Lecture 3 of 4
Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, February 5, 1913:
When aman of our time goes through an occult training which leads him to such experiences as were described in the last two lectures, he enters by means of this training into the spiritual worlds; and there he experiences certain facts and meets with certain beings. The phrase, “To see the Sun at Midnight”, is fundamentally only an expression for spiritual facts and for the meeting with spiritual beings who are connected with the Sun-existence. But when this man of our time ascends into the higher worlds, he goes through certain experiences which one cannot describe otherwise than by saying: A man experiences much that is significant in the higher worlds through such an ascent, but he also feels himself forsaken and alone. He feels that he can gather up his experience in some such words as these: “Much, very much, you are seeing here, but the very thing you must long for above all else, after all you have gone through — that you are not able to experience.” And he would like to question all the beings whom he meets after such an ascent concerning certain secrets he longs to understand. That is the feeling he has. But all these beings, who unveil much that is immense and powerful, remain silent when he wants to learn from them about those mysteries which he must now regard as the most important of all. Hence the man of our time, when he has thus mounted to the higher worlds, feels it to be above all painful that in spite of all the splendour, in spite of his meeting with those glorious beings, he has an immense emptiness in his inner life. And if nothing else were to happen, a protracted experience of this loneliness, this forlorn condition in the higher worlds, would finally bring about something like despair in his soul.
Now at this point something can happen — and usually does happen if the ascent has been undertaken according to the true rules of Initiation — which may be a protection from this despair, at first, though not permanently. Something like a remembrance may arise in the soul, or one might say a retrospect into far-off times of the past, a kind of reading in the Akashic Record about long-past happenings. And what is then experienced (one cannot characterise these things except by trying to clothe them in approximate words) might be put in the following way: “When as a modern man you ascend into these higher worlds, you are met by forlorn-ness, despair. But pictures call up for you long-past happenings, showing you that in distant times men ascended into the worlds into which you now wish to rise. Yes, from these memory pictures you may well come to recognise that in earlier incarnations your own soul took part in what these men experienced when formerly they rose into the higher worlds. It might even appear that the soul of a present-day man, in contemplating these pictures, looks at experiences of his own, gone through in times long since past. Then in those remote ages this soul would have been an Initiate. In other cases, the man would know only that his soul had been connected with those who as Initiates had then risen into the higher worlds; but his soul now feels lonely and forsaken, whereas those once initiated souls did not feel lonely and forsaken in the same worlds, but experienced innermost bliss. He will recognise further that this was so because in those ancient times souls were differently constituted, and for this reason they experienced differently what they beheld in the higher worlds. What is it, then, that is really experienced?
The experience now in question is such that it brings before the soul beings of higher worlds who are working upon the sense-world from the super-sensible worlds; beings are perceived who stand behind our sense-world; conditions are seen such as were described yesterday. But if one tries to summarise all one sees, it can be characterised in some such way as the following: The seer feels himself to be in the higher worlds, and gazing down, as it were, into the sense-world; he feels himself united in some way with spirits who have passed through the Gate of Death, and, with them, too, he gazes downward, and sees how they will again employ their forces in order to enter physical existence. He looks down and sees how forces are sent out of the super-sensible worlds in order to bring about the processes of the different kingdoms of nature in the sense-world. He sees the whole current of events which are prepared for our world out of the higher worlds. Because in the course of a sojourn of this kind in the higher worlds he is outside his physical and etheric bodies, he looks down upon them and sees also those forces in the Cosmos, in the whole spiritual universe, which are working on the physical and etheric bodies of man. And through the activity of the beings into whose company he has entered, he learns to understand how physical and etheric bodies come into existence within the physical world. He learns to understand this thoroughly. He comes to understand how certain beings who are associated with the Sun send their activity into the Earth and work on engendering the physical and etheric bodies of man. He learns also to know certain beings associated with the Moon-existence, who work down out of the Cosmos in order likewise to co-operate in bringing about the physical and etheric bodies of human beings.
Then, however, arises a great longing, a longing that becomes terrible for a man of the present time. It is the longing to know something of how the astral body and the ego are born out of the Cosmos, how they come into existence. Whereas the seer can discern exactly how the physical body and the etheric body arise out of the forces of the Cosmos, completely hidden from him is everything that could point to how the astral body and the ego of man are brought into being. In deepest darkness and secrecy is veiled everything that has to do with the astral body and ego. Thus the feeling grows: What you are in your innermost nature, what you yourself really are, is veiled from your spiritual sight; and that in which you sheathe yourself when you are living in the physical world is disclosed to you precisely enough!
