Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, September 10, 1924:
When someone was initiated in the ancient Mysteries, he first experienced having his understanding, his whole human soul make-up, guided toward the meaning of the cycle of world cultural evolutions, a cycle that runs in sevens. In the Book of Revelation we have a clear after-echo of what results from the initiation principle of the ancient Mysteries. The number seven is contained in the Book of Revelation in many different ways, including its structure, its composition, and its content. At the time, of course, things linked with the number seven were not linked with it in any external sense in the manner we might imagine today. Instead, the person in question was initiated into the whole way in which numbers work and interweave.
I want to draw your attention here, dear friends, to something I explained in quite a different context in the other course of lectures I am giving on the science of speech. I had to explain how it is possible to have experiences in the sounds of speech, but that today humanity has lost the capacity of having experiences through the sounds of speech. Consider how a sound of speech contains elements of the formative, living Word and how through experiencing such sounds the most wonderful cosmic content can be formed through combining those sound elements, of which there are approximately 32. Put yourselves into a time—and there have been times when this was a reality for human beings—that lived and moved in these elements of the sounds of speech, vividly experiencing the wonder of being able to fashion a world through experiencing these 32 sound elements. In the formation of speech, in the formative shaping of the Word, one felt the weaving of spirit that accompanied the experience of speaking. One experienced how gods live in the sounds of speech.
Of these 32 sounds it is easy to work out that about 24 are consonants and about seven are vowels—of course such things are always approximate. In the sense of the opening of John’s Gospel—‘In the beginning was the Word’—you can then throw light on the image, which can also be thought of as an apocalyptic image, of the Alpha and the Omega surrounded by the seven angels—the vowels—and the 24 elders—the consonants. In this sense it was also felt that the secret of the universe lived entirely—in the way I have already explained—in what was intoned in the holy speech of he cultus. So while celebrating the cultus one felt the mighty presence of the cosmic content existing in this symbolic picture.
Humanity must anyway begin to feel again where the gods were sought by the wisdom of the Mysteries. They were not sought in such a distant, transcendental realm as is imagined today. Their incorporation was looked for in such things as the sounds of speech. ‘Cosmic Word’ denoted that which weaves throughout the universe, that in which human beings share through their own speech.
It is the same with numbers. Our present idea of numbers is thoroughly abstract as compared with the way they are still seen in the Book of Revelation. In the early Christian centuries there were some individuals who understood things like the Book of Revelation to some extent because there was still a feeling for the secret of numbers, because the specific relationships in the structure of a sequence of numbers were still experienced. A number sequence was not taken in the way we take it today as being a stringing together of one number with the next. People experienced what was contained in the three, in the four; they experienced the closed nature of the three, the open nature of the four, the nature of the five, so closely related to the being of man. Something divine was felt to be in numbers, just as something divine was also found in the written letters and in the sounds of speech.
Once an individual had reached the stage in the ancient Mysteries when it was time for him to be initiated into the secret of numbers it was his duty to think and to feel in the sequence of these number secrets. Consider what this involves. In music we have the seven notes, with the octave, the eighth, being like the first. In the rainbow we have seven colors. There are also other phenomena in nature involving the number seven. Imagine it occurring to nature to make the colors of the rainbow appear in a different order; the whole universe would be upset by this. Or think of ordering the notes differently in the musical scale; music would become intolerable.
The one to be initiated was shown that, as in nature, there is also a law applying to the soul being of man. After his initiation he was expected not to cast his thoughts hither and thither arbitrarily, for he was now obliged to think in accordance with numbers, to experience the secret of numbers inwardly in the way it lives and weaves in all beings and all processes, in the way it lives in nature.
The Book of Revelation was written in an age when it was still entirely valid for the human being to be in the midst of the cosmic secret of the number seven or twelve or twenty-four, or the number three. Since the beginning of our era of the consciousness soul, which means since the first third of the fifteenth century, the importance is returning of what existed prior to the strict validity of the number seven, and furthermore shifts are also beginning to occur in the number seven itself. We are no longer in the happy position of experiencing an evolution that runs strictly in accordance with the number seven. We have reached a stage in Earth evolution when irregularities are beginning to come into the secrets of numbers, so that for us the secrets of numbers have attained a new significance.
