Egyptian Myths and Mysteries
The Ancient Egyptian Doctrine of Evolution, Modern Coarsening
Schmidt Number: S-1833
On-line since: 20th November, 2000
Rudolf Steiner Lecture 11 - Egyptian Esoteric Knowledge / Initiations + The Christ Impulse
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The Ancient Egyptian Doctrine of Evolution.
September 13, 1908
AT various points in this cycle of lectures we have tried to present the facts of post-Atlantean evolution, and we have indicated that in our time there is a kind of repetition or resurrection of the experiences that mankind went through during the Egypto-Chaldean culture. It has been stated that the Indian period will repeat itself in the seventh period, the Persian in the sixth, the Egyptian in our time, and that the fourth, the Greco-Latin, stands by itself, so to say. Now, connecting the Egyptian time and our own, we shall try to indicate how a certain recrudescence of outer and inner experiences is to be seen when we bring our time into connection with the Egyptian.
We have seen that in the spiritual worlds there exist mysterious forces, to which there correspond certain other forces in the physical world which effectuate the appearance of these repetitions. Thus do these resurrections of outer and inner experiences originate. In the middle between these stands the Greco-Latin period, during which the Christ appeared upon the earth and the Mystery of Golgotha took place. It was also pointed out that not only the external evolutionary relationships on the physical plane had changed, but that also the relationships in the spiritual world had become different. I have described how the soul was in the Egyptian time, when it looked upon the gigantic pyramids, how different it was when it reincarnated in the Greco-Latin period, and how different it is in our time. We have seen that not only does this occur, but that also for the period between death and a new birth, in kamaloka and Devachan, there takes place a sort of progress or transformation, so that the soul does not experience the same thing when it enters into kamaloka or Devachan from an Egyptian, a Greek, or a modern body. Externally the world of the physical plane alters, but progress also occurs in the spiritual world so that the soul always experiences something different there.
It is primarily from the standpoint of this “beyond” that today we shall consider the mighty event of the Christ’s appearance on our earth. We shall approach in a much deeper way the question, What significance has the advent of the Christ on our earth? What significance has the Christ’s appearance for the dead souls, for the life on the other side, the spiritual side, of existence? For this purpose we must explore many different things that affected souls in the Egyptian period both within and beyond the physical plane.
From our studies of the earlier great epochs of earth evolution we can derive that the Egypto-Chaldean period furnishes a mirroring in knowledge and experience of what happened in the Lemurian time, of what happened on the earth during and after the departure of the moon. What men experienced then, they experienced again as a memory in what the Egyptian initiates gave them. The Egyptian initiate himself experienced during his initiation events that man otherwise experiences only when he passes through the portal of death. To be sure, the Egyptian initiate experienced this in a different way than does the ordinary person who dies. He experienced it differently and in a much fuller way. It will be well for us now, as a basis for these considerations, to describe the essence of Egyptian initiation in a few words. This initiation is essentially different from that of the time after Christ, for through his advent initiation was fundamentally altered.
We have seen that men had to descend further and further into the material world, gaining increasing interest in the physical world. In the same proportion, however, the experience in the spiritual world between death and a new birth became more pale and shadowy. The livelier man’s consciousness became in the physical world, the more he enjoyed being there, the, more he discovered the laws of the physical plane, the dimmer his consciousness in the spiritual world became. The consciousness in the spiritual world reached its low point in the Greco-Latin time. But even before man had fully descended into these depths of matter, it had become impossible for him, within the physical body, to experience completely what one must experience if, during the period between birth and death, one seeks to gain insight into the spiritual world.
The initiation event may be briefly described, and it is the same for initiations before and after Christ, although the conclusion is different. Initiation is nothing other than man’s gaining the capacity of developing organs of vision in his higher bodies. Today man sees darkness when it is night; he is in the dark. This is because man has no organs of perception in his astral body. As the eyes and ears have formed themselves into physical organs of perception, so super-sensible organs must be developed out of the higher members and assimilated into them. This occurs through certain exercises of concentration and meditation being given to the pupil. These exercises are performed after the pupil has first surveyed the knowledge of the spiritual worlds that can be given by the initiates. It has always been the case that the pupils had to learn what we today would call elementary theosophy. Much more strongly than today it was required that the pupils become acquainted with the truth in a regular progression. When there was enough theoretical preparation, and when the pupils were sufficiently mature, the exercises were given to them. These exercises have a definite purpose.
