Reading the Pictures of the Apocalypse
Kristiania, May 13, 1909
In the seven letters to the churches found in the Apocalypse we find a portrayal of the great main epoch of the seven post-Atlantean ages, from the mighty Atlantean water catastrophe to the event that is called the war of all against all.
We will now consider some important passages from the letters in order to show the compass of John's overview. He came from a cultural era when much was still taken for granted, much that, today, could appear to ordinary consciousness as forced.
The leading power behind these cultural epochs is presented with the seven stars in his hand. Looking at the cultural epoch that saw the outer world as maya or illusion, we find there the chorus of seven holy Rishis, who point to Vishva Karman. The writer of the Apocalypse sees him as the being who has the wisdom of the seven stars in his hand. Above all the writer of the Apocalypse must look into the future. Because he is speaking to the descendants of the Atlantean cultural epoch he refers to what lives in their memories. So he calls the Nicolaitans the representatives of black magic, who are excluded from the community that preserved the “first love.” Therefore, he says of those who have continued to keep themselves from becoming entangled in matter, that they will develop into the future. Those who hear this admonishment will easily find their way back into the spiritual world.
Then he speaks to the people of the second cultural epoch, the age of Zarathustra. He speaks to the followers of the great Zarathustra who have recorded their wisdom in the teachings of Hermes, who have preserved for us an echo of Zarathustra's teaching. Indications are given everywhere in these writings that people should not develop a love for dreamy wandering, that they should get to like life in the physical, sensible world. They are to see the sun as the expression of a being, the spirit of the sun, and they should look upon the stars as the bodies of the spirits who populate space. For this reason it was the concern of Zarathustra to show the physical-material world as the expression of the spirit. In this way the cultivation of the earth's fields should be like a cultivation of the physical body of God, who stands behind the physical world. The ancient Hebrew nation that existed parallel to the ancient Persian culture also looked up to this God. They also had a religious service to Zarathustra, which is indicated in Abraham's encounter with Melchizedek.
From this we see that remnants of the second cultural epoch remained. We know how mightily the great Zarathustra admonished the people to work with the earth but not to become slaves of matter. The power that wants to mislead people into thinking there is nothing but physical matter he calls Ahriman, the ahrimanic power. The danger arises through Ahriman that the human being may come to like physical life too much.
In the ancient Hebrew wisdom, Ahriman was given a name made up of two parts: Mephiz-Tophel, Mephistopheles. This is he who called to Faust, who believed in the spirit and went to the “Mothers,” that is, entered the spiritual world: “You are coming to nothing!” Like Faust, those who are seeking the spirit call back to the materialists: “In your nothing I know how to find all.” 1Faust II (Act 1, Royal Palatinate, Dark Gallery, line 6255). So the writer of the Apocalypse had to say: “Have no fear ... Some of you Tophel will weave into the prison of matter.” (Rev. 2:10) These are the ones who have become too wrapped up in matter.
We know that human beings must descend into various incarnations on the earth where they live their lives in physical, sensible bodies. Every life on earth is followed by a life in the spiritual world. One day this ring of reincarnations will be closed. The profound meaning of these reincarnations, if we understand well the second letter of the Apocalypse, is this: human beings should struggle through to a consciousness of self, to their I consciousness.
The soul saw the world so very differently in the ancient Indian epoch, and how much has the soul seen since then in other incarnations! Today we perceive in a way entirely different from earlier incarnations. As the soul ascends from stage to stage we acquire the concept of history. A thinking human being must say: There is a history of life in the spiritual world. Because in elementary theosophical teaching we cannot describe the life between death and a new birth in more detail we usually describe the life in devachan and kamaloca only in general terms. But it is different during each of the various cultural epochs; for souls always have something different to experience. We can describe this history only in separate characteristic features.
Let us look back to ancient Atlantis; human beings were still in their soul and spiritual home during life on earth. During the ancient Indian age human beings were still in the spiritual world at night and after they passed through the gate of death. In this original home it became light and bright around them. To the extent that people came increasingly to like this physical world, to that extent they lost their vision into the spiritual world; it became darker and darker for them.
During the Egyptian culture human beings already stood so firmly in the physical world that they had to be taught to live in such a way that they could find Osiris in the other world. Only in this way could the students still feel the light between death and a new birth. The teaching of The Book of the Dead and the “judges of the dead” should be understood in this way: Only by uniting with the Light of Osiris, the Osiris impulse, could human beings hope that the spiritual world would be filled with light and brightness for them.
Let us now look at the Greco-Latin age when people had become so fond of physical matter that they created physical forms incorporating ideals in the physical world. That is why a human being of that time could say, “Rather a beggar on earth than a king in the kingdom of shadows.” 2Homer in the 11th book of the Odyssey. It is not merely a legend that people went into darkness when they descended into Hades. Humankind is in danger of losing itself in the world of the senses. That is why God had to descend into this sense perceptible world, this sense existence, and save it.
Zarathustra proclaimed Ahura Mazdao through the veil of the sensible-sensual world. Yahweh was proclaimed to Moses in the burning bush through the veil of the sensible-sensual world. Then the same power proclaimed himself as Christ in the body of Jesus of Nazareth. What then occurred had significance not only for the physical world but also for the spiritual world.
In the same moment when the blood flowed from the wounds of the redeemer, Christ appeared in the underworld to the souls who stood between death and a new birth. Below in the realm of matter the blood is flowing and while it is flowing, the kingdom of the dead begins to become brighter and brighter. To the extent that our culture now begins to climb upward to a spiritual understanding of the fact of Golgotha, the brightness grows.
