The reflection in the fourth epoch of man's experiences with the ancient Gods and their way of the Cross. The Christ-Mystery.
14 Aug 1908, Stuttgart
In the last lecture we learnt that man had gradually conquered the physical plane during the post-Atlantean epoch; he had come gradually to understand that the physical world into which he had entered is the expression of the spiritual powers lying behind it. We learnt also that when the Greeks and Romans were the leading peoples in human evolution man had established a kind of balance between his understanding of the physical and spiritual worlds. He had come to terms with the material world; he had learned gradually to understand and to love it.
We must not think that such processes did not have corresponding parallels in the spiritual world. Even if we go further back in human evolution we find, to the same extent as outward conditions alter as regards man's observation and perception of the physical world, conditions alter essentially also as regards other states of consciousness. So far special stress has been laid on the state of consciousness when man is withdrawn from his physical body during sleep. We saw that in the Atlantean epoch he perceived only blurred outlines when awake, but that divine spiritual beings appeared before him when he exercised the dim kind of clairvoyance he then possessed. In order that we may understand the entire human being we must take into account these alternating conditions of consciousness which are connected with what we call death and what lies beyond death; we shall then see that the ordinary life we observe between birth and death has also an essentially different side.
So far we have considered the destiny of man during his life between birth and death from the Atlantean epoch to the age of Greece and Rome; we must now inquire as precisely as possible into his destiny between death and rebirth; for the life of man continues after death. From the moment during the Lemurian epoch when he entered for the first time into earthly incarnation, and life within a physical body first alternated with life outside of it, man has led, to a certain extent, a two-fold life — one upon earth and one in the spiritual world between death and rebirth. Though some people believe that changes only occur in the physical world, and that between death and rebirth everything can be described in a few typical words, this belief is absolutely incorrect.
Destinies change in the spiritual period of human development also. We shall best understand how these changes occur if we glance at the life man leads here in the physical world, and at his relationship to the other kingdoms around him. Man, as at present developed, is by no means a being who exists absolutely by himself; he is related in various ways to all that surrounds him.
Think only how man's consciousness, his self-consciousness, depends upon that which surrounds him. If no other kingdom surrounded us, no mineral, no vegetable, no animal kingdom, if there was no atmosphere, no clouds which reflect the light to us, our ego as it is now would not have been kindled by the outer world. Man, as regards his self-consciousness, is immersed during the day in the world that surrounds him.
Between birth and death he is plunged into a certain environment through having an etheric and physical body. He draws his food from the lower kingdoms of nature, these give him the substances and forces which pass through him. We might say that up to the time of birth he evolves, and then, on entering earthly existence, he comes in contact with the lower kingdoms of nature. It is true he only enters these when he takes on a physical body, and has then to assimilate them as his means of support; in the physical world man is not an absolute being. Only think how he must continually inhale a certain quantity of air; so that he is by no means enclosed within his skin, his being extends into the air. On entering physical existence he enters into a certain relationship with the kingdoms below him; he dips into them; on leaving his body he rises into higher kingdoms, into that of the Angels, Archangels, and Archai, and indeed into still higher kingdoms. Just as through the needs of his physical body he enters into relationship with the lower kingdoms, so after death he enters into relationship with higher kingdoms.
Let us now pass to the epoch when man first began to enter upon his earthly incarnations. This was in the Lemurian epoch, when, though he did enter a physical body, he had very little connection with the physical world. He had as yet the merest trace of sense organs, and had therefore hardly any perception of the outer world. Man actually passed through a condition at the beginning of his incarnations when his connection with the physical world was very slight; because of this he was all the more at home in the worlds of the spirit. This was also the period when, having passed out of his physical body — not only during sleep but also after death — man entered a world full of spiritual light where he perceived spiritual beings; where, to a certain extent, he drew strength from these beings as he now draws it from the physical world; it was a time when he reached out into the kingdoms above him as he now reaches out into the physical world. His being extended into the kingdom of the Angels, Archangels, and even into higher kingdoms which interpenetrate his own. His consciousness was dim, and only at death did he gain true consciousness. He only drew into the physical world gradually, nourishing himself spiritually with the vision of divine spiritual beings.
