Friday, February 22, 2013
The Iron Necessities of Human Evolution
Rudolf Steiner: Fall of the Spirits of Darkness, Lecture 4: The Elemental Spirits of Birth and Death, October 6, 1917:
“Anyone with more or less normal feelings, even today, will be shaken to learn the truth that in order to bring about birth and death in the physical world, the divine spirits who guide world destinies have to use elemental spirits who actually are the enemies of everything human beings seek and desire for their welfare and well-being here in the physical world. If everything was done just to suit the wishes of human beings -- to be comfortable in this physical world, be fit and well as we go to sleep and wake up again and go about our work -- if all spirits were of a kind to see to it that we have such a comfortable life, birth and death could not be. To bring about birth and death the gods need entities whose minds and whole way of looking at the world give them the urge to destroy and lay waste to everything which provides for the welfare of human beings here in the physical world.
We have to get used to the idea that the world is not made as people would really like it to be and that there exists the element which in the Egyptian Mysteries was known as ‘iron necessity.’ As part of this iron necessity, entities hostile to the physical world are used by the gods to bring about birth and death for human beings.
So we are looking at a world that is immediately next to our own, a world that day by day, hour by hour, has to do with our own world, for the processes of birth and death happen every day and every hour here on earth. The moment human beings cross the threshold to the other world they enter into a sphere where entities live and are active whose whole conduct, views, and desires are destructive for ordinary physical human life. If this had been made known to people outside the Mysteries before now, if people had been given an idea of these entities, the following would inevitably have happened. If people who are quite unable to deal with their instincts and drives, with their passions, had known that destructive entities were present around them all the time, they would have used the powers of those destructive entities. They would not have used them the way the gods do in birth and death, however, but within the realm of physical life. If people had felt the desire to be destructive in some sphere or other, they would have had ample opportunity to make these entities serve them, for it is easy to make them serve us. This truth was kept hidden to protect ordinary life from the destructive elemental spirits of birth and death.
The question is, should we not continue to keep them hidden? This is not possible, and for quite specific reasons, one of which is connected with a great, important cosmic law. I could give you a general formula, but it will be better to use the actual form it is taking now and in the immediate future to demonstrate this law to you. As you know, not long ago growing numbers of impulses came into human evolution which did not exist before and which are quite characteristic of our present civilization. Try and go back in your mind to times not very long ago. You will find times when there were no steam locomotives, when people did not yet use electricity as we do now; times perhaps when only thinkers like Leonardo da Vinci were able to have the idea, theoretically and on the basis of experiments, that humans could create an apparatus which would enable them to fly. All this has come to realization in a relatively short time. Just consider how much depends on the use of steam, of electricity, of the changes in atmospheric density which has made airships possible, or the knowledge of statics which has led to the airplane. Consider everything which has come into human evolution in recent times. Think of the destructive powers of dynamite, etc., and you can easily imagine, seeing how swiftly this has gone, that new and different fabulous things of this kind will be the goal of future human endeavor. I think you can easily see that the ideal for the near future will be to have not more and more Goethes, but more and more Edisons. This really is the ideal of modern humanity.
Modern people do, of course, believe that all this -- the telegraph, telephones, the use of steam power, etc. -- happens without the participation of spiritual entities. This is not the case, however. The development of human civilization involves the participation of elemental spirits, even if people do not know about it. Modern materialists imagine that the telephone and telegraph, and the steam engines driven long distances and also used by farmers, have been constructed merely on the basis of what people produce by the sweat of their brow. Everything people do in this respect is under the influence of elemental spirits. They are always involved and helping us in this. People are not taking the initiative on their own in this field -- they are guided. In laboratories, workshops, really everywhere where the spirit of invention is active, elemental spirits are providing the inspiration.
The elemental spirits who have given impulses to our civilization from the eighteenth century onwards are of the same kind as those used by the gods to bring about birth and death. This is one of the mysteries which human beings have to discover today. And the law of world history of which I have spoken is that as evolution proceeds, the gods always rule for a time within a particular sphere of elemental spirits and then human beings enter into this same sphere and use the elemental spirits. In earlier times, the elemental spirits of birth and death essentially served the divine spirits who guided the world; since our day -- and this has been going on for some time now -- the elemental spirits of birth and death are serving technology, industry, and human commerce. It is important to let this disturbing truth enter into our souls with all its power and intensity.
Something is happening in this fifth post-Atlantean period of civilization which is similar to something that happened in Atlantean times, during the fourth Atlantean period. I have spoken of this before. Up to the fourth Atlantean period the divine spirits who guide human evolution used certain elemental spirits. They had to use them because not only birth and death had to be brought about at that time, but also something else, which may be said to be closer to the earth. You will remember some of the descriptions I have given of the Atlantean age, when human beings were still flexible in their physical nature and their souls could make their bodies grow large or remain dwarf-like, with their outer appearance depending on their inner nature. Please call this to mind again. Today the service certain elemental spirits give to the divine spirits on occasions of birth and death is clearly apparent in physical terms. In those times, when outer appearance was in accord with inner nature, certain elemental spirits were serving the gods for the whole of human life. When the Atlantean age had reached its fourth period, people again began to rule the elemental spirits, which had previously been used by the gods, to govern the growth and general physiognomy of human beings. Human beings gained control of certain divine powers and made use of them.
