Based on my experiences with companies and organizations, the following is a guide on how the Apocalypse can be used in recognizing key challenges for leaders in organizations and businesses during the seven successive episodes in a cycle. This blog will show pitfalls that can lead away from the original inspiration in each episode and how to deal with them.
A spiritual view on the development of organizations
One of the practical treasures of the Apocalypse is providing insight in how organizational processes develop in the course of time. Not only in the sense of a mechanical course of emerging, shining and sinking, but a course characterized by cyclical moral challenges. After all, in the terminology of the Apocalypse, all outer things are a consequence of spiritual causes.
In 1924, Rudolf Steiner among others, drew attention to the spiritual law that one can ‘start at any moment and then find out how things are developing from the principle of the seven’ (GA 346, p.193-195). ‘One cannot find the coherence in the evolution of our world if one does not apply the principle of the number as a method of contemplation. The numbers work at the moment when the spiritual world breaks through and reveals itself in the physical realm’. This means that every time people take an initiative, the cycle of the seven is set in motion. Or as Arthur Schult, (1976, Weltenwerden und Johannesapokalypse, p. 354) puts it: ‘The small and large rounds of time of the Apocalypse can be applied to any period’.
The 7-year episodes in organizational development and the Apocalypse communities
The development of a business or any other type of organization or initiative follows the same path as depicted in the Apocalypse for the seven communities and the moral qualities that characterize them. These seven communities represent, according to Steiner, the maximum number of ways of community building. The same principles can also be found in the mystical meaning of the numbers 1 to 7, as will be shown below.
In order to find the 7 episodes in a developmental cycle of a concrete organization, and to project the consequences of its internal forces, it is important to know the characteristic duration of an episode and the moment when the cycle starts. The starting point of an organization is the moment at which the idea for the founding of the organization takes shape. This will usually be the moment of signing a founding act or obtaining a license. For the duration of an episode in the development of organizations, it appears that an episode of 7 years is appropriate, as far as my experience shows. This means that an organization goes in 7×7= 49 years through a full cycle.
We will look below in more detail to each of the seven episodes in the biography of an organization.
- The first 7 years; community of Ephesus; nostalgia for unity with the ideal
The first episode of an organization bears the characteristics of the number 1 and of the first community of the Apocalypse: Ephesus. To interpret the mystical meaning of a number, we can be guided by the Greek or Hebrew alphabet because here the letters also have a numerical value and thus tell us more about the mystical meaning of the number. The first letter is the Alpha or Alef. This stands for the ‘oneness with the spirit’, the ‘primordial life’, the Sun. The first cultural period of the Post-Atlantean era, the Ancient Indian cultural period, is related to the community of Ephesus. This cultural period knew a longing for merging with the world of the gods, which could still be experienced. A remnant of this was found in the famous temple of Diana or Artemis in Ephesus.
In the first years of a new organization much of its attention goes, like in Ephesus, to staying connected with the original idea behind the start-up of the organization. The organization grows as it were as an upside-down tree, which has its roots in the heaven of the primal ideas, and reaches out to the earth. Initiatives in the first 7 years look for ways to give shape to the original idea and are geared towards better expressing the idea, often without taking much account of the external circumstances of the market. When a new initiative is born, the problems of Ephesus are experienced anew, according to Schult (1976). Characteristic is that much attention is given to discovering and defining one’s own ideal.
- The second 7 years; community of Smyrna; the struggle between ideal and reality
The second episode, from the 8th till the 14th year of existence, brings a confrontation of the initiative with social and physical reality. A struggle is unleashed between ideal and reality, spirit and matter, as was found in the community of Smyrna. The Ancient Persian culture (5000-2800 BC) was permeated by this struggle between the shining Sun god Ahura Mazdao (Ormoezd, which literally means: the great aurora) and the contracting god of Earth-darkness Angra Mainyu (Ahriman). The second Hebrew letter Beth helps to understand the challenge in this phase. Beth means ‘house of the spirit’. The task now is to build a fitting earthly enclosure for the spiritual ideal. In the Egyptian mysteries we find this in the image that the Sun god, Osiris the magician, who stands for the 1, is received in the shell of his sister, the Moon goddess, who stands for the 2, Isis the High Priestess.
