As an introduction, I should like to tell you two short stories. The first (I shall omit certain details) is as follows: —
Tuesday, December 22, 2020
Evidences of Bygone Ages in Modern Civilization
Earthly and Cosmic Man. Lecture 2 of 9.
Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, March 19, 1912:
As an introduction, I should like to tell you two short stories. The first (I shall omit certain details) is as follows: —
Once upon a time there lived two boys who from earliest childhood had been close friends. One of them was outstandingly gifted, learned with extraordinary facility, and as he grew older gave every promise of attaining high academic honors. The other boy was much less talented. His friend, who was deeply attached to him, taught and helped him in every way, but he was incapable of learning very much. This, however, did not greatly affect his circumstances, as a small inheritance provided for his living. The more gifted boy grew to adolescence, but when he was on the point of getting a university degree, he died. As in the country where these young men lived it was customary to marry and start a family very early in life, it devolved upon the other, less gifted youth to provide for the family of the friend who had died. This he did, but before long his own means were exhausted. He said to himself: “As my friend's talents have proved so transient, my mundane possessions too will probably soon have disappeared; I must set about making a livelihood.” This he did by becoming a traveling merchant. Once when he was sitting in front of a house in a strange neighborhood, a gigantic man came and sat down beside him. He gave the impression of not having eaten anything for days and seemed to be famished with hunger. The other took compassion on him and ordered a meal to be brought. It was very quickly consumed, to the astonishment of the merchant, but as the one meal was not enough to appease the other's hunger, he ordered a second. The big man ate this just as ravenously and then said that to satisfy his hunger he must have a whole ham and a number of cakes. He devoured all these and, after his enormous meal, seemed satisfied. This incident led to friendship between the big man and the little man, and they set out together on their travels. Very soon, however, the little man found the big man something of a burden and told him that he could well dispense with his company. The big man, however, assured the little man of his friendship. The little man now felt a wish to question the big man about his life, and the latter replied: “I have no house on the earth, no boat on the sea; by day I live in the village, by night in the town.” To begin with, the little man had no notion of what this meant. Then it happened that they had to cross a wide river. Their boat capsized and sank, and both fell into the water. The big man extricated himself very quickly, carried the little man to a safe spot, brought up the boat and put the little man into it; then he dived again into the water and brought up all the goods, even the tiniest articles, which the little man was intending to trade. This naturally aroused in the little man the greatest respect for the other, and as friends they had many talks together, sometimes on profound subjects. Thus on one occasion the little man said to the big man: “Oh! if only one could rise consciously to heaven; if only it were possible to know what is going on up there!” Thereupon the big man answered him: “Maybe you would like to soar into the air” ... and when the little man had assented he very soon became aware of fatigue and fell asleep. When he woke up the stars were above him, like pollen in the cup of a lotus-flower in heaven; he was even able to pluck one of these flowers, hiding it in his sleeve. Then he saw a great ship approaching, drawn and steered by dragons. In it was a great vessel of water, and the big man, who was with the little man in the clouds, showed him how the water could be poured out and allowed to trickle down to the Earth. Then the little man realized that he was able to act as do the Spirits of the Air when they let the rain pour down upon the Earth. He begged the big man to pour the water in the vessel on his native soil and to let him go down again to the earth by a rope. The big man said to him: “Now you have rescued me; I am a son of the Thunder God, and my duty has been to bestow rain and other blessings upon the Earth. Because for a time I did not perform my duty properly, I was obliged to lead on Earth the life of which you know.” Then he let the little man go down again to the Earth. The latter was now in his home once more, having with him the star he had gathered in the meadow of heaven This he placed upon the table, and it filled the whole room with miraculous light, strong enough even to read by. During the day it looked like a simple meteor-stone, but at night it was radiant and luminous. This continued until one night the little man's wife, rather a vain woman, was combing her hair by its light. This displeased the star-stone and it shrank to a tiny size. One day the wife had a strange impulse to swallow the stone! Thereupon there came to the little man a vision of the big man whom he knew so intimately, and the latter said to him: ”Owing to what has happened, now I can reach a particular stage of development. Now I shall be able to come to the Earth for a time as a son of the Thunder God. Your wife will bear me as your son.” And he was actually born as the son of the little man. A peculiarity of this child was that in the dark he shone like a star, so that people called him the “Star Child.” He lived on, and although as he grew older his radiance waned, it still revealed itself in the form of his great talents. Very soon he became a man of high importance in life....
