ODAY I propose to carry further certain points made in recent lectures
concerning the evolution of humanity since the time of Christ.
back, in survey, over the evolution of mankind, we see that the epochs
described in anthroposophical spiritual science take their shape from
the particular soul constitution of the human beings alive at any given
time. This differs greatly from epoch to epoch. Today, however, there
is little inclination to look beyond man's present day makeup. Although
civilization has developed in a way describable in outer documents,
in general mankind is regarded as having always had the same soul nature.
This is not true. It has changed; and we know the dates at which it
underwent transformations externally plain and distinguishable.
of these turning points has often been designated as the fifteenth century
after Christ; the one preceding it occurred during the eighth pre-Christian
century; and we might in this way go still further back. I have often
emphasized how correct the art historian Herman Grimm is when he points
out that the full historical comprehension of the people of the present
age reaches back no further than the Romans, at which time the ideas
now prevalent settled into men's souls. Or approximately the same ideas.
They still operate, though at times in a detrimental way — for
example, concepts of Roman law no longer in harmony with our society.
The very manner in which contemporary man takes part in social life
shows a comprehension for something reaching back to the Roman period.
the other hand, we describe the external historical events of ancient
Greece like modern events, we do not penetrate into the real soul-nature
of the Greeks. Herman Grimm is right in saying that, as usually described,
they are mere shadows. Precisely because ordinary consciousness can
no longer see what lived in those souls, it is unable to understand
the Greeks' social structure.
Still more removed
from our soul life is that of the human beings of the Egyptian-Chaldean
period prior to the eighth century before Christ; more different still
that in ancient Persia, and completely different that of the ancient
Indian epoch following the great Atlantean catastrophe.
When with the help
of spiritual science we mark the stages in the changing constitution
of the human being, it becomes clear that our way of feeling about the
human being, our way of speaking of body, soul and spirit, of the ego
in man, our sense of an inner connection between the human being and
the earth planet, arose in the fourth post-Atlantean epoch. Gradually,
in the course of time, life has become so earth-bound that human beings
feel estranged from the cosmos, and see the stars and their movements,
even the clouds, as lying outside our earthly dwelling place; therefore
of little significance.
Prior to the
Graeco-Latin period, people's feelings and indeed their will-impulses
were, if I may use the expression, elementary-cosmic. Man did not need
a philosophy in order to feel himself a member of the whole universe,
especially the visible universe. It was natural for him to feel himself
not only a citizen of the earth but also a member of the cosmos, especially
during the first epoch, that of ancient India. If we go back to the
seventh or eighth millennium of the pre-Christian era, we find that
the human being — I cannot say spoke but felt
— that the human being felt quite differently than we do today
about the ego, the self. To be sure, the human beings of that ancient
time did not express themselves as we do, because human speech did not
have the same scope as today. But we must express things in our own
language, and I shall put it thus: In ancient India man did not speak
of the ego in our modern way; it was not, for him, a point comprising
all his soul experiences. On the contrary, when he spoke of the ego it was
to him self-evident that it had little to do with earth and earth events.
In experiencing himself as an ego, man did not feel that he belonged
to the earth; but, rather, that he was connected with the heaven of
the fixed stars. This was what gave him the sense and security of his
deepest self. For it was not felt as a human ego. Man was a
human being only through the fact that here on earth he was clothed
by a physical body. Through this sheath-for-the-ego he became a citizen
of earth. But the ego was regarded as something foreign to the earthly
sphere. And if today we were to coin a name for the way the ego was
experienced, we would have to say: man felt not a human but a divine
have looked outward to the mountains, to the rocks; he might have looked
at everything else on earth and said of it all: This is, this exists.
Yet at the same time he would have felt the following: If there were
no other existence than that of earth's plants, rivers, mountains and
rocks, no human being would have an ego. For what guarantees existence
to earthly things and beings could never guarantee it to the ego. They
are in different categories.