Devilish shadows become visible and threaten to dampen the light-born initiative as it descends deeper into material reality. It takes courage not to run away from these shadows of material reality, but to be prepared to face them. An initiative outgrows the initial phase and is tested for its ability to be viable under market conditions. What can it add to society? How well can the organization empathize with what others need without losing its identity? In all kinds of ways, society is going to influence the internal course of events.
- The third 7 years; community of Pergamon; slave or mastery of one’s own desires
During the episode from the 15th till the 21st year, initiative and organization come in turbulent waters with the danger that selfish interests and incoherence start to prevail, as in Pergamon. The study of natural laws creates the feeling that everything can be manipulated. From the world of opposites, known in the previous episode, a middle position now forms which gives the impression that the interaction between the polar forces of ideal and market-reality have become predictable and manageable. The third letter of the Hebrew alphabet is the Gamel, which means ‘holy marriage’. It is the holy marriage between Osiris and Isis from which is born the son Horus, often seen as the predecessor of Christ, as the mediator between spirit and matter, between expulsion and attraction. But the self in the human soul has yet to make the choice either to take morality and compassion as the guiding principles for action or self-interest. That is why there is the danger that ego-directed desires will take over as long as the desires are not guided by the higher self.
The higher self, acting in service to the universal needs of mankind, has yet to descend in the core vision that guides the organization. Until then, empty rituals and hollow fashions may take the lead, as was gradually occurring in the Egyptian-Babylonian culture (2800-700 BC). External events easily dictate the organization’s activities, which subsequently risks to lose its original mission and identity. This can take the form of a proliferation of products and markets, trying out many possibilities and partners. The important thing is to develop one’s own judgement, which is initially expressed through formal rules but may however degenerate to rigid procedures.
- The fourth 7 years; community of Thyatira; wake-up call to take the lead
During the fourth episode from the 22nd to the 28th year, the characteristics of the number 4 are manifested. With the number 4 a boundary is crossed and something new arises. The numbers 1, 2 and 3 have a clear mutual connection, they form a closed wholeness, a spiritual trinity. With four this unity is left behind. The fourth Hebrew letter is called Daleth and means ‘gate’ or ‘door’. The gate is the symbol for the threshold crossing between the world of ideas and the material world. The spiritual trinity Osiris-Isis-Horus enters the self-created outer world. And the position of the number 4 between 1-7 reveals that with the 4 we are in the middle of the cycle and at the essence of what is happening in this cycle. Now it is time for the birth of one’s own identity, for becoming aware at a deeper level of standing between the original ideal and the social reality. Now man has to find a way to reconcile both in himself/herself. This birth of self-awareness makes a leader to choose for the higher purpose of serving the whole of humanity and the earth.
The essence of the 4th episode is that the I-principle descends and that the spiritual impulse, from which the organization has originated, must become alive in the consciousness of its management and employees. What was previously found in the outside world as a justification for one’s own existence, is now internalized and grows as a force from within. What was externally inspiring the initiators, now becomes an inner strength in the leading persons. This process can be compared with what happened in Thyatira, which corresponds with the Greco-Roman cultural period (700 BC – 1400) in which Christ, the collective image of the original and future mankind, embodied himself in Jesus. Love and compassion, which were experienced previously as streaming from the gods into man and nature, became more and more difficult to perceive. With the coming of the Christ the human heart could open up again to the flow of love and compassion as a voluntary individual decision. In this episode the radiating Sun-quality of giving compassion enters the human self and gives man the ability to keep the balance between the world of appearances and desires (Venus) and the world of hardening machine forces (Mars).
