Friday, May 22, 2020

Spiritual Geology : Greek Mythology. What prehistoric man looked like

Wonders of the World, Ordeals of the Soul, Revelations of the Spirit. Lecture 6 of 10.
Rudolf Steiner, Munich, August 23, 1911:

We have devoted much attention in these lectures to a subject that arose out of the dramatic performances which preceded them, but it is a subject which is intimately bound up with the aim we have set before us in this year's Cycle. I am referring to the world of the Greek gods and the form it took. Since our actual subject is ‘Wonders of the World, Ordeals of the Soul and Revelations of the Spirit’, why should we have spent so much time talking about the world of the Greek gods? The reason is that such a study can provide — as well as much else — the basis we need for a spiritual-scientific study of the world. I have pointed out that the concept of nature and natural existence which is generally accepted today was quite unknown to the ancient Greek. If we call to mind what the thought and feeling of ancient Greece was really like, we find there no chemical, physical, biological laws as we understand them today. What lit up in the soul of the ancient Greek, what was enkindled in the spirit of this marvellous Greek civilisation when the eye (clairvoyant or otherwise) was directed upon the wonders of the world, presented itself to them as a kind of knowledge, a kind of wisdom; but for us it is the marvellous structure of their world of gods. Anyone who looks upon this world as having no inner coherence, which is the usual attitude, knows nothing of what it is trying to express. This world of the Greek gods, in its wisdom-filled structure, is actually the Greek reply to the question ‘What is the response of the human soul to wonders of the world?’ The Greek response to the riddle of the world was not a law of nature as we understand it, but the shaping forth of some group or other of divine beings or divine forces. Hence in these wonderful clues we have followed up in the last few lectures, and which we sometimes found so astonishing, but which, pieced together, give us the world of the Greek gods, we cannot help seeing the equivalent of our own dry-as-dust, prosaic, abstract wisdom. And if we want to make real progress in Spiritual Science we must acquire a feeling that it is possible to think and feel in an entirely different manner from the modern way.
But when in the last lecture we were considering the figure of Dionysos, our attention was drawn to yet another thing. While the rest of the gods represent what was reflected in the soul of the Greek when he tried to understand the wonders of the world, we found that in the figure of Dionysos the Greek has concealed what we might call the inherent contradiction of life, and we shall get no further unless we give some thought to this aspect. Abstract logic, abstract intellectual thinking, is always trying to discover inconsistencies in higher world-conceptions, and then to say ‘This world-conception is full of inconsistencies; it cannot therefore be accepted as valid.’ The truth is, however, that life is full of contradictions — indeed nothing new, no development, would be possible unless contradiction lay in the very nature of things. For why is the world different today from what it was yesterday? Why does anything become, why does not everything remain as it was? It is because yesterday there was a self-contradictory element in the state of things, and today's new state has arisen through the realization of yesterday's contradiction and its overcoming. No one who sees things as they really are can say ‘Falsehood is detected by proving contradiction’ — for contradiction is inherent in reality. What would the human soul be like if it were free from contradictions? Whenever we look back at the course of our life we see that it has been activated by contradictions. If at some later date we are more perfect than we were earlier, it has come about because we have got rid of our earlier condition, because we have discovered our earlier state to be in contradiction to our own inner nature, and thus have called forth a reality of our own inner being in contradiction to what was. Contradiction is everywhere at the basis of all beings. Particularly when we study the entire man, the four-fold man, as we are accustomed to treat of him in the light of occultism, do we find this  contradiction, a contradiction which addresses itself not only to our reason, to our philosophy, but to our hearts, to our whole soul-nature.
