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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Cosmosophy II
GA 208

Lecture III

23 October 1921, Dornach

To broaden the subject matter I have been presenting, let us start by looking back to a period of human evolution when the gaining of insight, as we know it today, was entirely different in character. We have spoken of this before, but a new light may be thrown on things that are already familiar because of the things that have been said in recent lectures.

Human perceptiveness has a completely different character today from the way it was in ancient Greek and Roman times. And the knowledge held in the Orient and in Africa before those times was of a completely different kind again than the insights that were so magnificently presented by the Greeks, made more abstract by the Romans and have in our day become more and more materialistic. At about the beginning of the 8th century BC the nature of human understanding became what essentially it still is today, though with modifications. Until now, we have more or less characterized the earlier way that went before it by saying: It was a kind of instinctive perception. Insight lived not in concepts but in images; these were not entirely like the dream images we see, yet they did not have the clear definition when they lived in human souls which they have in the modern world of concepts, but took more the form of images that passed through the conscious mind.

The contents were also different, relating more to the worlds in which human beings had their origin and in which they still lived, having separated only a little from them. During Saturn, Sun and Moon evolution, the human being was still wholly part of the rest of the world. And during earlier stages of Earth evolution, too, the human individual was not yet separate from the general content of the world but felt part of it. When people let go of the intellectual approach, where we use our brain to learn things, and do more or less as is done in certain oriental schools, where breathing processes are used to gain a kind of insight, a situation is created where the clean separation between self and world has disappeared. When people do yoga exercises, which belong to the past but can still be found today, they feel their individual nature to be reduced and subdued, so that they are like a breath in the world.

The nature of perceptiveness was like that in those earlier times, though people were also able to interpret their own inner physical body, in the way I spoke of yesterday, by using their image-based perception. Yesterday we considered how human beings take in the world around them today and retain it in ideas. This becomes an inner life out of which individuals are able to create an image of their world as it has been from birth to the present moment. The organs we have inside us—brain, lungs, liver—are content of the whole world. We can recall something we have experienced from memory and interpret its meaning, so that it lives in us as an idea. And in our internal organs we have the whole world inside us. Ancient wisdom consisted in interpreting the individual organs by relating them to the content of the whole world.

Essentially, the older kind of human understanding which existed until the 9th century BC was such that people gained insight into the content of the world by interpreting the internal physical and etheric nature of the human being. Of course, their view of those internal organs was different from that held by modern anatomists and physiologists. Every individual internal organ related to something in the outside world, yet the organ itself was experienced from inside. Thus the structure of the brain was seen in tremendous images and these in turn were related to the whole sphere of heaven, and people with this ancient way of understanding were able to gain an idea of the whole sphere of heaven, based on indications as to the structure of the brain gained through atavistic perception in images.

Essentially all the ancient wisdom about the world has come from such interpretations of the inner human being. It is not really possible, however, to say that the knowledge and understanding of those times was truly human by nature. True human understanding, which of course is not at all the dry, purely intellectual knowledge people often think it to be, is, after all, unthinkable without intelligence. The wisdom of old, however, was entirely without intelligence produced by human beings, and we cannot really call it “human” understanding. Human beings merely had part in the understanding which other entities had inside them. These were spirits belonging to the hierarchy of the Angels. An Angel would ensoul a human being and the old form of wisdom was really that of the Angel. The human individual merely had part in it by looking into the inner life of the Angel, as it were. This is also why people who had that ancient wisdom were rather vague as to how they got it. They simply said to themselves that it was something which was given to them, for it was the Angel who created insight in them; as they were unable to do this themselves.

Those were not the normal angelic spirits who accompany human beings through several lives on earth. They had luciferic character, for their disposition had remained at the earlier, moon level of development. Thus we are able to say that the ancient wisdom arose when spirits who should have gone through their normal human stage of development on the ancient moon let their soul powers enter into and ensoul human beings, and people would have part in the Angel’s experiences inside them, gaining an extraordinarily sublime insight in this way. The wisdom given to the angelic beings during the moon evolution was at a high level of perfection, but it was not really something which people could put to any real use on earth. People acted more or less out of instinct on earth, we might say they acted like a higher kind of animal. And into this creature shone the sublime wisdom which began to fade away towards the 8th century BC.

This wisdom—definitely luciferic the way it is presented above—really related only to anything that showed the human being to be a citizen of other worlds. With regard to their perceptions, therefore, human beings had not yet really come to earth. They felt themselves to be in higher spheres in their wisdom, and their actions on earth were instinctive.

