At the start of the second halve of the Apocalypse, after the sounding of the seventh trumpet, again a grandiose vision is presented to John which we, as reader, will never forget: the pregnant woman, clothed with the Sun, the Moon under her feet and the twelve star constellations of the zodiac as a crown on her head. This vision is as overwhelming as the first vision of the Son of man with which the Apocalypse opened.
The candidate, searching initiation by being allowed to enter the inner sanctuary of the temple, is receiving a wider consciousness of the world of causes of events that will later manifest themselves in our physical reality. Grandiose pictures show us the forces of good and evil, as they are designed by God to develop his creation of man, including the interest of counterforces in capturing the newly born human spiritual self, the basis for the higher Self. From the beginning we are made aware of the threat that the red dragon is ready to kill the child, once it is born.
The woman giving birth to the man child
In his lecture at 16 September 1924, Steiner gives an extensive explanation of this text fragment. The image of the pregnant woman clothed with the Sun, the Moon under her feet and the crown of stars, was already experienced in many mystery schools since the middle of the Atlantic epoch. First, the solar being was experienced as the woman clothed with the Sun and subsequently in the middle of the Atlantic epoch the woman gives birth to a male aspect, the Christ child, representing the start of what will be later the birth of the I in man. The Christ begins at that moment with his cosmic descend to the Earth (Steiner, GA 346: p.176, p.317). And in the middle of the Post-Atlantic epoch the Christ arrives at Earth and is born in a human being. This is the moment of the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan. The I-consciousness also enters in the human soul in this period, after being prepared for this by priests in the preceding times. The Sun ignites in man the I. Before this moment, man was mainly dependent on the astral body, that was directed from the Sun. Due to the arrival of the I, the astral world, represented by the dragon, starts to lay under the feet of the woman.
The woman clothed with the Sun is also a picture of the new phase of the astral unification of Earth and Sun. The mystery of the Christ is a Sun mystery. In this respect the woman is the symbol of the new human being crossing the threshold, having overcome the retarding Moon forces and in which the accelerating solar forces, the Christ force of creative love, has started to shine.
The image of the woman also reflects the moment that civilized humanity as a whole has to cross the threshold (Steiner, GA 346, p.202). The woman is symbol for the world soul and the human soul is a reflection of this. The world soul knows, like the human soul, three parts: thinking, feeling and willing. The willing governs passions, and is expressed in her standing on the Moon sickle. The feeling of the heart is represented by her being clothed with the Sun. The Sun is the heart of the world. And the thinking is symbolized in the crown with the twelve star constellations around her head. Between head and feet, man is at the heart, in the center of his being. When we contemplate with humility Moon, Sun and stars, we grow towards our destiny (Bock, p.182-191).
The woman giving birth to the man child as universal theme
The woman with the Sun, giving birth to a son while being threatened by the dragon, is not only a Christian theme. It can be found universally as the major development step for mankind. It reflects the moment where the feminine soul of the world gives birth to the male principle of the spirit. This special moment can be found in Egyptian mythology where Isis gives birth to Horus. In Greece it is Demeter-Ceres which carries each creature as her child on her arm. Also the Druids had their Madonna, as depicted in the cathedral of Chartres as Virgo Paritura, the virgin that will give birth. And in China some similarities can be found in the goddess Guan Yin. The three folded God was in pre-Christian times often represented by the trinity: Fathergod, Mothergoddess, and Songod, for example as Shin, Ischtar and Schamas in Babylon, or as Osisris, Isis and Horus in Egypt.
The role of the woman giving birth to the man child is also extensively described by Schult (p.177-182). The cosmic virgin Isis said of herself: ‘The present and the future and what has become am I. Nobody has lifted my veil. The fruit that I gave birth to was the Sun.’ As virgin of the world, the archetypal mother gave birth to all of the star cosmos. The Milky Way was seen in prehistoric times connected with the archetypal mother. As virgin of the stars, which represents the cosmos of the fixed stars, she gives birth to the Sun. As virgin of the Sun she gives birth to the planets and the Earth. As Mother Earth (Demeter means Ge-meter or Gaia mother) she becomes mother of mankind.
The red dragon with seven heads and ten horns
Opposite to the woman, which bares the man child of I-birth, the vision presents the evil counter force, which wants to pull away the I from man and destroy it. After the turning-point in the midst of the Apocalypse, the newly born perspective is interwoven with the deepest temptations in the human soul. These result from inspirations of the red dragon, wanting to devour the child which represents the highest qualities of mankind.
In Egypt this dragon force is represented by Typhon, and in Greece we find the dragon Python which wants to steal the child Apollo from his mother Leto.
