Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, December 27, 1918:
We tried two days ago to point to the impulses from which Christianity developed. We could see how the real Ego of Christianity, the essence of Christianity, embodied itself, as it were (one cannot say that, of course, except by way of comparison) — embodied itself in three elements: the ancient Hebrew soul, the Greek spirit, and the Roman body. In order to be able to apply these thoughts to the immediate present, today we will carry them a little further, and try to gain a few more glimpses of this inner being of Christianity.
If we wish to trace the development of Christianity, we must show to what extent it has evolved from the Mysteries of pre-Christian times. (You will have found this already in my book, Christianity as Mystical Fact.) Today it is not easy to speak of the general nature of the Mysteries, because in the course of human evolution, happening as it did in conformity to cosmic law, the epoch arrived — in a sense we are still in it — in which the Mysteries declined. They could no longer play the role they had played at the time when Christianity was evolving out of them — as also out of other things. There is good reason for the decadence of the Mysteries in our time; we will be able to go into this in our discussion today and the following days. We will also be able to see in what way the Mysteries are to be established anew.
I shall speak first, then, of pre-Christian times, let us say to begin with, of pre-Christian Greek and pre-Christian Egypto-Chaldean epochs. What impelled people to seek out the Mysteries in those ancient times was this: their world conception forced them to believe that the world they saw spread out around them was not in itself the true world, but that they must find the means of penetrating to the true world. They had a strong sense for a certain fact when they faced any riddles of knowledge: they knew that however one tries to discover the true nature of the world by external means, it is impossible to do so. For one to realize the full importance of this knowledge that people possessed in ancient times, one must remember that we are speaking of an era in which most human beings still had a completely objective view of elementary spiritual facts. Conditions then were entirely different from those of today: people in those days not only received the impressions of their outer senses; they also still perceived spiritual realities within the phenomena of nature. They perceived activities that were by no means limited to what we today call processes of nature. Nevertheless, although they spoke generally of the manifestation of elemental spirits in nature, they had a deep knowledge that these observations of the external world, however clairvoyant, did not lead to the true being of the world, that this true being of the world must be sought by special paths. These special paths were beautifully summed up in the Greek world conception in the words, “Know thou thyself.”
If we look for the real meaning of the words “Know thou thyself”, we will find something like the following: their power comes from the insight that to whatever extent we may survey the external world or penetrate into it, we will not only fail to find the being of this outer world but we will also fail to find the being of man. Expressing it simply, in the sense of our present-day world view, we could say: those ancient people believed that a conception of nature could give no explanation of the being of man. On the contrary, they were convinced that the being of man is connected with the whole of nature spread out in the world; therefore, if a man succeeded in penetrating into his own being, he would then be able through knowledge of his own being to gain an understanding of the being of the world as well. Therefore, “Know thou thyself in order to know the world!”: that was the impulse, one might say; and that impulse formed the basis of — well, let us say, of the Egypto-Chaldean initiation. All initiation proceeds by stages; we have become accustomed to call them degrees. Now, we may characterize the first stage, the first degree, of the Egypto-Chaldean initiation in this way: the neophyte must first pass through the “gate of man.” That means, the human being himself was to be the gate of knowledge. First the human being must be understood, because if we learn to know the being of man through man himself, then we can penetrate into the being of the world indirectly through man. Hence, “Know thou thyself!” is synonymous with entrance into the being of the world through the “gate of man.”
It is not my intention to speak in detail today about the stages of Egypto-Chaldean initiation; I would like to point out what is essential for the understanding of Christianity. Therefore, do not regard what I shall say as an exhaustive presentation. I wish simply to mention single characteristics of those stages, which could and did have a particular preparatory influence upon the development of the being of Christianity.
What the neophyte at the “gate of man” was to learn to know, therefore, was the being of man himself. That was something he could not find in what the outer world revealed to him, however far and carefully he sought. In the Mysteries it was known that some of the secrets of existence had remained in human nature and could be discovered by human means, secrets that could not be found by searching the outer world. Those ancient people were convinced of this. If one directs his attention to the outer world, he finds, of course, first of all the earthly substances and forces surrounding him. But these earthly substances and forces, so far as man understands them, are only a kind of veil. Whatever natural science may now have to say about external nature as it presents itself, is such that it throws no light whatever upon it. In earlier times the human being could look up from external nature that he saw around him on earth to the world of the stars; and in those ancient times he did that much more intensively than he does today. There he saw many things, and he well knew in those times that man is related to them just as he is related to the plant, animal, and mineral kingdoms on earth. This is a knowledge that has disappeared from the outer world today. Ancient man knew that just as he is born out of the kingdoms of nature on earth, something in him is also born out of the extra-tellurian, extra-earthly cosmos. Indeed, it was this connection of the human being to the cosmos beyond the earth that became known to him when he passed through the “gate of man.” He bore within him, one might say, remnants of the relationship that he had discarded in his transition from Moon-nature to Earth-nature. He bore within him the remnants of his relationship to the cosmos beyond the earth. So he was led to the “gate of man,” where he was to become acquainted with man himself. He came to know in himself what externally he could only gaze at, especially in the world of the stars.
