From Anthroposophy

The Individuality known as Orpheus is a bodhisattva of the White Lodge and great teacher of humanity in the third cultural age, who installed the Greek Mysteries and culture before the fourth Greco-Roman cultural age. He taught through the music and the vibrations it induced in the etheric body. About teaching the sentient soul through music, see 1909-10-25-GA116 below and Two streams of development#1909-11-14-GA117).

He descended again in the fourth Greco-Latin cultural age and in that case incarnated down to the human stage to make use of all the faculties of Man. This was an complicated incarnation, as the bodily constitution was limited then to the intellectual soul, meaning he had to hold back the larger part of his consciousness soul and higher soul faculties.

Such kind of incarnation was called a “Son of Apollo”, bearing within as soul what Mysticism designates by the symbol of the ‘feminine’ element which he could not bear within because it was in another world. This inner tragedy of the reincarnated teacher of former times has been preserved in Greek Mythology under the name of Orpheus, the name given to the reincarnated Apollo, or “Son of Apollo.”

In this incarnation of a bodhisattva Apollo as Orpheus, we have a sort of descent to Buddha-hood, with the individual experience of not having his entire I with him, also symbolic and inspiring humanity, how Man is struggling up to the higher self (or Man's higher triad)


  • The above based on 1909-10-25-GA116
  • in incarnation as Orpheus, descends from the muse Calliope (the supersensible in the soul) and the Thracian river god Oeagrus (influence of the physical world). The latter influence of the physical world made him unable to retain the revelations of his etheric body as was formerly the case (loss of Eurydice, as Man's etheric body is female)
  • as a character in Jason and the Argonauts and legend of the Golden Fleece
    • Orpheus was the most famous musician of Greek mythology, whose songs were endowed with miraculous and superhuman power. Orpheus sailed with the Argonauts to fetch the Golden Fleece but was most famous for his tragic love of Eurydice. More on: Greek mythology#Jason and the argonautes
    • tragedy of the soul is represented in‘Orpheus and Eurydice’. Eurydice was soon torn from Orpheus. She dwelt in another world; but Orpheus still had the power, through his music, of teaching the beings of the nether world. He obtained permission from them to take Eurydice back with him. But he must not look around him; for that would mean inner death; — at all events it would bring about a loss of what he formerly was and which he cannot now take into himself.
  • see also:
    • Orpheus, Theseus, Cadmus, Cecrops, Pelops - see Aspects on Three classes of Buddhas
    • Individuality of Skythianos, who inspired the leaders of the ancient European cultures, which were based on the receptiveness for an element that stood in the middle between that which one could call recitative-rhythmical speech and a sort of singing, accompanied by a peculiar music that was based on the interplay of pipe-like instruments.

Lecture references




quote A - about affecting and teaching through the sentient soul

I explained this morning that certain forces working through the power of vision on the sentient soul, will at a higher stage become conscious forces, and will then appear in the form of thought.

f that great Teacher-Individuality was able so to stimulate the sentient-soul that the forces of thought could penetrate it, in somewhat the same way as life subconsciously penetrated it through the act of vision — without the least realising it, that Teacher could then achieve something.

This could only be done in one way. To stimulate the sentient soul and instill into it, so to speak, the power of thought, this Individuality had to work in a very special way. He had to give his instruction, not in conceptions — but through music!

Music engenders forces which set free in the sentient soul something, which, when it rises into the consciousness and has been worked upon by the spiritual soul, becomes logical thinking.

This music came forth from a mighty Being, who taught through music. You will think this strange, and may perhaps not believe it possible, yet such was the case.

Before the Graeco-Latin age, in certain parts of Europe, there existed an ancient culture among those peoples who had remained behind as regards the qualities strongly developed in the East. In those parts of Europe the people were not able to think much, for their development had been of quite a different nature; they had but little of the forces of the intellectual soul.

