Rudolf Steiner, January 13, 1924 [Rosicrucianism and Modern Initiation, the last of six lectures]
The Michael period, into which the world has been entering ever since the last third of the nineteenth century, and into which human beings will have to enter with increasing consciousness, is very different from former periods of Michael. For so it is in the earthly evolution of mankind. One after another the seven great Archangel Spirits enter from time to time into the life of man. Thus, after given periods of time a certain guidance of the world — such as the guidance of Gabriel or Uriel, Raphael or Michael — is repeated. Our own period is, however, essentially different from the preceding period of Michael. This is due to the fact that man stands in quite another relation to the spiritual world since the first third of the fifteenth century than he ever did before. This new relation to the spiritual world also determines a peculiar relation to the Spirit guiding the destinies of mankind, whom we may call by the ancient name of Michael.
Recently I have been speaking to you again of the Rosicrucian Movement. Rosicrucianism, I remarked, has indeed degenerated to charlatanry in many quarters. Most of that which has been transmitted to mankind under the name is charlatanry. Nevertheless, as I have explained on former occasions, there did exist an individuality whom we may describe by the name of Christian Rosenkreutz. This individuality is, in a sense, the type and standard: he reveals the way in which an enlightened spirit — a man of spiritual knowledge — could enter into relation with the spiritual world at the dawn of the new phase of humanity.
To Christian Rosenkreutz it was vouchsafed to ask many questions, deeply significant riddles of existence, and in quite a new way when compared with the earlier experiences of mankind. You see, while Rosicrucianism was arising, directing the mind of man — with “Faustian” endeavor, as it was sometimes called in later times — toward the spiritual world, an abstract naturalistic science was arising on the other hand. The bearers of this modern stream of spiritual life, men like Galileo, Giordano Bruno, Copernicus or Kepler — worthy as they are of fullest recognition — were differently situated from the Rosicrucians, who wanted to foster not a merely formal or abstract but a true knowledge of the world. The Rosicrucians perceived in their own human life and being how utterly the times had changed, and with it the whole relation of the Gods to mankind.
We may describe it as follows. — Quite distinctly until the fourth century A.D., and in a rudimentary way even until the twelfth and thirteenth century, man was able to draw forth from himself real knowledge about the spiritual world. In doing the exercises of the old Mysteries, he could draw forth from himself the secrets of existence. For the humanity of olden times it really was so: the initiates drew forth what they had to say to mankind from the depths of their souls to the surface of their thought — their world of ideas. They had the consciousness that they were drawing forth their knowledge from the inner being of the human soul. The exercises they underwent were intended, as you know, to stir the human heart to its depths, to inform the human heart and mind with experiences which man does not undergo in the ordinary round of life. Thereby the secrets of the world of the Gods were, so to speak, drawn forth from the depths, from the inner being of man.
Man, however, cannot see the secrets he draws out of himself while in the very act of doing so. True, in the old instinctive clairvoyance man did behold the secrets of the world: he beheld them in Imagination; he beheld them hearingly in Inspiration; he united himself with them in Intuition.
These things, however, are impossible so long as man merely stands there alone — just as little as it is possible for me to draw a triangle without a board. The triangle I draw on the board portrays to me what I bear in a purely spiritual way within me. The triangle as a whole — all the laws of the triangle — are in me; but I draw the triangle on the board, thereby bringing home to myself what is really there within me. So it is when we make external diagrams. And it is the same when it is a question of deriving real knowledge out of the being of man, after the manner of the ancient Mysteries. This knowledge too must, in a sense, be written somewhere. Every such knowledge, in effect, to be seen in the Spirit, must be inscribed in that which has been called from time immemorial “the astral light” — i.e., in the fine substantiality of the Akasha. Everything must be written there, and man must be able to develop the faculty of writing in the astral light.