All this is experienced by a man of the present time when he rises to higher worlds in the manner described. It was experienced. also by those who in ancient times undertook the ascent. But they did not feel the great longing we have spoken of: they had no need to behold their innermost being, for they were so constituted that they felt a deep inward satisfaction in perceiving how the spiritual beings whose company they had reached were at work in building physical and etheric bodies on the Earth. In contemplating how these beings worked down from the Sun to accomplish this task, the souls who were initiated in past times found their highest satisfaction. It must be added that the work performed by these beings presented itself under a different aspect in those times; hence the satisfaction it could afford. In our time the work appears in such a light that one asks: Wherefore all this preparation of the physical and etheric bodies, if one cannot understand what these sheaths conceal? That is the difference between a person of the present time and a man of old. And the period in the past which was connected particularly with these experiences is that in which Zarathustra initiated his pupils and guided them up into the higher worlds. If aspirants were to be led up into the higher worlds in the same way to-day as they were by Zarathustra, they would feel that emptiness and loneliness to which reference has been made. In the time of Zarathustra those who were to be initiated experienced the working of Ahura Mazdao on the physical body and the etheric body, and in the unveiling of this wonderful mystery they felt bliss and satisfaction, for they were so disposed that they felt inwardly stirred when they saw how the sheaths which man needs if he is to accomplish his Earth-mission are brought into existence. In this they found satisfaction.
Thus it was with the Zarathustrian Initiation. For the initiates could “See the Sun at Midnight”; that is, they were not looking upon the physical form of the Sun but upon the spiritual beings who are linked with the Sun. They saw emanating from the Sun the forces which play into the physical body; saw how the forces which the Sun is able to send forth mould the human head and form the different parts of the human brain. For it would be folly for anyone to think that a marvellous construction such as the human brain could come into existence merely through terrestrial forces; solar forces must work into it. These forces bring together the complex lobular formations of the human brain, poised above the human face. Engaged in this task are quite numerous beings; Zarathustra gave them the name of “Amshaspands”. They furnish the stimulus for the forces of the Cosmos which make possible the building of the human brain and the upper nerves of the spinal cord, with the exception of the lower twenty-eight pairs of nerves. Then Zarathustra also pointed out how other currents flow from beings who are linked with the life of the Moon; he showed how wonderfully the structure of the Cosmos is adapted so that from twenty-eight groups of entities — “Izeds” as they are called — currents proceed which build up the spinal cord with its twenty-eight lower pairs of nerve fibres. Thus are physical and etheric bodies formed out of currents which stream forth from cosmic beings.
They were powerful impressions that the initiates of Zarathustra received in this way. And in receiving them as an expression of the work of Ahura Mazdao, they felt an inner bliss concerning all that is thus accomplished. in the world. If a modern man were to raise himself in the same way into the higher worlds, he would of course also be capable of wonderment; he, too, would be able to begin to experience the same bliss. But gradually he would pass on to the feeling which one cannot clothe in words other than these: “What is the purpose of it all? I know nothing about that being who passes from incarnation to incarnation! I know solely about those beings who in each new incarnation build up sheaths out of the Cosmos, but they build only sheaths.” That was precisely the essence of the Zarathustra Initiation: its revelation of the connection between the earthly part of man and the life of the Sun. It was characteristic of the time of Zarathustra that men were able to absorb into their occult knowledge those mysteries we have now described.
Again, it was in a different way that souls in ancient Egypt entered the higher worlds at Initiation — souls, for example, who went through the Hermes Initiation. We have already spoken about all these things; but in these lectures they will be presented in rather more detail than was possible previously. When in ancient Egyptian times souls were raised into the higher worlds through the Hermes Initiation, then — as it must always be after Initiation — they felt themselves to be outside their physical and etheric bodies and knew that they were now within a world of spiritual facts and spiritual beings. Wide was the circuit of vision through which these souls were then led. They were shown the individual beings and facts, as can happen also with the soul of to-day. But one must not think of it as though they went about on physical feet; it was their vision that was guided, as if a person's sight were to be led all round a region as wide as the universe. Thus it was in this Initiation.
Then came a moment of experience wherein the initiates felt as though a traveler in a country encircled by the sea had reached the shore. They knew they had come to the farthest point attainable. In the Egyptian Initiation they experienced what one cannot clothe in other words than these: “In your vision you have been led far and wide through cosmic realms and have come to know the beings and forces that work on your physical body and your etheric body. But now you are entering the most holy place. You are entering a region where you can feel yourself united with the Being who works with others on the part of you that goes from one incarnation to another, and on your astral body.” It is a significant experience that occurs at this point, for after it all things become in some sense different.
