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Perspectives on Humanity's Development

A lecture by
Rudolf Steiner
Dornach, May 5, 1921
GA 204

A lecture, hitherto untranslated given at Dornach on May 5, 1921. Published in The Golden Blade, 1990. Also known as: The Influence of the Planets on Man, The Ego and the Sun, or Atomism.

It is the thirteenth of seventeen lectures in the volume Perspectives on Humanity's Development. In the collected edition of Rudolf Steiner's works, the volume containing the German texts is entitled, Perspektiven der Menschheitsentwickelung. Der materialistische Erkenntnisimpuls und die Aufgabe der Anthroposophie. Der Mensch in seinem Zusammenhang mit der Kosmos, (Vol. 204 in the Bibliographic Survey, 1961). The translator is unknown.

Copyright © 1990
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Lecture given by Rudolf Steiner at Dornach on 5th May 1921.

Published in The Golden Blade 1990

The civilisation of the fourth Post-Atlantean epoch — the period of the development of the Mind Soul in humanity — was directed from the Greek Mysteries. In other words: the indications upon which the culture of the human mind was based issued from the Mystery-Sanctuaries which existed here and there in Asia Minor and Southern Europe. Now the secret of man's connection with the Sun was an essential part of these Mystery-teachings. From the book “Theosophy” we know that the Ego lights up within the Intellectual or Mind Soul and enters into possession of its full, inner force during the age of Consciousness, or Spiritual Soul.

Now because the Ego of man was destined from a certain point of view to be awakened during the age of the culture of the mind or intellect, it was quite natural that the Mysteries of that age should have been concerned with the secrets of the Sun and their connection with the human Ego. In the book “Riddles of Philosophy” it is said that the Greek's life of thought consisted in an actual perceiving of the outer world. The Greek's thought was at the same time a perception, just as we today have a perception of colours or sounds. The thoughts and conceptions of the Greek were not brought into being merely by inner activity of the soul, but they were born as it were from the objects themselves. In this respect Goethe's thinking undoubtedly possessed qualities in common with Greek thought. This is quite clear from his famous conversation with Schiller. Schiller stated that Goethe's conceptions were not perceptions, but ideas, and to this Goethe retorted that he actually saw his ideas before him, that he perceived them objectively.

The life of thought in Greece was associated with a very definite inner experience which arose when men looked at the world around them. They regarded the substance of the ideas which thus lit up before them as being the creation of the Sun. With the rising Sun they beheld the appearance in space of the life of ideas, and this life of ideas passed away again with the setting Sun. Men have now quite lost the faculty of perceiving and experiencing spirituality in the world around them. When the Sun rises they see only the phenomena of light and colour which there appear. And it is the same when the Sun sets in the red glow of evening. The Greeks felt that the world of ideas came to them at sunrise and passed away from them at sunset. They felt that in the darkness of the night they were bereft of the world of ideas. And when they looked at the sky, which seems to us to be blue, but for the colour of which the Greeks used a word which simply meant “darkness”, they felt that their world of ideas came to an end at the boundaries of visible space. Beyond this world of space the Greek divined the existence of other worlds — the worlds of the thoughts of the Gods, which he connected with light. These worlds seemed to him to be concentrated in the living Sun, and to withdraw during the night into the spaces of the dark firmament. Without some insight into this entirely different world of perception and experience, we cannot understand the further evolution of man's life of soul. This faculty of inwardly living perception functioned for a certain period of time, but then the most advanced representatives of the human race, those who still received their training in the Greek Mysteries, began to feel that their power to perceive the spiritual radiations from the living Sun in cosmic space was waning, and they saw salvation in the Mystery of Golgotha, inasmuch as the impulse coming from the Mystery of Golgotha made it possible for them to rekindle the light within their own being. And they tried now to experience the light by entering in spirit into the events connected with the Mystery of Golgotha.

Now the intellect alone can give us no real knowledge of what has really come to pass in the life of humanity through the ages. A great and far-reaching metamorphosis took place in man's life of soul and must never be forgotten when we are studying the course of evolution. We who have been living in the era of the development of the Consciousness Soul since the beginning of the fifteenth century have in our inner, intellectual activity, only a shadowy reflection of the spirituality which pervaded the life of the mind in the fourth Post-Atlantean period of civilisation. And the task before us is to awaken a faculty of the soul which will quicken in this shadowy intellect of ours a living understanding of the universe. The shadow-intellect that is characteristic of all modern culture has fettered man to the Earth. He has eyes only for earthly things, particularly when he allows himself to be influenced by the claims of modern science. In our age it never occurs to man that his being belongs, not to the Earth alone, but to the Cosmos beyond the Earth. Knowledge of our connection with the Cosmos beyond the Earth — that is what we need above all to make our own.

