Friday, April 29, 2011
The Evolution of Spiritual Beings: Zeus; Indra and Jehovah
The East in the Light of the West. Lecture 4 of 9
Rudolf Steiner, Munich, August 26, 1909:
In view of what has been said we may ask whether all the spiritual beings in existence are to be found behind the phenomena of the sense world, or whether there are others having no expression or manifestation in the physical world. Supersensible consciousness knows that although it is true that a spiritual being or spiritual fact is to be found behind every external phenomenon, yet there do exist spiritual beings having no expression in the physical world. Experiences await the initiate other than those whose projections or shadow images are thrown into the physical sense world. There exist, moreover, spiritual beings and spiritual facts that have no expression in the inner life of the soul, in the phenomena of conscience, thought, feeling, and sensation ... The spiritual world is seen by the higher consciousness to embrace much more than can be experienced in the physical world.
Those who have studied my earlier lectures on these subjects will realize that a host of spiritual beings, at different stages of evolution, have been involved in what has come to pass in the human, animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms during the course of our Earth evolution All such beings intervene in some way or other in the evolutionary texture of the Earth and of the kingdoms belonging to it. Behind the phenomena surrounding us is a richly constituted spiritual world, just as there was during the periods of Old Saturn, Old Sun, and Old Moon. We must not attempt to understand these spiritual kingdoms by inventing permanent names for these spiritual beings. The names used are not, for the most part, intended to designate individualities, but offices or spheres of duties. So if a particular name is used in connection with a being active during the Old Sun period it cannot be applied in the same sense to that being as regards its work or function in the Earth evolution; it has progressed by that time. It is necessary to speak of these matters with great accuracy and precision.
The Earth period was not only preceded by three embodiments of the Earth globe, but by three mighty spiritual kingdoms, essentially different from one another when examined by supersensible consciousness. Investigation of the Old Saturn, Old Sun, and Old Moon periods reveals many things which cannot be compared with anything we can name on the Earth, and of which one can only speak by analogy.
It will be remembered that I have spoken of the Old Saturn period as being essentially one of warmth, or of fire; on Old Sun this warmth condensed to air; on Old Moon the air condensed to water, and on Earth the earth element appeared for the first time. But the application of our concept of fire or warmth directly to the evolution of Old Saturn would result in an incorrect picture, for the fire of Saturn differed essentially from the fire of our Earth. There is only one phenomenon which can legitimately be compared to the Saturn fire, and that is the fire which permeates the blood as warmth. This vital warmth, or life principle, is more or less comparable to the substance of which Old Saturn was entirely composed, and the physical fire of today is a descendant, a later product, of the Saturn fire; in its external form as perceived in space it has appeared for the first time on the Earth. The warmth of the blood, then, is the only thing which can be compared to what was present during the physical evolutionary period of Old Saturn. There is very little indeed in the realm of our present-day experience which can be compared in any way with the qualities of these earlier evolutionary periods, all of which were very different from our present Earth existence.
It must be understood, however, that everything in the Saturn, Old Sun, and Old Moon periods is comprised within the Earth evolution, only it has changed in character. What was laid as a germ on Old Saturn and evolved through the Sun and Moon periods is to be found in the Earth evolution, although in a changed condition; we can, however, instance the fundamental elements brought over from the earlier evolutionary periods by examining what is not to be found in this transformed state.
When the Earth first appeared it had absorbed into itself three preceding evolutionary conditions, and all the degrees of spiritual beings involved in them. The beings were at different stages of evolution, however, so it is obvious that distinction must be made between these three different realms of spiritual beings and of spiritual substances; we must realize, in considering the beginnings of the Earth, that certain things which we find there could come into existence only because the Saturn, Old Sun, and Old Moon periods preceded our Earth evolution, and at its beginning the three are united within it.