This is the one story. You will wonder why I am telling you these tales, but before answering I will tell you a second, very similar one.
Once upon a time there lived a man who, in our country, might rank as a “Councillor” or “Governor.” He and his family lived in a spacious, very beautiful house. But after a time, strange things began to happen there. By day, and especially by night, nobody in it could get any rest; they were always being knocked, pinched, and dragged about in all directions; objects were hurled at them, and the house swarmed with ghosts. Because of this the family left the house and went to another, leaving a servant behind as caretaker; but after a few days he died. They sent a second and then a third, both of whom also died. They then decided to leave the house without any servant at all. A young skeptic now turned up, a youth who was preparing for an examination, and he wanted to take the house for his studies. The Councillor warned him that he would probably never come out alive, and that at any rate terrible things happened to everyone in the house. But the young man replied: “I have written a treatise on the very subject of the “Unreality of Spirits,” proving that they do not exist. I could write a great many more, and nobody who has written about such matters is in the least afraid of what may happen in such a house!” So the Councillor was prevailed upon to let him have the house. The young man took with him masses of books to study and sat down to begin his work. It was not long, however, before one of his ears was pinched, then the other; then he was attacked somewhere else and molested in all sorts of ways. When he went to bed the trouble began in real earnest! He could get no rest the whole night long and, skeptic though he was, he began to be dreadfully frightened. Nevertheless he refused to give way to terror and held out valiantly. On account of his power of endurance, the spectral figures, who were wont to bend over his books and play pranks by closing his eyes when he wanted to read, and so on, revealed themselves to him. This heartened the brave young man considerably, but it was a really ghastly state of affairs. Things went on like this until his good-heartedness enabled him to set up a kind of friendship with two spirit-beings who were always annoying and molesting him. After a time he discovered that the spirit-beings could not read but would like to be able to do so. And so it came about that he established a kind of school for the spirits, teaching them how to copy out all sorts of things from his books. Not only were the spirits extremely grateful for this, but they had actually learnt something. Spirit-intercourse was now quite a pastime to the young man, and the spirits who lived in the house had, moreover, profited greatly through him. The time came for his examination; as well as having had a great deal of amusement, he had imbibed so much knowledge that he was hopeful of passing, but the intrigues of an enemy caused the rumor that he had cheated in his written papers. As in that country the rules about such matters were extremely strict and because to begin with the rumor was believed, he was sent to prison and retained there for some time with nothing to eat. Finally, however, one of his spirit-friends brought food to him. She then began to bring the other spirits with her and they provided for all his needs. Thus there grew up between the young man and one of his spirit-friends a friendship much greater even than it had been before. And after his innocence had been established and he had been set free, although he had formerly “proved the unreality of spirits,” his spirit-friend was now such a reality to him that he resolved to marry her! She answered, however, that situated as she was, she could not marry, for she belonged to the spiritual worlds, but that if he would go to a certain priest-magician and ask his advice, there would be a way out of the dilemma. So he went to the priest-magician, who gave him a charm, saying that if when a funeral was passing his spirit-friend would go to the coffin and swallow this charm, she could then become a human being and marry him. Not long afterwards a funeral was actually taking place. The spirit-friend approached the procession, swallowed the charm, and then and there disappeared into the coffin. People were astounded in the highest degree when the figure they had seen disappeared into the coffin (for when she had swallowed the charm she became visible). They therefore put the coffin on the ground, opened it, and found that it contained no body at all! The burial could not, therefore, take place. But after a few days the spirit-friend came to the young man, told him that she had now become a human being — the one who had been in the coffin — and that they could now enter into wedlock. And so the two whose acquaintance had begun in the haunted house now lived on in the companionship of marriage.
