Old and New Methods of Initiation
18 February 1922, Dornach
Let us recall the main points we considered yesterday. Through conception and birth into the physical, sense-perceptible world, the human being brings down on the one hand something which inwardly still possesses the living spiritual world, but which then becomes shaded and toned down to the thought world he bears within him. On the other hand he brings down something which fills his element of soul and spirit, something which I have described as being essentially a state of fear. I then went on to point out that the living spirit is metamorphosed into a thought element, but that it also sends into earth existence a living remnant of pre-earthly life that lives in human sympathy. So in human sympathy we have something that maintains in our soul the living quality of pre-earthly existence. The feeling of fear that fills our soul before we descend to the physical world is metamorphosed here on earth on the one hand into the feeling of self and on the other into the will.
What lives in the human soul by way of thoughts is dead as far as spirit and soul are concerned, compared with the living world of the spirit. In our thoughts, or at least in the force which fills our thoughts, we experience, in a sense, the corpse of our spirit and soul existence between death and a new birth. But our present experience during physical earthly life, of a soul that has — in a way — been slain, was not always as strong as it is today. The further we go back in human evolution the greater is the role played here in earthly life by what I yesterday described as sympathy — sympathy not only with human beings but also for instance with the whole of nature. The abstract knowledge we strive for today — quite rightly, to a certain extent — has not always been present in human evolution. This abstract inner consciousness came into being in its most extreme form in the fifteenth century, that is, at the beginning of the fifth post-Atlantean period. What human beings now experience in their thoughts was, in earlier times, filled with living feelings. In older knowledge — for instance, that of the Greek world — abstract concepts as we know them today simply did not exist. Concepts then were filled with living feelings. Human beings felt the world as well as thinking it. Only at the beginning of the fifth post-Atlantean period did people begin to merely think the world, reserving their feelings of sympathy for what is really only the social realm.
In ancient India human beings felt strong sympathy for the whole of nature, for all the creatures of nature. Such strong sympathy in earthly life means that there is a strong experience of all that takes place around the human being between death and a new birth. In thinking, this life has died. But our sympathy with the world around us certainly contains echoes of our perceptions between death and a new birth. This sympathy was very important in the human life of earlier times. It meant that every cloud, every tree, every plant, was seen to be filled with spirit. But if we live only in thoughts, then the spirit departs from nature, because thoughts are the corpse of our spirit and soul element. Nature is seen as nothing more than a dead structure, because it can only be mirrored in dead thoughts. That is why, as times moved nearer to our own, all elemental beings disappeared from what human beings saw in nature.
So what is this kind of spirituality that human beings still feel within themselves — this living spirituality — when, in reality, they ought to experience nothing but dead spirituality? To answer this question we shall have to consider what I have said with regard to the physical organization of the human being as a threefold organism. Here (see diagram) is the organism of nerves and senses, located mainly in the head. The rhythmical organism is located mainly in the upper chest organs. But of course both systems appear in the total organism too. And here is the organism of the limbs and the metabolism, which is located mainly in the limbs and the lower parts of the trunk.
Let us look first at the head organization which is chiefly, though not exclusively, the bearer of our life of nerves and senses. We can only understand it if we look at it pictorially. We have to imagine that our head is for the most part a metamorphosis — not in its physical substance, but in its form — of the rest of the body, of the organism of limbs and metabolism we had in our previous incarnation on the earth.
The organism of limbs and metabolism of our previous earthly life — not its physical substance, of course, but its shape — becomes our head organization in this life. Here in our head we have a house which has been formed out of a transformation of the organism of limbs and metabolism from our former incarnation, and in this head live mainly the abstract thoughts (see next diagram, red) which are the corpse of our pre-earthly life of soul and spirit.
In our head we bear the living memory of our former earthly life. And this is what makes us feel ourselves to be an ego, a living ego, for this living ego does not exist within us. Within us are only dead thoughts. But these dead thoughts live in a house which can only be understood pictorially; it is an image arising out of the metamorphosis of our organism of limbs and metabolism from our former earthly life.
The more living element that comes over from the life of spirit and soul, when we descend into a new earthly life, takes up its dwelling from the start not in our head, but in our rhythmical organism. Everything that surrounded us between death and this new birth and now plays into life — all this dwells in our rhythmical organism. In our head all we have is an image out of our former earthly life, filled with dead thoughts. In our rhythmical, breast organism lives something much more alive. Here there is an echo of everything our soul experienced while it was moving about freely in the world of spirit and soul between death and this new birth. In our breathing and in our blood circulation something vibrates — forces that belong to the time
between death and birth. And lastly, our being of spirit and soul belonging to our present earthly incarnation lives — strange though this may seem — not in our head, and not in our breast, but in our organism of limbs and metabolism. Our present earthly ego lives in our organism of limbs and metabolism (green).
