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Wonders of the World

Wonders of the World: Lecture 7

Schmidt Number: S-2434

On-line since: 31st March, 2002

Lecture 7

24th August, 1911


 HAT is it that has been the theme of our lectures during the last few days? We have been trying to bring to light again in the impressive pictures of Greek mythology, as the expression of an ancient wisdom, what in our own time we can come to know through Spiritual, or Occult Science; and we have certainly seen how much of what we come to know today in quite another way is to be found there as something quite obvious. When we realise this, especially when we discover that the deepest and most significant principles of knowledge, principles still today not fully recognised, were already expressed in pictorial fashion in this Greek mythology, our usual very superficial ideas about it are bound to be severely shaken.

The Greeks felt that what they hid in their Mysteries and associated with the figure of Dionysos was still deeper and more significant than all that they associated with the upper gods — with Zeus, Poseidon, Pluto, with Apollo, Mars and so on. For whereas they expressed pretty well everything which had to do with the upper gods exoterically, by means of the world around them, they veiled what had to do with Dionysos within the sanctity of the Mysteries, and only communicated it to those who had undergone a thorough preparation.

What then was the contrast between what the Greeks felt in their ideas about the upper gods, and what was withdrawn into the sanctity of the Mysteries? What was the fundamental difference? In their ideas about the upper gods, about Zeus, Poseidon, Pluto, Apollo, Mars and so on, they expressed everything of which one can become conscious through a deeper insight into the wonders of the world, a deeper insight into what takes place all around us and into the laws which govern it. But something essentially different was involved in what was associated with the figure of Dionysos; Dionysos had to do with the deepest vicissitudes of the human soul struggling for knowledge and for entry into the super-sensible worlds. The Mysteries associated with his name threw light upon the lot of the soul struggling for knowledge, living in the depths; they shed light upon all the testings which the soul had to undergo on its way.

If we would understand the figure of Dionysos and his connection with these tribulations, we must first give some thought to what modern Spiritual Science has to say about the human mind in the act of cognition. It might seem that modern man has abundant opportunity to become instructed as to what cognition really is. For the study of philosophy is accessible in all countries, and it is to this that we look to supply the answer to the question of how knowledge comes about. But from the standpoint of Spiritual Science philosophy has not been very successful in answering this question, and you can easily see why this is. So long as philosophy — the ordinary philosophy of the day — refuses to recognise the truth about the human being, that he consists of physical body, etheric body, astral body and ego, it can come to no viable theory of knowledge. For knowledge is bound up with the whole being of man, and unless the true being of man, his fourfold nature, is taken into account, the question as to what knowledge is will only be answered by the empty phrases which are so familiar in modern philosophy. Because of the limited time at our disposal I can of course only briefly refer to this, I can only say a few words about the nature of human knowledge. But we shall understand one another if we begin by asking how it is acquired as distinct from what it may signify.

You all know that the human being could never attain to knowledge if he did not think, if in his mind he did not carry on something akin to work in ideation or thinking. Knowledge does not come of itself. The human being has to undertake work within himself, he has to allow ideas to pass through his mind if he wants to know. As adherents of Spiritual Science we have to ask ourselves where in human nature those processes take place which we designate as ideation, as mental representation, and which lead to knowledge.

According to the materialistic illusion, the typical philosophic fantasy of today, knowledge comes about as a result of work carried out by the brain. Admittedly, work does take place in the brain in the act of cognition, but if we bear in mind that the main thing in knowledge is the work within the soul in the life of ideation, the question must arise: ‘Has the content of the process of ideation anything to do with the work which goes on in the brain?’ The brain is part of the physical body, and what constitutes the content of our life of ideation, what constitutes the work of our soul in ideation, in mental representation, which is what brings knowledge about, does not go as far as the physical body; that all takes place in the three higher members of the human being, takes place from the ego through the astral body down to the etheric body. As far as its content goes, you will find nothing in any element of our process of ideation which takes place in the physical brain. Thus, if we are talking expressly of the content, or of the activity of mental representation, we must attribute that solely to the three higher super-sensible members of the human being, and then we can ask ourselves what the brain has to do with all this that goes on supersensibly in the human being. The obvious truth upon which modern philosophy and psychology are based, that in the act of cognition processes do take place in the brain, has of course to be admitted, it cannot and should not be denied, but it is relatively unimportant. Nothing of the mental representation itself lives in the brain. What significance, then, has the brain, has the external bodily organisation in general, for knowledge, or let us say to begin with, for the life of ideation?

