Images and Imagining of the Apocalypse

11 May 2024 | Apocalypse in discussion, Blog, Explanations text fragments, News | 0 comments

Astrid van Zon

When I tell people that I am involved with the Apocalypse, I regularly get a reaction that it is heavy stuff because they think it is about the downfall of the world or because they have associations and old interpretations related to the church and Christianity. They want to stay far away from it. But even those people who engage in it of their own choice often complain that it is a difficult book and that they remain feeling outsiders. This may stem from the weight that this last book of the Bible has as a book of initiation. Rudolf Steiner calls the Apocalypse a new mystery in which, in contrast to previous mystery movements, man himself can now absorb and process the mystery with his own self in order to transform his own being. But this is not possible without experiencing the core of this mystery: the death and resurrection of Christ through which man can connect with Christ and with his higher self. 

In the courses Kees Zoeteman and I teach, we try to offer the content in such a way that participants can develop their own connection to the content of the visions presented in the Apocalypse. During  the exhibition “Between Time and Eternity”,  late 2023 at the Iona Foundation in Amsterdam, featuring Kees Zoeteman’s sculptures of the Apocalypse, several days were set up where visitors could experience an exercise alongside the artist’s explanation of his work. An impression of the outcome is reported in this Blog.

Images in the Apocalypse

A visitor entering the exhibition room first encountered The Son of Man, an image of future man with which the Apocalypse opens. Using the description of John, who wrote the Apocalypse, you can easily envision the image. This is just one of many visions in the book of the Apocalypse. Throughout time, various artists have ventured into depicting these visions. Examples are Albrecht Dürer’s lithographs, the tapestries of Angers and the statues at Chartres Cathedral. Sometimes the artists were commissioned, sometimes the artists themselves were deeply connected to spiritual imagery. Thus, images became in the Middle Ages a language for people who could not read. The visual language in writing was transformed into art. The artist thereby created new images from their own connection to the content that could begin to speak for the spectators. Famous subjects depicted over the centuries include the Heavenly pregnant woman standing on the moon, Michael’s battle with the dragon in heaven, the Last Judgment and the New Jerusalem to name a few of the best known. The  sculpturesof Kees also arose from his own connection with the Apocalypse. It is special to be able to witness how that creative process comes about. A process in which a person’s connection with this spiritual content expresses itself and can become alive again in a new way for the people who look at it with open attention.


In another word, we can also call this mimicking. Mimicking was already used in ancient times by Plato and Aristotle in the Greek word mimesis. Plato explains mimesis as imitation of a preconceived original. Although mimicking evokes something static in many people, like imitation where the same thing appears again, mimicking to me is adding something new. You can literally see this in the little child who learns by mimicking. Although it repeats something it has seen, its own method of mimicking results never in exactly the same outcome. In the case of Aristotle, mimesis is also the representation that has the function of making reality appear in a new way. As far as I am concerned, new repetition, or repeating in some other way is the essence of the word mimicking. Events, situations, things and people can be mimicked, by being narrated, depicted in art, and thus appear in a different way, in a different place and with a new emphasis. And so, stories and art can be recreated by individual people in which their time and culture is also influential.

In the blogs on this website, the knowledge of the Apocalypse is mainly derived from Rudolf Steiner, Arthur Schult and Emil Bock. It can help us to gain deeper insight, and begin to better understand the meaning of the text. The explanations can evoke a reaction to investigate further. The Apocalypse will only become effective for us when we develop in addition to that knowledge our own inner connection to it. How can we, like John, feel the content of the Apocalypse coming into our self? (Rudolf Steiner, GA 346, Apocalypse and Priesthood, p.38) How can we independently bring forth the content of the Apocalypse? The connection needed for this and the furthering of that wisdom can be deepened by attuning to the images in the story and imagining them.

Seeing with the heart

Especially at a time when we are flooded with images on social media, images that seduce us and draw us into the outer life, we have forgotten that images have an inner side by which they can convey their meaning. That revelation of meaning requires a way of observation where we empathize, and open up to its hidden message. That requires a different way of perception, a perceiving with the heart, a focussed attention. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry mentioned it in his book Le petit prince when taming the little fox, that you can see well only with the heart. The essential is invisible to the eyes. Images both in storytelling and depicted in art acquire an efficacy through perception with the heart that can cause us to act differently. In courses we try to tap into that own connection by, for example, asking participants to read a text fragment and represent the content in a selfmade painting, poem or other artistic form.

