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A Chapter of Occult History

A Lecture given
by Dr. Rudolf Steiner
Nuremberg, December 16th, 1908
GA 108

This is the 14th of 19 lectures given by Rudolf Steiner at various cities and dates from 1908 to early in 1909. The title of this series of lectures is: Answers to Universal Questions and Life Questions through Anthroposophy. They were published in German as: Die Beantwortung von Welt- und Lebensfragen Durch Anthroposophie. The lecture was transcribed from a typescript version, and the translator is D. S. Osmond. It is presented here with the kind permission of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland. From GA# 108.

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Lecture given by Rudolf Steiner at Nurnberg, 16 December, 1908. Published by permission of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung. Translated by D. S. Osmond.

Today we shall be concerned with a chapter of Anthroposophy which links on to many things we were able to study in the last Lecture-Course here but in a certain respect is quite independent. [ See note 1 ] Again today we shall be considering matters for those who are more advanced — I do not mean advanced in respect of intellect or knowledge, but in respect of the attitude of soul, the feelings, that are necessary for the assimilation of higher truths which so often seem paradoxical, weird and fantastic to the materialistic mind — truths which must be accepted, not as if they were everyday matters, but as something that is not only possible, but reality.

We shall turn our attention to a certain chapter of occult history. Everybody knows what external history means; everybody knows that history presents the successive happenings and facts of the outer physical world as far as they can be followed with the help of documents, original manuscripts and records, traditions, and so forth. But in Anthroposophy, by means of those spiritual records that are accessible to us, we go still farther back, even in this external history, to the time of the great Atlantean Flood. We observe the successive culture-epochs following it, but we go even farther back into the distant past, to times preceding this great Flood which has been preserved as tradition in the legends of different peoples. All this is history, investigated, it is true, by occult means, but in a certain sense it is still an external, physical — more or less physical — history of facts and events. But there is also an occult history, and you will understand what this means if you think of the following.

Before entering into the bodies of our present civilisation, all your souls lived in bodies of the old Indian, Persian, Egypto-Chaldean, Greco-Roman epochs, and so forth — leaving aside still earlier times. When, through birth, these souls entered into existence on the physical plane they saw and experienced what can be experienced on this plane. These souls beheld the creations of the old Indian culture, the great pyramids built by the Egyptians, the Greek temples, and so on. From this we can picture the flow of events through which man passes in the course of history on the outer physical plane during life between birth and death. The question may now be asked : What, then, is happening when, through the Gate of Death, the soul passes into its life between death and a new birth? The souls now incarnated passed through death in ancient India, ancient Persia, and so on. Have conditions in the life between death and rebirth always been the same through the ages? Is there anything comparable with ‘history’ in that life? Were the experiences different when souls passed through the Gate of Death in the times of ancient India or ancient Persia, and are they again different in our present age? Is there in that life anything like a successive course of happenings? When we speak of the experiences of the periods spent in Kama-Loca and in Devachan until the time of a new incarnation, we describe them as they are today. Many people may imagine that these experiences are similar in all epochs, but this is not so. For just as when souls have passed through the Gate of Birth they have different experiences in the different epochs, so there is also a ‘history’ of what happens between death and rebirth. These happenings in our present age are rightly described as we describe them, but they have not been the same in all the ages. Today we shall consider, briefly, something of the history of that other side of existence, particularly during Post-Atlantean epochs.

For this purpose we do well to think, to begin with, of the old Atlantean epoch. In this Atlantean epoch, life was very different from what it came to be later on. When in the night the soul of the old Atlantean had gone out of the physical and etheric bodies and was living in the spiritual worlds, it was not enveloped in darkness as is the case today. During the night-consciousness the soul was in divine-spiritual worlds — divine-Spiritual Beings were its companions. The alternation between day and night was quite different in the old Atlantean epoch. When the Atlantean awoke in the morning, that is to say, when his astral body and Ego came down again into the physical and etheric bodies, then, in the earlier periods of Atlantis, man did not see external objects with sharp outlines as he does today, but the objects were hazy — as when we go out at night in a thick November fog the lamps seem to be surrounded by an aura instead of emitting clear light. To the early Atlantean, every object on the physical plane was indistinct and indefinite, and only gradually assumed sharp contours in the day-consciousness. When, at night, he rose in his astral body and Ego out of the physical and etheric bodies, he was not in a realm of unconsciousness, but he had definite, even if hazy, experiences of the divine-spiritual worlds. And the figures preserved as the Gods, the names and ideas of Gods such as Wotan, Baldur, Zeus, Apollo, Thor — are not figures of fantasy but Beings who were actually experienced by man in the times of old Atlantis.

