An Esoteric Cosmology - Rudolf Steiner - ebook

Based on a series of lectures delivered by Rudolf Steiner in Paris, 1906 and transcribed by Eduard Schuré, An Esoteric Cosmology is a concise but powerful book and essential reading for students of Steiner. A wide variety of topics are covered, including Intellect, the Mission of Christianity, Manicheism, God, Man and Nature, Involution and Evolution, History of Yoga, The Gospel of St. John, Christian Mysticism, The Astral World, The Devachanic World (Heaven), Dreams, The Evolution of Planets and Earth, Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Human Will, Redemption and Liberation and the Apocalypse.       This new digital edition of An Esoteric Cosmology from Occult Classics includes a revised English translation with modern American English spelling and punctuation. 

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An Esoteric Cosmology

Rudolf Steiner

Published by Occult Classics, 2017.



An Esoteric Cosmology by Rudolf Steiner. Based on eighteen lectures by Steiner delivered in Paris, France, May 25 to June 14, 1906, from notes taken in French by Eduard (Édouard) Schuré (1841-1929). 

English public domain translations newly revised for this edition with modern American spelling and punctuation. Cover, interior design and editing © Copyright 2017 Occult Classics Publishing. All rights reserved.


First e-book edition 2017.


ISBN: 978-1-387-20717-6.

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page

I | The Birth of the Intellect and the Mission of Christianity

II | The Mission of Manicheism

III | God, Man, Nature

IV | Involution and Evolution

V | Yoga in East and West

VI | Yoga in East and West (Conclusion)

VII | The Gospel of St. John

VIII | The Christian Mystery

IX | The Astral World

X | The Astral World (continued)

XI | The Devachanic World (Heaven)

XII | The Devachanic World (Continued)

XIII | The Logos and the Word

XIV | The Logos and Man

XV | The Evolution of Planets and Earth

XVI | Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Human Will

XVII | Redemption and Liberation

XVIII | The Apocalypse

Further Reading: Road to Self Knowledge


The Birth of the Intellect and the Mission of Christianity


IT IS ONLY OF RECENT times that the truths of occultism have been the subject of public lectures. Formerly, these truths were only revealed in secret societies, to those who had passed through certain degrees of initiation and had sworn to obey the laws of the Order through the whole of their life. Today, man is entering upon a very critical period. Occult truths are beginning to be disclosed to the public. In a matter of twenty years or so, a certain number of them will already be common knowledge. Why is this? The reason is that humanity is entering upon a new phase which it is the object of this lecture to explain.

In the Middle Ages, occult truths were known in the Rosicrucian Movement. But whenever they leaked out, they were either misunderstood or distorted. In the eighteenth century they entered upon a phase of much dilettantism and charlatanry and at the beginning of the nineteenth century they were put entirely in the background by the physical sciences. It is only in our day that they are beginning to re-emerge and in the coming centuries they will play an important part in the development of mankind. In order to understand this, we must glance at the centuries preceding the advent of Christianity and follow the progress that has been made.

It does not require any very profound knowledge to realize the difference between a man of pre-Christian times and a man of today. Although his scientific knowledge was far less, man of olden times had deeper feelings and intuitions. He lived more in the world beyond — which he also perceived — than in the world of sense. There were some who entered into direct and actual communication with the astral and spiritual world. In the Middle Ages, when earthly existence was by no means comfortable, man still lived with his head in the heavens. True, the medieval cities were somewhat primitive, but they were a far truer representation of man's inner world than the cities of today. Not only the cathedrals but the houses and porches with their symbols reminded men of their faith, their inner feelings, their aspirations, and the home of their soul. Today, we have knowledge of many, many things and the relations among human beings have multiplied ad infinitum. But we live in cities that are like deafening factories in awful Babels, with nothing to remind us of our inner world. Our communion with this inner world is not through contemplation but through books. We have passed from intuition into intellectualism.

