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Two Essays on Haeckel

On-line since: 15th October, 2014

II

HAECKEL, “THE RIDDLE OF THE
UNIVERSE,” AND THEOSOPHY

[Delivered as a lecture, Berlin, 5th October, 1905.
Authorised translation from the third German edition.
]

IN selecting such a theme as the one I propose for to-day, “Haeckel, The Riddle of the Universe, and Theosophy,” I am aware that to a student of spiritual life it is fraught with difficulties, and that the statements I am about to make may possibly give offence to so-called materialists and theosophists alike. And yet there seems to me a necessity that this matter should, once in a while, be approached from the theosophical point of view, since from one standpoint the “gospel” derived from Haeckel's researches has been made accessible to thousands upon thousands of mankind by means of his book, The Riddle of the Universe. Ten thousand copies of this work were sold within a very short time of its appearance, and it has been translated into many languages. Seldom, indeed, has a book of serious purpose found so wide a circulation.

Now, if theosophy is to make clear its aims, it is but right that it should take into account so important a publication — one that concerns itself with the most profound questions of existence. Theosophy should deal with it comprehensively, and seek to express its attitude with regard to it. For after all, the theosophical conception of life is not combative but rather conciliatory, desirous of harmonising opposing views.

Furthermore, I myself am in a very peculiar position with respect to Ernst Haeckel's conception of the universe, for I know well those feelings and perceptions which, partly by reason of a scientific consciousness, and partly from the general conditions of the world and the usual conceptions thereof, draw men as though by the power of some fascination towards such great and simple paths of thought as those from which Haeckel has constructed his conception of the universe. And here I may say that I should hardly have dared to speak my mind thus openly were I in any sense an opponent of Haeckel, or were it not that I am intimately acquainted with all that can be experienced in the process of adapting oneself to the wonderful edifice of his ideas.

The very first thing that anyone bringing his attention frankly to bear upon the development of spiritual life is bound to recognise, is the moral power displayed in Haeckel's labours. For years past this man, imbued with an enormous amount of courage, has fought for the acceptance and the recognition of his conception of the universe — fought strenuously, having again and again to defend himself against the manifold obstacles that impeded his progress. On the other hand, we must not be unmindful of the fact that Haeckel's great powers of comprehensive expression are balanced by equally comprehensive powers of thought: the very qualities in which many scientists are deficient happen to be those with which he is very highly endowed.

In gathering together the results of his researches and investigations under the one comprehensive title of a conception of the universe, he has boldly departed from those tendencies of scientific thought which have for several decades opposed any such undertaking; and this very departure must be recognised as an act of special significance.

Another fact to be noted is, that I am placed in a singular position with regard to the theosophical conception of the universe when I speak about Haeckel; for anyone acquainted with the process of development through which the theosophical movement has passed will be aware of what sharp words and what opposition, not only on the part of theosophists in general, but on the part of the founder of the theosophical movement, Madame H. P. Blavatsky, were directed against the deductions which Ernst Haeckel draws from his work of investigation. Few publications touching cosmogony have been so violently opposed in the Secret Doctrine as that of Haeckel.

You will understand that I speak here without prejudice, for I think that in parts of my book, Haeckel and his Opponents, as well as in my other work on Cosmogonies of the Nineteenth Century, I have to the fullest extent done justice to what I take to be the real truths contained in Haeckel's conception of the universe. I believe that I have sifted from his labours that which is fruitful, and that which is enduring. Consider the general attitude towards the conception of the world in so far as it is based upon scientific reasons. During the first half of the nineteenth century a totally different spiritual attitude prevailed from that known in the second half. Haeckel's appearance on the scene coincided with a time in which it was an easy thing for the new growth of so-called Darwinism to be subjected to materialistic interpretations. If, therefore, we realise how insistent was this tendency, at the very time when Haeckel was a young and enthusiastic student entering upon the pursuit of natural science, to reduce all discoveries in that domain of learning to a materialistic issue, the consequent bent towards materialism may well be understood, and may therefore lead us into a path of peace rather than of conflict.

If you will consider those men who, about the middle of the nineteenth century, set themselves to confront the great riddle of humanity with calm, unprejudiced eyes, you will find two things: on the one hand, a state of absolute resignation in relation to the highest questions concerning a divine ordering of the world, such as immortality, freedom of will, origin of life — a resignation, in short, with regard to all the actual riddles of the universe. On the other hand you will discover, co-existing with this attitude of resignation, remnants of an ancient religious tradition, and this even among students of natural science. Bold adventuring towards investigation of such questions from the scientific point of view was, during the first half of the nineteenth century, to be met with only among German philosophers, such as Schelling and Fichte, as well as Oken, who, by the way, was a pioneer of freedom without equal, not alone upon this subject, but in many paths of life.