In himself he learned that as a true human being not only is he organized in an earthly body gathered from the kingdoms of earthly nature, but also something coming from beyond the earth, coming from the whole world of the stars, has flowed into his entire human entity. A man discovered the nature of the starry sky, one might say, through knowledge of himself. He came to know how he had descended step by step, descended from heaven to heaven, so to say, before he reached the earth and incarnated in an earthly body. And through the “gate of man” he was to ascend these steps again — eight of them were usually specified. During his initiation he was to set out on the return, through the stages by which he had descended to his birth in a physical body. Such insight could not be gained without man's whole nature being profoundly affected. (I am speaking now always of the pre-Christian Mystery knowledge.) The man of today does not even like to form an idea of the preparation that the neophyte had to go through in those times, because these ideas irritate him. (I am choosing my words so as to express the facts as exactly as possible.) A modern person would like to undergo initiation, if possible, as something to be done casually somewhere along his life-path, something to be done incidentally. He would like to inquire — as people say today — into what leads to knowledge; but in any case, he would not like to experience what the people of old seeking initiation had to experience. To be deeply affected in his whole being by the preparation for knowledge, to become a different man — that he would not like. Those ancient people had to decide to become different human beings. The descriptions you very often find of the ancient Mysteries give you only a dim picture; they create the impression that the ancient initiations were conferred upon individuals just as casually as are, let us say, the so-called initiations of modern Freemasonry. But that was not the case. Where ancient initiations are imitated today, we have to do merely with all sorts of counterfeits of what was really lived through in those ancient times — imitations that can be performed now as superficially as the modern person may wish. But the essential preparation for the man of old was this: he had to go through an inner soul-condition that, if characterized by one word, must be called fear. He had to experience to a most intense degree the fear that is always felt by someone who is brought face to face with something wholly unknown to him. In the ancient initiations that was the essential condition: that an individual should have the most intense feeling of facing something that would not be met with anywhere in external life.
Given all the soul-forces the man of today expends upon his external life, this soul-condition would today still never be reached. With the soul-forces he likes to use he can eat and drink, he can conform to the social customs of the various classes of society recognized today, he can carry on a business, play the bureaucrat, even become a professor or a scientist — all that: but with these capacities actually he can know nothing whatever that is real. The condition of soul in which an individual sought enlightenment in those ancient times — remember that I am speaking now steadily about that ancient time — the condition of soul was essentially different.
It could have nothing in common with the soul-forces that are serviceable for external life; it had to be derived from entirely different regions of the human being. These regions are always present in man, but he has a terrible fear of using them in any way. In the neophyte they were brought into activity in a direct and purposeful way. They are that very part of a human being that is avoided by modern man — by the ordinary, secular man of ancient times too — in which modern man does not want to become involved, and concerning which he likes to have illusions or to be indifferent. One must understand the inner significance of what can be described outwardly as the cause of a series of fear-conditions that had to be undergone. Only what lies in the realm of the soul that man fears in his ordinary external life: only this could be used to attain the desired knowledge. This condition of soul was really experienced in those times, and bravely gone through — a condition in which all the individual felt was fear: fear of something unknown. This fear was to lead him to knowledge. Only through this soul- condition was he then brought face to face with what I have just characterized as the descent of the human being through the regions of heaven, that is, of the spiritual world, to which he was led up again through the eight stages. Naturally, these are only imitated today, as they must be because of the customs of our time; but in those days a man was actually brought to this experience.
Especially important for us is what resulted for the individual who was brought to this “gate of man.” When he had grasped the full meaning of being placed there, he no longer considered himself the animal-on-two-legs—pardon the expression—that is, a synthesis of the rest of the kingdoms of nature here on earth. He began to feel himself as belonging to the heavens one can see and also to those one cannot see. He began to consider himself a citizen of the whole world, to feel himself really as microcosm, not merely a little earth, but a little world. He felt his connection with the planets and fixed stars, that he had been born out of the universe. He felt that his being did not end with his fingertips, the tips of his ears, the tips of his toes, but that it extended beyond his body taken from the earth, that his being extended through endless spaces and on through these endless spaces into the realms of spirit. That was the result.
