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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

The Christian Mystery
GA 97

VIII. The Origins of Religious Confessions and Set Prayers

17 February 1907, Leipzig

Humanity originally had an all-embracing basic approach which then took different forms depending on the character of nations and the climatic conditions in which they lived. Like the Lord's Prayer, all religious formulae and confessions contain the basic ideas of what is known in the spirit. Some may say these are mere dreams, but they are indeed present. How did they get there, however? Here we must understand that the things we are taught today were not presented in the same way in earliest times. The formulas of religious confessions differed greatly through the ages. The earliest views were in images, not concepts like those we have today. Those images were held on to, in a way, and we find them again and again. Thus insight is always referred to as a light, and wisdom as flowing water. But why was it that earlier peoples were spoken to in images? Let us try and understand how religious teachers would speak to the people before Hermes, before Buddha, Zarathustra and Moses and before the Christ as greatest founder of a religion.

We have to distinguish between everyday and image-based consciousness. We have our everyday object-bound conscious awareness from morning till night. We then see things the way they present themselves to the senses. The other levels of consciousness are hidden from us to begin with. We have all heard of the state of dreamless sleep. This means something very different to an initiate than it does to an ordinary person. The initiate is in a conscious state from going to sleep to waking up. He perceives a world, though in a very different way than one normally does. Ordinary people know nothing of this condition. The level of consciousness one has in dream-filled sleep is better known. We will therefore let dream-filled sleep serve to explain dreamless sleep to us.

Dream-filled sleep shows everything in symbols. It is similar to the state of consciousness an initiate has in the world of the spirit. The initiate also sees images, though these, too, are constantly changing. On the physical plane everything has just one form—a table, for example, or a stone. But the higher we go the more do forms keep changing. The plant changes and moves, the animal even more so, and human beings are most capable of change of all. In the devachan everything is continually changing. One can do certain exercises that will make the colour lift away from a plant one is observing, so that it floats and moves freely in space. One then has to learn to guide such free-floating colours and also sounds to particular objects and spirits. The colour then gives expression to the inner life. The human aura works like this in colour and form. Inner life experience comes to expression in it. But it is never at rest. It is eternal motion, eternal motion being the essence of the higher world. This is also what makes the world of the spirit so confusing to anyone entering into it for the first time. An inexperienced individual is confused by the fleeting manifestations. No entity endowed with spirit can hide its inner life from those who see with the eyes of the spirit. An ordinary person has to consider the outer aspect to draw conclusions as to the inner life. In the world of the spirit, the inner nature of every entity lies openly revealed. There we are united with the inmost nature of things. Today only initiates can have this; they are able to add the inner nature of things to their outer aspect. It is something they do in full conscious awareness. A long time ago, people were able to do this unconsciously.

The further back we go the less were people able to do the things we can do—they could not calculate, nor count. They knew nothing of logic. That is how it was around the middle of the Atlantean period. The Atlanteans could do something else instead, however. Looking at a plant, for example, they could feel a quite specific feeling arise in them. Our own feelings are pale and shadowy compared to theirs. The early Atlanteans did not yet have such definite ideas of colour as we have. They would see a colour rise like a mist from a plant and float freely. Nor would they have seen the colour of a crystal. They would, for instance, see a corona of colours around a ruby, with the ruby itself just a break in it. Even earlier, human beings would not even see the outlines of people, animals and plants. But if they approached an enemy they would see a form arise that was coloured a browny red. A beautiful bluish red would indicate a friend. They thus perceived the inner life in single shades of colour.

If we go even further back, to Lemurian times, all will impulses were also different. The will still had magic powers, showing its relationship to the powers of nature outside. When someone held his hand above a plant and let his will be active, it would immediately begin to grow. When man enclosed himself in a skin, his powers became more remote from those of nature.