All attempts made by men in the present day towards the fundamentalising of world-theories are to be found in still bolder outline among the works of Oken. And yet all this was animated by a certain subtleness — a breath, as it were, of that old spiritualism which is clearly conscious that, behind and beyond all that our senses can perceive, all that can be investigated by means of instruments, there still lurks something spiritual to be sought for. Haeckel has again and again told us how distinctly the mind of his great teacher — that deep student of natural science, Johannes Müller, of imperishable memory — was tinged with this subtle breath. You can read in Haeckel's own writings how he had been struck (it was at the time when he was busy at the Berlin University and studying the anatomy of men and animals under Johannes Müller) by the great resemblance apparent not alone in outward form, but also by that similarity which compels attention in the evolution of form. He tells us how he had remarked to his master that such resemblance as this must hint at some mysterious kinship between man and beast, and that the answer made by Johannes Müller, who had searched so deeply into Nature, had been: “Ah! he who lays bare the secret of species will indeed have reached the highest summit.”

What we have to do is to attune ourselves to the spirit, the motive, of such a seeker; of one who assuredly would never have halted had he beheld a prospect of entering into possession of that secret. On one other occasion, when teacher and pupil were travelling together on some journey of investigation, Haeckel again referred to the close relationship existing between animals; and Johannes Müller once more replied very much to the same effect. In alluding to this I only wish to draw your attention to a certain attitude of mind.

If you will look back among the writings of any well-known naturalist belonging to the first half of the nineteenth century — for instance, to those of Burdach — you will find that, in spite of all the careful and elaborate minutiae appertaining to natural science, whenever the kingdom of life comes to be considered, the suggestion is ever present that here no mere physical and chemical powers are in operation, but that something higher has to be taken into account.

When, however, improvements in microscopes made it possible for man to observe, to a far greater extent than heretofore, all those curious formations which serve to distinguish living creatures, showing that we have to do with a fine web of the minutest animalcules, and that this actually composes the physical body — when, as I have said, so much was made visible, the attitude of the scientific mind underwent a change. This physical body, which serves plants and animals as their garment, now resolved itself, so far as the scientist was concerned, into a tissue of cells. This discovery as to the life of these cells was made by naturalists about the end of the third decade of the nineteenth century, and, seeing that it was possible to ascertain so much about the lives of such animalcules by the exercise of the senses, assisted by the aid of the microscope, it required but a step further for that which acts as the organising principle in these living creatures to be lost sight of, because no physical sense, nothing external, proclaimed its presence.

At that time there was no Darwinism, yet it was owing to the impression made by this great advance in the domain of practical research that we find a natural science grounded in materialism coming into vogue during the 'forties and 'fifties. It was then thought that what could be perceived by the senses, and thus explained, could be understood by the whole world. Things that now seem puerile created then the most intense sensation, and became, so to speak, a gospel for humanity. Such words as “energy” and “matter” became popular by-words, while men like Büchner and Moleschott were recognised authorities. It was considered an evidence of childish fancy, belonging to earlier epochs of the human race, to suppose that anything that could be minutely examined with the eye was possessed of aught beyond what was actually visible.

Now, you must bear in mind that, side by side with all discovery, feelings and sensations play a great part in the development of mental life. Anyone who may be inclined to think that cosmogonies are the result of bold calculations of reason makes a mistake: in all such matters the heart is active, and the secret sources of education also contribute their share. Humanity has, during its latest phase of development, been passing through a materialistic stage of education. The actual beginning of this stage is traceable far back, it is true; nevertheless, it reached its apex in the time of which we are speaking. We call this epoch of materialistic education the age of enlightenment.

Man had now — and this was the final result of the Christian conception of the universe — to find his foothold upon the firm ground of reality: the God whom he had so long sought beyond the clouds he was now bidden to seek within his inner consciousness. This had a far-reaching effect upon the entire development of the nineteenth century, and anyone interested in psychological changes and caring to study the development of humanity at that time will be enabled to understand how all the events and occurrences which then followed upon each other, such as the struggle for freedom in the 'thirties and 'forties, can but be classed as separate storms and convulsions of the feelings which were the result of that newly developed sense of physical reality, and which were bound to run their appointed course. We have to deal with a tendency in human education that sought in the first place forcibly to eradicate from the human heart every aspiration towards a spiritual life.

It is not from natural science that those deductions, pronouncing the world to consist of naught but what can be perceived by the senses, have been drawn; they are a consequence of the educational teaching obtaining at that time. Materialism had become interwoven with explanations relating to the facts of natural science. Anyone who will take the trouble to study these things as they really are, bringing to bear upon the subject a mind free from prejudice, will be in a position to see for himself that the case is as I am about to set forth, but it is impossible for me in the space of one short hour to deal with the matter exhaustively.