Do not try to form too abstract a concept of this result! To say that man is a microcosm, a little world, and then to have nothing but the abstract idea is not worth much; it is only a delusion, a deception. The matter of importance in those ancient Mysteries was the direct experience. The neophyte really experienced at the “gate of man” his relationship to Mercury, Mars, the Sun, Jupiter, the Moon. He really experienced the connection between his own existence and those hieroglyphs standing in cosmic space through which the sun takes its course (“apparently”—as we say today), the pictures of the zodiac. Only this concrete knowledge based on his immediate experience determined what I am now pointing to as result. When these things are changed today into abstract concepts, the result is not the same. When ancient experiences are converted today into such concepts as: this star has this influence, that star has that influence, and so on, they are nothing but abstract ideas. In those ancient times the thing that mattered was the immediate experience, the actual ascent through the various stages by which a man had descended to birth. Only when the neophyte had this living consciousness, only when he experienced that he was a microcosm, was he considered ready to ascend to a second stage, a second degree, which at that time was the real stage of self-knowledge. Then he could experience what he himself was.
Thus what I have characterized as Being, as also the Being of the World, was to be found by a person of that time only in himself; if he wished to find his way into the universe, he had to go through the “gate of man.” In the second stage, everything that had been learnt in the first as experienced knowledge began to take on motion. It is difficult today to give any idea of this coming-into-motion of one's experiences. In this second stage the neophyte not only knew that he belongs to the macrocosm, but he was woven into the whole movement of the macrocosm. He went with the sun through the zodiac, as it were, and from this journey through the whole zodiac he came to know the full effect of any outer impression upon man himself. When you confront the external world with only the ordinary means of knowledge, you perceive merely the beginning of a very detailed process. You see a color; you form an image of it; perhaps you retain this image in your memory — and it goes no further. These are three steps. If we were to consider this complete, it would be precisely as if we considered the course of the day, which is twelve hours of sunlight, as consisting only of three hours. For the outer impressions a person receives and follows up, at most, as far as the memory-image, continue within him by a further process beyond the memory-image through nine more steps. The man then becomes a mobile being, inwardly permeated, as it were, by a living, turning wheel, just as the sun describes its heavenly circle (“apparently,” according to our present-day concepts). In this way the neophyte came to know himself, and thereby to know also the mysteries of the great world. As he learned in the first stage how he stands within the world, so he learned in the second stage how he moves within the world.
Without this knowledge as life-knowledge, no neophyte in ancient times could reach what he then had to experience at the third stage of initiation. We live now in an epoch in which it is natural for people to disavow completely everything three-membered — speaking in the sense of the Mysteries — to erase utterly from human consciousness everything of a three-membered nature. Whether they admit it or not, the people of our time really presuppose that the entire universe is enclosed in space and time. You will find that even very thoughtful people hold this opinion. You need only recall, for example, how the idea of human immortality was conceived in that part of the nineteenth century when materialism, theoretical materialism, had reached its height. Very clever people in the middle and the second half of the nineteenth century were insisting that if men's souls were to separate from them at death, there would finally be no room; the world would be so filled with souls that there would be no space for them. Very clever people said this, because they assumed that after death a man's soul would have to be taken care of in some way that could only be thought of with space concepts. Or take another example: There was — and it is said to exist still — a Theosophical Society in which all sorts of things were taught about the higher members of man's nature. I do not say that the enlightened leaders fell into this error; but a large proportion of the members imagined the astral body as quite spatial — of course, very tenuous, like a cloud, but nevertheless like a spatial cloud, and they indulged in speculation as to the whereabouts of this cloud in space when someone goes to sleep and the cloud goes out of him spatially. It was difficult to suggest to many of these members that such spatial concepts are unsuitable for spiritual ideas.
It is exceedingly difficult for anyone in our time to imagine that at a certain point on the path of knowledge one does not merely enter into a different dimension of space and time from that of everyday consciousness, but one actually goes out of space and time. The truly supersensible does not really begin until one has abandoned not only sense impressions and their time processes, but space and time themselves. One enters into conditions of existence entirely different from those that have to do with space and time. If you would apply this to yourselves, you might find it difficult to answer the question: What must I do in order to leave space and time with my thinking? Yet that was the real achievement resulting from the completion of the first two stages of the Mysteries. If a clear consciousness of the secrets of the third stage had still existed in this age of materialism, nothing so grotesque could have developed as the theory of spiritism. (I speak now of the basic theory, not of external experimentation.) Anyone who tries to find spirits, wanting to bring them into space as rarefied bodies, does not realize that the procedure is utterly devoid of spirit; that is, he is seeking a world that does not contain spirits but contains something else. Had spiritism had any idea that to find spirits it is necessary to go out of space and time, such grotesque concepts could never have arisen as that of the need for spatial arrangements, so that the spirits can announce themselves by external acts within space and time!
