This is the text of a talk I gave at Emerson College on Easter Sunday, 9th April 2023, as part of the Easter Festival organised by the Anthroposophical Society in Sussex (ASiS).
A little while ago, Eva Davies and I were having a conversation about the role today of a local society like ASiS and asking ourselves, if it’s not too absurd a question, what on earth can a handful of people like us do in the face of the overwhelming onslaught of evil throughout the world?
As there are some of us here who are fairly new to anthroposophy, it should be explained that the founder of anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner, possessed exceptional faculties of clairvoyant consciousness. For him, unlike for most of us, the heavenly world of higher beings was completely open; and he was able to use his faculties to extend scientific research beyond the existing parameters of natural science, so as to investigate the non-physical, spiritual realities of life. Steiner’s viewpoint, which could be described as esoteric or cosmic Christianity, went beyond the teachings of the Catholic and Protestant Churches but was nevertheless fundamentally Christian and he was able through his researches to describe the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ as the central point of human evolution.
Interestingly, Steiner does not make a straight distinction between Good on the one hand and Evil on the other. Instead, he identifies two poles of Evil, which he calls Lucifer and Ahriman. Between these two poles, Christ holds the balance in the middle. Steiner saw Lucifer and Ahriman as not only forces or tendencies which affect humankind and draw us towards evil; but he also saw them as actual beings, who have had or are about to have physical incarnations. Lucifer’s incarnation was in China, in about 2500 BC. The incarnation of Christ was 2000 years ago, as we know. Ahriman’s incarnation is due about now, which is why we’re having such difficult times.
Steiner has told us that the incarnation of Ahriman is due “before even a part of the third of millennium after Christ will have passed” and cannot be averted. It will happen. He has also told us: it can bring good over the long term insofar as we wake up to the spirit through resistance against Ahriman’s materialistic impulses. But if Ahriman is not recognised, his influence will be harmful. Steiner also said at a meeting with young people in Breslau (which was then in Germany and is now Wroclaw in Poland), that Ahriman will do everything in his power to advance the moment of his incarnation as much as he can. Steiner then mentions the year 1998, which for anyone interested in numerology is 666 multiplied by 3. I’m intrigued to note that it was about then, actually in 1999, that Vladimir Putin came to power.
We are undoubtedly living in the precursor years of Ahriman’s incarnation, even if not yet during the actual incarnation. The signs are all around us and like me, you will probably have your own list of Ahrimanic phenomena in our times. There are so many to choose from, ranging from the apparently trivial to the alarmingly serious and it is difficult to keep up with all the negative developments that are happening throughout the world. Thank goodness there are also many positive developments which seem to arise in response to the Ahrimanic symptoms.
For me, Covid has been one of the most significant of the Ahrimanic phenomena. Covid is a viral disease, which means that it is mineral in nature and does not have its own life processes, and therefore needs a host organism so it can reproduce itself. But it also has astonishing intelligence, for example in the resistance it can develop to medicines, or in the way it can mutate, partly in response to vaccinations. But I can’t help asking, where does this astonishing intelligence live? In what being does this intelligence reside?
Second, the Covid pandemic produced fear, much of it stoked by deliberate government policy, as well as anxiety and division between people, even within families. It also led governments to dismantle existing civil liberties with an ease that they had not expected to find in Western democracies. It became impossible to have a fruitful exchange of views between different standpoints and we saw instead heightened emotions, rejection and hatred of other people’s opinions. This process was driven even further by our news outlets and social media, who censored the views of anyone, even distinguished professors of medicine, whose expert opinion did not fit the official line. Some of you may remember what happened to the Great Barrington Declaration, which was rubbished by the WHO. Again, one must ask: whose interests are being served by this fracturing of social cohesion?
And of course, Russia’s illegal and brutal war in Ukraine is another prime symptom of the Ahrimanic assault on humanity. At first, it was almost impossible to believe that such a thing could be happening, that in the 21st century one European nation could invade another to seize its territory and kill and terrorise its people. And yet it has happened and is continuing, with no sign of an end to these horrors. Vladimir Putin has turned Russia into a rogue state, a mafia-led kleptocracy, a pariah among nations and all the more terrible because it possesses over 6000 nuclear weapons. The Russian Army, in directing its assault on the ordinary citizens of Ukraine, has become a byword for corruption and brutality, inhumanity and incompetence. Russia, in the words of one Russian journalist who dares to oppose Putin’s war, will wash in the shame of these actions for decades to come. And now we are beginning to see a growing alliance between Russia and China, two autocracies finding common cause in opposition to the Western democracies and bringing with them the possibility of World War III over Taiwan.
