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Lecture 4

The Experiences of Initiation.
The Mysteries of the Planets.
The Descent of the Primeval Word.

September 5, 1908

by Rudolph Steiner

YESTERDAY we closed with the discussion of an extraordinarily important event in the inner life, in the real spiritual life of man. We attempted to bring before our souls an impression that the seeker for initiation had at the beginning of the last third of the Atlantean epoch. We saw how there stood before the soul of the neophyte an ideal human form, a thought-picture, on which he had to concentrate in meditation, and how this filled the would-be initiate's life of thinking, feeling and willing. This thought-picture had to become ever more the model for the man of the future.

Now we must try to conceive roughly how this thought-picture looked. It was not entirely similar to the man of today. If we can think of a kind of combination of man and woman in which the lower part is omitted, a sort of double figure in which only the upper part of the body is clearly perceptible, then we have the sensible-supersensible picture that stood before the meditating person at that time. This picture worked so strongly that the neophytes could make their external bodies actually resemble it.

It is important that the meditating neophyte had within him, facing him, a sort of human form. If he had been sufficiently prepared to have this picture livingly before him, then he had to realize the following clearly, “As I look upon this picture I transport myself into the earliest condition of the earth's evolution, when earth, moon, and sun were not yet divided. At that time the earth consisted of the primeval atom, but in this atom the clairvoyant could see the picture that now arises before me. This picture was already present at the beginning of the earth when as yet there were no mineral, plant, or animal forms. At that time the earth consisted only of the human atom, of reawakened human beings.”

It is true that the first beginnings of the animals were created during the ancient Moon condition of the earth; animals already existed then. 1 But we know too that a planetary system, when it disappears, goes into a Pralaya, in which all forms are dissolved. Thus, although the ancient Moon was already populated with animal forms, the earth at first contained nothing similar to animals and plants. These first appeared later. Only after the separation of the sun did the animals gradually appear. The earth was purely human in its first beginnings.

The neophyte looked back upon this primeval condition of the earth. He saw in the primeval atom the ideal human form. Keeping this form before him, he realized, “Thus I transport myself into the earliest condition of the earth. What lives in the earth, the ideal human picture or form, tells me that the Godhead works from eternity to eternity. It has poured itself out into these forms. It has breathed out this original human form.” Then he asked himself what happened to the animals, plants, and other beings.

In spirit the neophyte saw the primal form of the Godhead. He saw the animals and plants as accompanying forms, which appeared on earth only at a later time. Everything in the lower kingdoms was regarded by the Atlantean neophyte as having proceeded from the human form. We understand this thought if we recollect how coal is formed. Think of the huge primeval forests that once flourished and are now coal. The plants have remained behind, evolving out of a higher kingdom into a lower one. The plants have hardened into stone.

Thus the pupil of the Atlantean mysteries saw everything in the world about him as the product of the human form. In primeval times, this impression was conjured before the soul of man. These impressions were retained in memory through the time of the flood. The ancient Indian initiators again called up in the souls of their pupils this picture of primeval man, of the man who had been breathed forth by the eternal self. When the Indian pupil had this picture before him, he felt that everything had sprung from it, that what appeared in this picture as the blood had become the waters of the earth, etc. This picture, expanded until it became the foundation of the universe. Then the following was put before his soul. It was said to him, “In this picture you have two things before your eyes. First, the picture itself; but then, also, what lights up in you as your innermost essence when you contemplate this picture. Without is the macrocosm; within you is what you feel as a sort of extract, the microcosm.”

When the Greeks, under Alexander, pressed into India and met the last echoes of what the pupils had felt in ancient times, they experienced the following: When the pupil contemplates what is spread out in the universe as man, then he has Heracles before him. The Indians gave the name of Vach 2 to what lives as the forces of the world-all. But in man, as a sort of extract of the whole, they felt what they called Brahman. Thus the Greeks expounded these echoes of what occurred in the soul of the pupil of the ancient holy Indian culture. This was the fruit of the Greek's campaign to India under Alexander the Great.