The whole of the stupendous advance made in the realms of natural science, of astronomy, of physics and chemistry, due to spectrum analysis, to a greater theoretical knowledge of heat, and to that teaching concerning the development of living organisms known to us as the Darwinian theory — all these come within this period of materialism. Had these discoveries been made at a time when people still thought as they did about the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries, a time when a greater spiritual sensitiveness prevailed, then these discoveries would have been so construed as to furnish proofs positive of the working of the spirit in Nature — indeed, by very reason of the wonderful discoveries in natural science the supremacy of spirit would have been deemed incontestably established.

It is clear, then, that scientific investigations with regard to Nature need not necessarily and under all circumstances lead to materialism. It was merely because so many leaders of civilisation at that time were materialistically inclined that these discoveries became interpreted in a materialistic way. Materialism was imported into natural science, and naturalists, such as Ernst Haeckel, accepted it unconsciously. Darwin's discovery per se need not have tended to materialism.

Materialism points to Darwin's book, The Origin of Species, as its chief support. Now, it is clear that if a thinker inclining to materialism approached these discoveries, he would be sure to invest Darwinism with a materialistic colouring, and it was due to Haeckel's boldly materialistic attitude of thought that Darwinism has received its present materialistic interpretation. It was an event of great moment when Haeckel, in the year 1864, announced the connection between man and the higher animals (apes). At that time this could but mean that man was descended from the higher animals. But since that day scientific thought has undergone a curious process of development. Haeckel has adhered to his opinion that man is the descendant of those higher animals, they being in their turn the developments of still lower types, reaching back finally to the very simplest forms of life. It is thus that Haeckel constructs man's entire genealogical tree — in fact, the lineal descent of all humanity. By this means everything of a spiritual nature became for him excluded from the world, except as a reflection of already-existing material things.

And yet Haeckel, having in the depths of his being a peculiar spiritual consciousness working side by side with his materialistic “thinking mind,” casts about for some means of help, since these two parts of his being have never been able to “come into line;” he has not succeeded in bringing about a working partnership between them. For this reason he comes to the conclusion that even the smallest living creature may be accredited with a sort of consciousness, but he does not explain to us how the complex human consciousness is developed out of that which is latent in the smallest living creature.

In the course of a conversation Haeckel once said: “People are always objecting to my materialism, but I don't deny the Spirit, nor do I deny Life: I only want people to observe that when you place matter in a retort everything in it soon begins to work and effervesce — to ferment.” That remark shows plainly enough that Haeckel possesses a spiritual as well as a scientific mind.

Among those who, at the time of Darwin's supremacy, proclaimed their adherence to the theory of man's descent from the higher animals was the English scientist Huxley. He asserted the close similarity in external structure between man and the higher animals to be even greater than that existing between the higher and lower species of apes, and that we could but come to the conclusion that a line of descent existed leading from the higher animals to man. In more recent times scientists have discovered new facts, but even then those feelings which for centuries past have educated the human heart and soul were undergoing a change, a transformation. Hence it was that Huxley in the 'nineties, not long before his death, gave utterance to the following view — a strange one, coming from him:

“We see therefore,” he observed, “that in Nature life is conditioned by a series of steps, proceeding from the simplest and most incomplete up to the complicated and perfected. We cannot follow this continuity, yet why should not this continuous line proceed onwards in a region which we are unable to survey?”

In these words the way is indicated by which man may, by the pursuit of natural science, rise to the idea of a Divine being, standing high above man — a being farther removed from man than man himself is from the one-celled organism. Huxley had once said:

“I would rather have descended from such ancestors, ancestors similar to the brute, than from such as deny the human intelligence.” [See note to Readers, below.]

Readers who are unacquainted with Huxley's famous reply may be glad to have it in extenso, as given by Edward Clodd in Thomas Henry Huxley, published by William Blackwood & Sons:

“At the meeting of the British Association at Oxford, on 28th June, 1860, Owen emphasised the statement that ‘the brain of the gorilla presented more differences, as compared with the brain of man, than it did when compared with the brains of the very lowest and most problematical of the Quadrumana.’ To this Huxley, in polite English, gave the lie direct, and pledged himself to ‘justify that unusual procedure elsewhere.’ Two days after, by mere chance, he was present at the reading of a paper by Dr. Draper ‘On the Intellectual Development of Europe considered with reference to the views of Mr. Darwin.’ In the discussion which followed, Bishop Wilberforce, throwing a glance at Huxley, ended a suave and superficial speech by asking him ‘as to his belief in being descended from an ape. Is it on his grandfather's or his grandmother's side that the ape ancestry comes in?’ Huxley did not rise till the meeting called for him. Then he let himself go. ‘The Lord hath delivered him into mine hands,’ he said in an undertone to Sir Benjamin Brodie. After showing how ill-equipped was the Bishop for controversy upon the general question of organic evolution, although it was an open secret that Owen had primed him for the contest, Huxley said: ‘You say that development drives out the Creator, but you assert that God made you; and yet you know that you yourself were originally a piece of matter no bigger than the end of this gold pencil-case?’ Then followed the famous retort:

“‘I asserted, and I repeat, that a man has no reason to be ashamed of having an ape for his grandfather. If there were an ancestor whom I should feel shame in recalling it would rather be a man — a man of restless and versatile intellect — who, not content with success in his own sphere of activity, plunges into scientific questions with which he has no real acquaintance, only to obscure them by an aimless rhetoric, and distract the attention of his hearers from the real point at issue by eloquent digressions and skilled appeals to religious prejudice.’”