Well, briefly, this is what had to be achieved in the first two stages: the ability to get out of space and time. The preparation for it was the striding through the “gate of man,” and then through the second stage.
The third stage was designated by an expression which perhaps we can translate into these words: the neophyte passed through the “gate of death.” That means, he knew that now he was really outside space — in which human life is spent between birth and death, and outside time — in which this human life takes its course. He knew how to move beyond space and time, in duration. He came to know something that extends into the sense world, as I have often emphasized, but that cannot be comprehended in the sense world through what it brings, because what it brings, what it contains is spiritual. He learnt about death and all that is connected with it. That was the essential content of this third stage. However we may regard the Mystery rites, varying as they did among the different peoples, however they may be represented, their fundamental concern was with death. Everywhere the starting-point for the third stage had to be the possibility of a man experiencing within the life of the body all that normally he can only experience when death takes him out of the body. (I have to use a paradoxical expression for lack of something better.) This was connected with the possibility of considering the human being as he normally exists between birth and death as something different, something apart from the being whom the neophyte had now become in the third stage. The neophyte had now learnt in connection with the phrase “to be outside the body” to conceive of the “outside” not as spatial, but as super-spatial. He had learnt to connect with these words a concept that could be experienced. It was at this point also that the neophyte laid aside his connection to the ordinary secular religion of his people. Most of all, he laid aside at the “gate of death” the idea that he stood here upon earth while his God or his Gods were somewhere outside him. He knew himself at this moment to be one with his God; he no longer differentiated himself from his God, but knew that he was completely united with Him. It was really the experiencing of immortality that this third stage gave to man, in the experience that a man could cast off his mortal part, could separate himself from his mortal part.
But, dear friends, in contemplating the result, let us not forget the entire path, which consisted in the human being coming to know himself. That is the central feature of this pre-Christian initiation, that the human being turned inward in order to find in himself something that he could then take with him into the outer world. This appeared to him then in the right light only after he had separated himself from himself, so that he felt united with the being of the outer world. He turned inward in order to go out of himself. He turned inward to find what he could only find within himself: the being of the world. He could not first have found it outside; now he could really experience it. He went through the “gate of man,” the “gate of self-knowledge,” and the “gate of death” in order to enter into the world which was, of course, outside him, into the ordinary world of nature—it is also, of course, outside us—but he knew with certainty that he could only find what he sought in it by turning inward.
After, then, he had passed through the extraordinarily difficult third stage, he was at once ready for the fourth. And one may say that simply through having practiced living at the third stage for a certain time, he was prepared for the fourth in a way that would hardly apply to a man of the present day. For the man of today, simply because of the epoch of time, does not become fully mature in the third stage. He does not easily get away from conceptions of space and time except through certain ideas of force — and these too have to be sought by different methods from those of ancient times. (I will speak about this in coming lectures.) By what the neophyte had now carried into the world from out of himself, he was raised to the consciousness of the fourth stage: he became what was expressed, when carried over and translated into later languages, by the word Christophorus, or Christ-bearer. That was fundamentally the goal of this Mvstery-initiation: to make the human being a Christ-bearer. Naturally, only a few selected individuals became Christ-bearers. Moreover, they could only become such by first seeking in themselves what was not to be found in the outer world, by then taking back into the outer world what they had found within, and then by uniting themselves with their God. This is the way they became Christ-bearers. They knew that they had united themselves in the universe with what is called in the Gospel of Saint John the Logos, or the Word (this is not said in an historical sense, but in anticipation); they had united themselves with That out of which all things were made, and without which not anything was made that was made. Thus in those ancient times the Christ Mystery was separated from man, as it were, by an abyss; and man crossed the abyss by becoming able, through self-knowledge, to go out of himself and to unite himself with his God — to become a bearer of his God.
