We often hear that ancient peoples had a cyclical sense of time and modern man a linear one. Various philosophers have tried to synthesize the two and the spiral often arises as the synthetic image.

But this is a simplistic picture. For starters, the concept of development did not magically arise with modern or even early rational consciousness. Ancient people noticed linear process. They just naturally saw these processes as embedded in larger cycles. What did change as we became more conceptually orientated, as we became more involved in the physical world and felt more responsibility for its direction, was a sense and eventually a concept of the world, and even of the Divine, as undergoing development, not just as a temporary round in the cycles of time, but as an evolution inscribed into the heart of the cosmos.

In occult literature, especially as described by Rudolf Steiner, this idea of spiritual evolution, which we arguably see first in the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism, Steiner claims has its roots deep in prehistory, in the consciousness of ancient Persians living many thousands of years ago. It was there that human culture first started to orient itself towards a greater future. In Steiner’s view of ancient history, the high culture of ancient India, which saw the world essentially as a dream or illusion, became less dominant as the Persians developed their interest in the potentials and future of physical existence.

The culture of early man, according to Steiner, was struggling out of a dream consciousness through a long process of awakening to time. But this incipient consciousness of the developing world was frequently pulled back into a merely cyclical time-sense. Development often came to be seen as subordinate to the cycle and the individual subordinate to the larger whole. It was left to the Persians to develop a more robust interest in the state and direction of the world and its development. In the lecture by Rudolf Steiner that we will be discussing: (https://wn.rsarchive.org/Lectures/19110119p01.html )

Steiner discusses the development of a sense of time in the vision of Zoraster/Zarathustra which integrates the cyclical and linear aspects of time as lines of perspective conditioning the very structure of space. Space, whether it be the space we experience or the space of a model like in astrology, is how we experience the evolving patterns of time. This kind of feeling for time and space is emerging again today, out of the seeds of esoteric science and the fringes of academia, and it lends support to the understanding of astrology with which we will be concerned with shortly. It can be contrasted with the modern conception of relativity which tends to relegate time to another dimension of space. Steiner here explains with a metaphor from projective geometry:

“In all these things we must understand that a survey of the future and of the past leads to the same point. It is very difficult for the man of to-day to realise this. Let us think of a circle, by way of illustration. If we start at the lowest point and pass along one side, we arrive at the opposite, the highest point. If we pass along the other side, we also arrive at the same point. If we enlarge the circle, we have further to go, and the curve of the arc becomes flatter and flatter. Draw the circle larger and larger, and the arc eventually becomes a straight line; thereafter both lines lead to infinity. But before this, with a smaller circle, we arrive at the same point along both sides. Why should we not assume that the same result obtains when the sides of the circle are flat and its lines straight? In infinity, the point must then remain the same on the one side as on the other. Therefore to conceive of infinity, we may imagine a line continuing indefinitely on both sides — in effect, a circle. “

After discussing Zarathustra’s role in developing this time sense, he relates this line within the circle of time to the astrological conception of the zodiac:

“Zarathustra showed — and this is a most important point — that the Zodiac is a line which returns on itself, forming a circle as the expression of the rotation of Time. In the highest sense, he taught that while one branch of Time goes forward into the future, the other turns backwards into the past.”

I would add that it is not just that time returns as well as progresses, but that the very process of creating space necessitates that time is never complete; it reaches out to an infinity that nevertheless is partially contained in the unity of every one, of every circle or model of the one which space represents. The past is created along with the future from the present, as the whole is forever being explicated in the now.

From the earliest times of human civilization, the problem of dealing with difference and change was central to esoteric cosmology. Vedic priests schematized and even mathematicized the incommensurability between different principles in their cosmology, different songs in the hymns that directed their culture, even different tunings in the instruments they played. This led them to orient their cosmological conception around the necessary sacrifice of difference to the unity of a ritual harmony. But that unity was acknowledged as always precarious.

In music, the logarithmic spiral of tones that make up a series can be made into a circle, but at the expense of always leaving something out. The divisions that make up the circle will always have some amount of arbitrariness, but ancient people found that the mathematical and musical properties of certain divisions of the circle, or the octave as it is called in music, have different results.

In esoteric thinking the seven-fold division has been the most common, with the eighth level being the return to the root in the next higher “octave”. The twelve-fold division became another popular scheme with its roots in the fact that the 12th root of 2 divides the octave(which is twice the frequency of the root), into equal portions as we still do today with our equal tempered scale. This scheme also survives in the division of the sky into 12 sections, which has dominated astrology throughout our current civilization.

