Kees Zoeteman

There are similarities between apocalyptic concepts and Egyptian mysticism ( Hèléna Blavatsky (Isis unveiled, Mysteries of Antiquity and Contemporary Science and Theology, part II.B -Secretary, translation 191, p.525) believes that in Egypt the oldest forms of religious worship and administration point to an Indian origin. She sees in Brahmin mysticism in India a general source of later western esoteric movements as represented in the Apocalypse. 

This thesis of Blavatsky seems a bit far-fetched at first sight, and is not fully shared by everyone. For example, because the time-cycles or Yugas in Hinduism are clearly classified differently from the cycles which, according to for example Rudolf Steiner, underlie the images of the Apocalypse. With the division into four Yugas in Hinduism and seven cultural periods (and communities) in the Apocalypse, not only a mathematical difference is at issue, but also larger ordering principles play a role. The following text discusses this in more detail and shows that a vision is possible that brings both systems closer together.  

The Yugas of Hinduism

Hinduism (see for example the Bagavata Purana) distinguishes four Yugas or time periods that are often referred to as the golden, silver, bronze and iron Yuga. Together they form a large circle, the so-called Maha Yuga. How should we look at the Yugas? Striking in Hinduism is the pointview. In the West we look from the earth upwards, in Hinduism the direction of view is from the height downwards. Everything begins in the world of divine and timeless eternity, in which bliss and indifference exist. From there the evolution descends in cycles or Yugas. The names for the four Yugas are Satya (Krita) Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dvapara Yuga and finally the Kali Yuga. Concrete numbers are given for the duration of each of these Yugas, with the Kali Yuga having the shortest duration, i.e. 1000 years with an opening and closing period of 100 years each, making a total of 1200 years (Bhagavata Purana). The Dvapura Yuga lasts twice as long, or 2400 years, the Treta Yuga 3 times as long and the Satya Yuga 4 times as long, or 4800 years. The total cycle, therefore, takes 10 x 1200 = 12,000 years. With our western mind we tend to take this literally and start calculating with it. Numerous scholars have done this, as has also happened with the 1000-year empire mentioned in the Apocalypse. The latter has led to the most bizarre opinions. We can learn from the confusing experiences in Christian theology around the 1000-year episode, that we should look at the cyclic symbolism of the number rather than the mathematical meaning.

Number 10 indicates that a Maha Yuga of (10 x 1200=) 12,000 years has been completed. With the Kali or iron Yuga the encompassing Maha Yuga comes to an end and a new cycle starts in which order is restored with a new Satya or golden Yuga. When 1000 of such cycles have passed, a day of Brahma is completed. A day of Brahma lasts 1000 x 12,000 = 12 million years. But that is not all. According to some religious movements, we must also take into account the fact that these years are not expressed in human years but in so-called ‘years of the gods’. To arrive at human years, one has to multiply the outcome by 360 (the number of degrees in a circle and approximately the number of days in the year), so that a day of Brahma lasts 360 x 12 million = 4,320 million human years. In one Day of Brahma God breathes the universe out and in. Many people have used this kind of numbers to calculate the duration of the universe. The question is whether this makes sense. In other times, for example, the duration of the course of the Earth around the Sun, the current measure of things, is different and in many cycles there is no longer such a thing as an Earth separated from the Sun. Therefor it seems better to take the calculated duration of episodes more symbolically than literally.

Should we see the Yugas more as dominant moral qualities?

The number 1000 indicates, among other things, that the most basic Yuga, the iron Yuga, has been completed. In the iron Yuga the lowest spiritual quality prevails. Dvapura Yuga lasts twice as long; you could also say that it has a twice higher moral quality. Treta Yuga has a three times higher moral quality, and the fourth or Satya (Krita) Yuga has the highest moral quality of all. This is also reflected in the degree to which Dharma, the divine order, is realized in the four Yugas. Going from the Satya Yuga to the Kali Yuga, order decreases further and further to end in chaos.  Satya Yuga stands for goodness, Treta Yuga stands for passion, Dvapara Yuga stands for passion and ignorance, and Kali Yuga knows ignorance of divine matters.

Should we see the Yugas as horizontal in succession in time, or is a vertical order leading? The differences in moral quality already point in the latter direction. The fact that there are four kinds of Yugas may indicate that we are dealing here with four layers of consciousness. Kali Yuga is then the least spiritual and most material period, Dvapara Yuga is already more conscious and pointing to the world which can be perceived imaginatively, Treta Yuga refers to the world of feeling and inspiration, and Satya Yuga refers to the mental world and intuition where man dwells among higher developed beings (gods). When moral qualities are taken into account, the four Yugas are indications for the worlds in which intuition, inspiration, imagination and finally human day-consciousness are prevailing. As Steiner (GA 142, p 40 ff.) mentioned, following the Indian Sankhya philosophy, this division into four can also be recognized in the descending development of the primeval flood (Atman), from which Buddhi, the purified feeling, then Manas, the purified mind, and finally the material world condenses. In the Yugas we may therefore also see levels of consciousness through which the evolving human being continuously descends and ascends. Connecting chronological times to this is only possible to a limited extent. The further we move away from the present, the less calculated numbers have a practical meaning.