This fact was always present in the ancient, instinctive consciousness of man, which connected him with the spiritual world. And when the number Three was mentioned as characteristic of the higher worlds, those individuals who looked at things in the concrete and not in the abstract, who had facts rather than conceptions or ideas in their mind's eye, always felt in their souls the truth that our Earth has received, into her womb, as it were, everything that came over from Saturn, Old Sun, and Old Moon. That is the so-called higher, pre-terrestrial triad ... This triad consisting of Old Saturn, Old Sun, and Old Moon has evolved into our Earth. In its concrete meaning the higher triad signifies these three pre-terrestrial states; but the quaternary refers to the gradual transformation of these three into the Earth. Accordingly men whose instinctive consciousness brought them into touch with the realities of the spiritual world felt the mystery of the birth of the Earth to be expressed by the relation of three to four. And they turned reverent eyes to the sacred triad of Saturn, Sun, and Moon, which had become the quaternary manifested by the Earth period. It is obvious that the modern expressions Saturn, Sun, and Moon had other equivalents in the instinctive consciousness of ancient humanity.
If we now follow up the course of the Earth evolution we may ask how the separate classes of spiritual beings participate in its progress. Spiritual beings at different stages of evolution directed the processes of the separation of the Sun and Moon from the Earth, as a result of which that progress came to pass. We have first to consider a class of spiritual beings which attained a certain stage of evolution during the Old Sun period; they belong to the Old Sun evolution because it was destined to provide a field of action for them. These are beings which separated the Sun from the Earth during the Earth period, because during Old Sun they were Sun-bound in the same way as humanity is now Earthbound. As we have seen, they needed the Sun for their further evolution and with the Sun they left the Earth in order to work upon the latter from without. When the Sun spirits had withdrawn, the Saturn and Moon spirits were left on the Earth. The development of the Saturn spirits was such that they could direct and guide the separation of the Moon from the Earth; they had passed through the same stage on Old Saturn as the Sun spirits had done on the Old Sun; their maturity had preceded that of the Sun spirits, and they were therefore able to separate the Moon from the Earth and to stimulate from within the inner development of man, who otherwise would have hardened and become mummified. It may be said that the withdrawal of the Sun was brought about by the Sun spirits, and that of the Moon by the Saturn spirits. The Sun is a cosmic symbol for the act of the Sun spirits, the Moon for that of the Saturn spirits. And what is left upon the Earth itself? Spirits of the Old Moon period.
It will be useful at this point to bear in mind a definite epoch of the Earth evolution: that at which the Moon had just left the Earth. The Earth, from which the Sun had withdrawn still earlier, was then in a very different condition from that of today. If the Earth had then been in an exactly similar state to that of today, the whole process would have been unnecessary.
It was imperfect compared to the present mineral, vegetable, animal, and human kingdoms — very imperfect in that early period. The various continents had not separated off from each other; everything was in a kind of chaos. Supersensible sight would search in vain at that period for the mineral, vegetable, animal, and human kingdoms as they are today. These forms have all developed as a result of the influence of the Sun and the Moon from without, and this was the purpose of the withdrawal of these two bodies. The influences which worked upon the Earth from the Sun and the Moon charmed from it, as it were, everything that has since arisen upon it and all that surrounds us today. The outer forms of the minerals, the plants, the animals, and of physical man have been produced by the beings which work from the Sun, whereas the beings which work from the Moon have stimulated the soul life of men and of animals. This is an approximate and broad sketch of evolution from the so-called Lemurian epoch on into that of Atlantis. It was during the Atlantean epoch that, very slowly and gradually, the Earth began to wear an appearance more or less similar to that which we see around us today. It is necessary therefore to distinguish in the course of the Earth evolution since the withdrawal of the Moon between a chaotic Earth and an organized one which has been influenced by the spiritual beings in its environment.
What is here stated need not necessarily be acquired from historical tradition. Suppose for example that the initiate wisdom of ancient and venerable India, of the Persian sages, of the Egyptian initiations, or of the Greek Mysteries had all been lost; suppose no external documents of any kind whatever were left to tell us of the pristine teaching concerning the spiritual foundations of our Earth evolution. Even then the possibility of developing supersensible consciousness would not be lost; everything that is said here can be discovered by means of supersensible investigation without the aid of any historical document. We have to do with something which at the present time can be studied at its source; even mathematics may also be learnt from original sources.
Let us now try to find a link between the results which supersensible investigation has given us and life in ancient times. It is obvious that some other method might be adopted, but the purpose of this course of lectures is to compare what can be found irrespective of any historical record with what has been handed down by another kind of tradition. We will go back, not so very far, to a historical personage who lived in a comparatively ancient period of Greek culture, of whom history knows very little and the length of whose life even is veiled in much uncertainty. Pherecydes of Syros is in a certain respect the forerunner of the other Greek sages.