In the fourth episode the task for organizations is to come to new inspiration, authenticity and self-awareness, from which expansion can occur. The old inspiration is now found as a force in one’s own inner world and is given shape on a larger scale with renewed ambition and élan.
- The fifth 7 years; community of Sardis; the fight against dead efficiency thinking.
During the fifth episode the question is if the regained identity, the new inspiration that arose in the fourth phase, can be preserved and be expanded. In the Hebrew alphabet the fifth letter is He, which has as meaning the ‘exhalation’ of God. Man carries this divine breath within himself and it unites him with God. This is where his inspiration lies if he knows how to reach for this divine breath. The number 5 is called the number of the Christ principle, because it unites the four other aspects (the physical, ethereal, astral and the lower self or personality). The number 5 belongs in the Apocalypse to the Lamb, the quintessence, the higher Self. It is the number of the present human being (Steiner, GA 346, p.80-82). In esoteric schooling the number 5 is also called the number of evil, because it always comes into opposition with the number 4. The higher self has to overrule the lower self. The number 5 refers to the fifth community of Sardis, which is therefore also called: the place of danger. Until the fourth, or Greco-Roman, cultural period, life and death forces kept each other in balance, but in the next three cultural periods the death forces tend to dominate (Schult, 1976), starting in the fifth, the current Germanic-Anglo-Saxon cultural period (1400-3600). The development of the intellect and the individualization, together with materialistic impulses, bind man more and more to the outer world. As a result, the spiritual life forces are weakened. Therefore, it is important to awaken the life-giving spiritual forces of love and compassion while the world is dominated by an efficiency-oriented materialistic way of thinking. In the fifth episode the new hopeful phenomenon is the inspiration to choose as individual for the higher social purpose. A wonderful image of the dilemma’s in the fifth episode is given in the figure of Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol.
In organizations and initiatives, the fifth episode is characterized by fighting to preserve one’s own vocation, and bringing new inspiration to the realization of the unique contribution that this initiative or organization has to make to society. This often manifests itself in an apparent choice between ‘mission or money’. Does the organization manage to continue to focus on what it has to give spiritually? Can the dichotomy between the abstract information systems and the ideals in which people believe be bridged? In the Sardis period the means of power and seduction are more sophisticated and more intense than in the Pergamon period. In the fifth episode of an organization, for example, procedures and rules can take precedence over the organization’s deeper goals. It requires extra alertness in thinking and perseverance in willing to preserve the role of the individuality in leadership and in the clientele. It is the time to chase the merchants out of the temple, according to Steiner (GA 180, January 8, 1918) and to keep searching for the spiritual meaning of social developments.
- The sixth 7 years; community of Philadelphia; the moment of decision
The number six represents a crucial moment in each cycle. The sixth letter in the Hebrew alphabet is the Waw, which means ‘hook’ according to the shape of the letter, but the letter originally represented a ‘snake’. In ancient Egypt the serpent was a sign for the initiated, but at the same time it indicated lusts and sexuality. The word six (German: sechs) also refers to sex. Six is about the decision, the decision to choose for sensual or heavenly love. In Sardis the main theme is the purification of our thinking through the awakening of the higher consciousness. In Philadelphia the purification of our feeling through the opening up to the force of divine love brings peace into the soul. This sixth episode is a prelude to what will take place in the future cultural period represented by Philadelphia, the Slavic cultural period (appr. 3600-5800). Philadelphia means brotherly love. This is where man has to acquire in his Self the ability to open his heart at will to give love and compassion to others. And the counterforces are precisely aimed at weakening and shattering the Self of man and of the organization so that the way upward cannot be taken.
The inevitable decision during the sixth episode of an initiative requires the ultimate struggle. It is the fight over the survival of the initiative as it was meant at the beginning, its deeper identity. It can be compared with the cliffhanger in a film script in which the hero and the anti-hero finally take on each other in a decisive fight and one of the two has to pay for it with death. All the counter forces with their refinement and power climax by sowing fear and illusions. Only discernment, courage and selfless commitment bring victory. Even though the sixth episode of Philadelphia gives the prospect of participating in the next phase of development, it is at the same time the decisive phase in which initiatives are tested and risk to give in to the dominance of collective materialistic and mechanistic principles and thus fail from a spiritual point of view.
