What The World Needs Now Is Anthroposophy. Lecture 11 of 15.
Rudolf Steiner, Dornarch, Switzerland, November 1, 1919:
When social questions are discussed from a spiritual scientific point of view, this is not done out of any subjective motive or impulse. Everything is based upon observation of the evolution of humanity and of what the forces underlying that evolution demand of us now and in the immediate future.
To reveal the deeper impulses working at the present time is not a congenial task, for there is little inclination to enter into such matters with any real earnestness. But our age calls for this earnestness wherever the affairs of humanity are concerned, above all for the discarding of prejudices and preconceptions. Today, therefore, I shall put before you certain deeper aspects of matters to which reference has often been made.
Once again it is necessary to survey a rather lengthy period in the life of humanity. As you know, we distinguish the present epoch from other epochs, reckoning that it began in the middle of the fifteenth century A.D. We speak of it as the fifth post-Atlantean epoch, distinguishing it from the previous epoch which began in the eighth century B.C. and is called the Greco-Latin epoch after the peoples responsible for its culture. It was preceded by the epoch of Egypto-Chaldean civilization.
When we come to consider the Egypto-Chaldean epoch we find that the records of ordinary history break down. Even with the help of accessible Egyptian and Chaldean lore, external evidence does not carry us very far back in the history of humanity.
But it is not possible to grasp what is of importance for the present time unless we understand the intrinsic characteristics of that third post-Atlantean epoch of culture.
You are certainly aware that in the ordinary history of that ancient time, all civilization, all culture in the then-known world, goes by the name of paganism. Like an oasis, Hebraic culture arises in its midst as a preparation for Christianity. But disregarding for the moment this Jewish culture, which differed so fundamentally from the other forms of pre-Christian civilized life, let us turn our attention to paganism. Its special characteristic may be said to lie in its wisdom, in its deep insight into the things and processes of the world. The knowledge contained in paganism had its source in the ancient Mysteries and although according to modern scholarship it bears a mythical, pictorial character, it must be emphasized that all the imagery, all the pictures which have come down to posterity from this ancient paganism are the fruits of profound insight.
Recalling the many treasures of this super-sensible lore which we have been endeavoring to bring to light, it will be obvious that here we have to do with a primeval wisdom, a wisdom underlying all the thinking, all the perceptions and feelings of those ancient peoples. A kind of echo of this primeval wisdom, a tradition in which it was enshrined, survived here and there in secret societies, actually in a healthy form, until the end of the eighteenth century and at the beginning of the nineteenth. In the nineteenth century the source ran dry and such vestiges as remain have passed into the hands of isolated groups belonging to certain, nationalities. And what is in the possession of ordinary secret societies today can no longer be regarded as wholesome or as a genuine tradition of the old pagan wisdom.
Now this ancient wisdom has one particular characteristic of which sight must never be lost. It has one characteristic on account of which Judaism, the smaller stream then making preparation for Christianity had to be introduced as a kind of oasis.
If this ancient paganism is rightly understood, it will be found to contain sublime, deeply penetrating wisdom, but no moral impulses for human action. These impulses were not really essential to humanity, for unlike what now passes as human knowledge, human insight, this old pagan wisdom gave one the feeling of being membered into the whole cosmos. People moving about the earth not only felt themselves composed of the substances and forces present around them in earthly life, in the mineral, plant, and animal kingdoms, but they felt that the forces operating, for example, in the movements of the stars and the sun were playing into them. This feeling of being a member of the whole cosmos was not a mere abstraction, for from the Mysteries they received directives based on the laws of the stars for their actions and whole conduct of life. This ancient star-wisdom was in no way akin to the arithmetical astrology sometimes considered valuable today, but it was a wisdom voiced by the initiates in such a way that impulses for individual action and conduct went forth from the Mysteries. Not only did human beings feel safe and secure within the all-prevailing wisdom of the cosmos, but those whom they recognized as the initiates of the Mysteries imparted this wisdom in directives for their actions from morning till evening on given days of the year. Yet, neither Chaldean nor Egyptian wisdom contained a single moral impulse from what had been imparted by the initiates in this way. The moral impulse in its real sense was prepared by Judaism and then further developed in Christianity.
Inevitably the question arises: Why is it that this sublime pagan wisdom, although it contained no moral impulse, was able, for example in ancient Greece, to come to flower in such beauty of art and grandeur of philosophy?