Powers of thought are least like those of nature. Even earlier there were entities that would have considered it a monstrous thing to say: ‘I form an idea of something outside me.’ They would see the idea at work outside as an entity. Originally things made up ideas. Today we look at a watch and get an idea of it. But we would not be able to form the ‘watch’ idea if someone had not at one time formed the idea before there were any watches and then made a watch. It is the same with the ideas for all things. The ideas we have about the things in the world were realities in the far distant past. At that time they were put into the things. Everything arises according to such ideas, which is what people still do today when they are creative. The spirits that existed at the time were watching the master mechanic of things, as it were. They had a creative intellect. They were not yet incarnated in the flesh. The principle which dwells in the human body today was still in the keeping of the godhead at that time. Physical life already existed down below on earth, with life forms that were between today's animals and humans and were ready to receive the human soul. We can use a metaphor for this. If many tiny sponges are dipped in water, each will absorb droplets of water, and so the water is divided up into lots of single drops. The physical earth with its teeming throng of creatures was surrounded by spirit then where it is surrounded by air today. Individual souls only came into being when each had absorbed a droplet of the spirit. This also started the process in which man developed a separate object-related conscious mind.

Before that, the soul received everything as though from within from the cosmic soul, for the cosmic soul knew everything. That is the difference between knowledge now and knowledge then. The inner world goes down into the darkness of dreamless sleep when bright daytime consciousness arises. It is the astral body which perceives the outside world, seeing colours, hearing sounds, feeling pleasure and pain, but it cannot do this without the physical body. The astral body is the same as the one that once was part of common soul substance. If everyone were to go to sleep at the same moment and their astral bodies would be all mixed up, with the part of the general world soul that has not entered into individual bodies also mixed in, dreamless sleep would end, colours and sounds would arise in the astral bodies the way it was in the past when all souls still rested in the cosmic soul. Night, as we know it today, was then filled with light, filled with perceptions made in the world of the spirit. The whole of humanity once had this kind of astral perception.

What has humanity been perceiving since then? What has man gained for himself since? His self-awareness, the ability to say ‘I’ to himself. The whole of that earlier consciousness was only an enhanced dream consciousness, and people had no self-awareness. self-awareness was given to human beings when they descended into the body. And this is on the increase all the time. It is the content of present human evolution. ‘I am the I am’ has revealed itself to humanity. That is the true name of Jahveh,90Exodus 3: 14 or, more fully: ‘I am he who is, was and shall be.’ In those far distant times human beings had no awareness of this. Where did an ‘I am’ awareness exist then? In the spirit who had all the souls in it like drops in water. The holy spirit is the one who had I-consciousness before there was embodiment. It is the spirit as such which comes to I-awareness in human beings.

In that remote past, teaching was a pouring out of wisdom which came from inside, not outside. Between that time and our own there was an intermediate period, the Atlantean age. When this was at its mid-stage, human beings were able to see outlines of objects and life forms. But everything was still enveloped in a mist of colours for them, with sounds alive in it that had something to say, that were wise. A teaching then developed that later became religious teaching as we know it. Aeons of time ago91One of the sets of notes on the lecture has ‘about 200 000 years ago’. they had a great school for adepts. Everything we learn today comes from those Turanian adepts.92Turan was the name of the realm beyond the Amu Daria (formerly Oxus) river in Central Asia. Pupils passed it on right to the present day. But people taught in a different way in those times. It had to be taken into account that humanity was in an in-between stage. Even the wisest men could not have counted up to five. But by reacting to their inner reality it was possible to illuminate them, teach them wisdom in images. They could not have been given the wisdom in words, for those would not have been understood. Human beings did not have the bright daytime consciousness that we have today. On the other hand it was easy to put them in a state where the godhead illumined them from inside. The teachers would put the pupils into a hypnotic state. This would not have been the hypnotic state used to cause so much mischief today, but it was similar. The teachers would use this sleep state to illuminate the pupils.