If you give some thought to these two stories, you will have to admit that however close a search you may make in the literature accessible to Europeans, right back to the time when there was universal belief in ghosts, no such stories will be found. You will find indications of how the spirit-world plays into the world of men — but stories of this kind, giving the feeling that there could be no more natural and spontaneous way of depicting the interplay between the spirit-world and the human world, simply do not exist in European literature. They are quite unique. A curious feature strikes us when we study their composition. In the first story we are told, for instance, that a star is born as the son of a human being and goes on living as a man upon the Earth. To the kind of consciousness underlying the first story, it is a natural matter of course that beings exist in the stars, beings who are the primordial kith and kin of men, and that those who walk the Earth as men may, in reality, be embodied star-beings. This underlies the first story as a natural and accepted fact. In the second, a human being who enters into actual wedlock with another, first came to know her in the spiritual world; she then descends into the physical world and her life continues there. The trend of the two stories is identical. This sense of “togetherness” with the spiritual world — not in the form in which it is expressed in European sagas and legends, but on the totally different ground of which we shall presently speak — will nowhere be found, in the same peculiar form, in the literature of Europe — except it were to be imitated by some modern writer.
And now remind yourselves of something I said in one of the last public lectures. In the way that is possible in such a lecture, I spoke about the beginnings of Earth evolution and of the genesis of man in connection with Earth evolution. I said that the process of the evolution of humanity began at a comparatively late stage. We ourselves speak of the evolution of man and of mankind in the following way. When a human being is to enter physical existence on the Earth, the innermost kernel or core of his being works within a certain field of activity, molding the finer organs, the brain, and the more delicate bodily tissues. Thus there is in man a kernel of spirit-and-soul which passes over from earlier incarnations, envelops itself in what comes from the forefathers and is carried through the generations by the process of physical heredity. In a human being who appears on the Earth, a union takes place between what comes from earlier incarnations and what is carried through the generations, enveloping the kernel of spirit-and-soul which passes from incarnation to incarnation. I said that this form of the evolutionary process began only during the Atlantean epoch, when conditions rendering such a development possible arose for the first time on the Earth. I indicated that this particular process of evolution had been preceded by another, in which the human being did not pass into earthly existence by way of union between man and woman and then the descent of the soul which passes through the several incarnations. In very early periods of Earth evolution, the human being originated in an altogether different way. The reason for this is that not until the post-Atlantean period did the Earth actually resemble its present configuration. In the latest Atlantean period the Earth did not really differ, in essentials, from what it is at present; but the early Atlantean epoch was fundamentally different from the later, and anyone who ignores the fact that at that time entirely other conditions prevailed has a totally false conception of the configuration of the Earth. After having passed through the periods of Old Saturn, Old Sun, and Old Moon, the Earth was not only a living organism but also a spiritual being, a great organism permeated by spirit-and-soul. We do not get back to an inanimate ball of gas as intimated by the Kant-Laplace theory, but to the Earth as a huge, living being. In that ancient time the evolutionary process of humanity was such that fecundation did not take place between man and woman, but between the “above” and the “below” — in this sense, that the Earth, with its forces of life, provided the element of substance, the more material element, whereas the spiritual principle came from above like rain which fertilizes the soil of meadows, and united with the more material principle. It was by this method of fecundation that the first human beings came into existence. This was indicated in the public lecture and can be established on logical grounds, in accordance with the principles of natural existence. Then the Earth separated out from itself a solid mass, like a kind of bony system, and it was impossible thereafter for it to provide, as before, the substance for fertilization. The process had now to take place within the human organism. Instead of the fertilization “from above,” fertilization now came about by way of the two sexes, and the process which had formerly been set in train by interaction between the “above” and the “below” now passed over into the operations of heredity and into those of reincarnation which are bound up with heredity. Thus what had taken place on the surface of the Earth in earlier times had now passed into the being of man. Human beings came into existence and were able to inherit or carry over from one incarnation to the next those qualities which had formerly been received directly from the spiritual world but were now transmitted by heredity. As was said in the public lecture, the very first human beings were bisexual, then there was differentiation into the male and the female, and then a gradual development into the conditions prevailing at present; what in earlier times had operated more from above — the female element — passed into the woman, and what had operated more in the earthly element passed over in the stream of heredity into the male.