Let us suppose now hypothetically, in order to help us forward, that the Mystery of Golgotha had not taken place on earth, that the earth evolution had continued to the present time without the Event of Golgotha ever having taken place. Only by means of such contra-hypotheses is it possible to grasp the significance of such an event as the Mystery of Golgotha. Therefore, let us suppose that this Event had not occurred up to our present day. What would have taken the place of that content which individuals found within themselves as a result of the ancient Mysteries? The man of today would be able to understand the Greek apollonian maxim, “Know thou thyself!” he could intend to live up to it. He could try — because, after all, the traditions have been preserved — to go through the same method of initiation as, let us say, the Egypto-Chaldean initiation of a king: that is, he could try to rise through the four stages, just as they were gone through in those pre-Christian times, to become a Christophorus. But in that case the human being would now have a very definite experience. If he followed the maxim, Know thou thyself!” and tried to turn inward, even to pass through the conditions of fear that were suffered in that ancient time; if then he went through the experience of transformation, the setting into motion of what had first been known in a state of rest: he would now have the experience of finding nothing in himself, of now not finding the being of Man in himself. That is the essential fact. Certainly the maxim “Know thou thyself!” is valid for a man of our time, but self-knowledge no longer leads him to knowledge of the world. What a human being with the ancient soul-constitution still had within himself, connecting him with the Being of the world; what he could not find in the outer world but had to seek as self-knowledge, in order then to have it as knowledge of the world — that inner core of the human being, which he could then take back with him into the outer world in order to become a Christ-bearer: this the human being does not find in himself today. It is no longer there. It is important to keep this in mind. People with the foolish notions encouraged by the so-called science of our time have the idea that man is Man. A contemporary Englishman or Frenchman or German is Man just as the ancient Egyptian was. But in the light of real knowledge, that is nonsense, absolute nonsense. For when the ancient Egyptian turned inward in obedience to the rules of initiation, he found something there that a contemporary man cannot find — because it has vanished. What could still be found in the soul-constitution of pre-Christian times, and even- more or less — in the Greek soul of the Christian era, has fallen away from man and been lost. It has vanished from the being of Man. The human organism is a different one today from that of ancient times.
Using other words, we might say: When the human being turned inward in ancient times, he found his ego; even though dimly sensed and not in fully conscious concepts, still he found his ego. That does not contradict the statement that, in a certain sense, the ego was first born with Christianity. Therefore I say: Even though obscurely and not in fully conscious concepts, man nevertheless found his ego. As active consciousness it was indeed first born through Christianity. Nevertheless, the man of old did find his ego. For something of this ego, of the real, true ego, remained in him after he was born. You will ask: Then does the man of today not also find his ego? No, my dear friends, he does not find it. For when we are born the true ego comes to a stop. What we experience of our ego is only a reflection. It is only something that reflects our pre-natal ego in us. We actually experience only a reflection of our real ego; only quite indirectly do we experience something of the real ego. What the psychologists, the soul-experts, speak of as ego is only a reflection that is related to the real ego as the image you see of yourself in the mirror is related to you. The real ego, which could be found in the time of atavistic clairvoyance, and even down into the early Christian era, is not to be found today by looking into man's own being — insofar as this being is united with the body. Only indirectly does the human being experience something of his ego: namely, when he comes into relation with other people and his karma comes into play.
When we meet another person and something connected with our karma takes place between us, then some impulse of our true ego enters into us. But what in us we call our ego, what we designate by that word, is only a reflection. And through the very fact of experiencing this ego merely as a reflection in this fifth post-Atlantean epoch, we are being made ready to experience the ego in a new form in the sixth epoch. It is characteristic of this age of the consciousness soul that the human being has his ego only as reflection, so that he may enter the coming age of the Spirit-Self and be able to experience the ego in a new form, a different form. But he will experience it in a manner that now in our time would be unpleasant. Today he would call it anything but “ego,” what is going to appear to him as his ego in the coming sixth post-Atlantean epoch! People in the future will seldom have those mystical inclinations that are still experienced by some individuals today, to commune with themselves in order to find their true ego — which they even call the Divine Ego. They will have to accustom themselves to seeing their ego only in the outer world. The strange situation will come about that every person we meet who has some connection with us will have more to do with our ego than anything enclosed in our own skin will have to do with it. We are heading toward a future age in which a person will say to himself: My self is out there in all those whom I meet; it is least of all within me. While I live as a physical human being between birth and death, I receive my self from all sorts of things, but not from what is enclosed in my skin. This seeming paradox is already being indirectly prepared by the fact that people begin to feel how little they themselves really are in the reflection which they call their ego. I remarked recently that anyone can discover the truth about himself by reviewing his own biography — factually — and asking himself what he owes since birth to this person or that. In this way he will gradually resolve himself into influences coming from others; and he will find extraordinarily little in what he usually considers his real ego (but which is really only its reflection, as has been said). Speaking somewhat grotesquely, we may say: At the time that the Mystery of Golgotha took place, the human being was hollowed out; he became hollow. And it is important that we learn to recognize the Mystery of Golgotha as an Impulse that has a reciprocal relation to this hollowed-out condition of man. If we speak truly, we must make it clear that the hollow space in man, which indeed could be found still earlier — let us say, in the Egypto-Chaldean royal Mysteries — had to be filled up in some way. In that ancient time it had been partly filled by the real ego; but this now comes to a stop at birth — or at latest, in early childhood; there is some evidence of its presence in the first years of childhood. This hollow space has been filled by the Christ Impulse. There you have the true process.
