Thursday, February 17, 2011
The Seals and the Trumpets: The Book of Revelation and the Work of the Priest. Lecture 13 of 18
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, September 17, 1924:
From one specific point of view I have already shown how the Book of Revelation is built on the principle of numbers, which is one of the occult principles. In the considerations earlier today about fundamental rhythmical numbers of the cosmos and of the human being you will perhaps have seen once again how profoundly numbers, in that they can reveal rhythms, are embedded in the cosmos.
With occult revelations given in the form of John’s apocalyptic Book it is entirely a matter of course that they are structured in accordance with numbers. The vision about which the apocalyptist is speaking arises, in keeping with the modern initiation principle, when Inspiration speaks into the Imaginations one has before one. The vision then takes place in that the picture quality of the Imagination expands, whereupon the Inspiration speaks through the Imagination. Things then proceed according to the principle of numbers, so that this principle helps one follow what is going on.
For occultists seven is always the most perfect number; it almost amounts to an occult rule: Seven is the most perfect number. But do not think that this number seven is so very important for the content; its immeasurable importance has to do with being able to hear the Inspirations. If one lives in the number seven oneself, one is able to understand the Inspirations in all kinds of ways.
Let me give you an example. Suppose someone is sensing important spiritual backgrounds in connection with his own time. When the overall picture of the cosmos is taken into account it is of course more or less arbitrary to sense spiritual backgrounds for one’s own time in particular; humanly it is natural, but nevertheless it is rather arbitrary. If I am the observer in the year 1924, this means that the year being observed is solely 1924. Someone else is the observer in the year 1903, in which case the year 1903 is the year under observation. If as an observer I am independent of when my observation is taking place and if I have proper insight into what I am observing, and also if I have the ability to go backwards over seven impressions regardless of where I begin to go back from, then, in accordance with the laws of the spiritual world, it is always the seventh impression that provides enlightenment about the first, and the fourteenth that gives enlightenment with regard to both.
It is really a matter of method, to find one’s way into what can provide enlightenment. If you know a language, you can understand a person speaking that language; similarly, what matters here is to be able to live in the number seven. This is how we must understand these things, for giving revelations in accordance with the number seven is exceedingly complicated. All kinds of things in the cosmos are ordered in accordance with the number seven, and to a lesser extent in accordance with the number twelve and also other numbers. It is possible to follow events from any point by using multiples of seven.
When I was endeavoring to interpret John’s Book of Revelation in Nuremberg in 1908, that was of course quite a different period for the whole of the anthroposophical movement. My foremost intention at that time was to interpret Anthroposophy itself on the basis of the Book of Revelation. A great deal can be interpreted through this Book because world events, too, can he gleaned from it, and at that time it was important for these to be mentioned. But for you today, as I have already said many times, it is necessary to identify with the Book of Revelation in your ‘I’ and to look absolutely concretely at the real fact of how the Book of Revelation shows a whole range of events moving forward in accordance with the number seven.
I have indicated the events connected with ‘the woman clothed with the Sun ... and with the dragon beneath her feet’ from the point of view of the consciousness soul’s experience. From the way I have done this you will deduce which period we are living in according to the Book of Revelation’s calculations. As regards the consciousness soul, we are living in the age of the trumpets’ sounding—not with regard to the development of the astral body nor with regard to the development of humanity in general, which was more what my lectures in 1908 were about. We are living in the age of the trumpets’ sounding with regard to the development of the consciousness soul, which does not run parallel with the other developments but as it were edges its way into these.
We are at present still only in the beginning stages of the consciousness soul, so we can only perceive the sounding of the trumpets if the consciousness soul raises itself to supersensible vision. This is because human beings at the present time cannot find a supersensible interpretation for what goes on down here on the Earth. The significant aspect is that people do not apply supersensible interpretations; instead they merely accept things with indifference. When talking of anthroposophical considerations I have often pointed to a definite moment in the nineteenth century, namely the beginning of the 1840s. I have said that seen spiritually the early 1840s represent an important and significant turning-point in the development of the civilized world. These years brought with them, so to speak, the culmination of materialism.