What times we are living through! And of course there are so many other symptoms we could notice, whether it’s artificial intelligence and the gradual merging of humans and machines, about which even Elon Musk has called for a 6-month pause to assess the dangers; climate breakdown; the subversion of truth and morality in the post-Truth society; GMO and gene editing, about which the latest UK Government law, the so-called Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act 2023 received Royal Assent on 23rd March. Poor King Charles! I can’t believe he was happy to sign that into law.
Here, I think, it is relevant to quote what Rudolf Steiner had to say in the Karmic Relations lecture given in Dornach on 4th August, 1924:
“For the anthroposophist this proverb must hold good. He must say to himself: ‘Now that I have become an anthroposophist through my karma, the impulses which have been able to draw me to Anthroposophy require me to be attentive and alert.’”
Yes: we must be attentive and alert; and Steiner has also said that: “The important thing is that humanity should not sleep through Ahriman’s appearance.” This brings me back to the question I asked earlier: what should be the role of a local society like ASiS and what can a handful of anthroposophists do in the face of developing evil throughout the world? Eva Davies and I, during the conversation which prompted these thoughts, came to the conclusion that one of the most useful things we can do is really to be attentive and alert to any and every manifestation of Ahrimanic impulses in the world – to really see what is going on and come to a view on where these diverse phenomena are leading us. We won’t be able to change them – but by seeing them for what they are, we remove part of their power over us. But it’s quite astonishing how insidious and subtle these Ahrimanic influences are, and the ability they have to manifest in the most unexpected places; and I’d like to share with you just two, rather startling and shocking examples that I’ve noticed.
And because today is Easter Day, I’ll begin with a threat to Easter from a most unexpected source. Easter is of course a ‘moveable feast’, meaning that it is a festival whose date changes each year. To state it as simply as possible, Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first Full Moon after the Spring Equinox on 21stMarch. It can be as early as 22nd March, as it was in 1761 and 1818, but will not be again until 2285. It can be as late as 25th April but that hasn’t happened since 1943 and won’t recur until 2038. The commonest date for Easter Sunday is 19th April though the full cycle of Easter dates only repeats after 5,700,000 years.
Now all this is of course very untidy and much annoys bureaucrats, atheists and planners, all of whom would like to have fixed public holiday dates – but such people are wholly ignorant of the fact that on the true Easter Sunday intensified cosmic energies flow into the earth.
To back up that statement, I’m going to refer to some remarkable experiments done by Lili Kolisko (1889 – 1976), who did investigative scientific work into etheric formative forces, following indications given by Rudolf Steiner. She had shown that it was possible to get an image of the life-force of a plant by making a highly potentised solution of the plant essence through very great dilution, and then adding a solution of certain minerals which represent planetary forces – Silver Nitrate, Iron Sulphate or Gold Chloride. A piece of litmus paper is placed upright in a saucer with the solution and the liquid, rising to a certain height, shows the most striking colours and shapes which reveal the invisible etheric forces working in the plant. The technique is known as capillary dynamolysis.
In 1943, by which time Mrs Kolisko was living in the UK and carrying out daily experiments with capillary dynamolysis, Easter fell shortly after the equinox on 28th March. The church authorities in England had ruled that the Easter Full Moon should be considered to be a month later and that the festival should be celebrated on 25th April. The Astronomer Royal, however, disagreed and maintained that the earlier date was correct. Mrs Kolisko set out through her experiments to see which of them was right. Every day she repeated her experiments and a certain pattern showed itself again and again, until on Sunday 28th March a resplendent form of shape and colour appeared, quite different from the others. So the Astronomer Royal was correct and the church authorities got it wrong – on their preferred Sunday of 25th April there was no difference from the pattern of any other day.
A similar strengthening of the etheric forces was revealed on the true Whitsuntide, which is also a moveable feast because it is always on the seventh Sunday after Easter. So to anyone looking at the photos of these experiments, there can be no doubt whatever that a remarkable inpouring of spiritual power takes place on the true Easter Sunday and at Whitsun. It indicates that both Easter and Whitsun are cosmic events. These photos can be seen in a monograph by Lili Kolisko, called Spirit in Matter – just google for it and you will find it.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful for the Ahrimanic forces if they could somehow undermine the cosmic power of Easter Day? Well, they have found a way to do this and I’m sorry to say that it involves the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.