Imagine the dead thoughts to be still alive. These dead thoughts live — speaking pictorially — in the convolutions of the brain. And the brain in turn lives in a metamorphosis of our organism from our former incarnation. The initiate perceives the way the dead thoughts dwell in his head, he perceives them as a memory of the reality of his former incarnation. This memory of your former incarnation is just as though you were to find yourself in a darkened room with all your clothes hanging on a rail. Feeling your way along, you come, say, to your velvet jacket, and this reminds you of the occasion when you bought it. This is just what it is like when you bump into dead thoughts at every turn. To feel your way about in whatever is in your head organization is to remember your former life on earth.
What you experience in your breast organism is the memory of your life between death and a new birth. And what you experience in your limbs and metabolism — this belongs to your present life on earth. You only experience your ego in your thoughts because your organism of limbs and metabolism works up into your thoughts. But it is a deceptive experience. For your ego is not, in fact, contained in your thoughts. It is as little in your thoughts as you are actually behind the mirror when you see yourself reflected in it. Your ego is not in your thought life at all. Because your thought life shapes itself in accordance with your head, the memory of your former earthly life is in your thought life. In your head you have the human being you were in your former life. In your breast you have the human being who lived between death and this new birth. And in your organism of limbs and metabolism, especially in the tips of your fingers and toes, you have the human being now living on the earth. Only because you also experience your fingers and toes in your brain do your thoughts give you an awareness of this ego in your earthly life. This is how grotesque these things are, in reality, in comparison with what people today usually imagine.
Thinking with the head about what happens in the present time is something that only became prevalent at the beginning of the fifth post-Atlantean period, in the fifteenth century. But in an ahrimanic way things are forestalled. Things that take place later than they should in the course of evolution are luciferic. Things that come too soon are ahrimanic. Let us look at something which came about in history very much too soon and should not have happened until the fifteenth century. It did happen in the fifteenth century, but it was foreshadowed at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha. I want to show you how the ideas of the Old Testament, which I partly described yesterday, were transformed into nothing more than allegories by a contemporary of Christ Jesus, Philo of Alexandria. 1 Philo of Alexandria, c.20 B.C. – c.40 A.D. Jewish philosopher and theologian.
Philo of Alexandria interprets the whole of the Old Testament as an allegory. This means that he wants to make the whole Old Testament, which is told in the form of direct experiences, into a series of thought images. This is very clever, especially as it is the first time in human evolution that such a thing has been done. Today it is not all that clever when the theosophists, for instance, interpret Hamlet by saying that one of the characters is Manas, another Buddhi, and so on, distorting everything to fit an allegory. This sort of thing is, of course, nonsense. But Philo of Alexandria transformed the whole of the Old Testament into thought images, allegories. These allegories are nothing other than an inner revelation of dead soul life, soul life that has died and now lies as a corpse in the power of thinking. The real spiritual vision, which led to the Old Testament, looked back into life before birth, or before conception, and out of what was seen there the Old Testament was created.
But when it was no longer possible to look back — and Philo of Alexandria was incapable of looking back — it all turned into dead thought images. So in the history of human evolution two important events stand side by side: The period of the Old Testament culminated in Philo of Alexandria at the time of the Mystery of Golgotha. He makes allegories of straw out of the Old Testament. And at the same time the Mystery of Golgotha reveals that it is not the experience of dead things that can lead the human being to super-sensible knowledge, but the whole human being who passes through the Mystery of Golgotha bearing the divine being within him.
These are the two great polar opposites: the world of abstraction foreshadowed in an ahrimanic way by Philo, and the world which is to enter into human evolution with Christianity. The abstract thinker — and Philo of Alexandria is perhaps the abstract thinker of the greatest genius, since he foreshadowed in an ahrimanic way the abstractness of later ages — the abstract thinker wants to fathom the mysteries of the world by means of some abstract thought or other which is supposed to provide the answer to the riddle of the universe. The Mystery of Golgotha is the all-embracing living protest against this. Thoughts can never solve the riddle of the universe because the solution of this riddle is something living. The human being in all his wholeness is the solution to the riddle of the universe. Sun, stars, clouds, rivers, mountains, and all the creatures of the different kingdoms of nature, are external manifestations which pose an immense question. There stands the human being and, in the wholeness of his being, he is the answer.