Since I must be brief, I can only indicate it pictorially. As regards what really happens in our souls in the forming of ideas and in thinking, the work of the brain has precisely the same significance as a mirror has for the man who sees himself in it. When you with your personality move through space, you do not see yourself — unless you meet a mirror; then you do see what you are, you see how you look. A man who claims that the brain thinks, a man who professes that the work of ideation, of representation, goes on in the brain, is just about as shrewd as the man who looks at a mirror and says: ‘I am not walking about out here, that is not me. I must get inside the mirror, that is where I am.’ He would soon become convinced that he was not in the mirror, but that the mirror was reflecting what was outside it. So it is with the whole of the physical organisation. What becomes evident through the work of the brain is the inward super-sensible activity of the three higher members of the human organisation. The mirror of the brain is needed in order that this activity may become evident to the human being himself, in order that through the mirror of the brain he may perceive what he is supersensibly; this is an inevitable result of our contemporary human organisation. If, as an earthly being today, man had not this reflecting bodily organism, primarily the brain, he would still think his thoughts but he would not be aware of them. The whole endeavour of modern physiology and a good deal of modern psychology to understand thinking is about as clever as looking into a mirror to find your own reality. What I have here said in a few words can be epistemologically and scientifically substantiated in the strictest manner. It is of course quite another question whether the argument would be at all understood. Experience indeed suggests the contrary. In however strictly logical a manner one argues today even with philosophers, they do not understand a mortal word, because they just do not want to go into these things. For in the outer world today there is still absolutely no will to tackle the most serious problems concerning the human faculty of cognition.

 Diagram 3
Diagram 3
Click image for large view

Let us take this diagram to represent the human physical bodily organisation. When we wish to express in correct diagrammatic form the human process of cognition, we have to say: ‘No part of what thinking is, nothing of the act of cognition, takes place anywhere within this external physical organism; it all takes place in the adjacent etheric and astral bodies and so on.’ It is there that all the thoughts which I have indicated diagrammatically by these circles are to be found. These thoughts do not enter into the brain at all — it would be nonsense to think that they do — they are reflected through the activity of the brain and thrown back again into etheric body, astral body and ego. And it is these images which we ourselves have first produced, and which are then made visible to us by the brain — it is these mirrored images which we see when as earthly men we become aware of what actually goes on in our soul-life. Within the brain there is absolutely no thought; there is no more of thought in the brain than there is of you in the mirror in which you see yourself.

But the brain is a very complicated mirror. The external mirror in which we see ourselves is simple, but the brain is tremendously complicated and of necessity a complex activity takes place in order that it can become the instrument, not indeed for producing thought but for reflecting it. In other words, before a single thought of a single earthly man could come into existence, there had to be a preparation. We know that this preparation took place during the Saturn, Sun and Moon evolutions, and that in fine the present physical body, and with it the brain, is the result of the work of many spiritual hierarchies. So we can say that by the beginning of Earth evolution man on Earth was so formed that he could develop his physical brain to become the reflecting apparatus for what the human being really is, for the real man, who is at first only to be met with in the environment of this our physical bodily organisation. That is how we put it today, and it can surely be understood, at all events by an. audience of anthroposophists. Fundamentally this process of cognition we are examining is quite easy to understand.

What we today are able to understand in this way was felt by the ancient Greek, and therefore he said to himself: ‘There is concealed in this physical bodily organism, without man's having any direct consciousness of it, something of great significance. This physical organism is undoubtedly from the Earth, since it consists of the materials and forces of the Earth, but there is something secreted within it which can reflect back the whole life of the human soul.’ When the ancient Greek was directing his feeling upon the microcosm, upon man, he called this element — coming from the Earth and thus macrocosmic — this element which played a part in the constructing of the brain, the Dionysian principle; so that it is Dionysos who works in us to make our bodily organism into a mirror of our spiritual life.

Now if we apply ourselves to this purely theoretical exposition, if we enter into it, we can experience that the soul is being put to a first and very gentle trial; it is very slight, and since the organisation of present-day man is not tuned to the most delicate refinements, it usually passes unnoticed. These challenges will have to become ruder if the man of today is to feel them.

