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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Awareness - Life - Form
GA 89

Theosophical Cosmology III

9 June 1904, Berlin

A week ago I attempted to explain a way of thinking which is very alien to people in the West and which gives the theosopher insights into the cosmos. The lectures must of necessity be sketchy in character, and this prevents me from presenting the theosophical cosmology in full detail. I will, however, attempt to give you a picture of the genesis of the world which is the basis of theosophy, doing so in narrative form. I would ask those who demand something scientific to remember that it simply is not possible for me to give any kind of scientific foundation for what I have to say in three short lectures. Anyone who wants such a scientific foundation will find it in a later course, when I will be speaking on the subject in more detail.37It appears this was never given. Elements may be found in public lectures, e.g. Berlin, 9 March 1905 on the origin of the Earth [in German, in GA 53]. A second volume of my Theosophy, which is due to appear soon, will also be on cosmology.38See in ‘About this volume’.

Above all let me give you an important initial idea which essentially is very simple, but must be considered by anyone who seeks to understand evolution in theosophical terms. Speaking of evolution on the large scale, we mean not only animal or plant life arising from another life, but also the great transformations in our universe, and this includes the origin of matter, matter in the actual sense, as we are able to perceive it with our physical senses today.

The last time we spoke of the seven successive levels to be distinguished in the evolution of our planet, and I described them to you at least briefly. You need to envisage our earthly planet going through seven stages in rhythmical sequence, as it were, stages we call rounds. Everything that exists and lives on our Earth today did also exist before our present-day Earth came into existence; it existed, however, in a kind of seed stage, just as the whole plant exists already in a seed, lying dormant in it, as it were, before it unfolds in the outside world. In theosophy we also call such a dormant stage of all human beings ‘pralaya’. The state in which everything awakens to life, gradually emerging and progressing from beginnings to perfection, to a peak, is called a ‘manvantara’. When perfection has been reached, pralaya again follows, to be followed in turn by a state of being awake and growing. The planet is going through this sequence seven times, awakening to a new round seven times. The period between one manvantara and another thus passes in a state where everything that is alive and active on our Earth goes to sleep, as it were. This sleep cannot be compared with ordinary human sleep. With the latter, only the activities of the rational mind and the human senses are suspended, whilst human physical life continues. You have to see the Earth’s sleep state as something very different. This state of the Earth would only be perceptible to the opened eye of the most highly developed seer, a dangma.

Such a state cannot be described in our words, for our words are not made for this form of existence. I cannot find words for this state in any language. The developed seer would therefore say something quite different to give an idea of this state. He would say: Imagine a plant. You see it. Now think of a kind of plaster cast of this plant, with the plant in all its parts now a hollow space surrounded by plaster of Paris. Now imagine that everything which is plaster of Paris is spiritual and only perceptible to certain sensory perceptions. Someone who is able to see the plant cannot see the plaster cast at the same time, it being the negative of the plant.39See for instance the lecture given in Berlin on 30 October 1905, in Foundations of Esotericism (note 13). This would be more or less what a developed seer would be able to perceive of the Earth in its pralaya sleep. The Earth would not be there. It would be the cavity, the hollow form. It is as if it were in an great, tremendous sea of most sublime spirits which is gradually thinning out in all directions, with the existence of Earth itself pouring forth from this, as it were.

Then something began to develop in this hollow space, but it was not yet perceptible to physical eyes, only to a highly developed seer who is able to move freely in the sphere of the devachanic plane. Someone who has this vision would see an orb in space at the beginning of earthly existence, a purely spiritual orb, with anything on it also spiritual, only perceptible to the devachanic seer’s eye. Before a new round began, our Earth was in such a spiritual state. Awaking from pralaya sleep it awakened to such an orb. The devachanic seer perceives it to have a marvellous reddish shimmer. The orb is not visible to someone with astral vision only. It still holds everything in it which will later be Earth. Even the densest bodies are already there.

How can we get a picture of this? We may consider a simple process. Imagine a vessel containing water. The water is liquid. As you reduce the temperature the water will freeze and turn to ice. You have the same thing as before—ice being nothing but water, only in a different form. When you increase the temperature the ice will turn to water again, and if you heat it further even to steam. You can imagine that all materiality arises through condensation from the spiritual. The spiritual orb—only visible to a highly developed seer’s eye—condenses more and more, having first gone through a minor pralaya. It will then also be apparent to a less highly developed seer’s eye. A kind of short sleep state follows, and then the whole sphere presents in a more condensed state. It is then visible to the astral eye, that is, to someone whose senses have been opened on the astral plane. Then comes another pralaya state, and the orb emerges again, now in form of condensed physical matter. It is only now that physical eyes can see it, physical ears hear it, physical hands take hold of it. This is the fourth state. After another short pralaya the state dissolves again, and we have an astral orb again, but the spirits in it are much more highly developed now. An analogous state develops in the sixth round, which again is only visible to a devachanic seer. After a further pralaya the state is such that only the most highly developed seer’s eye can see it. Then the orb vanishes even for a dangma. A major pralaya follows, after which the whole process begins to repeat itself. This happens seven times over. The Earth is thus transformed from its lowest to its highest level.