To find the origin of the stream of intellectualism we must go back further than the Middle Ages. The epoch of the birth of human intellect, the period when this transformation took place, lies about a thousand years before the Christian era. It is the epoch of Thales, Pythagoras and Buddha. Then for the first time arose philosophy and science, that is to say truth presented to the reason in the form of logic. Before this age, truth presented itself in the form of religion, of revelation received by the teachers and accepted by the masses. In our times, truth passes into the individual intelligence and would fain be proved by argument, would like to have its own wings clipped.

What has happened in the inner nature of man to justify this transition of his consciousness from one plane to another, from the plane of intuition to that of logic? Here we touch upon one of the fundamental laws of history — a law no longer recognized by contemporary thought. It is this:


HUMANITY EVOLVES IN a way which enables the different elements and principles of man's being to unfold and develop in successive stages.



To begin with, man has a physical body in common with the mineral kingdom. The whole mineral world is found again in the chemistry of the body. He has an etheric body, which is, properly speaking, the vital principle within him. He has this etheric body in common with the plants. This principle engenders the process of nutrition and the forces of growth and reproduction. Man has also an astral body in which feelings and sentiments, the power of enjoyment and of suffering are enkindled. He has the astral body in common with the animals.

Finally, there is a principle in man which cannot be spoken of as a body. It is his innermost essence, distinguishing him from all other entities, mineral, plant and animal. It is the self, the soul, the divine spark. The Hindus spoke of it as Manas; The Rosicrucians as the ‘Inexpressible.’ A body, in effect, is only part and parcel of another body, but the self, the ‘I’ of man exists in and by itself alone — “I am I.” This principle is addressed by others as ‘thou,’ or ‘you;’ it cannot be confused with anything else in the universe. By virtue of this inexpressible, incommunicable self, man rises above all created things of the Earth, above the animals, indeed above all creation. And only through this principle can he commune with the Infinite Self, with God. That is why, at certain definite times, the officiating hierophant in the ancient Hebrew sanctuaries said to the High Priest: Shem-Ham-Phores, which means: What is his name (the name of God)? He-Vo-He, or — in one word — Jev or Joph, meaning God, Nature, Man; or again, the inexpressible ‘I’ of man which is both human and divine.

These principles of man's being were laid down in remote ages of his vast evolutionary cycle — but they only unfold slowly, one by one.

The special mission of the period which began about a thousand years before the Christian era has been to develop the human Ego in the intellectual sense. But above the intellectual plane there is the plane of Spirit. It is the world of Spirit to which man will attain in the centuries to come, and to which he will be wending his way from now onwards. The germs of this future development have been cast into the world by the Christ and by true Christianity.

Before speaking of this world of Spirit, we must understand one of the forces by means of which humanity en masse passed from the astral to the intellectual plane. It was by virtue of a new kind of marriage. In olden times, marriages were made in the bosom of the same tribe or of the same clan — which was only an extension of the family. Sometimes, indeed, brothers and sisters married. Later on, men sought their wives outside the clan, the tribe, the civic community. The beloved became the stranger, the unknown. Love — which in days of yore had been merely a natural and social function — became personal desire, and marriage a matter of free choice. This is indicated in certain Greek myths like that of the rape of Helen and again in the Scandinavian and Germanic myths of Sigurd and Gudrun. Love becomes an adventure, woman a conquest from afar.

This change from patriarchal marriage to free marriage corresponds to the new development of man's intellectual faculties, of the Ego. There is a temporary eclipse of the astral faculties of vision and the power of reading directly in the astral and spiritual world — faculties which are included in ordinary speech under the name of inspiration.

Let us now turn to Christianity. The brotherhood of man and the cult of the One God are certainly features of it but they only represent the external, social aspect, not the inner, spiritual reality. The new, mysterious and transcendental element in Christianity is that it creates divine Love, the power which transforms man from within, the leaven by which the whole world is raised. Christ came to say, ”If you leave not mother, wife and your own body, you cannot be my disciple”

That does not imply the cessation of natural links. Love extends beyond the bounds of family to all human beings and is changed into vivifying, creative, transmuting power.

