enrich our innermost life of feeling? If a soul has been separated from its physical body, that means only that a person's inner being has entered into a different relationship to us. It is just such a relationship to the founder of the theosophical movement that we would like to especially enliven on this day. We want to be filled with a feeling for our connectedness with the founder of our movement. We want to become fully conscious that thoughts and feelings are invisible powers in our soul, that they are facts. Feelings are living forces. If we today unite all our thoughts with what is included in the name “Helena Petrovna Blavatsky,” if we are united with the spirit who left her earthly sheaths behind on May 8, 1891, then our feelings and thoughts are real forces and create a real, spiritual bridge to another form of existence. Another world finds access to our souls across this bridge. For human beings who see, such thoughts and feelings are really living rays, rays of spiritual light that shoot forth from a human being, and are then united in a point that meets with the spiritual being. Such a festive moment is a reality. When our soul, dwelling in our body, wants to work on the physical plane, then it must form a body for itself: it must build and form matter and forces in such a way that it can express itself through them. If the matter and forces did not fit together then this soul could no longer live its life on the physical plane. Just as it is here on the physical plane, so it is also on the higher planes for spiritual beings. If we want to understand correctly Helena Petrovna Blavatsky then we must realize that all of her efforts are bound up with the proper progress of the theosophical movement. And so it has been since her soul freed itself from her physical body. Even now she is working as a living being within the Theosophical Society. If she is to be able to work then matter and forces must be at her disposal. From where could they be better taken than from the souls of those who understand her being within the theosophical movement. As our souls take hold of matter and forces on the physical plane, so also does such a being take hold of the matter and forces in human souls in order to work through them. If those people who are members of the theosophical movement were not willing to place themselves at the disposal of this being, then she could not find expression on the physical plane. We ourselves must create a place in our souls for reverence, love, and devotion, thus creating the forces through which Helena Petrovna Blavatsky can work, just as our soul works trough our bodies of flesh. We must become aware that we are truly creating something when, in this moment, we are loving and receptive. It is true that all the love and devotion that today streams up to the soul of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky are powerful forces that are called upon to connect with her.

We must correctly understand what this personality signifies within our cultural life. The nineteenth century will one day be described as the materialistic century in the history of humankind. The people of the twentieth century cannot really imagine how deeply the nineteenth century was entangled in materialism. Only later when people have again become spiritual will that be possible. Everything, even the religious life, was permeated by materialism. Anyone who can look upon human evolution from higher planes knows that in the forties of the nineteenth century there was an extreme low point in the spiritual life. Science, philosophy, and religion were in the grip of materialism. It was incumbent upon the leaders of humankind gradually to allow a stream of spiritual life to flow into humanity. It is most telling that, within the widest circumference of spiritual life in Occidental culture, no one was found as suitable as Helena Petrovna Blavatsky to guide the stream of spiritual life into the world, the stream that should refresh humankind and begin to pull it out of materialism. In the light of this one fact, the impact of all the attacks against her swirling around in the world today fade away. For, among many other things, the Theosophical Society must teach us the feeling of positivity. We must acquire an attitude that seeks, above all, to see what speaks of greatness in a human being. Then, in comparison to this greatness, all the little faults that incite criticism must fade away. Just as with other great personalities many things that were seen by their contemporaries with critical eyes have disappeared, so too will all these things fall away from her. But the great things she has accomplished will remain.

Let us learn to regard the mistakes of human beings as their own affair and the accomplishments of human beings as something that concerns all of humankind. People's errors belong to their karma; their deeds concern humanity. Let us learn not to be troubled by people's mistakes; they themselves must atone for them. Let us rather be thankful for their accomplishments, for the entire evolution of humanity lives from them.

