Reading the Pictures of the Apocalypse
Paris, June 14, 1906
In the course of these lectures we have said repeatedly that Christianity constitutes the decisive midpoint of human evolution. All religions have their right to exist — they were partial revelations of the Logos — but none has changed the face of the world as much as Christianity. One can feel this influence in the words of John's Gospel, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:29) The words, “those who have not seen,” refer to those people who had no knowledge of the mystery religions. An essential part of the ancient mysteries is made public through Christianity, for example, the most important commandments concerning morality, and the teaching concerning the immortality of the soul through resurrection or rebirth.
Before Christianity, one could see super-sensible truth in the revelations, rites, and dramatic presentations of the mysteries. Now, however, one can believe in the super-sensible thanks to the divine person of Christ. There had always been a difference between the esoteric truth known to initiates, and its exoteric form — appropriate for the great masses — which came to expression through the various religions. The same holds true for Christianity. What is found in the Gospels is the new good tidings, promulgated for all to hear. But there was a deeper teaching. It is contained in the Apocalypse in the form of symbols.
There is a way to read the Apocalypse that can be made public only in our time. It was cultivated in the Middle Ages in the occult schools of the Rosicrucians. At that time historical questions concerning the book were considered unimportant. These were questions concerning its composition and the identity of the author; in short, all that which occupies the sole interest of theologians today, who seek nothing more than historical facts in this book. Modern critical theology knows only the external shell of this book and ignores the kernel. The Rosicrucians stayed with the prophetic aspect, the eternal truth of the book.
Occultism is not usually concerned with the history of a single century or a single era, but rather with the inner history of human evolution as a whole. This is true when it delves into the first manifestations of our planetary system, when it looks into the distant past at the vegetative and animal conditions of humanity, and when its perspective expands over millions of years forward to a future when humanity will have become divine. The earth itself will have changed then both in form and substance. But how can the future be guessed? Is prophecy really possible? It is possible because all that is to take place physically in the future already exists in seed form in the womb of the archetypes whose thoughts form the plan for our evolution. Nothing appears on the physical plane that was not already planned and preformed in general outline in the region of devachan. Nothing happens in the depths that did not exist before in the heights. That is the way things are realized. They depend upon the freedom and initiative of the individual.
Esoteric Christianity is not based on vague and sentimental idealism but rather on a concrete ideal that originates in knowledge of higher worlds. This is the knowledge that the writer of the Apocalypse had, the great seer of Patmos, who sketched the future of humankind in Christian perspective.
Let us consider this future according to the laws of world creation just described. The Rosicrucians first revealed to their pupils some visions from the past and the future. Then the pupils were given the Apocalypse to interpret these visions. Let us do the same and observe how humanity has become what it is, and what future will open for it.
We have, for example, spoken of the ancient Atlantean continent and of the Atlanteans whose etheric body was far more developed than their physical body. Their preliminary consciousness of self, their I-consciousness, came to them only at the end of their culture. The successive post-Atlantean cultures were: First, the pre-Vedantic culture in southern Asia, in India. That was the beginning of the Aryan cultures; second, the epoch of Zarathustra, including the culture of ancient Persia; third, the Egyptian culture, the epoch of Hermes, to which are attached the Chaldean and Semitic cultures. The first seeds of Christianity were sown during this age in the womb of the Hebrew peoples; fourth, the Greco-Latin cultural epoch that experienced the birth of Christianity; and fifth, a new epoch was prepared at the time of the mass migrations and wars of conquest in the fourth through the sixth centuries.
The legacy of the Greco-Latin culture was taken over by the northern races: Celts, Germans, and Slavs. This is the epoch in which we are now still living. It is a slow transformation of the Greco-Latin cultural heritage brought about through the powerful element of the new peoples under the mighty impulse of Christianity. This impulse has also been mixed with the leaven of the East brought to Europe through the Arabs. The actual goal of this cultural epoch is to adapt the human being fully to the physical plane. This occurs when our reason, our practical commonsense is developed and our intellect delves into physical matter in order to understand and master it. In the course of this hard work, this astonishing achievement that has culminated in our time, human beings have momentarily forgotten the higher worlds of their origin. By comparing our spiritual soul constitution with that of the Chaldeans, for example, it is easy to see what we have won and what we have lost. When Chaldean magicians observed the heavens, which present for us nothing more than a problem in celestial mechanics, they had an entirely different idea, an entirely different feeling, one could say, a totally different experience than we. Where a modern astronomer sees nothing more than a soulless machine, the ancient magicians felt the harmony of the heavens depths as a divine, living being. When they observed Mercury, Venus, the moon, or the sun, they saw not only the physical light of these heavenly bodies, they perceived the planets' souls as belonging to living beings, and they felt their own souls in connection with these great beings of the firmament. They perceived the influence of heavenly bodies as attraction and repulsion, like a wonderful concert of streaming, flowing divine will; and the symphony of the cosmos sounded forth in the magicians like a harmonious echo of the human microcosm. In this way the music of the spheres was a reality that united human beings with heaven.
The superiority of the modern scholar is rooted in knowledge of the physical world, of matter. Spiritual science has descended to the physical plane we know so well. However, we must now be concerned with again achieving knowledge of the astral plane through clairvoyance.