There followed the development that goes hand in hand with the intellectual or mind soul. Human beings began to let the mind be active in them and evolve concepts. Greek civilization still had the angelic wisdom of earlier times but worked it through with human concepts. Plato’s4Plato (c. 427–c. 347 BC), Athenian philosopher. wisdom makes such an impression on us because he was subjectively evolving concepts and ideas, but the old instinctive wisdom still shone into the process. His writings therefore are a marvellous combination of the highest wisdom and a way of thinking that was human and individual. Considering Plato’s mind and spirit it would be impossible to imagine him writing his philosophical works in a form other than that of dialogues, for the simple reason that he was definitely aware of a wisdom that had only been an indefinite feeling to earlier people. They would say: The wisdom simply exists; it comes to me and radiates into me. Plato found himself in a form of dialogue with the entity that brought wisdom into him. Experiencing this wisdom in dialogue he also preferred to express it through dialogue.

Soon, however, conceptual thinking became more prevalent. Aristotle5Aristotle (384–322 BC), Greek philosopher, scientist and physician. already presented his knowledge in a complex of theories.

As the fourth post-Atlantean age progressed, a civilizatory element gained influence that may be described as follows: People felt that an ancient wisdom had filled human souls in times past. They felt that superhuman entities had come down and brought this wisdom to humanity. But they were also aware that this wisdom was becoming more abstract. They could not longer grasp it; it eluded them.

Roman civilization is characterized by a mind that made everything abstract. The Romans evolved a dry, abstract way of thinking that did not perceive in images and wanted to live only in the forms of the mind. With the Greeks we still feel that the figures of their gods, that is, the elemental principles in the world of nature, had an inner life. The Roman gods were stiff, abstract concepts. Logic gained the upper hand over the imaginative thinking that had still been widespread in ancient Greece. Anything the Romans still had by way of imagination actually came from Greece. The Romans introduced the prosaic, logical thinking that was later to give the Latin language the logical quality that was to govern civilization for ages to come.

One thing continued on, however—in a more living way through Greek culture and a slightly more dead way through Roman culture, into the Christian era and right into the Middle Ages—and that was the tradition of the ancient wisdom. This has persisted more than people are inclined to think today. The world that presented itself to the senses could not be immediately grasped with the mind, but people sought to grasp the traditional element in this way. The result was that an element which before had been luciferic, inwardly enlivening, gained an ahrimanic character that was also outwardly apparent, as a mask. In reality this is a luciferic element which continues by tradition. Romanism continued through the centuries; a strong Germanic element came into it, but the tradition survived and it was essentially luciferic. Its original character was lost because it streamed down into the realm of thought and became formulated in thoughts. We may say that in the Latin language, a luciferic element lives on in an ahrimanic way.

This luciferic element was still very much alive in Greek art. It then became more or less rigid and it is interesting to see how it extended into theology, which had to do with other worlds, yet had no real access to those worlds; all it had was the tradition. A spiritual stream that was essentially luciferic thus brought the ancient perception of other worlds into theology.

The Christian faith also got caught up in the meshes of this theology; it became theology. The language of Rome was made logical, the Christian faith theological. The true life of Christianity was submerged in a luciferic element that bore an ahrimanic mask. The personal and individual element was always there, but it was more instinctive. It was not able to unite fully with the element which came from above. It is particularly interesting to observe this when it was at its most striking, during the Renaissance. There we see a highly developed theology with concepts and ideas of other worlds but no perception. Everything took the form of tradition during the Renaissance. Romanism had preserved the original, ancient wisdom in a theology that had brought it down into the realm of ideas, where it lived on as a luciferic element. Those theologizing elements are still marvellously apparent in Raphael’s wall paintings in Rome, the Disputa, for instance.6Raphael, or Raffaello Santi or Sanzio (1483–1520), Italian painter. Profound wisdom, more or less living on in words, no longer offering perception, but holding true wisdom for those who are able to connect it with perception. We also admire the theology in Dante’s Divine Comedy,7Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), greatest Italian poet. though we know that whilst Dante gained some of the old true perception—thanks to his teacher Brunetto Latini,8Brunette Latini (c. 1210–c. 1295), Florentine statesman, scholar and poet. as I have shown on another occasion9published in How can Mankind Find the Christ Again? (GA 187) Tr. F.E. Dawson, G. Hahn, O. D. Wannamaker. London: Rudolf Steiner Press.—most of the work represents the traditional, theologizing approach with a strong luciferic element in it. We can also see that the entities which brought the ancient wisdom into the theologizing element also brought the essence of Greek art into the art of the Renaissance, a Greek art that originally had soul quality before and had become more rigid, but still came down through tradition. Goethe10Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), German poet, dramatist, scientist and statesman. was therefore able to perceive the resurrection of Greek art in the art of the Renaissance.