From intimations given through the course of years concerning the evolution of humanity, you will have realized that these conditions prevailed right on into the Atlantean epoch; it was not until the second half of the Atlantean epoch that the evolutionary process assumed, more or less, its present form. The Atlantean peoples on the Earth were really living in the aftermath of still earlier conditions, when the substantiality of the Earth was fertilized by the spirituality of the heavens. The Atlantean peoples saw the birth of a human being as a direct embodiment of the spiritual, a descent of the spiritual into the material. As we today see the rain falling from heaven and moistening the Earth, so did the people of Atlantis see human beings coming down from heavenly heights, uniting with substance provided by the Earth and then wandering over its surface. Conditions changed only by slow degrees; in certain regions the preparatory stages of conditions as they are at present had long since been in existence, whereas in other regions where the old conditions had persisted, the Atlantean peoples knew that the human being exists, to begin with, in the spiritual world and then seeks bodily substance in order to become part of Earth-humanity. Thus when a man in Atlantean times saw his fellow-men moving about the Earth, he said to himself: “The form I see there derives from the Earth, but what is within it derives from the same world to which the stars belong: the human being has descended from the worlds of the stars!” ... It sounds like a fairy-tale echoing from olden time ... Man comes down from heavenly heights, surrounds and clothes himself with earthly substance. The Atlantean peoples knew of the interaction between the heavens and the Earth. They knew: To begin with, man is a spirit; then he descends, clothes himself in matter and moves about the Earth. Man was seen as a heavenly being, a being from the spiritual world. For it was known that as he moved about, he differed from the spirits only in that he was clothed in matter. The transition from the spiritual world to the physical world was a much gentler, more delicate process. Not that the Atlantean would in any sense have denied the existence of the spiritual world ... on the contrary, he saw clearly that there was no very essential difference between physical men and the spirit beings who belong to that other world. He knew: One can communicate with a human being through signs, by employing the early rudiments of human speech ... and with the spirits, too, for the way in which man communicates with the spirits does not differ from the way he communicates with other men.
Naturally, only very little of this direct knowledge of man's connection with the spiritual world survived the Atlantean catastrophe. The mission of the post-Atlantean epoch was to develop in man an understanding of Earth existence proper, of all that can be acquired by the development of the body as a physical instrument. And so the perfectly natural communion with the spiritual world very soon ceased in the course of the post-Atlantean epoch. But what disappeared from the normal consciousness was preserved in those periods or moments of atavistic clairvoyance when the soul withdrew more into itself. What in earlier times had been actual experience when the soul turned its gaze into the spiritual world around, was born again later on ... in the form of Imagination, Phantasy. Let us assume that in some particular people belonging to the post-Atlantean age, the characteristics and faculties of the Atlantean epoch still survived more strongly than in all the others. It would not, of course, be possible for such a people, in the post-Atlantean epoch, to have experiences in the form they had taken in Atlantis. But there would certainly be something in their phantasy distinguishing it from that of new races — races which cannot really be said to be survivals of Atlantean peoples. In the leading races of the post-Atlantean epoch there will, obviously, be less evidence of this natural communion with the spiritual world.
In a people characterized by having carried over into the post-Atlantean epoch a constitution of soul reminiscent of the Atlantean period, the after-effects of this communion will be quite different from those working in the typical post-Atlantean races. In the case of a people who would be regarded from the point of view of occultism as belonging not to the progressive races but to the “laggard” races of ancient Atlantis, it is to be expected that their phantasy, when it speaks of the connection between the world of men and the world of spirits, will express itself in a form differing altogether from the phantasy of other peoples. We can understand that the imagination of such a people might well take the form of narrating how a star-being suddenly resolves to incarnate as the son of a human being who had rendered service to the star. Think of the first story, where a star-being — a son of the Thunder God — was born as the son of the friend with whom he had for a time wandered about the Earth. The second story suggests the gentler transition . . . a human being falls in love with a spirit-being from above; such a being does not descend to human existence in the ordinary way but chooses a dead body. It is as though an Atlantean soul, accustomed to seeing human beings descend and take on earthly substance, had gone astray by choosing a body which was suitable not for the post-Atlantean epoch but for that of Atlantis, when human beings were not born as they now are but merely assumed a mantle of earthly substance. In the light of this interpretation we can perceive in such stories the aftermath of earlier conditions. As the products of a race surviving from ancient Atlantis, their trend and content do not surprise us. It is interesting that a number of similar stories have been collected by Martin Huber and published by Rütten and Loening in Frankfurt-am-Main under the title of Chinese Ghost and Love Stories.