If we were to go much farther back, to a time more than three thousand years before the Christian era, we should find that together with the promptings of wisdom there did come a moral impulse, that the moral principles, the ethics needed by these people of old were contained in this wisdom. But a specific ethos, a specific moral impulse such as came with Christianity was not an integral part of paganism. Why was this? It was because through the millennia directly preceding Christianity, this pagan wisdom was inspired from a place far away in Asia, inspired by a remarkable being who had been incarnated in the distant East in the third millennium before Christ — namely, Lucifer.
To the many things we have learned about the evolution of humanity, this knowledge too must be added: that just as there was the incarnation which culminated in Golgotha, the incarnation of Christ in the man Jesus of Nazareth, there was an actual incarnation of Lucifer in far-off Asia, in the third millennium B.C.And the source of inspiration for much ancient culture was what can only be described as an earthly incarnation of Lucifer in a man of flesh and blood. Even Christianity, even the Mystery of Golgotha as enacted among human beings, was understood at first by the only means then available, namely the old luciferic wisdom. The one-sidedness of the gnosis, for all its amazing profundity, stems from the influence that had spread from this Lucifer incarnation over the whole of the ancient world. The significance of the Mystery of Golgotha cannot be fully grasped without the knowledge that rather less than three thousand years previously, there had been the incarnation of Lucifer.
In order that the luciferic inspiration might be lifted away from its one-sidedness, there came the incarnation of Christ and with it the impulse for the education and development of European civilization and its American offshoot. But since the middle of the fifteenth century, since the impulse for the development of individuality, of personality, has been at work, this phase of evolution has also contained within it certain forces whereby preparation is being made for the incarnation of another super-sensible Being. Just as there was an incarnation of Lucifer in the flesh and an incarnation of Christ in the flesh, so, before only a part of the third millennium of the post-Christian era has elapsed, there will be, in the West, an actual incarnation of Ahriman: Ahriman in the flesh. Humanity on earth cannot escape this incarnation of Ahriman. It will come inevitably. But what matters is that people shall find the right vantage point from which to confront it.
Whenever preparation is being made for incarnations of this character, we must be alert to certain indicative trends in evolution. A being like Ahriman, who will incarnate in the West in time to come, prepares for this incarnation in advance. With a view to his incarnation on the earth, Ahriman guides certain forces in evolution in such a way that they may be of the greatest possible advantage to him. And evil would result were people to live on in a state of drowsy unawareness, unable to recognize certain phenomena in life as preparations for Ahriman's incarnation in the flesh. The right stand can be taken only by recognizing in one or another series of events the preparation that is being made by Ahriman for his earthly existence. And the time has now come for individual human beings to know what tendencies and events around them are machinations of Ahriman, helping him to prepare for his approaching incarnation.
It would undoubtedly be of the greatest benefit to Ahriman if he could succeed in preventing the vast majority of people from perceiving what would make for their true well-being, if the vast majority of people were to regard these preparations for the Ahriman incarnation as progressive and good for evolution. If Ahriman were able to slink into a humanity unaware of his coming, that would gladden him most of all. It is for this reason that the occurrences and trends in which Ahriman is working for his future incarnation must be brought to light.
One of the developments in which Ahriman's impulse is clearly evident is the spread of the belief that the mechanistic, mathematical conceptions inaugurated by Galileo, Copernicus, and others, explain what is happening in the cosmos. That is why anthroposophical spiritual science lays such stress upon the fact that spirit and soul must be discerned in the cosmos, not merely the mathematical, mechanistic laws put forward by Galileo and Copernicus as if the cosmos were some huge machine. It would augur success for Ahriman's temptings if people were to persist in merely calculating the revolutions of the heavenly bodies, in studying astrophysics for the sole purpose of ascertaining the material composition of the planets — an achievement of which the modern world is so proud. But woe betide if this Copernicanism is not confronted by the knowledge that the cosmos is permeated by soul and spirit. It is this knowledge that Ahriman, in preparing his earthly incarnation, wants to withhold. He would like to keep people so obtuse that they can grasp only the mathematical aspect of astronomy. Therefore he tempts many people to carry into effect their repugnance to knowledge concerning soul and spirit in the cosmos. That is only one of the forces of corruption poured by Ahriman into human souls. Another means of temptation connected with his incarnation — he also works in cooperation with the luciferic forces — another of his endeavors is to preserve the already widespread attitude that for the public welfare it is sufficient if the economic and material needs of humanity are provided for. Here we come to a point that is not willingly faced in modern life. Official science nowadays contributes nothing to real knowledge of the soul and spirit, for the methods adopted in the orthodox sciences are of value only for apprehending external nature, including the external human constitution. Just think with what contempt average citizens today regard anything that seems idealistic, anything that seems to be a path leading in any way to the spiritual. At heart they are always asking: What is the good of it? How will it help me to acquire this world's goods? They send their sons to a private school, having perhaps been to one themselves; they send them on to a university or institute of advanced studies. But all this is done merely in order to provide the foundations for a career, in other words, to provide the material means of livelihood.