When in his daily life man lets the impressions of the senses work upon him, these impressions bring certain fruits for the ordinary life on the physical plane. These impressions pass over into the astral body, which in turn transmits them to the ego. But these impressions are such that man cannot hold them fast when, with his astral body and ego, he slips out of his physical and etheric bodies during the night. What man receives in this way from the physical plane does not penetrate into him so strongly that he can retain it as a permanent impression. But when a person performs the exercises of meditation and concentration, these are so adjusted, in accordance with thousands of years of experience, that the astral body no longer loses the impressions, but retains them when it slips out of the physical body in the night. Through the exercises the astral body receives plastic impressions, which shape and member it as the physical organs have been membered. Thus the astral body is worked on for certain periods through these exercises. Thereby the super-sensible organs of vision are imprinted on the astral body. It would be a long time, however, before man could use his organs of vision if they were imprinted only into his astral body. Something further must take place so that the astral body, when it returns into the etheric body, may stamp upon that body, like the impression of a seal, what has taken shape within itself. Only when what has taken shape in the astral body imprints itself upon the etheric body, only then does the illumination take place that makes it possible for the person to see the spiritual world as he sees the physical world today.
Here we can begin to grasp what kind of an impulse we have received through the appearance of Christ on earth. In the old initiations the astral body had the strength to work upon the etheric body only when the etheric body had been lifted out of the physical body. This was because at that time the etheric body, had it remained connected with the physical body, would have exerted so much resistance that it could not have received the imprint of what the astral body had formed within itself. In the ancient initiations, therefore, for a period of three and a half days, the candidate was put into a deathlike condition in which the physical body was deserted by the etheric body while this latter, freed from the physical, united itself with the astral body. The astral then stamped into the etheric all that had been built into the astral through the exercises. When the Hierophant again awakened the candidate, the latter was illuminated. He knew what took place in the spiritual world, for he had made a remarkable journey during the three and a half days. He had been led through the fields of the spiritual world. He had seen what went on there, and he knew from direct experience what another person could learn only through revelation. A person thus initiated could, out of his own experiences, give knowledge of the beings who were in the spiritual world, beyond the physical plane.
When man had not yet descended so far into the physical plane, he could learn what was experienced in the spiritual world. There the candidate became acquainted with the true form of Osiris, Isis, and Horus. The initiate saw the contents of the myths during this journey into the spiritual world. He could then transmit this to other persons when he had dressed it as myth or saga. He saw all this; he saw in what a special way the Osiris influences had shaped themselves when the moon had withdrawn from the earth; he saw how Horus issued from Isis and Osiris; he saw the four human types, the bull, the lion, the eagle, and the true man. He also saw what happened to man between death and a new birth. The Sphinx appeared to him as a real form; he experienced it. He could say, “Oh, I have seen the Sphinx, man as he was when he still had an animal-like form, and his etheric body — similar to the human — only projected out of this animal-like form!” The Sphinx was a real experience for the initiate. He even heard the question of the Sphinx with its enigmatic content. He saw how the human body prepared itself out of the animality, at a time when the head was only an etheric form, the ether-head of the Sphinx. This was truth for the initiate, as were also the older forms of the gods, who had, so to speak, taken a different course of evolution.
It has recently been said that certain beings pursued a different path in evolution. The individuality of Wotan, for example, takes such a different course. Up to a certain stage it travels together with man, but then it does not descend so deeply. Man descends further into matter and only later will he again join these beings, who are completing their evolution in the earth-time. We have seen that a time came when Wotan no longer walked on our earth. Such beings, however, were not like Osiris and Isis. These latter were beings who had branched off still earlier, who completed their evolution on a higher level in full invisibility. These forms went through their special experiences.
