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Occult Science - An Outline

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Sketch of Rudolf Steiner lecturing at the East-West Conference in Vienna.

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Occult Science - An Outline

Chapter IV

Man and the Evolution of the World

(Part 7)

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In post-Atlantean time the life of man between birth and death has had its influence also on the body-free condition after death. The more man turned his interest to the physical world, the greater was the possibility for Ahriman to find his way into the soul during earthly life, and then maintain his power over it after death. In the peoples of ancient Indian the danger was as yet very slight. During their life on Earth they had felt the world of the physical senses as an illusion; thereby they withdrew themselves after death from the power of Ahriman. The danger was correspondingly greater for the ancient Persian people, who in the time between birth and death had turned their gaze with interest upon the physical world. They would all too readily have fallen a prey to the snares of Ahriman, had not Zarathustra, with his teaching of the God of Light , impressed it so earnestly upon them that behind the world of the physical senses is the world of the Spirits of Light. According to the measure of what their souls received of the whole world-of-ideas which these teachings were capable of arousing, in such measure did they withdraw themselves from the clutches of Ahriman during earthly life and therewith also for their life after death, in which they would have to prepare themselves for a new life on Earth. In Earthly life the power of Ahriman misleads man into regarding the sense-perceptible, physical existence as the one and only reality, thus shutting himself off entirely from any kind of outlook into a spiritual world. In the spiritual world, Ahriman brings man to complete isolation, leading him to center all his interest upon himself alone. Men who at death are in the power of Ahriman are born again as egoists.

In the spiritual science of our time, life between death and a new birth can be portrayed, such as it is when Ahriman's influence has to a certain extent been overcome. It has been so described by the present writer in other works, and in the first chapters of this book. And it is important that this should be done, so that man may be shown what he can indeed experience in yonder form of existence if he has gained the clarity of spiritual vision to behold what is actually present there. Whether a given individual experiences more or less, will depend upon how far he can overcome the Ahrimanic influence. Man is gradually approaching more nearly to what he can be in the spiritual world. How this, that he can be, is marred by other influences, must none the less be clearly envisaged when we are studying mankind's evolutionary course.

Among the Egyptian people Hermes saw to it that men should prepare themselves during earthly life for communion with the Spirit of Light. In that time, however, the interests of men between birth and death were already such that they were able only to a slight extent to look through the veil of the physical. Consequently, the spiritual vision of their souls was apt to remain clouded after death. Their perception of the World of Light was dim.

But the overclouding of the spiritual world after death came to a climax for the souls who passed into the body-free condition out of a body of the Graeco-Latin culture. In earthly life they had cultivated the physical life of the senses so that it blossomed forth under their hands. In so doing they had condemned themselves to a shadow-like existence after death. Hence the Greek felt life after death as an existence of the Shades. It is no empty phrase but a real feeling of the truth when the Hero of that time, devoted to the healthy life of the senses, exclaims: “Better to be a beggar upon Earth than a king in the realm of Shades.” All this was still more marked in those of the Asiatic peoples who had in their very reverence and worship concentrated on the sensual images alone instead of on the spiritual archetypes. Such was indeed the situation of a great part of mankind during the Graeco-Latin epoch. The fact is here brought home to us that man's mission in post-Atlantean time — the conquest of the physical world — could not but lead to his estrangement from the spiritual world — could not but lead to his estrangement from the spiritual world. Thus is greatness on the one hand necessarily bound up with decline upon the other.

Man's connection with the spiritual world was meantime nurtured in the Mysteries. There the Initiates were able to special states of soul to receive revelations from the spiritual world. In greater or less degree, they were successors to the Atlantean Guardians of the Oracles. To them was unveiled what had been veiled by the impulses of Lucifer and Ahriman. Lucifer concealed from man all that of the spiritual world which had, until the middle of the Atlantean time, been pouring into the human astral body without any participation on his part. If the life-body had not been partially separated from the physical, man could have experienced within him this region of the spiritual world as an inner revelation of the soul. Owing to the Luciferian intervention it was only in special states of soul that he could do so. A spiritual world then appeared to him in the garment of the astral. The Beings of this world revealed themselves in forms that possessed the members only of man's higher nature, and made manifest in these, in astrally visible pictures, their several spiritual virtues. Superhuman Beings revealed themselves to man in this way.