This descent into matter was necessary for the fifth epoch to fulfill its mission. Astral and spiritual clairvoyance had to be veiled so that the intellect could develop itself on the field of the sense world through minute, mathematical observation of the physical world.
Now we must supplement natural science with spiritual science. Here is an example: Ptolemy's map of the heavens is usually placed next to that of Copernicus and then the former is declared to be false. This is, however, not true. They are equally justified. Ptolemy's map is concerned with the astral plane wherein the earth forms the center point of the planets and the sun is itself a planet. Copernicus's map is concerned with the physical plane where the sun is in the middle. All truths are relative according to time and place. Ptolemy's system will be rehabilitated in an epoch yet to come.
After our fifth epoch another will come, the sixth, which will be related to ours as a spiritually minded soul is related to a rationally inclined soul. This epoch will bring genius, clairvoyance, the creative spirit, to development. How will Christianity appear in the sixth epoch? There was a harmonious union of science and faith for the ancient priests of the pre-Christian age. Science and faith were one and the same thing. When the ancient priests observed the firmament they knew and felt that the soul was a drop of water that had fallen from the heavenly ocean and had been led down to earth by immeasurable rivers of life that flow through space. Today, when our sight is directed only to the physical world, faith needs a free space, a religion. For this reason science and faith are separated. The faithful reverence of the person of Christ, the god of the human being on the earth, has for a certain time taken the place of occult science and the mysteries. But the two streams will be united in the sixth epoch. The mechanical science of the physical plane will be elevated to the heights of spiritual creative power. That will be gnosis or spiritual knowledge. This sixth epoch will be radically different from ours. Great, tumultuous catastrophes will precede it, for the sixth epoch will be just as spiritual as ours is materialistic, but such a transformation can only occur through great, physical upheavals. Everything that will be formed in the course of the sixth epoch will call into existence the possibility of a seventh epoch which itself will form the end of these post-Atlantean cultures and will know completely different conditions of life from our own. This seventh epoch will end with a revolution of the elements, similar to the one that brought an end to the Atlantean continent. The condition of the earth that will then appear will have a spirituality prepared through the last two post-Atlantean epochs.
The Aryan cultures encompass seven great epochs. We see the laws of evolution slowly unfolding. Human beings always carry within themselves what they will see around them in future times. All that presently exists around us actually came forth from us in preceding ages when our being was still united with the earth, the moon, and the sun. This cosmic being, from which the present human being together with all the kingdoms of nature have arisen, is called in the Kabbala, “Adam Kadmon.” All of the manifold forms of men and women presently represented by ethnic groups and races were contained in this human archetype.
What human beings possess today as their inner soul life, their thoughts, their feelings, will similarly be revealed externally and become the environment in which people live. The future resides in the hearts of men and women. The choice is ours to decide for a future of good or of evil. Just as it is true that the human being once left behind something that then became the world of animals, so too, what is evil in the human being will one day form a kind of degenerate humanity. At the present time we can more or less hide the good or evil within us. A day will come when we can no longer do this, when the good or the evil will be written indelibly on our forehead, on our body, and even on the face of the earth. Humanity will then be split into two races. In the same way that we encounter boulders or animals today, in the future we will encounter beings of pure evil and ugliness. When a human being's facial features become an expression of that individual's karma, then people will separate themselves according to the stream in which they apparently belong. Everything depends on whether human beings have conquered the lower nature within them or whether this lower nature has triumphed over the spirit.
Beginning in the past we can see the lines of a future reality beginning to form. To the extent that we are prepared to understand the past and to work in the present we can realize the ideal of this future reality. A new race will be formed that will constitute the connecting link between present-day humanity and the spiritualized human being of the future. But one must distinguish between the evolution of races and the evolution of souls. It lies within the freedom of every single soul to develop itself toward this external form of a race, whose character corresponds to the good that it will incarnate. Individuals will belong to this race only through the exercise of their free will and through a great exertion of their soul forces. Membership in a race will no longer be forced upon a soul, but rather it will be the result of an individual's evolution.
The meaning of Manichean teaching is that, from now on, souls should prepare themselves to transform into good the evil that will appear in its full strength in the sixth epoch. Indeed, it will be necessary for human souls to become strong enough to protect, through a spiritual alchemy, the good from the evil that will come to light.
The evolution of our planet earth will lead it back through the former phases of its development in reversed order. First the earth will unite with the moon, then a union — a reunion — of this mixed-world body with the sun will occur. The reuniting of the moon with the earth will coincide with a high tide of evil on the earth. In contrast to this, the union of the earth with the sun will mark the beginning of blessed happiness, the reign of the chosen people.
Human beings will bear the mark of the seven great phases of earth evolution. The book of the seven seals spoken of in the Apocalypse will be opened. The woman dressed in the sun and with the moon under her feet is related to the time when the earth will be united again with the sun and the moon. The trumpets of the last judgment will sound forth, for the earth will have arrived in a devachanic condition, where tone, not light, will rule. The end of earthly evolution will stand in the sign of the Christ principle that will permeate all of humankind. Human beings will have become similar to Christ; they will gather around Christ like a multitude around the lamb, and the New Jerusalem will arise as the fruit of this evolution. It represents the crowning of the world.