While we enjoy finding out how the secrets of numbers live in a document such as the Book of Revelation, it is also the case that when we enter in a living way into material such as this Book we become capable of comprehending through our senses also those things that take place outside the secrets of numbers. You could say that in some ways we are extricating our life from the secrets of numbers. We must, however, learn how to use them in forms that are appropriate for human happenings on the Earth nowadays, and how they should be taken into consideration by priests in the field of religion.
This being said, I shall, however, now speak about certain phenomena as though they were still proceeding in accordance with the secrets of numbers, for it is in a sense a slow process for world events to extricate themselves from the secrets of numbers and enter into a way of proceeding that is not bound by them. The way of thinking in the ancient Mysteries was to see great cycles of time following their courses in the number seven, and also other smaller and very small cycles.
In the seven congregations that existed contemporaneously as actual concrete groupings on the Earth we also see the continuation of the old cultures as well as the beginning of new cultural ages. But there is on the other hand also a smaller cycle that we can learn to understand through the Book of Revelation. It is this smaller cycle, dear friends, that I would like to consider with you now.
Looking back to the time when the Mystery of Golgotha took place on the Earth we find, with regard to the spiritual evolution of human beings, the archangelic regency of Oriphiel, that archangel who receives his impulses predominantly from the forces of Saturn. After this we come to an age when Anael was the reigning archangel, then to the age of Zachariel, then to the age of Raphael, then to that of Samael, then Gabriel, and then to the present age of Michael. We have a first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh age, so that with regard to this smaller cycle within our larger fifth cycle we are in the seventh age. We are living in an age we would have to describe as follows if we were to use today’s way of formulating things: We are living in the age of five/seven, the fifth post-Atlantean cultural age, the fifth larger cycle of human evolution, and—with regard to a smaller cycle of the ages of archangelic regency—we are living in the seventh age, which interweaves with the larger one.
The point in time when the fifth post-Atlantean cultural age began occurred during the age when the archangel of the fifth shorter age was regent. During the fifth archangelic regency, that archangel had already been preparing the onset of the fifth post-Atlantean cultural age for three to four centuries. So being already in progress, the smaller age coincided with the beginning of the larger age. This signifies nothing less than that the larger ages are prepared by spirits of the middle hierarchy. The third hierarchy, to which the archangels belong, are the serving members of the higher hierarchies. The law of numbers thus brings it about that at the beginning of the fifth age the fifth archangel coincides at the height of his smaller age with a higher being from a higher hierarchy who is also in the number five.
It is a good while, relatively speaking, since people spoke about such things, but they were spoken of for longer than one ordinarily imagines. In places like the School of Chartres these secrets were even being mentioned in the twelfth century. At that time there was still an apocalyptic language. It is always the case that the universe is seen, so to speak, in the perspective, in the aspect, of number.
When Plato says: ‘God mathematizes, God geometrizes,’ he is referring not to our little bit of abstract geometry or mathematics but to that profound experience people in ancient times had regarding forms and numbers. Materialism derides this today, but in fact we can everywhere see that the law of the number seven is also at work in organic life. Consider the time it takes for something to develop and then follow this up by looking at butterflies or larvae emerging, or the incubation period of certain illnesses. You will find the law of the number seven at work everywhere. The initiates were shown that numbers are derived from the very nature of things, and this in turn drew their attention to the way things stand in the overall cosmic context.
It makes us sit up and take notice, dear friends, when we hear: The archangel who is in the number five begins his period of regency in connection with the fifth post-Atlantean age with forces emanating from Mars. If an age begins with Mars forces—even quite superficially this is hinted at—then there is something warlike in it.
We see that the cultural ages are separated from one another by important events. But we also see that there was an important event that separated the Atlantean period from the present, post-Atlantean period—which as a fifth period has now reached its fifth cultural age—and this event is the ice age known as the Great Flood, the fall of old Atlantis and the rise of new continents. We are now living in the fifth post-Atlantean age, and a sixth and seventh age will follow. The catastrophe that will separate the next great period—after the fifth, sixth, and seventh ages—will not be merely an external event in nature such as the ice age and everything we are told about the Great Flood. The separation between the fifth and sixth period will show itself more in the moral realm. A war of all against all, about which I have often spoken, will be a moral catastrophe that will separate the fifth from the sixth great period of earth evolution. It will certainly also be connected with events in nature, but these events in nature will be more in the background.