Their sentient soul, however, was very receptive to what proceeded from the impulses of a special kind of music, which was not the same as our music today. We thus go back to a time in Europe when there was what we might call an ancient “musical culture” — a time when not only the “Bards” were the teachers, as they were later, when these things had already fallen into decadence, but when a music full of enchantment passed through all those parts of Europe. In the third epoch of civilisation (i.e., the Egyptian) there was a profound musical culture in Europe, and the minds of those peoples who were waiting quietly for what they were destined to carry out later, were receptive in a particular way to the effects of music. These effects worked upon the sentient soul in a similar way to that in which the thought-substance works upon it through the eyes. Thus did music work on the physical plane; but the sentient soul had the subconscious feeling:

“This comes from the same regions as the Light.”

Music — the song from the realms of Light!

quote B

Once upon a time there was a primeval Teacher in the civilised parts of Europe — a primeval Teacher who in this sense was a primeval Bard, the pioneer of all the ancient Bards and minstrels. He taught on the physical plane by means of music, and he taught in such a way that something was thereby communicated to the sentient-soul, which was like the rising and shining of a sun. What tradition has retained concerning this great Teacher was later on gathered together by the Greeks — who were still influenced by him from the West as they were influenced in a different way from the East. This was embodied in their conception of Apollo, who was a Sun-God and at the same time the God of music. This figure of Apollo dates back, however, to that great Teacher of primeval times, who put into the human soul the faculty which appears to-day as the power of clear thinking.

The Greeks also tell of a pupil of this Great Teacher of humanity — of one who became a pupil in a very special way.

How could anyone become the “pupil” of this Being?

In those bygone times, when this Being was to work in the manner just described, he was not, of course, encompassed in the physical organisation; he transcended that which walks the earth as physical man. A man with an ordinary sentient-soul might have been receptive to the effects of the music, but he could not have aroused them in others.

A higher Individuality had come down and was like the radiance of what lived in the cosmos outside.

It became necessary, however, that in the fourth Post-Atlantean cultural age, in the Graeco-Latin age, he should descend again — that he should descend to the human stage and make use of all the faculties that are in man. Yet, although he made use, so to speak, of all the human faculties, he could not quite descend. For, in order to bring about what I have described, he required faculties transcending those possessed by a human organisation in the fourth post-Atlantean cultural age.

The effects of this music even then included what was to be found in the spiritual soul; and it could not at that time have lived in an individuality organised only for the intellectual soul. Hence, although incarnated in such a form, he still had to hold something back. His incarnation in the fourth age was such, that although he completely filled the whole human form, yet he as man, dwelling within that form, had, as it were, something within him that extended far beyond it; he knew something of a spiritual world, but he could not make use of this knowledge. He had a soul which extended beyond his body. Humanly speaking, there was something tragic in the fact that the Individuality who had acted as a great Teacher in the third cultural age, should have had to incarnate again in a form in which his soul was to a great extent outside it — and yet that he could not make any use of this superior and unusual faculty of soul. This kind of incarnation was called a “Son of Apollo”, because that, which had dwelt on earth before, was reincarnated in a very complicated and not in a direct way. A Son of Apollo bore within him as soul what Mysticism designates by the symbol of the ‘feminine’ element; he could not bear all of it within him, because it was in another world. His own feminine soul element was itself in another world to which he had no access but for which he longed, because a part of himself was there. This marvellous inner tragedy of the reincarnated Teacher of former times has been wonderfully preserved in Greek Mythology under the name of ‘Orpheus’ — the name given to the reincarnated Apollo, or “Son of Apollo.”

This tragedy of the soul is represented in a marvellous way in the figures of ‘Orpheus and Eurydice’. Eurydice was soon torn from Orpheus. She dwelt in another world; but Orpheus still had the power, through his music, of teaching the beings of the nether world. He obtained permission from them to take Eurydice back with him. But he must not look around him; for that would mean inner death; — at all events it would bring about a loss of what he formerly was and which he cannot now take into himself.

Thus in this incarnation of Apollo as Orpheus, we have again a sort of descent of a Bodhisattva — if we may use this Eastern term — to Buddha-hood.

We might quote a number of such Beings who stand out from age to age as the great Teachers of humanity and who always had a very special experience at the time of their deepest descent. The Buddha experiences the bliss of inspiring the whole of humanity.

That Bodhisattva, whose memory is preserved externally under the name of ‘Apollo,’ had an individual experience: he was to prepare the individuality, the quality of the Ego.

