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Lecture 10

Old Myths as Pictures of Cosmic Facts.
Darkening of Man's Spiritual Consciousness.
The Initiation Principle of the Mysteries.

September 12, 1908

by Rudolph Steiner

THERE are many myths and sagas of the ancient Egyptians that were well-known to the spiritual-scientific world conception and are again becoming known, but are not transmitted by the external historical traditions touching on the Egyptians. Some of these myths were preserved for us in the form in which they became domesticated in Greece, for most of the Greek legends that do not relate to Zeus and his family, stem from the Egyptian mysteries. We shall occupy ourselves today with all sorts of mythical things that we can put to good use, despite the assertion of modern cultural history that Greek mythology contains little of value.

Why should we examine this other side of human evolution, the spiritual side? All that we see on the physical plane always remains an event and fact of the physical plane. But in the science of the spirit, we are interested not only in what lives on the physical plane, but also in all that occurs in the spiritual worlds. From what we have heard in our lectures we know what happens to man between death and a new birth. We need only recall that in death man enters the condition of consciousness that we call kamaloka, in which, although he has become a spiritual being, he is held fast by the astral body. This is the time when man still demands something from the physical world, when he suffers from the fact that he is no longer in the physical world. Then comes the time when he must prepare himself for a new life, the consciousness-condition of Devachan, where he is no longer immediately connected with the physical world and with physical impressions.

In order to understand how life in kamaloka differs from life in Devachan, let us consider two examples. We know that as soon as he has died, man does not lose his cravings and desires. Let us assume that during his life a person was a gourmet, taking great pleasure in choice, food. When he dies, he does not at once lose this desire for enjoyment, this craving for dainties. These wishes do not live in the physical body, but in the astral. Therefore, since man retains his astral body after death, he also retains the craving, but he lacks the organ with which to satisfy this craving, the physical body. The craving for food depends on the astral body rather than on the physical, and after death the person feels a real lust for what pleased him most in life. For this reason he suffers after death until he has weaned himself of the desire for enjoyment, until he has sloughed off all the cravings that he had cultivated through the physical organs. Throughout this period he remains in kamaloka. Then begins the time when he no longer makes demands of the type that can be satisfied only through physical organs. Then he enters into Devachan.

In the same proportion that man ceases to be fettered to the physical world he begins to develop a consciousness for the Devachanic world. This world becomes more and more illuminated, but he does not yet have an ego-consciousness there, such as he had in this life. He is not yet independent there. In the Devachanic life he feels like a limb, like an organ, of the entire spiritual world. As the hand, if it could feel, would feel itself to be a member of the physical organism, so man feels in his Devachanic consciousness that he is a limb of the spiritual world, a limb of the higher beings. He must grow toward his independence. But he already cooperates in the cosmos; he works on the plant kingdom from out the spiritual world. Man cooperates in all this, not for his own account, but as a ministering member of the spiritual world.

When we thus describe what man experiences between death and a new birth, we must not imagine that the events of the Devachanic world are not also subject to change. People are apt to believe privily that, although our earth is changeable, everything up yonder, beyond death, remains the same. This is by no means the case. When we describe the sojourn in Devachan in this way, this means only that this is approximately the way things are there at the present time. But let us remember how it was when our souls were incarnated during the Egyptian culture. Then we looked upon the gigantic pyramids and the other mighty buildings. In earlier times things looked very different on this side, on the physical side. The countenance of the earth has changed greatly since then. We need only look into materialistic science and we shall find, for example, how a few thousand years ago there were entirely different animals in Europe, how Europe looked quite different. The face of the earth is constantly changing, whence it comes that man is always entering into new conditions of existence. This is obvious to everyone. But when we describe the conditions of the spiritual world, people are prone to believe that what happened there when they died a thousand years before Christ, is exactly the same as what happens when they are reborn and die again today. Just as the physical plane changes, so do things change in the other world. When man entered into Devachan from an Egyptian or a Greek life, his sojourn there was something quite different from what it is today. Evolution occurs there also. It is only natural that we should describe the present conditions in Devachan, but these have changed. This could have been surmised from what was brought before us in the last lecture.