For the initiate, after that, one possibility is closed. In the world he has now entered, on the shores of cosmic existence, he is no longer able to make use of his former ways of thinking and judging. If he cannot cast off all this earthly, physical power of judgment; if he cannot disregard what has guided him so far, then he cannot have this experience on the borders of existence; he cannot feel himself united with that Being who is active when the human being as spirit and soul approaches his birth into a new incarnation, and seeks nation, family and parents in order to clothe himself with new sheaths. All the beings whom he has already come to know, and who make it clear to him how the etheric and physical sheaths arise and are formed out of the Cosmos, are unable to explain what kind of forces are working in that Being with whom he now feels himself united, and who is building and weaving in the innermost astral being of the man himself. It becomes quite apparent to the seer, as it was to the Egyptian soul who was going through the Hermes Initiation, that now, after the soul is outside its sheaths and has passed through the “cosmic existence” already alluded to, it feels itself united with a Being. The soul can feel the qualities of this Being, only it feels itself as if it were within these qualities and not outside this Being, and it can know that this Being is really there, but that it is at the same time within this Being. And the first impression that the aspirant receives of this Being is such that one says to oneself: In this Being lie the forces which bring the soul from one incarnation to another, and also the forces which illuminate the soul between death and a new birth. All that is there within. But when there surges towards you a force like unto spiritual cosmic Warmth, one that conveys the soul from death to a new birth; and when there presses towards you the spiritual Light that illumines souls between death and a new birth, and when you feel how this Warmth and this Light stream out from the Being with whom you are united, you are now in a quite peculiar situation. You have had to drink the waters of Lethe, to forget the art of understanding which formerly guided you through the physical world, to lay aside your former power of judgment, your intellectuality, for here these would only lead you astray; and as yet you have gained nothing of a new kind. In your experience of the cosmic Warmth which brings the soul to a new birth, you are within the ocean of forces which illuminate the soul between death and a new birth. You experience the force and the light which issue from this Being. You behold this Being in such manner that you can do no other than ask of it: “Who art Thou? For Thou alone canst tell me who Thou art, and only then can I know that which takes the essential inward part of me as a human being from death to a new birth. Only when Thou tellest me this can I know what my innermost nature is as man!” And mute remains the Being with whom the aspirant knows himself to be united. He feels with the deepest part of himself that he is united with the deepest part of the Being. The urge towards self-knowledge arises, to know what a man is — and yet the Being remains silent. The aspirant must first have stood for a while before this silent Being, and have felt deeply the longing to have the riddle of the universe solved after a new manner, as it never can be on the physical Earth; he must have brought into this world, to this Being, as a force out of himself, the deep longing to have the riddle of the universe solved in a way foreign to physical existence, and the soul must entirely live in the longing to have the cosmic enigma solved in this manner. Then, when he has felt himself united with the mute spiritual Being, and has lived in him with longing for the solution that we have indicated, then he feels that there streams forth into this spiritual Being with whom he is united, the force of his own longing. And because this force of the aspirant's own longing for the solution of the riddle streams out into the spiritual Being, after a time it gives birth to something like another being projected from it. But what is born is not after the manner of an earthly birth, as the aspirant knows at once through his own vision. An earthly birth arises “in time”; it enters into the stream of time. But concerning the birth from this Being, the aspirant knows: It is born from Him, it has been born from Him since primordial times — always, and this birth continues from primordial ages up to the present. Only this birth-process of one being from another has hitherto not been visible to man; until now it has been withheld from his sight. This birth-process consists in his: it is really continuous, but man, owing to his having prepared himself by means of his yearning for the solving of the riddle, now sees it — it is now perceived in the spiritual world. The aspirant knows this. Thus he does not say: Now a being is born, but: From the Being with whom you have united yourself, ever since primordial times, a being has always been born; but now the process of the being's birth, and the being itself who is born, are perceptible to you.
What I have now pictured to you, as far as it can be done in the words of our language, is that to which the Hermes Initiator led. his pupils. And the feelings that I have just described (I might say with stammering words, for the things contain so much that the words of our tongue can express them only in a stammering way) — these feelings were the experiences of the so-called Egyptian Isis Initiation.
When the aspirant who was going through the Isis Initiation had reached the furthest shore of existence and had gazed upon the beings who build up the physical body and the etheric body, when he had stood before the silent Goddess from whom Warmth and Light come forth for the innermost of the human soul, he said to himself: “That is Isis. That is the mute and silent Goddess whose countenance can be unveiled to no-one who sees only with mortal eyes, but only to those who have worked themselves through to the shores which have been described, so that they can see with those eyes which go from incarnation to incarnation and are no longer mortal. For an impenetrable veil hides the form of Isis from mortal eyes.”