He lived at a time in Greek spiritual development called the epoch of the Seven Sages. — This period preceded that of all historical Greek philosophy. The little that external history tells us of Pherecydes of Syros is very interesting; he, among others, is spoken of as the teacher of Pythagoras; and many of the teachings of Herakleitos, of Plato, and of later sages can be traced back to him. It is said that he taught the existence of three principles fundamental to the whole of evolution, and called them Zeus, Kronos, and Chthon. Now what precisely did he mean by these names? It will at once be realized that Kronos is only another name for the Old Saturn evolution. In the teaching of Pherecydes, Kronos is the totality of spiritual beings belonging to the kingdom of Old Saturn, who during the course of the Earth evolution were able to bring about the separation of the Moon. Now for Zeus: Zeus is a word of uncertain meaning when used in ancient times, for it was applied to spiritual individualities at very different stages of evolution. But men in ancient Greece who know something of initiation recognized in Zeus the ruler of the Sun spirits. Zeus lives in the influences which came to the Earth from the Sun. Chthon is a designation of the somewhat chaotic condition of the Earth after the withdrawal of the Moon, at which time neither plant nor animal nor human forms were to be found. In most remarkable words, Pherecydes spoke of the holy primordial triad, of Zeus, Kronos, and Chthon, principles fundamental to the Earth, having come over from pre-terrestrial ages; he also spoke of a further evolution. But in ancient times men did not clothe matters of this kind in such dry, crude concepts as they do today: they drew vivid pictures of what they saw and recognized in spiritual realms. Pherecydes said: ‘Chthon becomes Gea (today called Earth), because of the gift of Zeus, whereby she came to be covered as with a garment.’ This is a wonderful description of that evolution which I have just outlined in a few short words. The Earth was alone; outside it were the Sun and the Moon, the spiritual kingdoms of Zeus and of Kronos. The Sun from without began to work upon the Earth and to fructify it in its then chaotic state; or, in the language of the old Greek sage, Zeus fructified Chthon. The beneficent influences of the kingdom of Zeus were sent down to the physical Earth in the warmth and light of the Sun. This was the gift made by Zeus to the Earth. The Earth covered herself with the garment of plant and animal forms, and with the forms of physical men. Chthon becomes Gea; therefore, because of the gift of Zeus the Earth covers herself with a garment.
This is a wonderful picture, expressed in beautiful language, of what supersensible consciousness is able today to rediscover in the epoch of the Seven Greek Sages. And Pherecydes could not have made such strikingly vivid statements, which can be verified by modern supersensible consciousness, without definite personal knowledge. This knowledge he derived from the so-called Phoenician initiation. He was an initiate of the temples of ancient Phoenicia and had brought over into Greece the temple wisdom which he was at liberty to teach. A great deal of Oriental wisdom came over in this way.
This is one example, among many, of the things that may be rediscovered in the words of the old sages independently of historical tradition. In this instance we have not gone back so very far in human history. If we are able rightly to interpret the expressions used, it is also possible to rediscover original teachings of very ancient times. It would, however, be false to accept the simple explanation that this or that Eastern teaching concerning the evolution of the world is found under the same form in Pherecydes of Syros, in the old Egyptian epoch, in the days of the Chaldean sages, and in the ancient Indian period. If this were the case, it might well be imagined that a wisdom rediscovered today is to be found, in different form, wherever humanity has striven after it; that wisdom is one and the same at all times and in all places. In its abstract sense there is not the slightest objection to be raised to this statement; it is true, but it expresses only a portion of the whole truth. Just as from the rest of a plant to the fruit there is not a regular succession of similar forms, but a variety, composed of green leaves, colored petals, stamens, etc., of higher and higher development, so does diversity appear in the progress of human life on Earth. Correct though it is to say that in a sense the same wisdom appears again and again in different forms, an evolution or a development does nevertheless take place; and it is not at all correct to say that we find in ancient Indian times exactly the same conditions as exist today. That would be as inaccurate as to state that the blossom of a plant is the same as the root. True, the same force exists within it, but the reality emerges only if progress and development are recognized to be fundamental expressions of the secrets underlying human evolution. The teachings of the first post-Atlantean epoch may still be given today; what Pherecydes of Syros taught can be repeated today; but the Earth evolution has also been enriched, and impulses have since been poured into it.