And now think of the consequences of this. What numbers of people there are today who no longer value the spirit for the sake of the spirit or the soul for the sake of the soul! They are out to absorb from cultural life only what is regarded as “useful.” This is a significant and mysterious factor in the life of modern humanity and one that must be lifted into the full light of consciousness. Average citizens, who work assiduously in their offices from morning till evening and then go through the habitual evening routine, will not allow themselves to get mixed up with what they call the “twaddle” to be found in anthroposophy. It seems to them entirely redundant, for they think: that is something one cannot eat! It finally comes to this — although people will not admit it — that in ordinary life nothing in the way of knowledge is considered really useful unless it helps to put food in the mouth!
In this connection people today have succumbed to a strange fallacy. They do not believe that the spirit can be eaten, and yet the very ones who say this, do eat the spirit! Although they may refuse to accept anything spiritual, nevertheless with every morsel that passes through the mouth into the stomach they are devouring the spiritual, but dispatching it along a path other than the path which leads to the real well-being of mankind.
I believe that many Europeans think it is to the credit of their civilization to be able to say: We are not cannibals! But these Europeans and their American affinities are, none the less, devourers of soul and spirit! The soulless devouring of material food leads to the side-tracking of the spirit. It is difficult to say these things today, for in the light of such knowledge just think what would have to be said of a large section of modern culture! To keep people in the state of being devourers of the soul and spirit is one of Ahriman's impulses in preparation for his incarnation. To the extent to which people can be roused into conducting their affairs not for material ends alone and into regarding a free and independent spiritual life, equally with economic life, as an integral part of the social organism — to that same extent Ahriman's incarnation will be awaited with an attitude worthy of humanity.
Another tendency in modern life of benefit to Ahriman in preparing his incarnation is all that is so clearly in evidence in nationalism. Whatever can separate people into groups, whatever can alienate them from mutual understanding the whole world over and drive wedges between them, strengthens Ahriman’s impulse. In reality we should recognize the voice of Ahriman in what is so often proclaimed nowadays as a new ideal: “Freedom of the peoples, even the smallest,” and so forth. But blood relationship has ceased to be the decisive factor and if this outworn notion persists, we shall be playing straight into the hands of Ahriman. His interests are promoted, too, by the fact that people are taken up with the most divergent shades of party opinions, of which the one can be justified as easily as the other. A socialist party program and an anti-socialist program can be supported by arguments of equal validity. And if people fail to realize that this kind of “proof” lies so utterly on the surface that the No and the Yes can both be justified with our modern intelligence — useful as it is for natural science but not for a different kind of knowledge — if people do not realize that this intelligence lies entirely on the surface in spite of serving economic life so effectively, they will continue to apply it to social life and spiritual life irrespectively. One group will prove one thing, another it’s exact opposite, and as both proofs can be shown to be equally logical, hatred and bitterness — of which there is more than enough in the world — will be intensified. These trends too are exploited by Ahriman in preparation for his earthly incarnation.
Again, what will be of particular advantage to him is the short-sighted, narrow conception of the Gospel that is so prevalent today. You know how necessary it has become in our time to deepen understanding of the Gospels through spiritual science. But you also know how widespread is the motion that this is not fitting, that it is reprehensible to bring any real knowledge of the spirit or of the cosmos to bear upon the Gospels; it is said that the Gospels must be taken “in all their simplicity,” just as they stand. I am not going to raise the issue that we no longer possess the true Gospels. The translations are not faithful reproductions of the authentic Gospels, but I do not propose to go into this question now. I shall merely put before you the deeper fact, namely that no true understanding of Christ can be reached by the simple, easy going perusal of the Gospels beloved by most religious denominations and sects today. At the time of the Mystery of Golgotha and for a few centuries' afterward, a conception of the real Christ was still possible, because accounts handed down by tradition could be understood with the help of the pagan, luciferic wisdom. This wisdom has now disappeared, and what sects and denominations find in the Gospels does not lead people to the real Christ for whom we seek through spiritual science, but to an illusory picture, at most to a sublimated hallucination of Christ.