Everything about materialism had in fact already been decided by 1843/44. What followed was no more than consequences, and there will continue to be consequences. But with regard to what came upon the civilized humanity of Europe and its American appendage, the time of the early 1840s was indeed of infinite importance because that is when the onslaught of ahrimanic powers on human affairs was tremendously intense. You might want to maintain that even worse things happened after 1843/44, but this only appears to be so. Do not forget that Ahriman is cleverer than human beings, and Ahriman was the chief instigator in the year 1843/ 44. He arranged things in accordance with his kind of intelligence. That was the nadir, or perhaps one should say the culmination, of the materialistic path. Thenceforward human beings carried on with the mess in their own way and although outwardly what they did may appear much more ugly, it is not all that frightful when seen in conjunction with human evolution as a whole; and seen from a spiritual vantage point it is merely a consequence of what Ahriman projected at the beginning of the 1840s.
The sixth angel began to sound his trumpet at the beginning of the 1840s, and he will continue to sound it until the events I spoke about yesterday take place at the end of the twentieth century, when the trumpet of the seventh angel will begin to sound. We are definitely already within the realm of the woes. In the realm of the consciousness soul as civilized human beings we are in the second woe. This was preceded for about 150 years by the fifth trumpet. If we follow the trumpets backwards in accordance with the number seven in the era of the consciousness soul we arrive at a somewhat earlier point in time. Here down below on Earth the era of the consciousness soul begins in 1413. But things get somewhat displaced, so earlier times also have an effect. So with the sounding of the trumpets we go back to the time of the Crusades. In genuine Mystery centers the period from the Crusades up to our time now was always regarded as the age of the sounding of trumpets. You will be able to find the stages through what is described in the Book of Revelation. You will be able to find when materialism burst in on humanity—for example when Copernicanism approached—that one third of human beings were killed spiritually, which means that they ceased to develop full spirituality. (Rev. 9:15) And the plague of locusts described in the Book of Revelation is indeed truly horrible.
This brings us to a matter that one does not like to put into words but which is nevertheless one of the things that is definitely relevant to one’s work as a priest. In theory the plague of locusts has in the broadest sense already begun if we look at it from the point of view of consciousness. We should not bring up such matters when we are talking to people, for there is always a possibility that healing might take place in situations of illness. But if one is to work as a priest one has to know what one is often dealing with in human beings.
On the whole people who call themselves liberal or democratic are immensely delighted at being able to quote again and again figures that prove tremendous population growth in certain parts of the world. Population growth is greatly longed for by people who are democratic liberals in the political sense and also by those who consider themselves to be free thinkers.
Well, first of all the facts are not quite what they seem because the statistics are based on errors; statistical comparisons never refer to the Earth as a whole but only to parts, and one forgets that at other times different parts of the Earth were more densely populated than they are today. So the details are not always quite correct, but taken as a whole it is correct to say that in our time certain supernumerary people are appearing who have no ‘I’ and are therefore not human beings in the full sense of the word. This is a terrible truth. They go about but are not incarnated ‘I’s; they take their place in physical heredity, receive an ether body and an astral body and in a sense become equipped inwardly with an ahrimanic consciousness. They appear to be human if you do not look too closely, yet they are not human beings in the full sense of the word.
This is a terrible truth and it is a fact. The apocalyptist is pointing directly at human beings themselves when he speaks about the plague of locusts in the age of the fifth trumpet. Once again we can recognize the apocalyptist by the manner of his vision. In their astral body such people appear just as the apocalyptist describes them: like etheric locusts with human faces.
