The Apocalyptic Seals were designed by Miss Clara Rettich according to Rudolf Steiner's sketches for the Congress of the "Federation of European Sections of the Theosophical Society", which took place in Munich from 18 - 21 May 1907. The planetary columns between the seal images were created by Karl Stahl.
The meaning of the seals
According to occult tradition, the seven apocalyptic seals are not directly those seals which are broken at the opening of the book with the seven seals mentioned in Rev 5:1–14. These events up to the appearance of the seven angels with the seven trumpets are depicted only in the third apocalyptic seal. Rather, the apocalyptic seals span a much wider range and represent the imaginatively seen astral archetypes of the entire evolution of humanity on earth in symbolic form.
The capitals of the seven planetary columns, on the other hand, represent the level of the spiritual primordial tones or elementary forces, which can only be grasped through inspiration, in plastic forms. Through their transformation of form from pillar to pillar, they give a vivid picture of the planetary stages of world evolution. Due to the limited possibilities, however, the columns for the congress in Munich could initially only be executed as paintings. It was not until 1908/09 that the motifs of the planetary columns were realised in the model building in Malsch, which was built according to Rudolf Steiner's ideas. They were only created in full size for the First Goetheanum.
When designing the first six seal images, Rudolf Steiner was guided by the seals on the Apocalypse shown by the French occultist Éliphas Lévi (1810-1875) in his work Dogme et rituel de la haute magie. Steiner designed the seventh seal, which establishes the reference to the New Jerusalem, entirely independently. He said about the deeper meaning of the seal images:
„They are not arbitrary "symbols" which can be interpreted intellectually, but spiritual-scientific "signs" which must be taken as they correspond to true spiritual science. This does not invent such "signs" out of the intellect or the arbitrary imagination, but only reproduces in them what is really present to spiritual perception in the supersensible worlds. No speculation, no explanation of the intellect, however witty, is appropriate in relation to such signs, since they are not invented but merely provide a description of what the so-called 'seer' perceives in the invisible worlds. The signs reproduced here are descriptions of experiences of the "astral" and the "spiritual" (devachanic) world. The "seals" of the first seven panels represent such real facts of the astral world, and the seven "pillars" represent such facts of the spiritual world. But while the seals directly represent the experiences of "spiritual seeing", this is not the case in the same way with the seven pillars. For the perceptions of the spiritual world cannot be compared with "seeing" but rather with "spiritual hearing". It is important not to think of this as being too similar to "hearing" in the physical world, for although it can be compared to it, it is still very dissimilar. The experiences of this spiritual hearing can only be expressed in a picture if they are translated from "sound" into form. This is what has happened with these "pillars", whose essence can only be understood if one thinks of the forms as plastic (not painted).
In the sense of spiritual science, the causes of the things of the physical world lie in the supersensible, the invisible. What reveals itself physically has its archetypes in the astral world and its spiritual primal forces (primal tones) in the spiritual world. The seven seals give the astral archetypes of the development of humanity on earth in the sense of spiritual science. When the "seer" on the "astral plane" follows this development into the times of the distant past and the distant future, it presents itself to him in the given seven seal pictures. He has nothing to invent, but merely to understand the facts which he perceives spiritually...“ (Lit.:GA 284, p. 91)
„The most significant of the symbols that we have at all, and which has been recognised as such by all occultists of all times, is the human being himself. The human being has always been called a microcosm, a small world. And rightly so, for he who gets to know man closely and intimately becomes more and more aware of the fact that in him is contained, in what might be called a miniaturisation, everything, everything that is spread out in the rest of nature outside. This is perhaps difficult to understand at first, but if you think about it, you will understand what is meant by it: all substances and forces are found in the human being, as a kind of extract, excerpt from the rest of nature. If you study any plant with regard to its essence and can only investigate deeply enough, you will find that in the human organism there is something of this same essence, however small. And if you take an animal outside: you will always be able to prove something in the human organism which, in its essence, looks like something that has been taken into the human organism in a certain way [...]