Within himself man felt not a human but divine ego: a drop from the
ocean of divinity. And when he wanted to speak about his ego (I say
this with the previously-made reservations) he felt it as a creation
of the fixed stars; the heaven of the fixed stars was the one sphere
sharing its reality. Only because the ego has a similar existence is
it able to say, “I am.” If it were able to say
“I am” merely according to the level of existence
of stone or plant or mountain, the ego would have no right to
speak so. Only its starlike nature makes it possible for the ego
to say, “I am.”
the human beings of this primeval epoch saw how the rivers flowed and
the trees were driven by the wind. But if we regarded the human ego
which dwells in the physical body and has an impulse to move about on
the earth hither and thither — if we regarded this ego as the
active force in movement, as wind is the active force in moving trees,
or as anything else of earth is an active force, we would be wrong.
The ego is not this kind of outer cause of motion.
times the teacher in the Mysteries spoke to his pupils somewhat like
this: You see how the trees sway, how the river water flows, how the
ocean churns. But from neither the moving trees, the flowing rivers,
nor the heaving ocean could the ego learn to develop those impulses
of motion which human beings display when they carry their bodies over
the earth. This the ego can never learn from any moving earthly thing.
This the ego can learn only because it is related to the planets, to
starry motion. Only from Mars, Jupiter, Venus, and so forth, can the
ego learn motion. When the ego of its own volition moves upon the earth,
it achieves something made possible by its relation to the wheeling
world of the stars.
it would have seemed incomprehensible to a man of this ancient epoch
if somebody had said: Look how thoughts arise out of your brain! Let
us travel backward in time and imagine ourselves with the soul constitution
we once had (for we have all passed through lives in ancient India);
then confronted by the present-day soul condition, the one which makes
people assume that thoughts arise out of the brain. All that modern
man believes would appear as complete nonsense. For the ancient human
being knew well that thoughts can never spring from brain substance;
that it is the sun which calls forth thoughts, and the moon which stills
them. It was to the reciprocal action of sun and moon that he ascribed
his life of thoughts.
the first post-Atlantean epoch, the ancient Indian time, the divine ego
was seen as belonging to the heaven of the fixed stars, to the planetary
movements, to the reciprocal action of sun and moon; and what came to
it from the earth as transient, the essence of the ego being cosmic-divine.
[ 1 ] I call the second epoch Ancient
Persian. By then the perception of the cosmic ego had grown less vivid;
it was subdued. But the people of that age had an intensive experience
of the recurrent seasons. (I have recently and repeatedly lectured on
the year's course.) Pictorially speaking, the modern human being has
become a kind of earthworm, just living from day to day. Indeed he is
not even that, for an earthworm comes out of his hole when it rains,
while the human being — just lives along. He experiences nothing
special; at best some abstract differences: in rain he is uncomfortable
without an umbrella, he adjusts himself to snow in winter and sunshine
in summer, he goes to the country, and so forth. But he does not live
with the course of the year; he lives in a dreadfully superficial way;
no longer puts his whole humanness into living.
ancient Persian epoch it was different. Man experienced the year's course
with his whole being. When the winter solstice arrived he felt: Now
the earth soul has united with the earth. The snow which for present-day
man is nothing but frozen water was at that time experienced as the
garment the earth dons in order to shut itself off from the cosmos and
develop an individually-independent life within that cosmos. The human
being felt: Now, indeed, the earth soul has so intimately united with
the earth, man must turn his soul-nature to what lives in the earth.
In other words, the snow cover became transparent for man's soul. Below
it he felt the elementary beings which carry the force of plant-seeds
through winter into spring.
arrived in ancient Persia, man experienced how the earth breathed out
its soul, how it strove to open its soul to the cosmos; and with his
feelings and sensations he followed this event. The attachment to the
earth developed during the winter he now began to replace with a devotion
to the cosmos.
sure, man was no longer able to look up to the cosmos as he did during
the immediately preceding epoch; no longer able to see in the cosmos
all that gave existence, movement and thought to his ego. He said: What
in winter unites me with the earth summons me in spring to raise myself
into the cosmos. But though he no longer had so intensive a knowledge
of his connection with the cosmos as formerly, he felt it as by divination.