The Gospels cannot lead to the real Christ unless they are illumined by spiritual science. Failing this illumination, the Gospels as they stand give rise to what is no more than hallucination of Christ's appearance in world history. This becomes very evident in the theology of our time. Why does modern theology so love to speak of the “simple man of Nazareth” and to identify the Christ with Jesus of Nazareth — whom it regards as a man only a little more exalted than other great figures of history? It is because the possibility of finding the real Christ has been lost, and because what people glean from the Gospels leads-to hallucination, to a kind of illusion. An illusory conception of Christ is all that can be` gleaned through the way in which the Gospels are read today — not the reality of Christ. In a certain sense this has actually dawned on the theologians and many of them are now describing Paul's experience on the way to Damascus as a “vision.” They have come to the point of realizing that their way of studying the Gospels can lead only to a vision, to hallucination. I am not saying that this vision is false or untrue, but that it is merely an inner experience, unconnected with the reality of the Christ being. I do not use the word “illusion” with the side-implication of falsity, but I wish only to stress that the Christ Being is here a subjective, inner experience, of the same character as hallucination. If people could be brought to a standstill at this point, not pressing on to the real Christ but contenting themselves with a hallucination of Christ, Ahriman's aims would be immeasurably furthered.
The influence of the Gospels also leads to hallucinations when one Gospel alone is taken as the basis of belief. Truth to tell, this principle has been forestalled by the fact that we have been given four Gospels, representing four different aspects, and it does not do to take each single Gospel word-for-word on its own, when outwardly there are obvious contradictions. To take one single Gospel word-for-word and disregard the other three is actually dangerous. What you find in sects whose adherents swear by the literal content of the Gospel of St. Luke alone or that of St. John alone is an illusory conception arising from a certain dimming of consciousness. With the dimming of consciousness that inevitably occurs when the deeper content of the Gospels is not revealed, people would fall wholly into Ahriman's service, helping in a most effective way to prepare for his incarnation, and adopting toward him the very attitude he desires.
And now another uncomfortable truth for humankind today! Living in the arms of their denominations, people say: “We do not need anthroposophy or anything of the kind; we are content with the Gospels in all their simplicity.” They insist that this is said out of “humility.” In reality, however, it is the greatest arrogance! For it means that such persons, making use of ideas which have been presented to them through their birth and surge out of their blood, are deigning to rule out the deeper treasures of wisdom to be discovered in the Gospels. These “humblest” of human beings are generally the most arrogant of all, especially in the sects and denominations. The point to remember is, however, that the people who do most to prepare for the incarnation of Ahriman are those who constantly preach. “All that is required is to read the Gospels word-for-word-nothing more than that!”
Strange to say, in spite of their radical differences, the two parties play into each other's hands: those whom I called “devourers of soul and spirit” and those who demand the literal, word-for-word reading of the Gospels. Each party plays into the hands of the other, furthering the preparation of Ahriman's incarnation. For if the outlook of the “devourers of soul and spirit” on the one side and that of professed Christians who refuse to enter into the deeper truths of the Gospels on the other were to hold the day, then Ahriman would be able to make all human beings on the earth his own. A good deal of what is spreading in external Christianity today is a preparation for Ahriman's incarnation. And in many things which arrogantly claim to represent true belief, we should recognize the preparation for Ahriman's work.
Words nowadays do not really convey the innermost reality of things. As I have often told you, far too much store is set upon words — for words do not necessarily lead to that reality; nowadays indeed it is rather a case of words separating people from the real nature of things in the world. And this they do most of all when people accept ancient records such as the Gospels with “simple understanding” — as the saying goes. But there is a far truer simplicity in trying to penetrate to the in dwelling spirit of things and to understand the Gospels themselves from the vantage ground of the spirit.
As I told you, Ahriman and Lucifer will always work hand in hand. The only question is which of the two predominates in human consciousness at a particular epoch of time. It was a preeminently luciferic culture that persisted until after the Mystery of Golgotha — a culture inspired by the incarnation of Lucifer in China in the third millennium B.C. Many influences of this incarnation continued to radiate and were still powerful in the early Christian centuries; indeed they are working to this day.