Paracelsus used a very beautiful comparison for this connection between man and nature. He says: "It is as if the individual beings in nature were the letters, but man were the word composed of these letters. Outside the big world: the macrocosm, inside us the small world: the microcosm. Outside, each exists for itself, in the human being it is determined by the harmony in which it is placed with the other organs. And for this very reason we can illustrate in the human being the development of our whole universe, in so far as it belongs to us.“ (Lit.:GA 284, p. 73)
„The first seal represents man's entire development on earth in the most general way. In the Revelation of St. John it is indicated by the words: "And when I turned, I saw seven candlesticks of gold, and in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like the son of man, clothed in a long robe, and girded about the breast with a girdle of gold. And his head and his hair were white as white wool, as the snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; and his feet were as brass burning in the furnace; and his voice was as the sound of great waters; and he had seven stars in his right hand; and out of his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and his face shone as the bright sun." In general terms, such words point to the most comprehensive secrets of the development of mankind. If one wanted to describe in detail what each of these deeply significant words contains, one would have to write a thick volume. Our seal is a pictorial representation of this. Among the bodily organs and forms of expression of man there are those which in their present form represent the descending stages of development of earlier forms, which have therefore already passed their degree of perfection; others, however, represent the initial stages of development; they are now, as it were, the preparations for what they are to become in the future. The occult scientist must know these secrets of development. The organ of speech represents an organ which in the future will be something much higher and more perfect than it is at present. By expressing this, one touches upon a great mystery of existence, which is often also called the "mystery of the creating word". This is an indication of the future state of this human organ of speech, which will one day, when man is spiritualised, become a spiritual organ of production (procreation). In myths and religions, this spiritual production is indicated by the appropriate image of the "sword" coming out of the mouth. Thus every line, every point in the picture signifies something that is connected with the secret of human development. The fact that such pictures are made does not merely arise from a need for a sensualisation of supersensible processes, but corresponds to the fact that living into these pictures - if they are the right ones - really means an arousal of forces which lie dormant in the human soul, and through the awakening of which the ideas of the supersensible world emerge. For it is not right in theosophy to describe the supersensible worlds only in schematic terms; the true way is to arouse the imagination of such images as are given in these seals. (If the occultist has no such pictures at hand, he should give orally the description of the higher worlds in pertinent images).“ (Lit.:GA 34, p. 596f)
„Seal I comprehensively depicts the whole earthly development of man. This and other seals of the series can also be found described in a certain sense in the "Revelation of St. John" (Apocalypse). For whoever is able to understand this scripture in the spiritual-scientific sense sees in it nothing other than the description given in words of what the "seer" perceives as the development of humanity on the astral plane. This is how such a person understands the first words of this scripture, which (rendered approximately correctly) read as follows: "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God presented to him to illustrate to his servants how the necessary events will shortly take place; this was sent in signs by God's angel to his servant John. He expressed the 'Word' of God and its revelation through Jesus Christ in the way he saw it." The "signs" he saw have been depicted by the writer of the "secret revelation". - We may find in the following seals that they are in many respects similar to what is described in the Apocalypse, but not quite. For our pictures are based on a spiritual-scientific method which, although in harmony with all traditions, has developed in its own form since the fourteenth century, in accordance with the modern spiritual needs of mankind, in those circles which since that time have had the task of cultivating these things. Nevertheless, where it is relevant, the description will be given here with reference to the "Revelation of St. John". It should be expressly noted that some of the seven seals have already been published in this or that work of more recent times; however, those who are initiated in such matters will find that these other renderings deviate in some points from the form given here, which is intended to present the true spiritual-scientific basis.
For the first seal, compare its description in the Apocalypse. "And I turned to hear the sound that came to me, and behold seven lights of gold, and in the midst of the lights the image of the son of man, clothed in a long robe, with a golden girdle about his loins; and his head and his hair were as white wool or as snow, and his eyes were as the fire. And his feet were molten with fire, as in a fiery furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. And in his right hand were seven stars, and out of his mouth came a two-edged sword, and his face was like the brightness of the sun. In general images, the most comprehensive secrets of the development of mankind are pointed out. If one wanted to describe in detail what the seer can see from these pictures, one would have to write a thick book. Only a few hints may be made. Every sign, every form in the seal pictures is telling, and what is said here can only be something of many. Among the organs and means of expression of the human being are those which in their present form represent the descending stages of development of earlier forms, which have therefore already passed their degree of perfection; others, however, represent the initial stages of a development which is moving in an ascending direction. Such members of the human being are only imperfect today and will have to fulfil quite different higher tasks in the future. One organ which in the future will be something much higher and more perfect than it is at present is the organ of speech, with all that belongs to it in the human being. By hinting at this, one touches upon a great mystery of existence, which is also called the "mystery of the creating word". This is an indication of the future state of this organ, which will one day, when the human being is spiritualised, be the organ of production (procreation).
In the myths and religious narratives this future spiritualised form of production is indicated by the appropriate image of the fiery "sword" coming out of the mouth. The first stages of man's earthly development took place at a time when the earth was still "fiery"; and out of the element of fire the first human embodiments took shape; at the end of his earthly career man himself will radiate his inner being creatively outwards through the power of the fire element. This development from the beginning of the earth to the end of the earth is revealed to the "seer" when he sees the archetype of the developing human being on the astral plan, as it is depicted in the first seal. The beginning of the earth's development is there in the fiery feet, the end in the fiery face and the perfect power of the "creative word", which is to be attained at last, in the fiery sword that comes out of the mouth. As this development proceeds, man's becoming and the powers he unfolds in the process are successively under the influence of forces expressed in the seven stars of the right. Thus every line, every point, represents, as it were, something in the picture which is connected with the comprehensive secret of man's development.“ (Lit.:GA 284, p. 91f)
„The first shows a man dressed in white clothes, his feet like metal, like the flow of ore; from his mouth protrudes a fiery sword; his right hand is surrounded by the signs of our planet: Saturn, Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus. Those who know the Apocalypse of John will remember that there is a fairly consistent description of this image, for John was an initiate. This seal, in fact, represents, one might say, the idea of all humanity. We shall understand this if we recall some ideas already known to the elders here.
