Now I come back to the question: Where are the earlier Initiates? For certainly it will be said that they are not to be found. But, my dear friends — I shall have to say something paradoxical here! — if it were possible for a number of human beings to be born today at the age of seventeen or eighteen, so that when they descended from the spiritual world they would in some way or other find and enter seventeen- or eighteen-year-old bodies, or if at least human beings could in some way be spared from going to school (as schools are constituted today), then you would find that those who were once Initiates would be able to appear in the human being of the present day. But just as little as it is possible, under the conditions obtaining on earth today, for an Initiate, when he needs bread, to nourish himself from a piece of ice, just as little is it possible for the wisdom of an older time to manifest directly, in the form that you would expect, in a body that has received education — in the present-day accepted sense of the word — up to his seventeenth or eighteenth year. Nowhere in the world is this possible; at all events, nowhere in the civilised world. We have here to take account of things that lie altogether beyond the outlook of the educated men of modern times.
When, as is the custom today, a child is obliged as early as the sixth or seventh year to learn to read and write, it is torture for the soul that wants to develop and unfold in accordance with its own nature. I can only repeat what I have already told you in my autobiography, that I owe the removal of many hindrances to the circumstance that when I was twelve years old I was still unable to write properly. For the capacity of being able to write, in the way that is demanded today, kills certain qualities in the human being.
It is necessary to say such a thing, paradoxical though it may sound, for it is the truth. There is no help for it — it is a fact. Hence it is that a highly evolved individual can be recognised in his reincarnation only if one looks at manifestations of human nature which are not directly apparent in a man, if he has gone through a modern education, but reveal themselves, so to speak, behind him.
Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 235 – Karmic Relationships: Esoteric Studies – Volume I – Lecture XII – Dornach, 23rd March 1923
Portrait by D. Huschke, 1906