Out of precisely this fundamental feeling developed the sacred doctrine of the ancient Indian initiates, which appears like a spiritual image of that primeval state of the earth when it still contained the sun-forces and high beings, for whose sublimity man later yearned. Hence it was a great moment in his spiritual life when the pupil was initiated and could allow to arise within him what was grasped as Brahman. This was a mighty event in the human soul. It was a rising into higher worlds. In no other way could a man be initiated and achieve real vision, than by rising into higher worlds.

The world around us is the physical world. Within and around it surges the astral world. Higher stands Devachan, the world of the gods. The pupil must penetrate to the highest regions of Devachan if he is to feel Brahman, the primeval self, in the macrocosm. Then he is in highest Devachan, the world of the gods, whence springs the noblest that is in man. It was a realm of the highest and most perfect order into which the pupil was transported, a realm that offered much knowledge in addition to what has been described here.

Before we go any further, we must learn to know the teachers also. All of you have heard of the holy Rishis, who were the original founders of the ancient holy Indian culture and had Manu for their own teacher. Who were these seven great teachers of ancient India? As far as possible, we must explain the nature of the holy Rishis. This requires us to look again into the universe. We must be quite clear that what we perceive with the physical senses is a result of what is spiritual. If we think of the entire surrounding world as spiritualised, we can compare it with a primeval etheric mist. This mist then gradually became denser; it descended into the condition of matter and the various heavenly bodies condensed out of it. Sun, Moon, and Earth detached themselves.

But why did the other Planets split off? For it also occurred that Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Mercury detached themselves. Why did this happen? We shall understand this if we realize that in the great universe there occurs something similar to an event in our trivial everyday life. It is not only in school that pupils sometimes fail to be promoted, but also in the cosmos there are beings who remain behind and cannot progress with the others. Let us be quite clear about this. There was one group of higher beings who could not continue with 'the earth's tempo. These abstracted the finest substances and formed therefrom the sun as their dwelling-place. These were the highest beings connected with our evolution, although they also had gone through an evolution of their own. Thus there were beings who were in the act of becoming sun-spirits, and others who had remained behind, standing lower than the sun-spirits but higher than man. These could not continue with the sun-spirits because they were not equally mature. They could not go out with the sun, for it would have scorched them. But on the other hand they were too noble for the earth. Therefore they abstracted certain substances, which were between sun and earth in fineness and corresponded to their nature, and built themselves dwelling-places between the sun and the earth. Thus Venus and Mercury were separated off. Here we have two groups of beings who are not as high as the sun-spirits, but are further along than man. They became the spirits of Venus and Mercury. These are the beings who caused the appearance of these two planets. Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were formed earlier for other reasons, and they also became dwelling-places for certain beings.

Thus we, see how spirits caused the appearance of these planets. Now one should not believe that these beings inhabiting the various bodies of the solar system have no connection with the inhabitants of the earth. We must see that the physical boundaries are not the real boundaries, and that it is possible for the beings of the other heavenly bodies to exercise magical influences upon the earth. Thus the influences of the spirits of the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, and Mercury extend into the earth. The two latter stand nearer to the earth, and after the sun had withdrawn they helped men to prepare the earth as we have it today.

Here I would like to add one thing, because misunderstandings have crept into the naming of the planets. In all occult nomenclature, what the astronomers call Venus is called Mercury, and vice versa. Astronomers know nothing of the mysteries behind this, because in the past it was not desired that the esoteric names should be revealed. This happened in order to conceal certain things.

All these spirits of the other planets influence the earth. From every planet influences descend upon man. To begin with, however, these influences had need of an intermediary. Through the great Manu this was provided by the seven Rishis being initiated in such a way that each understood the mysteries and influences of a single planet. Since there were seven planets there were seven Rishis, who collectively formed a sevenfold lodge that could transmit to the pupils the secrets of the solar system. We find hints of this in many ancient occult writings. When, for example, it is said that there are mysteries beyond the seven, the reference is to those preserved by the holy Manu himself concerning the time before the splitting-off of the planets.