If we go back in human evolution, we arrive at a time when man was still at a very imperfect stage. For example, he did not yet have what you carry on your shoulders today; the head. It would sound quite grotesque to describe the human being of that time. The head, in fact, has only gradually developed and will continue to develop. There are organs in the human being today that have, so to speak, reached their conclusion; they will no longer be in the human body later on. There are others that will be transformed, such as our larynx, which has a tremendous future, admittedly in connection with our heart. Today the human larynx is only at the beginning of its development; one day it will be the reproductive organ transformed into the spiritual. You will get an idea of this mystery if you realise what man does today with his larynx. As I speak here, you hear my words: Through the fact that this hall is filled with air and certain vibrations are produced in this air, my words are transmitted to your ear, to your soul. When I speak a word, for example "world", waves of air vibrate - these are embodiments of my words. That which man brings forth in this way today is called bringing forth in the mineral realm. The movements of the air are mineral movements; through the larynx man has a mineral effect on his surroundings. But man will rise and one day have a vegetable effect; he will then call forth not only mineral but also vegetable vibrations. He will speak plants. The next stage will be that he will speak to sentient beings; and at the highest stage of development he will call forth his own kind through his larynx. Just as he can now only express the contents of his soul through the word, he will then express himself. And just as man will speak beings in the future, so the predecessors of mankind, the gods, were endowed with an organ with which they pronounced all things that are there today. They pronounced all human beings, all animals and everything else. They are all pronounced words of the gods in the literal sense.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and a God was the Word." This is not a philosophical word in the speculative sense - John has put down a primordial fact which is to be taken quite literally.
And in the end there will be the Word, and creation is a realisation of the Word; and what man will bring forth in the future will be a realisation of what is Word today. But then man will no longer have such a physical form as he has today; he will have advanced to that form which was on Saturn, to fire matter. Thus the creative power at the beginning of the world's evolution unites with our own creative power at the end of the world's evolution.
That Being who has spoken out into the world all that is in it today is the great archetype of man. It has spoken out into the world Saturn, the Sun, the Moon, the Earth - in its two halves Mars-Mercury - Jupiter, Venus. This is indicated by the seven stars; they are a sign of the height to which man can develop. In the fire-matter the planet will be again in the end; and man will be able to speak creatively in this fire-matter: that is the fiery sword that will protrude from his mouth. Everything will be fiery, hence the feet of molten ore.“ (Lit.:GA 284, p. 74f)
„The second seal, with the corresponding accessories, represents one of the first states of development of earth humanity. In its primeval times, this earthly humanity had not yet developed what is called the individual soul. At that time there was still present what is still found in the animals: the group soul. Whoever can trace the old human group souls on the astral plan by means of imaginative clairvoyance will find the four types of them which are represented in the four apocalyptic animals of the second seal: the lion, the bull, the eagle, the man. This touches the truth of what is often so dryly allegorically 'interpreted' in the four beasts.“ (Lit.:GA 34, p. 597)
„Seal II represents one of the first states of development of earth humanity, with all that belongs to it. In the distant primeval times man on earth did not yet have what is called the individual soul. At that time he had what the animals of an earlier stage of human development still have today: the group soul. If, by means of imaginative clairvoyance, the human group souls are traced on the astral plane in retrospect to prehistoric times, it is found that the various forms of these can be traced back to four basic types. And these are represented in the four apocalyptic animals of the second seal: the lion, the bull, the eagle and that figure which also approaches the individual soul of the present man as a group soul, and which is therefore also called: the "man". This touches the truth of what is often so dryly 'interpreted' allegorically in the four animals.“ (Lit.:GA 284, p. 93)
„If you compare the human being of today with the animal, then the difference is such that one must say: the human being has in himself as an individual what the individual animal does not have in himself. Man has an individual soul, the animal a group soul. The individual human being is a whole species of animal. All lions, for example, have only one soul together. These group I' s are just like the human I, only they have not descended to the physical world; they are only to be found in the astral world. Here on earth you see physical human beings, each of whom carries his I. In the astral world you meet beings in astral matter just as you are yourself, only not in physical but in astral shell. You can talk to them as you would to your own kind - these are the animal group souls.
Man, too, had a group soul in earlier times; only gradually did he develop into his present independence. These group souls were originally in the astral world and then descended to dwell in the flesh. If we now examine the original group souls of man in the astral world, we find four genera from which man has proceeded. If we were to compare these four types with the group souls that belong to the animal species of today, we would have to say that one of these four types can be compared with the lion, another with the eagle, a third with the cow and the fourth with the man of prehistoric times, before his I descended. Thus, in the second picture, in the apocalyptic animals, the lion, the eagle, the cow and the man, an earlier state of development of humanity is represented to us. But then there is and will be, as long as the earth will be, a group soul for the higher revelation of man, which is represented by the lamb, by the mystical lamb, the sign for the Redeemer. This grouping of the five group souls: the four of man around the great group soul, which still belongs to all men collectively - that represents the second picture.“ (Lit.:GA 284, p. 75)
„If we look back into the ancient times of humanity, we find everywhere that the present I has developed out of such group consciousness, group I, so that for the seer, when he looks back, the individual human beings flow more and more together into the group souls. Now there are mainly four types of group souls, four archetypes of group souls. If you take all the different group souls of the different souls, they have a certain similarity, but also differences. If you divide them up, you get four groups, four archetypes. You can see them clearly if you look back clairvoyantly to that time when man was not yet in the flesh, had not yet descended to earth. For now we must visualise more precisely the moment when man descended into the flesh from the spiritual regions. We can only describe this moment in great symbols.