We have seen how, when we go back to the Atlantean time, man lived more in the spiritual world, how he moved about in the spiritual world during sleep. We found that this decreases steadily after that time. But if we go back far enough we find that man once lived entirely in the spiritual world. In ancient times the difference between sleep and death was not great. In primeval antiquity man had long periods of sleep, approximately as long as the time now consumed by an incarnation and the life after death. Through the fact that man descended to the physical plane, he became ever more entangled in this physical plane. We have shown how the Indian gazed into a high world and how, in Persia, man already attempted to conquer the physical plane. Man descended ever further, and in the Greco-Latin time there occurred a marriage between spirit and matter, between the spiritual worlds and the physical plane. The more man approached the middle of this last epoch, the more he learned to love the physical world and take an interest in it. As this occurred, everything that we call experiences between death and a new birth also changed.

If we go back to the first part of the post-Atlantean period, we find that men took little interest in the physical world. The initiates of that time could withdraw into lofty worlds, into the Devachanic worlds, and they communicated their experiences to the others. In the man who, with all his thoughts and all his senses, felt himself withdrawn into the true world, into his real home, the effect was that he took little interest in the conditions of the physical plane. But when he rose into Devachan, after having barely connected himself with the physical world, he possessed in Devachan a comparatively clear consciousness. When such a man incarnated again in the Persian culture, he felt himself more connected with physical matter, and he lost some of the clarity of his consciousness in Devachan. In the Egypto-Chaldean time, when man began to feel some affection for the external physical world, his consciousness in Devachan already became clouded and shadowy. This consciousness was still of a nature higher than that of his consciousness in the physical world, but it declined steadily in degree and became ever darker up to the Greco-Latin time. During all this time the Devachanic consciousness became ever darker and more shadowy. It was not a dream consciousness; this was never the case. It was a consciousness of which man was fully aware. In the course of evolution it became darkened.

The mysteries existed principally in order to enable man again to illuminate his consciousness, rather than have only a shadowy consciousness in the spiritual world. Let us reflect that if there had been no mysteries there would have been no initiates, in which case man would have had an increasingly vague and shadowy consciousness in the spiritual worlds. Only through the fact that, parallel with the darkening of Devachanic consciousness, initiation into the mysteries continued, together with the acquisition of certain faculties with which selected persons could look into the spiritual worlds in full clarity — only through the fact that the initiates could speak of this in myths and sagas, was it possible for a ray of light to penetrate into the Devachanic consciousness between death and a new birth. But all those who had made themselves comfortable in the physical world experienced this fading away of consciousness in the spiritual world. It was no fairy tale but plain truth, that the initiates in the Eleusinian mysteries were able to have a special experience. The principle of initiation is that, even during his life, man can ascend to the spiritual worlds and learn what takes place there. The initiate of that time was actually able to learn directly from the shades in the spiritual world. The following is really the statement of an initiate: “Better a beggar on earth than a king in the realm of shades. 1 This statement is made out of the initiates' experience. We cannot take such things deeply enough, and we only understand them when we know the facts of the spiritual world.

Now let us bring into more concrete form what we touched upon abstractly yesterday.

Had nothing occurred other than man's descent into the physical world, consciousness between death and a new birth would have grown ever darker. Ultimately men would have entirely lost their connection with the spiritual world. Now, however singular it may appear to those who are only slightly infected with some form of materialism, what I am about to say is true. Had nothing else intervened in human evolution, mankind would have succumbed to spiritual death. But there is a possibility of illuminating the consciousness between death and a new birth, and this illumination can be achieved either through initiation or (to a lower degree) through man's participating in the spiritual world during this life, having experiences that do not die out with his bodies, but remain connected with the eternal core of his being, even in the spiritual world. This was the concern of the mysteries and of all spiritual development. It was the concern of the great initiates before Christ and, above all, of the Being whom we call Christ. All other initiates were in a certain sense forerunners of the Christ; they were harbingers who pointed to the coming of the Christ.

