Time shall be no more

15 January 2022 | Apocalypse in discussion, Blog, Context and roots | 0 comments

Kees Zoeteman and Astrid van Zon

About halfway through the Apocalypse, at text fragment 29 (Rev. 10: 1-11), we meet the imposing angel, -with a rainbow around his head and his face like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire-, standing with one foot on the sea and one foot on the land, swearing:

“Time shall be no more!”

Is our existence conceivable without the fixed measure of time? Time and space surround us as self-evident elements of our lives, they bring order in our existence. But they too were once created. And one day they cease to exist… What do we know about that?

With birth we enter space and time

Through the birth of our body we enter three-dimensional space. The child also enters earth time with birth. From the moment of life on earth, the child must drink in time, be changed, wake and sleep. The time flow is handed to it from outside and it takes years before it has its own time flow. The child internalizes what is handed to him, and thus develops. How the child does this is personal. It does not happen without overcoming resistances. The child enters space from a world without space and time through the mother, is then isolated and conquers itself space and time. A space shared with others is created in which it learns to experience its individuality.

Do we have a proper understanding of time?

How to imagine that there will be no more time? This seems very strange, but at the same time we are already encountering it. After all, when we sleep we are not aware of time and space. When we watch an exciting movie, read a good book, daydream or meditate, we become detached from the obvious experience of time. Time ceases to exist, as it were. And before we know it, it has suddenly become much later than we expect. We experience time as slow or fast, depending on whether we are bored or occupied with something in which we enjoy ourselves. For something to hold on to, we look at the clock time. Clock time proceeds in a mechanically predictable manner. What is time really? Is it the time indicated by the clock or the time as we experience it internally? And how does time relate to space? After all, our clock time is derived from the speed at which the earth revolves around the sun in space (one year) and around its own axis (one day). Let’s delve further into those basic concepts of space and time to understand what the statement in the Apocalypse means, that time will no longer be.

Emergence of space and the presumption of time

According to the Jewish cabalist Isaac Luria (1534-1572), space is the result of a self-limitation of the boundless primordial ground of creation, Ain Soph, which created an “astral primordial space” within it, that is, the idea of space as a form which, however, has not yet been expressed in our material world. Rudolf Steiner (GA 110, p.176), along the sanme line, refers to the divine trinity as the source for the creation of space. When we contemplate the earth and the cosmos around it, it is the Father God who lives through it all. The Father God is the god of space.

A particularization of this idea is that space is radiated by the sun. The sun not only radiates light, but also the space of the solar system, according to Rudolf Steiner. Later in this tekst, this will be explained in connection with “the breaking of the spiritual form necessary to achieve materialization of space”.

On June 4, 1924, Steiner gave an interesting lecture in which he dwelt on space and time (GA 236, pp. 242-252). His central topic there is the human “I”. He observes that two earthly lives of a human being are not in the same space. If you want to consider the combination of these two lives you have to step out of space and enter the pure flow of time. In space you do not actually find time itself. Because there are changes in space in the course of time you get an inkling of time. But in space there is actually nothing of actual time. Time becomes perceptible only on the soul level. There you really experience time, but there you have also stepped out of space. In the soul, time is a reality. Time is not a reality within physical earth. To arrive at time as a reality you must step out of space, and that means: die!

Time as the fourth dimension

Rudolf Steiner (GA 324a, p.98ff) also uses the concept of the fourth dimension for time, and defines this fourth dimension as the appearance of the living in the third dimension of space. All spatial beings, for whom time has an inner meaning, are in his view transforming according to certain laws the effigies of four-dimensional beings. Any being living in time breaks through the three spatial dimensions. Time is the fourth dimension that protrudes invisibly into the three spatial dimensions and can only be perceived clairvoyantly.

To help us imagine this, Steiner gives the following explanation. When a point moves, a line forms, the first dimension. As a line moves, a plane forms. When a plane moves, a three-dimensional body is formed, like a cube.  When we move this three-dimensional body, we see growth and development and thus the four-dimensional space was created, in which time is projected as movement or growth. Time is perpendicular to the three spatial dimensions and grows as it is found in the plant. This is the realm of the ether or vital body. If time becomes alive within itself then experience arises, just as an animal creature has experiences. The animal thus has five dimensions. The fifth dimension is the area of the astral or feeling body. And the human being in truth has six dimensions and in addition to the ether and astral body also the mental (self-awareness) body.