Let us now look at the first round. The best way of studying it is to look at what was then densest on our Earth. Mineral forms did not exist in the first round, nor did physical forces of nature or chemical forces. The Earth had by then only developed far enough to provide a basis for physical existence; it created this basis in order to prepare for physical existence in the fourth round. The Earth then presented as a fiery mass, at such a tremendously high temperature that none of the forms of matter we have today could have the form which they have today. All substances were primeval mass—a kind of mush if I may use such a common term—uniform and undifferentiated. In theosophy the Earth is said to have been in the fire state at that time. This is no ordinary fire, however, but a fire of a higher, spiritual kind. No chemical elements existed. Yet there was activity inside this matter. Two kinds of spirits were active in it—those we call ‘dhyan-chohans’ and others which had not yet descended into the state of physical materiality, partly having a spirit body and partly being enveloped in astral matter; these flooded the fire matter with tremendous speed. We see irregular forms continually arising and disappearing, including forms which are already reminiscent of what will later exist on Earth. It seems like a kind of template, always coming and going. Something bubbles up which reminds us of the forms of later crystals and later plants, and indeed even something which is already assuming human forms, only to blow away again. The human beings who would incarnate at a later time lived in that fire, developing and modelling the bodies, preparing them. That is how this state in the first round on Earth presents itself to us. This fiery, flowing Earth then went into a sleep state.

The second round started in the same way. Let us again look at the earth where it was at its densest. This state now took a completely different form compared to before. It was a form which modem physicists also know, calling it ‘ether’. Ether is subtler than present-day gases, but denser than the Earth had been in the earlier round. In this extremely subtle matter, something evolved which we call chemical elements. You will find this second stage referred to in a truly marvellous way, saying that the gods arranged everything according to measure, number and weight.40See notes on the Logoi (2 July 1904) in this volume. Something which until then had been irregular became organized into chemical elements, and these assumed order by numbers. Chemists will understand this, for they know the regular periodic system of the elements. Matter thus developed specific proportions of measure and number once it had gained a degree of density, an etheric form. Individual substances still did not relate at this stage. They were alien to one another. Now, with matter differentiating, we see the most marvellous forms develop which are reminiscent of those that would come later, but are not yet stable—star-like forms, angular forms, tetrahedrons, polyhedrons, rounded forms, and so on. A hint is given of the forms that will later appear in the natural world. In the first round, crystalline forms had their precursors; now in the second round preparation is made for the plant world. Then the whole passed away again; the astral and the devachanic went through pralaya again before appearing in the third round.

If we consider the physical state of the third round we find that matter had changed considerably. It was not yet differentiated into air and water but was a kind of vapour or mist. No longer in ether form but like a kind of water vapour, mist, or like our clouds today—that is how we would have to envisage the Earth at this third stage. With those mists—we find them in ancient legends like those of Niflheim (land of mist)—matter was now no longer organized according to number but endowed with energies. Occult scientists speak of the law of elective affinities here. Chemical substances regulate themselves according to this law. Now, in the third round, energy appeared, making it possible for small things to grow larger and expand. Substances were able to organize themselves fully from inside, filling themselves with energy. Not only did the beginnings of plant nature appear, which we already saw in the second round, but growth had become possible. The first animal forms appeared, though we would consider them utterly grotesque today. Gigantic, colossal forms arose from the mist. There is some truth in it for an occultist when he looks up at the clouds and sees that one looks like a camel, another like a horse. In this third round entities were nebulous forms, with reproduction consisting in one changing into the other, one arising from another, like today’s lower cell organisms, which remind us of that time. The animal-like bodies arising from the mist were able to provide a first basis so that individual entities that had come across from earlier worlds would find a body. The human being was then able to incarnate, finding a housing that allowed him to come to expression, though initially in an imperfect, primitive and awkward way. Incarnations may also misfire. We may say that entities were on Earth in the third round that were intermediate between human and animal, with the human being not entirely at ease in them but still able to incarnate.

Then came another pralaya, followed by the fourth round. This is the round of which we ourselves are part. The Earth had thus first gone through the devachanic state, then down through the astral and etheric state, finally coming to the physical state which we have now reached. In the first round, the basis for the mineral world developed, in the second, the basis for the plant world; in the third round the potential arose for the development of animal forms. Now, in the fourth round, the human being has been given the ability to assume the form which he now has.