When the aspirant had thus gazed upon Isis and had experienced in his soul the feeling described, he understood what has been described. as the birth. What was this “birth?” He understood that it can be designated as “The resounding through all space of the Music of the Spheres,” and as the merging of the tones of this Sphere-music with the creative cosmic Word — the Word which permeates space and pours into the beings everything that has to be so poured into them, as the soul has to be poured into the physical and etheric body after passing through the life between death and a new birth. Everything that has to be thus poured out from the spiritual world into the physical world, so that what is poured out acquires the inward character of soul, is poured in from the Harmony of the Spheres resounding through space. The Harmony of the Spheres gradually assumes such a form that through the inner significance it expresses it can be understood as the Cosmic Word — the Word which ensouls the beings that are vitalised by the forces of Warmth and Light which pour into those bodies that arise from the divine forces and beings perceived with the vision already attained.
Thus did the aspirant look into the world of the Harmony of the Spheres, the world of the Cosmic Word; thus did he look into the world which is the veritable home of the human soul during the time between death and a new birth. That which is hidden deep in the physical earthly existence of man, but lives between death and a new birth in the splendour of the Light and Warmth; that which deeply veils itself in the physical world as the world of the Harmony of the Spheres and the Cosmic Word, was experienced in the Hermes-Initiation as coming to birth from Isis. There Isis stands before the aspirant, Isis herself on the one side, and on the other side the being she has borne, whom one must speak of as Cosmic Tones and the Cosmic Word. The aspirant feels himself in the company of Isis and of the Cosmic Word born of her. And this “Cosmic Word” is in the first place the appearing of Osiris. “Isis in association with Osiris”: thus do they appear before direct vision; for in the very oldest Egyptian Initiation it was said that Osiris was at the same time spouse and son of Isis. And in the older Egyptian Initiation the essential thing was that the aspirant, through this Initiation, experienced the mysteries of soul-life, which remains united with man during the period between death and a new birth. Through the union with Osiris it was possible to recognise oneself in one's deeper significance as man.
So it was brought to pass that the Egyptian Initiate met the Cosmic Word and the Cosmic Tones as the elucidators of his own being in the spiritual world. But that was up to a certain point of time only in the old Egyptian period. After that it ceased. There was a great difference — this is shown also by the Akashic Records when one looks back into ancient times — between the experiences of the Egyptian Initiate in the ancient Egyptian temples and what he experienced later on.
Let us bring before our souls what the Initiate experienced in these later times. He could still be led through the vast spaces of the universe to the confines of existence; there he could meet with all the beings who build up the physical and etheric bodies of man; there he could approach the shores of being and could have the vision of the mute, silent Isis, and could apprehend in her the Cosmic Warmth which contains for man the forces that lead from death to a new birth. There he could also become acquainted with the Light which illumines the soul between death and a new birth; and the longing arose to hear the Cosmic Word and the Cosmic Harmony; longing lived in the soul when it united itself with the silent Isis. But the Goddess remained dumb! In that later age no Osiris could be born, no Cosmic Harmony resounded, no Cosmic Word expounded that which now showed itself only as Cosmic Warmth and Cosmic Light. And the soul of the aspirant could not have expressed. these experiences otherwise than by saying something like the following; “Thus, 0 Goddess, do I look up in grief to thee, tormented by the thirst for knowledge, the yearning for knowledge, and thou, thou remainest silent and speechless towards the tormented and sorrow-laden soul. And this soul, because it cannot understand itself, seems to itself as though extinguished, as if it must lose its very existence.” And through her mourning countenance the Goddess expressed her powerlessness to bring forth the Cosmic Word and the Cosmic Harmony. The aspirant saw in her that she had been deprived of the power to bring forth Osiris and to have him at her side, Osiris as Son and Spouse. He felt that Osiris had been torn from Isis.
Those who went through this Initiation and came back into the physical world had a serious but resigned world-outlook. They knew her, the Holy Isis, but they felt themselves as “Sons of the Widow”. And the point of time between the old Initiation, wherein one was able to experience the birth of Osiris in those ancient Egyptian Mysteries, and that wherein one met only the mute, mourning Isis and could become a Son of the Widow in the Egyptian Mysteries; the point of time which separates these two phases of the Egyptian Initiation — when was it? It was the time in which Moses lived. For the karma of Egypt was fulfilled in such a way that not only was Moses initiated into the Mysteries of Egypt, but he took them with him. When he led his people out of Egypt he took with him the part of the Egyptian Initiation which added the Osiris-Initiation to the mourning Isis, as she later became. Such was the transition from the Egyptian civilisation to that of the Old Testament. Truly, Moses had carried away the secret of Osiris, the secret of the Cosmic Word! And if he had not left behind the powerless Isis there could not have resounded for him, in the way that he had to understand it for the sake of his people, that great, significant Word, “I AM THE I AM”, (“Ejeh asher Ejeh”). So was the Egyptian Mystery carried over to the ancient Hebrew Mystery.