This faculty has depended on many and varied things in the course of human evolution. Not to speak, for the moment, of pristine ages, I will leave on one side the first Post-Atlantean epoch, the ancient Indian. At that time it was somewhat different. Let me begin with the ancient Persian epoch, as described in my Outline of Occult Science. There was in that time instinctive clairvoyance; there was knowledge of the divine-spiritual world. This knowledge could be written in the astral light so that man could behold it, inasmuch as the Earth, the solid Earth, afforded resistance. The writing itself is done, needless to say, with spiritual organs; but these organs also require a basis of resistance. The things that are thus seen in the Spirit are not inscribed, of course, on the Earth itself; they are written into the astral light. But the Earth acts as a ground of resistance. In the old Persian epoch the seers could feel the resistance of the Earth: thereby alone, the perceptions they drew forth from their inner being grew into actual visions.
In the next, the Egypto-Chaldean, epoch all the knowledge that the initiates drew forth from their souls was able to be written in the astral light by virtue of the fluid element. You must conceive it rightly. The initiate of the old Persian epoch looked to the solid earth. Wherever there were plants or stones, the astral light reflected back to him his inner vision. The initiate of the Egypto-Chaldean epoch looked into the sea, into the river, or into the falling rain, the rising mist. When he looked into the river or the sea, he saw the secrets that endure. Those secrets, on the other hand, which relate to the transient — to the creation of the Gods in transient things — he beheld in the downpouring rain or the ascending mist. You must familiarize yourself with the idea. The ancients had not the prosaic, matter-of-fact way of seeing the mist and rain which is ours today. Rain and mist said very much to them — revealed to them the secrets of the Gods.
Then in the Graeco-Latin period the visions were like a Fata Morgana in the air. The Greek saw his Zeus, his Gods, in the astral light; but he had the feeling that the astral light only reflected the Gods to him under the proper conditions. Hence he assigned his Gods to special places — places where the air could offer the proper resistance to the inscriptions in the astral light. And so it remained until the fourth century A.D. Even among the first Fathers of the Christian Church, and notably the old Creek Fathers, there were many (as you may even prove from their writings) who saw this Fata Morgana of their own spiritual visions through the resistance of the air in the astral light. Thus they had clear knowledge of the fact that out of Man, the Logos, the Divine Word revealed Himself through Nature.
But in the course of time this knowledge faded and grew feeble. Echoes of it still continued in a few specially gifted persons, even until the twelfth or thirteenth century. But when the age of abstract knowledge came — when men became entirely dependent on the logical sequence of ideas and the results of sense-observation — then neither earth nor water nor air afforded resistance to the astral light, but only the element of the warmth-ether. It is unknown, of course, to those who are completely wrapped up in their abstract thoughts. They do not know that these abstract thoughts are also written in the astral light. They are written there indeed; but in this process the element of the warmth-ether is the sole resistance.
The following is now the case. Remember once more that in the ancient Persian epoch men had the solid earth as a resistance so as to behold their entries in the astral light. What is thus contained in the astral light — all that for which the solid earth is the resistance — rays on and out, but only as far as the sphere of the Moon. Farther it cannot go. Thence it rays back again. Thus it remains, so to speak, with the Earth. Man beholds the secrets reflected by virtue of the Earth; they remain because of the pressure of the lunar sphere.
Now let us consider the Egypto-Chaldean epoch. The water on the Earth reflects. What is thus reflected goes as far as the Saturn-sphere. And now it is Saturn that presses for man on Earth to “hold” what he beholds in spirit. And if we go on into Graeco-Latin period — even into the twelfth or thirteenth century — we find the visions inscribed in the astral light by virtue of the air. This time it goes to the very end of the cosmic sphere and thence returns. It is the most fleeting of all; yet still it is such that man remains united with his visions. The initiates of all these epochs could say to themselves every time: Such spiritual vision as we have had — through earth or water or air — it is there. But when the most modern time arrived, only the element of the warmth-ether was left to offer resistance. And the element of the warmth-ether carries all that is written in it out into the cosmic realms, right out of space into the spiritual worlds. It is no longer there.