The consequence was that from about the middle of the Atlantean age it was possible for individuals who desired to harm their fellow human beings to use all kinds of creative powers on them -- keeping them dwarf-sized in growth or making them into giants, or letting the physical organism develop in such a way that the individual concerned would be an intelligent person or a cretin. A terrible power was in human hands in the middle of the Atlantean age. You know, for I have drawn attention to this, that this was not kept secret, though not from any kind of evil intent. According to one of the laws of world history, something which initially was the work of the gods had to become the work of human beings. This led to serious mischief in the Atlantean age, so that over the last four or three periods of civilization the whole of Atlantean civilization had to be guided towards its own destruction. Our own civilization was saved and brought across from Atlantis, as I have described elsewhere, and you will recall my descriptions of what happened in the Atlantean age.
In the last three, or two, periods of post-Atlantean civilization in the fifth stage of earth evolution, work now done by the gods will again become work to be done by humanity. We are only in the early stages of the technological, industrial and commercial activities which proceed under the influence of the elemental spirits of birth and death. This influence and its effects will be increasingly more radical. Until now, the elemental spirits of birth and death have been guided by the gods and their influence has been limited to the coming into being and passing away of humans at the physical level. But the civilization of our own and future ages has to be such that these spirits can be active in technology, industry, commerce, and so on.
There is also another, quite specific, aspect to this. As I have said, these elemental spirits are the enemies of human welfare and want to destroy it. We have to see things straight and not have any illusions concerning the radical nature of this. Civilization must progress in the fields of technology, industry, and commerce. But by its very nature such a civilization cannot serve the well-being of humanity in the physical world; it can only prove destructive to the human weal.
This will be an unpalatable truth for people who never tire of making great speeches on the tremendous advances made in modern civilization, for they see things in abstract terms and know nothing of the rise and fall which is part of human evolution. I have made brief reference to the causes of destruction in Atlantis. The commercial, industrial, and technological civilization which is now in its beginnings harbours elements which will lead to the decline and fall of the fifth earth period. And we only see things straight and face reality if we admit that we are here beginning to work on something which must lead to catastrophe.
This is what it means to enter into iron necessity. Looking for an easy way out people might say: All right, I won't take the tram. It might even go so far -- though even members of the Anthroposophical Society are unlikely to take things this far -- that people will not go on trains, and so on. This would be complete nonsense, of course. It is not a matter of avoiding things but of getting a clear picture, real insight into the iron necessities of human evolution. Civilization cannot continue in an unbroken upward trend; it has to go through a succession of rising and falling waves.
There is, however, something else which can happen, something people generally do not want to know about today but which is exactly what modern humanity will have to discover. Insight -- a clear picture of the necessity which exists - is what will have to come to all human minds. It will necessarily mean that much will have to change in the frame of mind in which we consider the world. Human beings will need to live with inner impulses which they still prefer to ignore today, for these go against the good life they want. There are many such impulses. Let me give you just one example.
People today, especially if they want to be good people, wanting nothing for themselves but only to be selfless and desire the good of others, will of course seek to develop certain virtues. These, too, are iron necessities. Now, of course, there is nothing to be said against a desire for virtue, but the problem is that people are not merely desiring to be virtuous. It is quite a good thing to want to be virtuous, but these people want more. If one looks to the unconscious depths of the human soul one finds that in the present time people are not really much concerned to develop the actual virtues. It is much more important to them to be able to feel themselves to be virtuous, to give themselves up entirely to a state of mind where they can say: ‘I am truly selfless, look at all the things I do to improve myself! I am perfect, I am kind, I am someone who does not believe in authority.’ They will then, of course, eagerly follow all kinds of authorities. To feel really good in the consciousness of having one particular virtue or another is endlessly more important to people today than actually having that virtue. They want to feel they have the virtue rather than practice it.
As a result, certain secrets connected with the virtues remain hidden to them. They are secrets which people instinctively feel they do not want to know, especially if they are modern idealists who like to feel good in the way I have described. All kinds of ideals are represented by societies today.
Programs are made, and a society states its principles, which are to achieve one thing or another. The things people want to achieve in this way may indeed be very nice, but to find something nice in an abstract way is not enough. People must learn to think in terms of reality. Let us look at the aspect of reality when it comes to people having virtues. Perfection, benevolence, beautiful virtues, rights -- it is nice to have them all in the outer social sphere. However, when people say 'It is our program to achieve perfection in some particular way, benevolence in some particular direction, we aim to establish a specific right' they usually consider this to be something absolute which can be brought to realization as such. ‘Surely,’ people will say, ‘it must be a good thing to be more and more perfect?’ And ‘What better ideal can there be but to have a program that will make us more and more perfect?’
But this is not in accord with the law of reality. It is right, and good, to be more and more perfect, or at least aim to be so, but when people are actually seeking to be perfect in a particular direction, this search for perfection will after a time change into what in reality is imperfection. A change occurs through which the desire for perfection becomes a weakness. Benevolence will after a time become prejudicial behaviour. And however good the right may be that you want to bring to realization -- it will turn into a wrong in the course of time. The reality is that there are no absolutes in this world. You work towards something that is good, and the way of the world will turn it into something bad. We therefore must seek ever new ways, look for new forms over and over again. This is what really matters.
The swing of the pendulum governs all such human efforts. Nothing is more harmful than belief in absolute ideals, for they are at odds with the true course of world evolution.”