Let us say, here on the left are human beings before the Mystery of Golgotha; in the middle, the Mystery of Golgotha; on the right, human beings after that Event.
Before the Mystery of Golgotha a human being had something in him that was found through initiation, as has been said, (red) Since that time it is no longer there; he is hollowed out, as it were, (blue) The Christ Impulse descends (lilac) and fills the empty space. The Christ Impulse is not to be conceived of, therefore, as a mere doctrine, a theory, but must be comprehended in accordance with facts. Only one who really understands the possibility of this descent in the sense of ancient Mystery initiation, will grasp the inner significance of the Mystery of Golgotha. A man cannot today become a Christ-bearer forthwith, as he could in the ancient Egyptian royal initiation; but in any event he becomes a Christ-bearer in that the Christ descends into the hollow space within him.
Therefore, the fact that the principles of the ancient Mysteries lost their significance reveals why the Christ Mystery is of such profound importance. You will find that I have spoken of this in my book, Christianity as Mystical Fact. I said that what formerly was experienced in the depths of the Mysteries, what made a man a Christophorus, has been brought out on the great stage of world history and has been accomplished as external fact. That is the truth. You will see from this also that since those ancient times the principle of initiation itself has had to undergo a transformation; for what the ancient Mysteries upheld as the thing to be sought in man cannot be found there today.
People of our time have no reason to be proud that our natural science views the modern Englishman, Frenchman, German precisely as it would view the ancient Egyptian if it could. It fails completely to consider what is the essential being of man. Even the exterior human form has changed somewhat since those ancient times. But the essential change has to be understood as we have described it today. You can see from my description the necessity for change in the principle of initiation. What would a man strive toward today if he wished to obey the injunction “Know thou thyself!” in the ancient sense? What would he attain if he knew all the ceremonies and processes of initiation of the ancient Egyptians and applied them now to himself? He would no longer find what was found in the ancient Mysteries. What a neophyte in those days became at the fourth stage, present-day man would accomplish unconsciously, but would not be able to understand it. Even were he to go through all the initiation ceremonies, were he to tread all the paths that at that time led to Christophorus, he could not now approach the Christ in that way with any understanding. The man of old, when he was initiated, really became a Christophorus. But in the course of earth evolution man lost the possibility of finding within himself that Being Who became the Light-of-the-World Being. When a man of our time seeks in the same way, he finds within himself a hollow space.
However, this is not without significance in the world- process. When man loses something, he is changed because of it. Now we go through the world as human beings having that emptiness in us, but that in turn gives us special faculties. Certain ancient faculties have been lost, but through their loss new ones have been gained that now can be developed as the ancient faculties were developed for the ancient need. In other words, the path that was followed from the “gate of man” to the “gate of death” must be travelled differently today. This is connected with what I said previously: that the Spirits of Personality (the Archai) have taken on a new character, and the new initiation holds a particular relation to this new character.