This year's White Lotus Day, a day of remembrance for souls who have struggled free from the body and lift their experiences in another form up into the heights like a lotus flower, is the first day of this kind that we are not celebrating in community with Henry Steel Olcott, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky's associate. He, too, has left the physical plane, he who stood there as the great organizer, as the form-giving power. [Here follows an indecipherable sentence.] To him we direct our grateful, revering, and love-filled thoughts; these thoughts will flow into the spiritual world and we ourselves will thereby be strengthened. We should continue the celebration on the other days of the year as we send out our thoughts as rays of light, as we apply the strength we have received to the work that we call the theosophical movement. We will only work as they would if we are devoted to the spiritual life in an entirely undogmatic, nonsectarian way. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky did not ask for blind faith. What can be asked of her followers is that they let themselves be stimulated by her spirituality. There is a spring of spiritual power in what Helena Petrovna Blavatsky left to the physical plane, a spring that will be a blessing to us if we let it influence us in a living way. The letters on the page can stimulate us, but the spirit must become alive within. One thing that can be said of the writings of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky is this: Only someone who does not understand them can underestimate them. But someone who finds the key to what is great in these works will come to admire her more and more. That is what is significant about these works—the more one penetrates them the more one admires them. It is not the case that there are no mistakes to be found in them. But those who really take hold of life know, if they strive to evermore penetrate these works, that what is therein expressed could only have come from the great spiritual beings who are now guiding world evolution. This is how we must read Isis Unveiled,2Isis Unveiled: A Master-Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology, 2 vols. (New York: J.W. Bouton, 1877). a book containing truths which, although sometimes caricatured like a beautiful face seen in a distorting mirror, are truly great.

A person who would merely like to speak out of a critical spirit might perhaps say: It would have been better not to give any such distortion. But anyone seeing matters in the proper light will say: If someone places their weak spiritual forces at the disposal of spiritual powers who wish to reveal themselves, and knows that these forces will produce only a distorted picture but that there is no one else who could do it any better, then that person, through their devotion, is making a great sacrifice for the world. All renderings of the great truths are distortions. If someone wanted to wait until the whole truth could be manifested, then they would have a long wait. Selfless are those who devote themselves to the spiritual world saying: It doesn't matter if people tear me apart, I must present the truth as I can. This sacrifice is much greater than a moral sacrifice, this noble sacrifice of the intellect—an expression so often misused by a wrong-headed conception of religion—it signifies the yielding up of the intellect for instreaming, spiritual truth. If we are unwilling to offer up our intellect then we cannot serve the truth. When we look toward Helena Petrovna Blavatsky with gratitude, we do so above all because she is a martyr in the sense just described, a martyr among the great martyrs for the truth. This is how we consider her when we gladly and willingly regard her as a model in the Theosophical Society. Therefore, when I speak about regions of the spirit inaccessible to her it will not profane this day.

I will speak about spiritual streams in the world that Helena Petrovna Blavatsky least understood on the physical plane. We serve her best by placing ourselves in the service of that to which she could find no access. She would much prefer to have followers rather than worshipers. Although much of what I say may sound opposed to her, nevertheless we know that we are acting according to her wishes; by taking this liberty we esteem her the most.

Our transition now to the Apocalypse is not sought after, not forced. For if we wish to understand more deeply the world mission of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, then we must imagine evolution as consisting of two streams. Eighteen forty-one was the low point of humanity's spiritual life. The opponents of spiritual life had, in 1841, the strongest point of attack in the evolution of humankind.3Compare Rudolf Steiner's lecture of October 14, 1917 in The Fall of the Spirits of Darkness (GA 177) (Forthcoming from Rudolf Steiner Press). They did the groundwork necessary to prepare for many of the things described in the Apocalypse as prophetic visions of the future. What is represented by the beast with the horns of the ram and the number 666, the beast with the seven heads and so forth—that is prepared by the powers who, in 1841, found their moment for attacking the evolution of humankind. Those elemental beings who, at that time, found suitable soil, those powers have taken possession of a large part of humanity and, from that position, are exerting their influence. Otherwise, the adversarial powers that find expression in the two beasts would not reside in humanity pulling it down. Against this downward pull there is another movement drawing us upward. What is accomplished today for this upward movement is a preparation for all those who are to be sealed, who enter the stream of spiritual evolution. This stream found an instrument precisely in Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. We do not understand our present age if we do not recognize the deep necessity for this spiritual stream. We stand now in the fifth subrace of the fifth root race and are living toward the sixth and seventh subrace, then the sixth ground-race. What does it mean to say that we are living toward these races?4Steiner uses the old theosophical term “root race” to designate the seven epochs of earth evolution: the Polarian, the Hyperborean, the Lemurian, the Atlantean, Post-Atlantean and the last two, the sixth and seventh epochs. Each of these epochs consists of seven “subraces” It should be noted that Steiner used the word “race” only in the early, the theosophical, period of his work. Furthermore, his use of the word has little in common with the word's use today. On June 20, 1908 he said, “... we speak of ages of civilization, in contradistinction to races. All that is connected with this idea of race is still the remains of the epoch preceding our own, namely, the Atlantean. We are now living in the age of cultural epochs. Atlantis was the age in which seven great races developed one after another. Of course, the fruits of this race development extend into our epoch, and for this reason races are still spoken of today, but they are really mixtures and are quite unlike those distinct races of the Atlantean epoch. Today the idea of civilization has already superseded the idea of race” (The Apocalypse of St. John, London: The Anthroposophical Publishing Co., 1958, 61). It means that an understanding of Christ is contained in the sixth epoch—be it in the sixth epoch of the sixth subrace prophetically announced, or the sixth root race—for the human being who wants it.