We must constantly remind ourselves of the fundamental basis of our spiritual science: that man as he stands before us consists of physical body, ether body, astral body, and ego. Our being consists of these four members. Let us look at them as they meet us to begin with on the physical plane, in the physical world. We will for the present ignore the question as to how the human being appears to clairvoyant sight, we will just ask how the four members of the human being appear to physical eyes, for the physical world. Let us begin with the innermost member of the human being, the ego, which as you know we regard as the youngest — or better call it ‘the ego-bearer’. The outstanding characteristic of this human ego occurs at once to anyone who studies the world with even a little intelligence. However widely we search, we shall never find this ego by the exercise of our physical senses, by exercising our faculties for knowledge of the physical world. It is not visible to our eyes, nor in any way perceptible to any faculty for acquiring knowledge of the outer world. Hence when we meet another man, if we only try to study him physically, with purely physical instruments, if we do not enlist the help of the clairvoyant eye, we can never observe his ego. We go about among men, but with organs of perception for the outer world we do not see their egos. If anyone thinks he can see egos he is utterly deceiving himself. With physical faculties for acquiring knowledge of external things we cannot observe the ego as such; we can only contemplate its manifestation through the organs of the physical body. A man may be inwardly a thoroughly untruthful person, but so long as he does not utter the lie so that it passes over into the external world, we cannot see it in his ego, because egos cannot be observed with external physical instruments. Thus, however far we go in investigating with the forces of physical knowledge, we only encounter this ego once. Although we know quite well that there are many egos upon the Earth, only one of them is to be perceived, and that is our own. In the physical world, or for physical instruments of knowledge, each man has only one opportunity of perceiving the ego: that is his own ego. So that we may say that the peculiarity of this youngest and highest member of the human being is that its existence, its reality, is capable of being perceived in one example only, in ourselves. The egos of all other men are hidden from us within their bodily sheaths.
From this ego, as the innermost, as the youngest, but also the highest member of the human being, let us now turn to the outermost member, to the physical body. As you know from things I have written or said on various occasions in recent years, the physical body can only be known in its true inner being to clairvoyant consciousness. To ordinary consciousness, to the physically based powers of physical knowledge, the physical body manifests itself only as maya or illusion. When we meet a man, what we see as his physical body is maya, illusion. But there are as many instances of this illusion of a physical body as there are men to be met with on Earth. And in this respect — as maya — our own body is just like that of other men. Thus there is a great difference between the perception  of our own ego, of which only one example is given, and the perception of human physical bodies, of which we have as many examples as the people we know on Earth. We only learn to know the ego when we direct our physical faculty of knowledge upon ourselves. We have to look into ourselves with the power of knowledge which we have acquired upon the physical plane if we wish to learn to know our ego.
I should perhaps add, because there is so much unclear thinking, that what I mean by the ego which we perceive with our physical powers of knowledge belongs entirely to the physical world. It would be idle nonsense to say that what a man's normal faculties find within him as his ego ever belongs to any other world than the physical. If anyone were to consider the ego, observed not with clairvoyant but with normal faculties, as belonging to any other world than that of the physical plane, he would be making a mistake. In the higher worlds things look quite different; the ego too for clairvoyant consciousness is something very different from what man finds within him in normal consciousness. We must not think of the ego of which ordinary psychology and ordinary science speak as belonging to anything but the physical plane; only we are looking at it from within, and because we stand within it, as it were, because we do not confront it from the outside, we are able to say: ‘Admittedly we learn to know this ego upon the physical plane only, but we do at least learn to know it in its own inner being, by direct knowledge, whereas what we know of the physical body, of which we see so many specimens in the world, is only maya.’ For as soon as the faculty of clairvoyance is turned upon the physical body it dissolves like a cloud, vanishes away, reveals itself as maya. And if we wish to get to know the physical body in its true form we have to rise, not just to the astral plane but to the highest region of Spirit-land, to Devachan; thus a clairvoyance of a very high order is needed if we wish to learn to know the physical body in its true form. Here below, in the physical world, the physical body has only a quite illusionary stamp, and it is this counterfeit image that we see when we look at this physical body from outside. Thus these two members of the human organism, the highest and the lowest, show a very remarkable contrast. Here in the physical world we see the human physical organism as maya — that is to say, it is not at all in accordance with our inmost being; but the ego we see here in the physical world is in its physical manifestation quite in keeping with our inmost being. Please take note of that — it is an extremely important fact. Let me put it in another way, half symbolically, and yet with all the seriousness which the reality demands. Half symbolically, yes — but this pictorial approach has a fullness about it which comes nearer to expressing the truth than any abstract concepts.
