Dornach, 20 September 1924


I shall begin by returning to something mentioned earlier, which we shall then use as our point of departure. I drew your attention to the notable fact that in people’s subconscious longings there is a strong need for spirituality and also that what happens superficially in experiences of the physical plane is something fundamentally different from what is actually going on in human souls today. There is an astonishing fact that goes to prove this. A few days ago I mentioned the remarkable way in which the content of my lectures to the Goetheanum workmen takes shape through the questions asked by the workers themselves.1 This reveals something of the longings that are developing. I also pointed out how one can speak to people out of the spirit of the Book of Revelation if only one finds the right tone. Without mentioning the Book of Revelation as such one can speak in the spirit of this Book precisely as we are doing amongst ourselves now.

I had decided on the subject of today’s talk to you out of the whole context we have been discussing. Then, astonishingly, this morning in my lecture to the workmen a question was asked that made it necessary for me to explain the very same scientific matters to them that I was intending to talk to you about. You see what effects are going on beneath the surface; something truly spiritual is going on in that the lectures I am giving here call forth longings in that other group of people, longings which otherwise they would not have. I would never have been called on to give that lecture there if I were not speaking here about the Book of Revelation. Yet I gave that lecture in answer to a question that was asked but which I did not know about outwardly. Such a thing shows how our time is being touched by a spiritual life that is chiefly going on below the surface of consciousness, a spiritual life that is most strongly the concern of the priest who has to try and find out the degree to which souls are inclined to enter into spiritual matters.

Our considerations here will be carried out in a way that allows them to be guided by the spirit of the Book of Revelation. This is the given situation here, but this morning I had to touch on the same matter from quite another angle in answer to a question. Such things must be taken very seriously, for they are significant. We must now ask ourselves, dear friends, in which way the terminology of the apocalyptist is even more intimate. If you look at everything I have said, you will understand that when the apocalyptist is speaking about how the human being stands in the midst of the whole universe he has before him a oneness of the stellar world and the earthly world, so that he links the essence of the human being as much with the stellar world as with the earthly world. We must also point realistically to what he means when he speaks of beasts, of the seven-headed and the two-horned beast. (Rev. 13) So far we have only been speaking about what the human being can experience inwardly. You will find, however, that wherever the apocalyptist speaks of fixed stars he is speaking of the divine spirit in the way this was still spoken of throughout the Middle Ages. When he speaks of planets he is speaking of angelic Intelligences, of Intelligences that are angelic or hierarchical in character. And when he speaks of beasts he means something equally specific. In our inmost being he lets us participate both in the crystal heavens and in the heavens of the fixed stars and planets, but also in what is founded on the animal character in the whole way it has evolved, on these beasts that keep playing a part in the Book of Revelation. What are these when it comes to the external, physical reality of the world?

Wherever the apocalyptist is speaking of the beast he is actually referring to the powers and effects of comets. Only when you are familiar with this terminology will you also understand what the apocalyptist knew about the nature of comets, knowledge which subsequently became completely buried. So let us now look at the nature of comets in the light of what the Book of Revelation tells us. Take the Copernican system as it is taught in schools nowadays: Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, then Jupiter and Saturn, and you might as well add Uranus and Neptune. (Plate 6) The movements of all these are calculable so long as you avoid making big mistakes and if you take into account the adjustments that have always been necessary. You only have to point your telescope at the spot you have calculated and there you will find the planet. These are the calculable things. But within this planetary system we also have the paths of the comets. Many cometary paths are also calculable, and these calcula­tions lead to quite remarkable results, which can give rise to a lot of excitement if they are simply taken in the way they appear according to today’s astronomical calculations. I will use just one of these as my starting point.

In Paris in 1773 it was announced that Lalande, the famous astronomer, was to lecture on comets at the Academy.2 Rumour had it that he was going to prove the imminence of a collision between a comet and the earth in that very year, for calculations of the comet’s path were said to show that it would cross the earth’s orbit and so cause the collision.3 Imagine the mood in the population at that time. The rumour caused the whole of Paris to panic, especially when it was announced that the police, who always act correctly, had had nothing better to do than forbid the lecture on account of it being dangerous. There were large numbers of miscarriages and premature births, seriously ill people died, and Catholic priests did a roaring trade selling absolutions because everyone rushed to confession and wanted to receive the sacraments before the end of the world! Since the lecture did not take place, quite a while passed before people found out what Lalande had actually intended to say. Lalande’s calculations were quite correct and did indeed show that a certain comet would cross the earth’s orbit, and if it were to collide with the earth this would most certainly cause great masses of ocean water from the equator to flood the land masses that lie between the North and the South Pole. This terrible thing did not happen, yet the calculation was correct.