In 2016, Archbishop Justin announced how, after more than a thousand years of Easter being a moveable feast, he had hopes of reaching agreement with the other churches to settle upon a fixed date for Easter. He said he would “love” to see Easter become a fixed date by the time he retires.
Mr Welby said that he will consult with other authorities including Pope Francis and the Coptic Pope to negotiate a change to the date. It is very unlikely that any change will be made without the full assent of all those authorities. So with the active help of the Archbishop of Canterbury and possibly the leaders of other churches as well, Easter is likely to become a fixed date in the calendar and thus an event of cosmic significance, which is the occasion for a huge influx of spiritual power that affects all life on Earth, will be diminished to no more than an ordinary day. It would prevent humans from participating in this cosmic event, which as Rudolf Steiner told Ita Wegman offers a moment of revelation in which Christ may be experienced. What a great result for Ahriman, made even more satisfying by the fact that it is the leaders of the Christian churches who will have brought it about!
But even the undermining of Easter as a cosmic event might be considered less important than what Ahriman appears to be working on in connection with reincarnation. Those of you who are sports fans will probably not like what I’m about to say. Just over 100 years ago, Rudolf Steiner warned in a lecture given on 9th July 1918 (GA181) about high initiates in Anglo-American circles (by this he means secret brotherhoods of oppositional powers) who have a programme to undermine gradually the normal process of reincarnation. This is what Steiner had to say:
“They cultivate especially the powers of perception belonging to the body which strengthen the subjection of man to the body, through the incoming of forces not belonging entirely to the body but binding it to the earth. (…) A strong physical sense of relationship between the human body and the earthly elements is to be acquired. This strong feeling of relationship between the creature in the physical body and the earth exists to-day in certain species of apes, which have it as their soul-life. In them it can be studied physiologically and zoologically. What is present there can be gradually formed into a “system of instruction for human beings”; all that has to be done is to develop the coarse side of relationship with nature into a system of bodily education. (In saying this I am neither railing nor criticising; I am merely stating facts.) Thus it will be possible to bring about a sort of practical Darwinism, intensifying the relation of man to what binds him to the earth in a certain sense, to “monkeyfy” him. That is the practical side. It will be pursued through the intensive cultivation — ostensibly instinctive but in fact carefully directed — of sports and such-like things. This fetters the soul, drawing it into a sense of kinship with the earthly, with the earth itself, and so a spiritual ideal such as I have described is set up. By this means the continuing alternation of spiritual life and physical life will be overcome, and by degrees the ideal will be realised of living in future periods of earth-evolution as a kind of “phantom”; of dwelling on earth in this guise.” In other words, a kind of ghost, unable to move on to the heavenly world after death.
Steiner was not an enthusiast for sport and there are many quotations demonstrating this. Here is just one: “The excessive pursuit of sport is Darwinism in practice. Theoretical Darwinism is to assert that man comes from the animals. Sport is practical Darwinism, it proclaims an ethic which leads man back again.” (Study of Man, Lecture 13)
Returning to Steiner’s 1918 lecture (GA181), he went on to say that: “The Anglo-American people (and I think by this phrase he means the secret brotherhoods referred to earlier) strives for this strange ideal: no longer to return into earthly bodies, but to have an ever-increasing influence on the earth through the medium of living souls, whilst they themselves become more and more earthbound as disembodied souls. A very interesting point is that this ideal can be appropriately followed only by the male population, and hence, in spite of all political endeavours, an increasing difference between men and women will arise in Anglo-American civilization. Anglo-American spiritual life will in essence descend to future ages through women; while that which lives in male bodies will strive towards such an ideal as I have described. This will set the pattern of the future Anglo-American race.”
Now because what Steiner has to say here is so startling, let us try to be clear about his meaning. He is saying that the over-emphasis on sports, games, athletics and so on are among the forces of hindrance in modern civilisation. This is because the concentration on physical prowess and skill fetters the soul, in his phrase, drawing it too closely to kinship with the earth, so that after death, instead of making the normal transition to the spiritual world and to eventual reincarnation, the soul stays not just disembodied but also earthbound – it is unable to move on to the heavenly world. And these disembodied souls who remain close to the earth then have the ability to influence living souls on earth with the Ahrimanic illusion that the only reality lies in materialism. That is a truly startling observation, which he followed up by saying that it is male bodies who will be most affected by this and therefore Anglo-American spiritual life will in essence descend to future ages through women. My assumption about this statement is that in Steiner’s day, the audiences at football and other sports were overwhelmingly male; and the women therefore were less likely to succumb to the unseen soul influences present at those events. And perhaps we might also say that the devotion required to be a mother (and protect the next generation) and the channelling of spiritual forces in childbirth predisposes women to a higher attunement to wellbeing and family harmony – hence women have an increased likelihood of possessing loving heart forces naturally resistant to Ahrimanic impulses.