The creation of time

As with the concept of space, it makes no sense, according to Rudolf Steiner, to speak of time in general (GA 138, p.79ff.). Time, actual time, must always be involved with a community of beings, who go through a joint development. An example of such a community of beings are the planets orbiting the sun. In our solar system, real time reveals itself through the hierarchy of the Archai, who on Old Saturn went through their phase of I-development. From the primal beginning they are the time spirits or eons. The seven days of creation in the book of Genesis also refer to seven Archai. The Hebrew word “Yom” for “Day,” which is used here, does not mean day in our usual sense, but means one of these Archai, according to Steiner.

The concept of space only acquired a meaning as we know it during the current fourth incarnation of our planet. The concept of time first acquired a meaning related to our present time on the Old Moon (the earth still containing the moon), after this earth/moon separated from the sun (GA 162, p.244). Then the earth/moon begins to revolve around the sun and a group of beings on this earth/moon undergo a shared development process. 

Space and time as manifestations of the Father God and Son God

Steiner then turns to the birth of the Christ-child on Christmas night (GA236, p.245). Does that have anything to do with time and space? Yes, it does! The Christ-child, the human representative on earth, is born in earthly space. That is what the first part of a well-known Rosicrucian aphorism refers to with: Ex deo nascimur. Out of the divine, which permeates space, I am born. This child is the outer envelope of that which is born in space. But where did it come from? It must be from time, says Steiner. The essence of the Christ, which comes into this child, comes from the sun. If we then look up to the sun, we must perceive in the sunshine the time, hidden from the spatial. In the inner of the sun is time. And from this time, woven into the inner life of the sun, the Christ has come to earth in space. We meet on earth in Christ what connects with earth from outside space, what comes from outside. When we look up at the sun from earth, we are simultaneously looking inside the flow of time. At the time Christ came to earth, man had become entirely focused on the Ex deo nascimur, being born of God in space, and had completely lost time as a reality. Man had become entirely a space creature. By connecting ourselves with Christ, man regains access to the flow of time that goes from eternity to eternity. Christ has brought us back into time. If we die because we leave space, and if we do not also want to die as souls, we must “die in Christ”, In Christo morimur, who after all came here out of time and can also bring us back into living time. Then we must add to the Christmas thought the Easter thought. In Christ we meet the god of time. The time that man only takes in when he dies. And when man leaves after dying the space of the earth, he begins between death and new birth a soul life in solar time. Here space is overcome and one learns to know the sun as the creator of space. Here man feels the divine within him. Here the fire of the divine world is perceived as the essence of man, and man experiences his calling to radiate the spirit. Then we have arrived at the idea of Pentecost. Instead of the physical of the earth, which is falling away, free man rises by experiencing in himself the Holy Spirit, the Manas of the universe: Per spiritum santum reviviscimus. Behind this human destiny appear the spiritual hierarchies that cooperate in this.

The spiritual hierarchies are at work in the space created by the Father God. The higher the hierarchy of beings, the more extensive their field of action. Thus, the highest spiritual hierarchies of the Cherubim and Seraphim work up to the stars of the zodiac. These stars are described by Steiner as gateways through which love flows into us. The other groups of spiritual beings have a more limited area of operation as shown in the figure and table below.   

Areas of operation of the spiritual hierarchies at the time when the sun was in the zodiacal sign of Gemini (GA110, p.103)

Table. Types of spiritual beings and their spatial spheres of operation (GA110, p.103)

Type of spiritual being                                 Spatial sphere of action from the earth

Cherubim and Seraphim                              Zodiac

Thrones                                                              Saturn

Kyriotetes                                                          Jupiter

Dynameis                                                           Mars

Exusiai                                                                 Sun

Archai                                                                  Venus (current Mercury)

Archangels                                                         Mercury (current Venus)

Angels                                                                 Moon

Man                                                                     Earth

Matter is broken spirit

After the creation of space and time on a supersensory level, further condensation of their astral forms cannot take place in a continous way. Astral forms are created under the influence of Spirits of Form (Exusiai) and when they compact to a material state these astral forms ‘break’. In spiritual science, matter is seen as broken form, broken spirit (GA 134, p.72).