Just as the ego in the ancient Indian time experienced itself as a cosmic
being, so in the ancient Persian time the astral element experienced
itself as connected with the course of the year.
lived with the changing seasons. When in winter his soul perceived the
snow blanket below, his mood turned serious; he withdrew into himself;
searched (as we express it today) his conscience. When spring returned,
he again opened himself to the cosmos with a certain gaiety. At midsummer,
the time we now associate with St. John's Day, he surrendered with rapture
to the cosmos, not in the clear way of the ancient Indian time, but
with the joy of having escaped from the body.
in winter he felt connected with the clever spirits of the earth, so
in midsummer he felt connected with the gay spirits dancing and jubilating
in the cosmos, and flitting around the earth. I am simply describing
what was felt.
during August, and more especially September, the human soul felt it
must now return to earth with the forces garnered from the cosmos during
its summer withdrawal. With their help it could live more humanly during
the winter season.
It is a fact that during those ancient times man experienced the year's
course with his whole being; considered its spiritual side as his own
felt the importance of training himself, at certain points of the year,
in this intensive experience of the seasons; and such training bred
impulses for the seasonal festivals. Later on, man would experience
them only traditionally, only outwardly. But certain aspects would linger
on. For example, the festivals of the summer and winter solstices would
keep traces, but merely traces, of ancient, mighty and powerful
is connected with a revolution in the innermost consciousness of man. For
ancient India it was quite impossible to speak of a “people,”
a “folk.” Today this seems paradoxical; we find it hard to
imagine that the feeling for such a thing arose only gradually. To be
sure, the conditions of the earth made it necessary, even in the ancient
Indian epoch, for inhabitants of the same territory to have closer ties
than those living apart. But the concept of a people, the feeling of
belonging to a folk, did not exist during the ancient Indian epoch.
different prevailed. People had a very vivid feeling for the succession
of generations. A boy felt himself the son of his father, the grandson
of his grandfather, the great-grandson of his great-grandfather. Of
course, things were not dealt with the way we have to describe them
with current concepts; but the latter are still appropriate. If we look
into the mode of thought of that ancient time, we discover that within
a family circle great emphasis was laid on an ability to enumerate one's
forebears, grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great-grandfather,
right down the line to very remote ancestors. A man felt himself as
standing within this succession of generations.
As a consequence,
the sense of living in the present was little developed. To human beings
of the ancient Indian time, an intimate connection with past generations
(retained as a caricature in aristocracy's present-day stress on ancestry)
seemed self-evident; they needed no family records. Indeed human
consciousness itself, instinctively clairvoyant, made connections with a
man's ancestry by remembering not merely his own personal experiences,
but — almost as vividly — the experiences of his father and
grandfather. Gradually these memories grew dim. But human consciousness
would continue to experience them through the blood ties.
ancient times the capacity for feeling oneself within the generations
played a significant role. Parallel to it there arose — though
slowly — the folk concept, the sense of being part of a people. In
ancient Persia it was not yet very pronounced. When a living consciousness
of life within the generations, of blood relationship coursing through
the centuries, had gradually faded, consciousness focused, instead,
on the contemporary folk relationship.
concept rose to its full significance in the third post-Atlantean or
Egypto-Chaldean period. Though, during that epoch, awareness of the
year's course was already somewhat deadened, there lived, right into
the last millennium of the pre-Christian age, a vivid consciousness
of the fact that thoughts permeate and govern the world.
connection I have already indicated the following: For a human being
of the Egyptian period the idea that thoughts arise in us and then extend
over things outside would have seemed comparable to the fancy of a man
who, after drinking a glass of water, says his tongue produced the water.
He is at liberty to imagine that his tongue produced the water, but
in truth he draws the water from the entire water mass of the earth,
which is a unity. It is only that an especially foolish person, unaware
of the connection between the glassful of water and the earth's water
mass, overestimates the abilities of his tongue. The people of the
Egypto-Chaldean epoch made no similar mistake. They knew that thoughts
do not arise in the head; that thoughts live everywhere; that what the
human being draws into the vessel of his head as thought comes from the
thought ocean of the world.
time, though man no longer experienced the visible cosmos in his divine
ego, nor the course of the year in his astral nature, he did experience
cosmic thoughts, the Logos, in his etheric body. If a member of the
Egypto-Chaldean epoch had spoken our language, he would not, like us,
have referred to man's physical body as of prime importance. To him
it was the result of what lives as thought in the etheric body; was
merely an image of human thought.