It is only when one is filled with enthusiasm for knowledge, when one looks upon the attainment of knowledge as a matter of life itself, that one feels what I am about to describe as a first tremendous challenge to the soul. It comes about when this very knowledge leads us on to recognise that the mighty word of wisdom ‘Know thyself’, resounds towards us out of primeval times. Self-knowledge, as the cardinal maxim upon which all other true knowledge turns, shines before us as a high ideal. In other words, if we want to attain knowledge in general, we must first endeavour to get to know ourselves, to get to know what we are. Now all our knowledge takes its course in the process of ideation. Our life of ideation, or mental representation, which reproduces for us all the things outside us, we experience in the form of mirrored image. The process does not penetrate at all into what we are as physical bodily organism; it is thrown back to us, and the human being can no more see into his own physical being than he can see what is behind the mirror. Moreover he does not penetrate into his physical organisation because his soul-life is completely filled by this process of representation. One is obliged to say: ‘Then it is quite impossible to learn to know oneself, one can come to know nothing but this process of ideation which has turned one into a reflecting apparatus. It is impossible to penetrate further, we can only reach as far as the frontier; and at the frontier the whole life of the soul is thrown back again, as a man's image is thrown back in a mirror.’ If an undefined feeling challenges us to know ourselves, we have to confess that we cannot do it, that it is impossible for us to know ourselves.

What I have just been saying is for most men of today an abstraction, because they have no enthusiasm for knowledge, because they are incapable of developing the passion which must come into play when the soul is confronted by its own absolute need. But imagine this realisation developed into feeling, and then the soul is faced with a hard task indeed: ‘You must attain something which you cannot attain!’ In terms of Spiritual Science that means that no knowledge which man can acquire by exoteric means will lead to any degree of self-knowledge.

From this springs the endeavour to press on by quite another path than that of ordinary knowledge to what the work of Dionysos within us is — to our own being. That has to take place in the Mysteries. In other words, something was given to man in the Mysteries which had nothing to do with the ordinary soul-life, that is only mirrored in our bodily organisation. The Mysteries could not confine man within the limits of exoteric knowledge, for that would never have enabled them to lead man into himself. Anyone determined to recognise only exoteric science would consequently have to say: ‘The Mysteries must have been pure humbug, for they only make sense on the assumption that something quite different from ordinary knowledge was cultivated in them, with the object of reaching Dionysos.’ Thus in the Mysteries we have to expect happenings of a kind which approach man in quite another way from all that man meets in ordinary exoteric life. This brings us directly up against the question: ‘Is there really any means of penetrating into what is ordinarily only a reflecting apparatus?’

I should like to begin from something seemingly quite unimportant. As soon as one takes the very first step in describing spiritual truths — truths which lead to reality and not to the maya of the outer world, not to illusion — one has to set about it in quite a different way from the way one sets about describing scientific or other matters in ordinary life. That is why it is so difficult to make oneself understood. Today men try to confine everything within the fetters which have been forged for modern science, and nothing that is not presented in this form is accepted as ‘scientific’. But with such knowledge it is impossible to penetrate into the nature of things. Hence in the lectures on Spiritual Science which are given here, a different style, a different method of presentation is used from the one to which ordinary science is accustomed; here things are so described that light is thrown upon them from several sides, and in a certain way language is taken seriously again. If one takes language seriously, one reaches what one might call the genius of language. In one of the earlier lectures of this course I said that it was not for nothing that in my second Rosicrucian Mystery Play, The Soul's Probation, I used the word dichten for an original activity of the World Creator, or that in The Portal of Initiation I said of Ahriman that he creates ‘in dichtem Lichte’. [ 1 ] Anyone who appraises such words in the light of present-day usage will believe that they are just words like any other. Not at all. They are words which go back to the original genius of language, words which draw out of the language something that has not yet passed through the conscious human ego-life of ideation. And language has many instances of this.