At that time there will be human beings who are Christ filled, who have been sealed; in the ages of future spirituality the opening up, the breaking of the seals of human souls will take place. That the five wise virgins have oil burning in their lamps, that the bridegroom finds illuminated souls, signifies that a portion of humanity will have revealed to it the mystery that is still today closed to humankind. The book with the seven seals will be deciphered for a portion of humankind. The writer of the Apocalypse, John, wants through signs to point to this time, wants to proclaim prophetically this age. In one sentence we read: “And a great sign appeared in heaven ...” (Rev. 12:1) That means we are dealing in the Apocalypse with signs representing the great phases of the evolution of humanity. We must then decipher these signs. We remember that our present fifth root race was preceded by the Atlantean race, which was destroyed by a flood. What will destroy the fifth race? The fifth race has a special task: the development of egotism. This egotism will, at the same time, create what causes the downfall of the fifth root race. A small part of humankind will live toward the sixth main race; a larger part will not yet have found the light within. Because egotism is the fundamental power in the soul, the war of all against all will rage within this larger part of humanity. As the Lemurian race found its end through the power of fire, the Atlantean through water, so will the fifth race find its destruction in conflict between selfish, egoistic powers in the war of all against all. This line of evolution will descend deeper and deeper; when it arrives at the bottom everyone will rage against everyone else. A small part of humankind will escape this, just as a small part escaped during the destruction of the Atlantean race. It is up to every individual to find a connection to the spiritual life in order to be one of those to go over into the sixth root race. Mighty revolutions stand before humankind; they are described in the Apocalypse.

First, seven letters to seven communities are placed before us. If human beings are to find the path to that great point in time, they must have something to hang on to, something that enables them to ennoble the seven sheaths of their human constitution, so that they are prepared when the time comes. There are places on the earth where, through religious exercises, the main emphasis is on the development of the physical body. In other places the emphasis is on the development of the etheric body. In other locations the emphasis is on the development of the astral body, or the I. There will also be more and more places where special attention will be given to the development of manas, or budhi, or atma.5Characterized by Rudolf Steiner in his book Theosophy. as Spirit-self, Life-spirit, and Spirit-Man. We would not believe in reincarnation in the proper sense unless we would say: If a person has once been born in a location where the primary emphasis is on the physical body, then, another time, he or she would be born in a place where more attention was paid to the other bodies, and so forth.

Seven letters are directed to seven separate geographical regions where particular emphasis is placed on one of the seven parts of the human being. The first letter is directed to the Ephesians. They put great stock in the development of the physical body. The Phrygians in Smyrna emphasized the etheric body; in Pergamon people worked especially on the astral body.

We want to consider why seven geographical regions signify special kinds of development for humankind in relation to the seven members of the human being. Let us assume that someone lives in a region where the physical body is especially developed; if that person then neglects the physical body, it then becomes a caricature of what it might have become. If what is supposed to be brought to a certain perfection is not developed, then something arises inwardly that makes such a person receptive to the evil manifestations in the evolution of humankind.

The first letter is directed to the community in Ephesus, the place consecrated to Diana.6Ancient Roman goddess of the forest, protector of wilderness and women. She was identified with the Greek goddess Artemis. It emphasizes the beautiful formation of the human body. Where does the development of the physical body lead? We can become increasingly clear about this if we realize that the physical body must be evermore purified, and must become more and more an expression of the etheric body. The etheric body must itself become an expression of the astral body, which in turn should become an expression of the I.