It is interesting that in the fifth lecture of the Apocalypse and Priesthood course of Steiner (GA 346), he calls on man to learn to see through all the outer appearances and awaken to the inner side, to the heart of man and of all living beings. You could also say to start learning to see the essential so that the intention becomes visible. He calls it to “learn to look again with the soul into the heart of a person” (p. 75). Such perception is also required to understand the Apocalypse and the images found in it. Even Goethe indicated this in a poem (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1954, Trost bei Goethe, ed. Heinrich Tieck, Walther Scheuermann Verlag, Taschenbuch, p. 69):     

Nothing can be known      

unless one loves it-        

and the stronger, more powerful and alive                                                                                

love and passion,         

the deeper and fuller

the knowledge.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Exercise with a sculpture

Let me now describe the exercise as I used it at Kees’ exhibition in Amsterdam. After a brief introduction into the sculptures displayed in the room, the participants are asked to choose a sculpture which they want to know more about or are attracted to. This may have been caused by the introduction, but also by how the image looks or what the eye was drawn to. The exercise that then follows is based on the contemplative research of Arthur Zajonc (Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry, Lindisfarne Books, Great Barrington, Mass., USA, 2009).

The angel with one foot on the earth and one on the sea

Some of the conditions described by Zajonc often arise already in the situation. Through the introductory story about the Apocalypse and the sculptures, a sense of reverence is created. By asking people to choose a sculpture they want to know more about, the desire to connect and get to the essence of the other is invoked. Then, by telling what we are going to do in three steps, concentrated attention is evoked. And by noting that feelings of sympathy or antipathy may arise and are to be released, equanimity can be practiced emotionally.

The heavenly woman standing on the moon

Three steps

Once everyone has chosen a sculpture, the actual exercise can start. The three steps are done in silence. Each step is accompanied by the sounding of a singing bowl and the naming of the steps. The sounding of the singing bowl and working in silence support longer-term compliance.

The singing bowl sounds!

-First step                                                                                                                                                                      

We focus on the sculpture we have chosen and observe the image with open attention. We give full attention to the artwork, to color, shape, material, whole and details, and perceive the characteristics of the artwork. Emerging interpretations or judgments we let go again. We perceive the external appearence of the sculpture.

The singing bowl sounds!                                                                                                                                                                               

We erase what we have observed; an emptiness and silence arises where we remain for a moment.

-Second step.                                                                                                                                                                     

We turn around 180 degrees so that we no longer see the image and close our eyes. We now inwardly recreate the image from our memory and we create through empathy with the earlier perceptual impression a vivid inner image. Look at it with wonder. You can also explore this inner image with open attention, making the image even more complete. What feeling arises?

The singing bowl sounds!                                                                                                                                                        

We clear the image again; there is emptiness and silence. Again, stay with that emptiness and silence for a moment.

                -Third step                                                                                                                                                                                       

The physical appearance is no longer there. In the silence we try to listen with open attention to see if something expresses itself from the inner life of the artwork. What is expressing itself or is the image asking you a question?

The singing bowl sounds!                                                                                                                                                                                      

We allow what came up resonate in our mind and heart and then close it. We take time to write down what we experienced and exchange it with other participants.

During the exercise there is an alternation between concentrated attention and open awareness. A rhythmic process through which we connect from outside to inside with the essence of the other. With each erasure, we sacrifice something of ourselves to come more fully to the essence of the image

The second step of the inward path

Sharing and exchange

An important part of the exercise is sharing and exchanging what has been experienced. All participants have their own experiences in relation to the sculptures. There is no good or wrong. Both the outer and inner images of the sculptures and what resonates with them may be taken for true. One’s own experience may prompt new steps, but also the exchange and the hearing of the experience of others may be experienced as support for one’s own path and may lead to new insights or taking new steps. The exercise was done by young and older people, spiritually experienced people and those for whom this was a first introduction. But almost everyone was touched by the exercise and could tell something about it. Doing this exercise with different groups also showed how important it is to take time for it.

Examples of experiences are described below in relation to some specific sculptures. 

The heavenly pregnant woman                          

Several people chose the sculpture  of the heavenly woman. While concentrating on the image some experienced the life bearing quality of the woman, but also a relation was felt with dying of something. The circle with the twelve gemstones above her head and the moon under her feet made people feel they were standing between heaven and earth. Some became aware of the flow of energy from heaven and how little this was consciously perceived in life. Someone said:

It felt feminine, bringing life by going to birth, but I also felt that something must die. I felt the connection to the heavenly and that I can pass this on. Bring it to earth. The question arose in me: What am I bringing to earth? The image of the heavenly woman asked me: How can you involve the heavenly in your earthly life?