An explanation for the meaning of the symbols associated with the beast with seven heads and ten horns is presented by Rudolf Steiner in his lecture of 29 June 1908. He takes us back to the earlier epoch of Atlantis to make this more understandable.
The seven heads
Men belonged, during the first four periods of the Atlantic epoch, to different communities of group-souls and had not yet expressed the individual I. These four group-souls reflected the four animal-like beings of bull, lion, animal-man and eagle. During the last three periods of Atlantis the predisposition for the I in man was developed. A clairvoyant person would still be able to recognize these, in total seven, animal-related group-souls when our soul is silent and our I- consciousness recedes, for instance while we are falling asleep in a meeting or at the moment of dying. But we have in principle overcome these animal-related group-souls, by incarnating on the solid earth and developing here the possibility to attain the higher Self or Manas. Man, which has survived the downfall of Atlantis, is characterized by taking in as residing being the I-godhead (Steiner, 24 June 1908). A sign of this residing of the I-godhead is in the Post-Atlantic man the elevated forehead, which differentiates him and her from the animals. However, when man does not take in the Christ principle, now or in the periods to come, the seven animal-like figures will re-appear, as a result on the unused solar I forces, and the forehead will become lower again.
The conglomerate of these animal-like human beings will appear during the following incarnation of the earth as a side earth, as a separate heavenly body, as a moon of the Jupiter-earth. This moon becomes the dwelling place of people that fell back into the state of the animal-like man, similar to the stage man was developed at the seventh period of the Atlantic epoch. This man, after the fall back, is symbolized as the beast with seven heads (eagle, lion, bull, animal-man, and the later three Atlantic group-souls of man). The animal-like group-souls first represented the prototypes of new mankind, but if they do not develop further, they become counterforces and unit themselves to the beast with seven heads and ten horns.
The ten horns
In the language of the mystery schools the head stands for the etheric force in man which generates subsequently the physical body. This results from the earlier situation when the etheric body of man extended greatly beyond the physical head. Presently, this is still the case in animals like the elephant and the horse. And what the etheric body manifests physically is called in the Apocalypse a ‘horn’. So, a horn is any organ that expresses physically a part of the etheric body. For example, the heart is the ‘horn’ of the etheric lion head. In the language of the mysteries the human etheric body consists of heads and the physical body resulting from them consists of ‘horns’.
The part of mankind that has fallen back, will lose its individuality and be organized in seven groups, headed by seven groups-souls, and these men will have ten organs in their bodies. Why ten horns? Rudolf Steiner explains in his lecture of 27 June 1908 that man, since the fifth Atlantean period, had increased self-consciousness and also became aware of the sexual differences. During each of the first four animal-like group-souls one horn was generated, but since the fifth period two horns originated, a male as well as a female horn. This resulted during the last three periods in the generation of six material horns. That is why the beast has four plus six is ten horns.
The symbol of the dragon or serpent
Schult (p.183) concludes from the description of the red dragon in the coming text fragment 34, where he is named ‘the old serpent, called devil and satan, which deceives the whole worldsphere’, that the red dragon reflects the great adversary of the Christ. To better understand the appearance of the dragon it is important to realize ourselves that the dragon has besides an association with evil, also a version where it represents the good.
Originally the dragon or serpent was a symbol for the cosmos as a whole and of the trajectories of Sun and Moon. The globally known picture of the ouroboros, the serpent eating its own tail, refers to eternal life, the eternal cycle of life and the overcoming of duality and mortality. Both serpents of the caduceus, the staff of Hermes, represent the images of the course in the sky of the Sun and the Moon, or the pillars of the Sun and the Moon of the zodiac. The solar serpent or dragon was also known as a positive symbol in Germanic and Chinese culture. In Egypt, the pharaoh had on his forehead the uraeus snake as a holy solar animal.
But in Babylon the year god was depicted as a red dragon, like in the Apocalypse. This red dragon is not representing eternal life, but time. Schult sees the seven heads of the dragon as a reference to the seven planets and he relates the ten horns to the old zodiac that consisted of ten star constellations.
The sweeping down of one third of the stars on earth by the tail of the dragon, relates Schult (p.185) to the fact that the demonic influences of satan extend to the highest worlds of the fixed stars. It demonstrates in his view that the power of satan opposes not only the Christ but God self. The number of one-third is the coping-stone of the other impacts characterized by the number one-third as a sign of the excretion of the etheric sphere. The excretion of the etheric world proceeds till the highest realms of the stars. The cosmic dragon with seven heads and ten horns opposes against the virgin wearing on her head the twelve star constellations.
The virgin, the Sophia, with the twelve star constellations, represents the spirituality of the future, while the dragon with the ten horns stands for the spirituality becoming atavistic and demonic, which aims at suppression the free self in man.