Man only gained his ego in the course of time as he passed through his various incarnations; he did not have it at an early stage. Other beings of whom we said that they had passed through their human stage at an earlier period already possessed egos, and man learnt to know the ego through beholding them, but he only came to know it truly in the period between death and rebirth.
When a man died at that time he had the feeling that only when he could see divine spiritual beings did he really begin to live; it was actually the case that the farther he left death behind him the higher the stage to which he attained. He grew even more and more conscious until the time came (between death and rebirth) when the mighty Being appeared who had first given true content to his life, regarding whom he felt: “From Him I have come; I belong to Him.” This was the same Being, seen in a primeval period, who later incarnated on earth as the Christ. It was not possible in the Lemurian period for man to behold Christ in a physical body, but he did behold Him midway between death and rebirth; he thus became a part of Him and knew Him in the spiritual world.
As time passed on man grew ever more conscious in the physical world. Full consciousness came first in the middle of the Atlantean epoch, but it came gradually. The more conscious man became in the physical world and the more the rudiments of the ego had entered into him, the less did his consciousness reach up into higher worlds after death. At first he was not able to expand to the vision of the Christ; he only saw Angels and Archangels, and later, in the Atlantean epoch, even this was denied him; it was only granted to those who were most advanced. Normally, man only perceived Angels through his ancient dim clairvoyance; these were Angels also in the Christian sense, and are those who were referred to by the Greeks as Zeus, and by the Germanic people as Wotan, and were regarded as deities.
We have already said that in the Atlantean epoch, during sleep, man was the companion of the Gods; this was especially the case in the period between death and rebirth. These Gods were Angels, or, at the highest, Archangels, and only when man had prepared himself in this life by what he felt to be good deeds, was the vision of Christ, under certain circumstances, vouchsafed to him, through these subsidiary beings. Man still knew the Christ, however, through the deeds and the nature of the Angels and Archangels. Just as light is still light though tinted by passing through coloured glass, so the Christ-form was seen, but with waning strength. It was none other than the Sun-Spirit who thus appeared with waning strength, because man was attracted more and more to the physical side of existence and had learnt to love it.
So humanity developed through the different ages of post-Atlantean civilization, and in each of them appeared the remembrance of earlier epochs; these were actually experienced. In the Egyptian age we find a memory of the Lemurian epoch.
How did Initiates at that time represent the life after death? It was their endeavour that men should experience after death — if only as a faint echo — what men experienced in olden times when they raised themselves up to that in which they felt as if hidden, to that supreme Being — the great Sun-Spirit. This is the meaning of what the ancient Egyptians called the judgment of the Dead; when the dead person appeared before his judge, who weighed his deeds. If these were found to be worthy he might, through the merit acquired in the physical world, become a part of the Being looked up to as God of Light, the Sun-God, This was the same being who was called Osiris. It was the journey to Osiris — the union with him that was imparted to the dead as a recollection of an actual previous evolutional condition. This is how we must understand what is contained in the Book of the Dead, that most remarkable record of the Egyptian people.
From the nature of the conditions laid down in my book Christianity as Mystical Fact, the full esotericism of such things can obviously not be given out, but the fact remains that these things might be gone into very much more deeply. According to the ancient Egyptian idea, if a soul according to its deeds was found worthy of this vision it might be united with Osiris; indeed it was actually addressed as an Osiris, because united with Him. The words are: “Osiris was cleansed in the pool to the south of the field of Hotop and north of the field of locusts, where the Gods of growth wash in the fourth hour of the night and in the eighth of the day, with the image of the heart of the God passing from the night to the day.” It is impossible to express the full depth of meaning of this formula but it is important to understand the expression, “from the night to the day.” Previously it had been night; the soul is led over to a day — to a spiritual day — when it will be united with Osiris, when it may itself become an Osiris. The soul in this way actually experienced its destiny in another world, the world lying between death and birth.
