Tuesday, December 9, 2014
Genesis: Secrets of Creation. Lecture 5: Light and Darkness, Yom and Lay'lah
Rudolf Steiner, Munich, August 21, 1910:
If we recall what we have learnt so far about our earth's beginnings, we find many things which still need to be explained. What we have so far learnt does, however, make clear that we have to look for much more reality — many more Beings — in Genesis than the usual translations convey.
We pointed out yesterday that the word yom does not indicate the abstract period of time which is what the word “day” means now, but refers to the Beings whom we call Spirits of Personality, Time-Spirits, Archai. This discovery enables us to enter more deeply into what I have already repeated several times: that behind the weaving life of elementary existence described in the Bible account of the creation, soul-spiritual Beings are everywhere to be seen. We may now see Being instead of empty abstractions behind much else that comes before us in the Genesis account. Of course it is easy to see Being when the Bible is referring to the Spirit of the Elohim — Ruach Elohim [According to the Authorised Version: and darkness was upon the face of the deep.] — but if we wish to grasp the sense of the ancient tradition we have to look for Being not only in those expressions where probably even modern minds would be prepared to recognise it; we must be prepared to find it everywhere. For example we should be quite justified in raising the question in connection with such expressions (to use my own words) as “The inner activity was tohu wabohu” and “And darkness was upon the elementary material existence.” Have we not perhaps also to see something of the nature of Being behind what is described as “darkness”? We cannot understand the Genesis account unless we can answer such questions. Just as we have to see manifestations of the spirit behind all that appears in the positive direction, such as light, air, water, earth, warmth, so we shall perhaps have to see manifestations of a deeper spiritual nature in the more negative expressions.
To get to the bottom of this, we must again go back to the earliest point we can reach in the development of our planet. As we have often said, we must think of the ancient Saturn existence as a condition of pure warmth, and that with the transition to the Sun there then took place on the one hand a densification to air or gas, on the other hand a rarefaction in the direction of the etheric, to light-ether. We have said that the passage in which the words ring forth And God (the Elohim) said, Let there be light; and there was light is describing a kind of repetition of this coming into existence of the light-ether.
Now we may ask: Was the darkness there of itself; or does spiritual Being lie behind this also? If you read the relevant passages in my Occult Science you will come across something extremely important for the understanding of all development — the fact that at each stage of evolution certain Beings remain behind. Only a certain number of Beings reach their goal. I have often used a singularly bald illustration, pointing out that not only are some schoolboys backward, to the sorrow of their parents, but in the cosmic process, too, certain Beings do in fact lag behind, do not attain their appropriate goal. Thus we may say that during the ancient Saturn evolution certain Beings did not reach their proper goal, they lagged behind. During the Sun evolution they still remained at the Saturn stage.
How could one recognise on the Sun the Beings who were still really Saturn Beings? By the fact that they had not acquired the light nature, which was of the very essence of the Sun state. But because these Beings were nevertheless there, the Sun, which I have described as an inweaving of light, warmth and air, had darkness as well as light in it. And this darkness was the mark of the Beings remaining at the Saturn stage, just as the weaving light indicated the Beings who had progressed regularly to the Sun stage. Thus, there was an interweaving of Beings who were still at the Saturn stage of development with Beings who had progressed normally to the Sun stage. From the inner aspect these Beings moved in and out among one another; and outwardly they manifested themselves as an interplay of light and darkness. We can call the manifestation of the more advanced Beings, light, and the manifestation of the Beings remaining behind at the Saturn stage, darkness.
If we know this, we shall expect the relationship between advanced and backward Beings to reappear during the recapitulation of the Saturn and Sun epochs in earth evolution. And because the backward Saturn Beings represent an earlier stage of evolution, they will appear earlier than the light in the recapitulation also. Thus, quite rightly, in the first verse of Genesis we are told that darkness prevailed over the elementary substances. That is the recapitulation of the Saturn existence, now a backward one. The Sun existence has to wait; it comes later, it comes at the point where the Bible says: Let there be light.
Thus we see that the Genesis story is in complete accordance with the recapitulation described in my Occult Science.