But Steiner was of course speaking over 100 years ago and the situation regarding women and sport has been transformed since then. We now have enthusiasm throughout the world, not just in the Anglo-American countries, for women and girls’ football. The FIFA Women’s World Cup was first held in China in 1991 and 176 national teams now participate internationally. Here in the UK, the England women’s team is praised for being more successful than the men’s team and players have recently been awarded MBEs and OBEs. The sport is poised to grow and grow, with women and girls being encouraged to take part at all levels of the game. Even in the Middle East and North Africa, countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Palestine, Turkey, Jordan, Iran, Lebanon, Syria and Israel have had large-scale competitions and national teams – and since 2020, countries that have traditionally been seen as extreme like Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Mauritania and Sudan have begun to develop women’s football in order to raise their international profiles and to distance themselves from their conservative pasts.
Steiner was warning not of the elimination of the knowledge of reincarnation but the gradual elimination of reincarnation itself. One has to ask: Is the worldwide growth of women’s football just one indication among many that Ahriman is working far more effectively for this end than even Steiner himself had supposed? And what is it that these Ahrimanic beings are seeking to bring about? According to Steiner: “They set themselves the task of keeping man on the Earth by every possible means. You know from the book Occult Science that the Earth will one day pass over into the Jupiter condition. That is what these beings want to prevent. They want to prevent man from developing in a regular way together with the Earth and then passing over into the Jupiter condition in a normal way. They want to preserve the Earth as Earth and mankind for the Earth. Hence these beings work unceasingly and with great intensity to achieve their purpose.” (1922-12-03-GA219)
Now, I am not a fan of sport – I’d much rather read a book or listen to music or do some gardening – so perhaps I can be accused of bias; and when I discussed Steiner’s ideas recently with a well-known anthroposophist and sports fan in this village, he thought what I was saying was nonsense – so I am under no illusion that what I’ve just said will gain any acceptance even in our own circles, let alone in the wider world. But Steiner did not criticise modern sport and athletics because he wasn’t interested in them, but because of the effects he could perceive them having on us. He saw much of sport as being unhelpful in what he considered to be really important, ie that we should realise that we are not just creatures of flesh and blood but that we are actually spiritual beings who are currently having human experiences within our physical bodies. You are of course free to assert that Steiner was wrong about sport and its effects – but then I think you have to explain how and why Steiner was wrong.
There’s no doubt that Ahriman has an easier task than one could wish. He finds it easy to persuade humans to give up their future to him, because Ahriman can work through the seat of our desires – our pride, greed, laziness, lust or wish for power – but Christ can only work through our I or individuality and this means that the struggle is not an equal one. Our individuality has so to develop itself that it can in time learn to recognise and resist the many temptations offered by Lucifer and Ahriman. The two forces work in harmony at the present time, even though they appeal to different instincts in us. The way to deal with these two poles of Evil is to seek the balance in the middle, which is represented by Christ.
And I also have to acknowledge that, although Steiner talks about the “regular” way in which Earth and humanity evolve together and the “normal” way in which the Earth will pass one day into the Jupiter condition, how many of our fellow humans actually believe these things? By the time after many aeons when the Jupiter condition occurs, humans will no longer be in physical bodies. I’m fairly sure that most humans may not like the sound of this and would much prefer to stay with what they know, which is what Ahriman is offering them, ie to keep humankind earthbound and in physical bodies. Better the Devil you know, especially when he offers you such a wide range of sports and entertainments…
And whether you agree with Steiner or not, the real challenge of these times is how to get through them without succumbing to despair. For me, the pain consists of seeing what is happening and realising that the vast majority of our fellow human beings, although they know that we are living in a troubled world, are oblivious to what is really going on. And what I think is really going on, to borrow the title of a book by Bernard Lievegoed, is The Battle for the Soul. According to Lievegoed, because the human spirit is unassailable, the opposing powers therefore direct their efforts against the soul. The human soul is the real battlefield of the war between the powers of good and evil. What the Ahrimanic powers are attempting is to obscure the human soul or even to destroy it, so that the human ‘I’ is unable to gain experience through it.
