Wednesday, March 17, 2021
The Brotherhood of the First Rosicrucians
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, January 6, 1924:
I spoke to you yesterday of the special form in which the results of research in the realm of spiritual knowledge were communicated in the Middle Ages. This form was, so to speak, the last Act before a door was shut for the evolution of the spirit of man, a door that had been open for many centuries and given entrance by way of natural gift and faculty into the spiritual world. The door was shut when the time came for man, so far as his instinctive faculties were concerned, to be placed outside the kingdom of the divine-spiritual Will that ruled over him. From that time forward he had to find in his own inmost being, in his own will, the possibility to evolve conscious freedom in the soul.
All the great moves of evolution, however, take place slowly, gradually, step by step. And the experience that had been attained by the pupil when the teacher led him up into the Ether-heights and down into the deep clefts of the Earth — even in those times it was no longer possible in the form it had taken in the ancient Mysteries — this experience was now, in later times, directly connected with an experience of Nature (though not with Nature on the Earth's surface itself) which came to man in a more unconscious form.
Think for a moment how it was with those persons who strove after knowledge about the year 1200 and on through the following century. They heard tell how, only a short time before, pupils were still able to find teachers, like the one of whom I told you yesterday; but they themselves were directed to human thinking as the means of attaining knowledge.
In the succeeding time of the Middle Ages we can see this human thinking developing and spreading, asserting itself in an impressive manner. It sets out on new paths with inner zeal, with sincere and whole-hearted devotion, and these paths are followed by large circles of knowledge-seekers. What we may truly call the knowledge of the Spiritual, that too continued its way. And after a few centuries we come to the time when Rosicrucianism proper was founded. Rosicrucianism is connected with a change that took place in the whole spiritual world in respect of man. I shall best describe the change by giving you once again a picture.
Mysteries in the old sense of the word were no longer possible in the time of which I have been speaking. There were however men who yearned for knowledge in the sense of the ancient Mysteries, and who experienced hard and heavy conflicts of soul when they heard how in the past men had been led up to the mountain and down to the clefts of the Earth and had thus found knowledge. They developed all possible inner methods, they made all possible inner efforts in order to rouse the soul within them, that it might after all yet find the way. And he who is able to see such things can find in those times, as we said just now, not places of the Mysteries, but gatherings of knowledge-seekers who met together in an atmosphere warmed through and through with the glow of piety. What appears later as Rosicrucianism, sound and genuine Rosicrucianism, as well as the debased and charlatan kinds, comes in reality from men who gathered together in this simple way and sought so to temper their souls that genuine spiritual knowledge might yet be able to arise for them.
In such a gathering, that took place in most unpretentious surroundings, the simple living-room of a kind of manor house, a few persons were once met, who, through certain exercises half thoughtful and meditative in character, half of the nature of prayer, done in common by them all, had developed a mystical mood in which all shared. It was the same mystical mood of soul that was cultivated in later times by the so-called “Brothers of the Common Life,” and later still by the followers of Comenius and by many other Brotherhoods. In this small circle, however, it showed itself with a peculiar intensity, and while these few men were there gathered together, making devotion, so to say, of their ordinary consciousness, of their whole intellect, in this intense mystical atmosphere of soul, it happened that a being came to them, not a being of flesh and blood like the teacher whom the pupil met and who led him to the mountains and to the clefts of the Earth, but a being who was only able to appear in an etheric body in this little company of men. This being revealed himself as the same who had guided the pupil about the year 1200. He was now in the after-death state. He had descended to these men from the spiritual world; they had drawn him thither by the mood of soul that prevailed in them — mystical, meditative, pious.
My dear friends, in order that no misunderstanding may arise, let me expressly emphasize that there is here no question of any mediumistic power. The little company who were gathered there would have looked upon any use — or any sanctioning — of mediumistic powers as deeply sinful; they would have been led to do so by certain ideas belonging to old and honored tradition. Just in those very communities of which I am telling you, mediumship and all that is related to it was regarded not merely as harmful but as sinful — and for the following reason. These persons knew that mediumship goes together with a peculiar constitution of the physical body; they knew that it is the physical body that gives the medium his spiritual powers. But the physical body they looked upon as “fallen,” and information that came by the help of mediumship they could not but regard under all circumstances as acquired by the help of Ahrimanic or Luciferic powers.