Then came the great Flood. The less advanced Atlanteans went from West to East, settling in the lands of Europe. The most advanced of all went towards Asia and founded in Central Asia the great colony of the Manu. The Manu was the lofty Being who was the leader of this handful of the most advanced Atlanteans who went with him to Central Asia and from there called the different cultures to life. It must here be borne in mind that in Asia and Africa, as the result of earlier and later migrations, and through other peoples who were descendants of still earlier epochs, the countries were inhabited, and these pupils of the Manu went out in various directions in order to spread new streams of culture. The first mission went from Central Asia to India. The Manu sent his first pupils to India; he himself, for certain reasons, withdrew into the background. The first pupils of the Manu became the teachers and leaders of the first Post-Atlantean culture — that of the ancient Indian peoples. The first form of Post-Atlantean culture therefore arose under the influence of these Teachers — the holy Rishis. We already know the basic character of this culture. The pupils of the Rishis had a kind of memory of ancient times, of how in Atlantis they themselves had been companions of the Gods. Their real homeland then had been in the spiritual world. Now they were in the physical world. And so in ancient India men had an intense longing for their primeval, spiritual homeland. They felt that they were strangers in the physical world. For them this world was illusion, maya, merely an external expression of the Spiritual. Hence their longing for the Spiritual and their view that the physical world was illusion, deception, maya. They had as yet no love for the physical world; they still longed for the spiritual world. They saw the stars, the rivers, the mountains, but felt no interest in any of these things. What happened between birth and death was regarded as illusion, as maya, for men knew that they lived in their real homeland between death and rebirth. Such was the fundamental mood of the old Indians. But ever and again they received information and tidings of the spiritual worlds through the holy Rishis, who were the pupils of the great Manu.

It is a good thing to try to form definite ideas of the nature of these great Indian Teachers. A feeling of reverent awe arises in those who can envisage in some small measure what took place spiritually between the Rishis and their pupils in Northern India at this starting-point of Post-Atlantean humanity. Without Spiritual Science it is hardly possible for anyone today, when humanity has descended so deeply into the physical plane and has adopted such a materialistic way of thinking, to form a true idea of the kind of knowledge that was brought by the Manu from the West to the East as a heritage of the Atlantean age. For if the Book with the Twelve Chapters, the Book in which the Manu had preserved the ancient traditions of the earth, in which was written down what could be made known of the laws and conditions prevailing in ancient times when humanity lived in the bosom of the Gods — if that Book could be laid before men today it would be utterly incomprehensible to them. Nevertheless it contained the instructions that were given by the Manu to his most intimate pupils and through which the seven holy Rishis prepared themselves for their mission. Some idea of what the holy Rishis were like can be formed in the following way. — Anyone who saw them in life would have seen utterly simple men. And such indeed they were, for a great part of their life. But there were times when the Rishis were anything but ordinary men. They were not learned in the modern sense, but at such times they were the mouthpiece and instrument of higher spiritual Beings. Higher spiritual Beings ensouled the Rishis and then, when they spoke, they were not giving utterance to what they knew, but to the speech of the Spirit who had entered into them, right down into the physical body. Thus the Seven Planetary Regents themselves were present during this first epoch of Post-Atlantean civilisation. The Seven Planetary Spirits of the universe spoke through the mouths of the holy Rishis, who were merely their instruments. And the words spoken had stupendous power; they were magical words, not merely teachings but commands for what men were to do. Revelations from the cosmos itself were spoken forth by the seven holy Rishis. The later Vedic literature is no more than a faint echo of the wisdom that streamed to humanity out of the cosmos itself through the holy Rishis. This was the first Post-Atlantean manifestation and revelation of the Divine. It was only at certain times that the Rishis were inspired by the Planetary Spirits and then they could impart great and mighty things to men. Far greater things were spoken through them to humanity between birth and death in this first Post-Atlantean epoch than in the other world, for all the secrets to which men could no longer look up from the physical world could be made known to them by the Rishis.