Consciousness between death and rebirth darkened more and more, though it was never lost completely; it was never extinguished, though it grew dim. The more affection man developed for the sensible physical world, the more he had to content himself with the vision of lower beings, and the less communion could higher beings have with him. All the beings who were his good companions during the Atlantean epoch, when he was still clairvoyant, disappeared, especially in the period between death and rebirth, and gradually the connecting link between man and those ancient Gods was lost.
We know that remnants of ancient clairvoyance endured up to the later ages of European culture; that there were some people who in certain states of consciousness could still rise to the vision of the Gods. Such people also enjoyed a more vivid communion with the Gods after death; they had a more intimate life with them. Such a communion was good not only for men but also for the Gods, for man takes up with him the love he has won in the physical world; the Gods received back from him as a sacrificial offering that which as love he had acquired in the physical world. Men, however, grew ever less and less fitted for this communion with the Gods, because their love for the physical world continually increased. The souls of those dwelling in the districts from which the Germanic peoples have since sprung gradually participated less and less in the vision of the Gods, so that they had little fellowship with them between death and rebirth. Through this an idea developed that the Gods were losing their connection with the earth which they had themselves created, and losing also their rulership over it. This feeling gave rise to the conception of the “Twilight of the Gods.”
This is the actual foundation of the drama. It was felt that the Gods had to withdraw from the world they had themselves created. The Gods who, even as late as the Atlantean epoch, had descended into the bodies of the most advanced human beings and had taught them important secrets in the Mysteries were obliged gradually to withdraw, and they could only come in touch with the physical world by using the more advanced human beings as their instruments or vehicles. This actually happened in the Atlantean epoch; and those who were initiated into the ancient Druidic Mysteries knew, for example, that an ancient Atlantean individuality known as Sig appeared for long after the Atlantean catastrophe in many different ways in European bodies.
All such names as Siegfried and Sigurd preserve exoterically the remembrance of the repeated appearances of this individuality who was finally only perceptible to those who had been initiated into the Mysteries. He united himself with high Initiates, and it became more and more necessary, the nearer we approach our age, for him to seek out those who had already gone through many, incarnations in which they had purified themselves. Now, in order that we may understand our age, it is necessary to touch the fringe of a great mystery which throws light on much that had taken place in our time.
Let us turn once more to the middle of the Atlantean epoch, when the physical world was first disclosed to man. A sort of parting of the ways then took place for the Gods — those who had been the ancient companions of men in higher realms. Coming from spiritual heights man had plunged deeper and deeper into the physical world. He had already passed through three great epochs; the third being the Lemurian, the fourth the Atlantean and this will be followed by three others. We are living at present in the fifth epoch. The Lemurian epoch came to an end through great fire catastrophes; the Atlantean through mighty catastrophes of ice and water; our epoch will come to an end through other forces, through a mighty increase of egoism in human nature, and, on account of this, through the war of all against all.
Only those who turn to a spiritual life will survive the catastrophe, which, in this case, means the war of all against all, just as only a small group of people escaped from the catastrophes of Lemuria and Atlantis. The war of all against all will be still more terrible for those involved in it than were those of fire and water, however terrible we may picture them to have been. Those who are now turning towards a spiritual life should feel it their duty to do all that is possible to rescue the good seed of our age and carry it over into the sixth age, which will follow the present one. This age is made up of great subdivisions; the ancient Indian, the Persian, the Egyptian, the Greco-Latin, and the present one, which will be followed by the sixth and the seventh right on to the time of the war of all against all.
