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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Rishis
GA 108

This lecture is from the lecture series entitled, Answers to Universal Questions and Life Questions through Anthroposophy. It is lecture 12 of 19 lectures given by Rudolf Steiner at various cities throught Austria and Germany in the years 1908—1909.

13 December 1908, Stuttgart

Translated by Hanna von Maltitz

Through our various embodiments we have different experiences. We discover different relationships with each incarnation and our own relationships develop accordingly between birth and death. Now the question can arise: are the experiences between death and a new birth always the same, even though the experiences in the physical are so varied? In other words, does life in Devachan at all times during physical development always remained the same? That there is also a possible history for the life on the Other Side, will be solved through the following.

Let's remind ourselves of the state of consciousness of the old Atlanteans who still saw physical objects indistinctly, with misty outlines, in their clairvoyant condition during the day—like a lantern in fog—and during the night were comrades of the Gods; for night and day were not strictly separated as today.

The most progressive Atlanteans who had largely lost their clairvoyant awareness and already saw physical things in sharp outlines, lived in the region of today's Ireland, under the high spiritual being called Manu. They moved about in separate troops, one of these under the direction of Manu, from west to east. Then the great Flood came and after that colonies were established from Central Asia. The first was the creation of the Indian culture.

For the old Indians who still carried memories of Atlantean times, who were still comrades of the Gods, experienced everything confronting them in the earthly realm, even the starts, as illusion, Maya. Links with the spiritual world which the Indians longed for was held up by the holy Rishis. They proclaimed the existence of the spiritual worlds. There were seven Rishis; they were disciples of Manu. They could only learn during certain times when they found themselves in a particular condition. They were the entire comfort, the whole force of the then Indian world; they narrated about the wonders and laws of the spiritual worlds. When people died, they went through as the Rishis had described, but only up to a certain height of Devachan, because only the initiated, the Rishi, could experience the whole of Devachan. Yet these people were sent at that time to work in life on the Other Side.

The initiates lived alternately in the physical and in the spiritual. Soon they taught the living, soon the dead, of the everlasting truth. People hadn't however grown fond of the physical plane: they saw the spiritual world as their real homeland and the holy Rishis hadn't told them much in yonder realms about life on earth. People on this side had no interest in the earthly.

During the second post Atlantic culture, the Persian, the first to start with agriculture, grew fonder of the physical plane. To the same measure a darkening awareness of the Other Side grew. Devachan became darker. People chose to claim the earth more. As a result some Zarathustra scholars pointed out the spiritual world using stronger words; but from this side of the world they couldn't say anything about the Other Side.

The third culture, the Egyptian, indicated an ever larger love for the physical plane. In the stars they studied the spiritual laws. Ever more they tried to impress things with spirit. The more skilled they became on earth, the more unskilled they were to cooperate spiritually on the Other Side.

A culmination point in cultivation on the physical plane is found in the Greek-Latin culture. Here the marriage between spiritual and physical was achieved. The Greek temple is the expression of spiritual laws. The Greek loved life. This means the Greek culture, but there is also something else. When a clairvoyant looks at a Greek temple today, for example that of Paestum, he experiences something extraordinary during his observation in the temple: he feels the wonderful harmonies through which the spiritual world is revealed. Now shift the clairvoyant occupied with this physical observation during this very moment of the wonderful experience of harmony within the artworks, into the spiritual world, and nothing is left over, nothing, even while the Greek temple is a complete expression of the spiritual world. This is what the Greek souls experience in death: they long for the pure harmonious expressions and constructions of the physical plane. The Romans, who experienced themselves strongly in life at the summit of their I-consciousness, were as if lamed, when they reached the Other Side. “Rather a beggar this side, than a king in the realm of shadows.” So the awareness of the opposite world was darkened. When the lovely things of this world were spoken about in the Realm of Shadows, it made them even unhappier. In life on this side more experiences could be had of the spiritual world, than in the Realm of Shades.

This fourth Cultural epoch was the time in which the upward striving impulse could be given towards the appearance of Christ. The meaning of the events of Golgotha we considered in August; now, for this “Other Side” we want to consider it today. In the very moment in which physical death took place on the Cross something happened in the Shadow World: Christ appeared before them. For the first time something could be reported over there, which was meaningful for the Other Side, that life in the spirit can defeat death. Like lightening the shadowed life was lit up in the other world. An enormous event took place on the Other Side: over here in life on earth something happened which also had meaning for the Other Side.

What now—in contrast to the first four cultural epochs—was being experienced, for example in St John's Gospel, had not been solved, how a human being [is] resurrect[ed] in spirit. However, from then on human beings take everything they have experienced and acquired on the physical plane as spiritual experiences, to the Other Side. The more people deepen themselves with occult knowledge of the Bible, the more will be taken to the Other Side. Before the Fourth Epoch, light shone decreasingly from the Other Side into life on this side. Now it is the reverse:

On yonder side is an ascending development which is becoming ever brighter.

The spiritual forces which are used today for inventions and discoveries, are used to generate external cultural means (Kulturmittel). It was different before: these forces used for research of the spiritual worlds had their laws. Today the spirit serves as a slave for material needs. All intelligence which has flowed into the steam engine and other inventions are building a hindrance for the spiritual world—an adverse balance! The opposite is the case with Anthroposophic work. That which is won here on earth serves to lighten up the world on the Other Side.

Christ appeared during the fourth Cultural Epoch, hence the Greek name Christos. In order for the appearance of Christ not to go unprepared, Moses and the prophets appeared. The announcement of the I-God, Jahve, was necessary in order for mankind to have a goal on which to hold fast. The event of Golgotha could only be understood through the proclamation of image-free gods. More about this tomorrow.