Initiates are able to work and teach not only in the physical world, but in alternating states of consciousness they are able, while still maintaining connection with the physical body, to pass over into the spiritual world and to become the teachers of the souls living between death and rebirth. The great teachers give instruction here, in physical life, and also in the life between death and rebirth. The Rishis too were teachers of man in the world beyond death. There they could, it is true, proclaim the same great spiritual truths of which they spoke in the physical world, but they could say nothing of particular value to the Dead about the other side of existence, i.e. about the physical world. There was nothing in this physical world that could be of value for the life after death. The ancient Indian yearned for the life between death and rebirth; he was happy there, and had no inclination whatever for physical life. And so when the ancient Indian passed into the other world, he was not merely a knower in some degree, he was not only able to see, up to a certain level, what was happen ing there, but he was also able to act with skill — for man has to act in the other world too. The souls of the ancient Indians were far better fitted to work in that world than in the physical world. The instruments available in the physical world at that time were simple and primitive, and men were not skilled on the physical plane. But as souls in that other world they were able to work with skill that was a heritage from an earlier epoch. Men's life between death and rebirth was more intense, more active, than it was in the physical world. The spiritual world afforded them deep happiness; everything was light and clear after death.

World-history continued its course and the epoch of ancient Persian culture approached. Man had progressed, inasmuch as he now began to love the physical plane; he wanted to work on the physical plane and felt that his spiritual forces should be applied to the cultivation of the earth. The culture inspired by the Manu had grown dearer to the ancient Persians. Zarathustra now became their great Teacher. The teachings that had flowed from the inspirations of the Rishis were now, in the second Post-Atlantean epoch, transmitted through Zarathustra. The task of this great Teacher was to create a counterweight to existing conditions. Man must come to love the physical plane, the physical earth, to become more conscious of it, to discover the means of promoting culture, to live more and more intensely on the physical plane, not merely regarding it as illusion, maya, but as a revelation of the Divine Powers. Zarathustra said to the people : In the material world there is something that is opposed to the Spiritual; the power of Evil is mingled with matter. But if you unite yourselves with the beings who are servants of the good Spirit, then, in union with them, you will overcome the Evil that is mingled with matter. — There was inevitably the danger, the first glimmering of the danger, that connection with the Spiritual might be lost. Hence as well as narrating the truths of the spiritual world, it was the special task of the teachers to emphasise to the people that the Spiritual reveals itself in the material; and those who had fallen prey to matter owing to an exaggerated belief in it, had to be brought back again to belief in the Spiritual, to the belief that God reveals himself in matter. — That was what Zarathustra had to proclaim, and he spoke with mighty power. In terms of modern language it is no longer possible to convey any adequate idea of the words of fire with which he proclaimed what he himself was still able to behold, because he was the successor of the pupils of the Manu. For example, he still saw in the Sun not merely the external, physical phenomenon, but the spiritual: Beings whose abode is the Sun, for whom the physical Sun is merely their bodily vehicle, and he called these spiritual Beings in their totality: Ahura Mazdao, the great Sun-, Aura-, Ahura Mazdao, or Ormtizd. From this source came the inspiration for all the teachings he was to inculcate into the second Post-Atlantean culture-epoch which was already in danger of falling prey to the attacks of Ahriman. In mighty words Zarathustra spoke to humanity somewhat as follows. I will speak ‘Give heed and hear me, ye who from near and far long for this. Mark well my words! For no longer may the false teacher corrupt the world, he, the Evil One, whose mouth has proclaimed wrong beliefs. I speak of what is greatest in the world, of what He, the Mighty One, has revealed to me. Whoever does not follow my words, as I mean them, woe will befall him at the end of days.’ In words of power such as these, it was proclaimed that He, the all-pervading Spirit, is revealed in what is external, and that the one who believed he could mislead humanity by making men believe that the material alone has reality, must not conquer. And Zarathustra announced that when the time was fulfilled, One would come in human form as the embodiment of all the Powers working and weaving through the world, One Whose coming could at that time be only a prophecy. — Zarathustra called Him by the name of Saoschra. He, the Power Who resides in the Sun, Who could be seen at that time only through external veils — He would come one day in human form. Zarathustra proclaimed the Christ Who was to come in the future.