Once there was a time when our earth had a much softer matter than it has today, when rock and stone were not yet as solidified as they are today, when the forms of plants still looked different, when the whole was embedded in water caves like a primeval sea, when air and water were not separated, where animals and plants were formed in water of all the beings that dwell on earth today. When the mineral beings began to take on their present form, one could say that man emerged from invisibility. This is how he presented himself to the initiate. Surrounded on the outside by a kind of shell, he descended from the regions that are now the air regions. Man was not yet densely physically there when the animal was already present in the flesh. He was a fine air being, even in the Lemurian times. And he has so evolved that the clairvoyant picture presents itself with the four group souls: on one side like the image of a lion, on the other like the image of a bull, above like that of an eagle, and in the centre below something that is already human-like. This is how the clairvoyant image shows itself. This is how the human being emerges from the darkness of the spirit land. And that which has formed him as a power appears in a kind of rainbow formation. The more physical forces surround the whole formation of this human being like a rainbow. - One must describe this becoming human in the most diverse ways and in the most diverse fields. Now it is described as it appears to the researcher in retrospect: how these four group souls have formed themselves out of the common divine-human which descends. From time immemorial this moment has been symbolised in the form that you find depicted on the second of the so-called seven occult seals. This is the symbolic representation, but it is more than a mere symbol. There, coming out of the indeterminate spiritual, you have these four group souls, the rainbow all around and a number twelve. We must also understand what this twelve number means.
When you see what has just been described coming out, you have the clairvoyant feeling that it is surrounded by something of a completely different nature and kind than that which emerges from the indeterminate spiritual. And what it is surrounded by was symbolised in ancient times in the zodiac, in the twelve signs of the zodiac. - The moment of entering clairvoyance is connected with many other experiences. The first thing that the etheric body perceives is that it feels as if it were growing larger and larger and expanding beyond what it perceives. The moment comes when the initiate says to himself: I do not merely see these four figures, but I am in there, I have extended my being over them. - He identifies himself with it. He perceives that which is symbolised by the twelve constellations, by the twelve number.“ (Lit.:GA 104, p. 58ff)
„The third seal represents the mysteries of the so-called harmony of the spheres. Man experiences these mysteries in the interim between death and a new birth (in the "spirit land" or what is called "Devachan" in common Theosophical literature). However, the representation is not given in the way it is experienced in the "spirit world" itself, but in the way the processes of this region are reflected, as it were, in the astral world. It must be stated that all seven seals are experiences of the astral world, but the other worlds can be seen in their reflections in the astral. The trumpet-blowing angels in the picture represent the spiritual primordial beings of the world phenomena; the book with the seven seals indicates that the riddles of existence are "unsealed" in the experiences illustrated in this picture. The 'four apocalyptic horsemen' represent the stages of human development through long earth cycles.“ (Lit.:GA 34, p. 598)
„Seal III represents the secrets of the so-called harmony of the spheres. Man experiences these secrets in the interim between death and a new birth (in the "spirit land" or what is called "Devachan" in common theosophical literature). It should be noted, however, that all these seals represent only the experiences of the astral world. But worlds other than this astral one can also be observed in it. Our physical world can be observed according to its archetypes on the astral plane. And the spiritual world can be seen in its after-images on this plane. Thus the third seal represents the astral after-images of the "spirit land". The trumpet-blowing angels represent the spiritual primordial beings of the world phenomena; the trumpet sounds themselves represent the forces which flow from these primordial beings into the world and through which the beings and things are built up and maintained in their becoming and working. The "apocalyptic horsemen" represent the main points of development through which a human individuality passes in the course of many embodiments and which are represented on the astral plan in the horsemen on horses: a white-shining horse, expressing a very early stage of soul development; a fire-coloured horse, pointing to the warlike stage of soul development; a black horse, corresponding to that stage of soul where only the outer physical perception of the soul is developed; and a green-shining horse, the image of the mature soul which has dominion over the body (hence the green colour, which arises as an expression of the life-force working from within outwards).“ (Lit.:GA 284, p. 93)
„If we trace the evolution of man far, far back, so that we have to call many millions of years to our aid, then another thing confronts us. Now man is physically on earth; but there was a time when that which walked about here on earth could not yet have received a human soul. This soul was on the astral plane. And further back we come to a time when it was on the spiritual plane, in the Devachan. In the future it will rise again to this high level when it has purified itself on earth. From the spirit through the astral, the physical and up again to the spirit: that is a long development of the human being. And yet it seems like a short period when we compare it with the time of development that man has gone through on Saturn and the other planets. There man did not only pass through physical transformations, but through spiritual, astral and physical ones. And if you want to follow these, you have to go up into the spiritual worlds. There one hears the music of the spheres, tones that flood through space in this spiritual world. And when man lives again in this spiritual world, then this harmony of the spheres will ring out to him. In the occult they are called the trombone sounds of the angels. Hence the trumpets in the third picture. Revelations come from the spiritual world, but they are only revealed to him when man progresses further and further. Then the book with the seven seals will be revealed to him. These seals are precisely what we are looking at here; they will be unravelled. Hence the book in the middle and below four phases of humanity; for the four horses are nothing but stages of development of humanity through the ages.“ (Lit.:GA 284, p. 75f)