The whore of Babylon

Several people chose the sculpture of the whore of Babylon. It is an image  that draws your attention as some describe it. All who had chosen this image experienced an uncomfortable position in sitting on the dragon with seven heads (serpents), being off balance and also unable to regain balance. It is an impossible posture also because the legs have difficulty to touch the ground.

The whore of Babylon

Someone experienced the snakes’ temptations, how close they were and acted as advisors. Someone told:

 A question occurred to me: how do you stay upright in this violence? At the same time, the image also gave an answer. The left hand facing the heart brought the inspiration: actually you only need your heart, hold that. An inner knowing that with your heart you can handle anything, tame anything. And that also said: dare to deviate, be authentic. Another question occurred to me: How do I stand in my own power, heart power?

The third community sculpture of Pergamon

The image of the woman was perceived as receptive and vulnerable. Still connected to temple wisdom and standing between heaven and earth.  The experience that the female image in the temple is ready to receive and ready to do something with that. But what? It requires further exploration and attunement.       

Someone experienced an invitation: Continue on your way!                                                                                                          

And another: What is she devoted to? What does she create on earth?

The fourth community sculpture of Thyatira

Among the various groups, there was always someone who chose the image of Thyatira. Because the eye was drawn to it, because of the large powerful round disc behind the figure in the image. Different people felt with this sculpture standing in the middle with some looking back to what was before and others mainly looking forward. It was clear that something had to be let go in order for something new to come.

Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamon, Thyatira, Sardes, Philadelphia and Laodicea

The fifth community sculpture of Sardes

The sculpture invites through the shield, the spear, the harnessed. The shield is held before the heart, it is a protection for the heart. The shield and spear were experienced as an image to be good with yourself which allows you to be good with others. The shield and spear can also lead to hardening, a hard shell placed around you. One said:                        

The shield allowed me to experience protection of my heart. The spear gave me an experience of an earthy and complex energy. This also gave me the experience of staying with myself and decisiveness. I also saw each time already the three circles above the head of the next image. Three circles joined around me: building up – solidity – love. The questions that arose were: how do I connect these forces in myself? And: how do I bring these forces down, how do I put them into action?

And another:

The shield and the spear worked in me as closed off. But also, these attributes appealed to the courage to also keep myself open. To keep open to something in myself and the other. I experienced the pain of struggle in our time.

It is special that love and staying open are mentioned in both experiences because the potency of the white robe which is represented at the back-side of the sculpture is barely perceptible. The glimmer of the white robe was perceived.

The sixth community sculpture of Philadelphia        

The image of brotherly love evoked hope in several people. The powerful lightning beam directed toward the earth supported this hope by allowing that love to come to earth. Someone told:

I chose the sculpture of Philadelphia and remembered that I did not have to do anything but perceive. There was a reassurance it comes to you. To accept it as the truth. I was especially focused on the three circles above the head of the statue. I felt very strongly my body and while standing in front of the sixth image was already strongly drawn to the last image. The dedication, to make it happen. But I realized that I could not do that if I skipped the earlier stage.

And another:

Human clarity in its greatness. It reveals itself all the time. In listening to the image, it reveals itself. It calls me to firmly attend to multiple worlds at once. Listening to spiritual depth, time, wings. It calls to me: Be at your post!

The sculpture of the angel with one foot on the earth and the other foot on the sea.

People chose this sculpture mainly because of the questions they had about the different attributes: the sign of eternity, the seven colors of the rainbow in crystals, the flames on the feet, the water and the earth. Also by the card that accompanied it with the intriguing text: time will be no more. Several people describe the greatness they experience with this image, the completeness and the interpretation of eternity. The sculpture is experienced as a messenger.             

Someone describes:

The question occurred to me that God asks Adam in paradise: Adam where are you? And that led to the question to me: what do you stand for? It is then no longer about me, about I, but what I stand for.

Another heard:

Live the one you are, in the silence of transition you meet yourself.

And a third:

Through the completeness and greatness, I experience how far away this is in myself; I feel admiration and humility. And the question arises in me: how can I connect to this?

It is just a series of examples from the now many experiences. Several people indicated that the experience carried over into the day’s work or into daily life. By following the exercise from outside to inside and listening to whether something of the other, in this case the sculpture, reveals itself, we cross a threshold. A threshold through which something hidden in the image as essential can reveal itself.


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