Thus do precepts and concepts, all the soul thinks and feels, alter in the course of time. Haeckel has continued his work of research along the lines he first adopted. In the year 1867 he had already published his popular work, The Natural History of Creation, and from this book much may be learnt. It teaches the laws by which the living kingdoms in Nature are linked one to the other. We can see through the veil shrouding the grey past and bring what is existent into relation with what is extinct, of which only the last remains may now be found upon the earth.

Haeckel has recognised this accurately. That world-history, here in a wider sense playing its part, I can only elucidate by making use of an illustration. You may find it no more accurate than are most comparative illustrations, yet it fairly bears out my meaning.

Let us suppose that a writer on art appeared upon the scene and produced a book in which he treated with consummate skill the whole period stretching from the days of Leonardo da Vinci to modern times. He presents to our minds all that has been achieved in the pursuit of art during that period, and we believe ourselves enabled to look within at the development of man's creative powers. Let us, then, go further, and imagine that another person came along and criticised the descriptive work, saying: “But, look here! Everything this art historian has put on record never happened at all! These are all descriptions of pictures that don't exist! What use have I for such imaginings? One has to investigate reality in order to arrive at the true method of adequately presenting art in its historical bearings. I will therefore investigate the remains of Leonardo da Vinci himself, and try to reconstruct the body, and then judge by the contours of his skull what brain he is likely to have had and how it may probably have functioned.” In the same way the events described by the art historian are depicted by the professor of anatomy. There may have been no mistake. All may have been correct. Well, then, in that case, says the anatomist, we must “fight to a finish” against this idealisation of our art historian; we must combat his phantasy, his imagination, for it amounts to credulity and superstition to allow anyone to attempt to make us believe that besides the form of Leonardo da Vinci there was some “gaseous vortex” to be apprehended as a soul.

Now, this illustration, in spite of its manifest absurdity, really hits the mark. This is the position in which everyone finds himself who chooses to assert his belief in the Natural History of Creation as the only accurate one. Nor can this illustration be negatived by merely indicating its weak points. They are there, perhaps, but that is beside the point. What is of importance is that the obvious should for once be presented according to its inner relationship; and that is what Haeckel has done in a full and exhaustive way. It has been done in such a manner that anyone wishing to see, can see, how active is the Spirit in the moulding of the form, where, to all appearances, matter alone reigns supreme. Much may be learnt from that; we may learn how to acquire spiritually knowledge as to the world's material combination, how to acquire it with earnestness, dignity, and perseverance. Anyone going through Haeckel's Anthropogenesis sees how form builds itself up, as it were, from the simplest living creature to the most complicated, from the simplest organism to man. He who understands how to add the Spirit to what is already granted by the materialist may in this example of “Haeckelism” have the opportunity of studying the best elementary theosophy.

The results of Haeckel's research constitute, so to speak, the first chapter of theosophy. Far better than by any other method, we can arrive at a comprehension of the growth and transformation of organic forms by a study of his works. We have every reason to call attention to the great things which have been achieved through the progress of this profound study of Nature.

At the time when Haeckel had constructed this wonderful edifice, the world was facing the deeper riddles of humanity as problems without solution. In the year 1872 Du Bois-Reymond, in a speech memorable for its brilliant rhetoric, alluded to the limits placed to natural science and to our knowledge of Nature. During the past decade the utterances of few men have been so much discussed as has this lecture with the celebrated “Ignorabimus.” It was a momentous event, and offered a complete contrast to Haeckel's own development and to his theory of the descent of man. In another lecture Du Bois-Reymond has tabulated seven great questions as to existence, questions which the naturalist can only answer in part, if at all. These seven “riddles of the universe” are:

  1. The origin of energy and matter.

  2. How did the first movement arise in this quiescent matter?

  3. How did life originate within this “matter set in motion?”

  4. How is it that so many things in Nature bear the stamp of utility to a degree only met with in such human achievements as are the result of intelligent reasoning?

  5. Assuming we were able to examine our brain, we should find it to be nothing but a jumble of little whirling spheres; how is it, then, that these same little balls, or spheres, enable me, let us say, to “see red,” to hear the tones of the organ, to feel pain, etc.? Think of a mass of whirling atoms, and it will be plain to you that it is not from them that you derive the sensations expressing themselves in such words as “I see red,” “I smell the scent of the rose,” etc.

  6. How do understanding, reason, and speech develop in the living being?

  7. How can “free will” originate in a being so circumscribed that his every act is the product of the whirling of these atoms?

