- The first human period — ancient mysteries — the gods descend.
- Second human period — semi-ancient mysteries — the gods send their forces down.
- Third human period — half new mysteries — man learns a magical language and begins to ascend to the forces of the divine world through the intonation of magical words.
Tuesday, July 24, 2018
The Book of Revelation and the Work of the Priest. Lecture 1 of 18
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, September 5, 1924
We will begin by pointing to a great thing in our time, namely, to that great thing which must consist of an entirely new attitude of the human soul to what works its way through priests' activities. For as long as mankind has existed on earth, people have always been attracted to what is present in the activities of priests when an act of consecration of man was performed. However, if we want to understand how the act of consecration of man must appear to the priest who celebrates it and to the layman who participates in it, we must take a look at what the act of consecration of man was in the course of man's development on earth, what it is and what it must become.
Looked at from another angle what the act of consecration of man is when it is celebrated, is a permeation of this religious service with the real content of what John, who had been initiated by Christ, wanted to give to the later Christian world with his Apocalypse. The right spirit when one is celebrating an act of consecration of man and the right consciousness when one is permeated with the substance of the Apocalypse are two things which really belong together. Let's disregard the particular form and connotations which the Apocalypse has for Christians, and let's call all the occult truths which have been and are being given in order to assure a right continuation of the priestly impulse “apocalypse.” The apocalypse concept covers a great deal, and it is concentrated and summarized in John's Apocalypse, which is attuned to the Christ. People who have striven towards an apocalypse have always been aware that one can only arrive at the complete and profound significance of the reception of apocalyptic things through an immersion in an act of consecration of man.
We will be able to explain many things if we tell ourselves that mysteries once existed, which I want to call the ancient mysteries. We don't want to take up time in this introduction with the giving of dates, so we will only describe four successive stages. There were ancient mysteries, semi-ancient mysteries, half new mysteries, and we are now at the beginning of a new mystery impulse. Therewith we have four stages before us, four stages in the development of man's understanding of apocalypses and acts of consecration of man. If we look at the ancient mysteries which existed among men at the dawn of human evolution on earth and which had to bring holy, true and beautiful things to human beings, we can say that their importance derived from the fact that dignified priests in the mysteries worked with the gods on a being to being basis. Just as human beings relate to each other on a being to being basis today, so gods associated with men and men with gods in those ancient times in the mysteries.
However, just as there are laws of nature which are valid during certain periods of time, so there are eternal laws which don't interfere with man's freedom, even though they exist. Among these eternal laws are some which refer to associations between gods and human beings. These eternal laws had to be taken into consideration when the gods associated with men in the holy mysteries in the far distant past, when everything that is connected with human instruction was occurring between divine teachers and human beings, and when what took place in the cults occurred in such a way that supersensible and powerfully active gods walked among the celebrants of the religious ceremonies. People in these ancient mysteries did the things which had always given the act of consecration of man its meaning when transubstantiations were being carried out. But what was transubstantiation in the ancient mysteries? Transubstantiation in the ancient mysteries was something which gods regarded as the last thing through which they were still entering into relations with human beings. The eternal laws which I mentioned determined the way a path is made from gods to men and from men to the gods during certain constellations of the stars and planets which one became familiar with in genuine ancient astrology, when conditions for finding out things from the stars were favorable.
You will be able to perceive one thing everywhere: if you look at the way people calculated time in the old/days, you will see that there are chronologies where they assume the existence of 354 days and others where they have 365 days. They interpose leap days and intercalary months in order to correct the discrepancies between human calculations and the true course of cosmic events. What human beings can calculate never coincides with the true course of cosmic events. A small remainder is always left over, that is, human calculations always have a small remnant in them. Priests in the ancient mysteries, were particularly interested in these small remainders where human calculations of time don't agree with the cosmic course of events. One could say that this non-coincidence became particularly noticeable at certain times, for after they divided the year into weeks and lunar months, extra days and weeks remained between the end of one year and the beginning of the next.
Anyone who wants to find his way into the course of human evolution has good reason to look at the times where men — when they interpolated weeks — expressed the non-coincidence of human calculations with the course of cosmic events, ind where priests looked upon such weeks as holy weeks. These holy weeks made it very clear that the ways gods and men think are different, but if one places the heart of the gods alongside the heart of man, one sees the difference between the two, and one can then find the way from the gods. to men and from men to the gods.
The people who really understood this and who were conversant with ancient astrology were able to observe when gods visited their mysteries. There were always holy times at the end of each year or at the end of a lunar cycle of 18 years or of other periods of time which indicated the difference or boundary between human intelligence and divine intelligence, and during which the priests in the mysteries could tell that gods can find the way to them and that men can find their way to the gods.
At such times priests tried to capture the activities of the sun and the moon in the substances with which they celebrated the act of consecration of man, so that they could extend what they had received during sacred times to the other times in which they had to celebrate. They preserved what the gods had made out of earthly substances and forces during the sacred times. They kept the water and its mercurial element, etc., from those times in order to celebrate the act of consecration of man during the rest of the year in such a way that it had a transubstantiation which was done in the same way it had been done by the gods in the services which had taken place during so-called dead times which, however, were sacred times.
