Thursday, July 13, 2017
A Sign of the Times
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, September 18, 1924:
Today I want to draw your attention to a picture in the Book of Revelation, an Imagination of the apocalyptist that has been represented in many paintings depicting the Book. Not all the pictorial representations of the Book of Revelation are as successful, but with this picture—the realization of which falls exactly in our time, as was pointed out yesterday—it was hardly possible to misunderstand the different parts because the way they are described for us in the Book captures their characteristics exactly. In order to grasp this picture fully, we need to mention a parallel matter that is important for our time and has already been touched on in connection with Anthroposophy; the point we have reached in our present discussion of the Book of Revelation will illumine it especially.
When the human being makes the transition in consciousness from the physical, sense-perceptible world to seeing the spiritual world he becomes, in a way, a being in three parts, in the way I have described in the chapters about the Guardian of the Threshold in my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds. In the form of his physical nature the human being possesses a combination of a trinity and a unity, and this combination is perfectly plain to see. It is clarified by following the description found in Anthroposophy of how he is structured. Take spirit, soul, and body. The way in which this structure corresponds to the other one given by Anthroposophy is quite clear.
In the spirit possessed by the human being today live thoughts, thoughts such as I have described, for example, in my book The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, thoughts not drenched in sensual perceptions but freely created, pure thoughts within human consciousness. In quality, these thoughts are only an appearance, their reality is so small that they have no inner strength. We can partly, though not totally, compare them with mirror images. An image in a mirror has no strength in the direction its lines follow; it is entirely passive. Human thoughts do have strength as they unfold, so we can, as I described yesterday in the esoteric lesson, take hold of this and steep it in will. But to the cosmos in all the full content of its existence these thoughts that the human being has during life are as mirror images; so although we carry spirit in our human being it is spirit in a mirror image.
Dear friends, what we bear within us in this way stems from the world that I call the spirit land in my book Theosophy, and when we think on Earth we bring down to the Earth the ingredients of the spirit land as an appearance, as a reflection. When we think, we bring what theosophy calls devachan down to the realm of Earth, although only in a weak reflection. On Earth we carry these contents in us: an appearance of heaven in a weak reflection.
Moving on now to the soul realm, we find that feeling is what chiefly lives there. When we are awake it is feeling, and when we sleep it is the pictorial nature of dreams. The only distinction between dreams and feelings is that feelings are the content of our soul when we are awake while dreams are the content of our soul when we sleep. What we carry in our feelings as earthly human beings between birth and death stems from a different world, from the soul world that I described in that book Theosophy, the soul world through which we live in its true guise after death. Our feeling world, which we only dream, for we only dream this soul world in our feelings, relates to that true guise of the soul world that then confronts us not like a mirror image but like an image held in our soul by creative elemental powers—I have described this from a particular angle in Theosophy. Reality is not yet in it.
What our body develops through our existence as earthly human beings is not a consciousness of archetypal images; our body carries in it the strongest realities of existence. We are really active in our body, but only in the physical, earthly world.
So the three parts of our human being belong to different worlds. And you, dear friends, since you intend to work on the being of man, will have to have in your feeling some indication of what lies in the being of man. You must develop a right view of these things.
One misunderstanding after another has been presented to me by people who are quite good philosophers, misunderstanding after misunderstanding showing just how difficult it is even for people in the present time who are quite capable of thinking clearly to find the right way into Anthroposophy. In a discussion about the threefold human being, one such philosopher interpreted this to mean an arbitrary division of the human being intellectually worked out and signifying a merely formalistic approach. You can of course look at a table as consisting of the table top, the legs and so on, but the whole table is made of wood; or you could look at it as being structured from left to right. Arbitrary structuring of this kind is not what is meant in connection with the threefold being of man. Another way of putting it would be to say that hydrogen is something that exists in the real world and oxygen also exists in the real world. Together they yield water; they are real things, not artificial constructs. In the same way the parts of man’s being are not arbitrarily distinguishable. They have merged so thoroughly to make the real nature of the human being that one can say: The spirit stems from the spirit land, the soul from the soul world, and the physical body from the physical world; these components of the human being stem from three different worlds, yet are joined together in man.