We take earthly life today as the basis of our ideas and concepts and build up a conception of the Universe in line with the conditions of this earthly life. But the picture of the Universe thus arising has been evolved by simply transferring earthly conditions to the world beyond the Earth. By means of spectro-analysis and other methods — admirable as they are in their way — a conception of the Sun has grown up which is really modelled wholly upon earthly conditions. Everyone is familiar with the appearance of luminous, incandescent gas, and this picture is then transferred to the Sun in the heavens. But we must learn to think of the Sun in the light of Spiritual Science. The Sun which the physicist believes to be a luminous body of gas out in cosmic space is spiritual through and through. The Sun receives the cosmic light and radiates it to the Earth, but the Sun is not physical at all. It is spiritual in its whole nature and being. The Greek was right when he felt that the Sun was connected with the development of his Ego, for the development of the Ego is associated with the intelligence and the faculty of forming ideas. The Greek conceived the rays of the Sun to be the power which kindled and quickened his Ego. His was still aware of the spirituality of the Cosmos, and to him the Sun was a living being, related to the human Ego in an absolutely concrete way. When a man says ‘ I ’ to himself, he experiences a force that is working within him, and the Greek, as he felt the working of this inner force, related it to the Sun. The Greek said to himself: Sun and Ego are the outer and inner aspects of one and the same being. The Sun out there in space is the Cosmic Ego. What lives within me is the human Ego.

As a matter of fact, this experience still comes to those who have a deeper feeling for Nature. The experience is not nearly as vivid as it was in the days of Greece, but for all that it is still possible to become aware of the spiritual forces indwelling the rays of the Sun in springtime. There are people here and there who feel that the Ego is imbued with a new vigour when the rays of the Sun begin to shine down upon the Earth with greater strength. But this is a last faint echo, an outward shell of an experience that is dying out altogether in the abstract, shadowy intellectualism prevalent in every branch of civilised life today. The task before us is to begin once again to realise and understand the connection of the being of man with super-earthly existence.

If we study and compare many things that are to be found in anthroposophical literature, we shall be able to understand the way in which the Sun is related to the Ego, and we shall also realise that the forces which stream down to the Earth from the Sun and from the Moon are entirely different in character and function. In a certain respect, Sun and Moon stand in polar antithesis. The forces streaming from the Sun enable the human being to become the bearer of an Ego. We owe to the rays of the Sun the power which moulds the human form into an image of the Ego. The forces which determine the human form from outside, even during the period of embryonic life, are the active forces of the Sun. While the embryo is developing in the mother's body, a great deal more is happening than modern science dreams of. Modern science is of the opinion that the forces all originate from the fertilised germ, but the truth is that the human embryo merely rests there in the body of the mother and is given form by the Sun forces. These Sun forces are, of course, associated with the Moon forces which are also working but in a different way. The Moon forces work above all in the inner, metabolic processes. We may therefore say: the Sun forces give form to the human being from outside. The Moon forces radiate outwards from within the metabolic process; they are centrifugal forces. This does not contradict the fact that these Moon forces are working, for instance, in the shaping and moulding of the human countenance. The Moon forces stream out from a centre in the metabolic system and work as it were by attraction upon the forming of the human face, differentiating the features, but there is an interplay between these Moon forces and the Sun forces. The organism that is connected with procreation is subject to the Sun forces. The whole being of man is involved in this way in the interplay between the forces of the Sun and the forces of the Moon.

A distinction must be made, however, between the Moon forces that work in the inner processes of metabolism in man, and the forces that originate in the metabolic processes itself. The Moon forces stream into the metabolic process, but this metabolic process has forces of its own as well. And these are earthly forces. The substances and forces in the vegetable and other foodstuffs work in the human being by virtue of their own inherent nature. They work here as Earth forces. Metabolism is primarily an outcome of the working of Earth forces. If the substances of the foodstuffs were merely to unfold their own forces within the human organism, there would be nothing but a chaotic play of forces in man. The fact that these forces work without intermission to renew and upbuild the being of man, is due not to the Earth at all, but to the Moon. The human being is shaped from within outwards by the Moon, and from without inwards by the Sun. Because the rays of the Sun are received through the eye into the head-organisation. The Sun forces work within the organism as well, but for all that they are still working from outside.

