The opening of the seals marks, according to Schult (p.113), the actual start of the Apocalypse, as here God’s plan with the world is revealed. The preceding parts were  preparation. The Lamb opens in chapter 6 the sealed book with its sacrificial force. According to Christian vision, man is not able to enter the pure divine world with his thinking ability (Schult, p.113). The divide between God and man can only be bridged when this divide is acknowledged and subsequently overcome by mystical experience that is the result of the work of the Messiah in man. That is why only the Lamb can open the book. Like the impacts of the seven ‘planets’ became visible in the letters to the seven communities, in the seals, the ‘planets’ reveal themselves in their actual nature (Schult, p.114).

Inner developments in the human soul during the Post-Atlantean epoch become physically perceptible in the Seal epoch. In Christian esotericism, sealing means that in the astral body an attribute is built which is imprinted in physical reality in the next developmental phase. The opening of a seal in the Seal epoch means that, what is built by present actions on the astral level in the human soul, will manifest in physical reality in the future cycle of the Seal epoch (Steiner, GA 104a, p.110).

An example is how the longing to return to the spiritual world in the period represented by the community of Ephesus, transforms in the next cycle of the Seal epoch, when the first seal is opened. The human soul that was not yet infected with evil in the Old Indian cultural period, represented by Ephesus, now wants to conquer the world with a kind of naïve enthusiasm. The Apocalypse presents as image for this attitude the rider on the white horse with a bow. In the Old Indian cultural period, man still kept a pure astral body, which is reflected in the white horse (Steiner, GA 104a, p.52). The bow and arrow represent the new desire to conquer the outside world, which is the reversal of the earlier desire to stay connected to the inner world. 

Main lines in the disclosure of the seals

The four throne beings call to John, when a seal is opened, to come closer in order that they show John what they know (Steiner, GA 8, p.121). The first four seals have a mutual connection, as they have links to events in the past. The four throne beings, which have their seat in the zodiac of stars, appear in this chapter in a lower planetary aspect as known in the Sumerian-Babylonian tradition (Schult, p.115). These four throne beings are known in Babylon as Marduk, Nergal, Ninurta and Nabu. Marduk presents himself as Jupiter, Nergal as Mars, Ninurta as Saturn and Nabu as Mercury, as we will see later. Like the first four seals have a connection with the past, the last three are future oriented. 

The innocence of the horseman with the bow on the white horse represents man in the Indian cultural period of the Post-Atlantean epoch, in which his hands did not yet touch the earth. The second horseman shows that in the Persian cultural period the fruits of egoism have been introduced,  leading now to battle, a red horse and the sword in his hand. In the Egyptian-Babylonian cultural period, represented by Pergamon, man learned weighing and counting and fair trading, and therefore the horseman appears at a black horse and a balance. The latter represents the dominance of thinking which weighs everything with human intelligence. The fourth horseman shows that, although man brings in the Greco-Roman cultural period the beauty of materialism to the culmination in art, the soul became completely deprived of the spiritual world. The consequence of the death of the soul in Thyatira is shown by the fourth horseman.

In the fifth cultural period the souls are again becoming lighter as a result of the Christ impulse. In the Seal epoch this is shown after opening of the fifth seal by the martyrs. But opposite to this light impulse we find the force that wants to take away the I from the personality, most clearly visualized by the financial sector in which money is completely cut loose from personal relationships and has become and abstract force with rules of its own. During the sixth cultural period of Philadelphia the group of people developing spiritually will be accompanied by those more strongly embedded in materialism, which will be manifested in a growing manipulation of the air and light forces. In the Seal epoch this will be shown by electro-magnetic forces which reflect on Earth causing earthquakes and meteor rains that will darken the Sun and the Moon and disrupt the conditions for life on Earth. Man surrendered to materialism will fall in the midst of these natural forces. Those connected with spiritual forces will belong to the sealed. They must embrace the wisdom that will later be emanated from their heart as spiritual force (Steiner, GA 104a, p.111-114).

The first four seals

The opening of the first four seals results in the appearance of a horse and a horseman with certain attributes. What do they symbolize? It is the aspect that man has conquered in the Post-Atlantean epoch, which is represented by the figure of the horse and the attribute of the horseman, such as a bow or a sword. As a result of transformation of aspects of man’s lower nature in the Post-Atlantean epoch, he becomes ruler of that aspect, in the Seal epoch (Steiner, GA 104a, p.110). This is symbolized by the horseman ruling his lower nature as a horse.