And when the human being takes his consciousness away with him out of the physical world, his inner being splits; out of one he becomes three.
Through the development of its various races and peoples, what happens with individual human beings is also happening to the whole of humanity—without the human being as an individual having to play a part in it. Evolving humanity lives in the subconscious of every individual human being, but this does not rise up into ordinary consciousness; evolving humanity is going through stages of development that are similar to those gone through by each individual. Just now in our time humanity is going through a phase in its evolution that involves a kind of crossing of the threshold with the accompanying split into three. If the individual human being is to go past the Guardian of the Threshold in this era of the consciousness soul—he must work at this himself if he wants to accomplish it. Humanity as a whole, however, is going past the Guardian of the Threshold without individuals in our time realizing this is happening. Humanity as a whole is crossing the threshold. Until the end of the eighteenth century the physical, bodily nature was still able to give the human being something on Earth through the elemental beings dwelling in it. In future, however, the human being will have to derive everything in himself that is inwardly productive, including his virtues, from the spiritual world, not as an individual but as humanity. A crossing of the threshold is to happen in the evolution of humanity as a whole, and this appears to the apocalyptist prior to the vision of the woman clothed with the Sun and with the dragon beneath her feet because in time it also happens prior to that. This prior vision is clearly represented in what the apocalyptist says: The time is coming when the whole of civilized humanity will have to cross the threshold, when a threefoldness will appear as the cosmic Imagination of what humanity is undergoing. Besides the feeling that can arise when something healthy borders on something pathological, more and more individuals will have another feeling as well: My thoughts are trying to run away from me, my feet are being pulled downwards by gravity. There are very many human beings today who feel very strongly that their thoughts are flying away from them while their feet are being excessively drawn to the Earth. But in our civilization people are persuaded not to take such things seriously, just as children who experience visions of things that have a real foundation are persuaded that such things are meaningless.
This thing that is so strongly alive in our time appeared before the clairvoyant eyes of the apocalyptist as the figure who materializes from a cloud, has a sunlike countenance that merges into a rainbow, and fiery feet, one of which is planted on the sea and the other on the land. (Rev. 10:1-2) One could call this the most significant appearance that present-day humanity ought to be contemplating. In the countenance up above, born of the clouds, lie the thoughts that belong to the spirit land; in the rainbow lies the human soul’s world of feeling that belongs to the soul world; in the fiery feet that have received their strength from the ocean-covered Earth lies what is contained in the human being’s body, which belongs together with the physical world.
This points out to us the fundamental secret of today’s culture. It is not that human beings immediately appear as though split into three parts. What we see—and this is really tangible in our time—are cloud people who can only think, while the other two parts—the rainbow and the fiery feet—have become stunted. Then we have rainbow people in whom the feelings are more developed than anything else,—hose, for example, who can only grasp Anthroposophy with their feelings and not with their understanding. Such people exist in the world outside as well as in the Anthroposophical Society, of course. They can only grasp the world with their feelings; while their thinking and will have become stunted, their feelings are strongly developed. Finally there are those whose will has hypertrophied. In them thinking and feeling have become stunted; they behave like bulls, merely reacting to stimuli from outside. These are the people with the fiery feet.
John’s vision depicts these three types of human being whom we meet in real life. We must make ourselves familiar with this secret of our present civilization so that we can assess human beings properly. And, by the way, this also shows when we consider world events.
Look at what is happening in Russia just now. There we have the influence of the cloud people, those who mainly think, while their feelings and will are stunted. They want to hand the will over to social mechanisms; and feelings are taken over by ahrimanic powers because human beings do not take them in hand themselves. They are thinkers, but because earthly human beings also have ahrimanic and luciferic forms they have a specific kind of thinking. Let me use a picture that will be obvious to those who are familiar with spiritual science but will shock anyone who still needs to find his way into such things. If you take the thoughts of Lenin and the others and see them as a picture, what does the confluence of thoughts from Lenin, Trotski, Lunacharski, and so on look like? If you imagine a world consisting of these thoughts you will arrive at what physics calls a system of forces. If one were a gigantic elemental being one could take these forces and form clouds to cover a vast area, generating thunder and lightning. This is what these forces are like when seen as belonging to the region of clouds. They do not belong on the Earth. This picture might surprise you, but anyone who can look into the occult background of existence has to say this. In the heads of the leading Russians the same forces are at work that exist in lightning, forces that are formed in the clouds above our heads and send lightning down to Earth, and let the thunder roll. This is where such forces belong; they are out of place in the way they work in the leading Bolsheviks.