And so on the one hand the development and evolution of the Ego of man is dependent upon the forces of the Sun. Without the Sun, man could not be an Ego being living on the Earth; on the other hand there could be no such thing as propagation, there could be no human race without the Moon. It is the Sun which places man as an individual on the Earth, and it is the Moon that charms down the human race to Earth — the human race conceived here as one whole. The human race as the physical product of the generations is a product of the Moon forces which have worked in the generative process. As an individuality, however, man is the product of the Sun forces.

If, therefore, we want to understand the human being and the human race as a whole, we cannot do so by studying merely those conditions which obtain on the Earth alone. The efforts of geologists to understand the being of man by investigating the nature of the Earth are all in vain. Man is not primarily a creation of the Earth. He receives his shape and form from the Cosmos; he is an offspring of the world of the stars, above all of Sun and Moon. From the Earth are derived only those forces which are contained in the substances of the Earth. These forces work outside the human being and also within him when they are introduced into his organism either through eating or drinking. But within the organism they are received into the realm of forces of a super-earthly nature.

The processes that take place within the human being are by no means an affair of the Earth alone. They are through and through an affair of the world of stars. This is the kind of knowledge that we must struggle to reach once more.

Think of the human being as he stands there before us in his physical body. This physical body takes in the foodstuffs from the outer world and the forces of the foodstuffs continue to work within the body. But the physical body is permeated by the astral body and in the astral body the Moon forces are actively at work. The Sun forces too play into the astral body. The etheric body is there in the middle, between physical and astral body.

When we study the forces of foodstuffs, we find that, to begin with, they are active in the physical body and are then taken hold of by the astral body in which the influence of Sun and Moon are working. But between the physical body and astral body the etheric body is fulfilling its functions. The forces in the etheric body come, not from the Earth but from all directions of cosmic space. The products of the Earth, the substances which exist in the solid liquid or aeriform condition, are taken in by the human being and worked upon by the forces of Sun and Moon. But forces streaming in from all directions of cosmic space are also working in the human organism. The forces contained in the foodstuffs themselves come from the Earth, but from cosmic space the etheric forces stream in. These etheric forces also take hold of the foodstuffs and work upon them in such a way that they become inwardly responsive to light and also to warmth. We say, therefore: the human being is part of the Earth because he has a physical body. His etheric body relates him to the whole environment of the Earth. Through his astral body he is involved in the weaving forces of Sun and Moon.

Now these influences of the Sun and Moon in the astral body are modified and differentiated in a high degree as they work upon the ‘upper’ man. By ‘upper’ man I mean, in this case, the part of the organism that is encircled and permeated by the bloodstream which passed upwards from the heart in the direction of the head. The ‘lower’ man, then, comprises the other part of the organism — that part which lies below the heart.

Thus we have the upper part of man, including the head and everything that is organically connected with the head. The formation of this part of the organism is dependent, mainly, upon the Sun's influences. Its most important period of development is during embryonic life. The Sun's influences work upon the embryo in a very special way, but these influences continue to be active when the human being is born and is living in the physical world between birth and death. The astral influences working upon that part of the human organism which lies above the heart — speaking very roughly, for it would be necessary to go into more precise detail if we were describing the blood circulation — these astral influences are then modified by the influences of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars.

The planet Saturn circles round the Sun and sends forces to the Earth. These forces of Saturn work in the whole astral body of man, but above all in the part of the astral body which corresponds to the ‘upper’ man. They stream into the astral body, pervade it, and are the essential factor in bringing about a proper connection between the astral body and the physical body. When, for instance, a man cannot sleep properly, that is to say, when his astral body will not leave or come down again properly into his etheric and physical bodies or in some other way is not rightly connected with the physical body — this is due to an irregularity in the working of the Saturn forces. In other words, Saturn is the heavenly body which, by way of the human head, promotes and is responsible for setting up the proper relation of man's astral body to his etheric body and his physical body. And it is the Saturn forces too which mediate the connection of the astral body to the Ego, because of Saturn's relation to the Sun. Saturn's relation to the Sun is expressed in space and time inasmuch as Saturn accomplishes its orbit around the Sun in a period of thirty years.