In the book The Spiritual Guidance of Man and of Mankind, I have pointed out what a beautiful expression there still was in old German for what is indicated in an abstract way by geboren werden (to be born). When a man comes into the world today he is said ‘to be born’. In old German there was another expression for this. The human being was of course not conscious of what really takes place at birth, but the genius of language, in which Dionysos plays a part, reaching in this way right into the activity of mental representation as distinct from the mere reflection of it — the genius of language knew that, when the human being goes through the gate of death, then in the first part of the time between death and a new birth, forces are at work in him which he has brought with him from his previous life and which are the forces which caused him to grow old in that life. Before we die we become old, and the forces which make us old we carry over with us. In the first part of the time between death and a new birth these forces go on working. But in the second half of the life between death and rebirth quite different forces set in. Forces take hold of us which fashion us in such a way that we return to the world as little children, that we become young. The language of the Middle Ages hinted at this mystery, by not using merely the abstract phrase geboren werden but by saying: Der Mensch ist jung geworden (the man has become young). This is an extremely significant expression! In the second part of Goethe's Faust [ 2 ] we find this phrase: im Nebellande jung geworden. Nebelland is an expression for the Germany of the Middle Ages; it means no more than to have been born in Germany, but in this expression there lies an awareness of the genius of language, thus of a higher Being than man, who participated in the creation of the human organism. That one speaks of ‘Dichtung’ in German is based on awareness that the ‘Dichter’ brings together what is outspread in the world, condenses it. One day there will be a philosophy which is not so dry and prosaic, not so philistine as that of today, because it will enter into the living genius of language, which in the ego-man of today underlies his conscious life of ideation. Much has to be elicited from this genius of language if one wants to characterise the things of the spiritual world, which lie beyond what ordinary consciousness can grasp.

Thus another method of presentation has to be used in the description of spiritual things. Hence the strangeness which is bound to be felt in many descriptions of the higher worlds. When we speak of the spiritual worlds we already meet at the very outset with something which must have originated behind what the human being has in his consciousness. It has to be drawn from the sub-conscious depths of the soul. Moreover, if one does this today something is necessary which seems quite trivial but is nevertheless important. If one wants to describe spiritual-scientific things in their true sense, one must forego the use of the customary terminology. One has perhaps even to go so far as to acknowledge quite consciously: ‘If you reject the customary terminology then the professors and all the other intellectuals will say you have no proper command of language. They will find all manner of things to object to, they will find you lacking in clarity; they will carp at all sorts of things in the way in which Spiritual Science is expressed.’ One has to accept that quite consciously, for it is inevitable. One must face up to the fact that one will probably be looked upon as stupid, because one fails to make use of the customary ‘perfectly logical’ terms, which in a higher connection are the height of imperfection.

What I have pointed out to you as a small matter — or not so small — was in ancient Greece a necessity for the pupil of the Mysteries, and is still so today. In order to come to his full self, in order to penetrate into his inmost being, which otherwise is only reflected by his external bodily organisation, the pupil must divest himself of the usual conscious external method of acquiring knowledge. Superficial persons could of course immediately say: ‘But you claim that the human being always retains his common sense, and judges everything in the higher worlds in accordance with it; yet you now say that he must renounce normal external knowledge. Surely that is a contradiction!’ In reality it is quite possible to test the things of the higher spiritual worlds with common sense and intelligence while nevertheless withdrawing from that form of conscious knowledge to which we are accustomed in the outer world. Here our souls are once more faced by a severe ordeal. In what does this ordeal consist?

As things are today, it is the habit of the soul to think and to apply the judgments of common sense within certain moulds, namely in those forms which in the ordinary process of mental representation are taught by the external world. That is the normal thing. And now imagine some professor or other, who is learned in the science of the outer world—and within the forms appropriate to that kind of knowledge an exceptionally able thinker. People come and say: ‘You want to make yourself understood by that professor; he obviously knows how to think scientifically in the modern sense of the term, if he can't understand you, you must have said something it is impossible for anyone to understand!’ Well, there is no need to dispute that our professor has a sound common sense judgment for the things of the ordinary external world. But our subject matter is the things of the spiritual world, and it will not do for him to listen with that part of his soul which brings common sense to bear on the ordinary things of the external world; he would have to listen with quite a different part of his soul. It does not follow that his common sense will continue to accompany a man when he seeks to grasp anything other than the things belonging to the outside world. Those are the things for which common sense is adapted; and a man may well possess an understanding for those things — and yet it may leave him in the lurch when he comes to the things of the spiritual world.