It is so indeed, my dear friends. Take the most pedantic of modern professors with his ideas. He must of course have ideas — some of them have none at all — but if he has ideas, then they are entered through the warmth-ether in the astral light. Now, the warmth-ether is transient and fleeting; all things become merged and fused in it at once, and go out into cosmic distances. Such a man as Christian Rosenkreutz knew that the initiates of olden times had lived with their visions. They had fastened and confirmed what they beheld, knowing that it was there, reflected somewhere in the heavens — be it in the Moon sphere or the planetary sphere, or at the end of the Universe — it was reflected. But now nothing at all was reflected. For the immediate, wide-awake vision of man, nothing at all was reflected. Now men could find ideas about Nature, the Copernican cosmology could arise, all manner of ideas could be formed, but they were scattered in the warmth-ether, out into the cosmic vastness.
Then it came about that Christian Rosenkreutz, by inspiration of a higher Spirit, found a way to perceive the reflected radiation after all, in spite of the fact that it was only a reflection by the warmth-ether. It was brought about as follows. Other conditions of consciousness — dim, subconscious, and sleep-like — were called into play; conditions in which man is even normally outside his body. Then it became perceptible that that which is discovered with modern abstract ideas is after all inscribed, albeit not in space, but in the spiritual world. This, then, is what we see in the Rosicrucian Movement: the Rosicrucians, as it were in a transition stage, made themselves acquainted with all that could be discovered about Nature in this epoch. They received it into themselves and assimilated it as only man can assimilate it. They enhanced into true Wisdom what for the others was only Science. Holding it in their souls, they tried to pass over into sleep in highest purity and after intimate meditations. Then the divine-spiritual worlds — no longer the spatial end of the Universe, but the divine-spiritual worlds — brought back to them in a spiritually real language what had first been apprehended in abstract ideas.
In Rosicrucian schools not only was the Copernican cosmology taught, but in special states of consciousness its ideas came back in the form I explained here during the last few days. It was the Rosicrucians, above all, who realized that that which man receives in modern knowledge must first be carried forth, so to speak, and offered to the Gods, that the Gods may translate it into their language and give it back again to men.
The possibility has remained until this present. It is so indeed, my dear friends. If you are touched by the Rosicrucian principle as here intended, study the system of Haeckel, with all its materialism; study it, and at the same time permeate yourselves with the methods of cognition indicated in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and its Attainment. Take what you learn in Haeckel's Anthropogenesis. In that form it may very likely repel you. Learn it nevertheless; learn all that can be learned about it by outer Natural Science, and carry it towards the Gods. You will get what is related about evolution in my Outline of Occult Science.
Such is the connection between the feeble, shadowy knowledge which man can acquire here with his physical body, and that which the Gods can give him, if with the proper spirit he duly prepares himself by the learning of this knowledge. But man must first bring toward Them what he can learn here on the Earth, for in truth the times have changed.
Moreover another thing has happened. Let a man strive as he will today; he can no longer draw anything forth from himself as did the old initiates. The soul no longer gives anything forth in the way it did for the old initiates. It all becomes impure, filled with instincts, as is evident in the case of spiritualist mediums and in other morbid or pathological conditions. All that arises merely from within becomes impure. The time of such creation from within is past; it was past already in the twelfth or thirteenth century. What happened can be expressed approximately as follows:
The initiates of the old Persian epoch wrote very much in the astral light with the help of the resistance of the solid earth. When the first initiate of the old Persian epoch appeared, the whole of the astral light, destined for man, was like an unwritten slate. I shall speak later of the old Indian epoch. Today I shall only go back to the ancient Persian epoch. All Nature: all the elements — solid, liquid, airy, and warmth-like — were an unwritten slate.
Now, the initiates of the old Persian epoch wrote on this slate as much as could be written by virtue of the resistance of the earth. There, to begin with, the secrets destined to come to man from the Gods were written in the astral light. To a certain degree the tablet was inscribed; yet in another respect it was empty. Thus the initiates of the Egypto-Chaldean epoch were able to continue the writing in their way; for they gained their visions by the resistance of the water.