Zarathustra had two pupils whom he did not instruct for the purpose of sending them out to teach the Persians. They were pupils such as are always to be found with the great Initiates and who prepare in quietude for their missions, refraining, to begin with, from going out into the world to teach.

These two pupils, in later incarnations, were : Hermes, the great Teacher of the Egyptians, and Moses.

The wisdom outpoured in the second Post-Atlantean epoch had necessarily to take the form it did, because humanity had advanced a stage and men had a greater love for the physical plane. But because this was so, experiences between death and rebirth were darkened. Men could still see in the spiritual world, but no longer with the clarity of vision that prevailed in the old Indian epoch. When the souls from Persian bodies passed into Devachan, their experiences were less vivid, less intense, and the more skilful they became in their work on the physical plane, the less skilful were they in their actions in the spiritual world. In the outer world there is an ascending line of progress; in the world after death, however, there is a decline. When the Initiates passed into that other world — it was, of course, a spiritual journey and the Initiates remained united with the physical body — when they passed into that world to be with human souls living between death and rebirth, they could say much about the momentous things which men had formerly seen there but which now were darkened. They could give teachings concerning the higher spiritual realities that had gradually faded from man's vision between death and rebirth, but they could impart nothing as yet about happenings in the physical world. Nor would this have been of any great significance for the other world. If the Initiates had related the doings of men (in the physical world) this would have had no inspiring effect in the life between death and rebirth. To tell of any happenings on the physical plane would have had no value for that other world.

Then came the Egyptian epoch. Men now had an even greater love for the physical plane and had become still more skilful there. They no longer regarded it as maya or illusion. They looked up to the stars and saw in their constellations and movements a script of the Gods. They saw revelations of divine-spiritual Beings in physical manifestation. And they worked upon the earth with knowledge acquired through their human forces. — We need think only of how the Egyptians cultivated the soil. — Man had now brought his spiritual forces from the spiritual into the physical, and the link between these spiritual forces and the physical world became steadily firmer. The first great Teacher of the Egyptians was Hermes, in his new incarnation. We will try to form some idea of the kind of teachings he gave.

For this purpose it will be especially helpful to think about that aspect of the figure of Osiris which can be of interest to us today. — Osiris was the central God of Egypt, the God who was honoured above all other Gods. The Egyptian Gods were worshipped under many names by the people, priests and initiates. The legend of Osiris is known to you. Osiris ruled over mankind. Then his brother Typhon laid him, by cunning, in a casket which he threw into the sea. Isis, the sorrowing spouse, sought for and found the corpse but could not bring Osiris back again into this world. From the other world a ray from Osiris fell upon Isis who then gave birth to Horus, the successor of Osiris on the earth. Osiris remained in the other world. The Egyptians were told: Osiris is a Being who stands close to man. He is one of the last Beings with whom men were in communion when they lived consciously in the spiritual world. Men have descended into the physical world in order that they may develop further here, and then they ascend again, enriched by the experiences gained in the physical world. Osiris is one of those Beings who no longer needed to descend to the physical world, because they had already reached such a height that this was not necessary for them. They had moved to a higher level and were not created to dwell in a physical body — the casket. Such Beings can have only a fleeting contact with the physical world. Osiris can be found only when man passes over into the other life. He is the last Figure you can still experience — so said the Initiates to the Egyptians — if you make yourselves worthy, if you follow the commandments. Then, after death, when you are judged, you will be together with Osiris; you will feel yourselves to be members of Osiris.