The present position of evolution is that we have passed the middle of the Earth age. Had human beings turned towards the spiritualizing of themselves before they had completely entered the physical world, the conquest of the physical plane, of which we spoke in the last lecture, would never have taken place. Man has, however, taken a path that leads him deeper and deeper into physical evolution; he has gone beyond the point that would have represented the deepest stage if at that time he had turned to self-spiritualization.
This point (which lies in the middle of the Atlantean epoch) was an important parting of the ways for certain spiritual beings. They had then to decide whether they would sink into a kind of abyss from which they would rise again later all the stronger (for through their fall they would have developed greater powers) or whether they would take the direct way. Certain spiritual beings, those who had formerly been the companions of man, took the direct way; they decided never again to enter human bodies, but to remain in the realms of the spirit. The subsequent development of humanity passed them by with hardly a trace.
There were, on the other hand, other divine beings, a number of whom have been preserved in the memory of the people of Europe and elsewhere under such names as Zeus, Wotan, etc.; they decided, for the salvation of humanity, to descend again and again into human bodies, that they might work for humanity. It was not possible for all of them to descend to the same extent, for through man having entered so deeply into the physical world human bodies became ever less suitable instruments for divine beings.
Only those men who had purified their bodies in a certain way, who throughout the course of many incarnations had developed such noble etheric and physical bodies that they had completely banished from their souls certain connections with the physical world, who, through their whole disposition, had lived less in that which was of the earth than in that which was not of the earth — only such men were still able to receive into themselves the souls of high Spiritual Beings as they would receive their own soul. So it happened that those into whom Spiritual Beings had entered could not, as it were, descend far enough into physical existence; they therefore held a very unique position in the world.
Let us picture some such being, one who for many incarnations had developed the forces of his body, had won an inner victory over it so that he lived more in the spiritual than in the physical world, and was, on this account, fitted to be the vehicle of a higher being. Was it possible for such a being to be fully understood by those who had descended completely into physical existence, who had developed a love for the physical world and strove to work on this physical plane? Would he not be better understood by those who had preserved the character of an earlier epoch, who were stragglers from an earlier epoch? He could, in truth, be much better understood by these stragglers from the Atlantean epoch.
The Mongolian peoples have not descended so deeply, nor have they entangled themselves so much in the physical plane nor done so much towards its conquest as the people of Europe. We see that external physical civilization is accomplished by western nations rather than by the stragglers from Atlantean civilization who had remained stationary, and were therefore not at home in a world of post-Atlantean development, because they had retained certain qualities and had then degenerated.
It is often pointed out that the Japanese are going through a significant development today through the qualities of their own character. This is an illusion. They are not developing through the force of their own qualities. In the last war against Russia they conquered with the help of battleships and cannon invented by Europeans; they made use of a foreign civilization. It is only progressive development when a people develops from out its own being. It is on this that development depends.
Spiritual individualities who were still the companions of men in the Atlantean epoch could be understood better by nations who had in a certain way remained stationary, and who represented, in a later epoch, conditions beyond which the people of Europe had developed because of their individual self-consciousness and feeling for freedom. Hence the teaching of these spiritual individualities had to be directed to such people, and we see here the consummation of a great mystery.
We see beings who, when the people of Europe were at an earlier stage of evolution, were fully understood, incarnating and appearing later as teachers in the schools of initiation, and on this account being honoured as Gods. We see Wotan, who had previously dwelt as an Initiate in a human body and taught in the Mysteries, being able, because he had not descended so deeply, to incarnate in a nation which, in a certain way, was backward, and on this account had preserved a feeling for the nothingness of the physical plane, of its unworthiness as an expression of the Deity, who looked on it as a place of sorrow and pain, and who held that the only real bliss was in leaving it. This individuality, known as Wotan and who had taught in the Mysteries of the Germanic peoples, is the same who appeared later as the Buddha, and with the same mission. (It is possible to touch on such secrets as we are speaking of in the privacy of an Anthroposophical Lodge.) Buddha, who mediated between our world and the higher worlds, is the same individuality who passed over Europe and is remembered there under the name of Wotan.