What is required if we intend to penetrate into spiritual worlds is — not a critique of spiritual-scientific things conducted by the instrument of common sense, but that we should take our common sense along with us in our approach to them, and not lose it on the way from outer science towards inner, spiritual science. What matters is that the soul should be strong enough to avoid the experience so many people endure today. You could describe it like this. As long as it is only a question of external science, these people are paragons of logic, but when they hear of Spiritual Science, then they have to make the journey from information about external things to information about the spiritual world. And on this journey they generally lose their common sense. Then they fancy that, because they had it with them when they started, they must have had it later on too! It would be a bad mistake to conclude that it is not possible to enter into the things of the spiritual world with common sense. It is just that one must not lose hold of it on the way there.

What I have just put before you in a petty example was in a far higher sense a necessity for Greek pupils of the Mysteries, as it is for modern mystics also. They have to slough off completely as it were their normal consciousness, yet for all that they have to keep with them the sound common sense which goes with normal consciousness and then make use of it as an instrument for judgment in an entirely different situation, from an entirely different viewpoint. Without relinquishing his normal consciousness no one can become a mystic. He has to do without the consciousness which serves him well in the everyday world. And the challenge to the soul which emerges at this point, on the way from the customary outer world to the spiritual world, is that it should not lose its common sense and treat as nonsense what, if it has held on to its common sense, reveals itself as a deeper experience.

Thus the pupil in the Greek Mysteries needed to divest himself of all that he was able to experience in the outer, the exoteric, world, and this is also necessary for the mystic today. Hence the things of the world outside sometimes assume quite different names when they enter into the sphere of mysticism. When in my Rosicrucian play The Soul's Probation it is said of Benedictus that in his speech the names of many things are changed, that they even take on a completely opposite meaning, this is something of deep significance. What Capesius calls unhappiness, Benedictus is obliged to call happiness. [ 3 ] Just as after death our life to begin with runs its course backwards and we experience things in backward order, in the same way we have to change the names of things into their opposites if we are speaking in the true sense of the higher worlds. Hence you can estimate what an entirely different world it was which the ancient Greeks acknowledged as the content of the holy Mysteries.

What was the meaning of Dionysos in these Mysteries? If you read the little book The Spiritual Guidance of Man and of Mankind, which is to be published within the next few days, you will see that in all ages there have been great teachers of mankind who have remained unseen, who only manifest themselves to clairvoyant consciousness. You will see that when the ancient Egyptians said, in answer to a question from the Greeks as to who their teachers were, that they were instructed by the gods, it was the truth. They meant that men who were clairvoyant were inspired by teachers who did not descend to Earth, but who appeared to them in the etheric sphere and taught them. I am not putting it fancifully, what I am saying is absolutely true! When in ancient Greece pupils were introduced into the Mysteries, after having undergone due preparation so that they did not take such things lightly, superficially — as is done today when they are discussed in abstract terms — they were then in a position to see within the Mystery the teacher who was not to be seen by physical eyes but was visible only to the inspired consciousness. The hierophants, who were to be seen with physical eyes were not the important people. The important Beings were those visible to clairvoyant consciousness. In the Mysteries with which we are concerned in these lectures, in the Dionysian Mysteries, the highest teacher of the pupils who were sufficiently prepared was in fact the younger Dionysos himself — that figure which I have already told you was a real one, he who was followed by a train of sileni and fauns and who made the journey from Europe to Asia and back again. He was the real teacher of the pupils in the Dionysian Mysteries. Dionysos appeared in an etheric form in the holy Mysteries, and from him it was then possible to perceive things which were not merely seen as mirror-images in normal consciousness, but things which welled forth directly from the inner being of Dionysos.

But because Dionysos is in us, the human being saw his own self in Dionysos, and learnt to know himself — not by brooding upon himself, as is so often recommended by people who know nothing of reality — but the way to self-knowledge for the Greek Mysteries was to go out of himself. The way to self-knowledge was not to brood upon himself and to gaze only upon the mirror-images of ordinary soul-life, but to contemplate that which he himself was, though he could not reach down to it in normal consciousness, to look upon the great Teacher. The aspirants looked upon the great Teacher, who was not yet visible when they entered into the Mystery, as upon their own being. In the world outside, where he was recognised merely as Dionysos, he made his journey from Europe to Asia and back, actually incarnated in a fleshly body; there he was a real man standing upon the physical plane. In the Mysteries he appeared in his spirit-form.