The importance of the Christ impulse in human evolution has already been indicated. That is a thing apart, standing alone in the evolution of the Earth; there is nothing which can be compared with it. It has come to my knowledge that people have spoken of injustice in connection with human evolution if it were true that, for so many thousands of years before the coming of the Christ, full wisdom could not be imparted to mankind. Why was it, these people ask, that anything could be withheld from pre-Christian men? They seem to think, in view of the fact that justice is universal, that although the forms of truth have changed, new truths cannot have been added to the old; for if it were otherwise, men living in post-Christian days would be destined to receive something higher than men of pre-Christian times.
Now, it is understandable that such things should be said in the outer world, but it is not understandable that students of spiritual science should make such statements. And why? Because the men who incarnate during the post-Christian epoch are those who have passed through previous incarnations, and what they could not possibly learn before the appearance of Christ on Earth they must learn after that event. Anyone who believes that man incarnates again and again only to learn exactly the same wisdom has no serious appreciation and feeling for reincarnation in his soul; for to believe in reincarnation seriously means to realize its goal and its purpose and to know that there is good reason for our returning to Earth repeatedly. We come back in order to have new experiences. It is a platitude to say that exactly the same wisdom is to be met with again and again in different conceptions of the world. The concrete fact is that wisdom develops, that it takes on higher and higher forms, until there comes into being on the Earth something that is ripe to pass over into another condition, in the same way as Saturn, Old Sun, and Old Moon passed over to the Earth condition. There is real progress and not mere repetition — that is the whole point.
And here lies the difference between Eastern and Western modes of thought. Western thought, in face of the whole task and mission of the West, can never separate itself from an actual, concrete, historical conception of the evolution of the Earth — and a historical conception implies the idea of progress, not of mere repetition. It was in the West that the real concept of historical development arose. If anyone falls into a purely Oriental way of thought (and its truth is not in any way questioned, only the historical sense must be added to it) because he has not grasped the idea of historical progress, he may easily lose sight of the meaning of history altogether. He may find himself faced with the question: ‘What is the purpose of this eternal repetition or recurrence of the same thing?’ That was a problem raised by Schopenhauer, who had no understanding of history in its real sense, and whose exoteric teaching was influenced in high degrees by what he had absorbed from Oriental life. Statement of a higher truth in no way impugns a lower, lesser truth; spiritual science fully assents to statements of a non-historical nature in Oriental spiritual life. But the point at issue here is that of raising a mode of thinking to a higher level; or, as we may say, of illuminating Oriental thought by the light of the West. This seemingly rather sweeping statement is justified by the fact that it deliberately opposes the oft-repeated declaration of mystical world-conceptions that fundamentally the different religions, etc., are only the transformation of a single primordial wisdom and nothing more than that.
What I have said here in general terms I should like to illustrate by an example. From what has been said it will be realized that the discoveries of modern supersensible investigation are to be found under another form in ancient times, if we look for them there. It is only possible to throw light on antiquity by starting from the present.
Let us in this connection take a definite spiritual individuality. If we go back to a time when men brought down into the Vedas what was in a certain respect an echo of the sublime wisdom of the Holy Rishis, we find, among many appellations of divine beings, the name of Indra. If, from the point of view of modern supersensible investigation I were to give an answer to the question: ‘What kind of being is the Indra mentioned in the Vedas?’ it would be best for me to explain how it is possible for a modern man to acquire a conception of that being by means of spiritual sight. We have already seen that by rising from the physical to the soul world, spiritual beings can be perceived behind everything surrounding us in the world — behind fire, air, water, and earth — which are their external expressions or manifestations. In the spiritual realm behind the element of air, for instance, a host of spiritual beings appear, beings which do not descend so far as the physical world, but express themselves through the air. In the soul-world we meet them as entities, as individualities, and the mightiest of them is still to be found today in him who in ancient India was named ‘Indra.’ Indra is associated with the whole regulation of man's breathing process, and to his activity we owe the fact that we breathe as we do today. Humanity may look up to this being forever and realize that it is the mighty Indra who has endowed them with the instrument of breath. The activities of such a being are not however limited to one sphere, and humanity owes much else to Indra: they owe to Indra the force which must pour through their muscles if their enemies are to be conquered in war. Hence men were able to pray to mighty Indra for power to be victorious in battle, since this also was one of his functions. To this same being (which needs no name if only its presence is realized) is to be ascribed the flashing of the lightning effects of storms. For these things, too, prayers may be raised, if, in the praying, the gods are thought of.