It is definitely necessary for us to think in this way about such supersensible matters and for priests to know these things. A priest is a shepherd of souls. He must be able to find words for everything that goes on in such a soul. These are not necessarily always evil souls; they may merely be souls that develop as far as the soul realm but lack an ‘I’. One is sure to notice if one comes across such a person, and the priest must know about it, for it will have a bearing on the quality of community in his congregation. Above all, people who have healthy souls suffer as a consequence of those who go about as human locusts. So the question can arise, and indeed must arise, as to how one should behave toward such people.
This can be quite a difficult task, for such people often have deep feelings; they can have very deep feelings, and yet one notices that there is no actual individuality in them. Of course the fact that there is no individuality in them must be carefully concealed from them for otherwise they would go mad. Despite having to conceal this from them one must ensure that such souls—for soul they are, even if not spirit— can make contact with other human beings and can develop in their wake, so that they can, as it were, tag along with the others. Such human beings fairly accurately demonstrate the nature and being of man up to the twentieth year, for it is not until the twentieth year that the mind soul or intellectual soul is born, which is what provides the possibility for the `I’ to live on the Earth.
It is a great error to believe that one need not behave compassionately toward these ‘I’-less, individuality-less human beings on the grounds that as they have no individuality they will have no future incarnation. Someone who believed that would equally have to believe that one need not behave compassionately toward children. In each case one has to discover what is present in such people. In some cases it might be a posthumous soul, posthumous in comparison with souls who came into being at a particular stage of evolution and have repeatedly been incarnated as human beings. Others might be retarded souls who have come back from another planet to which almost the whole of humanity once went at some specific time. This kind of soul, too, can enter such a human body. In full awareness of this we must bring up such human beings like eternal children.
All this is hidden in the Book of Revelation. The pictures that appear in it are sometimes quite heart-rending and it is terrible to read about all kinds of suffering coming upon humanity on Earth. And when these pictures, which appear as Imaginations, are taken in this way one cannot help saying that a great deal of what they show is really present in our time—in its spiritual aspect, of course.
There are also other pictures in the Book of Revelation, pictures of wonderful gentleness like that of the angels coming down with the censer. (Rev. 8:3) Incense is mentioned, and our attention is turned toward much that occurred during the time of the Crusades. The first trumpets transport us to the Crusades; we go back to the period of the Crusades when we survey the development of the consciousness soul in humanity. We see that certain personalities appear in the age of the Crusades and the times connected with them, personalities who had immensely strong impressions of sharing in the life of the spiritual world. They are, I would like to say, the geniuses of piety. It is very important to be clear about the fact that we find geniuses of piety there.
Going back still further we find before our field of consciousness the time from the Mystery of Golgotha up to the Crusades and everything connected with these. We can regard this period of time as a smaller epoch of the opening of the seven seals. We can only understand this fully when we are clear about the following. Consider how many personalities there were during the age of the Crusades almost all of whom turned their religious feeling inward toward the depths of their inner being, toward an intensity of feeling, an inner mystical experience. This began to happen in those times, whereas earlier on people had looked up into the universe when they wanted to see the divine world—or at least those in authority did, even though they continually had to struggle with the stream emanating from Rome. There had been an understanding of a god who lives and weaves and works in the sense-perceptible phenomenon to which one looked up. But then everything was turned more or less inward, and the great geniuses of mysticism appeared. First there was a vision of the universe as a revelation of the divine; afterwards one had to feel one’s way toward what the human heart sensed as the inner kindling of a light, so that the divine could be lit from within the human being.
These stages described in the Book of Revelation are also present in the spread of Christianity. First there is the quiet yet triumphant progress of Christianity through the victorious spirit, the victorious Word. You could describe Christianity as spreading through the subterranean passages of social life at that time. In the second stage the spread of Christianity involves robbing the Earth of much of what we call peace. Christianity participated thoroughly in the conflicts of this second stage. Then we see a stage in which the inner impulse of Christianity gradually dies; Christianity becomes a state religion—which amounts, of course, to the death of the genuine, original Christian impulse. Then comes the stage that must be seen as that of the fourth seal, when Mohammedanism arrives in the manner I have described. Seal after seal is opened in this way, and what happens under the influence of the Crusades is influenced by those important religious geniuses. You can observe this if you observe more accurately what happened. In this sense all written history amounts to a forgery.