What is meant by ‘broken form’? Elsewhere Steiner explains this (GA 57, p.11ff). Matter is ultimately nothing but compacted, hardened spirit. In other words, matter, for example, has become ‘mute’ sound ether due to compression (GA 130, p.102). The ‘breaking of the spirit’ means this hardening. The alive spirit is broken and from it comes the rigidified form. But spirit and matter of a form are essentially pointing at the same root. Hans-Peter Dürr (1929-2014), quantum physicist at the German Max-Planck-Institut, in a 1997 video called matter “the crust” of spirit (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DqnblYfH5Y). Physical-sensory matter, the etheric life body, and the lust and suffering experiencing astral body, are only different manifestations of spirit. They are manifestations of one and the same spirit-matter reality. Steiner illustrated this, among other things, with the example of solid ice that arises from liquid water. They are different aggregate states of the same water. A being who can only perceive ice would not see the water in a sea where ice floes in the cold water. A scientist who sees solid matter but not the spirit from which it sprang is in a similar situation. Since he cannot see the spirit, he thinks that it does not exist. It would be better if he started asking himself why he cannot see the spirit. 

The etheric, astral and lower mental are independent manifestations of the spiritual. These, what one might call supersensory “matter forms”, are self-contained manifestations of the spirit in the form of mental “matter,” astral “matter,” and ether “matter,” respectively. They have different properties from the sensory perceptible physical matter. For example, they have no mass and no spatial extensiveness. Finally, at the lower mental world, we find the spiritual primordial substance from which everything is formed. This primordial substance is also called the akashic substance or fire air or in Hebrew Ruach or by the Alchemists prima materia.

Steiner made another attempt to clarify the breaking of form in materialization (GA 134, p.72ff). Imagine a falling jet of water that is invisible. And place in this stream a resistance, say a flat stone, then the jet will shatter into a multitude of droplets. Now imagine that the droplets are visible. This is an image of how solid matter emerges. We must actually think away the resistance of the stone because otherwise we would already have physical matter present in this situation. So imagine: as long as spiritual matter mentally adapts to form, it is invisible; and it is in motion, because motion precedes all form. Everything that exists is permeated by the deads of the Spirits of Movement (Dynameis). At some point, the movement arrives at the form, paralyzes within itself, and bursts in itself into pieces. The main point is that, what is at first still spiritual-astral, -an idea embedded with feelings-, radiates into space, but has only a limited striking power. When the end of this striking power is reached, what is radiated rebounds within itself. At that moment it bursts into pieces. So when we see matter, we can say: underlying this matter is a supersensory ability that has reached the end of its activity and at this boundary it is broken. But before it was broken it has still taken an atral form. After the falling apart of the spiritual, what was available in the form continues to work in the individual pieces of debris. These are the ether forces that shape the material debris that is generated. This is most clearly visible in the case of gemstones.  

Space, Rudolf Steiner summarizes, is nothing but that which necessarily arises when spiritual form breaks and passes into material existence. And thus space is never empty, but always filled with physical matter and at the same time irradiated with etheric form forces. At the end of this Blog we will see in Robbert Dijkgraaf’s argument that this is not far removed from the insights of modern natural science.    

The limitation of space

Steiner also pointed out, building on Kant, that the limitedness of space can only be understood by involving the astral origin of space. A straight line, for example, will disappear into infinity in physical space, but it shows itself as a curve in astral space, returning to its point of origin. Although it cannot be said that space is marked with boundary markers somewhere, it is true that space is closed within itself and one returns to his point of origin time and again (GA 324a, p.122).

Steiner (GA 135, p.35ff) describes space as something living and not as an abstract general concept, as introduced by the mathematician Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727), the founder of modern natural science. Newton sees space as something that is empty and in this empty space, the planets travel their orbits which are determined by the action of a centrifugal force that depends on the orbital velocity and the force of attraction that works between the masses of two or more bodies. With his mathematical calculations, Newton was able to describe the orbits of the planets around the sun. Steiner, on the other hand, sees the planets as beings and forces that traverse space in a formative way. Steiner criticizes Newton for not defining a number of core concepts such as space, time, place, and motion, thereby ignoring the very aspects that Steiner puts forward as essential to understanding space and time. With Newton, who in a certain sense can be seen as the successor of Nicolaus Kopernicus (1473-1543), mathematical mysticism is replaced by mathematical natural science, Steiner says (GA 326, p.59 ff.), and thus a natural science emerges that starts from inanimated matter. 

The double flow of time

For Rudolf Steiner it was already clear from his early youth, after having studied Kant, Fichte and Schelling, that the concept of time consists not only of a forward evolution but at the same time of a backward flow interfering with it, coming from the future and playing on the astral level, a level of sensing life. Whoever can perceive this astral flow also has the capacity of being able to spiritually see the future because what has been established as karma in the astral world will later manifest in the etheric and physical realms(GA 262, p.15).