If we would understand existence, we must be clear that what emerged at an earlier stage does not just go on for a time and then disappear. Something new is continually arising, but the old remains actual alongside the new and continues to work within it. And so even today we have co-existing the two stages of evolution which we can call light and darkness. Light and darkness permeate our existence.
Here we come to a rather thorny subject. Possibly some of you may know that for the last thirty years or so I have been trying at intervals to show the deep significance and value of Goethe's Theory of Colour. Of course, anyone who supports this theory today must make up his mind that he will not gain the ear of his contemporaries. For those whose knowledge of physics would qualify them to understand its significance are today wholly unprepared for it. Modern physics, with its fantastic nonsense about ether vibrations and so on, is utterly incapable of penetrating to the real heart of Goethe's Theory of Colour. For this we shall still have to wait for several decades. Anyone who treats of the subject knows that. And the others — forgive me for saying this — those whose knowledge of occultism would perhaps equip them to understand the essential nature of the Goethean theory, know too little about physics for me to be able to discuss the subject in detail. Thus there is today no proper basis for such a discussion. The fundamental content of Goethe's theory of colour is the mystery of light and darkness, working together as two real polaric entities in the world. The concept of matter which is put forward today is simply a fantasy; it is an illusion. Matter is in reality a soul-spiritual being, which is to be traced everywhere where the polaric contrast of light and darkness is effective. The physical notion of matter which is generally accepted is, in truth, a chimera. In the regions of space where, according to physics, we are to look for a sort of apparition called “matter,” there is in actual fact nothing else but a certain degree of darkness. And this dark content of space is filled out with something of a soul-spiritual nature, something akin to what is intended in Genesis in the passage where “darkness” (the word used to denote the collective whole of this soul-spiritual entity) is described as weaving over the elementary existence. [According to the Authorised Version: and darkness was upon the face of the deep.] All these things are much more profound than modern natural science dreams! Thus when Genesis speaks of darkness, it is speaking of the manifestation of the backward Saturn Beings. And when it speaks of light, it is referring to the advanced Beings. They interact and interweave with one another.
We said yesterday that the main lines, the main features, of evolution were laid down by Beings at the stage of the Exusiai, the Spirits of Form, so that these Beings plan the general direction of the activities of light. And further, we have seen that they make use of the Spirits of Personality as their servants, and that behind the expression yom, day, we have to see a Being of the rank of the Archai, appointed under the Elohim. We may also assume that, just as on the positive side these servants of the Elohim, these Spirits of Personality indicated by yom, are active, so also the backward spiritual Beings, who work in opposition to them in darkness, play their part. Indeed we may say that darkness is something that the Elohim find already there. Light is something they bring into being through their musing, their meditation. When they think out the two complexes from what has remained over from the earlier existence, it comes about that darkness is interwoven therein as the expression of the backward Beings. They themselves bestow the light. But just as out of the light the Elohim appoint the Beings represented by yom, day, so out of the darkness come Beings who are of the same rank as these, but Beings who have lagged behind at an earlier stage. Thus we can say that all that manifests itself as darkness stands together on one side in opposition to the Elohim And now we have to ask, who are the Beings who oppose the Archai, servants of the Elohim, the Beings indicated by the word yom? Who are the corresponding backward Beings in opposition to them?
To avoid misunderstanding, it would be as well to clear up first another point — whether we have always to look upon these backward Beings as evil, as something wrong in the world-context. It is easy for the abstract man, the man who is concerned only with concepts, to feel something like indignation over the backward Beings; or he can make the mistake of being sorry for the poor things! We should not harbour feelings and ideas of such a kind as regards these tremendous realities of the universe. That would lead us completely astray. On the contrary we should remind ourselves that everything happens out of cosmic wisdom, and that whenever Beings remain behind at a particular stage of development, it means something; it has significance for the whole for Beings to remain behind, just as it has for them to attain their goal; in other words, there are certain functions which cannot be carried out by the advanced Beings, functions for which Beings are needed who remain at an earlier stage. They are in their proper place in their backwardness. What would become of the world if all those who ought to be teachers of young children were to become university professors? Those who do not become professors are much better where they are than the professors would be. Those who occupy academic chairs would probably turn out to be very badly suited for the instruction of seven-, eight-, nine- and ten-year-olds! Something of the same kind is true in cosmic relationships. There are certain tasks for which those who attain their goal would be little fitted. For certain tasks those who have remained behind — we could equally well say those who have renounced progress — must take their place. And just as the advanced Spirits of Personality, the Yamim, were given their task by the Elohim, so the backward Archai also, those Spirits of Personality who reveal themselves not through light, but through darkness, are made use of in order to evoke the laws of earthly development. They are allotted their proper place, so that they may make their contribution to the orderly development of our existence.
