Over a century ago, the great mystic Rudolph Steiner explored and explained the major post-Atlantean ages (epochs) of this planet. His awareness of and insights into this progression seem quite spot on. We can see that we are now on the brink of the 6th epoch. The language (below) is a tad dated but the intention is clear.
The intellect (theme of this closing epoch) can also be considered the ego, and behind intellect’s waking awareness lies the shadow: the wounds and wound-inflicting out-lashings that “live” in the closet of the ego, or intellect – personally and en masse. Ego/intellect spends eternities embroiled in defending its sense of rightness or specialness. The political arena is a blistering example of this epoch – often at the expense of the slightest decency.
There’s been a lot of thought, talk, writings & teachings about pursuing “ego death” via spiritual practice. I don’t advocate this path, for reasons that are best left for another time. Suffice it to say that being in possession of one’s identity (one’s expanded identity) serves an important function in this life! For now, at least, a cooperative integration between ego and soul is optimal.
The following material comes from a lecture given by Rudolf Steiner in Milan, 21st September, 1911. Translated by D. S. Osmond.
The 5th Epoch (now ending) – Reign of the Intellect
We are living in the fifth post-Atlantean epoch of culture (1413-3573), the ancient Indian being the first (7227-5067 BC), the ancient Persian the second (5067-2907BC), the Babylonian-Chaldean the third (2907-747 BC), the Græco-Roman the fourth (747 BC-1413); the sixth and seventh epochs will follow our own. And then another great catastrophe will befall the Earth and humanity, as was the case at the end of the Atlantean epoch.
Occult research is able to indicate the characteristic trend of human evolution in each of these post-Atlantean epochs of civilisation — including the fifth, sixth, and seventh. The essential characteristic of our present fifth epoch is the development of intellect, of reason.
The main characteristic of the sixth epoch will be that very definite feelings regarding what is moral and what is immoral will arise in the souls of men. Delicate feelings of sympathy will be aroused by compassionate, kindly deeds and feelings of antipathy by malicious actions. Nobody living at the present time can have the faintest conception of the intensity of these feelings.
6th & 7th Epochs: Intellect without Sacred Foundation Wanes & Ceases
The sixth epoch will be followed by the seventh, when the moral life will be still further deepened. Whereas in the sixth epoch man will take pleasure in good and noble actions, in the seventh epoch the natural outcome of such pleasure will be a moral impulse, that is to say there will be a firm resolve to do what is moral. There is a great difference between taking pleasure in a moral action and the doing of it.
We can therefore say: our own epoch is the epoch of intellectualism; the essential characteristic of the following epoch will be aesthetic pleasure in the good, aesthetic displeasure in the evil; and the seventh will be characterised by an active moral life.
[…] In order to understand the nature of development in the sixth epoch of culture, it is well to consider what will be the characteristic qualities of the soul in future incarnations. Today, in our intellectual age, intellectuality and morality are practically separate spheres in the life of soul. It is quite possible nowadays for a man to be very clever and at the same time immoral, or vice versa — to be deeply moral and anything but clever. […] Let us think once again of the phases of evolution through the fifth, sixth, and seventh post-Atlantean culture-epochs in order to grasp how intellectuality, aestheticism, and morality will come to expression in men’s life of soul.
Whereas in the present fifth epoch, intellectuality can remain unimpaired even if no pleasure is taken in moral actions, in the sixth epoch, it will be quite different. In the sixth epoch, that is, from about the third millennium onwards, immorality will have a paralysing effect upon intellectuality.
The mental powers of a man who is intellectual and at the same time immoral will definitely deteriorate and this condition will become more and more pronounced in the future evolution of humanity. A man who has no morals will therefore have no intellectual power for this will depend entirely upon moral actions; and in the seventh epoch, cleverness without morality will be non-existent.