Let us look back into the Lemurian period. At that time the etheric was not yet manlike in its form. In his etheric body man was still similar to the animals, and the gods who descended then had to accommodate themselves to the same animal forms in which man lived on the earth. If a being wishes to enter into a certain plane, it must fulfill the conditions of that plane. This is also the case here. The divine beings who were connected with the earth during the departure of the sun and moon, who were on the earth, had to take on a form that was possible at that time, an animal-like form. And since the Egyptian religious views present in a certain way a recapitulation of the Lemurian time, the Egyptian initiate looked upon the gods, Osiris and Isis for example, as having animal-like forms. He still saw the higher gods with animal heads. Therefore from an occult view it was quite correct when such forms were represented with the head of a hawk or a ram in accordance with what the initiates knew. The gods were portrayed in the forms they had when they walked the earth. The outer images could only resemble what the initiate saw, but they were faithfully reproduced. The various divine beings changed a good deal. The forms in Lemuria were different from those in Atlantis. In those times beings went through much more rapid changes than they do now. In addition, these forms were still filled with spirit. When one looks back on them one sees them in their three bodies, but illuminated and rayed through by the astral and etheric light. This was accurately portrayed in the pictures. Modern men may laugh over the forms that were represented, but they do not know how realistic they were.*
There was one being who performed special services in that period of human evolution when, through the cosmic-tellurian powers, the combining intellect was being organized in man. At that time the physical brain was prepared in such a way that man was able to develop intelligence later. This capacity was implanted in man and reckoned as one of the deeds of the god Manu. What was worked into man as intelligence was connected with this. If today we examine a person in whom a well-formed ability for judging and combining is present, if we examine him clairvoyantly, we find a strong expression and reflection of this fact in a green glittering and shining of the astral body, of the astral aura. The capacity for combining shows itself in green colors in the aura, especially in those who have keen mathematical understanding. The ancient Egyptian initiates saw the god who implanted the faculty of intelligence in men, and in portraying him theypainted him green† because they saw the green shimmering of his luminous astral and etheric form. Today this is still the color that glitters in the aura when the person’s intelligence is stirred. Much time could be devoted to these connections if people really wanted to study this wonderful realism of the forms of the Egyptian gods. These representations of the divine forms, through the fact that they were so realistic and not at all arbitrary, had magical power; and one who could see more deeply would perceive that many mysteries were present in the coloring of these ancient forms. Here one can, see deep into the workings of human evolution.
We have seen how what the initiates saw was retained in the Sphinx. Of course, this was not retained in a photographic way, yet it was realistic. But the forms were always changing. The form of the Sphinx gives an image of how man once looked. His present form has been shaped by man himself. We know that through evolution on the earth various animal forms have been split off. What is an animal form? It is a form that has remained static, while man proceeded further in evolution. In these forms we see arrested stages of evolution, to the extent that these forms have become physical. In the spiritual something else has taken place. What man is spiritually has nothing to do with his physical forebears. Only the physical is connected with that. Man does not descend from the animals; the animal forms have remained unchanged. In man, however, the shape has been transformed to a certain level. The animals are previous physical human forms fallen into decadence. The situation is different in another realm of evolution. Not only have the physical forms of the animals remained unchanged, but also the rudiments of the etheric and astral forms as well. Just as the lion, at the time when it split off, looked quite different than now, so certain soul-spiritual forms degenerate in the course of time when they remain at a particular stage. It is a law of the spiritual world that anything that stands still on the same level of spirit or soul becomes more and more decadent.