Before the Crusades Christianity was disseminated in what I would term a good way. As Christianity spread up to the time of the Crusades, what happened again and again through countless members of the monastic orders, even things that were bad in the external sense, happened in Europe more or less in direct imitation of the Palestinian stories, although the Gospels were not read by laypeople, for they were the concern of the priests. But what happened at that time was most certainly influenced by what the priests saw in the Gospels. The priests had the Gospels and the cultus. In the cultus the supersensible world was mirrored in a sense-perceptible way. The Mass, the celebration of the Mass, was what the priests saw as direct doors to the supersensible. That is why they gradually desisted from looking up to revelations of the divine spirit through the starry heavens and all those wonderful prophecies that had remained in what I termed astrosophy—as distinct from astronomy and astrology—this morning. All this old wisdom had gradually grown almost entirely obscure by the time of the Crusades.
During the time of the Crusades we suddenly see individuals appearing everywhere moving from East to West, either those returning from the Crusades themselves or others who came somewhat later and in whom secrets of the Orient had taken root. A profusion of writings was brought to Europe from the East, but these were later lost because the watchers over written works were not as Argus-eyed as are those who watch over such things today. So hardly a great deal has remained of those writings. Instead far more about cosmic Christianity was disseminated by oral tradition, and this took root especially at the time of the Crusades.
Here a kind of seventh seal is opened. With regard to respect for the written word, just consider the fuss that is being made because an Italian professor is said to have discovered Livy’s manuscripts; what a fuss the Italian state is making today to get its hands on those manuscripts of Livy, even though nothing definite is known about them. We need only go back a little way to find a time when the state could not have cared less whether some manuscript or other had been found. This interest in preserving written texts is fairly recent.
I myself observed quite a successful little drama in this connection when I was working at the Goethe-Schiller Archive. We were sent a letter written by Goethe that looked very odd because it was so dirty and torn. At that time such a thing was already regarded as a sin: this was not the way to treat Goethe’s letters. So we tried to find out what had happened. The letter had once been in the possession of Kuno Fischer, and he had simply sent Goethe’s letter to the printer. Instead of sending a copy he had sent the original to the printer together with his notes and comments. So it was a miracle that the letter survived at all, since it was not usual at that time for printers to preserve manuscripts.
It is, then, not surprising that during the time when Christianity was coming into contact with Orientalism through the Crusades truths about Christianity were disseminated that we would term cabalistic today. There were perhaps a good many people alive at the time who knew more than Jakob Boehme did without causing any stir, whereas by the time Jakob Boehme came along the very fact of such a person’s existence caused a stir.
The time of the Crusades is the time of transition from the age of the seals to the age of the trumpets. Saying this is not so much a reminder of external events documented in history books but rather an indication of what was going on in human consciousness. Individuals with more profound feelings have always tended to say about the period from the Crusades up to our time: Alas, such terrible things—I am looking at this from the supersensible point of view—have been going on in human souls under the sign of the sounding trumpets. But in fact human beings on Earth do not listen to the trumpets as they sound.
Many people in our time ought to have this awareness about this age of the sixth trumpet in which we are now living; you know what its most essential characteristics and its most essential effects are. One third of humanity, so it is said, will be killed. (Rev. 9:15) This will of course happen gradually as time goes on. The word ‘killed’ refers to that absence of ‘I’ in those human beings who have already been prepared in advance by the locust form.