Thus there is much that exists in our time that is entirely clear in the apocalyptist’s prophetic vision. He knew that an epoch such as this, a period representing a specific time, can be indicated through numbers. I myself, dear friends, have indicated an approximate number of years for the period during which something like the consciousness soul, or the mind or intellectual soul, develops. I have said that its duration is one twelfth of 25,920 years.
For a long time I was extremely puzzled as to how one might understand the passage in the Book of Revelation about which I am speaking now, for in his prophecy the apocalyptist mentions 1,260 days. Days are often mentioned when years are meant. But what did the apocalyptist mean by the figure 1,260? I had to do a considerable amount of research before I discovered that these 1,260 days (Rev. 12:6) are an actual ‘printer’s error’ that must have arisen in the handing down of the Book of Revelation (please excuse this common or garden expression). ‘2,160 days’ is what the passage ought to say, and then it corresponds with what can be seen today. It is quite possible for this lack of clarity to have arisen in some school or other where the text was being handed down, especially as in visionary sight many numbers are seen as mirror images. However, this is less important as one looks more deeply into the Book of Revelation.
Besides those whose way of belonging to their race is that of cloud people, we also have rainbow people. Their thinking has become stunted, so that they prefer conservative thoughts, and they are rather shy of approaching the spiritual world through thought. Very many people especially in Central Europe show themselves to be rainbow people.
The further westwards we go, the more are thinking and feeling stunted, so we come to pathological developments of the people with fiery feet. There are many such people with fiery feet in Western Europe and presumably also in America. In this sense we can now structure the Earth as follows: In the East there are many cloud people, in the middle many rainbow people, and in the West many people with fiery feet. As regards the coming into being of races, one might say that looking at the Earth spiritually from outside we would see spread across it something like a picture in exactly the shape presented to us here by the apocalyptist. If we were to rise up from the Earth—spiritually of course, not in a hot-air balloon or an airship—if we were to rise up spiritually from a point somewhere, let us say, in Westphalia, and then look down at the Earth, we would see Asia taking on a cloud-like, Sun-shaped countenance. We would see the colors of the rainbow spread out over Europe, and further westwards there would be fiery feet of which one would be planted in the Pacific Ocean and the other on the Andes in South America. The Earth itself would be beneath this picture.
Dear friends, these for our time most far-reaching prophecies of the apocalyptist are extremely important for the work of the priest, for they make up the great riddle of our time that has emerged since Napoleon. It was the influence of Napoleonism, of the first Napoleon, that initially brought out clearly this tendency of human beings to strive for races, for nations. In today’s Wilsonism this is finding expression again in a most injudicious manner. It is truly terrible to see human beings striving to belong to races and peoples and on the whole burying any kind of cosmopolitanism. It is happening because this passage through the place of the threshold is going on. Just as the individual becomes split through his development toward the realm of the spirit, so is humanity as a whole splitting into regions of which individual human beings remain unconscious: the region of the cloud people, the region of the rainbow people, and the region of the people with feet of fire. The splitting of the human being into three in the way I described for single individuals in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds has now taken place for humanity as a whole on the Earth; it is now in place. The tremendous picture drawn by the apocalyptist is now in place in Asia, in Europe, in America. People can as yet find no harmony among the three parts; instead of the harmony of unification they are seeking fragmentation, and in individual situations the result is most peculiar.