He experiences the tragedy of the Ego; he experiences the fact that this ego is, in the present state of man as regards this attribute of his, not entirely with him. Man is struggling up to the higher ego.

That was foreshadowed for the Greeks by the Buddha or Bodhisattva in Orpheus.


see also Two streams of development#1909-11-14-GA117

from lecture 9, on the European population in pre-Christian time:

Their cultural elements were influenced by that great initiate who had chosen this region up to Siberia for his activity, and is called Scythianos. He inspired the leaders of the ancient European culture. This culture was based on the receptiveness for an element that stood in the middle between that which one could call recitative-rhythmical speech and a sort of singing, accompanied by a peculiar music that was based on the interplay of pipe-like instruments. That was a strange element whose last remainder lives in the bards and skalds. What the Greek myth of Apollo and Orpheus tells has developed from there.


second translation here

subtitle: the sacrifice of Orpheus

We are told for instance, in these ancient communications of a Greek singer, Orpheus. I select him because he belongs to an age immediately preceding that of Christianity.

It was Orpheus who inaugurated the Grecian Mysteries.

[other translation: We may think of him as the one responsible for the organisation of the Greek Mysteries.]

The Greek age falls within the fourth period of post-Atlantean civilisations, so that in a way the Greeks were prepared by Orpheus for what they were to receive later through the Christ Event.

What would a modern man say if confronted by a person like Orpheus?

He would say: He is the son of such and such a father and mother, modern science might perhaps even look for “inherited attributes” in him. There exists today a large volume treating of all the inherited characteristics of the Goethe family, and would present Goethe as the sum of these inherited attributes. People did not think in this way at the time of Orpheus, they did not then regard external man and his attributes as what was most essential. The most essential thing in Orpheus was the power by which he became the inaugurator, the true leader, of pre-Christian civilisation in Greece. They recognised quite clearly that his physical brain and nervous system were not what was most important in him. They considered this to be far more the fact that he bore within him an element that had its direct source in super-sensible worlds, that through it, all he experienced in these worlds came in touch, by means of his personality, with a physical sensible element, and could then express itself in the various stages provided by a physical personality. The Greeks saw in Orpheus not the man of flesh descended from father and mother, even perhaps from grandfather and grandmother, this was not to them the main thing, it was only his shell, his outer presentment. For them the essential thing in him was what had descended from a super-sensible source, and had entered into a sensible being on the physical plane.

When the Greeks confronted Orpheus they hardly considered his descent from father and mother, what mattered to them was the fact that his soul qualities, the qualities through which he had become what he was, sprang from a super-sensible source that till then had never had any connection with the physical plane, and that through what this man was, a super-sensible element was able to work within his personality and be united with it.

Because the Greeks saw, as what was most essential in Orpheus, a pure super-sensible element, they said of him: “He is descended from a Muse.” He was the son of the Muse Calliope; he was not the son of any mere earthly mother, but of a super-sensible element that had never had connection with sensible things. Had he been the son of Calliope alone, he could only have given information concerning super-sensible worlds. But because of the age in which he lived he was ordained to give expression also to that which would be of service to his age physically. He was not only an instrument for the voice of the Muse Calliope, as the Rischis at an earlier day had been the vocal instruments of certain super-sensible forces, but he was able to express super-sensible things so vividly in his own life that the physical world was influenced by him. Because Orpheus had a Thracean river God for his father, what he taught waS closely associated on the other side with nature, with the climate of Greece, and with all that external nature gave to the river god, Oiagros.

We gather therefore that the soul-nature of Orpheus was considered the most important part of him. It was in respect of their souls men were described long ago, not as became customary later when people were described by saying: he is the son of so and so, and was born in such a town, but they were described according to their spiritual values.

It is extraordinarily interesting to note how intimately the fate of a man like Orpheus was felt; a man who was descended on one side from a muse and on the other from a river god. He had within him not merely super-sensible qualities as the prophets had, but to these he had added sensible qualities. He was therefore exposed to all the influences exercised on man by the physical sensible world.

You are well aware that the nature of Man is composed of several members. The lowest of these is the physical body, then comes the etheric body (concerning which I told you that it comprises the opposite sex), then the astral body and the I. A man like Orpheus was still able to look on one side into the spiritual world because he was descended from a Muse (you now know what that means), but on the other side the capacities by which he could live in the spiritual world were undermined owing to the life he led on the physical plane, and because of his descent from his father, the Thracian river god. Through this his purely spiritual life was undermined.

