These are edited extracts from Steiner’s lecture given in December 1908. He had an interesting way of looking at the passing of times.
”Before entering into the bodies of our present civilisation, all your souls lived in bodies of the old Indian, Persian, Egypto-Chaldean, Greco-Roman epochs, and so forth — leaving aside still earlier times. When, through birth, these souls entered into existence on the physical plane they saw and experienced what can be experienced on this plane. These souls beheld the creations of the old Indian culture, the great pyramids built by the Egyptians, the Greek temples, and so on.
…We do well to think, to begin with, of the old Atlantean epoch. In this Atlantean epoch, life was very different from what it came to be later on. When in the night the soul of the old Atlantean had gone out of the physical and etheric bodies and was living in the spiritual worlds, it was not enveloped in darkness as is the case today. During the night-consciousness the soul was in divine-spiritual worlds — divine-Spiritual Beings were its companions. The alternation between day and night was quite different in the old Atlantean epoch. When the Atlantean awoke in the morning, that is to say, when his astral body and Ego came down again into the physical and etheric bodies, then, in the earlier periods of Atlantis, man did not see external objects with sharp outlines as he does today, but the objects were hazy — as when we go out at night in a thick November fog the lamps seem to be surrounded by an aura instead of emitting clear light. To the early Atlantean, every object on the physical plane was indistinct and indefinite, and only gradually assumed sharp contours in the day-consciousness. When, at night, he rose in his astral body and Ego out of the physical and etheric bodies, he was not in a realm of unconsciousness, but he had definite, even if hazy, experiences of the divine-spiritual worlds. And the figures preserved as the Gods, the names and ideas of Gods such as Wotan, Baldur, Zeus, Apollo, Thor — are not figures of fantasy but Beings who were actually experienced by man in the times of old Atlantis.
Then came the great Flood. The less advanced Atlanteans went from West to East, settling in the lands of Europe. The most advanced of all went towards Asia and founded in Central Asia the great colony of the Manu. The Manu was the lofty Being who was the leader of this handful of the most advanced Atlanteans who went with him to Central Asia and from there called the different cultures to life. It must here be borne in mind that in Asia and Africa, as the result of earlier and later migrations, and through other peoples who were descendants of still earlier epochs, the countries were inhabited, and these pupils of the Manu went out in various directions in order to spread new streams of culture. The first mission went from Central Asia to India. The Manu sent his first pupils to India; he himself, for certain reasons, withdrew into the background. The first pupils of the Manu became the teachers and leaders of the first Post-Atlantean culture — that of the ancient Indian peoples. The first form of Post-Atlantean culture therefore arose under the influence of these Teachers — the holy Rishis.
We already know the basic character of this culture. The pupils of the Rishis had a kind of memory of ancient times, of how in Atlantis they themselves had been companions of the Gods. Their real homeland then had been in the spiritual world. Now they were in the physical world. And so in ancient India men had an intense longing for their primeval, spiritual homeland. They felt that they were strangers in the physical world. For them this world was illusion, maya, merely an external expression of the Spiritual. Hence their longing for the Spiritual and their view that the physical world was illusion, deception, maya.
A feeling of reverent awe arises in those who can envisage in some small measure what took place spiritually between the Rishis and their pupils in Northern India at this starting-point of Post-Atlantean humanity. Without Spiritual Science it is hardly possible for anyone today, when humanity has descended so deeply into the physical plane and has adopted such a materialistic way of thinking, to form a true idea of the kind of knowledge that was brought by the Manu from the West to the East as a heritage of the Atlantean age.
Revelations from the cosmos itself were spoken forth by the seven holy Rishis. The later Vedic literature is no more than a faint echo of the wisdom that streamed to humanity out of the cosmos itself through the holy Rishis. This was the first Post-Atlantean manifestation and revelation of the Divine.