It was in connection with these riddles of the universe put forward by Du Bois-Reymond that Haeckel gave his book the title of The Riddle of the Universe. His desire was to give the answer to the questions raised by Du Bois-Reymond. There is a specially important passage in the lecture Du Bois-Reymond delivered on the “Limits of Inquiry into Nature,” which will enable us to step across into the field of theosophy.

At the time when Du Bois-Reymond was lecturing at Leipsic before an assembly of natural scientists and medical men, the spirit of natural science was seeking after a purer, higher, and freer atmosphere — such an atmosphere as might lead to the theosophical cosmogony. On that occasion Du Bois-Reymond spoke as follows: —

“If we study man from the point of view of natural science, he presents himself to us as a working compound of unconscious atoms. To explain man in accordance with natural science means to ‘understand’ this atomic motion to its uttermost degree.”

He considered that if one were in a position to indicate the precise way in which the atoms moved at any given place in the brain, while saying, for instance, “I think,” or “Give me an apple” — if this could be done, then the problem would, according to natural science, have been solved. Du Bois-Reymond calls this the “astronomic” understanding of man. Even as a miniature firmament of stars would be the appearance of these active groups of human atoms. But what has not here been taken into consideration is the question as to how sensations, feelings, and thoughts arise in the consciousness of the man of whom, let us say, I perfectly well know that his atoms move in such and such a manner. That natural science can as little determine as it can the manner in which consciousness arises. Du Bois-Reymond concluded with the following words: —

“In the sleeping man, who is not conscious of the sensation expressed in the words ‘I see red,’ we have before us the physical group of the active members of the body. With regard to this sleeping body, we need not say, ‘We cannot know’ — ‘Ignorabimus!’ We are able to comprehend the sleeping man. Man awake, on the contrary, is incomprehensible to the scientist. In the sleeping man something is absent which is nevertheless present in the man awake: I allude to the consciousness through which he appears before us as a spiritual being.” At that time, owing to a lack of courage in matters concerning natural science, further progress was impossible; there was no question as yet of theosophy, because natural science had, in concise terms, defined the boundary, had set a barrier at the precise spot up to which it wished to proceed in its own fashion. It was owing to this self-limitation of science that theosophical cosmogony had, about this time, its beginning. No one is going to maintain that man, when he goes to sleep “ceases to be,” and on re-awaking in the morning “resumes existence.” And yet Du Bois-Reymond says that something which is present in him by day is absent during the night. It is here that the theosophical conception of the universe is enabled to assert itself. Sense-consciousness is in abeyance in the sleeping man. As, however, the man of science uses as a prop for his argument that which brings about this sense-consciousness, he is unable to say anything concerning the spirituality that transcends it, because he lacks precisely the knowledge of that which makes of man a spiritual being.

By the use of such means as serve for natural science we are unable to investigate matters spiritual. Natural science depends upon what may be demonstrated to the senses. What can no longer be sensed when man falls asleep, cannot be the object of scientific investigation. It is in this something, no longer perceptible in the sleeping man, that we must seek for that entity by which man becomes a spiritual being. No mental representation can be made of what transcends the purely material and passes beyond the knowledge of the senses, until organs, of which the scientist can know nothing if he only depends on his sense-perceptions — spiritual eyes — are developed; eyes which are able to see beyond the confines of the senses.

For this reason we have no right to say, “Here are the limits of cognition;” but merely, “Here are the limits of sense-perception.”

The scientist perceives by means of his senses, but he is no spiritual observer; he must become one. become a “seer.” in order that he may see what is spiritual in man. This is the bourne towards which tends all profound wisdom in the world; not seeking the mere widening of its radius where actual material knowledge is concerned, but striving towards the raising of human faculty.

This also is the great difference between what is taught by present-day natural science and what is taught by theosophy. Natural science says: “Man has senses with which he perceives, and a mind whereby he is enabled to connect the evidences of his senses. What does not come within the scope of these lies beyond the ken of natural science.”

Theosophy takes a different view of the case. It says: “You scientists are perfectly right, so long as you judge from your point of view, just as right as the blind man would be from his in saying that the world is devoid of light and colour. We make no objection to the standpoint of natural science, we would only place it in juxtaposition to the view taken by theosophy, which asserts that it is possible — nay, that it is certain — that man is not obliged to remain stationary at the point of view he occupies to-day; that it is possible for organs — spiritual eyes — to develop after a similar fashion to that in which those physical sense-organs of the body, the eyes and ears, have been developed; and once these new organs are developed, higher faculties will make themselves apparent.”

This must be taken on faith at first — nay, it need not even be believed; it may just be accepted as an assertion in an unprejudiced manner. Nevertheless, as true as it is that all believers in the Natural History of Creation have not beheld all that is therein presented to them as fact (how many of them have actually investigated these facts?), so true is it that these facts concerning a knowledge of the super-sensual can be explained to everyone.