Furthermore, the horse is the animal associated with man’s intelligence. That is why the first four horsemen are portrayed on a horse. The horse comes up in evolution at the same moment that the capacity to think is emerging in man. The horse is one of those animals that are appearing in the last phase of the Atlantean epoch. The pictorial language of the Apocalypse is quite different from Darwinism that makes man a product of the animal kingdom. Esoteric Christianity sees man as a creation of the gods and animals as aspects of man that have become independent. Man had to place these aspects outside himself in order to be able to grow further. This is a process that repeats itself many times during human evolution. During the Old Moon incarnation of our planet, man had to outplace his passions, which resulted in the animal kingdom. During the Old Sun, the plant kingdom was left behind. And during the present planetary incarnation of Earth, the uprising stream of man has to leave the followers of materialism behind to be able to move upward further. In this context we have to look at the horse. It was outplaced by man in order to be able to develop in himself intelligence (Steiner, GA 104, 21 June 1908). Our challenge in the Post-Atlantean epoch is to spiritualize intelligence, spiritualize the mind to wisdom, in order to further continue our development of brotherhood love in the Seal epoch. After this phase the horse can step back because it has fulfilled its role and will no longer incarnate on earth.

The four horsemen have been a very popular subject for artists to visualize our moral struggles. Albrecht Dürer made a woodcut of the theme that has been reproduced for centuries until the present day. Also many painters still use the theme as a spectacular scene of man’s fate. Examples are Four horsemen of the Apocalypse of Viktor Vasnetsov (1887) and The horsemen of the Apocalypse of Salvador Dali (1970).

Albrecht Dürer, Apokalipsis cum figuris, 1496-1498,  The four horsemen; Photo of woodcut present at Rijksmuseum Amsterdam by Kees Zoeteman;
Viktor Vasnetsov, 1887, Four horsemen of the Apocalypse, 1887; source

Steiner (lectures of 21 and 24 June 1908) is of the opinion that the pictures presented after the opening of the first four seals have a disconsolate atmosphere. He attributes this to the lack of including the Christ impulse, which results in a stagnation for these groups of people as they have not integrated the power of their mind with love. Before the incarnation of the Christ, inspirations of Lucifer created division among people which was only counter-balanced by the Moon god Jahveh. After the birth of the Christ, the dividing intellectuality is placed opposite to the love of the Christ impulse, which unites people again. For this reason Jesus Christ is named Verus Lucifer, true light bearer, the bearer of the light of  loving wisdom (Steiner, 24 June 1908). Those rejecting the Christ impulse keep the old luciferic way of thinking alive, the bare mind, which was infused in man in the first cultural periods of the Post-Atlantean epoch as a basis for the later higher consciousness.

Opening of the first seal

When the Lamb opens the first seal, the keeper of the east, Marduk-Jupiter, appears, the crowned horseman on the white horse with bow and arrow. Sumerian-Babylonian culture presents Marduk-Jupiter as the triumphing god-king that conquers the power of darkness. Arrow, bow and crown are his attributes. We find similar attributes in the zodiac sign Sagittarius that is reigned by Jupiter, in the form of the centaur horse and the archer.

Horeseman with bow on white horse, appears after the opening of the first seal, 14th century, Apocalypse, La Teinture de Louis d’Anjou, Editions du Patrimone, Centre des Monuments Nationaux, 2015, Paris,

In Greek astrology the archer of the zodiac also wears a crown, bow and arrow and represents a royal conqueror. But because Sagittarius as centaur is an animal star sign, gods and demons are battling in him. That is why Sagittarius brings disaster by animals. White is in Sumerian-Babylonian culture the color of the east and of Marduk-Jupiter. Among the four elements fire belongs to the east, which represents the divine spirit (Schult, p.115).

In the Post-Atlantean epoch the gods shared their thoughts with man, to allow man to set goals for himself. The crown represents the light of thoughts that the gods plant on the forehead of man (Bock, p.108). These goals are symbolized by bow and arrow.

Steiner (GA 8, p.121) refers to the old Indian cultural period in which man repelled the physical world and embraced the spiritual world.  For this reason man will conquer the physical world after opening of the first seal. The white horse shows the bringing outwards of the spiritualization of the intelligence. Steiner sees the first horseman as a representation of Christianity (GA 8, p.121).