After the intervention of Ahriman another kind of Initiation was added. Ahriman had, since the middle of the Atlantean epoch, veiled all that of the spiritual world which would, but for his intervention, have appeared behind the perceptions of the physical senses. This was now unveiled to the Initiates, inasmuch as they practiced in their souls all the faculties man had acquired since that time, beyond the measure needed for bringing about the clear impressions of the physical and sense-perceptible world. It was revealed to them that spiritual Powers underlay the forces of Nature. They could tell of spiritual Beings behind outer Nature. It was given them to behold the divine creative Powers underlying the forces that are at work in the realms of Nature beneath man. All that had worked on from Saturn, Sun and Moon, forming man's physical body, life-body and astral body, as well as the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms of Nature — all this made up the content of one kind of Mystery-secrets. These were the secrets over which Ahriman held his hand. What had led, on the other hand, to the sentient soul, intellectual soul and spiritual soul, was made manifest in a second kind of Mystery-secrets. But there was something of which the Mysteries could only tell prophetically, namely that in the fullness of time a human being would appear with an astral body such that, in spite of Lucifer, the Light-world of the Spirit and the Sun would come to consciousness in him through the life-body, apart from any special states of soul. And the physical body of this human being would be such that for him the realms of the spiritual world which Ahriman is able to conceal until physical death occurs would become manifest. Physical death can alter nothing in this human beings' life, will have no power over it. In such a human being the I shines forth with so strong a radiance that even in his physical life the spiritual comes to full manifestation. Such a being is the bearer of the Spirit of Light, to whom the Initiates had two ways of ascent, in that they were led in special states of soul either to the spirit of the superhuman realm or to the very essence of the powers of external Nature. Inasmuch as they foretold that in course of time such a human being would appear, the Initiates in the Mysteries were prophets of the Christ.

One particular prophet in this sense arose within a nation who possessed by natural inheritance the qualities of the peoples of Western Asia, and by education the teachings also of the Egyptians. This was the nation of the Israelites, and the prophet to whom we refer was Moses. So abundantly had the influences of Initiation been received by Moses that in certain states of soul the Being revealed himself to him who had undertaken, from the Moon, a long while ago in the normal course of Earth's evolution, the function of shaping human consciousness. In thunder and lightning Moses recognized not mere physical phenomena but the manifestations of this Spirit. And at the same time the other kind of Mysteries had also worked upon his soul. These enabled him to behold in astral visions the Superhuman, and perceive how it becomes the human through the I. Thus He who was to come revealed Himself to Moses from two sides, as the highest form of the I.

With Christ there appeared in human form and figure what the high Being of the Sun had prepared as the great pattern for humanity on Earth. And with this Appearance, all the wisdom of the Mysteries had in a certain respect to assume a new form. Hitherto this wisdom had existed only to enable man to bring himself into a state of soul where he could behold the realm of the Sun Spirit beyond the confines of Earthly evolution. From now on, the wisdom-contents of the Mysteries had a different mission; they had to make man capable of recognizing Christ-become-Man, and then of learning to understand — from this center of all wisdom — both the natural and the spiritual worlds.