We have tried now to show, using such words as are available for these matters, what the experiences were like in the Mysteries of Zarathustra and of Egypt. These things do not lend themselves to intellectual presentation. The essential point is that the soul goes through experiences corresponding to what I have endeavoured to describe. And it is important to enter into what took place in the soul of the aspirant in the later Egyptian Initiation: to feel how he raised his soul into the higher worlds and met Isis with the mourning look and sorrow-stricken countenance, the result of her having to look on the human soul which was well able to yearn and thirst for knowledge of the spiritual worlds, but could not be satisfied.
Thus also certain Greek Initiates experienced the same Being of whom the Egyptians spoke as the later Isis. Hence the seriousness of the Greek Initiation, where it appears in its solemnity. What had been experienced in earlier times in the super-sensible worlds — that which gave significance to those super-sensible worlds in that they resounded to the Cosmic Word and Cosmic Tone — was no longer there. It was there no more ... The super-sensible worlds were as though desolate and forsaken by the Cosmic Word, those worlds into which in earlier Initiations man had been able to enter. The Zarathustrian Initiate could still feel satisfied when in these worlds he encountered the Beings already described, for he felt himself fulfilled by the Cosmic Light, which he perceived as Ahura Mazdao. He perceived it as masculine, of solar nature; the Egyptian perceived it as feminine, lunar. And at a higher stage in the Zarathustrian Initiation he perceived also the Cosmic Word, not so concretely as if born from such a Being as Isis; but he experienced it and he knew the Harmony of the Spheres and the Cosmic Word.
In the later Egyptian time — and also in other lands during this late Egyptian time — when a man raised himself into the higher worlds, his feelings were quite similar to those of a present-day man, as described at the beginning of the present lecture. He rises up into the higher worlds, becomes acquainted with all the Beings who co-operate in building up the physical and etheric bodies, but he feels himself forsaken and alone if nothing else appears, because he has something in himself that longs for the Cosmic Word and the Cosmic Harmony, and the Cosmic Word and the Cosmic Harmony cannot resound for him. To-day such a man feels lonely and forsaken; in the later Egyptian Age he did not only feel forsaken and desolate, but, if he was a true “Son of the Widow” and was out of the physical and etheric bodies and in the spiritual worlds, he felt himself as a human soul in such a way that be was constrained to clothe his feeling in the words: The God is preparing to leave the worlds which you have always trodden when you felt the Cosmic Word; the God has ceased to be active there. And ever more and more did this feeling condense itself into what one may call the super-sensible equivalent of that which one encounters in the sense-world as the death of man — when one sees a person die, when one knows that he is passing out of the physical world. And now, when the Initiate of the later Egyptian Age rose up into the higher worlds, he was a partaker in the gradual dying of the God. As one feels with a person when he is passing into the spiritual world, so did the Initiate of the later Egyptian period feel how the God took leave of the spiritual world in order to pass over into another world. This was the significant and remarkable part of the later Egyptian Initiation — that when the aspirant raised his life into the spiritual worlds, it was not into rapture and bliss, but in order to partake in the gradual passing away of a God who was present in these higher worlds as Cosmic Word and Cosmic Harmony. Out of this frame of mind there gradually condensed the myth of Osiris, who was torn away from Isis and conveyed to Asia, and for whom Isis mourned.
With this lecture we have placed ourselves on one bank of the stream which separates the evolution of humanity into two parts. We have come from the direction of this evolution as far as the bank; we stand upon it, and what this standing there signifies has been brought home to us through the frame of mind, of the later Egyptian Initiate, the “Son of the Widow”, who was initiated in order to experience mourning and resignation. It will now be our task, in the boat of Spiritual Science, to cross the stream which separates the two shores of human evolution.
In the last lecture we shall see what is on the other shore — when we push off our boat from the place where we have experienced the mourning for the God who is dying in the Heavens, when we leave that place in order to traverse the stream and arrive at the other bank. When the boat of spiritual science has carried us across, with the remembrance that we have previously experienced the dying of a God in the Heavens, we shall see what is offered to our view on the other side.