We can find out what was at the root of all this, dear friends, by looking at the situation with another comet, the famous Biela’s comet. In 1832 people quite rightly paid close attention to the path of Biela’s comet and everything that could be mathematically foreseen as resulting from that path. When the comet appeared it behaved exactly as the calculations had foretold. It came so close to the earth that people said: It is getting closer to the earth every time it appears, so a time will come when this will be dangerous. Since Biela’s comet approaches the earth’s orbit every six to seven years, a huge amount of attention was focussed on it in the 1840s when calculations showed that it would come so close to the earth’s orbit as to be thirteen times closer to it than the moon. Things were looking grim indeed! As the comet continued to come closer and closer to the earth’s orbit, astronomers noticed that it was growing dimmer the closer it came. When it came dangerously close to the earth again in 1846 they observed that it was not only dimmer but had split into two. In the 1860s conditions were unfavourable for observation, so people became very curious indeed about its next appearance due in 1872. If the calculations were as correct as Lalande’s had been for the comet in 1773, it was thought that disaster would be likely. I was only a small boy in 1872, but I clearly remember leaflets being distributed where I lived, and of course they were distributed elsewhere as well, stating: The world is going to end. Everyone was talking and writing about it. There was a lot of anxiety, although in this instance I cannot give you any statistics about miscarriages, deaths or absolutions! I well remember the excited anticipation as the day approached; but what happened? The comet failed to appear. Instead there was the most wonderful, beautiful meteor shower, as though a fire were falling to the earth from the night sky in myriads of tiny fading sparks. Having split into two, the comet then proceeded to disintegrate into nothing but tiny splinters that the earth’s atmosphere was able to absorb and which became united with the being of the earth. It chose the path of becoming absorbed by the earth.

In 1832 a well-known astronomer, Littrow, published a treatise that was very interesting.4 I can still recommend studying it, even today; it is most interesting and its complicated calculations are entirely correct. Here was someone who knew what he was talking about. He made a calculation that took every possibility into account. He worked out that in 1832 there could not yet have been a calamity caused by a collision, but he said that if everything remained as it had been when the comet’s course was plotted when it was still a single body and not yet split, then a calamity would definitely occur in 1933; 1933 is what he said. So if the comet had remained as it was, then there would definitely be a catastrophe in 1933 in which all the oceans would spread over the earth in huge floods, making life on earth die out. Instead, the comet has disintegrated; in tiny particles it has been absorbed by the earth, the earth has nourished itself on this cosmic substance. So instead of a collision in 1933—that year is not far off now—what the earth has absorbed is spiritualized by other substances, and the spiritual rises up. The earth digests the comet and something spiritual rises up. Dear friends, spiritualized cometary substance does indeed rise up in the earth in this way from time to time.

Let me tell you the purpose of this, for there is a profound cosmic purpose. I have often mentioned some rather grotesque things that happened when railways were first built. One of these was that when the building of a railway was mooted, the minister for post in Berlin5 retorted that he sent off two mail coaches each week and there were no passengers in them, so what would be the point in building a railway. Another thing that happened was that when asked for an expert opinion about the building of a railway from Nuremberg to Fürth, a panel of physicians at Nuremberg recommended desisting from doing such a thing since people’s nerves would suffer dreadfully in consequence; they ought not to be exposed to it for they would be damaged in body and soul; but if it was felt necessary to give in to this foolish urge, then it would be advisable at least to build high plank walls on either side of the railway to prevent the farmers from getting concussion.6 This was the scientific opinion given by the panel of physicians in Nuremberg. Today we deride the small-mindedness of such people. But as I have often said, I cannot quite laugh in the same way because they were right according to the scientific knowledge of their day. According to what was known at that time you had to say that people would ruin their nerves if they travelled by train, and to a certain degree this is indeed the case. If you compare people’s nerves today with the nerves of those living some time ago you will discover a small clue that exonerates the physicians of Nuremberg to some extent. What science was saying was, in effect, that human beings would not be able to tolerate the demands made on their physical body via the astral body if the astral body, the animal part of the human being, did not constantly receive a correction, a therapy, through that which rays back up to the surface of the earth from the absorbed cometary substances, exercising a balancing effect on human capacities.