It has to be said that there is a powerful luciferic element in the theology and in the art that have come to us from the past. To be artistic, this art must look for elements that belong to other worlds, and it is not able to descend fully to the human level. Where it does so, it seems to us to have made a sudden leap down to the level of instinct. Looking at Renaissance life, we see that people had ideas of heaven—no vision any more—and were able to bring those ideas to life in their art in a truly marvellous way. Beneath this, however, we see Renaissance life deteriorate to the level of instincts. World history presents magnificent but sometimes also horrific scenes where Pope Alexander VI, for instance, or Leo X, are on the one hand great scholars, having ideas of the most sublime aspects of other worlds, yet on the other hand are unable, as Renaissance people, to let their personal life rise to that level, letting it degenerate to the life of instincts. It is a terrible thing to see those individuals develop a kind of higher animal life on the one hand, and spreading above this a heaven that is luciferic by nature, a heaven presented to human minds in a theology that is truly wonderful and at the same time also entirely luciferic.

With this, we are coming to an age when powers other than those older angelic spirits became involved in human evolution.

Humanity is halfway between the world of the angels and that of the animals. In past ages the human form was quite animal-like, but ensouled with the element I have just described. Without a clue as to the reality of this situation, modern geologists and palaeontologists are turning up ancient human remains that show receding foreheads and animal-like human forms and believe this shows that humans are related to animals. This is quite right if one considers only the outer physical form, but the more animal-like those forms become as we go back in time, the more are they ensouled with original wisdom. If all that modern geologists and palaeontologists are able to say about the remains dug up in some parts of Europe a few years ago is that these were human beings with low skulls, receding foreheads, prominent brows and eye-sockets, anyone who knows the true situation has to say: This human being, who may look animal-like today and to palaeontologists who see only the outer appearance may appear to have evolved from apes, was fully ensouled with an ancient, original wisdom. Another spiritual entity had that wisdom in the human being who merely had a share in it. In the past, therefore, human beings held within them a superhuman principle. They grew increasingly towards this as they evolved out of animal-like forms, finally to become a kind of super-animal which included all the different animal forms. This super-animal offered conditions where an ahrimanic entity that was very different from the usual angelic spirits was able to enter. The human being who combines intellectual thinking with an animal-like organization came to the fore at the time when the wisdom of old was fading and becoming tradition. From the 8th century BC, human evolution took a course, slowly at first, but progressively, where a kind of ahrimanic super-animal nature developed from inside which then also entered the human soul from the other side.

The spirit which meets with the luciferic spirit in the human being, as it were, may be said to be another one who sought to deflect human beings from the true path. The luciferic spirits may be said to be spirits of ire in the human soul who do not intend human beings to be glad to be on earth but draw them away from the earth, over and over again, always wanting to draw them up towards the superhuman. They want him to be an angel who does not have anything to do with the lower functions of the physical organism. It angers the luciferic spirits to see people walk the earth on their two feet who are connected to the earth through their lower functions. They want to strip all animal nature away from people. Today, at the present stage of human evolution, for example, they do not want to let individuals come to physical incarnation; they want to keep them up above in the life that passes between death and a new birth.

The ahrimanic spirits, on the other hand, may be called spirits of pain and suffering. They seek to achieve the human form for themselves but are unable to do so. Essentially these ahrimanic spirits suffer terrible pain. It is as if an animal were to feel dimly: You ought to come upright and be a human being—as if it wanted to tear itself apart inwardly. That is the terrible pain experienced by the ahrimanic spirits. It can only be relieved by approaching human beings and taking hold of their minds. This will cool the pain. These spirits therefore get their teeth into the human mind, digging their claws into it, boring themselves into it.11Phrase coined by Steiner Ahrimanic nature involves something that is like painfully letting the human mind enter into you. Ahrimanic spirits want to unite with human beings so that they may come to their senses, as it were.

Thus the human being is the battle ground for luciferic and ahrimanic elements. It would be fair to say that the luciferic element is involved in anything to do with the arts and with abstract theology. The ahrimanic element is like something coming up from the world of matter that has gone through the animal world and painfully seeks to achieve human status, taking hold of the human mind; it is repulsed by the part of the human being that is higher than human nature; again and again it is thrown back, though it wishes to take the human mind for itself. Again and again this element wants to enter into human beings and make them go by the intellect alone, preventing them from developing the higher faculties of Imagination and Inspiration, seeking to keep humanity at their level, so as to ease their own pain.