Then came the Greek initiates; they inscribed the third portion of the tablet. Now the tablet of Nature is fully inscribed; it was quite fully inscribed by the thirteenth or fourteenth century. Then human beings began to write in the warmth-ether; that, however, scatters and dissolves away in the vast expanse. For a time — until the nineteenth century — men wrote in the warmth-ether; they had no inkling that these experiences of theirs stand written in the astral light. But now, my dear friends, the time has come when men must recognize: not out of themselves in the old sense can they find the secrets of the world, but only by so preparing themselves in heart and mind that they can read what is written on the tablet which is now full of writing. This we must prepare to do today. We must make ourselves ripe for this — no longer to draw forth from ourselves like the old initiates, but to be able to read in the astral light all that is written there. If we do so, precisely what we gain from the warmth-ether will work as an inspiration. The Gods come to meet us, and bring to us in its reality what we have acquired by our own efforts here on Earth. And what we thus receive from the warmth-ether reacts in turn on all that stands written on the tablet by virtue of air, water, and earth.
Thus is the Natural Science of today the true basis for spiritual seership. Learn first by Natural Science to know the properties of air, water, and earth. Attain the corresponding inner faculties. Then, as you gaze into the airy, into the watery, into the earthy element, the astral light will stream forth. It does not stream forth like a vague mist or cloud; but so that we can read in it the secrets of world-existence and of human life.
What, then, do we read? We — the humanity of today — read what we ourselves have written in it. For what does it mean to say that the ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Chaldeans, Persians wrote in the astral light? It was we ourselves who wrote it in our former lives on Earth.
You see, my dear friends: just as our inner memory of the common things that we experience in earthly life preserves them for us, so too the astral light preserves for us what we have written in it. The astral light is spread around us — a fully written tablet with respect to the secrets which we ourselves have inscribed. There we must read, if we would find the secrets once more. It is a kind of evolution-memory which must arise in mankind. A consciousness must gradually arise that there is such an evolution-memory, and that in relation to former epochs of culture the humanity of today must read in the astral light, just as we, at a later age, read in our own youth through ordinary memory. This must come into the consciousness of men.
In this sense I have held the lectures this Christmas-time, so that you could see that the point is to draw forth from the astral light the secrets that we need today. The old initiation was directed mainly to the subjective life; the new initiation concentrates on the objective — that is the great difference. For all that was subjective is written in the outer world. All that the Gods have secreted into man ... what they secreted in his sentient body came out in the old Persian epoch; what they secreted in his intellectual or mind-soul came out during the Grecian epoch. The Spiritual soul which we are now to evolve is independent, brings forth nothing more out of itself; it stands over against what is already there. As human beings we must find our humanity again in the astral light.
So then it was with the Rosicrucian Movement: in a time of transition it had to content itself with entering into certain dream-like conditions, and, as it were, dreaming the higher truth of that which Science discovers here — in a dry, matter-of-fact way — out of the Nature around us.
And this is how it has been since the beginning of the Michael epoch, since the end of the 1870's: The same thing that was attained in the way above-described in the time of the old Rosicrucians can now be attained in a conscious way. Today, therefore, we can say: We no longer need that other condition which was half-conscious. What we need is a state of enhanced consciousness. Then, with the knowledge of Nature which we acquire, we can dive into the higher world; and the Nature-knowledge we have acquired emerges and comes toward us from that higher world. We read again what has been written in the astral light; and as we do so, it emerges and comes to meet us in spiritual reality. We carry up into a spiritual world the knowledge of Nature here attained, or again, the creations of naturalistic art, or the religious sentiments working naturalistically in the soul. (Even religion has become naturalistic nowadays.) And as we carry all this upward — if we develop the necessary faculties — we do indeed encounter Michael.