Indra exists for us today as he existed in ancient Vedic times, but we must now pass on to another consideration. Suppose we take this being named Indra as actually seen by the Old Indian initiates when their spiritual sight was opened in the soul world, and ask ourselves whether the initiate of modern days sees him in the same form. The answer is that he does, in fact, see everything perceptible to the ancient initiate, but something else as well. To take a rather trivial example, suppose we consider a man in the fortieth year of his life and call him Muller. He is the same person who thirty years previously was a boy of ten, but he has changed, even if his name is the same. It would be incorrect to describe this man Muller as a man of forty if we took his appearance at the age of ten; he has passed through a certain development, which must be taken into account when speaking of him in his present condition. Is it to be imagined, then, that while men on the Earth continually develop during their single lives and also from life to life, spiritual beings remain at the same stage at which they manifested themselves to the spiritual consciousness of an ancient Indian initiate? Is it right to conceive of the gods as remaining unchanged through thousands of years? It certainly is not; Indra has passed through an evolution since the days when seers of ancient India looked up to him with reverence.
Now, what has happened to this mighty figure of Indra, and how does his evolution manifest itself if we look back upon it with spiritual consciousness? At a certain moment in evolution something very remarkable with regard to Indra comes to pass. In order to have a clear conception we must repeat certain things. We will direct our spiritual consciousness in the soul world to the ancient Indian god Indra and follow him through thousands of years. We come to a point of time when there is an appearance of rays of light falling from an entirely different spiritual being upon Indra, who is himself illumined by them and ascends to a higher stage of development. It is rather like learning something important from another individual at a certain age, which changed one's whole life. This happened in the case of great Indra, and since that time there has streamed from him the same influence as was to be found in ancient India, only enriched by the spiritual light of another being which was shed upon him.
It is possible to indicate the precise moment in the history of the evolution of humanity when this took place. The God Indra is to be found in the soul world at a time when the Christ was not yet perceptible to Earth evolution, although the Christ light shone upon him. A man who is able to perceive Indra may well say that this being now reveals something different from his earliest revelations; for at first the Christ light did not ray back from him. Since the point of time in question, Indra has not shed his own light into the spiritual evolution of the Earth, but has reflected the light of Christ, just as the Moon reflects the light of the Sun. The light thus rayed back by Indra — not directly perceptible on Earth and in which therefore we cannot actually recognize Christ — was proclaimed by Moses to his people. Moses gave the name of Jahve or Jehovah to this Christ light rayed back by Indra as the sunlight is reflected by the Moon.
In lectures upon the Gospel of St. John I have spoken about another aspect of this matter. The Christ is heralded, and Jahve or Jehovah is the name of the Christ light rayed back by an ancient deity. It is a prophetic heralding of Christ. Indra himself passed to a higher stage of evolution through this contact with the Christ light. He did not of course become Jehovah. It is not correct to say that Jehovah is Indra. But we can understand that as Indra manifests himself in lightning and thunder, even so does Jehovah manifest himself therein, because a being can only reflect in accordance with its own nature. Jehovah therefore was manifested in lightning and thunder.
This is an instance of spiritual evolution being accomplished in its own realm in the same way as human evolution in our world, and of the fact that the same picture of the spiritual beings is not forthcoming after the lapse of thousands of years. History is being made in the spiritual world, and Earth history is only the outer expression of this spiritual history. Every earthly occurrence has its course in events of the spiritual world, and it is necessary to understand these spiritual events in detail.
By this example I have tried to show what it means to throw light upon antiquity from a modern point of view. History is a concept which must be taken quite seriously, and the instance given should elucidate spiritual life. If we bear in mind the fact that there are wisdom-beings to be found today by occult research which we encounter again when we go back in time, only under different names and different manifestations — and at the same time remember that historical evolution and progress are realities in spiritual life which underlie all that is physical — we have grasped two principles of fundamental importance to all progressive spiritual science that is to influence the future of humanity.