But now we come to the question how this fourfold in Yugas relates to the normative number seven in the Apocalypse.

How to place the four Yugas in relation to the apocalyptic seven cultural periods and epochs?

To answer this question, we can consult again Rudolf Steiner who indicates the historical impact of the four Yugas in a lecture in Karlsruhe on 25 January 1910 (GA 118). He describes the Hindu Yugas as taking place in the recent millennia. The golden Yuga lies in the time before the Atlantic catastrophe (the Flood), the Old-Indian culture period corresponds roughly with that of the silver Yuga, in which there is still knowledge and experience of the spiritual world, even though people don’t see the gods themselves anymore. This is followed by the bronze Yuga, in which the direct knowledge of the spiritual world disappears but an awareness of that world remains present. Finally follows Kali Yuga, the dark age, the time of the mind, in which one can only think about the spiritual world. At the same time Steiner says: ‘I note emphatically that these expressions (these Yugas, KZ) can also be used for larger eras; for example, the expression Krita (Satya) Yuga can be used for an even larger space of time…. But if one has no pretensions at this point, if one is satisfied with the degree of spiritual life as we have indicated, then one can classify it as has happened now. For all such eras very specific time spans can be indicated. Thus, one has to calculate that the Kali Yuga begins roughly in the year 3101 B.C. …. The Kali Yuga ended in 1899… a new era begins…What then begins, slowly prepares people for new qualities of the soul’.    

From these descriptions of Steiner, we can conclude several things. Steiner does not let the Yugas coincide with the cultural periods of the Post-Atlantic era, and thus with the tasks of the seven apocalyptic communities. Furthermore, he uses a period of 5000 years for the Kali Yuga instead of the aforementioned 1200 years of the gods or 432,000 human years. How did Steiner arrive at these 5000 years? He has not given an explanation. Is it possible that a principle of smaller cycles in larger ones can explain this? And is there always an abrupt transition from a Kali Yuga to a Satya Yuga in the development of the Yugas, or does the development of consciousness also gradually go up from iron, to bronze, to silver and finally to golden Yuga levels? The latter would fit much better with the apocalyptic representations.  

Vision of Sri Yukteswar Giri

An Indian sage, who has unfolded a vision that comes close to the explanations of Rudolf Steiner, is his contemporary Sri Yukteswar Giri (1855 – 1936) ( He was the teacher of Paramhansa Yogananda (author of Autobiography of a Yogi, 1946). Sri Yukteswar wrote the book The Holy Science (1894) and in its introduction he gives a new interpretation of the Yuga’s, which is closer to the cultural periods of the Apocalypse. Of course, his interpretation is not uncontroversial, but it indicates that there are several possible interpretations among Hindus until now. The innovation of Sri Yukteswar consists in the fact that he presents ascending Yugas after the descending Yugas, as shown in the figure below. He also makes a connection with the shifts in the vernal equinox of the Sun through the signs of the zodiac, a measure which we also find in the cultural periods of the Apocalypse. In addition, the 24,000 years cycle connects better with the Platonic year of 25,772 years. Furthermore, Sri Yukteswar proposes that around 1699 the (second or ascending) Kali Yuga would have ended and at this moment we are in the beginning of the ascending bronze Yuga. 

Yugas according to Sri Yukteswar (source:

Yugas, interpreted in this way, follow spiritual perspectives for the development of mankind that relate primarily to the human soul, or as Satgurunath Siddhanath ( explains, they can relate to the soul development of mankind as well as to that of individuals. In the latter case, however, the Yugas are much faster. Furthermore, there are also Yuga cycles within cycles.

The above makes it clear that there are different visions of placing the Yugas in the historical developments. It is more a reflection on the cyclical development steps in the human soul than a mathematical chronology of human evolution.

Sri Yukteswar wrote The Holy Science, according to Paramhansa Yogananda in the Foreword, to create a fundamental harmony between the Biblical Apocalypse and the Sankhya philosophy in India. He discusses several similarities with the Gospel of John and the Apocalypse, such as the 24 elders around the throne, the kingdom of God, etc. And in the ‘Introduction’ he elaborates on the view with which the four Yugas can be brought in line with the seven culture periods and epochs that characterize the Apocalypse. 

If we take the descending and ascending Kali Yuga together, we can give the seven communities of the Apocalypse a place parallel to the Yugas. The first golden Yuga would reflect Ephesus, the next silver Yuga Smyrna, the bronze Yuga Pergamon, the combination of the descending and ascending iron Yuga Thyatira, the ascending bronze Yuga Sardis, the ascending silver Yuga Philadelfia and the concluding golden Yuga would reflect Laodicea. Of course, the lengths of the periods of time do not apply, especially if we are further back and forward from the beginning of our era.

By bending our rectilinear way of thinking about time to a circular course of time, as the Hindus do, both ways of thinking about the evolution of mankind can be brought closer together.