So we may say: the old Rosicrucian Movement is characterized by the fact that its most illumined spirits had an intense longing to meet Michael; but they could only do so as in dream. Since the end of the last third of the nineteenth century, men can meet Michael in the Spirit, in a fully conscious way.
Michael, however, is a peculiar being: Michael is a being who reveals nothing if we ourselves do not bring Him something from our diligent spiritual work on Earth. Michael is a silent Spirit — silent and reserved. The other ruling Archangels are Spirits who talk much — in a spiritual sense, of course; but Michael is taciturn. He is a Spirit who speaks very little. At most He will give sparing indications, for what we learn from Michael is not really the word, but, if I may so express it — the look, the power, the direction of His gaze.
This is because Michael concerns Himself most of all with that which men create out of the Spirit. He lives with the consequences of all that men have created. The other Spirits live more with the causes; Michael lives with the consequences. The other Spirits kindle in man the impulses for that which he shall do. Michael will be the true spiritual hero of Freedom; He lets men do, and He then takes what becomes of human deeds, receives it and carries it on and out into the Cosmos, to continue in the Cosmos what men themselves cannot yet do with it.
For other beings of the Hierarchy of Archangeloi we feel that impulses are coming from Them. In a greater or lesser degree, the impulses come from Them. Michael is the Spirit from whom no impulses come, to begin with; for His most characteristic epoch is the one now at hand, when things are to arise out of human freedom. But when man does things out of spiritual activity or inner freedom, consciously or unconsciously kindled by the reading of the astral light, then Michael carries the human earthly deed out into the Cosmos; so it becomes cosmic deed. Michael takes care for the results; the other Spirits care more for the causes.
However, Michael is not only a silent, taciturn Spirit. Michael meets man with a very clear gesture of repulsion for many things in which the human being of today still lives on Earth. For example, all knowledge that arises as to the life of men or animals or plants tending to lay stress on inherited characteristics — on all that is inherited in physical nature — is such that we feel Michael constantly repelling it, driving it away with deprecation. He means to show that such knowledge cannot help man at all for the spiritual world. Only what man discovers in the human and animal and plant kingdoms independently of the purely hereditary nature can be carried up before Michael. Then we receive not the eloquent gesture of deprecation but the look of approval which tells us that it is a thought righteously conceived in harmony with cosmic guidance.
For this is what we learn increasingly to strive for: as it were to meditate, so as to strike through to the astral light, to see the secrets of existence, and then to come before Michael and receive His approving look which tells us: That is right, in harmony with the cosmic guidance.
So it is with Michael. He also sternly rejects all separating elements, such as the human languages. So long as we only clothe our knowledge in these languages, and do not carry it right up into the thoughts, we cannot come near Michael. Therefore today in the spiritual world there is a very significant battle. For on the one hand the Michael impulse has entered the evolution of humanity. The Michael impulse is there. But on the other hand, in the evolution of humanity there is much that will not receive this impulse of Michael but wants to reject it. Among the things that would fain reject the impulse of Michael today are the feelings of nationality. They flared up in the nineteenth century and became strong in the twentieth — stronger and stronger. By the principle of nationality many things have been ordered, or rather, have become sadly disordered in the most recent times.
All this is in terrible opposition to the Michael principle; all this contains Ahrimanic forces which strive against the inpouring of the Michael-force into the earthly life of man. So then we see this battle of the upward-attacking Ahrimanic spirits who would like to carry upward what comes through the inherited impulses of nationality — which Michael sternly rejects and repels.
Truly today there is the most vivid spiritual conflict in this direction. For this is the state of affairs over a great portion of mankind. Thoughts are not there at all; men only think in words, and to think in words is no way to Michael. We only come to Michael when we get through the words to real inner experiences of the Spirit — when we do not hang on the words, but arrive at real inner experiences of the Spirit.
This is the very essence, the secret of modern initiation: to get beyond the words, to a living experience of the Spiritual. It is nothing contrary to a feeling for the beauty of language. Precisely when we no longer think in language, we begin to feel it. As a true element of feeling, it begins to live in us and flow outward from us.