The advent of the Christ-figure will now be described. Let us imagine a man who has never heard anything of the Christ, who has never been able to absorb the mysteries of the Gospel of John, who has never been able to say, “I will imitate the life and work of the Christ; I will try to take his precepts into my own being.” If we add that the Christ had never approached this man, he would not be able to take with him into the spiritual world the treasure that the man of today must take with him if he is to avoid the darkening of his consciousness. What man takes with him as a picture of Christ is a force that brightens the consciousness after death, that saves man from the fate that all men would have had if Christ had not appeared. If Christ had not appeared, the human essence would have been maintained, but the consciousness after death could not have been illuminated. This is what gives real meaning to the advent of the Christ, that something was embodied into the core of man's being that has a wide significance. The event of Golgotha preserves man from spiritual death if he makes it one with his own being.

We should not think that the other great leaders of mankind did not have a similar significance. There is no question of claiming some exclusive dogma for Christianity. That would be an offense against true Christianity, for anyone acquainted with the facts knows that Christianity was also taught in the ancient mysteries. Such words as those of Augustine are profoundly true: “What is called the Christian religion today existed already among the ancients and was present with the beginnings of the human race. But when Christ appeared in the flesh the true religion, which was already in existence, received the name of Christian.” What is important is not the name, but that we rightly understand the significance of the Christ impulse. Christ was the figure that appeared at the lowest point in evolution, but Buddha, Hermes, and the other great beings were in complete possession of the prophetic consciousness that the Christ would come, that he lived in them.

We can see this clearly when we study the figure of Buddha, and we must be quite clear as to what he was. What was Buddha, in reality? Here we must touch on something that can be said only among students of the science of the spirit. It is customary for people, even for theosophists, to conceive the mysteries of reincarnation in much too simple a way. One should not imagine that a soul that is embodied today in its three sheaths was embodied in the same way in a foregoing incarnation, and again in one before that, always according to the same scheme. The secrets are much more complicated. Although H. P. Blavatsky took great pains to show her intimate pupils how complicated these secrets were, the matter is still not rightly understood today. People think simply that a soul goes into a body ever and again. But it is not so simple. Often we cannot fit a historical figure into such a scheme if we wish to understand it correctly. We must go about the matter in a much more complicated way.

Already in Atlantis we meet beings who were among men as our fellows are today, but whom man saw and learned to know when he was in the spiritual world, severed from the body. We have already pointed out how man learned to know Thor, Zeus, Wotan, Baldur as actual companions. By day he lived in the physical world, but in the other condition of consciousness he learned to know spiritual beings who were going through a stage of evolution different from his. In this primeval period of the earth man did not yet have so solid a body as today; there was as yet nothing like a bony skeleton. The Atlantean body could be seen with physical eyes only to a certain extent. But there were beings who descended only so far as to incarnate in an etheric body. Then there were beings who still embodied themselves at that time, when the air was permeated by water-vapors. When man still lived in the water-fog atmosphere, these incarnations were possible for them. Such a figure was the later Wotan, for example. He said to himself, “If man incarnates in this fluid matter, then I can also.” Such a being assumed a human form and moved about in the physical world. But as the earth condensed and man took on ever denser forms, Wotan said, “No, I shall not go into this dense matter.” Then he remained in invisible worlds, in worlds removed from the earth.

This was the general case with the divine spiritual beings. But from then on, they could do something else. They could enter into a sort of connection with men who approached them, who evolved upward from below. We may imagine it thus. Man's evolutionary course was such that he was approaching his lowest point of development. Up to this point the gods had proceeded in company with men. Now they took another path, which was invisible for men on the physical plane. But men who lived according to the directions of the initiates, thereby purifying their finer bodies, approached them in a certain way. A man who was incarnated in the flesh, if he purified himself, could do this in such a way that he could be overshadowed by such a being, who could not descend as far as the physical body. The physical body would have been too coarse for such a being. The result for such a man was that the astral and etheric bodies were permeated by a higher being, which had no other human form for itself but could enter into another being and proclaim itself through this other being.

When we are familiar with this phenomenon, we shall not regard incarnation as such a simple matter. There can perfectly well be a person who is the reincarnation of an earlier man, who has developed himself so far and purified his three bodies to such an extent that he is now a vessel for a higher being. Buddha became such a vessel for Wotan. The same being who was called Wotan in the Germanic myths, appeared again as Buddha. Buddha and Wotan are even related linguistically.