Ahriman is also working very hard to ensure that we humans are unaware of the second coming of Christ, which according to Rudolf Steiner will not be a physical incarnation this time around. That was done once and for all 2000 years ago and will not be repeated. Steiner says that since about 1933, the Christ has been available to human beings in the etheric field and that more and more of us will be able to have the experience of an encounter with Christ. We know how Ahriman dealt with this threat in 1933, by bringing Hitler to power in Germany, thus creating more assaults on the human soul that diverted us from awareness of what was happening in the etheric realm. By keeping the eyes of most of humanity fixed firmly on the material world, and completely unaware of any other reality, Ahriman has kept knowledge of the second coming from our souls.
In 1916, Rudolf Steiner said that at the beginning of the 21st century, evil will appear in a form which at that time could not be described. His audience in 1916, even though they were enduring the horrors of the First World War, would not have been able to understand or take in a detailed description of the evils which we ourselves are having to live through at this time. As I mentioned during the Michaelmas address last September, the ecological crisis and the multiple other crises confronting humanity are at root just one crisis, that of our human consciousness. The state of the outer world is a direct reflection of the state of the human soul.
But before we sink into despair, let us remind ourselves of the larger context. The Earth is the location for human evolution, even though in our real natures, human beings are not earthly creatures, but are instead of spiritual and cosmic origin. The human body is a sheath, a container for soul and spirit. We had to sink into earth-bound materialism in order to understand what freedom means and to make a positive choice for freedom. But now, during this age of the Consciousness Soul, we are learning that lesson and are awakening in earthly existence to the full power of the ego, the ‘I’, and as a result we are gradually turning once again towards the cosmos.
We are at that stage now, with humankind once again on an upward journey towards our true nature. It is of course that upward trajectory which the Ahrimanic powers are seeking to divert, through various schemes to keep human beings fettered to the Earth and the prevailing materialist consciousness. Here I’d like to quote from a 1929 essay by Ita Wegman called ‘The Mystery of the Earth’, which also brings us back to Easter:
“The purpose of earthly evolution lies in this turning-back of man to the cosmos. Out of his own power the human being could never achieve this. For he could not have brought about a complete reversal in the direction which evolution took. So a cosmic impulse had to be inserted into the course of earthly and human evolution. This happened when a cosmic being, the sublime Sun Being Himself, the Christ, descended to the Earth and through His death on the cross united himself with everything terrestrial, thus transforming the Earth in its innermost essence.”
And this is a quotation from Rudolf Steiner’s Lecture VIII from The Principle of Spiritual Economy:
“… when the Mystery of Golgotha happened, human beings received the ability to muster from within the strength necessary to elevate themselves and lead themselves upward into the spiritual worlds. The Christ descended much deeper than had those previous leaders of the world and of mankind: not only did He bring heavenly forces into the earthly body, but also He spiritualized this earthly body in such a way that it now became possible for human beings to find the way back into the spiritual world with the help of these very forces.” ~Rudolf Steiner GA 109 https://rsarchive.org/Lectures/19090411p02.html
So let us try to remember that we are now on the upward path back to realising our true nature as spiritual beings who are currently having human experiences within physical bodies, despite all that Ahriman can do to deceive us. Let us do our best to be alert and attentive to all the tricks, wiles and illusions being practised on us with the aim of diverting us from our path, because by observing and identifying what is really going on, we are doing as much as we can at this time to ensure that Ahriman fails in his attempts.
It is anthroposophy which can make us aware of these larger truths and provide us with the protection we need to come through this Battle for the Soul with our essential humanity still intact. I’d like to finish this address with a verse from Rudolf Steiner, which is almost like an answer to the question Eva Davies and I had asked ourselves about the role of anthroposophists at this time. It is called ‘To the Berlin Friends’ and he wrote it in November 1923 but every word of it could have been written to describe our situation today.
Mankind is now forgetful
Of the Divine inner realm,
But it is our will to bring it
Into the clear light of consciousness,
And then bear above rubble and ashes
The divine flames in the heart of man.
Lightning-bolts may therefore shatter
Our houses in the world of sense;
We are building houses of the soul
From what is iron-firm.
Light-weaving of knowledge.
And downfall of the outer
Shall become ascent
Of innermost soul-being.
Suffering draws near
From the powers of material force;
Hope rays forth its light,
Even when darkness surrounds us;
And it will one day
Well up in our memory,
When after the darkness
We can again live in the light.