The ordinary man, held in bondage by his senses, cannot possibly gain admittance to this realm. It is only by the aid of certain methods of investigation that the spiritual world opens to the seeker. Thus, man must transform himself into an instrument for those higher powers, one able to penetrate into worlds hidden from those still enthralled by their physical senses. To such as can accomplish this, visions of a quite distinctive nature will appear. The ordinary human being is not capable of seeing for himself, or of consciously recognising things about him, when his senses are wrapped in slumber; but when he applies occult methods of investigation this incapacity ceases, and he begins to receive quite consciously impressions of the astral world.

There is at first a state of transition, familiar to all, between that exterior life of sense cognisance and that life which even in the most profound state of slumber is not quite extinguished. This state of transition is the chaos of dreams. To most people these will appear as mere reflections of what they have been experiencing during the previous day. Indeed, you will ask, how should a man be able to receive any new experiences during sleep, since the inner self has as yet no organs of cognition? But still, something is there — life is there. That which left the body when sleep wrapped it round has memory, and this remembrance rises before the sleeper in pictures more or less fantastic and confused. (Should anyone desire more information on this subject, it will be found in my books entitled The Way of Initiation and Initiation and its Results, Theosophical Publishing Society, 161, New Bond Street, W.) [Now published by the Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., in one volume, The Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment. Cloth, Crown 8vo, pp. 221, 6s.]

Now, in place of this chaos, order and harmony will, in the course of time, be brought about; an order and a harmony governing this region of dreams, and this will be a sign that the person in question is beginning to develop spiritually. Then he will cease to see the mere aftermath of reality, grotesquely portrayed; he will see things which have in ordinary life no existence.

Those who desire to remain within the boundary of the senses will, of course, say, “But they are only dreams!” Yet, if they, by such means, obtain an insight into the loftiest secrets of creation, it may surely be a matter of indifference to them whether they gain this through the medium of a dream or by means of the senses. Let us, for instance, suppose that Graham Bell had invented the telephone in a state of dream-consciousness. That would have been of no moment whatever to-day, for the telephone itself in any case is an important and useful invention. Clear and regular dreaming is therefore the beginning, and if in the stillness of the night hours you have come to “live in your dreams,” if, after a time, you have habituated yourself to a cognisance of worlds quite other than this, then will soon come a time when you will learn, by these new experiences, to step forth into actuality.

Then the whole world will assume a new aspect, and you will be as sensible of this change as you would be of threading your way through a row of solid chairs, through anything your senses may at this moment be aware of in their vicinity. Such is the condition of anyone who has acquired a new state of consciousness. Something new, a new kind of personality, has awakened within him. In the course of his further development a stage will at length be reached where not only the curious apparitions of the higher worlds pass before the spiritual eye as visions of light, but the tones also of those higher worlds become audible, telling their spiritual names, and able to convey to the seer a new meaning. In the language of the mysteries, this is expressed in the words, “Man sees the sun at midnight;” which is to say, that for him there are no longer any obstacles in space to prevent him from seeing the sun when on the other side of the world. Then, too, is the work of the sun, acting within the universe, made plain to him, and he becomes aware of that harmony of the spheres, that truth to which the Pythagoreans bore witness.

Tones and sounds, this music of the spheres, now become, for him, actual. Poets who were also seers have known of the existence of something approaching this music, and only those who can grasp Goethe's meaning from this point of view will be able to understand those passages, for instance, occurring in the “Prologue in Heaven” (see Faust, pt. I), which may be taken either as poetic phraseology or as a lofty truth. Where Faust is a second time introduced into the world of spirits, he speaks of these sounds:

“Tönend wird für Geistes-Ohren,
Schon der neue Tag geboren!”

(“Sounding loud to spirit-hearing,
See the new-born Day appearing!”)

Faust, Part II.

Here we have the connection between natural science and theosophy. Du Bois-Reymond has pointed to the fact that the sleeper only can be an object for the experiments of natural science. But if man should begin to open his inner senses, if he should come to see and hear that there is such a thing as spiritual actuality, then indeed will the whole edifice of elementary theosophy, so wonderfully, constructed by Haeckel — a structure none can admire more profoundly than I — then will this great work glow with a new glory, revealing, as it must, an entirely new meaning. According to this marvellous structure we see a simple living creature as the archetype, yet we may trace back that creature spiritually to an earlier condition of consciousness.

I will now explain what theosophy holds as the doctrine of the descent of man. It is obvious that in a single lecture like the present no “proofs” can be advanced, and it is also natural that to all who are only acquainted with the theories commonly advanced on this subject everything I say will appear fantastic and highly improbable. All theories thus advanced originated, however, in the leading circles of materialistic thought, and many who would probably resent the suggestion of materialism as utterly foreign to their nature, are nevertheless (and indeed quite comprehensibly so) caught in a net of self-delusion.

The true theosophical teaching concerning evolution is, in our day, hardly known; and when our opponents speak of it, he who does know is at once able to recognise by the objections raised that he is dealing with a caricature of this doctrine of evolution.