In the first place, initiation came to a kind of pause in the evolution of humanity. In the nineteenth century especially, human beings were far removed from it. Only at the end of the century was it again possible to approach a real, living initiation. This real, living initiation is now being prepared, but its procedure will be entirely different from that of earlier times. I have described this earlier initiation today from a certain point of view, in order to prepare you for a deeper understanding of Christianity. What was quite impossible in earlier times — namely, to find any reality in the external world — is now a possibility through the very circumstance of our having become inwardly hollow. And this possibility will increase. It already exists to a certain extent, and may now be attained by the paths described in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds. What is possible today is this: to acquire in a certain way a deeper view of the outer world, using the same soul-faculties (if we use them properly) with which we now view it. Natural science does not do this; its aim is limited to finding laws, the so-called natural laws, which are nothing but abstractions. If you acquaint yourselves a little with current literature, which cloaks the natural-scientific concepts in a sort of little philosopher's mantle — I might also say, puts a philosopher's little hat on them — if you make yourselves acquainted with this literature, you will see that the people who talk about these things are quite unable to relate their natural laws to reality. They reach natural laws, but these remain abstract concepts, abstract ideas. Such an individual as Goethe tried to push beyond natural laws. And what is significant in Goethe and Goetheanism is something little understood: namely, that Goethe tried to penetrate beyond the laws of nature to the forms of nature, to nature formation. Hence, he originated a morphology on a higher level, a spiritual morphology. He tried to capture not what the outer senses yield, but the processes of formation: what is not to be discovered by the senses, but is hidden in the forms. Thus, we can really speak today of something that corresponds to the “gate of man. We can speak of the “gate of nature-forms.” I might say that there were already signs of this dawning, though still dim, when out of the chaotic mysticism of the Middle Ages such a man as Jacob Boehme [ Note 12 ] spoke of “the seven forms of nature. This was in his own language, and neither very clear nor very comprehensive. Nevertheless, these forms are what modern initiation must come to more and more, forms that reveal themselves within the external physical forms but extending out beyond space and time.
I have often referred to that famous conversation between Goethe and Schiller as they came from a lecture by the scientist Batsch. Schiller said to Goethe that Batsch certainly had a very splintered way of observing the world. In their day it was still far from being as splintered as that of present-day physical scientists; but nevertheless Schiller felt that it was very prosaic. Goethe remarked that of course a different method of observation could be employed, and in a few characteristic strokes he sketched his idea of the primordial plant and the metamorphosis of plants. Schiller could not grasp that and said: “That is not a matter of experience” (he meant, that is something not existing in the external world), “it is an idea.” Schiller stayed with the abstraction. Whereupon Goethe replied: “If it is an idea, I am satisfied; for then I see my ideas with my eyes.” He meant that what he had described was not just an idea that he only created inwardly, but that it really existed for him even though it could not be seen with one's eyes as one sees colors. That is real forming, supersensible forming (Gestaltung) in the senses. To be sure, Goethe did not develop it very far. I have told you in some of our lectures that a straight continuation of this metamorphosis of the plant and animal world — which Goethe developed only in an elementary way—brings us to a true perception of repeated earth- lives. Goethe saw the colored petal as a transformed leaf, the skull bones as transformed dorsal vertebrae. That was a beginning. If someone continues with the same mode of observation, he reaches only forms, it is true, but it is the “gate of nature-forms” that he reaches; it is imaginative insight into those forms. And then he really begins to observe, not merely the skull bones that are transformed vertebrae, but the whole human cranium. He discovers that the human head is the whole human form metamorphosed from the previous incarnation, except only the former head. Of course the physical matter passes over into the earth; but the body that you carry around with you today, except just your head, the supersensible part of that form persists and becomes your head in the next incarnation. There you have metamorphosis at its highest level of development.
But you must not be deceived by appearances in precisely the modern fashion. If you deal with that kind of appearances, you will be like people who point to the passage in Shakespeare where Hamlet says in his despair, that the earthly dust of Julius Caesar must still exist; that perhaps the remains, the atoms, that once constituted the Roman emperor are now in some dog.
My dear friends, people who think in such a manner simply do not investigate the course taken by the physical organism, whether it is buried in the earth or burnt. The metamorphosis that actually takes place is the following: only the head disappears, vanishes from the earth, for it goes out into the universe; but your present body in this incarnation, except the head, is transformed, and you will find it as your head in your next incarnation. You cannot escape it. You need not consider the material substance at all. Even now you do not have the same matter in your body that you had seven years ago. You need only think of the transformation of the form. It is just as much a first stage as the “gate of man” was in the ancient sense: it is the “gate of forms.” And when a man has fully comprehended this “gate of forms,” he can then enter into the “gate of life,” where he has no longer to do with forms, but with stages of life, elements of life. This corresponds to what I described earlier as the second stage in the ancient Egyptian royal initiation. The third stage is equivalent to entrance into the “gate of death”: it is initiation into different states of consciousness. Between birth and death, of course, man knows only one; but this is one out of seven, and one must know all the various states of consciousness if one really wishes to understand the world.