So we can say that much of what was in the mysteries of the Atlantean time continued in what the Buddha was able to announce. This is in harmony with the fact that what the Buddha experienced is something that the gods had experienced in those spiritual spheres, and that men also had experienced when they were still in those spheres. As the teaching of Wotan thus appeared again, it was a doctrine that paid little attention to the physical plane, emphasizing that the physical plane is a place of woe, and that redemption from it is important. Much of the Wotan-being spoke in the Buddha. Hence it is that stragglers from Atlantis have shown the deepest understanding for the Buddha-teaching. Among the Asiatic population there are races that have remained at the Atlantean level, although externally they must, of course, move ahead with the earth evolution. Among the Mongolian peoples much of Atlantis has remained. They are stragglers from the old population of Atlantis. The stationary character in the Mongolian population is a heritage from Atlantis. Therefore the teachings of the Buddha are especially serviceable to such peoples, and Buddhism has made great strides among them.

The world moves onward, following its course. One who can look deeply into the evolution of the world does not make choices, does not say that he has more inclination for this or that. He says that what religion a people has is a spiritual necessity. The European population, because it has ensnared itself in the physical world, finds it impossible to feel its way into Buddhism, to identify itself with the innermost teachings of the Buddha. Buddhism could never become a religion for all of humanity. For him who can see, there is no sympathy or antipathy here, but only a judgment in accordance with the facts. It would be an error to wish to spread Christianity from a center in Asia, where other peoples are still settled, and Buddhism would be equally false for the European population. No religious view is right if it is not suited to the innermost needs of the time, and such a view will never be able to give a cultural impulse. These are things that we must grasp if we want to understand all the real connections.

But one should not believe that the historical appearance of the Buddha immediately reveals all that lies within it. If I were to expound all this, I would need several hours. As yet we are far from having unraveled the complications of the historical Buddha. Something still lived in the Buddha. This is not only a being who came over out of the Atlantean time and incarnated in him who incidentally was also a human Buddha. In addition to this something else was contained in him, something of which he could say, “I cannot yet comprehend this. It is something that ensouls me, but I only participate in it.” This is the Christ-being. This had already ensouled the great prophets. It was a well-known being in the more ancient mysteries, and everywhere and always men had pointed to him who was to come.

And he came! But again he came in such a way that he accommodated himself to the historical necessities that lie behind evolution. Without special preparation he could not incarnate himself in a physical body. It was still possible for him to incarnate in a sort of subconsciousness in the Buddha. But he could incarnate to live on the earth only if a physical body, and etheric body, and an astral body were specially prepared for him. The Christ had the greatest powers, but he could incarnate only if, through another being, a physical, an etheric, and an astral body had been completely cleansed and purified. Thus the incarnation of the Christ could occur only if another being appeared who had developed himself to this point. This was Jesus of Nazareth. He had proceeded so far in his evolution that he was able, during his life, to purify his physical, etheric, and astral bodies in such a way that it was possible for him, in the thirtieth year of his life, to abandon these bodies, yet to leave them capable of life, usable for a higher being.

Often, when I have stated that a high stage of development was necessary for Jesus to be able to sacrifice his bodies, people have made a strange objection: “But that is not a sacrifice; nothing could be more beautiful! One cannot speak of a sacrifice when it is a question of turning over his bodies to such a high Being!” Yes, it is beautiful, and the sacrifice is not great when one looks at it abstractly; but only try to do the deed. Everyone would like to make the sacrifice, but only let them try it. One must have extraordinary forces if one is to purify the bodies in such a way as to leave them while they are capable of life, and to attain these forces, many sacrifices are necessary. To be able to do this, Jesus of Nazareth had to be an extraordinarily high individuality. The Gospel of John indicates where Jesus abandoned his physical, etheric, and astral bodies and entered into the spiritual world, and where the Christ-being entered into the threefold corporeality. This happened at the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. At this moment something significant occurred in the corporeality of Jesus of Nazareth. For the materialistic mind, what I now say is bound to be an abomination. Something special occurred in the physical body of Jesus of Nazareth. If we wish to understand what occurred at the moment of the baptism, when the Christ entered into Jesus, we must turn our attention to something that will appear singular, but is nevertheless true.

