Our bookstore now ships internationally. Free domestic shipping $50+ →

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

From Crystals to Crocodiles
GA 347

VII. On early earth conditions (Lemuria)

20 September 1922, Dornach

Well, gentlemen, in order to understand the human being even better than we do now, let's look at the earth. We simply cannot study our physical existence in isolation without including the earth.

When you visit museums of natural history, you sometimes find remains of animals and plants that lived here a long time ago. You can imagine that all sorts of things took place before these ancient plants and animals decayed to a certain point. You can understand that at best only the bones of certain animals have remained intact, whereas the muscles, soft tissue, the heart, and the other organs decayed soon after death. However the bones have been preserved because mud and other such material got into them and they eventually became petrified. These petrified bones can be studied and give us an idea of what it was like on earth a long time ago. The earth back then could not have been as it is today because then totally different plants and animals lived on it, and the species we know today could not have developed under the conditions of long ago. Obviously the earth must have looked quite different in the distant past. You'll see that clearly from what I'll tell you about today.

Early last century, around 1810, there lived a natural scientist by the name of Cuvier.1Georges Cuvier, 1769-1832, French naturalist. Considered to be the founder of comparative anatomy and palaeontology. It was said that just from looking at a bone he could get an idea of what an animal looked like. When we thoroughly study such petrified bones, even if we have only the bone of the forearm, for example, the ulna, we can picture what the animal must have looked like; for a change in the structure of the whole directly affects the form of each part. Thus we can ascertain what the animal's body as a whole looked like just on the basis of a few bones. Of course, sometimes we can find complete skeletons of animals from the distant past. But even individual bones can give us a good idea of what things were like back then.

I will now describe what the earth was like many thousands of years ago. I'll just tell you about it for now, and later we'll go into more detail. This is what the earth was like at one time.

Imagine the earth—I'll draw a bit of it here—but picture it without the solid mountains we know. Instead, that earth was just like the surface of our earth now after it has rained for several weeks, in fact even muddier. Had we lived at that time, we would have had to swim—and would have got very muddy in the process—or we'd have sunk into the soft mud. Well, back then there were no human beings as we know them. The earth was very muddy and there were all kinds of things in it.

When you go for a walk and collect rocks like the one brought in the other day, or when you go still farther into Switzerland and find even harder ones, imagine that all of those stones at one time were dissolved in the mud of the earth just like salt can be dissolved in water. This was possible because the muddy earth contained various acids that were able to dissolve all sorts of things. In a word, the surface of the earth consisted of a peculiar mud. And above the surface, there wasn't an atmosphere as we know it, consisting only of oxygen and nitrogen, but one that contained all kinds of acids in gaseous form. It contained even sulphuric acid and nitric acid gases. This tells you that human beings as we know them could not have lived there. These gases were not very concentrated, but they were nonetheless in the air, even if only in traces. The air around the earth at that time also had another peculiar characteristic: it was about as hot as you would be if you squeezed yourselves into an old-fashioned village oven just heated up for baking bread. We would have found that temperature as uncomfortable as the smell of sulphuric acid.


Above this layer of air there was another one; it was ever warmer and formed clouds containing sulphuric acid, nitric acid gases and other substances, and it produced bolts of lightning and tremendous claps of thunder. This is what the surroundings of the earth looked like.

To give it a name, let's call this warmer layer 'fiery air'. It was not blazing hot, as modern scientists incorrectly assume. It wasn't warmer than an oven ready for baking. Further down and closer to the earth, the layers got cooler. But let's call this upper layer 'fiery'; what was below we'll call 'earth mud'. Now you have a rough idea of what it was like on the earth back then.

At times the greenish-brown mud down on the earth got as hard and compact as a horse's hoof, and then it dissolved again. Those times of hardening correspond in a way to what we call winter. When the sun was shining in the summer, the mud was liquefied again. And above it was the warm air containing all kinds of substances that later precipitated to the ground as the air purified itself.