During that period
the folk concept became more and more definite; the human being more
and more an earth citizen. The connection between the starry world and
his ego had, in his consciousness during this third post-Atlantean
cultural period, dwindled greatly. Though astrology still calculated
the connection, it was no longer seen in elemental consciousness. The
course of the year, so important for the astral body, was no longer
sensed in its immediacy. Yet man was still aware of a cosmic thought
arrived at the point where he sensed his relation to earthly gravity.
Not exhaustively so, for he still had a vivid experience of thinking,
the Graeco-Latin period this experience of gravity developed more and
more. Now the physical body became paramount. Everything has its deep
significance at its proper time, and in all the manifestations of Greek
culture we see this full, fresh penetration into the physical body.
Especially in Greek art. For the early Greeks their bodies were something
to rejoice over; the Greeks were like children with new clothes. They
lived in their bodies with youthful exuberance.
In the course
of the Graeco-Latin period, and particularly during Roman civilization,
this fresh experience of the physical body gave way to something like
that of a person in a robe of state who knows that wearing it gives
him prestige. (Of course, the feeling was not expressed in words.) A
Roman individual felt his physical body as a ceremonial robe bestowed
by the world order.
felt tremendous joy that he had been allotted such a body and, after
birth, could put it on; and it is this feeling that gives to Greek art,
to Greek tragedy, to the epics of Homer, in their human element, insofar
as they are connected with the outer physical appearance of man, their
particular poetic fire. We have to look for the inner reasons for all
psychological facts. Try to live into the joy that gushes forth from
Homer's description of Hector or of Achilles. Feel what immense importance
he attached to outer appearance.
Romans this joy subsided. Everything became settled; men began to grasp
things with ordinary consciousness. It was during the fourth post-Atlantean
cultural epoch that man first became an earth citizen. The conception of
ego, astral body and ether body of earlier times withdrew into
indefiniteness. The Greeks still had a clear sense for the truth that
thought lives in things. (I have discussed this in
Raetsel der Philosophie.)
[In English: Riddles of Philosophy, e.Ed.]
But the perception was gradually superseded by a belief that thought
originates in man. In this fashion he grew more and more into his physical
we do not yet see that this situation began to change in the fifteenth
century, at the start of the fifth post-Atlantean cultural epoch; that,
since then, we have been gradually growing away from our bodies. We
fancy that we feel as the Greeks felt about the human shape, but actually
our feeling for it is dull. We have no more than a shadowlike sensation
of the “quickfooted Achilles,” and little understanding of
how this expression roused Greeks to a direct and striking perception
of the hero; so striking that he stood before them in his essential
nature. Indeed in all art we have gradually lost the experience of the
permeation of the physical body by the soul; whereas in the last
pre-Christian centuries the Greek felt how cosmic thought was disappearing
and how thought could be taken hold of only by reflecting upon the human
being. Presentday man is completely uncertain in regard to the nature of
thought; he wavers.
of the sixth pre-Christian century would have considered it comical
if somebody had asked him to solve the scientific problem of the connection
of thought with the brain. He would not have seen it as a problem at
all. He would have felt as we would feel if, when we picked up a watch,
somebody demanded that we speculate philosophically about the connection
between watch and hand. Say I investigate the flesh of my hand, then
the glass and metal in my watch; then the relation between the flesh
of my hand and the glass and metal in my watch; all in order to obtain
philosophical insight into the reason why my hand has picked up and
holds the watch. Well, if I were to proceed thus, modern consciousness
would consider my gropings insane.