In those times, things like this were still clearly and exactly known. And so we have not to think of anything mediumistic in this connection. There was the mood of mysticism and meditation, and that alone. And it was the enhancing and strengthening of this mood through fellowship of soul, that, so to speak, enchanted into the circle, but of his own free will, that disembodied human being, purely spiritual, and yet at the same time human.
The being spoke to them thus, in a deeply solemn manner: — “You are not altogether prepared for my appearance but I am among you discarnate, without physical body, forasmuch as a time has come when for a short period of Earth existence the initiate of olden times is unable to appear in a physical body. The time will come again when he can do so, when the Michael period begins. But I am come to reveal to you that the inner being of man nevertheless remains unchanged, that the inner being of man, if it holds itself aright, can yet find the way to the divine-spiritual existence. For a period of time, however, the human intellect and understanding will be so constituted that it will have to be suppressed in order for that which is of the Spirit to be able to speak to the human soul. Therefore remain in your mystic and pious mood of soul. You have received from me, all of you together, the picture, the imagination. I have, however, been able to give you no more than a mere indication of that which will come to fulfilment within you; you will go on further and find a continuation of what you have here experienced!”
And now, three from the number gathered there together were chosen, to the end that they might establish a special union with the spiritual world, once more not at all through any kind of mediumistic powers but through a development of that mystic, meditative, pious mood of soul. These three, who were guarded and protected by the rest of the circle, closely and intimately cared for by the others, experienced from time to time a kind of absence of mind. They were at these times, in their external bodily nature, wonderfully lovely and beautiful, they acquired a sort of shining countenance, shining like the Sun, and they wrote down, in symbols, revelations which they received from the spiritual world. These symbolic revelations were the first pictures in which the Rosicrucians were shown what it behooved them to know of the spiritual world. The revelations contained a kind of philosophy, a kind of theology, and also a kind of medicine.
And the remarkable thing was that the others (it seems to me as though the others were four in number, so that the whole was a company of seven), after the experience they had with their brothers, beholding how their eyes shone like the Sun and how their countenances were bright and radiant — these other four were able to give again in ordinary language what was conveyed in the symbols. The brothers whose destiny it was to bring the symbols from the spiritual world could only write down the symbols, they could only say, when they returned again into their ordinary consciousness: “We have been among the stars, and have found the old teachers of the secret knowledge.” They could not themselves turn the symbolic pictures that they drew into ordinary human speech. The others could and did. And this is the source of a great deal of knowledge that passed over into the literature of theology, more particularly such as was philosophical in character (not the theology of the Church but rather of the laity) and into the literature of medicine. And what was thus received from the spiritual world in symbols was afterwards communicated to small groups that were organized by the first Rosicrucians.
Again and again, in the time from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries, there was still the possibility in certain very small groups for experiences of this nature. Revelations came frequently to men from the spiritual world in this or some similar way. But those who had to translate what was thus revealed in pictures were not always capable of doing it quite faithfully. Hence the want of clarity in the philosophy of this period. One has to discover for oneself what it really means, by seeking for it again in the world of the Spirit. For those however who have had knowledge of this kind of revelation received from the spiritual world, it has always been possible to link on to such revelations.
But picture to yourselves, my dear friends, what strange feelings must gradually have come over these men, who had to receive the very highest knowledge — for what was given to them was so accounted — from a direction that was growing more and more foreign, almost uncanny, to them; for they could no longer see into the world out of which the secrets came to them; ordinary consciousness could not reach so far. It can readily be understood that such things easily led to charlatanism and even to fraud. Indeed at no time of human evolution have charlatanism and the highest and purest of revelation stood so close to one another as in this period. It is difficult to distinguish the true from the false — so much so that many regard the whole of Rosicrucianism as charlatanism. One can understand this, for the true Rosicrucians are extraordinarily hard to find among the charlatans, and the whole matter is all the more difficult and problematic for the reason that one has always to bear in mind that the spiritual revelation comes from sources which in their real quality and nature remain hidden.