How important that is we can see from an illustration borrowed from everyday life. The light of which Genesis speaks is not the light which we can see with our physical eyes — that is a subsequent form of light. In the same way what we designate as physical darkness, what surrounds us at night, is a later form of what is called darkness in Genesis. None of you will doubt that the physical daylight which we see nowadays is important both for man and for other living things. Take for example the plants! If you remove them from the light they deteriorate, become stunted in their growth. Light is an element of life for every living thing, and, so far as their external physical existence is concerned, it is a necessity for men too.
But something else is also necessary as well as light. To understand what this is, we have to consider the rhythmic alternation of sleeping and waking. What does it really mean to be awake? All the activity of our souls, all that we develop in our thinking and feeling, all the ebb and flow of our passions — in short, all that happens through the fluctuating energies of our astral bodies and our egos, constitutes a continual using up of our physical bodies during day life. That is a very ancient occult truth, a truth to which even modern physiology comes if it knows how to interpret its own findings properly. What the soul unfolds as its inner life in the waking state continuously uses up the forces of the external physical body, the first rudiments of which were bestowed during the Saturn existence. The life of the physical body is quite different in sleep, when the astral body with its fluctuant inner life is outside it. Whereas in waking life there is a continuous consumption, or even a continuous destruction, of the forces of the physical body, in sleep these forces are being restored, being renewed and built up again all the time. So that in our physical and etheric bodies we have to distinguish destructive processes and processes of renewal — destructive processes which take place during waking life, processes of renewal which take place during sleep. But nothing which happens anywhere in space is isolated, it is always related to existence as a whole. And we must not think of those processes of destruction, which take place in our physical bodies from the time we awaken to the time we go to sleep again, as being confined within the limits of our skin. They are closely bound up with cosmic processes. They are merely a continuation of what flows into us from outside, so that during the waking life of day we are connected with the destructive forces of the universe, and during sleep with the forces of renewal.
This destruction of our physical bodies which goes on during the waking life of day could not have happened during the Saturn evolution, otherwise the first rudiments of our physical body could never have been formed. For obviously one can build up nothing if one starts to destroy it. The Saturnian operation on our bodies had to be a constructive one. The destructive process takes place in the daytime under the influence of light, but on Saturn there was no light. Therefore the Saturn activity on our physical bodies was an up-building one, and had to be maintained at least for a time, even into the later period, when on the Sun light appeared. Then the up-building activity could only be maintained through Saturn Beings remaining behind to care for it.
It was necessary for the Saturn Beings to be kept back in cosmic evolution, so that they could undertake the rebuilding of the physical body during sleep, while there was no light. Thus the backward Saturn Beings have their part to play in our existence; without them we should be exposed to nothing but destruction. There has to be an alternation, a co-operation, of Sun Beings and Saturn Beings, of light and darkness. Thus if the activity of the light Beings is to be rightly guided by the Elohim, they must inweave into their own work in an orderly fashion the work of the Beings of darkness. There can be no stability in cosmic activity unless the force of darkness is everywhere interwoven with the force of light. And in this complication of the forces of light and darkness lies one of the secrets of cosmic existence, of cosmic alchemy. This secret is touched upon in the seventh scene of my first Mystery Play, where Johannes Thomasius enters Devachan, and where one of Maria's companions, Astrid, is given the task of weaving the dark into the light. Throughout the conversation between Maria and her three companions you will find many cosmic mysteries concealed, which can well be pondered for a long, long time.