Just so it would
have appeared insane to Greek consciousness if anyone had attempted,
by reference to the nature of thought and the cerebellum, to explain
the self-evident fact that man's being uses his brain to lay hold of
thoughts. For the Greek this was a direct perception just as, for us,
it is a direct perception that the hand takes hold of the watch; we
do not consider it necessary to establish a scientific relation between
watch and muscle. In the course of time problems arise according to
the way things are perceived. For the Greek what we call the connection
between thinking and organism was as self-evident as the connection
between a watch and the hand that seizes it. He did not speculate about
what was obvious. He knew instinctively how to relate his thoughts to
said: Well, there is only a hand; the watch ought to fall down, what
really holds it? For the Greek this would have been as absurd as the
question: What is it that develops thoughts in the brain? For us the
latter has become a problem because we do not know that already we have
liberated our thoughts, and are on our way to freeing them from ourselves.
Also we do not know how to deal properly with thoughts because, being
in the process of growing away from it, we no longer have a firm hold
on our physical body.
like to use another comparison. We have not only clothes but pockets
into which we can put things. This was the situation with the Greeks:
their human bodies were something into which they could put thoughts,
feelings, will impulses. Today we are uncertain what to do with thoughts,
feelings and will impulses. It is as though, in spite of pockets, all
our things fell to the ground; or as though, worried about what to do
with then, we lugged them about in our hands. In other words, we are
ignorant of the nature of our own organism, do not know what to do with
our soul life in regard to it, contrive queer ideas with respect to
psycho-parallelism, and so forth. I am saying all this to show how we
have gradually become estranged from our physical bodies.
is illustrated by the whole course of humanity's evolution. If we again
turn our gaze to the ancient Indian time when the human being looked
back through the succession of generations to a distant ancestor, we
see that he felt no need to search for the gods anywhere but within
the generations. Since, for the Hindu, man himself was divine, he remained
within human evolution while looking for the divine in his forebears.
Indeed the field of his search was precisely mankind's evolution.
There followed the
time which culminated in the Egypto-Chaldean culture, when the folk
concept rose to prominence and man beheld the divine in the various
folk gods, in that which lived in blood relationships, not successively
as before, but spatially side by side.
the Greek period when man no longer felt god-imbued, when he became
an earth citizen. Now for the first time there arose the necessity to
seek the gods above the earth, to look up to the gods. By gazing at
the stars, ancient man knew of the gods. But the Greek needed,
in addition to the stars, the involvement of his personality in order
to behold those gods; and this need kept increasing within mankind.
man must more and more develop the faculty of disregarding the physical,
disregarding the physical starry sky, disregarding the physical course
of the year, disregarding his sensations when confronting objects. For
he can no longer behold his thoughts in matter. He must acquire the
possibility of discovering the divine-spiritual as something special
above and beyond the physical sense world before he can find it again
within the sense world.
this truth energetically is the task of anthroposophical spiritual science.
Thus anthroposophical spiritual science grows out of the entire earthly
evolution of mankind. We must always remember that Anthroposophy is
not something arbitrarily created and placed as a program into mankind's
evolution but, rather, something suited to our epoch, something resulting
from the inner necessities of mankind's long history.
that materialism holds sway over our age is, really, only a lagging behind.
Man not only became an earth citizen in the Greek sense; today he is
already so estranged from his earth citizenship he no longer understands
how to handle his soul-spirit being in relation to his body — it is
one of the needs of the age for the human being to behold spirit and soul
in himself without the physical. Side by side with this deep soul-need,
there exists materialism as an Ahrimanic stopping short at something
natural in the age of the Greeks and Romans when one could still behold
the spiritual in the physical, but not natural today.
remained stationary, we can no longer see the spiritual in the physical;
we consider only the physical as such. This is materialism. It means
that a current hostile to development has entered evolution. Mankind
shuns the coining of new concepts; it prefers to continue on with the old.
We must overcome this hostility toward development; must open ourselves to
it. Then we shall acquire a quite natural relationship to anthroposophical
growth of spirit, and pass over from antiquated needs to the truly modern
need of mankind: namely, to raise ourselves to the spiritual.
lecture I have tried to gain a viewpoint from which you can see how,
for the present age, in the evolution of mankind, Anthroposophy constitutes
a real necessity.
1. Rudolf Steiner,
Occult Science, an Outline.
Anthroposophic Press, Inc., New York.