If, for example, the Sphinx stands still, it degenerates and receives a form that is like a caricature of what it originally was. The Sphinx has been preserved in this way on the astral plane up to our own time. To those who, as initiates or in some other lawful manner, penetrate into the higher worlds, these decadent forms have little interest, being only decayed vagabonds in the spiritual world. But when, in exceptional cases, persons equipped with inferior clairvoyant gifts are led into the astral world, such decadent forms approach them. The true Sphinx approached Oedipus, but it has not died even yet. Up to today it has not died; it only approaches man in another form. When persons who have remained standing at a certain stage of evolution, among the peasants perhaps, rest in the fields at midday in the hot glow of the summer sun, and fall asleep, they may have what could be called a latent sun-stroke. Through such an impact on the physical body, the astral and etheric are loosened from a part of the physical. Then such persons are translated to the astral plane and they see this last decadent offspring of the Sphinx. This apparition is called by different names. In certain regions it is called the midday woman. Many people in the country will recount that they have met the midday woman. She appears in many regions under many different names. She is a descendent of the ancient Sphinx, and as the ancient Sphinx put questions to the men who experienced her, so this midday woman also asks questions. You may hear it told how the midday woman asks endless questions of the men whom she meets. This torment by questions is a relic of the old Sphinx. The midday woman has grown out of the ancient Sphinx. This indicates how evolution proceeds beyond the physical world, how whole tribes of spiritual beings decline until at last they are mere shadows of what they were originally. Here we see another characteristic of the way in which things are connected in evolution. We have mentioned this so it may be seen how manifold evolution is.
Now, to understand everything correctly, we must give some thought to the fact that in the course of time man has organized the fourth member, the ego, into what he brought with him at the beginning of earth evolution as his physical, etheric, and astral bodies. I have shown how this ego permeates the astral body, claims it for itself so that it dominates it as higher spiritual beings formerly dominated it. It is a deed of the higher beings that this ego was implanted in the astral body. If evolution had proceeded further in accordance with the views of certain higher beings, it would have been a different evolution from what has actually taken place. However, certain beings remained unchanged. They had not become capable of collaborating in implanting the ego in the astral body.
When man appeared on the earth he consisted of the physical, etheric, and astral bodies, all of which he shaped further. Now he was endowed with egohood by certain sublime beings who had their dwellings mainly on the sun and moon. These beings collaborated, so to speak, on the ego. But there were certain other beings who, during the Saturn, Sun, and Moon evolutions, had not raised themselves so far that they could take part in this organizing of the ego. They could do only what they had learned on the moon. They had to limit themselves to working on the astral body, hence there was implanted in man’s astral body something that did not belong to his noblest qualities, did not come from the higher sublime beings but from the retarded intruders who had remained behind. Had these beings done this on the moon, it would have been something lofty. But through the fact that they did this on earth as stragglers, they worked into the astral body something that placed it lower than it would have been otherwise. It became endowed with instincts and passions, and with egoism. We must heed this fact that man was influenced from two sides, that he received impacts in his astral body through which the latter became debased.
Such a thing does not influence the astral body alone. Man is so constituted that the astral body transmits such an influence to the etheric body, and this again to the physical body. The astral body is active in all parts, hence these spirits work on the etheric and physical through the astral body. Had these spiritual beings not been able to exercise such an influence, something would not have appeared in man at that time. This is an enhanced selfhood in man, an increased ego-feeling. What this caused in the etheric body was all that appeared as darkening of judgment, as the possibility of error. All that the astral body accomplished in the physical body is the basis of what appeared as illness. That is the spiritual cause of illnesses in man; among animals, becoming ill is something different. We see how illness has been transplanted into man; illness is connected with the causes we have indicated here. And since the physical and etheric bodies are connected with the facts of heredity, so the principle of illness proceeds through the hereditary line. Let us again emphasize, however, that we must distinguish between inner illnesses and external injuries. If a man is run over, that is something entirely different. Also, certain internal illnesses can be connected with external causes; for example, if one eats something that upsets the stomach, that is something external.
Before the above-mentioned beings gained influence over man in the course of evolution, he was so organized that he reacted far more powerfully than today toward evil pressing upon him from without. But in proportion to the influence that they gained over him, he lost the instincts he had possessed for what was not right. Formerly, man’s whole organization was such that he had fine instincts as to what was not right for him. Substances that are taken into the stomach today and there cause illness were then rejected simply through instinct. Gazing backward in time we come to periods when man stood in a delicate relationship to the forces of his environment, reacting sensitively to the forces in his surroundings. In this respect man grew ever less sure, less capable of rejecting what was not serviceable to him.