- The seventh 7 years; community of Laodicea; making the consequences visible
With the number 7 the cycle comes to its completion. After the purification of our thinking and feeling, now our will is tested. The challenge is not to rest on one’s laurels and to suffice with belonging to the majority, but to strive with ardor for the highest ideal of solving the needs of the world. This is also indicated by the seventh letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the Zajin, according to Schult (1976). Zajin means ‘arrow’, the arrow of our will with which the center of existence is hit. The seventh card of the Tarot, called the ‘chariot of triumph’, indicates the triumph of the spirit. The creator leads his creation in triumph towards perfection. The chariot is drawn by a white and a black sphinx. The purified man knows how to use the good and the evil powers in coherence in the realization of the great end.
In the seventh episode of the community of Laodicea no dramatic new decisions are presented, but the decisions that took place in the sixth episode here take effect. Laodicea was a prosperous seaside resort with hot springs. Here the rich enjoyed their comfort. Laodicea is the mirror of the last future cultural period of about 5800-8000, to which the name American culture was given. With that, the so-called Post-Atlantean era will come to an end. Initiatives will make a lukewarm impression in the seventh episode, just like the community in Laodicea. The fire of enthusiasm for upholding mission and moral values is burnt out. There is a great danger of falling into superficiality, civility and self-satisfaction as a counter-image to what started with so much vigor in the first episode. The call to the community of Laodicea is to come to a purification of the will and thus to bring the spiritual power into physical action, into the daily affairs of each initiative.
The 7-year episodes in organizational development and the Apocalypse communities
And if the organization still exists after 49 years, the cycle starts anew, with new opportunities to further build or regain its identity.
Pitfalls in each of the seven episodes
It has already been mentioned briefly that each episode has its own developmental task which can also be suffocated or taken over by opposing forces. A few examples of pitfalls will be briefly given.
In the often still uncertain and chaotic first episode of an organization, the tiny plant that starts to grow runs the greatest risk of being nipped in the bud. This can be the result of lack of resources by only having an eye for the ideal that one wants to realize, without having enough feet on the ground. If insufficient income is generated, starting capital and creditworthiness will soon run out. Also, in this first episode, a large party can take over the initiative and bend it in a different direction than intended by the founders. Then, the original idea is corrupted, while the initiators may not even notice it in the beginning.
During the second episode, the confrontation with the outside world increases and approaches have to be found to make the ideal realizable in practice. That requires courage and combativeness. If one is not willing to engage in that struggle, by constantly coming up with new applications, or by quickly getting exhausted, the initiative will get bogged down.
In the third episode, the organization can fall prey to following a multitude of possibilities and individual hobbies, or to an abundant diversification of products and services where the market offers chances. It may lead to overconfidence and loss of focus. And in the meantime, the primal impulse, with which the organization started, is wasted unnoticed.
During the fourth episode, the identity of the organization must descend into all employees as a common basic attitude that gives extra élan and stimulates expansion. At the same time, a rapid expansion can lead to neglecting the core identity. After all, it requires an inner process to which the organization as a whole may not be open in advance and in which hard market conditions or the need to steal the show give numerous reasons to neglect the related delicate inner processes. The inner sun then does not come to life. This can result in an irreversible process of increasing inner death. The spiritual inner core of the organization then goes under as a result of its outer success.
The fifth episode is a mirror of what happened in the third, but on a higher, more intense, level. Can the conscious moral principles, the core values, now be permanently anchored and kept alive in the organization and in all employees? The attacks of the socioeconomic circumstances are more intense in this phase and the organization is more vulnerable because it is difficult to control everything from one central point. After all, a lot comes down to the free choices that employees make individually. There are also more and more employees who no longer have the profile which was pursued in the initial period. Opposing forces can organize themselves and transform and disprove the old ideal, although it is claimed that by increasing efficiency, the ideal of the organization is better guaranteed.