The fifth cultural age was introduced by what comes through Samael from Mars, the quarrelsome spirit, in that elements of conflict were fetched down out of the spiritual world. At the beginning of the consciousness soul era we see also in the smaller sequence how our fifth post-Atlantean age contains something of a premonition, a prophetic premonition of what will happen at the close of the greater post-Atlantean period as a whole, once the fifth cultural age will have been followed by the sixth and seventh.
Listening to the voices of those speaking at the turn of the fourteenth to the fifteenth century who still knew something of the secret processes behind the visible ones, you will even then, in that time of Samael’s Mars regency, hear indications about the end of our greater post-Atlantean period, though only in tiny hints. Once you make a correlation between number and what is happening, you begin to think apocalyptically. You learn to read the universe apocalyptically and you will find that countless secrets reveal themselves if you learn to look at the world in this apocalyptic way.
Think now of how our time lies in the small Michael age and also in the fifth post-Atlantean cultural age as well as in the greater cycle of the post-Atlantean period. Let us investigate the meaning of this. We are living in the fifth greater period of the Earth, the post-Atlantean period. This fifth period is the one that has to a considerable extent disengaged the human being from the divine world. The people of Atlantis still definitely felt themselves to be filled with God; rather than feeling like individual human beings they felt themselves to be enveloped in the mantle of God. A human being during Atlantis felt that it was God who existed rather than the individual.
The purpose of our post-Atlantean period is, essentially, to make the human being independent, to disengage the human being from the divinity, and this is what has been happening slowly and gradually through four cultural ages. It began slowly in the ancient Indian cultural age, which could definitely still be sensed in the Mysteries of Ephesus. In the ancient Indian cultural age the human being still felt himself to be within the divinity, whereas he disengaged himself quite strongly during the second cultural age, that of ancient Persia. In the third cultural age he felt even more separated, so that he began to feel death approaching in the distance. In the Greco-Latin cultural age death was felt to such an extent that the saying came to be coined: ‘Rather a beggar in the land of the living than a king in the underworld.’
Now that we are destined in the fifth post-Atlantean cultural age to find death more and more by our side as a companion, as I mentioned yesterday, we shall need moral powers if we are to endure this constant presence of death. So it is important for us that our time in the immediate present should see the consciousness soul—accompanied by the constant presence of death beside the human being—coinciding with the Michael age, that archangelic regency which signifies a kind of end, a kind of culmination of perfection, but involving at once both decadence and perfection.
Michael, the Spirit who lived in the Sun, the most important servant of the Christ-Spirit in the Sun, experienced the Mystery of Golgotha from the other side. Humanity on Earth experienced the Mystery of Golgotha in such a way that they saw Christ approaching. Michael and his hosts, who were still in the Sun at the time, experienced it through having to take leave of Christ.
Dear friends, we must permit the two poles of this supreme cosmic event to work on our souls: the hosanna on Earth, the arrival of Christ on Earth, and the leave-taking from Michael’s hosts in the Sun above. The two belong together.
In this very age of ours Michael has experienced a great metamorphosis. The beginning of his regency entailed his following after Christ in coming down to the Earth, whereas in future his regency will entail his striding ahead of Christ’s deeds on Earth. One will learn to understand once again what is meant by the words: Michael goes on before the Lord. Before Oriphiel there was of course also a Michael age, and in the Old Testament the initiates in Asia spoke of Michael as going on before Yahweh; just as the countenance as a person’s foremost part goes on before him, so did they speak of Michael being the Countenance of Yahweh; and so must we learn to speak of Michael as the Countenance of Christ. But we are now in a different age. Certain things now have to attain their highest perfection. We must in a sense learn to make something fruitful that was hitherto not able to be fruitful.
Take the seven congregations of the Book of Revelation. We can allocate each to one of the archangelic regencies, and if we take the first age, which paralleled the Christ-Event and the beginning of Christianity and which was still going on when the Book of Revelation was written, we shall find that it is represented for us by the congregation at Ephesus. In accordance with the Book of Revelation we can also see this congregation at Ephesus as the one which was bound to Christianity with its first love. All this can be comprehended through the secret of numbers.