In a certain way it is still so today. When in the world outside the modern leaders of men go about in human garb, they are unrecognised by the world. When from the standpoint of Spiritual Science we talk about ‘The Masters of Wisdom and of the Harmony of Feelings’ people would often be surprised to know in what simple, unassuming human form these Masters are to be found in all countries. They are present on the physical plane. But they do not impart their most important teachings on the physical plane, but following the example of Dionysos of old, they impart them on the spiritual plane. And anyone who wishes to listen to them, to be taught by them, must have access to them not only in their physical bodies of flesh, but in their spiritual forms. In a certain way that is true today as it was in the Dionysian Mysteries of old. Thus one of the tests we have to undergo is to obey the exhortation ‘Know thyself’ by going out of ourselves.

But in the Dionysian Mysteries the soul was exposed to yet another test. I told you that the aspirants learned to know Dionysos as a spirit-form. In the Mysteries they were actually instructed by him, they learned to recognise him as a spirit-form governed entirely by what was most essential and most important in man's own nature, by what represented the human self firmly planted upon the Earth. When the Greek pupils directed their clairvoyant sight upon the figure of Dionysos, then this Dionysos seemed to them a beautiful, sublime figure, a noble external representation of humanity. Now just suppose that one of these pupils had left the Mystery Temple, after having seen Dionysos there as a beautiful, sublime human form. I expressly draw your attention to the fact that the younger Dionysos still remained a teacher in the Mysteries long after the real man, of whom I have told you that he journeyed from Europe to Asia and back again, was dead. If however one of these pupils had left the place where the Mystery was enacted and had encountered in the world outside the real Dionysos incarnated in the flesh, if he had met that human being who corresponded to the higher man whom he had seen in the Mystery, he would have seen no beauty! Just as today the man who has entered into the Mystery may not hope to see the figure which he had before him in sublime beauty in the spiritual world in the same august beauty on the physical plane, just as he must be clear that the physical embodiment of the spiritual form which he met in the Mystery is maya, is complete illusion, and conceals the sublime beauty of the spiritual figure, so that in the physical world it becomes in a way hideous — so it was in the case of Dionysos. And what tradition has given us as the external appearance of Dionysos, who is not represented as such a perfect divine form as Zeus, is in fact the image of the Dionysos who was manifested in the flesh. The Dionysos of the Mystery was a beautiful being; the fleshly Dionysos was not to be compared with him. Hence it is no good looking for the figure of Dionysos among the finest types of antique human beauty. He is not so represented by tradition, and we have in particular to think of those who constituted his followers as being hideous in appearance, like the satyrs and sileni.

What is more, we discover in Greek mythology something extremely remarkable. We are told something which is in fact the truth — that the teacher of Dionysos was himself a very ugly man. This person, Silenus who was the teacher of Dionysos himself, the aspirants in the Mystery came to know also. But Silenus is described to us as a wise individual. We need only recall that a great number of wise sayings are attributed to him, sayings which repeatedly stress the worthlessness of the normal life of man if it is only viewed from the outside in its maya or illusion. Then we are told something which made a great impression upon Nietzsche — we are told that King Midas asked Silenus, the teacher of Dionysos, what was best for man. The wise Silenus gave the significant but puzzling reply: ‘Oh, thou race of brief duration, the best would be for thee not to have been born, or since thou hast been born, the second best for thee would be swiftly to die.’ This saying has to be rightly understood. It is an attempt to indicate the relationship between the spirituality of the super-sensible world, and the maya, the great illusion, of outer life.

Thus, when we look at them in their physical human forms, these exalted beings are by no means beautiful — or at any rate they can only be regarded as beautiful in a different sense from that in which the late Greek period understood ideal beauty. We can in a way still idealise Dionysos in contrast to what he was as a man in the outer world. If we wish to contrast the form Dionysos assumed in the physical with the majestic splendour of the spiritual form which he revealed in the Mystery itself, there is nothing to stop us doing so. We are not obliged to think of him as ugly. But we should be wrong to think of the teacher of Dionysos, old Silenus, otherwise than as with an ugly snub-nose, and ears which stuck out, and anything but handsome. Silenus, the teacher of Dionysos, who was finally to hand over to man the archetypal wisdom in a form suitable for the human egoconsciousness — a wisdom which sprang from the deeper self of man — this Silenus was still closely akin to the life of Nature, which man in his present bodily form has really grown out of. The ancient Greek imagined that the present comeliness of the human being, from the point of view of external maya, had developed out of an old, ugly, human form, and that the type of the individuality who was incarnated in Silenus, the teacher of Dionysos, was not at all pleasing to look at.