The small circles gathered by the first Rosicrucians grew to a larger brotherhood, who always went about unrecognized, appearing here and there in the world, generally with the calling of a physician, healing the sick, and at the same time spreading knowledge as they went. And it was so that in regard to very much of this knowledge, the spreading of it was not without a certain embarrassment, inasmuch as the men who carried it on were not able to speak of the connection in which they stood to the spiritual world.
But now something else was developed in this pursuit of spiritual knowledge and spiritual research, something that is of very great beauty. There were the three brethren and the four. The three are only able to attain their goal when the four work together with them. The two groups are absolutely interdependent. The three receive the revelations from the spiritual world, the four are able to translate them into ordinary human language. What the three give would be nothing but quite unintelligible pictures if the four were not able to translate them. And again, the four would have nothing to translate if the three did not receive their revelations, in picture form, from the spiritual world. This gave rise to the development within such communities of an inner brotherhood of soul, a brotherhood in knowledge and in spiritual life, which in some circles of those times was held to be among the very highest of human attributes. Such small groups of men did indeed learn to know through their striving the true worth of brotherhood. And gradually they came more and more to feel how the evolution of humanity towards freedom is such that the bond between men and Gods would be completely severed were it not kept whole by such brotherhood, where the one looks to the other, where the one is in very truth dependent on the other.
We have here a picture of something in the soul which is wonderfully beautiful. And much that was written in those days possesses a certain charm which we only understand when we know how this atmosphere of brotherhood, which permeated the spiritual life of many circles in Europe in those times, shed its radiant light into the writings.
There is however another mood that we find in those who are striving for knowledge, and this mood began gradually to pervade their whole endeavors and made people anxious. If in those times one did not approach the sources of spiritual revelation oneself, ultimately it was so that one could no longer know whether these revelations were good or evil. And a certain anxiety began to be felt in regard to some of the influences. The anxiety spread later over large circles of people, who came to have fear, intense fear, of all knowledge.
The development of the mood of which I speak may be particularly well studied in the examples of two men. One is Raimund of Sabunda, who lived in the fifteenth century, being born about 1430. Raimund of Sabunda is a remarkable man. If you study carefully what remains to us of his thought, then you will have the feeling: This is surely almost the very same revelation that was communicated in full consciousness about the year 1200 by the teacher who took his pupil to the mountaintops and to the chasms of the Earth! Only in Raimund of Sabunda of the fifteenth century it is all given in a vague, impersonal style, philosophical in character, theological too and medical. The truth is that Raimund of Sabunda had also received his revelations by way of the genuine Rosicrucians, that is to say, by the path that had been opened by the great initiate of the twelfth century, whose work and influence I described to you yesterday, and who continued to inspire men from out of the spiritual world, as I have been relating to you today. For the revelation that afterwards came through Rosicrucianism, as I have often described to you, came originally from this great initiate and those who were with him in the spiritual world; the mood and feeling of the whole teaching was set by him. Anxiety, however, was at this time beginning to take hold of men. Now Raimund of Sabunda was a bold, brave spirit, he was one of those men who can value ideas, who understand how to live in ideas. And so, although we notice in him a certain vagueness due to the fact that the revelations have their source after all in the spiritual world, yet in him we find no trace of anxiety or fear in regard to knowledge.
All the more striking is another and very characteristic example of that spiritual stream: Pico della Mirandola, who also belongs to the fifteenth century.