We see from this how those people who had preserved certain tendencies and connections with earlier conditions were provided for. Knowing this, the historical fact of the good reception Buddhism received among the Mongolian peoples is comprehensible, and entirely in accordance with the wise guidance of man.
As humanity had to conquer the physical plane more and more, it was no longer possible, in a later age, for such spiritual beings to incarnate directly in a physical body. It required a mightier Spiritual Being to do this, One who had been foretold by all the earlier teachers. Even the ancient Egyptians when they spoke of Osiris recalled their connection with the ancient Spirit of the Sun, and said: “The kingdom of Osiris will be established again upon earth.”
Before this could come to pass a Being like the Christ was needed. In that He had withdrawn more and more from the kingdom of the dead (and we do really see Him disappearing from the other side of life), He had drawn ever nearer to this side, until in the fourth age of civilization He incarnated in a human body visible to all, but in a body that had been very specially prepared.
The Christ-principle could not assume a human body in the same way as those did who descended entirely to the physical plane. Even such a Being as Jesus of Nazareth, Who had gone through many incarnations and attained to a high degree of initiation, was not capable at birth of being the vehicle of the Christ-individuality. Only after preparing himself through a life of thirty years had he succeeded in so far cleaning and purifying the outward physical sheaths — the physical, etheric, and astral bodies — that the Christ individuality could make use of them. In the thirtieth year of his life the individuality of Jesus of Nazareth left the outer vehicles which he had purified.
This took place at the baptism by John in Jordan. A change of individuality took place at this time, when the Christ took possession, not of an ordinary human body, but of a purified body. Then followed three years, during which Christ walked the earth in the body of Jesus, the years described in the Gospels between the baptism and the Mystery of Golgotha. We have here an Individuality Who had not appeared as in the ordinary course of events, where a form is provided at birth in accordance with the experience of many incarnations; but because this Individuality had entered into a body which for thirty years had been entangled in the physical world, and had received a mighty impulse through the Christ, something of profound importance took place which esotericists can read in the Gospels when they really know how to read them. There it stands; but such things are veiled.
At the baptism in Jordan, when the significant symbol of the dove appeared above the head of Jesus, he was not merely inspired but directly intuited by the Christ. On that occasion something shot through the entire body of Jesus of Nazareth, even into those parts which, at the present stage of human development, are most withdrawn from the influence of man — the very bones. I am now about to say something which to the materialistic consciousness of the present day seems nonsense; but that is of no matter. At the moment when the body of Jesus of Nazareth was permeated and fired by the Individuality of Christ — the great Sun-Spirit — the effect reached even into the bones.
If you burn a bone the cartilaginous part is consumed and the bone ash is left. The mineral substance of the bone and the cartilage are held together by a power which is opposed to fire, but also, therefore, associated with it. This power is at present entirely beyond the control of man's will, but it was under the control of Him Who was later to pass through the Event of Golgotha. Man can at present move his hand, but has no power to affect the chemical forces of his bones; he has become solid through them. The body of Jesus of Nazareth, through its having been intuited by the Christ, is the only body on earth that has ever acquired control over the force that holds cartilage and bone-ash together.
Through this control over the bones a force entered the world which is positively able to conquer death; for the bones are guilty of the death of man. Man has become entangled in the mineral part of the earth through being so constructed that he has incorporated into himself solid bony substance. Death came to him because of this, and it is not without cause that death is represented by a skeleton — the symbol is fully justified. The Christ-Impulse is the living force that is able to again transform the bones that is, to lead men gradually towards that which is spiritual; and this will come to pass in future evolution. This is why no external force was permitted to interfere with the bony structure of Jesus Christ: no bone of Him was to be broken. The others who were crucified with Him had their bones broken, but in Him the words of the prophet had to be fulfilled: “No bone of Him shall be broken!” This was in order that what had been imparted as a mighty central impulse to the earth should not be spoilt by any outside influence.