In this entirely outward way of thinking that humanity is taking on you can see, for example, that people do not find their togetherness through an inner understanding but instead get together for external reasons. Look at the region between the Bohemian Forest and the Fichtelgebirge, from the Erzberg in the Politz-Adersbach sandstone hills down to the March and to what used to be Pressburg. You can see, if you take the Mannhartsberg as the southern boundary, how the Czechs there are eminently cloud people who have developed only their thinking and how without any inner understanding they have been welded together with the Slovaks, who are quite different and in whom thinking hardly exists because they are rainbow people in the exact sense of the words. On the other hand we see how a different relationship that had been formed shortly beforehand is being dissolved again quite externally. There is no spirit at work in such things any longer but only earthly human beings acting in a way that wants to exclude the spirit. What we see is the whole of Slovakia being separated off from Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia, which is the region I mentioned just now. We see how the whole of Slovakia was formerly united with the country of the Magyars, the genuine Magyars. (You have to distinguish between the genuine Magyars and the immigrant Magyars whom you can recognize by their names. The genuine Magyars have names no one in the West can pronounce, especially if they are already old; but they are called Hirschfeld if they are one of the especially loudmouthed agitators of today. So you must go back to the genuine Magyars.) The genuine Magyars are eminently fire-footed people who were briefly welded to the rainbow people of Slovakia. This is the game of chance being played by the lack of spirituality in the world, so that the Slovaks who were formerly joined to the Magyars are now lumped together with the Czechs. This is the game of chance being played today. It also finds expression in more profound symptoms such as that a truly great man like Masaryk, who heads the Republic of Czechoslovakia, is a Slovak and not a Czech. If you know Masaryk you know that he is a rainbow person who is quite incapable of thinking. Read his books and you will see: in his books it is time that thinks. He is a rainbow person, a true Slovak.
You have to be able to see human beings today in the light of these categories if you want to understand the game of chance that is going on at the moment—though of course this, too, has its origin in world karma. We must look at an age, our own time, that is penetrating further and further into human consciousness, into the consciousness soul. Previously people saw the content of ancient tradition and wisdom written in the stellar script, they saw it all outside themselves. The human being, split into three, now bears what is written in ancient books like a memory within him. Looking at various centers we see this figure spread out over Asia, Europe, America. Everything that was proclaimed in the Mystery-rich places of Macedonia, Greece, Asia Minor, everything that was proclaimed about the world in Ephesus, Samothrace, Delphi, and elsewhere, all this is the Book that has been preserved from ancient times; it is in the hand of that angel who makes his countenance of the clouds, his breast of the rainbow, and his feet of fire, and who stands there powerfully planted.
But for the human being with the consciousness of today all this can only be kept vivid and alive if we seek out the source within ourselves through which we can learn to see the spirit. We must ‘eat up’ the book that was previously available from the outside, we must take it into ourselves. At first this book containing the secrets of the universe is sweet in the mouth for some. People are very partial to what spiritual vision wants to give them; they find it tastes like honey. But when they get down to the truly profound requirements of life that are part and parcel of a spiritual understanding of the world, then, especially when this comes to today’s materialistically-minded human beings, what the apocalyptist described as being sweet as honey becomes an ache in the belly, for it is painful to digest the spiritual food of which human beings are so very much in need.
Seeing all this we have to admit: With all these games of chance, with all this confused muddle, it will be essential to receive—from the spiritual power that shows us the threefold human being—the strength with which to measure everything anew. A reed is given from heaven, actually a yardstick with which to measure everything anew. (Rev. 11:1) Look at our own time, dear friends. Is it not necessary to make new measurements? Must we not add to that abstract construct of today’s map of the world something like Asia as a figure of cloud, Europe colored like the rainbow, America with feet of fire? Must we not measure everything anew from the viewpoint of spiritual life? Are we not in the very midst of seeing put into practice what the Book of Revelation has to show us?
If we can grasp with our full consciousness what we must enter into, we shall move on from that layman’s realm that has to accomplish so much in the subconscious, and enter an entirely non-rationalistic understanding of the tasks that need doing today through what shall become a new priesthood. This, dear friends, is what needed to be said with reference to the chapters of the Book of Revelation with which we have dealt today. Everything fits, down to the smallest detail. When we go into these things again tomorrow it will be easier to say what still needs to be said about the development of races and of individuals.