„The fourth seal represents, among other things, two pillars, one rising from the sea, the other from the earth. In these pillars is indicated the secret of the role which the red (oxygen-rich) blood and the blue-red (carbon rich) blood play in human development, and how this blood changes according to human development from remote primeval times to distant future times. The letters on these columns point to this secret of evolution in a way known only to the initiated. (All interpretations of the two letters given in public writings or in certain societies remain only a superficial exoteric interpretation). The book in the cloud points to a future state of man in which all his knowledge will be internalised. In the "Revelation of St. John" we find the meaningful words: "And I took a little book from the hand of the angel, and devoured it ...". The sun on the picture points to a cosmic process which will take place at the same time as the marked future stage of humanity; the earth will enter into a completely different relationship to the sun than the present one in the cosmos. And everything is so represented in the picture that all the arrangements of the parts, all the details, etc., correspond exactly to certain real processes.“ (Lit.:GA 34, p. 598f)
„Seal IV depicts, among other things, two pillars, one rising from the sea, the other from the earth. In these pillars is indicated the secret of the role which the red (oxygen-rich) blood and the blue-red (carbonic acid-rich) blood play in human development. The human "I" undergoes its development in the earth cycle by physically expressing its life in the interaction between red blood, without which there would be no life, and blue blood, without which there would be no knowledge. Blue blood is the physical expression of the forces which give knowledge, but which alone in their human form are connected with death, and red blood is the expression of life, but which alone in its human form could not give knowledge. Both in their interaction represent the tree of knowledge and the tree of life, or the two pillars on which life and the knowledge of the I develop to that degree of perfection where man will become one with the universal forces of the earth. This latter state of the future is represented on the seal by the upper body, which consists of clouds, and by the face, which has appropriated the spiritual powers of the sun. The human being will then no longer receive the "knowledge" from outside, but will have "devoured" it within himself, which is indicated in the book in the middle of the seal. Only through such "devouring" on a higher level of existence do the seven seals of the book open, as they are also indicated on seal III. In the "Revelation of St. John" one finds the significant words about this: "And I took the little book out of the angel's hand and devoured it....."“ (Lit.:GA 284, p. 93f)
„But there is still a higher development. Man comes from still higher worlds, and he will ascend to these higher worlds again. And his form, as man has it today, will then have disappeared into the world. What is out there in the world today - the individual letters of which man is composed - he will then have taken up all that again: his form will have identified itself with the form of the world. In a certain trivial presentation of Theosophy, it is taught and spoken of that one should seek the God in oneself. But he who wants to find God must seek him in the works that are spread out in the universe. Nothing in the world is mere matter - that is only apparent - in reality all matter is the expression of spirituality, an announcement of God's activity. And man will, as it were, expand his being in the course of coming times; more and more he will identify himself with the world, so that he can be represented by putting the form of the cosmos in place of the human form. You can see this on the fourth seal with the rock, the sea and the pillars. That which today passes through the world as clouds will give its matter to form the body of man. The forces which are today with the spirits of the sun will in the future supply man with that which will form his spiritual forces in an infinitely higher way. It is this solar power towards which man is striving. In contrast to the plant, which sinks its head, the root, towards the centre of the earth, he turns his head towards the sun; and he will unite it with the sun and receive higher powers. You have represented this in the face of the sun, which rests on the body of the cloud, on the rock, on the pillars. Man will then have become self-creative; and as the symbol of perfect creation, the coloured rainbow surrounds man. You can also find a similar seal in the Apocalypse of John. In the middle of the clouds is a book. The Apocalypse says that the initiate must devour this book. This refers to the time when man will not only receive wisdom outwardly, but when he will permeate himself with it as he does today with food, when he himself will be an embodiment of wisdom.“ (Lit.:GA 284, p. 76)
„But that which lives strongly in our time appears before the clairvoyant eye of the apocalyptic as that figure which forms itself out of clouds, has a sun-like face, merges into a rainbow, and has fiery feet, one of which stands on the sea, the other on the earth (Rev 10,1-2 LUT). One would like to say that this is indeed the most significant manifestation that the present human soul should set before its eyes. For in that which is cloud-born face above lie the thoughts which belong to the spirit-world; in that which is rainbow lie the feelings of the human soul which belong to the soul-world; in the fiery feet which received their power out of the strength of the sea-covered earth lie that which is contained in the body of man which belongs together with the physical world.
Here, I would like to say, we are pointed to the actual cultural secret of the present time, which first of all expresses itself in such a way that human beings do not immediately appear to be divided into three parts, but appear in such a way - which can now be grasped with one's hands in our present time - that we have cloud people who can only think, while the other two parts are atrophied: Rainbow and fire-feet, that we have rainbow-people, in whom feeling is preferably developed, who can also, for example, grasp Anthroposophy only with feeling, not with the intellect. But they are not only present in the Anthroposophical Society, but also outside in the world. These people can grasp the world only with feeling; in them thinking and will are atrophied, but feeling is especially developed. Then there are people today who actually act as if they had only hypertrophied the will. Their thinking and feeling are atrophied: people who act like bulls, given over only to the immediate outer impulses - the fire-footed people.“ (Lit.:GA 346, p. 202f)
„The fifth seal represents the further development of man in the future in a cosmos in which the conditions just indicated will have occurred. The man of the future, who will himself have a different relationship to the sun than the present one, is represented by the "woman who gives birth to the sun"; and the power which he will then have over certain forces of the world, which today express themselves in his lower nature, is represented by the standing of the "woman of the sun" on the beast with the seven heads and ten horns. The woman has the moon under her feet: this indicates a later cosmic relationship of sun, earth and moon.“ (Lit.:GA 34, p. 599)