Half symbolically then, but also half seriously, I ask how we have to think of Adam and Eve in Paradise before the Fall. We know that according to the Bible they were unable to see each other's outer physical bodies before the Fall, and that when they did begin to see them they were ashamed. That is the expression of a most profound mystery. The Old Testament tells why Adam and Eve were ashamed of their bodies after the Fall. It indicates that before the Fall the bodies they had were more or less spiritual bodies, bodies only accessible to clairvoyant consciousness, bodies of quite different appearance from physical bodies, bodies which expressed the ego in its true form. We see that even the Bible recognizes that quite a different bodily form, one only perceptible to clairvoyant vision, was really fitted to the deepest being of man, and that the external physical body we have today actually does not measure up at all to the inner being of man. What then did Adam and Eve feel when their relation to each other was no longer one in which they did not see their physical bodies, but on the contrary, one in which they did see them? They felt that they had fallen into matter, that, out of a world to which they had formerly belonged, denser matter than had been theirs formerly had been instilled into them. They felt that man with his physical body had been transplanted into a world to which, if the true nature of his ego is taken into account, he does not belong. No more striking expression could be found to mark how little the outer expression of his being, the sensible reality, really measures up to the divine ego than this being overcome by shame.
But we can look at the matter from another aspect, which throws quite a different light upon it. If man had not descended into his physical body, had not taken into himself the denser matter, he would not have been able to acquire his ego-consciousness, or in terms of the Greek mind, he would not have been able to participate in the Dionysos forces. That also was felt by the Greeks. They felt that the ego of man as it lives on the physical plane has within it not only those forces of a higher spiritual, supersensible world which it had had before the Fall, and which stream into it out of the spiritual worlds above, but that it is also dependent upon forces which come from quite another side, from the opposite direction. We know that before man had acquired his present ego-consciousness it was normal for him to have a clairvoyant consciousness. But this clairvoyant consciousness was a pictorial one, a dreamlike one, it was not a consciousness lit up by any real intellectual light; man only acquired that later. This old clairvoyant consciousness had to be lost to man in order that a new ego-consciousness could arise. To this end the old form of the ego, the old Dionysos Zagreus, had to be destroyed.
We had before us yesterday the impressive picture of how this came about—of how in the language of Greek mythology the elder Dionysos was dismembered by the Titans, and emerged again later as the younger Dionysos, that is, as our present ego-consciousness, the consciousness which has come about in human evolution as the achievement of time. But in order to bring about the birth of the younger Dionysos the human mother, Semele, has to play her part. The figure of Semele furnishes another example of the unerring wisdom of Greek feeling for the true wonders of the world.
A necessary condition for the coming into existence of this younger human ego was that the old clairvoyant consciousness had to die out, had to sink below the horizon of consciousness. Anyone who knew that—and those who built up Greek mythology did know it — said to himself: ‘Once upon a time the human soul was endowed with a clairvoyant consciousness which looked up into a world full of spiritual beings and spiritual deeds, into a world in which the human being was still a fellow-citizen. But in course of time man has withdrawn from this spiritual world, and has become a quite different being, a being permeated by an ego.’ What would happen to a man of today if, without his having undergone any preparation, any kind of esoteric training, suddenly, in a moment, there were to  stand before him, instead of the physical world as it appears to physical eyes and physical ears, the world that was there for the old clairvoyant consciousness? Let us imagine that, by some miracle or other, instead of the world which displays itself to him in the star-strewn heavens, in the rising and the setting of the Sun, in mountain and cloud, in minerals, plants, and animals, suddenly the world of old Atlantis were to stand before a normal human consciousness of today: the man would be shattered, so dreadful, so alarming, would seem the world which is nevertheless all around us; for this world is there behind everything, it is all around us — but it is covered over by the world of our ego. There is a world around us which would fill the man of today with fear, would shatter him with terror, if he were suddenly confronted by it. But the ancient Greek felt this too. That is also implicit in the wonderful, wisdom-filled form of the Dionysos saga. Dionysos had to come from another direction from that of the world-wonders in which the ancient Greek consciousness had placed Zeus and the other figures of the upper gods; the ancient Greek felt that in what constituted the world of men there lived something different from what lived in the gods of Zeus's world.