During these times when cosmic language was more important than human language, the men in the ancient mysteries wanted to connect themselves with the gods who descended into the mysteries and who consecrated each religious service anew. The gods gave the human beings who carried, out or participated in these acts of consecration of man an understanding of apocalyptic things. This is how great truths were taught in ancient times, when an immersion in an act of consecration of man meant that one was permeated with apocalyptic substance. The act of consecration of man is a path of knowledge, and apocalypse is the object of this holy knowledge.
Then we come to the semi-ancient mysteries, of which there is a slight reflection in the literature, unlike the ones which I called the ancient mysteries, for the latter can only be investigated by occult science. During this time the gods withdrew from men and sent their forces down into the mysteries, and no longer appeared there as beings. It was the time in which the act of consecration of man acquired that radiance or divine glow which should always radiate above acts which consecrate human beings.
The secret behind transubstantiations was now sought in a different way. The substances and forces which were supposed to flow into the celebration of a transubstantiation were no longer determined by an astrological investigation of cosmic processes. Instead, one tried to arrive at an understanding of the inner nature of what ancient alchemists called ferments. A ferment is a substance which has attained a certain maturity, that is, it has passed through all of the preparatory stages of its material existence and activity. To take a trivial example, just think of how one bakes bread, for this occurs according to the same principle. One saves the yeast in a small part of the dough and adds it to the new dough. Try to imagine how ancient materials which had undergone inner events or a transubstantiation in the course of time were preserved in sacred vessels, which were greatly esteemed in the ancient and semi-ancient mysteries, and how they were taken out of these vessels after they had been transformed by very ancient and sacred processes.
Ferments were taken out of sacred vessels and they were used to transform substances through ancient and still sacred alchemical processes. The priest was an initiate who saw how the preserved substances and forces shone in the sacred crystalline vessels, and so he knew how the transubstantiation occurred. One looked upon these substances and forces as a cognitional organ for the people who were celebrating rituals, which enabled them to receive apocalyptic things.
The following state of affairs existed at the time of these semi-ancient mysteries. A priest passed his entrance exams, as it were, the moment he could stand before the sacred place or structure, and the old, fermenting substances in the sacred crystalline vessels became transformed for him in such a way that he saw a small sun or a natural small monstrance in the crystalline vessel, as the substances spread sunshine around them. This was something holy, and it can only be reproduced externally today. The moment he saw this he became a priest in an inner sense.
Today everyone who goes into a Catholic church sees a monstrance, but it is only a symbol for what it once was. In ancient times the only one who saw it was a true priest who saw a radiant sun appear in the preserved substances. At that moment his soul gained knowledge of apocalyptic things.
Then came the mysteries which are reflected in the modem mass. The Catholic mass, the Armenian mass and other masses arose from the half new mysteries in a very complicated way, and even though they have become externalized, they still contain the complete initiation principle. What man can perceive when magical words awaken within him began to be present in these half new mysteries, instead of the god's presence in the ancient mysteries and the presence of forces which the gods sent in the semi-ancient mysteries. These words enable one to acquire very profound knowledge of the inner nature of sound, and intense feelings resound in them.
During the time of the half new mysteries human language and cultic language were two different things, and remnants of the latter are still present in individual religious confessions. Ln this cultic language everything depends upon rhythm, a deep understanding of sounds and an understanding of the way that sounds from the priest's mouth penetrate human hearts. The intonation of magical cultic words in sacred places enabled people to ascend to the forces of the gods for the first time.
This is why words were intoned during the third period of acts of consecration of man. The Kabiri element lived in all religious cults which arose during this third period. For the Kabiri services and sacrifices which were celebrated in Samothrace were brought into all of the half way new ceremonies in the act of consecration of man and into all the ceremonies which belong to This. Let's place the Kabiri altar at Samothrace before our souls. The Kabirs who stood upon it as external relics were sacrificial urns that contained no ferments, but substances which men find if they can penetrate the inner spiritual aspect of matter. The sacrificial urns contained such substances. The sacrificial substances in the urns were ignited, and smoke ascended. The magical language created an Imagination of the intoned words in the rising smoke. Thus the way up to divine forces was outwardly visible in the sacrificial smoke. The priests who were surrounded by this smoke knew that they were in the right atmosphere for carrying out a transubstantiation.
As Aristotle explained to Alexander, the substances were mixed in such a way that a sacred Imagination emerged from the sacrificial smoke, and this showed one the way to the, gods. If people found this way, the priest's transubstantiation was a right one and the act of consecration of man was executed correctly. Those who celebrated and participated in it knew that it was an organ of cognition. For when the ceremonially shaped, magical words and prayers flamed up in the sacrificial smoke and streamed up to the gods, an apocalyptic revelation came down from above as a gift of grace. This was the third stage in the development of apocalyptic things and of an act of consecration of man.
These stages have deteriorated somewhat. Only their external features are still real today. A new period for the act of consecration of man and for apocalyptic things began when we inaugurated the new priesthood and a Christian renewal here at the Goetheanum. Tomorrow we will go into what the act of consecration of man must bring about in you and what should stream through your hearts in order for you to carry it out in the right way during this fourth stage.