This is the experience to which the man of today must aspire. Perhaps, to begin with, he cannot attain it for speech, but through writing. For in respect of writing, too, it must be said: Today men do not have the writing but the writing has them. What does it mean, “the writing has them”? It means that in our wrist, in our hand, we have a certain train of writing. We write mechanically, out of the hand. This is a thing that fetters man. He only becomes unfettered when he writes as he paints or draws — when every letter beside the next becomes a thing that is painted or drawn ...
Then there is no longer what is ordinarily called “a handwriting.” Man draws the form of the letter. His relation to the letter is objective; he sees it before him — that is the essential thing.
For this reason, strange as it may sound, in certain Rosicrucian schools learning-to-write was prohibited, even until the fourteenth or fifteenth century; so that the form, the mechanism which comes to expression in writing did not enter the human being's organism. Man only approached the form of the letter when his spiritual vision was developed. Then it was so arranged that simultaneously with his learning of the conventional letters, needed for human intercourse, he had to learn others — specifically Rosicrucian letters — which are supposed to have been a secret script. They were not intended as such; the idea was that for an A one should learn at the same time another sign: 8. For then, one did not hold fast to the one sign but got free of it. Then one felt the real A as something higher than the mere sign of A or 8. Otherwise, the mere letter A would be identified with that which comes forth from the human being, soaring and hovering as the living sound of it.
With Rosicrucianism many things found their way into the people. For it was one of their fundamental principles: — from the small circles in which they were united, the Rosicrucians went out into the world, as I have already told you, generally working as doctors. But at the same time, while they were doctors, they spread knowledge of many things in the wide circles into which they came. Moreover, with such knowledge, certain moods and feelings were spread. We find them everywhere, wherever the Rosicrucian stream has left its traces. Sometimes they even assume grotesque forms. For instance, out of such moods and feelings of soul, men came to regard the whole of this modern relationship to writing — and a fortiori, to printing — as a black art. For in truth, nothing hinders one more from reading in the astral light than ordinary writing. This artificial fixing hinders one very much from reading in the astral light. One must always first overcome this writing when one wants to read in the astral light.
At this point two things come together, one of which I mentioned a short while ago. In the production of spiritual knowledge man must always be present with full inner activity. I confess that I have many note-books in which I write or put down the results I come to. I generally do not look at them again. Only, by calling into activity not only the head but the whole man, these perceptions which do indeed take hold of the entire man come forth. He who does so by and by accustoms himself not to care so much for what he sees physically, what is already fixed; but to remain in the activity, in order not to spoil his faculty of seeing in the astral light.
It is good to practice this reticence. As far as possible, when fixing things in ordinary writing, one should adhere not to writing as such, but draw the letters and redraw them after one's pleasure (for then it is as though you were painting; it becomes an art). Thus one acquires the faculty not to spoil the impressions in the astral light.
If we are obliged to relate ourselves to writing in the modern way, we mar our spiritual progress. For this reason in the Waldorf School educational method great care is taken that the human being does not go so far in writing as in the profane educational methods of today. Care is taken to enable the pupil to remain within the Spiritual, for that is necessary.
The world must receive once more the principle of initiation as such among the principles of civilization. Only thereby will it come about that man, here on the Earth, will gather in his soul something with which he can go before Michael, so as to meet Michael's approving look, the look that says: “That is right, cosmically right.” Thereby the will is fastened and made firm, and the human being is incorporated in the spiritual progress of the Universe. Thereby man himself becomes a co-operator in that which is about to be instilled into the evolution of mankind on Earth by Michael — beginning now in this present epoch of Michael.
Many, many things must be taken into account if man wishes rightly to cross that abyss of which I spoke yesterday, where in truth a Guardian is standing. We shall show in the next lectures how the abyss opened out in the 1840's, and how man today, as he looks back, can find his true relation to this abyss and to this Guardian — helped by such detailed knowledge as I have once again been trying to present.