That the world in which we live has a heterogeneous constituent was felt too by the Greek. He felt that an element is included in our physical human existence that is certainly not present in the supersensible world. Hence the younger Dionysos, macrocosmic representative of our modern ego-consciousness, could not be like the elder Dionysos, a son of Persephone and Zeus, but he had to be a son of an earthly mother—he was the son of Semele and Zeus. But we must bear in mind what the Greek consciousness added in the further development of this saga. It was brought about through the machinations of Hera that Semele saw Zeus in his true form, not as the old Atlantean hero, but as he now is. That could only happen by means of clairvoyant consciousness. What then does it mean that Semele was to see Zeus for a moment as he now is? It simply means that Semele became for a moment clairvoyant. She was destroyed by flame because she saw Zeus in the flames of the astral world. Semele bears witness to this human tragedy, a tragedy which would immediately come about if man, unprepared, were to enter clairvoyantly the spiritual world.
Hidden somewhere or other in the world of the Greek tales, all the truths about the wonders of the world are to be found. We find secreted there how Dionysos, the macrocosmic representative of the ego—the ego which no man endowed with normal consciousness can see in more than one exemplar —derives from a being of the physical world; that, so to say, what only meets the eye for normal physical consciousness as a maya was embodied in Dionysos; in other words, we see how Dionysos had to participate in the great Illusion, in maya. Today when we discuss the wonders of the world in our prosaic, dry-as-dust way, we speak of physical, chemical, biological laws. The Greek used splendid pictures which really penetrate far deeper into those wonders than our laws that only skim the surface. This is true of the whole world of Greek legend and Greek mythology.
Thus we see as if in a mighty occult script the question arising out of this Greek myth. If this essential human ego is to manifest in a bodily form, can we expect to see it in the human form we have in the physical world? No, for this form is maya, it is not at all a manifestation of the real ego, it is truly of such a nature that the real egos in Adam and Eve were right to be ashamed of it. What we as men are confronted by today is in fact a real contradiction, and the Greek felt that too. Although it has often been said, very superficially, that he only paid attention to the outer beauties of Nature, even the Greek felt the self-contradiction in the external human form. He was not a naturalist in the sense in which modern man believes he was, but he felt profoundly that the human form as it walks the Earth today is a compromise; from no aspect does it show itself to be what in reality it ought to be. Suppose for a moment that the human form had only arisen under the influence of physical, etheric, and astral bodies, suppose that no ego had entered into this human form: then it would have been fashioned as it was when it came over from the previous embodiments of our Earth, as it came over from Saturn, Sun, and Moon. Then the human form would be different from what it actually is. If the Earth had not endowed man with the ego, men would be walking about with quite different-looking physical forms. Secretly, in the depths of his soul, the ancient Greek wondered what the human form would look like if earthly men today were ego-less, if men had not participated in the blessings bestowed by the Earth, had not participated in the coming into existence of the ego, had not taken Dionysos into themselves! If there were among us on the Earth men who had developed purely under the influence of the forces of physical, etheric, and astral bodies, he wondered what they would look like. And the Greek — uplifted, inspired by the spirit, and moved by unutterable depth of feeling — even put to himself the corresponding question: ‘If there were only the ego, if the ego had not been drawn into the physical, etheric, and astral bodies, how would it be formed?’
It would not have a physical body such as it has now, it would have a spiritual body that would be quite different from our external human body. But this spirit-body exists only for a clairvoyant consciousness, it is nowhere to be seen in the physical world. What, then, really is the man who actually walks about the Earth? He is neither the ego-less man, purely under the influence of astral, etheric, and physical bodies, nor is he the ego-man, but a compromise between the two, something coming about as the result of a combination of both. The man we see before us is a composite being. The Greeks felt this and they said to themselves: ‘Since Dionysos, the younger Dionysos, is really the first teacher of intellectual civilization, we must imagine him as not yet in a body which has already been subjected to the influence of the ego, for it is through the effect of the Dionysos civilization that man has first to acquire the intellectual ego. Therefore Dionysos must be represented as this human ego still outside the human body.’ So when the Greeks depicted the procession of Dionysos, which I have called a march of civilization, they could only accurately represent it on the basis that the essential ego of Dionysos had not yet entered the human body, but was just on the point of doing so; they could only imagine that Dionysos and all his followers had the kind of bodies which would inevitably come about if there were no egos in them, if their bodies were under the influence of forces  emanating only from the physical, etheric, and astral bodies. They said to themselves: ‘Dionysos and his rout should not look like the man of today, whose bodies are the combined result of the invisible ego and the visible body, but the invisible ego should hover as an aura over the bodily form and the body should be so fashioned as would inevitably come about under the sole influence of physical, etheric, and astral bodies, that is, as a man would inevitably be formed if he had continued to develop the forces he had brought over from the Moon without taking in the Earth ego.’