Remember that you have an account of these three successive conditions in my Occult Science, an Outline, where they refer to cosmic evolution. You have there the seven different forms of consciousness, Saturn, Sun, Moon, Earth, and so on. In each of these stages of consciousness, Saturn, Sun, etc., there are seven life-stages; and in each life-stage, seven stages of form. What we describe as our epochs of culture—ancient Indian, ancient Persian, Egypto-Chaldean, Greco-Latin, and our present epoch — are also forms. In these we are at the “gate of forms,” corresponding to the “gate of man”; out of the world of forms we can shape conceptions about the successive cultural epochs. There are seven of them in each life-stage; and when we speak of life- stages, we mean the seven successive stages of which our present post-Atlantean age is one. We are now in the fifth life-stage; the Atlantean was the previous one, the Lemurian still earlier. The purpose of these life-stages has been that man might attain the consciousness he has today. This consciousness developed out of Old Moon consciousness; that, out of Old Sun consciousness. Man's final, most perfect consciousness, he will acquire during the Vulcan evolution.
Thus you see how man gains a survey of the cosmos through the three successive Mystery stages. Then from this knowledge of the cosmos he acquires knowledge of man. Also from this knowledge of the cosmos he now has the possibility of bringing understanding to the Mystery of Golgotha.
Toward this understanding, today we have received, I might say, just a few incomplete ideas. But at least we have been able to grasp why, for example, the Mystery of Golgotha took place in the fourth culture-form (the Greco- Latin) of the fifth (the post-Atlantean) life-stage, and why it occurred on earth. If you read the Leipzig cycle [ Note 13 ] you will see how preparation was made on this earth for the Mystery of Golgotha. But all that is needed to understand the Mystery of Golgotha can be learnt from the principles of modern initiation. Thus, ancient initiation proceeded essentially from knowledge of man to knowledge of the world; modern initiation proceeds from knowledge of the world to knowledge of man.
This has been said, however, from the standpoint of initiation. You stand on one side, as it were, and on the other side you see the reflection of it. To acquire this knowledge of the world, you must start from a modern knowledge of man. I spoke recently about that. And the way we speak of ancient times must be entirely different from the way we speak of modern times. Ancient times reached knowledge of the world through knowledge of man. Speaking theoretically, we might say that what man went through as a life-process was, when completed, knowledge of the world; and with knowledge of the world in his consciousness, he could work back to man. If today you pass through forms, life, and consciousness of this world, what you really reach in this way is knowledge of man. (Look this up in my Occult Science.) Everything else in the knowledge of nature vanishes, and man becomes comprehensible. In the same way, from having gained knowledge of the world, man becomes comprehensible as a three-membered being (as I have shown you) — nerve-sense being, rhythmic being, and metabolic being. From man we can then pass again to knowledge of the world.
These are not contradictions. You will find such apparent contradictions at every step if you intend to enter the world of truth! If you want dogmatism, you will not be able to accept the contradictions, for they make you uncomfortable. you want dogmatism, you can find it in one place or another, but it will never give you an understanding of reality, only something to swear by when you need it. If you want to understand reality, then you must realize that it has to be presented from various sides. From the standpoint of life, the man of old had to proceed from the world to man; modern man must go from man to the world. From the standpoint of knowledge, ancient man went from man to the world; modern man must go from the world to man. That is a matter of necessity. It is also uncomfortable for a man of modern times, but everyone must now make his way through a state of instability, a state of uncertainty. Remember how in the second stage of the Egyptian royal initiation a man came into a state of mobility, of rotation. In our time, if a man really strives to reach life through forms, he must be able to say to himself: Even if I hold concepts ever so beautiful from this or that traditional religious confession, they may be quite fine, but I still do not attain reality by means of them unless I can also set the opposite concept before me.
I have called your attention to the fact that the Mystery of Golgotha itself makes it necessary to have the two opposite concepts, so that you may say to yourself: It was truly an evil deed when men murdered the God Who was embodied in a man; but in reality that very deed was the starting- point of Christianity. For if the murder on Golgotha had not occurred, Christianity in its reality would not exist. This paradox relating to a supersensible fact may be an example of many paradoxes with which you must come to terms if you really want to attain a comprehension of the supersensible world. For it cannot be otherwise. Earlier, fear was required. Now, it is necessary to cross the abyss that gives us the feeling of standing in the universe without any center of gravity. But this must be gone through, so that concepts may no longer be something to swear by, but may be regarded as something that illuminates things from various sides — like pictures taken of a tree from various sides. The dogmatist, the scientist, the theologian believe that they can grasp the whole of reality by means of dogmas of some sort. Someone who stands within reality knows that any assertion coming from dogmas may be likened to a photograph taken from one side, giving only one aspect of reality. He knows that he must have at least the opposite aspect, so that by seeing the two together he may approach the reality of the subject. More of this tomorrow.
Source: December 27, 1918