So here we have the human being placed into the universe in a remarkable way. Here is Biela’s comet in 1872. Fire falls from the sky; the earth absorbs it in such a way that someone with spiritual vision can see how it returns and influences the human astral body either favourably or unfavourably. There are comets that influence human beings in the way I have described by therapeutically balancing their nervousness, and there are others that let loose wild astral forces when they make their way up to the earth’s surface again after having been absorbed. This is how the apocalyptist regards the cometary appearances. When he describes the beasts he also describes the cometary appearances, he places them side by side because they can be seen as parallel phenomena; he draws a parallel with the seven-headed beast because at that time such things were much more closely linked with the whole physical world and because there was a comet then that had split into seven pieces, thus expressing in a heavenly way something that was happening on the earth. Similarly the two-horned beast I mentioned is linked with a comet, a comet with two tails.

Dear friends, wild superstitions have become attached to comets and these have prevented their significance from being considered in the right light; their paths have merely been plotted and people have been irritated by their whimsical behaviour. At least once in a while some intelligent thinker such as Hegel has condescended to draw attention to different types of link between the nature of comets and the nature of the earth.7 Hegel, who was not averse to the occasional glass of sparkling wine, made the entirely correct observation that good and bad years for wine are connected with comets.

Let us now look at this whole matter on a cosmic scale, dear friends. The earth imbibes cometary substance and subsequently gives it off again in a spiritualized form; this then unites with the astral bodies of human beings either in a good or in a bad way. When we see a comet in the sky at a certain time, where is it after that time? In a lecture I gave in Paris in 1906 I drew attention to the fact that cometary substance contains cyanide, compounds of carbon and nitrogen.8 It was a good while before external science began to mention this, but later it was proved by spectral analysis. The fact that there is cyanide in comets is most important, for distributed over the earth in tiny amounts this substance is needed for the purification of astral bodies. There is an immensely great cosmic physician at work in the cosmos who is more or less constantly busy administering therapies like this. Just think: What we see above us as a comet in the sky in one period then becomes atomized as I have described; it comes down from the sky in showers of fire; later it is in the soil and still later it moves from the soil into the plants, into their roots, stems, leaves and flowers. We eat the cometary deposit, the cometary leaven that is given to the earth by the cosmos, we eat it with our very bread. When the apocalyptist contemplates this phenomenon he sees favourable effects from one comet and unfavourable effects from another rising up before his spiritual vision. The Beast will be let loose from its imprisonment in the earth; that is what the comet is in the cosmic sense. That the Beast will be let loose is significant for the development of human beings. Such things are exceed­ingly powerful realities, great and significant points in the evolution of humanity and of the earth.

In 1933, dear friends, there would be a possibility for the earth and everything living on it to perish if there did not exist also that other wise arrangement that cannot be calculated. Once comets have taken on other forms calculations can no longer be accurate. What needs to be said in the sense meant by the apocalyptist is: Before the Etheric Christ can be comprehended by human beings in the right way, humanity must first cope with encountering the Beast who will rise up in 1933. This is what the apocalyptic language tells us. Here a view of the spirit unites with a view of nature. What is there in the cosmos becomes clear to us in its fundamental spiritual character. Take the way the peasants described what they saw in 1872 as they stood and watched the shower of light, and add to it what the spirit tells us as I have described it, and compare this with many of the descriptions in the Book of Revelation, and you will see that even the very words used match one another. You will see that the Book of Revelation is speaking of actual natural events.

These are things that justify calling the Book of Revelation a book with seven seals. They have to be unsealed in this way in order to discover what is actually meant. When people ask why the apocalyptist gives us a book that is sealed I do not find this question any more intelligent than when someone asks why we seal our letters when we send them off in closed envelopes. We seal them so that they will not be read by those for whom they are not intended. The same goes for the apocalyptist. He wanted the Book of Revelation to be read only by those called upon to do so. No one will know how to open the seal who has not first, you might say, received the appropriate paperknife from the spiritual powers.

Dear friends, in 1872, when that comet was supposed to be returning, there was a shower of light instead. This means that everything was already much more spiritual than when this comet made its earlier appearances. This comet will now only appear in the form of a shower of rays of light falling to earth. What happened at the end of the 1870s was that the regency of Michael came down to the earth in that shower of golden light.

Thus we have natural events that are actual spiritual events, and spiritual events that have the power to be natural events. Only when you can penetrate into the world with an intensity that makes all natural events into spiritual events and that gives all spiritual events the intensity of natural events will you truly gain insight into the formation of the world. Then the moral and the natural will join in a single evolution, and the inclination will arise to take knowledge as the content of religious life. Then there will no longer be any need to fall back on the excuse that only faith, but not knowledge, should provide the content of religious life.
This is what you can gain through a deeper approach to the Book of Revelation. I hope we shall be able to finish these considerations tomorrow or the day after.

Lecture Seventeen

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