In this way the mighty Sun-Spirit worked at that time in the mystery which took place at the baptism in Jordan. It was the same Sun-Spirit who through His withdrawal from the earth had made it possible for man to enter physical matter, by which ossification took place, and Who continues to work on him so that he may perceive the impulse by which he can again uplift or spiritualize this tendency towards ossification.
Risky as it may be to speak of such matters, it is the mission of the Anthroposophical movement to declare those things that have always been known, taught, and seen within the Mysteries. Only because this mystery had been accomplished, and because of this alone, did another mystery become possible.
We know that the several parts of the human body correspond to the principles of man. The physical body corresponds to itself; the glandular system to the etheric body; the nervous system to the astral body; and the circulatory system (that of the blood) to the ego. The ego entered physically into man through his being endowed more and more with blood, thus becoming ever more capable of devoting himself to the material world.
A time came when the surplus blood had to be sacrificed. Horrible as it may sound to the chemist, it is nevertheless true that the superabundant ego, that which would have brought humanity to the war of all against all through excessive egoism, flowed from the wounds of the Redeemer on Golgotha. At the moment when the wounds of the Redeemer bled there was implanted within humanity the seed of the power by which it might raise itself again out of the state into which it had sunk so deeply.
If man had taken the upward turn in the middle of the Atlantean epoch he would never have attained to complete independence. He had to conquer the physical plane, but then on this plane the impulse by which he could rise again had to be all the stronger; and this impulse was given by the Christ. Because the Christ was stronger He could not only lead mankind out of the depths, but could do something else, something of very great importance! A part of the world is to be conquered by man, a part that will be united with the spiritual world that will be led back to the spiritual world.
It was shown in the last lecture that during the Greco-Latin age man had progressed so far in the conquest of the physical world, had become so deeply entangled in it, that he had to have a God in human form before he could recognize Him, for he could no longer penetrate to the spiritual world and perceive Him there. Meanwhile conditions on the other side of life — between death and rebirth — had also changed. Through man having descended so much further into the physical plane, and having developed so great a love for it, and derived so much pleasure from it, what was on the other side of life became ever less perceptible to him. He retained a considerable remembrance of this world when he lived on the other side between death and rebirth, and much of this has been preserved in legend. When we read in a book of Greek origin that the hero says: “It is better to be a beggar in the physical world than a king in the land of the shades,” it exactly expresses the feeling of that period. Because man had conquered so much of the physical plane he longed to come back to it, for at that time he could not take much over with him. Only through Christ having come to earth, and through man having already experienced Him in a preparatory way in the time of the Old Testament; only because man had received the Christ into his thoughts during life, could he take over with him that which brought light again to him on the other side. What he took with him made the other side clear and bright and restored the Christ to him with even greater splendour than in this world. Hence we see how consciousness on the other side became darkened more and more as the time approached which we described yesterday; and how it then grew clearer through man learning to know the Christ here. For what man learns of Him in this world is not lost in the period between death and rebirth; he takes his knowledge with him; and this is what the expression “To die in Christ” means.
From what has been said you will see that throughout evolution the life not only of the living changes, but also that of the dead. Because the dead are nourished on what they have learnt here concerning the Christ, because they take the fruits of this with them to the life between death and rebirth, returning here again in ever recurring incarnations, they will appear also in ever mightier, more Christ-filled bodies, and will make the earth more and more into an expression of what Christ can be to a transformed world when in the future He leads the earth to higher and ever higher conditions.
Thus we see how life, both on this side and on the other, cooperates in maturing the earth for what is to come; when the earth through being filled with the Spirit of Christ will be united once again with the sun, and will thereby rise a stage higher in the cosmos.
The Christ Event — the coming of Christ — is therefore not only a fact of great importance to man, but is of infinite importance also to the evolution of the whole of the cosmos.