Thus, according to Steiner, there is a double flow of time, an outer one that records events as fossils of living time from the past to the present, and an inner opposite flow that meets the outer one in the only outer reality of the now. Though in the physical-sensory world the “now” is the only real, seen from the spiritual world the past is not simply gone, and the future is already existing though not yet present. Both join together to form a time organism. An example of such a time organism is the ether body of man. Just as space has a perspective in which what is far away seems smaller, the same is true of time, according to Steiner. Spiritual events in the past are not gone, but still exert an effect at a distance (GA 184, p71ff.).   

In short, we can distinguish different types of time: time that flows from the past to the present and time that flows from the future to the present. The former time marks events in physical space and is also called clock time. This manifestation of time has made its appearance especially since the Enlightenment. The second time is an inner living time and has an astral character. This time passes from the possible to the actual. Steiner teaches us that in order to understand the physical reality of space and time, it is necessary to involve the connection with the astral world, from which all the physical arises. The consciousness of the present is a confluence of the etheric current of the past and the astral current from the future (GA 115, p.190).

Figure. The present consciousness as a confluence of the etheric current (representations-Vorstellungen) from the past (Vergangenheit) and the astral current (desires-Begehren) from the future (Zukunft) (Steiner, GA 115, p.190)

At any given moment, our lives are normally a cross-section of these two currents. Where the two meet a thrust occurs. This is something that makes a tremendous impression on those who follow the path of initiation and stand before the threshold. Everything that is still ahead of him, he must see emerge before him like a vision, before he decides to go on (GA 324a, p.38ff.).

The future is that part of time that has not yet arrived. However, what is not yet available sensually is already operative. The future is the lively, not yet dead, that meets us out of the countercurrent of the world of feeling and karmic laws active in it, and then becomes active in the ether world in the now (GA 222, p.95).  Sometimes this is noticeable through prophetic dreams or visions of events that do occur much later in one’s life.

Literature has frequently dwelt on the secret of the countercurrent from the future of astral time, without giving it a sharp interpretation from a spiritual science point of view. Joke Hermsen (Stil de tijd, 2009, Amsterdam: Arbeiderspers) gives with a number of essays an anthology of visions on what we have the current of astral time and what she characterizes as the unnameable “other time” (p.108). Examples include the French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941) who speaks of inner time (Introduction to Metaphysics) and Ernst Bloch (1885-1977) who presents time as hope, as a clock without hands, in Principle of Hope. Cees Zwart (De strategie van de hoop, 1995, Rotterdam: Lemniscaat) (personal communication, 2013) calls chronological time (become time) a string of actual events in the outside world and time flowing out of the future epic time. The inner time manifests itself as a story, the drama with episodes of tragedy and comedy in a meaningful context.

When people approach the end of their lives they can, for example in dementia, get out of the time stream again. The flow of time coming from the future into the present is no longer experienceable for them. The time stream from the past is experienced as the now. Often there is no longer an own time stream so that no initiatives are taken to move in space. Indeed, by losing their own time flow, such people also lose the experience of space and no longer take a stand in it. The shared space is no longer an experience.

How dynamic is eternity?

In the Devachan, the actual spiritual or mental world, the duration of eternity prevails. The past is still to be found here. But it is as if it has stood still. Here time becomes space. Here there is not a past, present and future, but here duration reigns. Lucifer, for example, has remained standing in the development of the Old Moon. He is still standing there now (GA 163, p.89). This is not to say that there is no movement in the region of duration. The nature of spirits belonging to eternity is restless, incessant, cyclically receding into itself, which at the same time is experienced as absolute peace as long as all spiritual beings experience this movement in equal measure. Only when differences in movement arise, because not all spiritual beings can experience this restless pace, this movement difference is  experienced, and thus time emerges (GA 110, p.176).

Dante, Paradiso canto

Time proceeds in seven steps

Steiner emphasizes that all time periods proceed according to the seven, whether they are small-scale or large-scale processes. The seven incarnations of the earth, from Old Saturn to Vulcan, are an example, but also the seven cultural periods in our Post-Atlantean epoch, from the Old Indian culture period to the yet to come seventh American cultural period, described in the letter to Laodicea. Steiner shows that this is also applicable to human incarnations (GA 113, p.175). If you look up the three previous incarnations from a person’s current incarnation, it is possible to draw certain conclusions about the characteristics of the next three incarnations. Thus, the seventh is a guiding principle for everything that takes place in time.     

A wonderful demonstartion of the steps in which time shows itself as growth, flowering (revelation of the spiritual being) and withering is found in the plant kingdom (Kovacs, p.99).