This Love was the fundamental principle of Rosicrucian thought but it was never understood by the outer world. It is destined to change the very essence of all religion, of all cults, of all science.

The progress of humanity is from unconscious spirituality (pre-Christian), through intellectualism (the present age), to conscious spirituality, where the astral and intellectual faculties unite once more and become dynamic through the power of the Spirit of Love, divine and human. In this sense, Theology will tend to become Theosophy.

What, in effect, is Theology? A knowledge of God imposed from without under the form of dogma, as a kind of supernatural logic. And what is Theosophy? A knowledge of God which blossoms like a flower in the depths of the individual soul. God, having vanished from the world, is reborn in the depths of the human heart.

In the Rosicrucian sense, Christianity is at once the highest development of individual freedom and universal religion. There is a community of free souls. The tyranny of dogma is replaced by the radiance of divine Wisdom, embracing intelligence, love and action.

The science which arises from this cannot be measured by its power of abstract reasoning but by its power to bring souls to flower and fruition. That is the difference between ‘Logia’ and ‘Sophia,’ between science and divine Wisdom, between Theology and Theosophy.

In this sense, Christ is the center of the esoteric evolution of the West. Certain modern Theologians — above all in Germany — have tried to represent Christ as a simple, naive human being. This is a terrible error. The most sublime consciousness, the most profound Wisdom lives in Him, as well as the most divine Love. Without such consciousness, how could He be a supreme manifestation in the life of our whole planetary evolution? What gave Him this power to rise so high above His own time? Whence came transcendental qualities?


The Mission of Manicheism


THE PURPOSE OF THIS lecture is to expand and deepen what was said in the preceding lecture.

The difference between Occult Brotherhoods before and after Christianity is that before the advent of Christianity their chief mission was to guard the sacred tradition; afterwards, it was to form and mold the future. Occult science is not abstract and dead but active and living.

Christian occultism is derived from the Manicheans whose founder, Manes, lived on the Earth three hundred years after Jesus the Christ. The essence of Manichean teaching relates to the doctrine of Good and Evil. In ordinary thought, the Good and the Evil are two irreducible qualities, one of which — the Good — must destroy the other — the Evil. To the Manicheans, however, Evil is an integral part of the cosmos, collaborating in its evolution, finally to be absorbed and transfigured by the Good. The great feature of Manicheism is that it studies the function of Evil and of suffering in the world.

To understand the development of humanity, it must be viewed in its whole range. Only so can we see its high ideal. To believe that an ideal is not necessary for action is a great error. A man without ideals is a man without power. The function of an ideal in life is like that of steam in an engine. Steam comprises in a small area a vast expanse of ‘condensed space’ — hence its tremendous power of expansion. The magic power of thought is of the same nature. Let us then rise to the thought of the ideal of humanity as a whole, guided by the thread of its evolution through the epochs of time.

Systems like that of Darwin are also seeking for this guiding thread. The grandeur of Darwinian thought is not disputed, but it does not explain the integral evolution of man. It only sees the lower, inferior elements. So it is with all purely physical explanations which do not recognize the spiritual essence of man's being. Theories of evolution based entirely on physical facts, attribute to man an animal origin because science has established that in fossilized man the brow is lacking. Occultism, knowing that physical man is but an expression of etheric man, sees something very different. At the present point of time, the etheric body of man has practically the same form as his physical body, although extending a little beyond it. But the farther back we go in history, the greater is the difference in size between the etheric head and the physical head. The etheric head is found to be much larger. Especially was this so in the period of earthly development which precedes our own. The men living at that time were Atlanteans. Geologists, indeed, are beginning to discover traces of ancient Atlantis, of the minerals and flora of this ancient continent now submerged under the ocean that bears its name. Traces of man himself have not yet been discovered but that is only a matter of time. Occult prophecies have always preceded authentic history.

The frontal part of the human head began to develop in the European races which followed those of Atlantis. The focus-point of consciousness in the Atlanteans lay outside the brow, in the etheric head. Today it lies within the physical head, a little higher than the nose.