Let us take a closer look at the state of our physical Earth, our present round. The state of the Earth at this fourth level must be said to be very much denser than the states of the earlier rounds. Initially there was a fiery state, then a misty one, and then one that was between air and water. Now, however, at the beginning of the fourth round, we have a kind of swelling matter, rather like protein. The whole Earth was in that state at the beginning of the fourth round. Then everything gradually condensed, and matter as we know it on Earth today is nothing but the condensed matter which had originally been swelling—just as ice is condensed water matter. At the beginning of this fourth round, all entities were such that they could live in this swelling matter. The form of the human being did resemble that of today, but man was still in an utterly dim state of consciousness which would be comparable to a dreaming person today. He dreamt his way through life in a kind of sleep level of consciousness; he did not yet have a mind and spirit.

Let us take a closer look at this. The human being was possible in the swelling material. We would call the human being of that first race a human being in a dream. It is difficult to describe the human being of that first race. This state was followed by another, when matter condensed more and differentiated into a materiality that was more spiritual and another that was more physical—north pole and south pole, as it were. I would ask you to take note of the difference between the occult view of this and the generally accepted Darwinian view. When the Earth was in that state, the human being was present, and so was the plant world; the animal world was also extant, but in forms where there was as yet no sexual reproduction and no warm blood. These life forms were not yet able to produce sounds from inside themselves. The human being himself was still silent. Nor was he able to think, being unable to have even the dimmest ideas. The mind and spirit had not yet come to the living body. In the next race, the second one, matter differentiated to create two poles. The human being was, as it were, withdrawing the matter which was useful to him, setting anything less useful aside; this led to the higher animals developing as a kind of lateral branches. The lower animals already looked similar to today’s molluscs, and even fish-like forms were evolving.

The human being continued to develop. At the third level of race evolution he again set aside matter which he was unable to make the vehicle for a higher form of conscious awareness. He again let this go to provide material for creatures which then looked more or less like amphibians, in giant forms. Myth and fable refer to them as flying dragons, and so on. So far none of the life forms which had evolved had sexual reproduction. Only in the middle of the third race, the middle of the Lemurian age, did the beginnings of this appear. The arena for these events was in Lemuria, in the region of today’s Indochina in the Indian Ocean.

In the middle of the Lemurian age came the great event which made the human being human. Not all the humans which had come across from earlier planetary states were at the same level of evolution. Those who had achieved normal evolution during the earlier cycle on the misty Earth, were able to embody themselves during the third race. A number of them had, however, already reached a higher level, and they were completely unable to embody themselves in the third round. In every round, some human beings evolved to a normal level and others to a stage that went beyond this. Those who went beyond the normal level were masters, more highly developed individuals. In theosophical terminology they are called ‘solar pitris’. They had gained a higher level of spirituality but could not embody themselves in the body which the human being had at that time, just as today’s human being cannot incarnate in a plant body. They waited for evolution to continue until the right moment had come and their first true incarnation became possible in the fourth race. Then those more highly developed individuals, the solar pitris, were able to take possession of the existing forms. A humanity arose that had reached a high level of spiritual development. Legend and myths tell that there were people in those times who stood high above other human beings—individuals like Prometheus,41See lecture given in Berlin on 7 October 1904, in The Temple Legend (note 22). the rishis of the Indians, fire rishis who then became the actual leaders of the human race, and also the manus which gave later humanity their laws. Only those solar pitris were able to incarnate as adepts.

As I told you, sexuality did not yet exist at the beginning of the fourth round. The division into sexes only came in the Lemurian age. And it was only with this that incarnation became possible, taking possession of a body, something which had not existed before. Previously, one entity had arisen from another. With the division into sexes in the middle of the Lemurian age, birth and death came on Earth, and this also meant the possibility for karma to be active. People could burden themselves with guilt. Everything we know to be ‘human’ arose at that time.

The continent of Lemuria perished in fire-like catastrophes, and the continent of Atlantis then arose from what today is the Atlantic Ocean. Another important event came in Atlantean times. I drew your attention to it when I spoke about Pentecost.42On 23 May 1904. In German in GA 93. I said then that except for the solar pitris, all existing entities were at a low level of mind and spirit. Only selected bodies were able to receive the solar pitris. The others would merely have made it possible for those spirits to live in a state of dim conscious awareness. People without heart and mind would have arisen if the bodies of that time had been used. The pitris therefore waited until specific animal forms had developed further. These had gone down more deeply into the life of drives on the one hand, but on the other hand this had created the preconditions for brain development at a later time. Matter had differentiated into ‘nerve matter’ and ‘gender matter’. The pitris who had waited for this later stage then became embodied in this poorer form of matter. This is called ‘the Fall’ in religious terminology—the descent into matter of a poorer kind. If this had not been done, they would all have remained at a much less consciously aware level. They could not have been used for the clear life of thought which we have today, but would have remained in a much dimmer, duller state. The price they paid for this was that they let the body get worse on the one hand, so that on the other hand they could enhance it and develop brain matter, achieving a higher level of conscious awareness. A special outcome of the Atlantean race’s evolution was a phenomenal memory.