The next age we come to is that of Anael, who derives his powers from Venus. In that age we find the great deeds of love that were accomplished for the spread of Christianity, countless deeds of love, especially those that still live in the traces of the Irish monks who spread Christianity across Europe. In the other aspects of Christian life, too, we find love to be supreme under the regency of Anael.
Then follows the regency of Zachariel, who draws his powers from Jupiter, chiefly powers of wisdom — powers that were, however, little understood in that age. Also, instead of an actual reign of Jupiter, the archangel regency began to withdraw into the background. Humanity in a way no longer reached up to the region of Jupiter; it denied the Jupiter spirit. The significant Council of Constantinople, that Eighth Council which deprived the evolution of humanity of so much by abolishing the trichotomy, falls in this age.
Now comes the age when something little noticed in external history was at work. After the conclusion of the Zachariel age humanity was fundamentally sick in soul. Humanity was really quite ill, and substances of disease spread from East to West, terrible substances of disease that endangered Christianity because they stemmed from materialism, for it was materialism that pushed its way into Christianity. Because the age of Jupiter wisdom was finished it became possible for materialism to make itself felt within Christian culture.
Something remarkable that was present on the Earth only as a projection was behind all this. Behind all these remnants that were like sickness there was something remarkable in the age that followed that of Zachariel from the tenth, eleventh century onward, the age of Raphael, the physician among the archangels. This was the age in which healing took place behind the scenes of world history, not visibly in public but very much within. Much was healed with regard to rescuing certain moral qualities that were about to perish. In opposition to the substances of disease that had been brought to Europe through Mohammedanism, something else was called for that also had to come from the Orient but in another form, something steeped in the Christian principle. Behind the Crusades—and in fact in principle this was the cause of the Crusades—one must look for the will to heal humanity, to cure it of the materialism threatened both by Mohammedanism and by Roman Catholicism. Basically it was Raphael, the physician among the archangels, who inspired those who first taught humanity to look to that Orient toward which the Crusades were directed.
In this, dear friends, we find ourselves in the fourth smaller age that fell within the fourth larger post-Atlantean cultural age, the Greco-Latin age. This fourth larger age was destined to have within it the Mystery of Golgotha. The fourth smaller age, the Raphael age, is intimately related to the whole basic structure of the fourth larger age. We see how the Archangel Raphael—by inspiring human beings to undertake the Crusades, turning their attention powerfully toward the Orient in order to find the Mystery of Christ there in the Orient—we see how Raphael took up the impulses of Christ, how a spiritual atmosphere floated above the ground, floated above all that was happening. Those who were able to look behind the scenes of external happenings even only a little bit were separated from the immediate spiritual world by the merest gossamer web, just as we were when Michael began to work visibly on the Earth in the last third of the nineteenth century.
Outstanding spirits were alive in that Raphael age, among them Joachim of Floris and Alanus ab Insulis. They were able to observe Raphael’s work, this work of healing humanity carried on behind the scenes of external happenings. This was the background to that age when the spirit was substantially sick. Witness to this is also the fact that precisely at this time people began to gain an understanding specifically for the Gospel of Luke, the Gospel of Healing. Thus when we look at the times in accordance with the secret of numbers we gain important knowledge to help us understand the significance of events.
Then followed the age of Samael, which received its fundamental impulses from Mars. Powers of conflict began to work; they were inoculated into humanity. The number five became opposed to the number four. Whenever there is a transition from a four to a five there is the peculiar situation of the five always getting into opposition to the four. Back in the ancient Mysteries there were long ages when the pupils, the adepts, were initiated into the secret of numbers, and there came a time when these pupils emerged from their lessons filled with a deep conviction that they expressed in the words: Now I know the number of evil: it is the number five. Wherever the number five is at work in the universe we are always up against the world of evil. The five rebels against the four, and in consequence great decisions have to be taken which culminate in the transition up into the six, coming about in either a good way or a bad way.
We shall reflect tomorrow on the extent to which this can lead into more concrete considerations, into the wisdom of the heart and of the human soul. I wanted to show you how one can use numbers as a guideline in trying to fathom events.