This is connected with something else. As man grew more inward, something occurred in the world outside; what we know as the three other kingdoms of nature arose. The three kingdoms around us arose gradually. At first, only man was present. Then the animal kingdom was added; then the plant kingdom, and finally the mineral kingdom. If we were to look back on the primeval earth when the sun was still united with it, we would find a human being in and out of whom all the substances of the physical world moved. Man still lived in the womb of the gods: everything still agreed with him, so to say. Then he had to leave behind what was precipitated as the animal kingdom. Had he carried this with him, he would not have been able to develop further. He had to expel the animal kingdom, and later the plant kingdom. What exists outside in the animals and plants is nothing other than temperaments, passions, certain traits of men that they had to expel. And when man formed his bones he expelled the mineral world. After a certain length of time, man could look upon his environment and say, “Formerly I could endure you; formerly you went in and out of me as air now does. When I still lived in the water-earth I could endure you; I digested you. Now you are outside, and I can no longer endure you, no longer digest you.” As man became enclosed in his skin, as he became a self-contained separate being, he saw, in the same proportion, these kingdoms around him.
If these beings had not worked on man, something else would not have happened. As long as man is healthy, he will stand in a normal relationship to the outer world. When he has disturbed forces within him, these must be driven back by the powers that man has. If his powers are too weak for this, if he cannot provide the normal resistance, then something must be infused into him from outside. Something must be implanted into him to furnish the resistance that he still had at the time the forces from outside breathed in and out of him. It may be necessary, when a person is ill, that the forces of a metal, for example, should be injected into him. It is because man was in connection with metals earlier, in connection with plant juices and similar things, that we are justified in applying them as medicaments.
When the Egyptian initiates could look back over the whole course of world evolution, they knew precisely how the individual organs of the human body corresponded with the substances of the external world. They knew which plants and which metals had to be administered to the patient. A great treasure of occult wisdom in the domain of medicine will be raised to light one day, wisdom that mankind formerly possessed. Not only are many things bungled in medicine today, but often special healing powers are ascribed to this or that in a one-sided way. The true occultist will never be one-sided. How often must we reject efforts that would make a compromise with the science of the spirit! The latter cannot support a one-sided method: on the contrary, it seeks to establish diversified research. It is one-sided to say, “Away with all poisons!” People who say this do not know the true healing forces. Naturally many stupid things are done today, for the professionals in most cases cannot grasp all the relationships, and a certain tyranny in medical science excludes what can proceed from occultism. If there were no campaigns against the oldest methods of medicine, against the injection of metals, there could be a reform. With modern experimentation nothing is discovered that can hold its own against the traditional remedies, which only a lay ignorance can oppose as strongly as is often done. The ancient Egyptian initiates excelled in these secrets. They had an insight into the real relationships of evolution, and if today certain physicians speak in a condescending way of Egyptian medicine, you can soon tell from their tone that they know nothing about it. Here we touch upon something in the Egyptian initiation that should be known.
It was such things as these that went over into the folk-consciousness. Now we must reflect that the same souls that are in our bodies today were also incarnated in that ancient time. Let us remember that these souls saw all the images that the initiates made of what they knew through vision in the spiritual world. We know that what a soul takes into itself from incarnation to incarnation, ever and again bears fruits in one or another way. Even though man cannot remember it, it is still true that what lives in the soul today lives in it because it was deposited there earlier. The soul is formed both within and beyond the physical life. When it was between birth and death, when it was between death and a new birth, Egyptian ideas were influential and modern ideas have proceeded from these. Today certain definite ideas are developing out of the Egyptian ideas. What is called Darwinism today did not arise because of external reasons. We are the same souls who, in Egypt, received the pictures of the animal forms of man’s forebears. The old views have awakened again, but man has descended more deeply into the material world. He remembers that it was said to him, “Our ancestors were animal forms.” But he does not remember that these forms were gods. This is the psychological basis for the emergence of Darwinism. The figures of the gods appear in materialistic form. Thus there is an intimate spiritual connection between the old and the new, between the third and the fifth cultural periods.