But now that we are facing an incarnation of Ahriman in the third millennium after Christ, Lucifer's tracks are becoming less visible, and Ahriman's activities in such trends as I have indicated are coming into prominence. Ahriman has made a kind of pact with Lucifer, the import of which may be expressed in the following way. Ahriman, speaking to Lucifer, says: “I, Ahriman, find it advantageous to make use of ‘preserving jars.’ To you I will leave people's stomachs, if you will leave it to me to lull them to sleep — that is to say to lull their consciousness to sleep where their stomachs are concerned.”
You must understand what I mean by this. The consciousness of those human beings whom I have called devourers of soul and spirit is in a condition of dimness so far as their stomachs are concerned; for, by not accepting the spiritual into their human nature, they drive straight into the luciferic stream everything they introduce into their stomachs. What people eat and drink without spirituality goes straight to Lucifer!
And what do I mean by “preserving jars?” I mean libraries and institutions of a similar kind, where the various sciences pursued by human beings without really stirring their interest are preserved; these sciences are not really alive in them but are simply preserved in the books on the shelves of libraries. All this knowledge has been separated from human beings. Everywhere there are books, books, books! Themselves students, when they take their doctor's degree, have to write a learned thesis which is then put into as many libraries as possible. When the students want to take up some particular post, again they must write a thesis! In addition to this, people are forever writing, although only a very small proportion of what they write is ever read. Only when some special preparation has to be made do people resort to what is moldering away in libraries. These “preserving jars” of wisdom are a particularly favorable means of furthering Ahriman's aims.
This kind of thing goes on everywhere. It could only be to some purpose if people took a really live interest in it, but they do not, its existence is entirely separate and apart. Just think — if one were so disposed one might well despair — just think, for example, of a lawsuit where a lawyer has to be engaged to plead the case. The time comes when one has to discuss the matter. Documents pile up! The lawyer has them all there in a dossier, but when one starts talking, this lawyer has no inkling of the circumstances. The papers are turned over and over without getting anywhere; the lawyer has no connection at all with the documents. Here is one portfolio full of them, there another. The number of documents grows and grows but as for interest in them — that is simply nonexistent! These professional people make one despair when one has dealings with them; they really know nothing about the matter at issue, have no connection with it, for everything remains in the documents. These are the little preserving jars and the libraries are the big preserving jars of soul and spirit. Everything is preserved in them but human beings do not want to connect themselves with it, to permeate it with their interest. And finally there arises the mood which does not want the head to play any part in a professed view of the world. But after all, the head, or some element of the head, is necessary for any understanding! What people like is to base their religious faith, their view of the world, on the heart alone. The heart must play a part, of course; but the way in which people today often speak of their religion reminds me of a saying much quoted in the district where my youth was spent. It was to this effect: “There is something very special about love. If you buy it, you buy the heart only and the head is thrown in gratis.” This is more or less the attitude which people today like to adopt in their view of life; they would like to take in everything through the heart, as they say, without exerting the head at all. The heart cannot beat without the head, but the heart is well able to take things in if by “heart” here one really means the stomach! And then, what ought to be achieved through the head is supposed to be thrown in gratis, especially where the most important things in life are concerned. It is very important indeed to pay heed to these matters, because in observing them it becomes evident what earnestness must be applied to life at this juncture, how necessary it is to learn from the illusions to which even the Gospels may give rise, and how dearly humankind today loves those illusions.
Truth is beyond the reach of the kind of knowledge for which people aspire today. They feel on secure ground when they can reckon by means of figures, when they can prove things by statistics. With statistics and figures Ahriman has an easy game; it suits him admirably when some erudite scholar points out, for example, that conditions in the Balkans are due to the fact that the population of Macedonia consists of so many Greeks, so many Serbs, so many Bulgarians. Nothing can stand up against figures because of the faith that is reposed in them; and Ahriman is only too ready to exploit figures for his purposes. But later on one begins to see just how “reliable” such figures are! Admittedly, figures are sometimes a means of proof, but if one goes beyond them and investigates more closely, one often notices things like the following. In the statistics of Macedonia, for example, a father may be put down as a Greek, one son as a Serb, another son as a Bulgarian; so the father is counted in with the Greeks, one son with the Serbs, and the other with the Bulgarians. What would really help one to get at the truth, however, would be to discover how it has happened that in the same family one is said to be Greek, one Serbian, and one Bulgarian, and how this affects the figures — rather than simply accepting the figures that people find so satisfactory today. If the father is Greek then naturally the sons are Greek too. Figures are means whereby people are led astray in a direction favorable to Ahriman for his future incarnation in the third millennium A.D.
We shall speak of these things again in the lecture tomorrow.