This condition later developed into a different one during which peculiar animals lived in the fiery air. Their tails were flat and covered with scales so that these animals were able to fly through the fiery air. Their wings and heads resembled those of bats. When the amount of harmful gases in the fiery air had decreased, these animals flew around up there. They were uniquely equipped for life in this environment. Of course, when the storms were particularly bad and when there were terrible claps of thunder and lightning, they weren't too comfortable either. But when the weather eased up, when there was only a slight crackling and sheet lightning, they liked living in the air. These flying animals were even able to emit something like electricity and to send it down to the earth. If people had been living on the earth at that time, they would have felt the presence of a flock of such birds above them from such electrical emissions. Indeed, those birds were small dragon birds, emitting electricity and living in the fiery air.

You see, these creatures were extremely well and delicately built. They had extraordinarily keen senses. Eagles and vultures, which developed out of these ancient birds after many metamorphoses, retained only the keen sight from their ancestors. But these ancient creatures had senses for everything, particularly in their bat-like wings, which were very sensitive, about as sensitive as our eyes. With their wings those birds were able to perceive everything that happened. For instance, when the moon was shining, they flapped their wings simply because they had such a pleasant sensation in them. Just as a happy dog wags its tail, so these birds flapped their wings. They enjoyed the moonlight. Then they would fly around and take special pleasure in creating delicate clouds of fire around themselves, something only fireflies can still do nowadays. So in moonlight they looked like shining clouds. That's what we would have seen in the air if we had lived back then—flocks of shining clouds.

In sunshine, the birds didn't feel like creating such shining clouds around themselves. Instead, they contracted and began to digest the substances they had taken in from the air, substances that had been dissolved in the air. To feed, they absorbed those substances, sucked them in. This 'food' was then digested in the sunshine. Indeed, they were peculiar creatures, those dragon birds living in the fiery air surrounding the earth.

Further down, on the muddy earth, there were animals remarkable for their gigantic size. [... gap in text ...] They lived on the earth, half swimming and half wading in the mud. A few remains of these huge creatures have been found and can be seen in natural history museums. Those gigantic animals are called ichthyosaurs, literally 'fish lizards'. We can say that the ichthyosaurs actually lived on the earth. They looked rather strange; their head was like a dolphin's although their mouth was softer, and their body was like that of a huge yet delicate lizard, covered with very thick scales. They had huge triangular teeth like a crocodile's. They also had fins similar to those of a whale but softer; with these they moved, half swimming and half wading, through the mud. But the strangest thing about these creatures was that they had huge eyes that emitted light. Well, if you had been alive then, you would have seen electrical dots up in the clouds, particularly during moonlit nights when the shining birds especially liked to fly around. And at dawn, you would have seen a gigantic light coming toward you with a body larger than that of a whale and fins to swim with through the soft mud, fins that stiffened when the creature * At this point there is a gap in the transcript of this lecture.

came upon hardened mud. In some places the mud covering the earth became as hard as a horse's hoof, hard enough for these animals to stand on it. Then they moved by turning their fins into hands that were internally flexible. Thus they could pad across the harder, hornlike and desert-like areas and swim where the mud got softer. If you had travelled then by boat—walking would have been totally impossible—you might have come upon such a gigantic animal, and you could have climbed on it with a ladder. It would have been like mountain-climbing today. You would indeed have encountered a mountain of an animal, so to speak. So you see things were really different back then.

Just as Cuvier could see what an animal must have been like by merely looking at one of its bones, so we can gather from the remains of these ichthyosaurs how they lived. We can see what they were able to do with their giant fins and that they had huge eyes, like a gigantic lantern, that shone from afar so that one could have stepped out of the animals' way.

Further down, deeper in the mud, there lived other animals. They thoroughly enjoyed wading and wallowing in the mud and always looked very dirty, covered with greenish-brown dirt. Occasionally these animals put their huge heads up into the softer mud. However, most of the time they padded around in it, depending on the ground having hardened in some areas. There they usually just lay in the mud like lazy pigs, coming to the surface only occasionally and sticking their heads out of the mud.