In the moment of His life when His astral body had within it all that which is capable of being veiled by the Luciferian intervention, Christ Jesus began to come forward as a Teacher of mankind. From this moment on, the possibility was implanted in human evolution of receiving the wisdom whereby the physical goal of Earth can gradually be attained. And in the moment when the Mystery of Golgotha was fulfilled, another faculty was instilled into mankind — the faculty whereby the influence of Ahriman can be turned to good. Out of his lie on Earth man can henceforth take with him through the Gate of Death that which will free him from isolation in the spiritual world. Not only for the physical evolution of mankind is the Event of Palestine the center and focal point; the same is true for the other worlds to which man belongs. When the Mystery of Golgotha had been accomplished, when the Death on the Cross had been suffered, then did the Christ appear in the world where the souls of men sojourn after death, and set limits to the power of Ahriman. And from this moment on, the region which the Greeks had called the “realm of Shades” was shot through by a spiritual lightning-flash announcing to its dwellers that Light was now returning to it again. What was achieved for the physical world through the mystery of Golgotha shed its light also into the spiritual world.

Hitherto the post-Atlantean evolution of mankind had meant for the physical world an ascent — but at the same time a decline for the spiritual world. Everything that flowed into the world of the senses came from sources that had existed in the spiritual world from the most ancient times. Since the Event of Christ, human beings who lift themselves to the Christ Mystery can carry with them into the spiritual world what has been gained here in the world of the senses. And from the spiritual world it flows back again, forasmuch as the human beings, when they reincarnate, bring with them what the Christ Impulse has become for them in the spiritual world between death and new birth.

All that was conferred upon human evolution through the coming of Christ, has been working in it like a seed. Only by degrees can the seed ripen. Up to the present, no more than the minutest part of the depths of the new wisdom has found its way into physical existence. We are but at the beginning of Christian evolution. In the successive epochs that have elapsed since His appearance, Christian evolution has been able to unveil only so much of its inner essence as men and nations were capable of receiving, capable also of assimilating to their power of understanding. The first form into which this recognition could be case, may be described as an all-embracing ideal of life. As such it showed itself in striking contrast to the forms of life which had evolved in contrast to the forms of life which had evolved in post-Atlanteans humanity. We have described the conditions under which the evolution of mankind had been going forward since the re-population of the Earth in the Lemurian epoch. We saw how the human beings have to be traced back in their soul nature to diverse beings who, coming down from other worlds, incarnated in the bodily descendants of the old Lemurians. The varieties of race are a consequence of this. And when the souls reincarnated, all kinds of different interests arose in them, as an outcome of their Karma. While all this was working itself out, there could not exist for man the ideal of a “universal humanity.” Mankind went forth from unity in the beginning, but Earth evolution hitherto had led to diversity. In the figure of Christ live also the forces of the sublime Being of the Sun, and in these forces every human I will find its source and its foundation. Even the Israelites still felt themselves as a nation, with each man merely as a member of the nation. As man came to understand — to begin with, purely in thought — that in Christ Jesus lives the ideal Man, unaffected by any and every tendency to separation, Christianity became the ideal of universal brotherhood. Beyond all separate interests and kinships there arose the feeling that the inmost Self of man has in every one the same origin. (Beside all earthly ancestors appear the common Father of all men. “I and the Father are One.”)

In the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries A.D. a new civilization-epoch was preparing in Europe. The actual beginning of it was in the fifteenth century, and we are still living in it now. Intended as it was by slow degrees to replace the fourth, the Graeco-Latin, this is the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. The peoples who after manifold wanderings and destinies came forward as the bearers of this epoch, were descended from those Atlanteans who had been least affected by what had taken place meanwhile in the four preceding epochs. They had not penetrated to the countries where the civilizations of these earlier epochs took root. They had instead transmitted the heritage of Atlantean civilizations in their own way. Among them were many who had preserved in large measure the heritage of the old dim clairvoyance — the intermediate state between waking and sleeping. Such men knew the spiritual world from their own experience and could tell their fellow-men of what goes on there. In this way there arose a world of stories about spiritual beings and events. The fairy-tales and sagas of the peoples came originally from these real experiences in the spirit; for in many human beings the dim clairvoyance lasted on into times by no means remote from the present. Others there were who, though they had lost the old clairvoyance, developed the new faculties in relation to the physical experiences of clairvoyance. And beside all this, the Atlantean Oracles also had their successors here; centers of the Mysteries were to be found on every hand. The Initiation-secret chiefly developed in these centers was of the kind that leads to the revelation of that spiritual world which Ahriman keeps hidden. The spiritual Powers underlying the elemental forces of Nature were revealed. In the mythologies of the European peoples can be found traces of what the Initiates in the Mysteries were able to make known to men. Yet these mythologies also contain the other secret, though in a less perfect form than either the Southern or Eastern Mysteries. The superhuman Beings were known in Europe too; but they were seen in perpetual warfare with the associates of Lucifer. The God of Light was indeed proclaimed, but not in such form and figure as would enable one to say with assurance that He would conquer Lucifer. Nevertheless these Mysteries too were irradiated by the figure of the Christ that was to come. Of Him it was prophesied that His Kingdom would replace the kingdom of that other God of Light. (The sagas that tell of the Twilight of the Gods, and kindred legends, originated in this knowledge of the European Mysteries.)