In the human being, the relationship of Saturn to the Sun is expressed in the connection of the Ego with the astral body and in the way in which the astral body is membered into the whole human organism. The connection of Saturn with the upper part of the astral body was regarded as a factor of great importance in ancient times. In the Egypto-Chaldean period, three or four thousand years before the Mystery of Golgotha, the Teachers and Sages of the Mysteries judged a human being according to his relation to Saturn — which was revealed by the date and time of his birth. For these Sages knew quite well that the position of Saturn in the heavens at the time of man's birth enabled his astral body either to function regularly or irregularly in his physical body. Knowledge of these influences played a very important part in olden days. But the onward progress of evolution is denoted precisely by the fact that in our age, which, as you know, began in the fifteenth century, we have to become free of these forces and influences.

Please do not misunderstand me This does not mean that Saturn is not working in us nowadays. Naturally the Saturn forces work in us, just as they worked in the Ancients, but we must now learn to make ourselves free and independent of them. And do you know how we can make ourselves free? Nothing is worse than to give oneself over to the shadowy intellectualism of our age. If we do that, the Saturn forces run riot within us and give rise to the so-called nervous troubles that are so very prevalent in our time. When a man suffers from ‘nerves’ as we say, it is because his astral body is not properly connected with his physical organisation. This lies at the basis of the morbid nervous symptoms which are so common nowadays. Our striving should be to unfold real vision, to attain Imagination. If man can achieve nothing better than the forming of abstract concepts and ideas, nervous symptoms are bound to increase in severity, because this intellectual activity tends to alienate him from the influences of Saturn, which are still at work within his being. His astral body will be torn away from his nerves, and he will be driven more and more into a state of nervous tension and excitability. The nervous complaints of our age must be recognised in their cosmic aspect, for they are caused by an irregular working of the Saturn forces.

Just as Saturn works chiefly in the upper part of the astral body and in the whole astral body inasmuch as the astral body is connected with the organism as a whole through the nervous system, so is Jupiter active in thinking.

When a man thinks, one part of his astral body is active. It is pre-eminently the Jupiter forces in the astral body which strengthen the thinking faculty, and Jupiter is responsible for permeating the human brain with astral forces.

Now the influences of Saturn continue throughout the whole of man's life. The beginning of a human life may really be said to consist of the first three periods of ten years. This is the period of growth, for as a matter of fact the activity of the growth forces does not wholly cease until after the thirtieth year. And our whole life and our health depend on how our astral body has developed during the thirty years. Saturn needs thirty years to complete its orbit around the Sun and this has its exact parallel in the life of man.

The development of the faculty of thinking takes place essentially during the first twelve years of life. Again we find the parallelism in the orbit of the planet Jupiter.

Just as Jupiter has to do with thinking, so has Mars to do with speech.
Saturn:upper part of the astral body as a whole.
Jupiter:    thinking.

Mars works upon a still smaller part of the astral body than that with which Jupiter is concerned in connection with the thinking of man. And the development of the forces which finally express themselves in speech, is dependent upon the working of Mars within our being. Man learns to utter the first sounds of speech in a period which corresponds approximately to half the time required by Mars to complete its orbit around the Sun.

We see, then, that the development of faculties situated primarily in the region of the human head is connected with the Saturn forces, the Jupiter forces, and the Mars forces. The forces of the three outer planets, therefore, work on within the astral body through the life of man. The Sun is connected more directly with the Ego, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars are concerned respectively with the behaviour and functioning of the astral body in the human organism, with the faculty of thinking and with the faculty of speaking.

The Sun is connected with the Ego. And then we come to the inner planets, as they are sometimes called, the planets which are nearer the Earth and lie between the Earth and the Sun, whereas Saturn, Jupiter and Mars lie on the other side of the Sun. The forces of these inner planets are likewise connected with the being of man. We will take Mercury to begin with.

Like the Moon, the centre, from which the Mercury forces work, lies in the inner being of man, and it is only in connection with the forming of the human countenance that Mercury works from outside. The Mercury forces work in the part of the human organism that lies below the region of the heart. From there these Mercury forces stream into the human organism. The working of the astral body in the breathing and circulatory functions of the human organism is regulated by Mercury. Mercury acts as the intermediary between the astral body and the rhythmic processes in the being of man. The Mercury forces act as the intermediary between the astral body and the rhythmic functions in the human organism. Because this is so, the Mercury forces intervene, as do the Moon forces, in the metabolic processes as a whole, but only in so far as the metabolic process is subject to rhythm and reacts in turn upon the rhythmic functions.