Numbers played a large role in the ancient Pythagorean schools. Let us remember that in the world of devachan, everything is ordered according to measure and number. Of course, this is the case with everything. What would it mean to seek the laws of nature, if they did not already exist? We weigh and measure the bodies of the world as we do substances on a smaller scale. We must put this fact together with another. We can think of this space as filled with the “sound forms” of a sublime musical composition, for example, the sounds of the “Good Friday Spell” from Wagner's opera Parzifal. That is the higher, soul form for what a physicist would express in numbers for the frequency of the sound vibrations. The spirit of these vibrations of the music flows through our souls. If we think of the numbers being heard by the ear of the spirit, then we have the music of the spheres. If a physicist would record in numbers the vibrations in the air he or she would record the magic of “Good Friday” just as little as a mathematician describes Pythagorian ideas in measure and number. The numbers express only the harmonies. When Pythagoreans wanted to express the four members of the human being, they expressed the harmony in the ratio: 1:3:7:12. That signifies the sound wherein the four numbers harmonize in the same way as do the four parts of the human being. The three sounds: I, the sound of the sun; II,—the sound of the moon; III, the sound of the earth—resound into the astral body.

  • Physical body : 12 Ephesus
  • Etheric body : 7 Smyrna
  • Astral body : 3 Pergamon
  • I : 1
  • Spirit self
  • Life spirit
  • Spiritualized human being

What comes forth from the earth, sun, and moon sound together in our astral body. But what comes forth from the planets sounds in our etheric body. There is a sevenfold influence from the planets on the etheric body, as there is from the seven musical intervals: the unison interval, major second, major third, perfect fourth, perfect fifth, major sixth, major seventh—Saturn, Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus. These seven planets resound into our etheric body. There are twelve influences from the signs of the zodiac that resound into our physical body. The seer experiences twelve fundamental tones on the devachanic plane. They influence our physical body. Everything in the I, astral body, etheric body, and in the physical body resounds in tones. One tone resounds in the I, three tones in the astral body, seven tones in the etheric body and twelve tones in the physical body. Altogether this results in harmony or disharmony.

There is an expression in occultism: the twelve goes into the seven, which means that the physical body is constantly becoming more like the etheric body. If the physical body sounds right then we can hear the seven tones of the stars through the twelve tones. “Become such that the twelve becomes the seven, that the seven stars appear” is said to the Ephesians, because with them the physical body is especially developed. They should turn to look at the seven stars. We know that the development of Christianity means a transition from the old forms of community based on blood ties to spiritual love, that the spiritual will take over from the flesh. Those who tell us that we should endeavor, above all, to insure that the sensual, the elemental gets its due—those people were called the Nicolaitans: They wanted to remain rooted in the material forces of the blood; hence, the warning concerning the Nicolaitans.7The Nicolaitans mentioned in chapter 2 of the Book of Revelation are pagan Christians from Pergamon. They disregarded the Old Testament proscriptions concerning the consumption of food sacrificed to idols and certain marital unions characterized as sexually immoral. They are the ones who will bring about the downfall.

Opposing them are those who want to overcome material evolution, who want spiritual life. The letter closes with the symbol of the tree of life: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna ...” (Rev. 2:17)

The second letter is directed to the community that is supposed to be most concerned with the cultivation of the etheric body. The etheric body must gradually be developed into life spirit. The human being now goes through birth and death, but later this etheric body will become life spirit. Then it will have overcome death. In the Sermon on the Mount we read: “Blessed are those who pray for spirit, for they find through themselves the Kingdom of Heaven” (compare: Matt. 5:3) Those who pray for spirit are blessed; that means that soul permeates their life. Just as the physical body is developed by the Ephesians, so, too, in the second community, is the etheric body developed into a body of soul. When they strive for this blessing they are called “beggars for spirit”; they pray for a blessing through the enlivening of the etheric body. This is indicated by the words: “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life.” With these words the development of the etheric body is clearly expressed.

The Apocalypse is one of the greatest spiritual documents. There are hardly any great spiritual truths whose significance is not to be found there. The study of the Apocalypse is not without its connections to theosophical evolution.

By understanding such a work we allow ourselves to be stimulated by the spirit who spoke through Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. What the Theosophical Society seeks to achieve must strike us like a trumpet proclamation sent to humankind. The more we understand the Apocalypse the more we understand the task of our movement.