These are the things that make it imperative for priests to look more deeply into how what is going on is structured. Priests are directly concerned with the supersensible, and we are surrounded in every direction by the supersensible world. The part of human beings that can be observed through the fact of their having a physical body is only a section of their human life. As soon as we begin to make our way into the supersensible world we discover the real deeds of human beings, and we see how people are often entirely unaware of the consequences of these deeds. One can sometimes remain entirely ignorant of what one person does to another by passing him by without taking any notice of him, when according to his karma he should have behaved toward him in some specific manner. Later this karma will exert its influence more strongly, so a compensation will indeed come about in the end, but actually the compensation ought to have happened in this life. It is quite possible not to notice this in external physical life, and there is actually nothing reprehensible in what the person has done. From an external, civilized point of view he has done his duty, yet in terms of his connection with world evolution he may have inflicted a terribly deep wound. This is not a supra-earthly matter but a supersensible matter, for supersensible processes are constantly at work in earthly life.
To understand the Book of Revelation with this level of earnestness will be necessary to the degree that the one whom I have called the Etheric Christ will become visible among humanity. So it was out of a truly healthy sense of what is needed, coming from your deepest subconscious, that you, dear friends, chose the Book of Revelation as the subject of these considerations. Perhaps you imagined that what I am able to give about the Book of Revelation at this time would be somewhat different, but your wish to hear me speak about the Book of Revelation surely emerged from the mood of these times dwelling in your hearts. In fact it is quite possible to say that the way you as a group of priests who belong together formed the wish to understand the Book of Revelation shows that you are already in some degree related to John the apocalyptist. So this thing that you need above all else, this filling of yourselves with the spirit of the Book of Revelation, will in no way clash with the necessity to distinguish between certain epochs according to the principle of the number seven or with the fact that one can actually begin anywhere and from that point find out how things go. One will never find the interconnections in world evolution if one does not apply the principle of numbers as one’s method of observation. So with this we have touched on that side of the Book of Revelation that is essential and fruitful especially for our time.
There are also other events to be found interspersed here and there in the Book of Revelation, usually at points where there is a transition between the number seven and other numbers. So this is something else that needs explaining. We are shown the following through numbers: At a specific time there is a particular number of human beings who bear the seal of God on their forehead; these are the lucky ones, the ones who will be saved or redeemed, or call it what you will. (Rev. 7:4-8) The others, however, cannot find redemption at all. Reading the Book of Revelation in this external way gives one a feeling of depression.
One must realize, however, that ancient texts everywhere differentiate between racial development and the development of individual human beings. One must realize that individuals in earlier times did not feel in the least depressed by being told that a certain number of a particular race would be saved while the others would perish. This was because, just like people who have the urge to insure their life, no one included himself among the ones who would perish.
The likely duration of one’s life is calculated and, as you know, insurance companies do not accept people who are likely to die soon, for if they were to insure people likely to die soon their coffers would quickly be empty. They want to insure people who will live and pay their premiums for a long time. So by using a calculation based upon probability— which is quite an interesting type of calculation—they have to work out the likely lifespan of a person by applying a variety of antecedents. I have never yet met anyone who felt obliged to die at the moment worked out by the insurance company—using that assuredly correct method of calculation—as the probable moment of death. There is no such thing as feeling obliged to die at that particular moment. This, too, is founded on a reality. Once you enter into the world of numbers you are not concerned with the level of spirituality occupied by the human individuality.
When one makes statements like this one is touching on a degree of mystery, an occult secret. It is based on the belief that if you count off one, two, three, four, five individuals and then apply this figure to something spiritual, then this counting will also have a meaning with regard to the spiritual world. But it does not have a meaning in the same way. The principle of numbers comes into play at the moment when the spiritual world breaks through and reveals itself, for example in the Platonic cosmic year, or in the number of breaths and so on. When you are ascending to spirit consciousness, you need the number at the border, at the threshold to the spiritual world. This is where you get stuck if you do not have the number or something resembling the number. But nothing fits at all if you try to use numbers once you have crossed the threshold into the spiritual world. So it is perfectly in order for someone like the apocalyptist who is writing an occult document to speak—when discussing the development of races on the Earth—about a particular number who will he saved and another number who will perish. But individual human beings cannot feel that this applies to them because such numbers apply only to the development of races and not to that of individuals.
I shall say more next time about how this can be understood in detail.