This is another point of view from which to contemplate the Mystery of Golgotha. Instead of confronting the riddle of the universe with thoughts in all their deadness, confront the whole of what man can experience with the whole of what man is.
Only slowly and gradually has mankind been able to find the way towards understanding this. Even today it has not yet been found. Anthroposophy wants to open the gate. But because abstraction has become so firmly established, even the awareness that the way must be sought has disappeared. Until abstraction took hold, human beings did wrestle with the quest for the way, and this is seen most clearly at the turn of the fourth to the fifth post-Atlantean period. As Christianity spreads externally, the best spirits wrestle to understand it inwardly.
Both streams had come down from the far past. On the one side there was the heathen stream which was fundamentally a nature wisdom. All natural creatures were seen to be inhabited by elemental spirits, demonic spirits, those very demonic spirits who, in the Gospels, are said to have rebelled when Christ came amongst mankind, because they knew that their rule was at an end. Human beings failed to recognize Christ, but the demons recognized him. They knew that he would now take possession of human hearts and human souls and that they would have to withdraw. But for a long time they continued to play a role in the minds and hearts of human beings as well as in their search for knowledge. Heathen consciousness, which sought the demonic, elemental spirits in all creatures in the old way, continued to play a role for a long time. It wrestled with that other form of knowledge which now sought in all earthly things the substance of Christ that had united with the earth through the Mystery of Golgotha.
This heathen stream — a nature wisdom, a nature Sophia — saw the spirit everywhere in nature and could therefore also look at man as a natural creature who was filled with spirit, just as all nature was filled with spirit. In its purest, most beautiful form we find it in ancient Greece, especially in Greek art, which shows us how the spirit weaves through human life in the form of destiny, just as the natural laws weave through nature. We may sometimes recoil from what we find in Greek tragedies. But on the other hand we can have the feeling that the Greeks sensed not only the abstract laws of nature, as we do today, but also the working of divine, spiritual beings in all plants, all stones, all animals, and therefore also in man. The rigid necessity of natural laws was shaped into destiny in the way we find it depicted, for instance, in the drama of Oedipus. Here is an intimate relationship between the spiritual existence of nature and the spiritual existence of man. That is why freedom and also human conscience as yet play no part in these dramas. Inner necessity, destiny, rules within man, just as the laws of nature rule the natural world.
This is the one stream as it appears in more recent times. The other is the Jewish stream of the Old Testament. This stream possesses no nature wisdom. As regards nature, it merely looks at what is physically visible through the senses. It turns its attention upwards to the primal source of moral values which lies in the world between death and a new birth, taking no account of the side of man which belongs to nature. For the Old Testament there is no nature, but only obedience to divine commandments. In the Old Testament view, not natural law, but Jahve's will governs events. What resounds from the Old Testament is imageless. In a way it is abstract. But setting aside Philo of Alexandria, who makes everything allegorical, we discern behind this abstract aspect, Jahve, the ruler who fills this abstraction with a supersensibly focused, idealized, generalized human nature. Like a human ruler, Jahve himself is in all the commandments which he sends down to earth. This Old Testament stream directs its vision exclusively to the world of moral values; it absolutely shies away from looking at the externally sense-perceptible aspect of the world. While the heathen view saw divine spiritual beings everywhere, the god of the Jews is the One God. The Old Testament Jew is a monotheist His god, Jahve, is the One God, because he can only take account of man as a unity: You must believe in the One God, and you shall not depict this One God in any earthly manner, not in an idol, not even in a word. The name of God may only be spoken by initiates on certain solemn occasions. You must not take the name of your God in vain.
Everything points to what cannot be seen, to what cannot come to expression in nature, to what can only be thought. But behind the thought in the Old Testament there is still the living nature of Jahve. This disappears in the allegories of Philo of Alexandria.
Then came the early Christian struggles — right on into the fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth centuries — to reach a harmony between what can be seen as the spirit in external nature and what can be experienced as the divine when we look at our own moral world, our own human soul. In theory the matter seems simple. But in fact the quest for harmony, between seeing the spirit in external nature and guiding the soul upwards to the spiritual world out of which Christ Jesus had descended, was an immense struggle. Christianity came over from Asia and took hold of the Greek and Roman world. In the later centuries of the Middle Ages we see the struggle taking place most strongly in those parts of Europe, which had retained much of their primeval vitality. In ancient Greece the old heathen element was so strong that although Christianity passed through Greek culture and assimilated many Greek expressions on the way, it could not take root there. Only Gnosis, the spiritual view of Christianity, was able to take root in Greece.