In the course of human evolution, the various organs have developed bit by bit, gradually working out their form. We have seen how, when the organs had reached the level of the hips, certain structures and functions appeared in man. Then, too, as the human individuality became more self-reliant, a hardening of the bony system set in. The more independent man became, the more his bony system hardened and the greater became the power of death. We must bear this in mind if we are to understand the following in the right way. Whence comes it that man must die and the body must completely disintegrate? It comes from the fact that in the human body something can be burned, even down to the bones. Fire has power over the human bone-substance. Man has no power, at least no conscious power, over his bones. This power still lies outside man's abilities. In the moment when, at the baptism in Jordan, the Christ drew into the body of Jesus of Nazareth, in that moment the bony system of this being became something entirely different from what it is in other men. This was something that had never happened before and has not happened again to this day. With the Christ-being there entered into the Jesus-being something that had power over the forces that burn up the bones. Today the building up of the bones has not yet been placed within man's discretion. But this power reached right down into the bones. The conscious power of the Christ-being extended into the bones. This is part of the meaning of the baptism by John. Therewith something was implanted in the earth that can be called the supremacy over death, for death first appeared in the world with the bones. Through the fact that power over the bones entered the human body, the victory over death also came into the world. Here a deep mystery is expressed. Something in the highest degree holy entered into the bony system of Jesus of Nazareth through the Christ. Therefore it was not to be touched. For this reason the scripture had to be fulfilled: “A bone of him shall not be broken.2 That would have allowed human power to meddle in divine forces. Here we are gazing into a deep mystery of human evolution.

Here we come to a significant concept of esoteric Christianity, which can show us how this Christianity is permeated with the highest truths. We come to the remainder of what confronts us in the baptism. Through the fact that the Christ-being took possession of the three bodies in which the ego-being of Jesus formerly abode, a Being was bound up with the earth that had earlier had its dwelling-place on the sun. It had formerly been bound up with the earth until the moment when the sun departed from the earth. At that time the Christ also departed, and from then on he could exercise his power upon the earth only from outside, in the moment of the baptism, the high Christ-spirit again united himself in the full sense with the earth. Formerly he worked from outside, overshadowing the prophets and working in the mysteries. Now he was actually incarnated in a physical human body on the earth. If a being had been able to look down for thousands of years from a remote point in the universe, such a being as could see not only the physical earth but also its spiritual streams, its astral and etheric bodies, it would have seen significant events in the moment of the baptism by John, and in the moment when the blood flowed from Christ's wounds on Golgotha. The earth's astral body was profoundly changed thereby. At this moment it took up something different; it took on different colors. A new force was implanted in the earth. What earlier had worked from without, again became united with the earth, and thereby the attractive power between sun and earth will grow so strong that sun and earth will again unite, and man will unite with the sun-spirits. It was the Christ who gave the possibility that the earth can again unite with the sun and be in the bosom of the Godhead.

This is the event that occurred, and its meaning. We had to expound this in order to understand what entered into the earth with the Christ. Through this we can grasp how, through union with the Christ, man can absorb something by which his consciousness will again be illuminated after death. If we keep this in mind we shall also be able to grasp how there is evolution for the period between death and a new birth. Now let us ask for whose sake all this took place.

At first, man lived in the bosom of the Godhead. Then he descended to the physical plane. Had he remained above, he would never have achieved his present consciousness of self. He would never have received an ego. Only in the physical body could he kindle the consciousness of self in its bright clarity. He had to encounter external objects and become able to distinguish himself from the objects; he had to descend into the physical world. Only for the sake of man's ego did it happen that man descended. In respect to his ego man stems from the gods. This ego descended out of the spiritual world; it was forged on the physical body so that it might become bright and clear. It is precisely the hardened matter of the human body that has given man his self-conscious ego, that has made it possible for him to attain knowledge. But it also chained him to the earth-mass, to the rock-mass.