History is everywhere, in the physical and in the spiritual. The whole of our post-Atlantean cultural evolution has as its meaning the goal of leading humanity through the physical world while, at the same time, keeping awake faith in the spirit. It is always the same principle that manifests in the successive cultural epochs.
The writer of the Apocalypse turns his clairvoyant vision to the fact that these are people who are becoming one with matter, who are using up the spiritual forces they possess like an old inheritance without joining company with Christ. Such people would gradually lose devachan; kamaloca would last longer and longer and they would be captured, united with the gravity of earth.
Today only black magicians do this; ordinary human beings cannot yet close themselves off from all wisdom. The writer of the Apocalypse, however, must place everything in perspective in order to point out that the impulse of Christ is what saves human beings. For this reason the second letter says that it would be the “second death” — the “spiritual death” as Paul refers to it. The admonishment had to come in the second letter because this letter refers to the second cultural epoch. In the first post-Atlantean epoch this admonishment did not need to be directed to humankind.
In the second letter the leading spirit characterizes himself as “the alpha and the omega.” (Rev. 1:8) In all of occultism there are certain symbols that dominate and always mean the same thing. In ancient Egyptian times value was placed on the formation of wisdom through the word; wisdom appeared then for the first time in rigorously delineated words. The Indian world did not yet place any value on knowledge; the culture of Zarathustra just as little. For this reason the divine power of the word in the mouths of human beings is everywhere signified by the “sword.”
Everywhere we find the sword employed as a symbol of the humanization of divine power. “And to the angel of the community in Pergamon wrote: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.’” (Rev. 2:12) But through knowledge the human being can also most be misled into black magic.
In the Bible human beings experience the power of God that flows to them as “manna.” Let us now consider the full character of this age. Yahweh reveals himself in the burning bush on Sinai. “Then Yahweh spoke to Moses: ‘I am the I am.’ And he spoke: ‘You should say to the sons of Israel: ‘The I am has sent me to you!’” (Exodus 3:13) With these words the people were told: The I am has sent me to you! Yahweh is the unpronounceable name of God. The name “I” can never be spoken to a human being from outside. It is the intimate name of God that human beings are only permitted to receive, sanctified in their hearts. It was written on the altar of the tabernacle. Therefore, we read: “To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna and I will give him a white stone with a new name written on the white stone ... (Rev. 2:17) Those who received the I learned through an inner power of the spirit to recognize the name with the hidden manna. Through the fact that Christ revealed himself in a physical body on the earth, human beings are to learn not to disdain the earth like the ascetics, but to recognize that this earth has something to give them. And so, the thirst for existence should not be extinguished but we should purify our desires. The westerner should say: “Here work is done; here hands are in motion and what is achieved here is taken through the gate of death.” It is not our intention to tell of miracles but, through legends, to come to realize what humanity has been given as wisdom.
We hear that Buddha had an important pupil, Cassapa. 3This disciple of Buddha was also called Maha-Cassapa, because he was a chief support for the buddhistic brotherhood. After his conversion he immediately assumed a very high rank among Buddha's followers. According to the legend he called together the first gathering after Buddha's death and functioned as the leader. He is considered the collector of the canon and is the first buddhistic patriarch. He was the one whose task it was to spread the teaching of Buddha. We are told in a legend that Cassapa did not die but disappeared into a cave. There his physical body is being preserved until the day when the Maitreya Buddha appears. Then the mortal remains of Cassapa will be touched by the fire of heaven and dissolved.
Let us think our way into this teaching. How will there be people in the future who can understand the teaching of the Maitreya Buddha? Through the fact that the redeemer himself carried his own mortal remains to heaven after three and a half days. 4Compare the lecture cycle held in Karlsruhe, From Jesus to Christ (GA 131) (London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1973), lectures held on 11, 12, 14 of October 1911. That means that those human beings who unite themselves with the impulse of Christ will take what they have achieved as the fruit of their lives with them and carry it into the spiritual world. We will see how, by means of the connection with the principle of Christ, all the fruits of earthly existence can be carried into the spiritual world. The teachings of the Orient have always proclaimed the future coming of the Christ, even in their legends. Because we are to learn in the fourth post-Atlantean epoch how the earthly-physical element directly goes over into the spiritual world, this is presented to us with the phrase “he has eyes like a flame of fire” (Rev. 1:14) and we are told: “His feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace.— (Rev. 1:15) Later we read, “And all the communities shall know that I am he who searches mind and heart ...” (Rev. 2:23) Here we are told that Christ is the one who brings the “I am.” This inconspicuous little word must merely be read. The meaning is that the principle behind the “I am” will become the savior who leads us out of the material world. Word for word, line for line the text can be explained in this way.
The contents of the fifth letter (Rev. 3:1–6) are especially important for us. We read there that we have received the secret of the name through the teaching concerning the development of the earth, which is given to us by the “masters of wisdom and the harmony of feeling.” 5Compare: Zur Geschichte und aus den Inhalten der ersten Abteilung der Esoterischen Schule 1904—1914 (GA 264), chapter titled: “Aus dem Lehrgut der Meister der Welshed ...” [Concerning the History of and from the Content of the First Section of the Esoteric School 1904—1914, chapter entitled: “From the Teachings of the Masters of Wisdom ...”], pp. 199–240, and the appendix, pp. 241–259.