„Seal V represents a higher stage of human development, such as will occur when the earth has again united with the sun and man will no longer work merely with the forces of the earth, but with the forces of the sun. The "woman who gives birth to the sun" refers to this future man. Certain forces of a lower nature, which live in man and prevent him from the full development of his higher spirituality, will then have been put out of him. These forces are represented in the seal on the one hand in the beast with the "seven heads and ten horns", on the other hand in the moon at the feet of the sun-man. For spiritual science, the moon is the centre of certain lower forces which are still working in the human being today and which the human being of the future will force 'under himself'.“ (Lit.:GA 284, p. 94)
„Then the time approaches when great changes take place in the cosmos. When man will have drawn on the power of the sun, then that stage of development will begin where the sun will be reunited with the earth. Man will be a solar being. Man will give birth to a sun through the power of the sun. Hence [on the fifth seal] the woman who gives birth to the sun. Then mankind will be so far advanced morally, ethically, that all the corrupt powers which rest in the lower human nature will be overcome. This is represented by the beast with the seven heads and the ten horns. At the feet of the sun-woman is the moon, which contains all those bad substances which the earth could not use and which it had not expelled. All the magical powers that the moon still exerts on the earth today will then be overcome. When man is united with the sun, he will have overcome the moon.“ (Lit.:GA 284, p. 76)
„The sixth seal represents the evolved human being with even greater power over lower forces of the universe. How the image expresses this echoes Christian esotericism: Michael holds the dragon bound.“ (Lit.:GA 34, p. 599)
„Seal VI represents the purified human being, not only spiritualised but having become strong in spirituality, who has not only overcome the lower forces but has transformed them so that they are at his service as improved. The tamed "beast" expresses this. In the "Revelation of St. John" we read about it: "And I beheld an angel coming out of heaven, holding the key of the abyss, and having a great chain in his hand. And he brought into his power the dragon, the serpent of old, which is the devil and Satan, and he bound him for a thousand years."“ (Lit.:GA 284, p. 94)
„Then [in the sixth seal] we are still shown how the man who has thus ascended to high spirituality is like the figure of Michael; how he holds that which is evil in the world bound in the symbolum of the dragon.“ (Lit.:GA 284, p. 76)
„Finally, the seventh seal is that of the "Mystery of the Grail", as it was native to the esoteric movement that began in the fourteenth century. On the picture there is a cube representing the space-world, from all sides of the cube springs the world-snake, in so far as it represents the higher forces acting out in the lower; from the mouth of the snake the world-line (as a spiral), the symbol of the purified and purified world-forces; and from this springs the "holy grail", which is opposed by the "dove": all this pointing - and quite appropriately - to the mystery of the creation of the world, of which the earthly is a lower reflection. The deepest mysteries lie in the lines and figures, etc., of this seal.“ (Lit.:GA 34, p. 599)
„Seal VII is the reproduction of the "Mystery of the Holy Grail". It is the astral experience which reflects the universal meaning of the development of humanity. The cube represents the "space world", which is not yet permeated by any physical being or physical event. For spiritual science, space is not merely the "void", but it is the carrier which, in a still invisible way, contains within itself the seeds of all that is physical. Out of it, as it were, the whole physical world precipitates, as a salt precipitates out of the still quite transparent solution. And what - in relation to the human being - develops out of the spatial world, undergoes the development from the lower to the higher. Out of the "three dimensions of space", which are expressed in the cube, first grow the lower human forces, illustrated by the two serpents, which again give birth to the purified higher spiritual nature, which is represented in the world spirals. Through the upward growth of these higher forces, man can become the recipient (chalice) for the reception of the pure spiritual world-being, expressed by the dove. Through this, man becomes the master of the spiritual world powers, whose image is the rainbow. This is a very sketchy description of this seal, which contains immeasurable depths that can be revealed to those who allow it to work on them in devotional meditation. This seal is paraphrased with the truth saying of modern spiritual science: "Ex deo nascimur, in Christo morimur, per spiritum sanctum reviviscimus", "Out of God I was born; in Christo I die; through the Holy Spirit I am born again". In this saying the meaning of human development is fully indicated.“ (Lit.:GA 284, p. 94f)
„We have seen in a certain way that in the beginning of the evolution of mankind and at the end of it there are the same states of transformation. We have seen these states represented in the man with the flaming feet and the sword protruding from his mouth. In a profound symbolism, the whole being of the world is now revealed to us in the symbol of the Holy Grail. With a few sketchy words I would like to place this seventh seal before your soul.
He who, as an occultist, comes to know our world, knows that space is something quite different for the physical world than mere emptiness. Space is the source from which all beings have, as it were, physically crystallised. Imagine a glass cube-shaped vessel, through which you can see completely, filled with water. And now imagine that certain cooling currents are conducted through this water, so that ice is formed in the most manifold ways. In this way you can get an idea of the creation of the world: the "space"; spoken into the space is the divine word of creation; crystallised out are all things and beings.
This space, into which the divine word of creation is spoken, is represented by the occultist through the water-light cube. Various beings develop within this space. Those closest to us can best be characterised as follows: the cube has three perpendicular directions, three axes, length, height, width - the three dimensions of space are represented by the cube. And now think of the counter-dimensions to these three dimensions as they are outside in the physical world. You can imagine it like this: one person is walking in one direction and another person is coming towards him and the two collide. In a similar way, there is a counter-dimension to each spatial dimension, so that we have six rays in total. These counter-rays represent at the same time the primordial germs of the highest members of the human being. The physical body, crystallised out of space, is the lowest. The spiritual, the highest, is the opposite; it is represented by the counter-dimensions. Here, in development, these counter-dimensions first form themselves into an entity which can best be represented by letting them flow together into the world of passions, desires, instincts. That is what it is at first. Then later it becomes something else. More and more it purifies itself - we have seen to what height - but it has gone out from the lower drives, which are symbolised by the serpent. This process is symbolised by the convergence of the counter-dimensions in two snakes facing each other.