Those who aspired to be united with Osiris had therefore to be referred to the life after death. But as the experiences accessible after death had now become still less intense, even when men were united with Osiris they were only able to experience faintly and weakly that which constituted their highest bliss — the union with Osiris. But through the belief implanted in them by the priests, they knew and firmly hoped that they would indeed be united with Osiris, and in solemn moments after death they felt themselves as members of the Osiris-soul. This consciousness of belonging to Osiris gradually faded away. While culture was progressing to higher stages on the physical plane, a decline was taking place in the spiritual world between death and rebirth. Man's vision of the world of Devachan became steadily fainter. And when the Initiates came over into that world, they still could not tell of happenings in the physical world that would have had any special significance for that other world. What happened in the spiritual world was entirely the result of its own prevailing conditions. Happenings in the physical world could be of little interest to the souls of the Dead. What man could do in the physical world was a preparation for the Osiris-experience, but it was a preparation for something that could be experienced only in the deepest spiritual depths of yonder world.

Then came the Greco-Roman age, the fourth Post-Atlantean culture-epoch. The marriage between the human spirit and external matter became closer, more intimate still, and the splendour of Greek culture stems from this marriage between the spiritual capacities of men and external physical life. When we have before us a Greek temple with its wonderful forms — even in aftermath as at Paestum in Southern Italy — we Can see what the human spirit has achieved in the conquest of external matter. In the lines and distribution of forces in the Greek temple, architecture has reached its zenith. The reason why a Greek temple is such a wonder-work of architecture and of art is because everything in it is the expression of the Spiritual. That is why it is so inspiring to contemplate the harmony presented in a Greek temple.

One peculiarity that is discovered by clairvoyant consciousness in connection with a Greek temple must here be made known. — Let us suppose that clairvoyant consciousness has before it the last echoes of a Greek temple built in the Doric style as are the temples at Paestum, and is able to feel the aftermath of what the Greeks felt on the physical plane; let us assume that clairvoyant consciousness, while beholding the physical form of such a creation, experiences all the rapture and enchantment that it is still possible to experience at the sight. Then clairvoyant consciousness will make a certain discovery. When it frees itself from the body and, without using the physical organs, sees in the spiritual world, then the Greek temple, with all its splendour, has vanished. What was so perfect, so great and glorious in the physical world, cannot be carried over into the spiritual world — not even for modern clairvoyant consciousness. At the place in space where the glorious temple stood, there is nothing corresponding with it in the spiritual world. It was so in the case of all the great masterpieces of that wonderful Greco-Latin epoch, and in another connection too.

This was the same epoch when, in Rome, man's consciousness of personality came to its strongest expression in the physical world. The Roman felt himself first and foremost as a personal citizen of the earth, firmly rooted on, this earth. To the same degree to which man felt himself standing firmly on the earth, he felt weak between death and rebirth, feeble and ineffectual in that other world. Life between death and rebirth had faded in intensity even more than before. Above all, what was experienced in its splendour in the physical world could not be carried into yonder world. It is no mere legend passed on from the Greek epoch, that one of the great Heroes, when visited in the nether world of the Shades by an Initiate, said: ‘Better it is to be a beggar in the upper world than a king in the realm of the Shades’ — because man felt shadowy and empty between death and rebirth, and longed for the life between birth and death with its beauty and its grandeur. Life had surrendered itself to the most perfect and complete marriage between the human spirit and external form, and at the cost of this marriage, life between death and rebirth had fallen into decline.

In this epoch fell the Event for which preparation had been made by that other Initiate who had been Zarathustra's pupil — namely, Moses. Moses was chosen to proclaim — to begin with in the only form in which this was possible — a God Who could also reveal Himself in the physical world, Who would be actually present in the physical world. Naturally, this revelation was to the effect that the one and only true image of God Who weaves through the world could not, at the time the revelation was given, be apprehended by the senses. And when, at the starting-point of his mission, the ‘EJE ASCHER EJE’ (I am the I am) was proclaimed through Moses, this was the first announcement of the God Who henceforward would not be found only in the other world but Who had passed into this world and was to be experienced here. The Jahve-Being was proclaimed through this second pupil of Zarathustra, and thereby preparation was made for the coming of Christ, for the Mystery of Golgotha.