World-history continued its course and the epoch of ancient Persian culture approached. Man had progressed, inasmuch as he now began to love the physical plane; he wanted to work on the physical plane and felt that his spiritual forces should be applied to the cultivation of the earth. The culture inspired by the Manu had grown dearer to the ancient Persians. Zarathustra now became their great Teacher. The teachings that had flowed from the inspirations of the Rishis were now, in the second Post-Atlantean epoch, transmitted through Zarathustra. The task of this great Teacher was to create a counterweight to existing conditions. Man must come to love the physical plane, the physical earth, to become more conscious of it, to discover the means of promoting culture, to live more and more intensely on the physical plane, not merely regarding it as illusion, maya, but as a revelation of the Divine Powers.
Zarathustra had two pupils whom he did not instruct for the purpose of sending them out to teach the Persians. They were pupils such as are always to be found with the great Initiates and who prepare in quietude for their missions, refraining, to begin with, from going out into the world to teach.
These two pupils, in later incarnations, were : Hermes, the great Teacher of the Egyptians, and Moses.
The wisdom outpoured in the second Post-Atlantean epoch had necessarily to take the form it did, because humanity had advanced a stage and men had a greater love for the physical plane. But because this was so, experiences between death and rebirth were darkened. Men could still see in the spiritual world, but no longer with the clarity of vision that prevailed in the old Indian epoch.
Then came the Egyptian epoch. Men now had an even greater love for the physical plane and had become still more skilful there. They no longer regarded it as maya or illusion. They looked up to the stars and saw in their constellations and movements a script of the Gods. They saw revelations of divine-spiritual Beings in physical manifestation. And they worked upon the earth with knowledge acquired through their human forces. — We need think only of how the Egyptians cultivated the soil. — Man had now brought his spiritual forces from the spiritual into the physical, and the link between these spiritual forces and the physical world became steadily firmer. The first great Teacher of the Egyptians was Hermes, in his new incarnation.
… As the experiences accessible after death had now become still less intense, even when men were united with Osiris they were only able to experience faintly and weakly that which constituted their highest bliss — the union with Osiris. But through the belief implanted in them by the priests, they knew and firmly hoped that they would indeed be united with Osiris, and in solemn moments after death they felt themselves as members of the Osiris-soul. This consciousness of belonging to Osiris gradually faded away. While culture was progressing to higher stages on the physical plane, a decline was taking place in the spiritual world between death and rebirth.
Then came the Greco-Roman age, the fourth Post-Atlantean culture-epoch. The marriage between the human spirit and external matter became closer, more intimate still, and the splendour of Greek culture stems from this marriage between the spiritual capacities of men and external physical life.
This was the same epoch when, in Rome, man’s consciousness of personality came to its strongest expression in the physical world. The Roman felt himself first and foremost as a personal citizen of the earth, firmly rooted on, this earth. To the same degree to which man felt himself standing firmly on the earth, he felt weak between death and rebirth, feeble and ineffectual in that other world. Life between death and rebirth had faded in intensity even more than before. Above all, what was experienced in its splendour in the physical world could not be carried into yonder world.
Life had surrendered itself to the most perfect and complete marriage between the human spirit and external form, and at the cost of this marriage, life between death and rebirth had fallen into decline.
In this epoch fell the Event for which preparation had been made by that other Initiate who had been Zarathustra’s pupil — namely, Moses. Moses was chosen to proclaim — to begin with in the only form in which this was possible — a God Who could also reveal Himself in the physical world, Who would be actually present in the physical world.
The Jahve-Being was proclaimed through this second pupil of Zarathustra, and thereby preparation was made for the coming of Christ, for the Mystery of Golgotha.
You know, to some extent, what the Mystery of Golgotha signifies for the physical plane: it is actual proof that life in the spirit is victorious over death. This victory was achieved through the fact that the One Who had been proclaimed by the prophets, the One Who was there at the creation of all the kingdoms of Nature, walked upon the earth. This Archetypal Being of the world, Who is the Spirit of the Sun, is rightly given a Greek name, for He could, and indeed had to, appear in the Greek age, when mankind needed the impulse for re-ascent. And in eternal memory of this, the Being Who incarnated in the sheaths of Jesus of Nazareth was called by the name of CHRIST.
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