Thus we must never forget that the interplay between the forces of sun-light and Saturn-darkness is a necessity of our existence. When therefore the Elohim placed the Spirits of Personality as their deputies in charge of the weaving of the light forces, of the work which is performed upon us men and upon other earthly beings while the light is affecting us, they had also to appoint the backward Saturn Beings as fellow-workers; they had to see that the whole work of the universe was carried on by the normally advanced and the backward Archai together. The backward Archai are active in the darkness. Hence the Elohim employ not only the Beings designated by yom, day, but they set in opposition to them Beings who weave in the darkness. And the Bible says with a wonderfully realistic description of the facts: And God called the light Day (yom), and the darkness He called Night (lay'lah).  And lay'lah does not mean our abstract night, but lay'lah are the Saturn Archai, who at that time had not advanced to the Sun stage. And to this day it is they who are active in us during sleep, when they work upon our physical and etheric bodies, building them up. This mysterious expression lay'lah, which has given rise to all kinds of myths, is neither our abstract “night” nor is it anything which need lead to myth-making. It is simply the name of the backward Archai, who unite their activity with that of the advanced Archai.
Thus we have paraphrased the appropriate words in Genesis somewhat as follows: The Elohim planned the main lines of existence; they deputed the advanced Archai to work under them, and appointed to help them those Archai who in resignation had remained in darkness at the Saturn stage, in order that existence could come about. Thus we have yomand lay'lah as two contrasted groups of Beings, who help the Elohim and who are at the stage of the Time-Spirits, the Spirits of Personality. We see existence being woven out of the Spirits of Form and the Spirits of Personality, out of advanced Beings and the backward Beings of these two hierarchies.
Now that we have found an answer to these questions which satisfies us up to a certain point (there is of course much more behind all these things), another question will be on the tip of all your tongues. What of the other hierarchies? We distinguish among the hierarchies in descending order from the Spirits of Form, first the Archai, the Spirits of Personality, then the Archangeloi, the Archangels, or Fire-Spirits. Does Genesis say nothing of these? Let us look more closely to find out what the position is with regard to the Fire-Spirits. We know that they reached their human stage during the Sun evolution. They have advanced through the Moon stage to that of earth. They are the Beings who are inwardly connected with everything of a sun nature, for it was during the Sun evolution that they reached their human stage. And when during the Moon evolution it became necessary for the Sun to separate from the earth, which was at that time of a Moon nature, then these Beings, who had gone through their most important stage of development on the Sun, who were, so to say, by their very nature associated with the Sun, naturally remained united with the Sun. When therefore the Moon (later to become earth) separated from the Sun, these Beings remained, not with the separating Earth-Moon, but with the Sun. They are the principal Beings who work upon the earth from without.
I have already indicated that in the evolution from Saturn to Sun, the highest form of life which could be reached on the Sun was the plant species. Before an animal nature with an inner life could come about there had to be a separation, a cleavage. Thus it was not until the Moon evolution that anything of an animal nature could arise. An influence from without was needed. Now in Genesis we are not told of anything being active from without up to the end of the third day of creation. The transition from the third to the fourth day is an important one, for we are told that on the fourth day light forces, Beings of light, began to be active from without. So that, just as in the Moon period the sun shone upon the Moon from without, so now both the sun and the moon shone upon the earth from without. It amounts to no less than this — up to this point all those forces which were themselves within the earth element could take effect. Up to this point it was possible for there to be a recapitulation of earlier stages of evolution, and for forces centralised in the earth itself to arise anew. Thus we saw yesterday how in the Spirit of the Elohim who brooded over the waters the warmth state was recapitulated; how in the moment designated by the words Let there be light the entry of light was recapitulated; how at the point where the forces of the sound-ether broke in and separated the upper from the lower, the sound-ether stage was recapitulated. That was on the second day of creation. Then we saw how the life-ether intervened on the third day, when out of the earth element, out of the new condition, there came forth all that can be brought about by the life-ether — the sprouting green. But in order for anything animal to find a place on the earth there has to be a repetition of the “being shone upon” (if I may use the expression), an influence of forces acting from without. Hence it is quite in accordance with the facts that there should be no mention in Genesis of anything of an animal nature until after we have been told of forces working upon the earth from cosmic space. Up to that time Genesis speaks only of the plant nature; all the beings on the earth were at the plant stage. The animal nature could not begin until light Beings were influencing the earth from its environment.
