In the fourth post-Atlantean age — people only know tales about it today and of course they do not believe them — there was an ordeal by fire. To prove guilt or innocence, people were made to walk a red hot grid. If they got burned, they were considered to be guilty, if not, if they walked across without being harmed, they were considered to be innocent.
People consider this to be an old superstition today, but it is true. It is one of the abilities people had in the past and are no longer able to have today. In those days, human nature had this quality: Innocents who were utterly convinced of their innocence and knew themselves to be in the protection of the divine spirits at such a solemn moment, people who were so firmly connected with the spiritual world in their consciousness that the astral body would be taken out of the physical body, could walk across the embers with their physical bodies. It really was so in the past. This is the truth. It is really a good thing for you to be fully and completely clear in your minds that this old superstition is based on truth — though of course it is not a good idea for you to go and tell the vicar all about it.
These things have undergone a transformation. In the past, individuals who had to prove their innocence in a particular way, could be made to walk the embers on occasion. You can, however, be quite certain, that, generally speaking, people were afraid of fire even then; they did not enjoy walking over red hot grids. Even in those days it would generally make them shudder — except for those who were able to prove their innocence in this way. But some of the power which carried people through the embers in those days has now become more inward in the sense I spoke of in my last lecture. The clairvoyance of the fifth post-Atlantean age, the connection with the world of the spirit, is based on the same powers, except that the powers which formerly enabled people to walk through fire have been transformed and become more inward.
If one wants to be in touch with certain factors which belong to the world of the spirit, one has to overcome much the same reluctance as had to be overcome when people went through fire. That is the reason why many people fear the spiritual world today as much as they fear fire. We cannot really say people are just speaking figuratively when they say they are afraid of getting burned; they really are afraid. This is the reason for the opposition to anthroposophy: people are afraid of getting burned. Yet the progress of time demands that we gradually approach the fire and do not shy away from reality.
Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 177 – Fall of the Spirits of Darkness: Lecture 7: Working from Spiritual Reality – Dornach, 12 October 1917
Translated by Anna R. Meuss