The zodiac’s 12-fold division has been quite useful and astrologers have continued to find new information embedded within the astrological chart that maps, not just a linear process inside a cyclical development, but, as we have touched on here and Steiner discusses in the full lecture, a kind of fractal image of the whole that refines itself into clearer detail through process. In this sense every stage is present within every other stage, yet every stage or principle reflects different aspects of the whole. From here I want to hand it over to astrological theorist Antonio Grub, who was kind enough to give his comments on sections of the Steiner lecture. Enjoy:


STEINER: I have often pointed out, and I shall explain it further, that human consciousness in ancient times was bound up with certain dream states, or rather clairvoyant states, in normal human life. Primeval man did not contemplate the world with the strong, clearly-defined sense perceptions of to-day. We shall best understand the way in which man of those primeval times took his environment into his consciousness, if we think of a last remnant of the ancient consciousness, still left to us in dreams.

GRUB: As far as the Zodiac goes, the dreaming perception is 8th Principle most specifically, but also the 4th and 12th.

STEINER: Just as we have a written alphabet, so Zarathustra saw in the starry worlds of space, a kind of Alphabet of the spiritual worlds, a language through which they became articulate. Thus arose the science of penetrating into the spiritual world and of reading and interpreting the constellations. He knew too, how to decipher the signs in which the Cosmic Spirits inscribe their activities into space. Their language is the grouping and movement of the stars.

GRUB: Yes, our first literacy concerned the starry sky itself, a scroll of light, one might call it, in which the pages are black and the writing luminous and white. . .  But please, allow us to return to the topic at hand—what happened to archaic dream consciousness? How or why did we lose it, save for when we sleep? Did we develop, or devolve?

STEINER: Evolution consists in one faculty being acquired at the expense of another, and thus as the epochs took their course, the faculty which man once possessed of understanding the spiritual world became less and less. Our clear reasoning and cognitional faculties, our present logical thinking which we regard as the most important feature of modern culture—these did not exist in those early times. They had to be developed by man in the epoch to which we now belong, at the expense of the old clairvoyant consciousness. Clairvoyant consciousness will have to be cultivated again in the future evolution of mankind, but in a different way. It has to be added to the purely physical consciousness that is bound up with the faculty of intellectual logic. A rising and a falling can be traced in the evolution of human consciousness and we see therein a deep purpose in man’s development.

GRUB: The return to clairvoyance whereby it combines at last with intellectual logic is what astrology calls the Uranian or 11th Principle—that is, Aquarius. And perhaps that is why the New Age speaks of the incipient Age of Aquarius. In my own framework, the 11th is the most advanced principle, insomuch that I prefer to begin the Zodiac with the 12th Principle.

     I understand this may strike some as a kind of heresy, but it makes more sense; the Book of Genesis after all begins with the 12th, that is to say, chaos or the Dionysian principle in its purest form. That is why the Zodiac terminates with the 11th: the12 tribes of Israel and the fulfillment of the Zodiac. Outside of Genesis, the 11th refers symbolically to Christ.

STEINER: We know that for the Indian mystic, this world was Maya—illusion; he turned from it in order to find Brahman; but Zarathustra taught his disciples rather to penetrate the world with understanding and to feel, behind the outer realm of physical phenomena, the reality of a spiritual power, active and creative. This is the other path.

     It is remarkable how these two paths converge in the Greek age, where the understanding of things spiritual was far deeper than it is in our time. This understanding was expressed in symbolical imagery, in mythology. The two thought currents, the mystic path into the inner self and the other leading into the outer Cosmos, blended in Greek culture. …One current derived its name from the mystical God Dionysus, the mysterious being who was to be found when a man descended more and more deeply into his inner being and there discovered the sub-human element which formerly he did not know, and from which he evolved into full manhood. This element, still unpurified, still partly animal, was known by the name of Dionysus. The other element, in which the eyes of spirit beheld the phenomena of the physical world, was expressed by the name of Apollo. Thus we find the teachings of Zarathustra expressed in the cult of Apollo and the mystic doctrine of contemplation in the cult of Dionysus in Greece. In ancient times, these two currents arose separately, but in the Apollonian and Dionysian cults they were united and blended. If we, in our modern culture, undergo a true spiritual training, we can re-experience them both in one.

GRUB: Yes. The 12th Principle is the Dionysian—it refers to mystic contemplation. The 5th is aligned with Zarathustra—and it is Apollonian. The beginning of the Zodiac is the 12th, while the halfway point is the very end of the 5th. I consider the 6-principle span beginning with the 12th terminating with the end of the 5th to be “gestation and childhood” while 6th through 11th are “adulthood.” There are two opposing points which are the midpoints between 12 and 5 (Dionysus and Apollo); and these points constitute the dividing lines between 2 and 3, and between 8 and 9. Both midpoints blend Dionysus and Apollo. Meanwhile the point exactly opposite the 12th (the Dionysian principle) is the 6th, and this refers to the laws of society, otherwise known as the Symbolic Order, while the point exactly opposite 5th (Apollo, the Imaginary Order) is the 11th. 