You know, to some extent, what the Mystery of Golgotha signifies for the physical plane: it is actual proof that life in the spirit is victorious over death. This victory was achieved through the fact that the One Who had been proclaimed by the prophets, the One Who was there at the creation of all the kingdoms of Nature, walked upon the earth. This Archetypal Being of the world, Who is the Spirit of the Sun, is rightly given a Greek name, for He could, and indeed had to, appear in the Greek age, when mankind needed the impulse for re-ascent. And in eternal memory of this, the Being Who incarnated in the sheaths of Jesus of Nazareth was called by the name of CHRIST. This name derives from the epoch when it was necessary that Christ should appear. At the moment when the Jesus of Nazareth-sheath died on Golgotha, something happened that is not a mere legend but can still be confirmed today on the path of spiritual science by one who is adequately prepared. At the moment of the Death on the Cross, at that same moment Christ appeared in the other world among the Dead, among those who were living between death and rebirth. And this appearance of Christ was like a lightning-flash in that other world. It was as though the life in that world which had faded into shadow, was lit up by lightning. Now, for the first time, something could be made known in the world after death that was different from anything of which the earlier Initiates had been able to tell when they passed into that world. Even an Initiate of the Eleusinian Mysteries would at most have been able to tell of the beauties of the physical world which the Dead could no longer behold; at most he could have awakened a longing for the physical, but nothing of real importance would have been brought to the Dead by making known to them what was taking place in the world of flesh. The first tidings brought by Christ to the Dead were that in the world between birth and death something had come to pass that has meaning not for this physical world only, but also for the life in the other world. This Event in the physical world was one that works on into the spiritual world itself. Actual examples of this can be found.

When in the physical world we contemplate the most beautiful temple or any one of the loveliest creations of the age of ancient Greece and are enchanted by the sight of it, in that other world it has faded away, is not to be found. If, however, we steep ourselves in the Gospel of St. John or in the Apocalypse, where the happenings connected with the Mystery of Golgotha are made known, we can have wonderful experiences if, with clairvoyant consciousness, we then pass over into the spiritual world. These feelings and experiences do not fade, but they live on, becoming still more glorious, still more comprehensible, in the spiritual world. Everything that is connected with the Event of Golgotha becomes even more sublime in the spiritual world. This is by no means the case with everything. However deep your wonder may be at the sight of the Pyramids, only a faint echo of them can be experienced in yonder world. A Greek temple or a Greek tragedy may enthrall one but nothing goes over into the other world, either for an Initiate or for those who are not initiated. But if you contemplate a picture by Raphael in which the Christian truths are expressed, you carry much of the picture with you into the spiritual world, and things which in the physical world you cannot even glimpse, will dawn upon you there. In yonder world they become a light which lightens the spiritual world anew. And so it was when Christ appeared in the world of the Shades. For the first time, that world was flooded with light. And more and more, through everything that Christianity has brought into the world, the spiritual world will be illuminated.

So culture descends, as it were, from the heights of the Atlantean world to the Greco-Latin world, when in the spiritual world it was in decadence and had sunk most deeply into the material world. That was when the greatest desolation prevailed in the spiritual world. And now, with the appearance of Christ in the underworld, comes the great impulse of Light. Existence between death and rebirth becomes ever brighter, ever clearer. The ascent begins in the history of life in that other world. Christianity is only at its beginning today. More and more it will become evident that man grows in spirituality through what he can experience in this world; and he takes with him into the other world what he experiences here in connection with the Event of Golgotha. Thus in the spiritual world, too, there is an ascent.

And so we may also speak of history in the life between death and rebirth, and when we study this history of the hidden side of the world, we realise the infinite significance of the Mystery of Golgotha, not for the physical world alone but also for all three worlds in which man lives. The Being Who is united with our evolution, Who has created everything that is around us, Who dwelt in Jesus of Nazareth, once said: ‘Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me, for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall you believe my words?’ (St. John, V, 46–7.) — clearly indicating thereby that it was He of whom Moses was speaking when he proclaimed the Divine Being Who was announcing Himself as the ‘I am the I am.’ The Being Who was in Jesus of Nazareth accomplished something in our world that has significance not only for the physical plane but, as the most momentous of all events, spread through the three worlds, from the physical right up into the spiritual world. Such is the mighty vista of the Event of Golgotha brought before our souls by occult history.



Note 1.  The Apocalypse of St. John. 12 lectures. 17–30 June, 1908.

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