The Sophia is found in the star constellation Virgo, and the dragon is represented by Scorpio, while the child that is born is found in Libra, according to Schult.
The old gnostic-Christian picture of the cosmos
Schult (p.187) describes for us how old Christian gnosticism looked at the cosmos in which we live. In the inside of cosmos rests Earth, while in the inside of Earth lays Tartarus. Together with the air sphere which surrounds the earth and the higher sphere reaching till the Moon it encompasses the sphere of Behemot-Ahriman. From here the spheres of the seven planets follow till we reach the sphere of Saturn, which seven spheres are ruled by the planetary demons. The total of planetary spheres is encompassed by Leviathan, the great serpent which winds himself around the outer sphere of Saturn and which is the Lord of this solar cosmos. Above him stretches the heaven of fixed stars, the sphere of paradise. Even further up high, follow the blue and yellow spheres, called by Dante the heaven of crystal and the empyreum, which is the highest heaven, the dwelling place of the saints. In these two high spheres we can find the symbol of Sophia and of Life. Beyond the empyreum we find the sphere of the Sun god and Father god. Both are connected by the ring of agape, the higher love, the Holy Spirit. The adversary of God, Lucifer-Leviathan, encompasses the whole of the planetary spheres, our solar system.
But the Apocalypse also sees the activities of the dragon-serpent extended till the sphere of the zodiac, from which he draws down one-third of the stars. The dragon of the stars battles with the virgin of the stars. The old cosmos battles against the new cosmos. In these high spheres of the stars are Leviathan and Behemot, Lucifer and Ahriman, not yet divided from each-other, according to Schult. The beast with the seven heads and ten horns is as well Behemot-Ahriman as Diabolos-Lucifer, dragon and serpent. Diabolos means: he which sows confusion, and Satanas means in Hebrew: accuser. The power of the opponent of God is here still undivided and reaches through all planetary spheres till the stars of the zodiac.
At his resurrection, Christ has overcome the demons of our solar system. But it will take till the end of the world before also the demons reaching up till the zodiac will be overcome.
He will tend the nations with a rod of iron
And she brought forth a man child, who was to tend all nations with a rod of iron. The new-born child tending the nations with an iron rod, indicates, because of its resemblance with Psalm 2:7-9, that he is a reference to the Messiah (Schult, p.194). The rod of iron has also be presented in the fourth letter to Thyatira and is mentioned in chapter 19:15, where the cosmic mother comes forward to her Son as bride (Rev. 19:7). The birth described in this fragment is not referring to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, but it concerns a future birth of Christ when he will take over power at the end of the physical world. But the take-over of world-power over the cosmos as a whole, will meet with a strong satanic resistance in all spheres. Therefore the cosmic child is snatched away towards God’s throne, a realm above the cosmic spheres, where satan has no power. This also applies to the God-I of man which is part of the cosmic Christ (Colossians 3:2-4; John 3:2) and which must remain preserved.
The flight of the woman to the desert
This 33rd fragment ends with the woman fleeing to the desert where she stays 1260 days. Bock says that the reason for the fleeing to the desert by the woman shows how the higher Self starts to be born in man, but it is in the beginning not able to cope with the approaches of the dragon. The higher Self is at the beginning disconnected from the human soul. The spirit does not yet incarnate in the soul. The soul flees into the desert, which means that it leaves the sphere of heaven and has to live on earth.
Steiner (GA 236, p.205) has been puzzled for a long time by the meaning of the number 1260. In the end, he has concluded that in time an error must have been introduced in the text. The number should have been 2160. Days must be interpreted here as years, a cosmic episode representing one-twelfth of the period the Sun needs to cycle through the zodiac, which takes in total 25,920 years.
Schult (p.197) comes with a different interpretation, by pointing at the fact that 1260 is 3.5 times 360 days or 3.5 times a year, so 3.5 years. This can be seen as an indication of the traditional initiation sleep of 3.5 days. After her stay in the desert the human soul will wake up to the higher Self.
Becoming part of the Holy Spirit The flight of the woman to the desert, to Earth is, according to Schult, also to be seen as her participation in the incarnations of man. We all are in our soul this woman and we all are still surrounded by our true Self, waiting to incarnate at an appropriate moment when it does not become victim of the dragon-serpent forces. Since the Greek culture the I is awakening in man. Our soul is on Earth, but our true Self is initially still in heaven. With the birth of the Christ it starts to descend. This brings gradually to us our spiritual self, or as Dullaart (p.67) describes it: the Holy Spirit, for the spiritual self is a collective spirit, in which the higher selves of us are becoming a whole.