In the sixth period, it comes to a decision whether the founding spirit or the profitability per se are the core value. Often, compelling external frameworks threaten to kill the original spirit, and result in putting the market first instead of the customer. The result is a loss of original identity and disorientation among the employees. Compassion is giving way to mockery and coercion. The struggle which started in the second episode, in which the spiritual impulse had to be materialized into reality, now reaches the phase in which the material forces start to dominate the original inspiration. Surviving, making a profit and conquering a market position remain the only motives for action. A takeover or bankruptcy may emerge.
Then, in the seventh episode, a period of complacency and superficiality remain. A takeover or merger, for example, results in a for the time being stable organization but no longer resembles the ideals with which the initiative once began. That is why admonishing words for this last episode sound to those who seem to be comfortably on the right track but are ill from a spiritual point of view. ‘Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor warm, I will spit you out of my mouth! For you say: I am rich and I need nothing more; and you do not know: you are miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked; so, I advise you: Buy gold from me, purified in the fire, that you may become rich’.
How to deal with opportunities and dangers?
In every episode the danger that the organization loses its original driving forces presents itself. This can be caused by counter forces in the market, by the power of the established order, the government and its institutions, including rules that protect or favor the established order. It may also be the result of insufficient awareness of what constitutes the uniqueness of the organization. Or the original impulse can be ruined by rapid success, as a result of which the pressure to perform on a daily basis removes the room for reflection. It is not easy to grow slowly and solidly when the demand from the market increases strongly. It may be that maintaining and transferring the corporate culture receives insufficient attention in the event of a strong increase in personnel. Overcoming the aforementioned dangers requires a combination of factors. Below, for each episode an important remedy for the prevailing danger will be mentioned. Ultimately, it must be learned to apply them all at the same time.
In the first episode, the danger is that too much attention is absorbed in the elaboration and shaping of the ideal while the basic conditions for the continuation of the own existence are neglected. A balance must be sought between enthusiasm and practical sobriety in the field of good accounting, generating income and controlling costs. At the same time, corporate rituals that help keep the primal idea alive and a deep will to safeguard these are of great value for the future sustainability. In many cases, good external advisors who provide expertise that the initiators themselves still lack, will be crucial to survival.
During the second episode, in which the initiative must overcome practical problems by developing suitable solutions, it is important that the organization has the courage to continue in the face of adversity and develops a fighting spirit and stamina to denounce opposition and objections. At the same time, it is important that the organization’s own values remain the starting point and that it does not solve bottlenecks through power play or deception.
In the third episode, the time when one tends to let a thousand flowers bloom, it comes down to continuing to surf the wave instead of being swamped by it. Is what the organization is doing a balanced combination of the original impulse and the possibilities in reality, or is one blowing with the wind of fashion and losing sight of the original objective? It comes down to developing more tailor-made principles and tools that operationalize the original core values. In the Apocalypse this is called handling the sharp double-edged sword that comes out of the mouth. As not everyone may feel connected to the core values, a solution is to anchor these in practical procedures within the organization.
The fourth episode is a crucial one, in which what the organization created to solve outer issues now needs to be born as inner qualities in the hearts and consciousness of the employees. It has to become inner experience. At the same time, this phase is often characterized by a strong expansion of the organization that demands all the attention. How to create space and receptivity for this inner process? It starts with being aware of the importance of this issue and making room in the daily diaries for going through the gate to the inner world. In this way the quality of discernment can be connected with that of compassion, the giving love, which can set a transformation in the outer events in motion. The transformations begin in the heart of man. There lies the real gateway to bring the ideal into action.
In the fifth episode the dilemmas of the third episode return in amplified form. What in the third episode could be accomplished by formal procedures now has to be converted into action by inner strength, by a clear consciousness and attitude of all co-workers. For that purpose, the earlier discernment to make the right choices by looking at external effects, has to be accompanied by the insight into the intentions of all actors. It is not so much about complying with abstract key figures but about strengthening the awake consciousness of the spiritual causes from which practical results can arise.