     11 and 6 correspond to Aquarius and Virgo—two humanoid signs, both associated with humanitarian purpose. Aquarius is associated with Prometheus just as Virgo is associated with his good friend Hephaestus. We are right now seeing the hegemony of the 6th principle, with social justice, a phase in modern times perhaps beginning with Marx. The 11th principle meanwhile had begun in modern times with Theosophy among other things.

     And so, within the artistic fields, what painters do is a type of spiritual Apollonian science, whereby the phenomenal world is treated, yet the spiritual world shines through it. It is Zoroastrian. What musicians are doing (12th Principle) is to represent nothing at all through sound, yet in such a way as to reveal the invisible Dionysian truth at the bottom of Self. What poets and children do meanwhile (2/3: one midpoint of 12 and 5) is to use words along with the senses in order to penetrate into the philosophical or mystical world of the two adult priests, Scorpio and Sagittarius, which lie opposite 2 and 3, in the 8th and 9th positions. The philosopher (or priest) by contrast begins from the exalted position of 8/9, in order to give conceptual structure to worldly life (2/3).

STEINER: Nietzsche had an inkling of the significant difference between the cults of Apollo and Dionysus. True, he did not enter very deeply into the matter, but in his first Essay, “The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music,” he shows that the Apollonian and Dionysian cults of ancient Greece are represented on the one hand in the mystic current, and on the other in the current which is now expressed by Spiritual Science.

GRUB: In my view, our next evolution concerns the 6th and 11th positions, lying opposite the 12th and the 5th, the Dionysian and Apollonian, respectively. This more recent phase I would associate with Christ as a symbol, which I associate with the 11th Principle but also with the 6th. Christ’s mother, remember, was the Virgin (6th) and she conceived Christ by the Spirit, which is to say the Sun (5th); these two values add up to 11, the principle lying across from the 5th associated with the leonine Sun, or Apollo.

STEINER: Behind the physical Sun lives the spiritual Lord and Creator, Ahura Mazdao. This is the derivation of the name “Ormuzd,” Spirit of Light. While the Indians searched mystically in the inner self to find Brahma, the Eternal, shining like a luminous centre in man, Zarathustra pointed his disciples to the great periphery, showing them that the mighty Spirit of the Sun, Ahura Mazdao, the Spirit of Light, dwelt in the physical body of the Sun. Ahura Mazdao has to face his enemy—Ahriman, the Spirit of Darkness—just as man, who bears within himself the enemies of his good impulses, strives to raise his real spiritual being to perfection and has to battle against his lower passions, desires, and the delusive images of lying and falsehood. 

GRUB: At this point in evolution, though, we have reached the 6th Principle without the 11th being fulfilled or reconciled fully with it. Once that occurs, and only then, the Zodiac will be complete. There is no telling how long it will take. The ancient negotiation of Dionysus and Apollo (12 and 5; the fetus and bright boy; Pisces and Leo) has been reconciled; we are hoping now to discover a means of reconciling the newer misunderstanding of 6 and 11, which are the two principles that correspond to the humanoid signs of spiritual adulthood, the Virgin and Water-Giver.


In my view the Zodiac underlies all cultural processes. It is the structure of the mind, and the book of Genesis is based upon it, as is all mythology, all literature. History and culture change when different parts of the Zodiac are emphasized. But 1, 4, 7, 10 are the constant. At the moment, regarding the rest of the zodiac, 6 is dominant, so is 11. These are driving culture, just as 12 and 5 were dominant during Classical Antiquity.

Principles 1, 4, 7, and 10 are always applicable no matter what phase of history one is in. I call the cardinal angles “The World.”

Together they represent “official life”: (1)birth, (4)childhood/motherhood/home, (7)marriage, (10)fatherhood/reputation/mastery.”

Human beings, throughout history, have always emphasized 1, 4, 7, 10. 

Question: ‘Isn’t 3 exchange of Information- communication, learning, conversing, reading, traveling? How is it limited to senses only? 2 can generate ideas. It too is not “limited” to senses.’

Answer: 3rd Principle is the basic, primitive intellect. 2 and 3 are part and parcel. The senses lead to intellect; they are its precondition. When one reads the chart of an adult and they have planets in 3rd House, one is correct to say that 3rd does refer to reading and talking because those things specifically engage the basic intellect.

What I’m doing is I am mapping the Zodiac onto childhood development, as well as history. This calls for a radical boiling down of concepts, so what I say may (understandably) strike people as deviant. Rest assured, however, I am using the same basic framework currently in use, though I am adapting it for different purposes.