In the book Wonderen van ontwikkeling (Wonders of Development), Jan Diek van Mansvelt (2020, Kampen: Uitgeverij van Waveren, p.58-59) has shown in a phenomenological way how from the formative force of the seed, the power streams arise which together express a gesture of the plant being, which is most explicitly expressed in flowering, after which withering and fruit development begin. The series below shows the example of the white rose.

White rose, from bud to rosehip from: Wonderen van ontwikkeling (JD van Mansvelt, 2020)

Difference in time course between living being and machine

Furthermore, Steiner points out the essential difference in the passage of time for a human being and for a machine. For a machine, the temporal is only a mechanical function of forces operating in space. For man, the temporary proceeds as a dynamic organism, the ether body, in which past and future are organically related (GA 82, lecture April 12, 1922, The Hague, p.232ff.). The machine only knows clock time, everything that lives also knows the time working from the future.

How do we deal with time?

We often complain that time is going ‘faster and faster’. We then mean that we are completely absorbed in the clock time and that it is filled with more and more separate, often unrelated activities. A first reaction to keep this manageable is to impose a strict regime on ourselves. I experienced an example of this when I was working for Dutch Environment Minister Jan Pronk, who had an increasing number of files on his desk on which he still had to make a decision. One day he decided to make those decisions on the basis of 15-minute conversations Every fifteen minutes a group of civil servants would enter his room to quickly summarize the dilemma described in their memorandum, and then he forced himself to decide within fifteen minutes. Time pressure is a major problem for any minister. But Dutch Environment Minister Margreeth de Boer looked for the solution in a different direction: she argued for a de-hastening of society and also of her own life. In essence, these dilemmas are about bringing balance between clock time and the inner time. To notice the latter we will have to become silent and learn to be selective and not let everything come to us.

What does it mean that there will be no more time?

To answer the starting question of what happens when there will be no more time, we can first conclude that the circulation of the earth around the sun has then ceased, that is, the circulation of celestial bodies around each other ceases to exist. The physical and ether worlds dissolve. Only the astral and higher realms remain. In the Apocalypse we are then at the end of the Trumpet Age (see also explanation of text fragment 29). The astral earth and astral sun unite again. We are entering a state that can be compared to the Hyperborean epoch, which is a repeat of the planetary incarnation of the Old Sun. Space is no longer three-dimensional. In short, time and space as we know them will cease to exist by the close of the Trumpet Age, when the sixth trumpet sounds.   

With ‘Time shall be no more’ the Apocalypse makes a statement about the future, just as natural science likes to do. Robbert Dijkgraaf, then still as director of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, USA, devoted a column to this in NRC, entitled The End of the World (11&12 December 2021, W2). A few quotes are illustrative in this regard. “Perhaps the greatest scientific discovery ever was the idea of the existence of natural laws by Galileo, Newton and others in the seventeenth century. Fixed precepts, cast in mathematical formulas to which reality must strictly adhere… Science thus became a great prediction machine with an input and an output. You enter the current state of the world, turn the handle of the mathematical wheel-work and the answer flashes out: the state of some time in the future. This deterministic worldview remained… However, the existence of natural laws does not prohibit the possibility of a ‘singularity’, a solution that loses meaning at some point, for example, because a variable becomes infinite…. In general, the solar system is stable but for exceptional circumstances it is not.” Next, Dijkgraaf points to the discovery of atoms that were imagined to be miniature solar systems. The stability of this matter was questioned. Through adjustments to the laws of nature, people tried to make the atomic house of cards more stable. Are we now immune from singularities, Dijkgraaf wonders. “Unfortunately, there is one final catastrophe we have to worry about. Empty space itself turns out not to be trustworthy. The vacuum is one of the most exciting objects in modern physics and anything but empty. Quantum theory has a tolerance policy that allows all kinds of processes provided that they happen fast enough before they can be observed. This makes empty space a merry go round in which the smallest particles secretly play tricks. There is the possibility that this virtual house of cards is a ‘false’ vacuum… At some point, nature might realize that things are not what they seem and move on to the ‘real’ vacuum after all. The word ‘singularity’ hardly does justice to the scale of that drama. This apocalypse is nothing less than the end of reality. A new universe will form. No form of matter, not even space and time, would survive this transition.”

The lightness of tone with which the great mysteries of reality are spoken of is striking, as they concern the all-important paradigm of our time. Then, it is not so crazy if we contrast it with the more comprehensive worldview of the Apocalypse, including Rudolf Steiner’s explanations. 


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