Nifelheim or Nebelheim (the land of mists) in Germanic mythology is the country of the Atlanteans. In that age the Earth was hotter and still enveloped by vaporous clouds. The continent of Atlantis was destroyed by a series of deluges, as a consequence of which the terrestrial atmosphere cleared, — Then and only then came the blue sky, the storm, rain, the rainbow. That is why the Bible says that when Noah's Ark had come to rest, the rainbow, the “bow in the cloud” was a new token of alliance between God and man.

The ‘I’ of the Aryan race could only be consciously realized when the etheric body was centralized in the physical brain. Not until then could man begin to say: ‘I.’ The Atlanteans spoke of themselves in the third person.

Darwinism has made many errors in regard to the differentiation expressed by the races actually existing on the Earth. The higher races have not descended from the lower races; on the contrary, the latter represent the degeneration of the higher races which have preceded them. Suppose there are two brothers — one of whom is handsome and intelligent, the other ugly and dull-witted. Both proceed from the same father. What should we think of a man who believed that the intelligent brother descends from the idiot? That is the kind of error made by Darwinism in regard to the races. Man and animal have a common origin; the animals represent a degeneration of the one common ancestor, whose higher development comes to expression in man.

This should not give rise to pride, for it is only thanks to the lower kingdoms that the higher races have been able to develop.

Christ washes the feet of the Apostles. That is a symbol of the humility of the Initiate in face of his inferiors. The Initiate owes his existence to those who are not initiated. Hence the deep humility of those who truly know in face of those who do not. The tragic aspect of cosmic evolution is that one class of beings must abase themselves in order that the other may rise. In this sense we can appreciate the beauty of Paracelsus' words: “I have observed all beings — stones, plants, animals — and they seem to me nothing but scattered letters, man being the word, living and whole.”

The animals are crystallized passions.

In the course of human and animal evolution the inferior descends from the superior.

The contradictions in man, the way in which the elements mingle in him, constitute his karma, his destiny.

Just as man has wrested himself from the animal so will he wrest himself from evil. But never yet has he passed through a crisis as severe as that of the present age.

The evil and the good are still within man just as in days of yore the animals were within him.

The aim of Manicheism is to sublimate men to be redeemers.

The Master must be the servant of all.

True morality flows from an understanding of the mighty laws of the universe.


God, Man, Nature


ONE OF THE FUNDAMENTAL tenets of occultism, founded on the law of analogies, is that Nature can reveal to us what is taking place within our own being.

A striking and typical example of this law, but one which is wholly ignored by orthodox science, is given in the Philosopher's Stone, known to the Rosicrucians. In a German magazine published at the end of the eighteenth century, we find mention of this Philosopher's Stone. It is spoken of as something quite real and the writer says: “Everyone contacts it frequently although he knows it not.” This is literally true. In order to understand this mystery we must penetrate into the laboratory of Nature even more deeply than is the habit of modern science.

The entire world knows that man inhales oxygen and exhales carbonic acid. In Yoga this has both a physical and spiritual significance. Man cannot inhale carbonic acid for the purposes of nourishing his being. He would die, whereas the carbonic acid keeps the plants alive. The plants provide man with the oxygen which gives him life; they renew the air and make it fit to breathe. On the other side, man and the animals provide the plants with the carbonic acid by which they, in their turn, are nourished. What does the plant do with the carbonic acid it absorbs? It builds up its own body. We know that the corpse of the plant is coal. Coal is thus crystallized carbonic acid.

The red blood in man must be refreshed and renewed with oxygen, for the carbonic acid cannot be used for the purpose of building up the body. The exercises of Yoga are a training which enables man to make the red blood into a body-builder. In this sense the Yogi works at his body by means of his blood, just as the plant works with the carbonic acid.

Thus we see that the power of transmutation in Nature is represented in coal which is a crystallized plant. The Philosopher's Stone, in its most general sense, signifies this power of transmutation.