Because the Greek soul has given a graphic answer to this world-riddle quite in accordance with the truth, it has portrayed in the figure of Dionysos, and particularly in the figures of those who constituted his band of followers, human figures who have the ego outside them, and whose own external forms really show only the forces of physical, etheric, and astral bodies. These are the satyrs and Sileni who follow Dionysos on his travels, that wonderful creation of picture forms which comes to us from Greek thought. That is what man would look like if we were able to separate the composite form into its component parts. Imagine for a moment that by some kind of magic the physical, etheric, and astral bodies of a man could be so treated that the invisible, supersensible body of the ego could be torn out of him: then he would turn into a figure resembling those who followed in the train of Dionysos.
But the Greeks in their admirable mythology have also drawn attention to something else. We know that the ego has only gradually drawn into the human form, that in the time of Atlantis it was not yet within the body. What then, were these Atlantean bodies like? In the satyrs and the fauns and in Pan, as we shall see later, Greek fantasy and Greek intuition has elaborated pictures of the average Atlantean. Under present Earth conditions such human forms can of course no longer arise. The figures of the satyrs and the fauns and the whole rout of Dionysos represented those stragglers who had most closely retained the ancient Atlantean form. Dionysos had to take with him on his travels the very men who bore the least trace of the ego within them, because he was to become the ego's first teacher.
We see then that the Greeks represented in this train of Dionysos the forms of average Atlantean men. Atlantean men were so formed that they did not have skeletons such as men have today. The human body has become more solid; it was much softer in Atlantean times. For this reason it was incapable of preservation, and the geology, the palaeontology, of today will be hard put to it to find any trace of the real Atlantean man. But a geology, a palaeontology, of quite a different kind has preserved the Atlantean man for us! It is not in the geological strata of the Earth that we have to delve if we wish to know the man of prehistoric times, the man whose higher corporeality was still outside the physical body. To burrow in the earth is quite absurd; in the earth we shall never find traces of prehistoric man which are anything but decadent. But in the strata of human spiritual life, in the strata of spiritual geology which have been preserved for us in the wonderful Greek mythology, there we shall find the normal, average, Atlantean man, just as in the geological strata of the Earth we find snail shells and mussel shells. Let us study the configuration of the fauns, of Pan and of Silenus: it is there that we have the spiritual fossils which lead us to the Earth's prehistoric humanity. Therein we see how the ancient Greek consciousness had an answer to wonders of the world which today may be dubbed sentimental, dreamy, fantastic, but which nevertheless was imbued with a kind of science more profound than our modern abstract, prosaic, intellectual science. There are today many Darwinian and anti-Darwinian hypotheses as to what prehistoric man looked like. The Greeks set this world-riddle before us in a way that can satisfy the soul. Neither Haeckelism nor any other branch of Darwinism, nor the excavations of geology, tell us anything about the outward appearance of prehistoric man, but Greek mythology has supplied the answer to this question for us by its representations of the rout of Dionysos in its plastic art.
We must come to feel that Greek mythology really provides a serious answer to questions about the wonders of the world, and then we shall be able to enter into it ever more deeply. It is only someone who does not understand what underlies these things who can say ‘I can't accept that interpretation, it is too far-fetched.’ Anyone who knows the whole story in all its ramifications, besides knowing the true development of man as revealed by the Akasha Chronicle knows that there is nothing fantastic, nothing sentimental in what is being put before you today as spiritual science. The fancifulness, the sentimentality, lies in the abstract, empirical science of today, which imagines that it can dig up from the strata of the physical Earth something that is not there, and can make a study of that while it ignores the wondrous script of spiritual geology which comes before us, to the rescue of human wisdom and its evolution, in the impressive mythology of ancient Greece.

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