Now as students of Spiritual Science it will not be difficult for you, from all I have said so far, to suppose that both in the younger Dionysos and in his teacher the wise Silenus, we have to do with individualities who have been of immense importance for the education of modern human consciousness. Thus when we cast about to find the individualities in the spiritual environment who—both for our own as well as for Greek consciousness—were and are momentous for what man has become, we find these two, Dionysos and the wise Silenus. These individualities are there in prehistoric times into which no history, no epic, goes back, but of which nevertheless the later history of the Greeks tells us, particularly in the epic tradition of its sagas and its myths. In these times both the wise Silenus and Dionysos were incarnated in physical bodies, performed physical deeds and died, as their bodies had to do. The individualities remained.

Now you know of course that in human history very much happens which is highly surprising to the man who only thinks abstractly; this is especially the case as regards the incarnation of human and other beings. Sometimes a later incarnation, although more advanced, may from the outside seem less perfect than an earlier one. In my second Rosicrucian Mystery Play, in the incarnation of the monk in the Middle Ages (Maria in modern times), I have been able to give just a very faint idea of the spiritual realities. Thus in history too the abstract thinker must sometimes be overcome with astonishment when he contemplates two successive incarnations, or at any rate incarnations which belong together. The younger Dionysos, who, I told you, allowed his soul to be poured out into external culture was nevertheless able at a specific time to gather himself together again as a soul in a single physical human body; he was born again, incarnated among men; but in such a way that he did not keep his old form but added to his outer physical form something of what had constituted his spirit-form in the Dionysian Mysteries. Both the younger Dionysos and his teacher, the wise Silenus, were reincarnated in historical times. Those initiated in the Mystery-wisdom of ancient Greece were fully conscious that these two had been born again; so were the Greek artists, who were stimulated and inspired by the Initiates.

Little by little such things have to be told if Spiritual Science is not to stop at platitudes, if it is to enter into the reality. Things which are true have to be told for the sake of the further evolution of humanity. The wise old teacher of Dionysos was born again, and in his further incarnation was none other than Socrates. Socrates is the reincarnation of old Silenus, he is the reincarnated teacher of Dionysos. And Dionysos himself, that reincarnated being in whom verily lived the soul of Dionysos of old, was Plato. One only realises the profound meaning of Greek history if one enters into what was known—not of course to the writers of external history — but to the Initiates who have handed down the tradition from generation to generation right up to today — knowledge which can also be found in the Akasha Chronicle. Spiritual Science can once more proclaim that Greece in its early period harboured the teacher of humanity whom it sent over to Asia in the journey conducted by Dionysos, whose teacher was Silenus. What Dionysos and the wise Silenus were able to do for Greece was renewed in a manner suited to a later age by Socrates and Plato. In the very time when the Mysteries were falling into decay, in the very time in which there were no more Initiates who could still see the younger Dionysos clairvoyantly in the holy Mysteries, that same Dionysos emerged as the pupil of the wise Silenus, he who had himself become Socrates — emerged as Plato, the second great teacher of Greece, the true successor of Dionysos.

One only recognises the meaning of Greek spiritual culture in the sense of ancient Greek Mystery-wisdom when one knows that the old Dionysian culture experienced a revival in Plato. And we admire Platonism in quite another way, we relate ourselves to it in its true stature when we know that in Plato there dwelt the soul of the younger Dionysos.


1.  dichten = to compose, as author or a poet, to make literature; dicht = thick. In Ahriman's speech in Scene 4, he says: ‘Ich wirke diese Schönheit in dichtem Licht’ — translated in the English version as ‘which charm I weave for thee in light condensed’.

2. Part II Act 2. Laboratory Scene. Spoken by Homunculus.

3.  The Soul's Probation, Scene I.

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