As I said, we call the animals with the huge eyes ichthyosaurs; those that lived closer to the earth are called plesiosaurs. The latter also had a whale-like body and a head like a lizard; their eyes were on the sides of the head, while the ichthyosaurs had their huge shining eyes in the front of the head. The plesiosaurs' whale-like body was completely covered with scales. The strange thing about them was that because of their greater laziness and because they usually settled themselves comfortably on the firmer portions of the mud, swimming like huge boats through the mud-soup, these plesiosaurs had four legs, which, though ungainly, helped them walk quite comfortably. The plesiosaurs no longer had fins, unlike the ichthyosaurs who could stiffen and flatten out their fins and use them for support on harder sections of the earth. In contrast, the plesiosaurs had hand-like feet. We can also see from their remains that they must have had strong ribs.

This then is the way things were on the ancient earth. The plesiosaurs led a lazy life down in the mud, and the ichthyosaurs swam and flew around—yes, animals with fins could fly just above the ground. Above them, in semidarkness and in moonlight, hovered the shining clouds of the dragon birds. That's how it was on the earth back then.

As I said, the plesiosaurs were lazy fellows, but they had a reason for that. At that time the earth itself was lazier than it is today. In our time it rotates once every 24 hours. Well, at the time I've been describing, the earth rotated much more slowly, and consequently many things were different then. That the air nowadays is so pure is due to the fact that the earth now rotates once every 24 hours. In other words, the earth has gradually become more diligent.

Judged from our point of view, the dragon birds must have had the most uncomfortable life; they were poorly off. Of course, they didn't see it that way, but had great pleasure and enjoyment in what we would consider a very poor life. You see, there were the ichthyosaurs with their huge shining eyes wading, swimming or flying through the very warm air, and those shining eyes attracted the birds just as light attracts a mosquito. The same thing happens on a small scale when you turn on a light and a mosquito sees it, flies up to it, and gets burned. Well, these birds up there were completely hypnotized by the ichthyosaurs' huge eyes, flung themselves down, and were then eaten by the ichthyosaurs who lived on what whizzed around in the air surrounding them. If you could have walked around on this strange ancient earth, you would have said, 'These gigantic creatures are eating fire!' for that is exactly what it looked like. Huge animals were flying around and eating fire that flew towards them through the air.

At times, the plesiosaurs also stuck their heads up out of the mud, and their eyes shone, too. Thus, when the birds came swooping down, the plesiosaurs got their share too.

All of this makes sense when we put all the facts together for a complete picture. The ichthyosaurs ate most of the fiery birds; the plesiosaurs got only what was left over. And just as the ribs of an undernourished dog show, so the plesiosaurs had protruding ribs. We can still see from their remains that they were malnourished in ancient times.

You are probably thinking that the beautiful birds up there were poorly off. The fact is that they actually experienced pleasure in falling into the jaws of the ichthyosaurs; it was bliss to them. On the other hand, the 'fire-eaters' themselves, although they had to eat, felt almost more uncomfortable than the ones that were being swallowed. The fiery birds blissfully threw themselves into the huge jaws, but the ichthyosaurs began to feel uncomfortable in their stomachs because electricity developed there. After all, the ichthyosaurs consisted almost only of stomach; there was little else in them. As a result of eating this fire and developing electricity, these huge creatures gradually became weaker. Of course, all this took a long time, for these fish creatures could stand even more than human beings of whom we have already said that they can cope with a lot. Over time, little by little, the ichthyosaurs became weaker and weaker. Their eyes shone less brightly and did not attract the birds as much as before. The ichthyosaurs began to suffer more and more from stomach aches. And what was the meaning of this? After all, everything in the world has its meaning.

You see, as the ichthyosaurs were eating and digesting this fire, their stomachs changed to the point of not being stomachs any more. Finally the animals themselves changed and took on different shapes.

Modern science only tells us that there used to be different animals that gradually metamorphosed. This is no better than telling people that once upon a time God descended, took a lump of earth, and formed Adam out of it. We understand the one as well as the other.