Next, Christianity had to pass through the most prosaic element of world evolution: Roman culture. Being abstract, Roman culture could only comprehend the abstract, as it were foreshadowing in an ahrimanic way what is later alive in Christianity. A truly living struggle then took place in Spain. Here, a question was asked which was not theoretical but vital, intensely alive: How can man, without losing sight of the spirit in natural creatures and processes, find the whole human being revealed to him by Christ Jesus. How can man be filled with Christ? This question lived most strongly in Spain, and we see in Calderón 2 Pedro Calderön de la Barca, 1600-1681. Greatest Spanish dramatist. The drama about Cyprianus, El mägico prodigioso (The Miracle-working Magician) was written in 1637. The story was taken from a late version of an old tale in the Golden Legend. It is set in Antioch at the time of the Roman Emperor Decius. a poet who knew how to depict this struggle with great intensity. The struggle to fill the human being with Christ lived — if I may put it like this — dramatically in Calderón.
Calderón's most characteristic drama in this respect is about Cyprianus, a kind of miracle-working magician; in other words he is, in the first instance, a person who lives in natural things and natural processes because he seeks the spirit in them. A later metamorphosis of this character is Faust, but Faust is not as filled with life as is Calderón's Cyprianus. Calderón's portrayal of how Cyprianus stands in the spirit of nature is still filled with life. His attitude is taken absolutely for granted, whereas in the case of Faust everything is shrouded in doubt. From the start, Faust does not really believe that it is possible to find the spirit in nature. But Calderón's Cyprianus is, in this respect, a character who belongs fully to the Middle Ages. A modern physicist or chemist is surrounded in his laboratory by scientific equipment — the physicist by Geissler tubes and other things, the chemist by test tubes, Bunsen burners and the like. Cyprianus, on the other hand, stands with his soul surrounded by the spirit, everywhere flashing out and spilling over from natural processes and natural creatures.
Characteristically, a certain Justina enters into the life of Cyprianus. The drama depicts her quite simply as a woman, but to see her solely as a female human being is not to see the whole of her. These medieval poets are misunderstood by modern interpretations which state that everything simply depicts the material world. They tell us, for instance, that Dante's Beatrice is no more than a gentle female creature. Some interpretations, on the other hand, miss the actual situation by going in the opposite direction, lifting everything up allegorically into a spiritual sphere. But at that time the spiritual pictures and the physical creatures of the earth were not as widely separated as they are in the minds of modern critics today. So when Justina makes her debut in Calderón's drama, we may permit ourselves to think of the element of justice which pervades the whole world. This was not then as abstract as it is now, for now it is found between the covers of tomes which the lawyers can take down from their shelves. Jurisprudence was then felt to be something living.
So Justina comes to Cyprianus. And the hymn about Justina which Cyprianus sings presents another difficulty for modern scientific critics. Modern lawyers do not sing hymns about their jurisprudence, but Cyprianus sensed that the justice which pervades the world was something to which he could sing hymns. We cannot help repeating that spiritual life has changed. Now Cyprianus is at the same time a magician who has dealings with the spirits of nature, that world of demons among whose number the medieval being of Satan can be counted. Cyprianus feels incapable of making a full approach to Justina, so he turns to Satan, the leader of the nature demons, and asks him to win her for him.
Here we have the deep tragedy of the Christian conflict. What approaches Cyprianus in Justina is the justice which is appropriate for Christian development. This justice is to be brought to Cyprianus, who is still a semi-heathen nature scholar. The tragedy is that out of the necessities of nature, which are rigid, he cannot find Christian justice. He can only turn instead to Satan, the leader of the demons, and ask him to win Justina for him.
Satan sets about this task. Human beings find it difficult to understand why Satan — who is, of course, an exceedingly clever being — is ever and again prepared to tackle tasks at which he has repeatedly failed. This is a fact. But however clever we might consider ourselves to be, this is not the way in which to criticize a being as clever as Satan. We should rather ask ourselves what it could be that again and again persuades a being as clever as Satan to try his luck at bringing ruin on human beings. For of course ruin for human beings would have been the result if Satan had succeeded in — let me say — winning over Christian justice in order to bring her to Cyprianus. Well — so Satan sets about his task, but he fails. It is Justina's disposition to feel nothing but revulsion for Satan. She flees from him and he retains only a phantom, a shadow image of her.