By purifying itself, humanity ascends to what is called the "world spiral". The purified body of the serpent, this world spiral, has a deep meaning. You can get an idea of it from the following example: Modern astronomy is based on two propositions of Copernicus; it has disregarded a third. He said that the sun also moves. The Sun moves forward, in a helical line, so that the Earth moves with the Sun in a complicated curve. The same is true of the moon, which moves around the earth. These movements are far more complicated than is assumed in elementary astronomy. You see here how the spiral has its meaning in the world bodies; and these world bodies represent a figure with which man will one day identify himself. In that time man's power of production will be cleansed, purified; the larynx will then be the organ of procreation. That which man will have developed as a purified serpent's body will then no longer work from below but from above. The transformed larynx in us will become the chalice called the Holy Grail. And just as the one will be purified, so will the other which connects itself with this producing organ: it will be an essence of the world-power, the great world-essence. And this world-spirit in its essence is represented by the image of the dove facing the Holy Grail. Here it is the symbol of the spiritualised fertilisation which will work out of the cosmos when man has one day identified himself with the cosmos. The whole creative aspect of this process is represented by the rainbow: this is the all-embracing seal of the Holy Grail.
The whole gives the sense of the connection between world and human being in a wonderful way, like a summary of the sense of the other seals. This is why the secret of the world is inscribed on the outer edge of the seal. This mystery of the world represents how man is born in the beginning out of the elemental forces of the world. Every human being, when he looks back, has gone through that process in the beginning of time which he is going through spiritually today when he is born anew out of the forces of consciousness. This is what Rosicrucianism expresses [with the letters] E. D. N. : Out of God I am born.
We have seen that within Revelation a second thing is added: death to life. But man, in order to find life again in this death, must overcome this death of the senses in the original source of all living things. And this primal source is the centre of all cosmic development; for we had to find death in order to attain our consciousness. But we shall overcome it when we find the meaning of this death in the Saviour-Mystery. Just as we are born of God, we die in Christo in the sense of esoteric wisdom: I. C. M.
And because wherever something is revealed, there is a duality to which the third must unite, man, when he has overcome death, will identify himself with the spirit (the dove) which pervades the world. He will resurrect and live again in the Spirit: P. S. S. R.
On the effects of the seal images
„Thus you see how in such seals the whole world is represented, and because the world is put into them by the magicians and initiates, therefore a mighty power dwells in them. You can always return to these seals; you will always find that you can tap infinite wisdom through meditation. They have a tremendous influence on the soul of man, because they are drawn from the mysteries of the world. If you hang them up in a room where such things are discussed as we are talking about here today, where one rises to the sacred mysteries of the world, they have a highly invigorating, enlightening effect, without people sometimes knowing it. But precisely because they have this meaning, they are not at the same time apt to be profaned. And strange as it may seem, if they hang all around a room where nothing spiritual is spoken, where trivial words are spoken, they also have an effect, but in such a way that they make the physical organism ill. Trivial as it may sound, they destroy the digestion. What is born of the spiritual belongs to the spiritual and must not be profaned; it shows this itself by its effect. Signs of spiritual things belong where spiritual things take place and come into effect.“ (Lit.:GA 284, p. 77f)
Rudolf Steiner's designs
„Between each two of these seals in the congress room was one of the seven pillars, which are reproduced in the second series of pictures. In the capitals of these columns, as already indicated above, experiences of the "seer" (which is actually no longer an appropriate name in this field) in the "spiritual world" are depicted. It is a matter of the perception of the primordial forces, which exist in spiritual tones. The plastic forms of the capitals are translations of what the "seer" hears. But these forms are by no means arbitrary, they are the way they naturally arise when the "seeing human being" lets the "spiritual music" (harmony of the spheres), which flows through his whole being, have an effect on the forming hand. The plastic forms here are really a kind of "frozen music" which expresses the world's mysteries. That these forms appear as column capitals seems self-evident to those who see through the situation. The basis of the physical development of earth beings lies in the spiritual world. From there it is "supported". Now all development is based on a progression in seven stages. (The number seven is not to be understood as the result of a "superstition", but as the expression of a spiritual lawfulness, just as the seven colours of the rainbow are the expression of a physical lawfulness). The earth itself progresses in its development through seven states, which are designated by the seven planetary names: Saturn, Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter and Venus states. (On the meaning of this, compare my "Occult Science" or the essays On the Akasha Chronicle. But not only does a celestial body progress in its development in this way, but every development passes through seven stages, which in the sense of modern spiritual science are designated by the expressions for the seven planetary states. In the manner indicated above, the spiritual supporting forces of these states are represented by the forms of the column capitals. But one will not arrive at a true understanding of this matter if one only takes the intellectual explanation as a basis when looking at the forms. One must look into the forms artistically and sensitively and allow the capitals to have an effect on one as a form. Those who do not take this into account will believe that they are only looking at allegories or, in the best case, symbols. Then he would have misunderstood everything. The same motif runs through all seven chapters: a force from above and one from below, which first strive against each other, then, reaching each other, work together. These forces are to be felt in their fullness and in their inner life, and then the soul itself is to experience how they spread out, contract, embrace, intertwine, open up, etc., in a lively formative way. One will be able to feel this complication of forces, as one feels the "shaping" of the plant out of its living forces, and one will be able to feel how the line of force first grows vertically upwards in the column, how it unfolds in the plastic shapes of the capitals, which open themselves to the forces coming towards them from above and open up, so that a sensibly supporting capital becomes. First the force from below unfolds in the simplest way, and the force from above strives towards it just as simply (Saturn column); then the forms from above fill up, push themselves into the points from below and thus cause the lower forms to give way to the sides. At the same time these lower forms close up into living formations (Sun column). In the further course of time, the upper form becomes more diverse; a tip that had been pushed out grows as if into a fertilising principle, and the lower form is transformed into a fruit-bearer. The other motif of force between the two has become a load-bearing support, because the relationship of the intermediate links would not be felt strongly enough as a load-bearing force (Moon column). Furthermore, a separation of the lower and the upper occurs, the strong bearers of the moon's capital have themselves become column-like, the intervening upper and lower have grown together to form a structure, a new motif is indicated from above (Mars column). The formations that have arisen from the connection of the upper and lower have taken on life and therefore appear as a staff entwined with snakes. One will have to feel how this motif grows organically out of the previous one. The central formations of the Martian capital have disappeared; their power has been absorbed by the supporting inner part of the capital; the hints previously coming from above have become fuller (Mercury column). Now it goes again to a kind of simplification, which, however, includes the fruit of the previous multiplication. The upper closes itself up like a cup, the lower simplifies life in a chaste form (Jupiter column). The last state shows this "inner fullness" at its highest with the outer simplification. The transformations of growth from below have attracted a fruit-bearing calyx-like form from above (Venus column).