But you will understand very well what I am now going to describe. Because the ichthyosaurs and the plesiosaurs ate the dragon birds, their insides changed, and they developed into different animals. A contributing factor to this development was the fact that the earth gradually began to rotate more quickly, not as fast as today, but faster than before, when it had been quite lazy. In addition, the substances that would have been harmful to later creatures precipitated out of the air and united with the earth. This is especially true of all sulphur compounds. Thus the air became more and more pure though not yet as pure as it is now.

In this later state, the air was more watery and permeated with dense water vapours. In a sense, the air had actually been clearer earlier because it was warmer, and the substances it contained were more diffused. Later it cooled off and became very foggy. This fog enveloped the entire earth. Even under the influence of the sun it did not completely lift. Then the mud gradually thickened and what later became rocks began to crystallize. The mud thickened, but it was still there. In some places it was compact, and in between there was still the more liquid, brownish-green mud. And above all this, there was foggy air.

Huge plants developed in this foggy air. The ferns you can now find in the forest are small compared to the huge, fern-like plants that grew many, many thousand years ago. These plants sunk shallow roots into the spongy, muddy earth wherever it had thickened a bit, and they rose up high and literally formed a forest of ferns. By then, the surface of the earth had become a bit more compact and contained various types of stones that were not yet really hard but had the consistency of wax; in between them there was mud everywhere, out of which these gigantic fern trees grew. They developed wherever there were a good number of rocks in the ground, and in between those areas there were empty ones that looked different.

Neither the ichthyosaurs nor the plesiosaurs would have had any use for these big forests. The ground would have been too hard for the plesiosaurs; they would have become even dirtier, for a crust would have formed over their scales. The earth's surface had definitely become too hard for the ichthyosaurs. Both kinds of animals could not survive under these conditions. However, their 'fire eating' had already doomed them to extinction.

If you had returned to this later stage in the earth's development—and 'later' here means thousands and thousands of years later—you would have found it quite changed. Now different animals lived in the mud. Their remains, which have been preserved, allow us to picture what these animals looked like. Essentially, these creatures also consisted of huge stomachs; their head resembled that of a seal but was more plump. While the eyes of the very ancient ichthyosaurs gleamed, the eyes of these later creatures had become black. These animals had four rather clumsy feet that resembled hands, and their bodies were entirely covered with very fine hair.

These creatures led a strange life in this ancient earth. At certain times they were far down in the mud, where they moved about. Mainly they moved their chests, which were huge and were half lungs and half chests. Their lungs were still outside their bodies, as it were. At certain times these creatures swam and waded up to the forests and ate the fern trees. Out of fire eaters, plant eaters had evolved. They were entirely covered with something resembling woman's hair and had huge, plump heads, like those of seals. If you had walked around at that time, you would have seen them breathe under water and move into the forests. With their huge jaws, they ate as much as they could of the gigantic forests. These animals have survived into our time as what we now call seacows.2Possibly the walrus—translator's note [ ... gap in lecture ... ]

Why did these animals develop? They evolved because their predecessors had eaten the air animals, and due to the electrical forces they had absorbed their bodies had changed. The seacows did not evolve directly from the ichthyosaurs, but from animals very similar to them. What these latter animals used to eat determined their outer shape. They were transformed through what they ate. These details must be added to what modern natural science tells us. You see, long ago the surface of the earth was much softer than it is today. The shapes of the animals I just spoke about developed because of what these creatures took in when they ate the air animals.

Now the dragon birds also had to change their form because the air no longer contained the same substances as before. They gradually moved down closer to the earth and later turned into birds. Down on the earth, animals were always being transformed through what they ate. For instance, the plesiosaurs gradually developed four huge legs like pillars, a gigantic stomach, a plump seal's head, and a tail, but they kept their enormous size. If you step on a small wren, it is of course crushed under your foot. The At this point there is a gap in the transcript of this lecture. creature I am describing was so huge that it could have stepped on an ostrich and crushed it. Compared to this ancient creature, the animals living on earth now would have been like mice next to the largest animals we know. Remains of this huge creature, which is called a megatherium, have been found.