Now it is not the whole destiny of our time that man should see in material form what previously he saw in the spiritual. That would have been our fate had not the Christ-impulse entered into human evolution in the meantime. This was not significant only for life on the physical plane. Today we shall see what significance the events of Palestine had for the other side of life, where the souls of the Egyptians sojourned after death. Here on the physical plane occurred the things we have already discussed. But the three years of Christ’s activity, like the event of Golgotha and the baptism in Jordan, were of significance equally to the souls incarnated on earth and to those who were in the condition between death and a new birth.
Let us recall the fact that the external physical expression for the ego is the blood. What works physically in the forces of the blood is the physical expression of the ego. In the course of evolution too strong a measure of egoism made its appearance, which means that the egohood impressed the blood too powerfully. This “surplus” of egoism had to be expelled again if spirituality was to be restored to mankind. On Golgotha the impulse was given for this expulsion of egoism. In the same moment when the Redeemer’s blood flowed on Golgotha, still other events were taking place in the spiritual world. The Redeemer’s blood flowed out in the material world, while the superfluity of egoism passed over into the spiritual world. The superfluous egoism had to vanish from the world, and the impulse for this was given on Golgotha. In place of egoism, universal human love entered into mankind.
But what was this event of Golgotha? What was this event of a three-and-a-half-day death on the physical plane? It was the enactment on the physical plane of what also had been experienced in spiritual development by one who was initiated. He was dead for three and a half days. One who had gone through this symbolical death could say to mankind, “There is a conquering of death. There is something eternal in the world.” Death was conquered by the initiates, and they felt themselves to be victors over death. The event of Golgotha signifies that what had often taken place in the mysteries of ancient times became, for once, an historical event: the conquering of death through the spirit. This was taken out into the world on the physical plane. If we let this work upon our souls, we sense what happened with the Mystery of Golgotha as something new, but also as an image of the ancient initiation. We feel this unique event entering into the world historically.
What was the consequence of this? What could the initiate do? Out of his own experiences he could say to his fellow men, “I know there is a spiritual world, that man can live in the spiritual world. I have lived in it for three and a half days and bring you tidings thence. I bring you the gifts of the spiritual world.” These gifts were useful and healing to mankind.
On the other hand, one who had lived as an initiate in the physical world could bring nothing similar to the dead. To the dead he could only say, “All that happens on the physical plane is so ordered that man ought to be redeemed.” Thus it was when, in the spiritual world, the ancient initiates held converse with the dead, to whom they could give only the teaching that “Life is suffering; only redemption will bring healing.” Thus did Buddha still teach. Thus did the initiate teach both the living and the dead. But through the event of Golgotha death was conquered in the physical world, and this signified something for those who had died and were in the spiritual world. Those who take up Christ in their innermost parts illuminate again their shadowy life in Devachan. The more man experiences here of the Christ, the brighter it becomes over there in the spiritual world. After the blood had flowed from the wounds of the Redeemer — this is something that belongs to the mysteries of Christianity — the Christ-spirit descended to the dead. This is one of the deepest mysteries of mankind. Christ descended to the dead and said to them, “Over there something has happened, of which it cannot be said that what happens there is not so important as what happens here. What man brings with him into the spiritual realm as a consequence of this event is a gift that can be brought out of the physical world into the spiritual world.” These are the tidings that Christ brought to the dead in the three and a half days. He descended to the dead in order to redeem them.
In the ancient initiation one could say that the fruits of the spiritual were reaped in the physical. Now an event occurred in the physical world that produced its fruits and did its work in the spiritual world. One can say that it was not in vain that man completed his descent to the physical plane. He completed it so that here in the physical world fruits could be produced for the spiritual world.
That these fruits could be produced came to pass through Christ, who was present among the living and among the dead, who gave an impulse so intense and so powerful that it shook the whole world.