Whoever can feel everything that is expressed in these "pillars" of world events, feels comprehensive laws of all being, which solve the riddles of life in a completely different way than abstract "laws of nature".
These illustrations are intended to give a sample of how spiritual perception can become form, life, artistic design. Note that the illustrations represent living forces of existence of the higher worlds; and these higher spiritual forces have an effect on the observer of the pictures. They have a direct effect on forces which, corresponding to them, slumber in every human being. But their effect is only a correct one if one looks at these pictures with the right inner state of mind.
Whoever looks at the pictures with spiritual ideas in his head and with devotional feelings in his heart will receive a sacredness from them. Anyone who wants to hang them up or place them in any place where he confronts them with everyday thoughts and feelings will feel an unfavourable effect, which can go as far as a bad influence on physical life. One should act accordingly and only enter into a relationship with the pictures which is in harmony with a devotion to the spiritual worlds. Such pictures should serve as ornaments in a room devoted to the higher life; they should never be found or looked at in places where the thoughts of men are not in harmony with them.“ (Lit.:GA 284, p. 95f)
For the English edition of "Occult Seals and Columns", published in 1924, the Danish painter Arild Rosenkrantz (1870-1964) made seal pictures in Arlesheim under Rudolf Steiner's direct guidance, which were initially printed in black and white. Afterwards, in London in the 1930s, he painted 7 circular pastel pictures of the seals, each 72 cm in diameter.
The imperfect artistic design of the seal pictures painted by Clara Rettich provoked much criticism, especially from the sculptor Dr Ernst Wagner, whose works were also exhibited at the Congress. Although Steiner was also aware of the inadequacies, a draft letter to Ernst Wagner dated 12 April 1909 states:
„That conversation in the Munich Congress Hall, where you called the seals unartistic and I replied <but correct>, you have in fact misunderstood. I was in complete agreement with you, and would very, very much have liked these things to be artistic. But the occultist must think realistically, not chimerically, and so he must take what is available. <But right> therefore also says everything. For that is what matters, that at present no artist has the ability to recreate real life. And so one has only the choice: either the formal-abstract suggestion of inner life and content with an outwardly inartistic shaping; or the dead forms and schemes which today are often called artistic, and which seem to the connoisseur of real life more or less like corpses which are supposed to feign life.“ (Lit.:GA 284, p. 14)
- Rudolf Steiner: The Apocalypse of St. John, CW 104, English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Reading the Pictures of the Apocalypse. Foreword by Virginia Sease, Introduction by James H. Hindes, Translated by James H. Hindes. CW 104a. Anthroposophic Press 2021. ISBN 978-1621482581
- Rudolf Steiner, Christopher Bamford, Marsha Post (Translator): Rosicrucianism Renewed: The Unity of Art, Science & Religion: The Theosophical Congress of Whitsun 1907. CW 284. SteinerBooks 2006. ISBN 978-0880106115
- Rudolf Steiner, Alexandra Riggins: Die sieben apokalyptischen Siegel, Triskel Verlag 2005, ISBN 978-3-905893-02-1
- Rudolf Steiner: Lucifer – Gnosis, GA 34 (1987), ISBN 3-7274-0340-3 English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Die Apokalypse des Johannes, GA 104 (1985), ISBN 3-7274-1040-X English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Aus der Bilderschrift der Apokalypse des Johannes, GA 104a (1991), ISBN 3-7274-1045-0 English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Bilder okkulter Siegel und Säulen. Der Münchner Kongreß Pfingsten 1907 und seine Auswirkungen., GA 284 (1993), ISBN 3-7274-2840-6 English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
- Rudolf Steiner: Vorträge und Kurse über christlich-religiöses Wirken, V, GA 346 (2001), ISBN 3-7274-3460-0 English: rsarchive.org German: pdf pdf(2) html mobi epub archive.org
References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English (by Steiner Online Library).
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold
steinerbooks.org - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.
- Éliphas Lévi: Dogme et rituel de la haute magie, volume 2, Paris 1861, p. 364 archive.org
- Bernd Lampe: Das Buch mit den sieben Siegeln, in: Das Goetheanum Nr. 7, 14. February 2014, p. 5 ff.