We come next to Venus. Venus works pre-eminently in the etheric body of man. The cosmic forces chiefly active in the etheric body, therefore, are those of Venus.

Then we come again to the Moon. The Moon forces in the human organism work in polar antithesis to the Sun forces. From within outwards the Moon forces lead substance over into the realm of the living and are therefore connected with procreation. The Moon stimulates not only the inner, reproductive processes of the organism, but the procreative process as well. Thus we have:

Saturn: upper part of the astral body as a whole.
Jupiter: thinking.
Mars: speech.
Sun: Ego.
Mercury: intermediary between the astral body and the rhythmic functions in the organism.
Venus: activity of the etheric body.
Moon: stimulates reproduction.

You see now in what way processes in the human organism are dependent upon the Cosmos. On the one side man is bound up with the earthly forces through his physical body. And on the other side he is bound up with his whole cosmic environment through the etheric body. The cosmic forces, however, work in different ways in his being as we have heard. This differentiation originates in the astral body in which the forces of Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury, Moon are contained. By way of the Ego, the Sun works in man. Suppose that as the result of his earlier incarnations a man has within his being forces which predestine him to be a thinker in the earthly life upon which he is entering. He prepares for his descent to the Earth and — since Jupiter takes a definite time to complete his orbit — he will choose a moment for his birth when the rays of Jupiter pour directly down upon him.

In this way the heavenly constellations provide conditions into which a human being may be born — conditions which are determined by his previous earthly lives.

In the age of the Consciousness Soul, of course, it is the task of man gradually to make himself free of these conditions. But he must free himself from them in the right way.

In speaking of the Saturn influences, I said that it is a question of trying to replace shadowy intellectualism by real Imagination. In the book “Knowledge of the Higher Worlds” indications are given which, if they are followed, can make us independent of the cosmic forces, although none the less these cosmic forces continue to work in our being.

Man is born on Earth into conditions determined by a constellation in the heavens, but he must equip himself with forces which make him independent of this constellation. It is to this kind of knowledge — a knowledge of man's connection with the Cosmos beyond the Earth — that our civilisation must attain. Man must learn to realise that the forces of heredity described by modern science are not the only forces at work in his organism. To imagine such a thing, my dear friends, is the purest nonsense. It is pure nonsense to think that the maternal organism contains those forces which are then transmitted by heredity and so build up a heart, a liver and the other organs. There would be no heart in the human organism if the Sun did not build it into the organism of man, neither would there be a liver if Venus did not place it into the organism. And so it is with each single organ. Their presence in the human organism is due to the working of cosmic forces.

These are the things that humanity must once again learn to understand. Man must realise that the mysteries of his being cannot be explained by a science which deals merely with earthly phenomena. Around man live other creatures — and they too are not merely creatures of the Earth. It appears, to begin with, as if the minerals were entirely earthly in their nature. But in the minerals, too, changes have taken place which were due to the forces working in the cosmic environment of the Earth. The crystallised forms of the metals are all due to the play of forces from beyond the Earth. The metals were given shape and form at a time when the Earth's forces were not yet working in their full strength, but when cosmic forces were working in the Earth. The healing forces contained in the minerals, above all in the metals, are connected with the way in which these metals were formed within the Earth by the working of cosmic forces.

In the first epoch of Post-Atlantean times, when the ancient Indian civilisation was at its prime, man felt and knew himself to be a citizen of the whole wide universe. Although he had not yet developed the forces which modern humanity is so proud to possess, he was in the true sense of the word, MAN. By the time of the Chaldean epoch, however, man's attention had already begun to be diverted from the Sun. He had become a kind of amphibium — a creature who is thankful when the rays of the Sun pour down upon it, and when it need not always be confined to its dark burrows in the pound. But in our time one cannot say that man even resembles a creature like the mole, for he is really much more like an earthworm who has eyes at most for what has first been sent out into space from the Earth and comes back again as rain. This is really all that men see in the way of forces from beyond the Earth. But this the earthworms also see! In his materialism today man has become an earthworm. He must rise above this earth state, but he can only do so by realising and knowing his connection with the Cosmos beyond the Earth.

Our task therefore, is to raise ourselves above the earthworm state into which our civilisation has fallen, and bring a new spiritual life into being.


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