The short-lived Pico della Mirandola is a very remarkable figure. If you study deeply the fruits of his thought and contemplation, you will see how the same initiative I have just described is everywhere active in them, due to the continuation of the wisdom of that old initiate by way of the Rosicrucian stream. But in Pico della Mirandola you will observe a kind of shrinking back before this knowledge. Let me give you an instance. He established how everything that happens on Earth — stones and rocks coming into being, plants living and growing and bearing fruit, animals living their life — how all this cannot be attributed to the forces of the Earth. If anyone were to think: There is the Earth, and the forces of the Earth produce that which is on the Earth, he would have quite a wrong notion of the matter. The true view, according to Pico della Mirandola, is that up there are the stars and what happens in the Earth is dependent on the stars. One must look up to the Heavens if one wants to understand what happens on Earth. Speaking in the sense of Pico della Mirandola we should have to say: You give me your hand, my brother man, but it is not your feeling alone that is the cause why you give me your hand, it is the star standing over you that gives you the impulse to hold out your hand to me. Ultimately everything that is brought about has its source in the Heavens, in the Cosmos; what happens on Earth is but the reflection of what happens in the Heavens.
Pico della Mirandola gives expression to this as his firm conviction, and yet at the same time he says: But it is not for man to look up to these causes in the stars, he has only to take account of the immediate cause on Earth.
From this point of view Pico della Mirandola combats — and it is most characteristic that he does so — the astrology that he finds prevalent. He knows well that the old, real, and genuine astrology expresses itself in the destinies of men. He knows that; it is for him a truth. And yet he says: one should not pursue astrology, one should look only for the immediate causes.
Note well what it is we have before us here. For the first time we are confronted with the idea of “boundaries” to knowledge. The idea shows itself in a significant manner; it is still, shall we say, human in character. Later, in Kant, in du Bois-Reymond, you will find expressed in them: “Man cannot cross the boundaries of knowledge.” The idea is said to rest on an inner necessity. That is not the case with Pico della Mirandola in the fifteenth century. He says: “What is on Earth has undoubtedly come about through cosmic causes. But man is called upon to forgo the attainment of a knowledge of these cosmic causes; he has to limit himself to the Earth.” Thus we have in the fifteenth century, in such a markedly characteristic person as Pico della Mirandola, voluntary renunciation of the highest knowledge.
My dear friends, we have here a spiritual event in the history of culture of the greatest imaginable importance. Men made the resolve: We will renounce knowledge! And that which comes to pass externally in such a person as Pico della Mirandola has once more, in very deed and fact, its counterpart in the Spiritual.
It was again in one of those simple gatherings of Rosicrucians that in the second half of the fifteenth century, on the occasion of a ritual arranged for this very purpose, man's star-knowledge was in deeply solemn manner offered up in sacrifice. What took place in that ritual, which was enacted in all the solemnity proper to such a festival, may be expressed as follows. — Men stood before a kind of altar and said: “We resolve now to feel ourselves responsible not for ourselves alone nor our community, nor our nation, nor even only for the men of our time; we resolve to feel ourselves responsible for all men who have ever lived on Earth, to feel that we belong to the whole of mankind. And we feel that mankind has deserted the rank of the Fourth Hierarchy and has descended too deeply into matter” (for the Fall into Sin was understood in this sense) “and in order that man may be able to return to the rank of the Fourth Hierarchy, may be able to find for himself in freedom of will what in earlier times Gods have tried to find for him and with him, let now the higher knowledge be offered up for a season!”
And certain Beings of the spiritual world, who are not of human kind, who do not come to Earth in human incarnation, accepted the sacrifice in order to fulfill therewith certain purposes in the spiritual world. It would take us too far to speak of these here; we will do so another time. But the impulse to freedom was thereby made possible for man from out of the spiritual world.
I tell you of this ritual in order to show you how everything that takes place in the external life of the physical senses has its spiritual counterpart; we have only to look for it in the right place. For it can happen that such a celebration, enacted — I will not say in this instance: with full knowledge; but enacted by persons who stand in connection with the spiritual world — may have very deep meaning; from it can radiate impulses for a whole culture or a whole stream of civilization. Whoever wants to know the fundamental coloring and tone of a particular epoch of time must look for that source in the Spiritual, whence spring the forces that stream through this epoch of time.