They had occult writing at that time, something we might also call occult language. We still have mantras that rank higher in value than thoughts. They are mere shadows, however, compared to the sound compositions of those early times. These were simple, but when a note was sounded, the lost capacity for illumination would be restored. The world of inner illumination then came to people artificially and they would see the cosmic spirits at work as in earlier times. The pupil would receive formulas and specific drawings from the teachers. This would give direct perception of cosmic secrets. This sign, for instance, would tell him how a new plant grows from a seed (Fig. 3).

spirals
Fig. 3

Today people need to have this explained if they are to think or feel anything as they see it. In those days, the sign had an immediate effect on those who saw it or heard the beat of it. The founders of religions taught the formulas used in those times to the people of later ages.

The further we go back, the more was the cosmic soul still all one. In sleep, the astral bodies of all human beings are still fairly alike. In Atlantis the astral bodies were all alike in this way. It was then possible to give one original wisdom to all people. When the great flood had passed over Atlantean humanity, wisdom could no longer be the same for all. It was then necessary to teach in India the way the Indian body needed it, and differently in Persia and again in Egypt, differently for the Greeks and Romans, and do it differently again for the ancient Germans. But the origins live on in all true forms of religion. In Atlantis, illumination was to have life conveyed to one, not to be taught. The sign of the vortex would arouse an immediate inner response. Today our feelings need concepts to catch fire. The seven petitions of the Lord's Prayer would in the past have been presented like a scale of seven notes, connected with seven particular colours and smells.

The Atlantean pupil thus came to have living experience of the sevenfold nature of man. The Christ, the greatest of the religious teachers, put this into the Lord's Prayer. The power of the Lord's prayer is given to everyone who says it. It is not an actual mantra, though it may have mantric powers. It is a thought-mantra. It did of course have its greatest power in the original language, but because it is a thought-mantra it will not lose its power even if it is translated into a thousand languages. Just as we are able to digest food without knowing the laws that govern digestion, so we may have the benefit of the Lord's Prayer even if we do not have higher knowledge. Someone with higher knowledge will, of course, have even greater benefit of it.

That is the route which has been followed by religious truths. All our souls were somnambulant once in the cosmic soul. This then became differentiated and was drawn down into many bodies. Spiritual perception became obscured, as did the possibility of restoring people to the original state. The religious teachings, and especially the formulas taken from the world of the spirit are only an echo, being now in concepts and words. The wisdom of the Old Testament still speaks of primal ideas and ideas. A faint reflection of primal ideas lives on in ideas. But that original wisdom has not been lost. It still rests in our dormant souls. It is the task of the science of the spirit to bring it to clear conscious awareness. When man will have knowledge of the whole of the outside world after his last incarnation, he is received into the original clairvoyance and brings new illumination, clairvoyant consciousness with him. In the East, it is said that redemption is gained by giving oneself up to universal consciousness. But it will not be like that. Once, before man's first embodiment, there was no self-awareness. But it will be there after the last incarnation. Every drop of soul fluid takes on a specific colour, each a different one. Every one will in the end bring its own colour, and the water, formerly bright and clear, will shimmer in infinitely beautiful, luminous colours, each of which will be separate, however. Everyone brings his own colour, his individual conscious awareness that can never be lost. Universal consciousness will ultimately be all conscious awarenesses in harmony. The many will be one of their own free accord! We have to imagine this in its true nature. Every individual consciousness is then wholly within the universal consciousness.

This human evolution has its purpose. Yes, life has meaning, and the most beautiful meaning is that in the end the human being will lay down a piece of human existence on the altar of the godhead that he has gained for himself And from this the garment will be woven which the Earth Spirit is spinning, as Goethe put it so beautifully and in such rousing terms:

In flooding life and storm of activity up and down I flow, moving to and fro! Birth and the grave, an eternal sea, going one way and t' other, a burning life thus I work at the roaring loom of time making the godhead's living garb.93Goethe, Faust 1, 4: 501-9.