Influences such as these tended to produce in the man of the fifth civilization-epoch a duality of soul — a duality that has lasted on to this day and shows itself in many ways. From olden time these souls had preserved the leaning towards the spirit, yet not so strongly as to be able to maintain the inner link between the spiritual world and the world of the senses. They cherished the connection only in the devotion of the heart, in the life of feeling — not as an immediate beholding of the Supersensible. Meanwhile man's vision was increasingly directed to the world of the senses and to its conquest. And the forces of intellect awakened towards the close of the Atlantean epoch — all those forces in man, whose instrument is in the physical brain — were developed with this end in view: the understanding and the mastery of the world of the senses. Two worlds have been evolving, as it were, in the human breast.1 The one is devoted to physical and sense-perceptible existence, the other is receptive to the revelations of the Spirit and though lacking direct vision, is ready to permeate the spiritual with feeling and emotion.

The inner tendencies to this duality of soul were already present when the Christ teaching found its way into the countries of Europe. The people received this new message of the Spirit into their hearts and drank it in with deep feeling, but could not build the bridge from it to what the intellect, directed to the senses, was discovering in outer physical existence. What we know today ad the antagonism between external science and spiritual knowledge is nothing but a consequence of this fact. The Christian mysticism of Eckhart, Tauler and others is an outcome of the permeation of heart and feeling with Christianity. The science that is directed solely to the outer world of sense and to the results that follow its application in life, is a consequence of the other tendency that lives in the soul. The achievements of our time in outer material civilization are unquestionably due to this division of tendency. Through being turned in a one-sided way towards the physical, those faculties of man whose instrument is in the brain could be so far enhanced as to make possible the science and technical civilization of today. And it was among the European peoples alone that this material civilization could originate. For they, among all the descendants of the Atlanteans, did not develop into actual faculties the inclination towards the physical world of sense until the inclination had reached maturity. Letting it slumber until then undisturbed, they lived on their inheritance of clairvoyance from Atlantis and on the communications of their Initiates. While outwardly their spiritual culture was devoted entirely to these influences, their aptitude for the material conquest of the world was all the time slowly ripening.

And now, at the present time, the dawn of the sixth post-Atlantean epoch is already making itself felt. For whatever is to emerge at a certain time in human evolution, will always be slowly maturing in the preceding time. One thing can even now begin to evolve in its initial stages, namely the finding of the thread which will unite the two spheres that claim man's devotion — the material civilization, and life in the spiritual world. To this end it is necessary on the one hand that the results of spiritual seership be received and understood, and on the other, that in man's observations and experiences of the sense-world the revelations of the Spirit be recognized. The sixth civilization-epoch will bring to full development the harmony between the two.

Herewith the studies in this book have reached a point where we may turn from the perspectives of the past to those of the future. But it will be better to precede the latter by a study of the Knowledge of Higher Worlds and of Initiation. Then, after this study and in connection with it, we shall be able to indicate in brief the outlook for the future, in so far as that can be done within the framework of this book.



  1. An allusion to the line in Goethe's Faust: “Two souls, alas, reside within my breast.”


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