You see how various motifs which recur in Faust are to be found in Calderón's drama, but here they are bathed in this early Christian struggle. Satan brings the shadow image to Cyprianus. But Cyprianus does not know what to do with a phantom, a shadow image. It has no life. It bears within it only a shadow image of justice. This drama expresses in a most wonderful way what ancient nature wisdom has become now that it masquerades in the guise of modern science, and how, when it approaches social life — that is, when it approaches Justina — it brings no life with it, but only phantom thoughts. Now, with the fifth post-Atlantean period, mankind has entered upon the age of dead thoughts which gives us only phantoms, phantoms of justice, phantoms of love, phantoms of everything — well, not absolutely everything in life, but certainly in theory.
As a result of all this, Cyprianus goes mad. The real Justina is thrown into prison together with her father. She is condemned to death. Cyprianus hears this in the midst of his madness and demands his own death as well. They meet on the scaffold. Above the scene of their death the serpent appears and, riding on the serpent, the demon who had endeavoured to lead Justina to Cyprianus, declaring that they are saved. They can rise up into the heavenly worlds: ‘This noble member of the spirit world is rescued from evil!’
The whole of the Christian struggle of the Middle Ages is contained in this drama. The human being is placed midway between what he is able to experience before birth in the world of spirit and soul, and what he ought to experience after passing through the portal of death. Christ came down to earth because human beings could no longer see what in earlier times they had seen in their middle, rhythmic system which was trained by the breathing exercises of yoga. The middle system was trained, not the head system. These days human beings cannot find the Christ, but they strive to find him. Christ came down. Because they no longer have him in their memory of the time between death and a new birth, human beings must find him here on earth.
Dramas such as the Cyprianus drama of Calderóndescribe the struggle to find Christ. They describe the difficulties human beings face now that they are supposed to return to the spiritual world and experience themselves in harmony with the spiritual world. Cyprianusis still caught in the demonic echoes of the ancient heathen world. He has also not sufficiently overcome the ancient Hebrew element and brought it down to earth. Jahve is still enthroned in the super-sensible worlds, has not descended through the death on the cross, and has not yet become united with the earth. Cyprianus and Justina experience their coming together with the spiritual world as they step through the portal of death — so terrible is the struggle to bring Christ into human nature in the time between birth and death. And there is an awareness that the Middle Ages are not yet mature enough to bring Christ in in this way.
The Spanish drama of Cyprianus shows us the whole vital struggle to bring in the Christ far more vividly than does the theology of the Middle Ages, which strove to remain in abstract concepts and capture the Mystery of Golgotha in abstract terms. In the dramatic and tragic vitality of Calderón there lives the medieval struggle for Christ, that is, the struggle to fill the nature of the human being with the Christ. When we compare Calderón's Cyprianus drama with the later drama about Faust — this is quite characteristic — we find first in Lessing 3 Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, 1729-1781. German dramatist, critic and writer on aesthetics; one of the great seminal minds in German literature. the awareness: Human beings must find the Christ during their earthly life because Christ endured the Mystery of Golgotha and united himself with earthly mankind. Not that this lived in any very clear ideas in Lessing, but he did have a definite sense for it. The fragment of his Faust which Lessing succeeded in getting down on paper concludes when the demons — those who were still able to prevent Cyprianus from finding the Christ during earthly life — receive the call: ‘You shall not conquer!’
This set the theme for the later Faust of Goethe. And even in Goethe the manner in which the human being finds Christianity is rather external. Think of Goethe's Faust: In Part One we have the struggle. Then we come to Part Two. In the Classical Walpurgis-Night and in the drama of Helena we are shown first how Christianity is taken up with reference to the Grecian world. Goethe knows that human beings must forge their links with Christ while they are here on the earth. So he must lead his hero to Christianity. But how? I have to say that this is still only a theoretical kind of knowledge — Goethe was too great a poet for us not to notice that this was only a theoretical kind of knowledge. For actually we find that the ascent in the Christian sense only comes in the final act, where it is tacked on to the end of the whole drama. It is certainly all very wonderful, but it does not come out of the inner nature of Faust. Goethe simply took the Catholic dogma. He used the Catholic cultus and simply tacked the fifth act on to the others. He knew that the human being must come to be filled with Christ. Basically the whole mood that lives in the second part of Faust contains this being filled with the Christ. But still Goethe could not find pictures with which to show what should happen. It is really only after Faust's death that the ascent into Christianity is unfolded.
I wanted to mention all this in order to show you how presumptuous it is to speak in a light-hearted way about achieving a consciousness of the Mystery of Golgotha, a consciousness of Christianity. For to achieve a consciousness of Christianity is a task which entails severe struggles of the kind I have mentioned. It behoves mankind today to seek these spiritual forces within the historical evolution of the Middle Ages and modern times. And after the terrible catastrophe we have all been through, human beings really ought to realize how important it is to turn the eye of their souls to these spiritual impulses.