The megatheria moved around according to their constitution, that is, slowly, or as fast as their pillar-like legs permitted. They lived on whatever flew out of the air, which had become different, into their huge jaws filled with sharp crocodile's teeth, though not as strong as those of their predecessors. Some of those earlier animals had somehow survived and were crawling around like crocodiles. However, they were usually trampled underfoot and crushed by the megatheria. That's how things were back then.

And only now, after all these things had happened, did the air gradually clear and the water vapours disappear that had blocked the sun's rays like a veil, albeit a very thin one. Now, in this later era, the sun could shine fully upon the earth.

But we must also consider the inner aspect of this entire matter. The animals I described, the ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs and later the seacows or megatheria, all were fairly unintelligent, except maybe for the ichthyosaurs, which were smarter than the others. However, we can't say that of the dragon birds up in the air; they were acutely sensitive. You may think that we human beings are truly clever, because we would not voluntarily have flown into the ichthyosaurs' jaws as those dragon birds did. However, I don't believe that's true. If you'd been a dragon bird at that time, you would also have done it. Those birds were intelligent; they were very sensitive to the moon and the sun, just as our eyes are. But those birds perceived things with their entire bodies, especially with their wings. Bats, too, have such sensitive wings, though much smaller of course.

Thus, the dragon birds were sensitive to the sun and the moon. As I said, they formed a shining electromagnetic sheath around themselves, and when the moon shone on this fiery air the animals themselves, out of their own forces, began to glow, to shine and shimmer like fireflies. We don't need to overtax our imagination but can deduce scientifically that these creatures had a different sensation of the starry sky than they had of a dark and starless one. They responded to starlight with a very pleasant sensation in their wings, and as a result their wings became speckled.

To a certain extent, we can even prove all these things nowadays if we observe very carefully. Of course, there's not much left of those birds since they had very soft bodies; we hardly even find fossil traces of them. However, close examination of 'softer' fossils, particularly limestone fossils, has revealed wing imprints that can then be studied. Of course, this requires that we open our minds to it, rather than being as narrow-minded as professors often are. Though the dragon birds' wings are gone, of course, we can still find their imprints in limestone. If you look closely at the fossils, you also find traces of all sorts of stars. These are traces of the stars' impression on those wings.

I won't need to add much more before you say that all this sounds very much like what I told you the other day about the liver and the kidneys. We still carry in our bellies an image or replica of the conditions on the ancient earth. These dragon birds were like the eyes of the earth. That means—I can only briefly point this out now at the end of today's talk—that the entire earth was really a creature, a fish, and the gigantic animals moved around on the earth like the white blood cells do in our body. Our bodies in a sense are this earth. Incidentally, the white blood cells look like those ancient animals, only much smaller of course. In other words, the earth as a whole was a huge fish, a gigantic animal, and the dragon birds were the ever-moving eyes with which the earth looked out into the cosmos. That the earth is dead now is only a later development.

Originally it was as alive as we are now here in this lecture hall. The huge creatures I described, the megatheria, sea- cows, plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs and so on, looked very much like the white corpuscles moving around in our blood, only much larger. The dragon birds in turn behaved very much like our eyes do, except that our eyes don't move around like those birds did.

Thus at one time the earth was a huge, lazy animal that slowly rotated around its axis and looked out into the cosmos with its ever-moving eyes, the dragon birds. What I have described, the fire-eating and so on, all looks very much like processes taking place in our stomach and intestines. On the other hand, the dragon birds look a lot like the opposite of the white blood cells, namely, the brain cells, which extend into the eyes.

In summary, you will understand the earth when you see it as a deceased animal. It was only after the earth had lost her own life that other beings could live here, among them, as I will describe later, human beings.

What happened to the giant creature earth is what would happen if we died and our white blood cells then turned into independent beings. Now we are faced with this huge corpse. It's no wonder that modern geologists, who can study only dead things, examine only this corpse of the earth. Scientists in general study only dead things; they dissect corpses. But if we really want to understand something, we must look at what is living. The earth was once alive and flew lazily through space as a giant creature; it could look out of the eyes it had everywhere, namely, the agile little dragon birds.

All this is of considerable interest, and we will go into more detail next time.