For all such as merely acknowledge a soul, or spirit, to which expression is given within the human, or animal organism, the theosophical mode of representation must be utterly incomprehensible, and every discussion touching that subject is, with such persons, quite fruitless. They must first free themselves from the state of materialistic suggestion in which they live, and must make themselves acquainted with the fundamental attitude of theosophical thought.

Just as the methods of research employed by physical science trace back the organism of the physical body into the dim distance of primeval times, so it is the mode of theosophical thought to delve into the past with regard to the soul and the spirit. Now, the latter method does not lead to any conclusions antagonistic or contradictory to the facts advanced by natural science; only with the materialistic interpretations of these facts it can have nothing to do.

Natural science traces the descent of the physical living being backwards, arriving by this course at organisms of a less and less complicated kind. Natural science declares: “The perfect living being is a development of these simpler and less complicated ones;” and, as far as physical structure is concerned, this is true, although the hypothetical forms of primeval ages of which materialistic science speaks do not entirely conform with those known to theosophical research. This, however, need not concern us at the present moment.

From the physical standpoint theosophy also acknowledges the relationship of man with the higher mammals, with the man-like apes. But there can be no question of the descent of our humanity from a creature of the mind and soul calibre of the ape, as we know it. The facts are quite otherwise, and everything that materialism puts forward of this nature rests upon an error of thought. This error may be cleared up by means of a simple comparison sufficient for our purpose, though trite.

We will imagine two persons, one morally deficient and intellectually insignificant; the other endowed with a high standard of morality and of considerable intellectuality. We will assume that some fact or other confirms the relationship of these two. Now, I ask you, will the inference be drawn that the one in every way more highly endowed is descended from one who was of the standard described? Never! We may think it a surprising fact that they are brothers. We may find, however, that they had a father who was not of exactly the same standard as either of the brothers, and in that case one will be found to have worked his way up, the other to have degenerated.

Materialistic science makes a similar mistake to that here indicated. Facts known to it induce the acceptance of a connection between ape and man, yet from this it should not draw the conclusion that man is descended from the ape-like animals. What should be accepted is a primeval creature, a common physical ancestor, from the stock of which the ape has degenerated, while man has been the ascending “brother.”

Now, what was there in that primeval creature to cause this ascendance to the human on the one hand, the sinking into the ape kingdom on the other? Theosophy answers, “The soul of man himself did this.” Even then the soul of man was present, at a time when, on the face of this physical earth, the creatures possessing the highest sense of development were these common ancestors of man and ape. From amid the multitude of these ancestors the best types were capable of subjecting themselves to the soul's progress, the rest were not. Thus it happens that the present-day human soul has a “soul-ancestor” just as the body has its physical forebear.

It is true that, so far as the senses are concerned, those “soul-ancestors” could not, according to our present-day observations, have been perceptible within our bodies. They still belonged in a sense to “higher worlds,” and they were also possessed of other capabilities and powers than those of the present human soul. They lacked the mental activity and the moral sense now evident. Such souls could conceive no way of fashioning instruments from the things in the outer world; they could create no political states. The soul's activity still consisted to a great extent in transforming the archetype of those ancestral bodies themselves. It laboured at improving the incomplete brain, enabling it at a later period to become the seat of thought activities. As the soul of to-day, directed towards external things, constructs machines, etc., so did that ancestral soul labour at constructing the body of the human ancestor. The following objection can, of course, be raised: “Why, then, does not the soul at the present day work at its body to the same extent?” The reason for its not doing so is that the energy used at a former time for the transforming of the organs has since been directing its whole effort upon external things in the mastery and regulation of the forces of Nature.

We may therefore ascribe a twofold descent to man in primeval times. His spiritual birth is not coeval with the perfecting of his organs of sense. On the contrary, the “soul” of man was already present at a time when those physical “ancestors” inhabited the earth. Figuratively speaking, we may say that the soul “selected” a certain number of such “ancestors” as seemed best fitted for receiving the external corporeal expression distinguishing the present-day man. Another branch of these ancestors deteriorated, and in its degenerate condition is now represented by the anthropoid apes. These, then, form, in the true sense of the word, branch lines of the human ancestry. Those ancestors are the physical forebears of man, but this is due only to the capacity for reconstruction which they had primarily received from the human soul within. Thus is man physically descended from the “archetype,” while spiritually he is the descendant of the “ancestral soul.”

But we can go even further back with regard to the genealogical tree of living creatures, and we shall then arrive at a physically still more imperfect ancestor. Yet, at the time of this physical ancestor, too, the “soul-ancestor” of man was existent. It was this latter which raised the physical ancestor to the level of the ape, again outstripping its less adaptable brother in the race for development, and leaving him behind on a lower stage of creation. To such as these belong those present-day mammals of a lower grade than that of the apes. Thus we may go further and further back into primeval times, even to a time when upon this earth, then bearing so different an aspect, existed those most elementary of creatures from which Haeckel claims the development of all higher beings. The soul-ancestor of man was also a contemporary of these primitive creatures; it was already living when the “archetype” transformed the serviceable types, leaving behind at different stages those incapable of further development.