The forces preserved by the planets were the subject of the mysteries of the seven Rishis. This choir of seven Rishis, in complete harmony with Manu, cooperated in the wonderful wisdom that was transmitted to the pupils.. If we were to characterize this, we would have to say that this primeval teaching contained approximately what we learn today as the evolution of humanity through the planetary conditions of Saturn, Sun, Moon, Earth, Jupiter, Venus, and Vulcan. The mysteries of evolution were secreted in the seven members of the lodge, each of whom typified one stage in the progress of humanity.

The pupil saw this — not only saw it, but heard it — when he raised himself into Devachan, into the Devachanic world, for this is a world of tones. There he heard the harmony of the spheres, of the seven planets. In the astral world he saw the picture; in the Devachanic world he heard the tone; and in the highest world he experienced the word. When the Indian pupil raised himself into upper Devachan he perceived through the music of the spheres and through the word of the spheres how the primordial spirit, Brahma, is divided through evolution into the seven-fold planetary chain. He heard this out of the primal word Vach. This was the designation of the primal tone of creation that the pupil heard. In it he heard the entire world-evolution. The word, split into seven members, the primal word of creation, worked in the soul of the pupil; this was the primal word, which he described to the uninitiated approximately as we today would describe our world evolution. What he perceived is described in an elementary way in my book, Theosophy, An Introduction to Supersensible Knowledge. The description we find again in the ancient sacred tradition of the Indians, in what was called the Veda, 3 or the Word. This is the true meaning of the Vedas, and what was later written down is only a last memory of the ancient sacred doctrine of the Word. The Word itself was only passed from mouth to mouth, for an ancient tradition is impaired by being written down. Only in the Vedas can one feel something of what flowed into this culture at that time. When the pupil experienced this in his memory, he could say to himself, “What I experience in my soul as Brahman, what I have in my soul as primal Word, this was already present on ancient Saturn; on Saturn resounded the first breath of the Veda-word.”

Evolution had now progressed through the Sun and Moon stages, as far as the Earth. The word had become continually denser, had taken on ever denser forms, and the picture of man in the primeval seed of the earth was already a condensation of the condition in which the primeval word existed on Saturn. What had happened here?

The divine Word, primeval man, had sheathed itself in ever new coverings, and we must see what sheaths the Word assumed in the evolution of the earth. The pupil knew that nothing in the universe repeats itself exactly, and that each planet has its mission. What on the ancient Sun he saw shape itself as life, what on the ancient Moon was injected into the foundation of all things as wisdom, was followed by the task or mission of the Earth, which is to develop love. This was not yet present on the ancient Moon. What was present on the latter planet in a much more spiritual (but also in a much colder) form, the primal image of man, clothed itself in a warm astral covering. On the Moon, what man was supposed to become was clothed in a warm astral sheath, and it is this part which on Earth enables the inner human life to develop love from the lowest to the highest form.

To the Indian pupil the human form, the primal image, became clearly perceptible in higher Devachan. In lower Devachan it then surrounded itself with an astral sheath, which contained the forces for developing love. Love, or Eros, was called Kama. 4 Thus Kama acquires a meaning for earth-evolution. The divine Word, Brahman, clothed itself in Kama, and through Kama the primal Word resounded to the pupil. Kama was the garment of love, the garment of the primal Word Vach, which lies at the root of the Latin vox.

In his innermost being the pupil felt that the divine Word had taken on an astral garment of love, and he said to himself, “Man, who today consists of four members, physical body, etheric body, astral body, and ego, has his ego as his highest member. This ego descended into the garment of love and formed Kama-Manas for itself. Kama, in which Manas clothed itself, was the innermost essence of man. This was the ego. But we know also that this innermost essence will evolve three higher members. These transform the lower members, transform even the physical body. As Manas grows out of the astral sheath, as Buddhi on a higher stage corresponds to Prana, so will the physical body, when it has been entirely spiritualised, be Atma.”