What then came about is described in Genesis in words of which various translations exist. [The English Authorised Version is: And God said, ... let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.]
Now there are some commentators, some exegetists, who have begun to think. But at the present day, when people scorn to penetrate to fundamental realities, it is the wretched lot of commentators that they begin to think, but cannot think anything through to the end. I have known some of these commentators who have reached the point of acknowledging that the usual rendering is nonsense. I should like to meet the man who can really make any sense of these words. What really lies behind them?
If we wish to render this passage faithfully with a real sense of the associations which the words would have had for the ancient Hebrew sage, and with philological thoroughness, we shall have to say that once more it is not a question of signs, but of the activity of living Beings making themselves known in the form of successive events in time. A correct translation would be: And the Elohim appointed Beings to regulate the course of time for the beings on earth, to regulate specific divisions of time (the word “day” is not mentioned at all), larger or smaller periods (usually given as “year” and “day”). Thus the reference is to those Beings who stand next below the rank of the Archai and who regulate life. The tasks performed by the Time-Spirits, the Archai, lie a stage lower than the tasks of the Elohim. Then come the regulators, the sign-fixers, for what has to be regulated, grouped, within the activity of the Archai. But these are none other than the Archangels. Thus we may venture to say that in the moment to which Genesis refers, when not only is something taking place in the body of the earth, but when forces are working into the earth from without, it becomes possible for Beings who are already united with the sun existence — the regulating Archangels, who are one stage lower than the Archai — to intervene. While the Archai themselves are still active as Aeons, for the deployment of their forces they make use of the Archangels, the light-bearers, who act from the circumference. That means that through the constellations of the light-Beings surrounding the earth, the Archangels work out of cosmic space in such a way that the great ordinances laid down by the Archai may be carried into effect.
Those who were present at the course of lectures I gave in Christiania will remember that even today the Archai are still behind what we are accustomed to call the Spirit of the Age. If we look around at the way our own world has been organised, we find that each age has a number of peoples over whom for a specific period a Time-Spirit holds sway. Side by side with him and subordinated to him work the several Folk-Spirits. And just as today the Spirits of the Age or Time-Spirits are in control, and behind them are the Archai — I described that in my Christiania lectures [ “The Mission of Folk-Souls in connection with Germanic and Scandinavian Mythology.” Eleven lectures by Rudolf Steiner given at Oslo in June, 1910.] — so behind the Folk-Spirits are the Archangels; in a certain way they are the Folk-Spirits. Genesis points to the fact that even in times when man himself was really not yet there, these spiritual Beings were the organising powers.
Thus we must say that it was the Elohim who brought light into existence; they manifested themselves through light. But for lesser activities within the light they appointed the Archai, who are indicated in Genesis by the word yom, and who ranked next below them among the hierarchies; and they placed beside the Archai the Beings who must of necessity be woven into the web of existence, in order that the requisite activity of darkness can come into association with the activity of light. Side by side with yom they placed lay'lah, which is usually translated “night.” Then it became a question of how to progress further and into greater detail. For this, other Beings from the ranks of the hierarchies are chosen. Thus when it has been said that the Elohim or Spirits of Form manifested themselves through light, and placed the affairs of light and darkness in charge of the Archai, one has to add that now they took another step and, specialising further, appointed the Archangels to activities which not only call an external plant life into existence, but which are now to call forth an inner life, an inner life capable of reflecting the outer; they entrusted to the Archangels the activity which has to stream upon our earth from without, so that not only can the plant species shoot up, but also the animal nature, weaving its inward life of image and sensation.
Thus we see how, when we know how to interpret it, the Genesis account refers to Archangels too, quite in accordance with the facts. When you turn to the exegesis of the general run of commentators you will always feel dissatisfied. But if you turn for help to the same source from which the Genesis account came, if you turn to Occult Science, a flood of light will be thrown upon that account. It will all appear to you in a new light. And this ancient document, which otherwise would inevitably remain incomprehensible, because of the impossibility of translating the ancient living words into our language, will endure as a document which speaks to mankind for all time.