During the sixth episode, that of the crucial decision, a next step is asked for again. Even though one is aware of the importance of compassion and can see through the intentions of those involved, the result can still be that one is not able to turn around a negative, non-spiritual, state of affairs. Here it comes down to uniting all the qualities mentioned earlier and overcoming the paralyzing feelings of powerlessness, being intimidated, not being heard, being thwarted by authorities, being abandoned by friends and colleagues. The point is to know that these are the strategies of the counter forces which try to refute the carriers of the initiative on the threshold to success. In addition to sharp discernment and seeing through the intentions of all, courage, selfless love and a call to, and inner trust in help are needed. New life-giving forces are waiting to emerge. Christ said: I will make everything new. It is important not to be surprised that it is a struggle for life and death and to know that the power of our love is being tested.
Finally, in the seventh episode, the will, determination and spiritual fire to realize the ideal will again be put to the test. How tempting it is to sit back in opulence and let self-satisfaction enter through the back door. Precisely when one thinks to have passed the opponent, he turns out to be alive and kicking with a final attack. But now it is known how the moral opponent can be defeated. Beating laziness, seeing through intentions and trusting in being able to reach the higher ideal are not things which have to be realized once and then are reached forever. They must become permanent qualities, otherwise inevitably the moment will come when the relapse must be faced.
A summary of the key elements, pitfalls, supporting means and goals for each of the seven episodes in organizational development.
|Episode||Key elements||Pitfalls||Supporting means||Goals to attain|
|1 Ephesus||Better defining spiritual goal||Neglect of material continuity||External support where expertise is lacking||Germination in market reality|
|2 Smyrna||Conquering market space||Giving up early, lack of flexibility and creativity||Keeping spiritual goal alive among employees||Fighting spirit and stamina, empathy with clients, growth|
|3 Pergamon||Improving quality of products and services||Hubris; Following hobbies and allowing too much diversity||Translate spiritual goal in rules of procedure||Selective diversification of products and markets|
|4 Thyatira||Internalize externally motivated purposes||Ego drives remain uncontrolled||Reestablishment of internal rituals and spiritual education||Going as leaders through the gate to the inner world; birth of higher self|
|5 Sardis||Clarify how to implement the spiritual mission in the minds of all collaborators||New rules and collaborators are not fitting in the required spiritual profile||Intensified training and education beyond efficiency issues||Developing a language and practice to make the mission overrule profitability|
|6 Philadelphia||Ultimate struggle between spiritual mission and materialistic market incentives||Giving in to external or collective materialistic principles, mind over heart||Being inspired by spiritual help and guidance through selfless love||Establishing receptiveness for spiritual help and trust that overcomes fear|
|7 Laodicea||Achieving spiritual goals through a victorious will||Letting go of original ambitions, indulging in materialism||Learning from mistakes in the past and reversal of priorities||Developing earlier moral choices to permanent qualities|
The successive development of practical sobriety, combativeness, discernment, compassion, understanding of intentions, trust in inner guidance and ardent determination are qualities which, during the development cycle, help to achieve the initial moral and material goals. Future organizations will probably have to focus less and less on the rather classical tasks on which the economy focused and which are automated and robotized. These production-oriented activities will be replaced by activities related to care, cultural expressions, play and amusement, communication, leisure activities and the meaning of life. The latter makes visible again whether we contribute to the freeing of the self so that it can choose to express the essence of being human: giving and experiencing love, instead of indulging in satisfying everything the animal in us desires.
The above seven phases of development of organizations are meant to make the organizations, that want to help strengthen human qualities, aware of the challenges that come their way and how to deal with them. The dilemmas that are encountered and must be overcome are mainly the concerns of the managers of organizations whose biographies often coincide with those of their organizations. But ultimately, they are of concern to all of us.