Everything which has developed during the more recent ahrimanic age by way of materialistic science, a science that comes from the burning pain of material existence that is cooled in the human being, is ahrimanic by nature. We see this materialistic science arise as human beings evolve it. When people give their inner life to this science, Ahriman unites with them through it. Lucifer has a hand above all in the sphere of the arts; Ahriman has a hand in the development of mechanics, technology, anything that seeks to take the human intellect away from people and put it into machine tools and also the machinery of government. This alone has made the developments possible which have arisen mainly from the time of the Renaissance onwards. We might say that luciferic activity came to a kind of dead end during the Renaissance and that ahrimanic activity then took over. We can see how everything since then has gone in the direction of mechanization, and a science divorced from the realm of the spirit.

If the industrial technology and materialistic science which has evolved from Renaissance times and is entirely ahrimanic by nature is allowed to spread without there being any understanding of Christ, it will bind human beings to the earth and prevent them from reaching the Jupiter stage. Yet if we bring understanding of Christ, a new life of the spirit, and Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition to what at present is mere discovery of the physical world, we will redeem ahrimanic nature. This redemption can be presented in images, as I have done in many different ways in my Mystery Plays. Humanity will however be overcome by Ahriman unless understanding of Christ, an understanding that is truly of the spirit and free from all theology, is able to develop. Materialistic science and industrial technology would condemn humanity to earthly death, that is, they would craft a completely different world in which human beings live on as a kind of petrified fossils for the edification of ahrimanic spirits, and this will happen unless spiritual understanding of Christ spreads through the mechanization of our age.

We are thus able to say that Lucifer has a hand in all traditional theology, all art that is stiff and mannered, anything by way of renaissance; Ahriman has a hand in all materialistic science divorced from the realm of the spirit and unable to find the spirit in the world of nature, and in all aspects of human activity that are mechanical and without inwardness. The luciferic angelic spirits who have survived till today on the basis of tradition are only interested in keeping people from actually doing anything at all. They want to keep them confined to the inner life. Human beings have become individuals, but these angelic spirits do not want human actions to flow out into life and activity, into a manifestation of human will impulses. They want to keep people in an introspective frame of mind, to look rather than take action, to be mystics and follow the wrong kind of theosophy. They like people to sit musing all day, pursuing a thread through all kinds of riddles of the world and unwilling to apply the things they have in mind to the real world outside. They want detached observation to lead to a science of the outside world. They are good at creating a science like the one of Father Secchi,12Father Angelo Secchi (1818–1878) Italian astronomer trained as a Jesuit, Professor of Physics, Washington, USA, and from 1849 director of the observatory at the Coliegio Romano. who was an excellent astrophysicist, being able to make observations using the microscope and telescope and record them, and who also had something that did not relate to this at all, a sublime wisdom greater than the wisdom of this earth and of the human mind that had been given to him by luciferic spirits. The luciferic spirits nurture this wisdom and in doing so tear the human soul and spirit away from earth existence. And however great our materialistic science may be, it comes to nothing, for it has no inner reality of the spirit. This is of no interest to the luciferic spirits.

These spirits also want art to be as lifeless and devoid of spirit as possible, so that no spirit may enter into the forms created. They want nothing but the revival of things that existed in the past. They make people hate any kind of new style that may truly arise out of the present day. They want to reproduce the old styles because they come from a time when things could still be taken from unearthly realms.

On the other hand it is ahrimanic nature not to let a style or anything of a spiritual nature develop but rather to create utterly prosaic, purpose-designed buildings, mechanize everything and let it serve industry, letting people attach no value to hand-made arts and crafts and merely produce models which machines can reproduce in endless numbers. In the same way Ahriman can manifest in an infinite number of examples in many human beings through the mystery of numbers.

The human beings of today are caught in the midst of this battle. They need to realize that anthroposophy enables them to find and perceive the spirit and is therefore the true gift of Christ. Holding on to this they can keep the balance between luciferic and ahrimanic elements and thus find their way. They have to fight the ahrimanic spirit, for otherwise they must fall to the luciferic spirit. It is important, however, to be watchful when they give themselves up to the streams of Ahriman, lest they fall into a world that is entirely mechanized. The luciferic spirits want to prevent human beings from taking action; they want to make them mystics, given up to thought, who will gradually cease to take an interest in life on earth and can in this way be made remote from this life. The ahrimanic spirits want to keep human beings very much to life on earth. They want to mechanize everything, that is, take it down to the level of the mineral world. If they succeeded they would reshape the world to suit themselves and prevent it from reaching the Jupiter stage. On the other hand they do not want to deprive people of the opportunity to act; on the contrary, they want them to be as active as possible, except that it should all be routine and according to programme. Ahriman is a real programme enthusiast. It is he who inspires people to have endless statutes. He is really in his element if he finds a committee busily engaged in setting up statutes: Paragraph one, two and three—in the first place this is to be done, in the second place something else, in the third place one member has those particular rights, and in the fourth place another member is to do one thing or another. Of course, the members will never think of respecting those rights and may well refuse to do what it says in the statutes. That is not the point, however. Once the statutes exist, it is a matter of acting in the spirit of Ahriman, always pointing to paragraph number such and such.