When Atlantis had perished—through water—our present fifth race became a later continuation. Its special achievement has been the associative mind which enables the fifth race to take art and science to their highest levels, something which had not been possible before. In the fifth sub-race of the fourth round the human being reached a high point—control through the spirit, a spirit which had descended into matter so that it might now be taken upwards again to higher and higher levels. We have seen the cosmos evolve in rhythmic sequence of stages to the point where we are today. Earlier rounds led to the development of

  1. mineral world,
  2. plant world,
  3. animal world,
  4. [and then] human being.

Theosophical cosmology is an edifice complete in itself which has arisen from the wisdom of the most highly developed seers. If only I had a bit more time, I would be able to show you how particular natural scientific facts go powerfully in the direction of substantiating this image of the world. Consider Haeckel’s famous genealogies, for instance, with all evolution interpreted in a purely material sense.43See Ernst Haeckel, The Natural History of Creation vol. 2. But if you take the spiritual states as they are described in theosophy, rather than matter, or crystal, you can produce genealogies, just as Haeckel has done, though the explanation would be a different one.

Let me draw your attention to the following to prevent you from confusing the different astral or physical states described in some theosophical works with what I have been saying here. Evolution is often described as though different states ran side by side; you see orbs put side by side, so that it seems as if life moved from one to the other. In reality there is, however, only a single orb, and it is only its condition or state which changes. It is always the same orb going through the different metamorphoses—spiritual, astral, physical, and so on.

We have seen, therefore, that the starting point, which we took from Goethe’s words, has its full justification, the words being that ultimately it is the human being who shows himself to be the goal, as it were, a mission of the earthly planet.44See Note 32. The occultist knows that every planet has a particular mission. Nothing in the cosmos is random chance. The mission of physical evolution is to let the principle which is arising for us luman beings reach its goal. You would not find a human being like the present-day human being on any other planet. Spirits—yes, humans—no. The Earth exists so that the human being could evolve as an entity aware of being an I. The natural worlds evolved in the first four rounds in order that in the fourth the human being would have self-awareness, able to mirror himself consciously in the body. He will continue to ascend to higher states, and only very few people can form a real idea of these.45E.g. essays in Cosmic Memory (note 11, chapter on the Earth and its future); lecture given in Oslo on 12 June 1912, in Man in the Light of Occultism, Theosophy and Philosophy, GA 137, London & New York: Rudolf Steiner Publ. Co. & Anthroposophic Press 1945. In the next, the fifth round, the mineral world will disappear completely. All mineral matter will be transformed into plant matter. Everything will live in the plant idea—speaking in occult terms. Then the plant world, too, will reach perfection, and in the following round the animal principle will be the lowest world. In the seventh round the human being will have reached the height of his evolution. He will then be what he is meant to become in his planetary evolution.

Someone who understands this may also gain profound insight into religious source documents. There was a time when people believed in them like children. There followed a period of enlightenment, when nothing was believed. Now a time will come when people will learn to understand the images again which have been preserved for us in religious writings, tales and fables. Thus we have the seven rounds shown as the seven days of creation in the Bible. The first three days of creation have passed, we are now in the fourth. The last three are still to come. The first three days of creation represent the rounds that lie in the past; in the last three we have an indication of what will come in future. Properly understood, what Moses wanted to say in describing the fourth day of creation was that we are in the fourth round; he also described this day specifically. This is also why you have two creations in the Book of Genesis.46See lectures given in Berlin on 4 Nov. & 8 Dec. 1903 [in German] in GA 88, and lecture course Genesis, GA 122, tr. D. Lenn, O. Barfield; London: Anthroposophical Publ. Co. 1959. People who merely apply the rational mind to the Bible will never understand this. The human being of the seventh day has not yet been created. Creating man out of clay is a simile for our fourth round. The double creation story speaks in image form of what has been created, of the state in which we are now, and of the state which will exist at the end of the seventh round. When we look at the Bible texts in this way, these documents suddenly gain a meaning of which we could not have the least idea before. Now humanity will finally realize that the meaning of it all is so profound that we almost have to become different human beings in order to understand. It will be necessary for the sublime spiritual meaning of this, the oldest document to be made plain again,47See lecture course Genesis (note 46). which is the mission of the theosophical movement. This does not find fault with the materialistic aspects of our time, realising that they are necessary. But it works towards the goal of letting humanity recognize the spiritual meaning of those documents again. This is also what we want to work on in the winter which lies ahead. Today’s lecture is the last in the course. But our Mondays will continue. We’ll meet here every Monday night at eight.