All this already existed germinally in the Vach, and a verse of the Veda recalls how the pupil brought the mystery of the innermost being to expression.

We know that the physical body first appeared on Saturn, the etheric on the Sun, the astral on the Moon, and the ego on the Earth. The true and original human germ, the primal Vach, however, already contained the three following members in itself. Man may still expect three higher members as well, and then only will he be a true image of the Word of creation, the primal Word. It was pointed out to the pupil that only to the initiate could the true nature of the physical, etheric and astral bodies be made clear. Today man is himself only when he expresses his “I am,” when he keeps in mind what is entirely his own. Only then is he fully Man. The other members are manifest, but in them he is still unconscious. In the fourth, however, the Vach becomes manifest.

“In the fourth, Man speaks.” This was the verse of the Veda. When the word of the ego resounds, the fourth part of the Vach resounds. The verse of the Veda reads, “Four parts of the Vach are manifest; three are visible; three are now concealed; in the fourth speaks Man.”

Here we have a wonderful description of what we have so often heard. This stood before the pupil's spiritual perception. His gaze was directed backward to the condition in which nothing was as yet separate, in which there was still a primeval earth, in which the full Vach spoke. This is expressed in another verse of the Veda. “Formerly I knew not what the I am is. Only when the first-born of the earth came upon me did the spirit become filled with light, and I had a share in the holy Vach.” In this is reproduced the vision that the initiate had.

In all this we have a hint of the experiences of the ancient pupils of the Rishis, of the wonderful teachings that flowed into the Indian culture, were transmitted to the following epochs, and were transformed in accordance with the needs of other peoples. But all of these understood the primeval Word, Vach.

We shall understand many things better if we keep in mind one mystery in its full scope. We must imagine that at that time the teacher's influence on the pupil was entirely different from what it is today. Such an influence is now possible only when the pupil has already been brought to a certain stage of initiation. The forces exerted by the teacher on the pupil were much stronger at that time. Not only what the teacher could transmit by word or writing had an effect. In reality, all this worked only on the intellectual soul, but apart from this, mysterious magical forces worked from the teacher to the pupil, and it was essentially the teacher's forces that were able to fill with brightness and living force the pictures that the teacher called up before the pupil's soul. This singular influence was lost only in the fourth post-Atlantean period, in the Greco-Latin culture. These forces simply change. When one of the old Egyptians confronted a young person, it was quite different from a teacher confronting a pupil today. Entirely different forces worked from age to youth. This will be recognized by anyone who seeks to understand what was still described in ancient Greece. Socrates actually had telepathic powers, which he allowed to work on his pupils while he instructed them. Such things can no longer work in our time, but they are hinted at in Plato's writings. What was entirely justified then would be rejected as a misdemeanor today. Changes take place, and today no one has a right to copy such methods. Certain phenomena today may remind us of this, but they must be considered reprehensible.

In ancient times, forces proceeded from the teacher to the pupil. Even in ancient Egypt there were still a great many people who could absorb forces in this manner. If a person who was especially sensitive stood before someone who had learned to strengthen his thoughts, a strong thought worked in such a way that it appeared as a picture in the soul of the sensitive person. In ancient Egypt such a telepathic influence was eminently possible, and thought-transference was present to a high degree. If a strong will-nature confronted someone who had not been strengthened, this was often the case. In Egypt one was able to guide and direct in a high degree through thoughts, in a way we today cannot imagine at all. Today such forces would be woefully misused. In ancient Egypt, however, initiation rested principally upon forces of this kind. This was likewise true in ancient India and Persia.