Ahriman wants people to be active, but within the system, with everything firmly laid down in paragraphs. People should really find a list of things to be done on their pillow when they wake up in the morning and carry it all out mechanically, thinking only with their legs, as it were and not their heads. Lucifer wants them to use their heads and pour their hearts into their heads; Ahriman seeks to make people think only with their legs, pour everything into the legs.

People are caught up in the battle. I am trying to give you a picture of something which essentially is already part of our culture. We see people whose idea of perfection is to sit on folded legs like a Buddha figure and introspectively rise to sublime levels, not using their legs at all, but their heads swelling as they enter into mysterious depths. In the Western world we see others who hardly know how to get more quickly from one office to another, from business to business on their legs, so that we get the impression that it is really quite unnecessary for them to carry a head on their shoulders, for essentially their heads are not involved in their doings. Those are the two extremes in our time—solitary figures sitting thinking with eyes closed so that they may not even see what they themselves are doing, and others who actually don’t need eyes, for they have strings that pull their legs, and at the other end of those strings are the different paragraphs, with people pulled along as if they were part of a mechanism.

Occasionally we see modern people rebel against the ahrimanic trend and complain of the bureaucracy, which is of course entirely ahrimanic, against standardization in education, and so on. But as a rule all that happens is that they slide even deeper into the situation from which they want to escape.

The only thing to take us out of it all it to direct the whole of our minds and hearts to the search for the spirit, to an understanding that brings true spirituality to our thinking, with the true spirit taking hold of the whole human being and not merely the head. This will overcome the ahrimanic element and in so doing redeem it. We are not saying anything against ahrimanic nature, nor against all the situations where keeping of records and making of statutes and paragraphs have their rightful place. But the spirit must enter into it all.

We cannot really avoid using the ahrimanic skills in the present age—taking shorthand, for instance, and using a typewriter. These are highly ahrimanic elements in our civilization. But we can also bring the spirit into it, and in this way raise such ahrimanic influences as stenography and typewriting into the sphere of the spirit, redeeming Ahriman in the process. It is only possible to do this if we bring the life of the spirit fully to mind. People who live as materialists today, using stenography and typewriters, get deeply caught up in the ahrimanic element. You see, it is not my purpose to preach reaction against these things; the demonic world that has come on us is not to be given a bad name; but the demons themselves need to be redeemed.

This may certainly also show itself in individual instances. Basically we may say that the ahrimanic elements which have entered into our civilization in more recent times really only pursue their ahrimanic skills because they are inclined that way. The things they write in shorthand or on typewriters might just as well stay unwritten. We usually know all about it and there is no need to put it down on paper. The content does not matter, for only the ahrimanic skill has some significance. Yet it will be good to have the things that are coming up in the science of the spirit laid down exactly, for it is necessary to express ourselves in a careful, accurate way. And in this respect the ahrimanic element will be able to serve the realm of the spirit well.

It will be of special importance that the modern science of the spirit enters fully into the different human sciences and advances them from natural sciences devoid of spirit to a truly consistent science of the spirit, with the individual sciences as chapters in a unified science of the spirit. This will deahrimanize them, and if details are handled in the right way we gradually come into the stream that I had to present to you today, developing it out of the polarity between the luciferic and ahrimanic elements.

Please do not think it is irrelevant to go into detail the way I have done today. It is good to enter into this to some extent, using the kind of images I have used today, with today’s luciferic individual sitting on crossed legs, and ahrimanic people who rush from office to office, a finger in every pie, and who really don’t need to use their heads to keep their busy lives going.

You may feel more comfortable if abstract ideas are presented to you rather than concrete images, but the modern, anthroposophical science of the spirit must relate directly to life and indeed call a spade a spade. This, after all, is the only way to develop sound, proper ideas and the right inner attitude.

This is what I wanted to add today. The next time we’ll try and use a different approach to the nature of the human being.