In the years that followed, whatever came into being of a truly spiritual nature was an echo of this creative working from out of the unknown spiritual worlds. And side by side with the external materialism that developed in the succeeding centuries, we can always find individual spirits who lived under the influence of that renunciation of the higher knowledge.
I should like to give you a brief description of a type of man who might be met with from the fifteenth century onwards through the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. You might find him in some country village as a herb-gatherer for an apothecary, or in some other simple calling. If one takes an interest in special forms and manifestations of the being of man as they show themselves in this or that individuality, then one may meet and recognize such a person. At first he is extraordinarily reserved, speaks but little, perhaps even turns away your attention from what you are trying to find in him by talking in a trivial manner, on purpose to make you think it is not worthwhile to converse with him. If, however, you know better than to look merely at the content of the words a man says, if you know how to hear the ring of the words, how to listen to the way the words come out of a man, then you will go on listening to such a one, despite all discouragement. And if out of some karmic connection he receives the impression that he really should speak to you, then he will begin to speak, carefully and guardedly. And you will make the discovery that he is a kind of wise man. But what he says is not earthly wisdom. Neither is there contained in it much of what we now call spiritual science. But they are warm words of the heart, far-reaching moral teachings; nor is there anything sentimental about his way of uttering them; he speaks them rather as proverbs.
He might say something like this. “Let us go over to yonder fir-tree. My soul can creep into the needles and cones, for my soul is everywhere. From the cones and needles of the fir-tree, my soul sees through them, looks out into the deeps and distances of the worlds beyond; and then I become one with the whole world. That is the true piety, to become one with the whole world. Where is God? God is in every fir-cone. And he who does not recognize God in every fir-cone, he who sees God somewhere else than in every fir-cone — he does not know the true God.”
I want only to describe to you how these men spoke, men that you might find in the way I have described. Such was their manner of speaking. And they might go on to say more. “Yes, and when one creeps into the fir-cones and into the needles of the fir-tree, then one finds how the God rejoices over the human beings in the world. And when one descends deep down into one's own heart, into the abysses of the innermost of man's nature, there also one finds the God; but then one learns to know how He is made sad through the sinfulness of men.”
In such wise spoke these simple sages. A great number of them possessed — to speak in modern language — “editions” of the geometrical figures of the old Rosicrucians. These they would show to those who approached them in the right way. When, however, they spoke about these figures — which were no more than quite simple, even poor, impressions — then the conversation would unfold in a strange manner. There were many people who, although they took interest in the unpretentious wise man before them, were at the same time overcome with curiosity as to what these strange Rosicrucian pictures really meant, and asked about them. But they received from these wise men, who were often regarded as eccentric, no clear and exact answer; they received only the advice: If one attains the right deepening of soul, then one can see through these figures, as through a window, into the spiritual world. The wise men would give as it were a description of what they themselves had been able to feel and experience from the figures rather than any explanation or interpretation of them. And often it was so, that when one had heard these expressions of feeling in connection with the figures, one could not put them into thought at all; for these simple sages did not give thoughts. What they gave, however, had an after-working that was of immense significance. One left these men not only with warmth in one's soul but with the feeling: I have received a knowledge that lives in me, a knowledge I can by no means enclose in thoughts and concepts.
That was one of the ways in which, during this period from the fourteenth, fifteenth, to the end of the eighteenth century, the nature of the Divine and the nature of the Human, what God is and what Man is, was taught and made known to man through feeling. We cannot quite say: without words; but we can say: without ideas — although not on that account without content.
In this period much intercourse went on among men by means of a silencing of thought. No one can arrive at a true conception of the character of this period who does not know how much was brought to pass in those days through this silencing of thought, when men interchanged not mere words but their very souls.
I have given you, my dear friends, a picture of one of the features of that time of transition when freedom was first beginning to flourish among men. I shall have more to say on this from many aspects. For the moment, taking my start from all that took place at the Christmas Foundation Meeting, I wanted here to add something further to what was given then.