These forces also reinforced the method which, if an exoteric expression is desired, might be called medical. By this we do not mean the official medical practice of today. The Egyptian physician and initiate would have laughed to scorn what modern man calls medicine. The Egyptian physician knew one thing — that the conditions that prevailed in ancient Atlantis, and that could still be perceived in initiation, could in a certain sense be reawakened. The consciousness in which man lived in Atlantis was a dim clairvoyant consciousness. At that time (said the Egyptian initiate) the spiritual beings could exert a much greater influence on man. Today, when he sleeps, man knows nothing of the higher worlds, but the Atlantean, in his shadowy clairvoyant consciousness, then lived with the gods. If modern man can raise himself to an ideal, this is better for him than all moral teachings; similarly, the Egyptian initiate worked on his pupil through pictures of higher spiritual events. This had no mere external effect; it worked deeply within, and in such a way that a definite result ensued.

Let us think of a sick person, who is sick because certain bodily functions do not proceed in a normal way. What is the cause of this? A person with occult training knows that when the physical body functions irregularly, the cause does not lie outside the latter. On the contrary, all illnesses that do not come from outside the Physical body, originate in the fact that the etheric body is not in order. But the etheric body is ill because the astral body is out of order. If an Atlantean was threatened with a disorder in the distribution of fluids, this was quickly taken care of. In a sleeping condition he received from the spiritual worlds such force that through his sleep the disturbed functions were restored to order, and he was brought back to health. He rebuilt the healing forces through sleep.

The ancient Egyptian physicians did something similar. They reduced the patient's consciousness to a sort of hypnotic sleep, during which they could govern the soul-pictures that arose around the patient. They guided these pictures in such a way that they were able to work back on the physical body and make it healthy. This was the significance of the temple-sleep that was applied for internal ailments. The patient was given no medicine, but was allowed to sleep in the temple. His consciousness was damped down, and he was allowed to look into the spiritual worlds. Then his astral experiences were guided in such a way that they had the power to pour health into the body. This is no superstition; it is a secret that was known to the initiates. They introduced the spiritual into the patient's experiences. In this medical art, which we find so closely connected with the principle of initiation, the Atlantean conditions were artificially recreated during the healing. Since man did not work against himself through his day-consciousness, those forces could be active that were necessary for healing. This is how the temple-sleep worked.

In the Egyptian culture there still reigned that principle which, in India, reigned among those wise Rishis who guided affairs, who transmitted the planetary forces, who were the pupils of Manu, the great teacher of that first sublime culture. In the first post-Atlantean culture it was the Rishis who brought the sublime teaching that led men into lofty spiritual worlds, even into the world of higher Devachan. In the succeeding cultural periods, what was seen there was led down as far as the physical plane. Until the fourth post-Atlantean period there continued to descend into the physical plane that Being whom we learned to know as Brahman in the Indian period and whom we now designate as Christ. No longer does he transmit the spiritual; he himself became man in order to radiate over all men the mysterious power of the primal Word.

Thus the primal Word descended, in order that it might lead man upward again. Man must understand how that happened, if he is to make himself an instrument through which he can work into the future. We must learn to know what happened before our time, so that we ourselves can cooperate in an ever higher molding of what exists around us and for us.

We must create a spiritual world in the future. To do this, we must first understand the cosmos.


1 Throughout this and the following lectures much is said of the development of human and animal forms. For an attempt to systematize Dr. Steiner's views in this field and to bring them into connection with ordinary scientific knowledge, the reader is again referred to Poppelbaum, Man and Animal (Rudolf Steiner Press, London, 1960).

2 The Sanscrit word is Vach or Vac; see Maurice Bloomfield's Religion of India (New York, Putnam, 1908), pages 191 and 243. Dr. Steiner uses WHA in German, but the first letter should be pronounced like the English V, hence the WHA becomes VHA in English.

3 Selections from the Vedas are given in Sacred Books of the East (Oxford University Press, 1879-1910) but there seems to be no complete translation or index in English.

4 Kama is a Sanscrit word meaning desire, the nature of the astral body.

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