Before he achieved his ego, man had physical body, etheric body, and astral body. As the ego gradually evolved in these three bodies, it transformed them. We must be quite clear that all man's higher members work on the physical body. The physical body is as it is because the etheric, astral, and ego work on it. In a certain way all the organs of the physical body are as they are because the higher members have also been altered. Through the domination of the astral body, the backward beings became the different animal forms — the birds, for example. Through the fact that the ego became ever more conscious of itself, it also altered the astral body. We have already said that men separated themselves into groups. What we call the apocalyptic beasts are types, in which this or that higher member has the upper hand. The ego gained predominance in the man-form. All the organs are adapted to man's higher members. When the ego entered into the astral body and wholly permeated it, certain organs took form in man and in the animals that branched off later. Thus, for example, a particular organ may stem from the fact that an ego made its entry upon the earth. On the moon, no ego was connected with the beings in human evolution. Certain organs are connected with this development: the gall and the liver. The gall is the physical expression of the astral body. It is not bound up with the ego, but the ego works on the astral body, and from this the forces work on the gall.

Now let us draw together the entire picture that the initiate made so clear to the Egyptian. The self-conscious man has been shackled to the earth-body. Imagine the man fettered to the earth-rock, fettered to the physical body — and in the course of evolution something arises that gnaws at his immortality. Think of the functions that have called forth the liver. They have arisen through the fact that the body was chained to the rocks of earth. The astral body gnaws at it.

This is the picture that was given to the pupil in Egypt and made its way into Greece as the saga of Prometheus. We must not lay rough hands upon such a myth. We must not rob the butterfly of the dust on its wings. We must leave the dust on its wings. We must leave the dew on the blossoms instead of twisting and torturing such pictures. We should not say that Prometheus means this or that. We should try to present the real occult facts, and then try to understand the pictures that have arisen out of the occult facts and have passed over into the consciousness of man.

The Egyptian initiate led his pupil up to the point where he could grasp man's ego-development. Such a picture was intended to shape his spirit. But the pupil was not to seize the facts with heavy hands. The picture was to stand bright and livingly before him, and the initiate did not wish to press dry banal concepts into the truths he could give. He wanted to present truth in pictures. Poetry has done much for the Prometheus saga, beautifying and ornamenting it. We should add nothing to the occult facts, but leave this delicate embellishment to the artist.

We must still point to something else. Man, when he arrived on earth, was not yet endowed with the ego. Before the ego was secreted into the astral body, other forces had possession of this body. Then the light-flowing astral body was permeated by the ego. Before the ego entered therein, the astral forces of divine-spiritual beings had been sent into man from outside. The astral body was also present, but illuminated by divine-spiritual beings. The astral body was pure and bright, and it flowed around what was present as the rudiments of the physical and etheric bodies. It flowed around and through these, and was quite pure. But egoism entered with the advent of the ego, and the astral body was darkened and lost its golden flow. This was lost more and more, until man had descended to the lowest point of the physical plane in the Greco-Latin time.

Then men had to consider how they could win back the pure flow of the astral body, and there arose in the Eleusinian mysteries what was known as the search for the original purity of the astral body. One aim of the Eleusinian mysteries, and also of the Egyptians, was to recapture the astral body in its pristine golden flow. The quest for the Golden Fleece was one of the probations of the Egyptian initiations, and this has been preserved for us in the wonderful saga of the voyage of Jason and the Argonauts. We have seen the development. When the form of the lower organs still resembled the boats of which we have spoken, the astral body in the water-earth still had a golden sheen. In the water-earth, man's astral body was permeated with golden light. The search for the astral body is portrayed in the voyage of the Argonauts. In a refined and subtle way we must bring the quest for the Golden Fleece into connection with the Egyptian myth.

External historical facts are linked with spiritual facts. One should not believe that this is mere symbol. The voyage of the Argonauts actually took place, just as the Trojan War actually took place. Outer events are the physiognomy for inner events; all these are historical events. For the Greek neophyte the historical fact took place anew inwardly: the journey after the Golden Fleece, the achieving of the pure astral body.

This is what we wanted to bring before our souls today. On this basis we shall become acquainted with other things from the mysteries, and then we shall find how the Egyptian mysteries are connected with the life of today.


These are the words of Achilles in Book XI of the Odyssey.

The reference is to the Gospel of John, XIX:36.

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