In the case of all the earlier leaders of mankind in the second and third cultural ages, by whom only a verbal teaching concerning the spiritual world had been imparted, conditions were such that they were conscious of their own etheric body as something separated from their physical body. When in the civilisations of ancient Greece, and also in those of the Celts, a Man was empowered to perceive what he had to communicate to his fellow-men, these revelations came to him because his etheric body extended beyond his physical body. It became in this case the hearer of forces which entered into the man. If the person giving out these revelations was a man and his etheric body therefore female, he perceived what he had to communicate from the spiritual world in a female form.

Now it had to be shown that where Orpheus came into purely spiritual relationship with spiritual powers, he was exposed, owing to his being the son of the Thracian river god, to the risk of not being able to retain the revelations that came to him through his etheric body. The more he entered into the life of the physical world and expressed what he was as a son of Thrace, the more he lost his clairvoyant powers.

This is shown in the fact that Eurydice, she through whom he revealed himself, his soul-bride, was removed from him, and was taken to the underworld. This occurred through the bite of an adder. He could only receive her hack again by passing through an initiation. This he now did. Whenever we are told of anyone “going into the underworld,” it means an initiation, so he had to pass through an initiation before receiving his bride back again. But already he was too closely interwoven with the physical world. He certainly did attain powers by which he was able to penetrate to the underworld, but on his return, as he again beheld the light of the sun, Eurydice disappeared from his sight. Why? Because when he beheld the light of day he did something he should not have done — he looked back. That means, he overstepped a law strictly laid on him by the God of the underworld. What law is this? It is, that physical man as he lives on the physical plane to-day must not look back beyond that moment of time I have already described, within which lie the macrocosmic experiences of childhood, and which, when extended into later states of consciousness, gave him the ancient form of clairvoyance. “Thou shalt not desire to unravel the secrets of childhood,” said the God of the underworld, “nor remember how the threshold was crossed.” If he did this he lost the faculty of clairvoyance. Something infinitely fine and intimate in Orpheus is shown us by this loss of Eurydice, one result of which is the sacrifice of man to the physical world. With a nature that is still rooted in the spiritual world, he is directed to what he has to become on the physical plane. Through this nature all the powers of the physical plane rush in on him, and he loses “Eurydice” his own innocent soul, which must be lost to modern humanity. The forces among which he is then placed lacerate him. This in a certain sense is regarded as the sacrifice of Orpheus.

What did Orpheus experience as he lived on from the third to the fourth post-Atlantean cultural age?

He experienced in the first place that stage of consciousness which the child leaves behind — he experienced connection with the Macrocosm. This does not pass over into his conscious life. Therefore, as we see him, he is swallowed up, slain by life on the physical plane, which really begins at the point of time of which we have been speaking.

Consider now the Man of the physical plane, who is normally only able to carry his memory back to a certain point of time, before which lie the first three years of childhood.

The thread of memory so entangles Orpheus with the physical plane that with his true nature he could not abide in it, but is torn to pieces. Thus it is with the spirit of man today; we see how profoundly the human spirit is entangled in matter. This is the spirit which, according to the Christianity of St. Paul, is called the “Son of Man.” You get this conception of the “Son of Man” who is in man from the point of time to which memory extends, along with all that he has gained through culture. Keep this man before you, and then think what he might have been through union with the Macrocosm, if there had entered into him all that streamed towards him from the Macrocosm in the early years of childhood. In these early years what comes can only form a foundation, for the evolved human ego is not yet present. But if it entered into an evolved human I there would then take place what occurred for the first time through the baptism in Jordan at the moment when “the Spirit from above” descended upon Jesus of Nazareth. The three innocent stages of childhood's development would blend with all the rest of the human being. The consequence would be as this innocent life of childhood sought to develop on the physical earth, that it could do so only for three years (as is always the case): — it would meet its end on Golgotha. This means it cannot mingle with what man becomes at the moment when he achieves his I-hood, at the point of time to which later his memory extends.


Related pages

References and further reading