In actual truth, therefore, the entire sum of earth's living creatures are the descendants of man, within whom that which in this day “thinks and acts” as soul originally brought about the development of living beings. When our earth came into existence, man was a purely spiritual being; he began his career by building for himself the simplest of bodies. The whole ladder of living creatures represents nothing but the outgrown stages through which he has developed his bodily structure to its present degree of perfection.

The creatures of the present day differ widely in appearance from that of their ancestors at those particular stages where they branched off from the human tree. Not that they have remained stationary, for they have deteriorated in accordance with an inevitable law, which, owing to the lengthy explanation it would involve, cannot be entered into here. But the greatest interest attaches to the fact that through theosophy we arrive, so far as man's outward form is concerned, at a genealogical tree not altogether unlike Haeckel's. Haeckel, however, presupposes as the physical ancestor of man nothing but a hypothetical animal. Yet the truth is that at all those points where Haeckel uses the names of animals, the still undeveloped forebears of man should be installed; for those animals, down to the meanest living creatures, are but deteriorated and degenerate forms occupying those lower stages through which the human soul has passed on its upward journey.

Externally, therefore, the resemblance between Haeckel's genealogical tree and that of theosophy is sufficiently striking, though internal evidences show them to be as wide apart as the poles.

Hence the reasons why Haeckel's deductions are so eminently suited for the learning of sound elementary theosophy. One need do no more than master, from the theosophical point of view, the facts he has elucidated in so masterly a manner, and then raise his philosophy to a higher and nobler plane. If Haeckel seeks to criticise and belittle any such “higher” philosophy, he shows himself to be simply puerile — after the fashion, for instance, of a person who, not having got beyond the multiplication table, yet presumed to assert: “What I know is true, and all higher mathematics are only imaginary nonsense.” No theosophist desires to deny or contradict the elementary facts of natural science; but the crux of the matter is that the scientist, deluded by materialistic suggestions, does not even know what theosophy is talking about.

It depends upon a man himself what kind of philosophy he adopts. Fichte has put this in so many words:

“The unperceiving eye cannot detect colours;
The non-perceptive Soul cannot perceive Spirit.”

The same thought has been voiced by Goethe in a well-known phrase:

“Were the eye not sun-like — how could we see the sun?
Were God's own power not within us, the God-like vision —
       could it enrapture us?”

and an expression of Feuerbach, if rightly conceived, proclaims that each one sees God's image after his own likeness. The slave to his senses sees God in accordance with those senses; the spiritual observer sees the Spirit deified. “Were lions, bulls, and oxen able to set up gods, their gods would resemble lions, bulls, and oxen,” was the remark of a Greek philosopher long ages ago.

The fetish-worshipper, too, has as his highest principle something we may call spiritual, but he has as yet not come to seek for this within himself, and this is why he has not got beyond beholding his god as anything more than a block of wood. The fetish-worshipper cannot raise his prayer above what he can inwardly feel, for he still regards himself as on the same level as the block of wood. And those who can see no more than a whirl of atoms, those to whom the highest resolves itself into tiny dots of matter, such as these, too, have missed recognition of the highest principle within themselves.

It is true that Haeckel places before us in all his works the information he has honestly acquired, so that to him must be accorded “les defauts de ses qualites.” The sterling worth of his teaching will live, its negative qualities will vanish. Taken from the higher point of view, one might say that the fetish-worshipper worships in his fetish a lifeless object, while the materialistic adherent of the theory of atoms worships not alone one “little god” but a whole host of them, which he calls atoms! [The word “worship” is, of course, not to be taken literally, for the materialistic thinker, though he has not yet been weaned from “fetishism,” has lost the habit of prayer.] The superstition of the one is about as great as that of the other; for the materialistic atom is no more than a fetish, and the wooden block is made up of atoms too. Haeckel says in one passage: “We see God in the stone, in the plant, in the brute, in man — God is everywhere,” yet he only sees God as he can comprehend Him. How enlightening here are Goethe's words, when he says:

“Du gleichst dem Geist den du begreifst, nicht mir!”
(“Thou'rt like the Spirit which thou comprehendest, Not me!”)

(Bayard Taylor's translation.)       

Thus does the materialist mark the whirling atoms in stone, in plant, in animal, and in man, possibly, too, in every work of art, and claim for himself a knowledge of a monistic cosmogony that has overcome the ancient superstitions. Yet theosophists have a monistic cosmogony too; and we can say, in the same words as Haeckel uses, that we see God in the stone, in the plant, in the brute, and in the man; but what we see are no whirling atoms, but the living God, the spiritual God, whom we seek outside in Nature, because we can also seek Him within ourselves.




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