All this indicates that what may be surmised from a study of occult science is actual fact — although, of course, these things are now no more than tradition.
Light can be shed upon a great deal that comes our way in life if only we have patience to study the more intimate connections of world evolution. Men of the present day will often stand amazed at such things and will only begin to understand them when they realize that anyone who is cognizant of the more intimate connections of human evolution accepts them as self-evident. Understanding of Spiritual Science is not furthered by pedantic demands for “logical proof”; proof, after all, is useful only to those who are willing to believe what is asserted; it is useful only to those who can believe that it is proof. Nobody need believe in it at all — and then they are spared from believing anything! Spiritual Science will be received into the souls of men because of increasing evidence that those laws of which knowledge can be acquired only along the occult path can be applied even in the most hidden recesses of spiritual and material culture. The treasures of wisdom will come into their own when more and more people have patience enough to observe the harmony between all the facts of existence to which a spiritual conception of the world is applied, and to realize that only in this way can there be a true explanation of things which must otherwise remain incomprehensible.
Thinking of all these matters, we shall be able to say: Post-Atlantean civilization has its particular mission. Human beings who rightly understand their times will unfold the knowledge, will-activity, and qualities of heart to be acquired through the instrumentality of the body. In these domains there will be greater and greater progress — progress which, fundamentally, is connected with the phase of evolution stretching from the time of the Holy Rishis of India to the descent of the Christ-Impulse into humanity. But side by side with this there has existed much that is like “imprisoned” spiritual treasure. The people of Europe were astonished in the highest degree at the vistas of spiritual life opened up by the discoveries concerning the wisdom of India, of ancient Persia, concerning the Krishna- or Brahman-culture, or the ancient Zoroastrian culture. In the older civilizations there was, naturally, a deeper spirituality than in the products of later forms of knowledge. People in the West were dumbfounded by what German scholarship in the first half of the nineteenth century disclosed concerning these ancient civilizations, were astonished at the light shed upon the wisdom of India by Friedrich Schlegel, and, later on, upon the wisdom of Persia. These disclosures were so dumbfounding that the deep influence exercised by Oriental philosophy upon the minds of thinkers like Schopenhauer or Eduard von Hartmann is readily understandable. There we have the first expressions of the wonder and astonishment of the West at what is contained in these ancient civilizations as a kind of “imprisoned” spirituality.
We are now confronting another epoch, in which imprisoned spirituality in a different form will be capable of throwing the West into amazement, namely, the spirituality that does not belong to the mission of post-Atlantean humanity, but has remained as an heirloom from earlier times, concealed until our own time in the Chinese wisdom, of which the West hitherto has known practically nothing. Very little will be sufficient to enable what will happen over there to overwhelm the spiritual culture of the West — to such an extent indeed, that it might well forget its own mission, its own specific significance and task. As men live on into the future they will have to realize that from the Atlantean epoch there has survived upon our Earth an imprisoned spiritual wisdom and knowledge greater than anything revealed by the disclosures concerning the old Brahman and Zoroastrian civilizations; this wisdom will be unleashed when the spiritual life of China emerges from its concealment. Two things will have to be realized by those who turn their eyes toward the future. From over yonder there will flow a mighty stream of spiritual life, containing, even in external details, most wonderful teachings ... although such teachings would in any case be available to those willing to penetrate into the spiritual life along the path revealed by Spiritual Science. If, however (to quote words used in a different connection by our friend M.B... at our General Meeting) the great majority of human beings pull nightcaps over their eyes in regard to what Spiritual Science has to offer, then one day, in a form unsuited to Western mentality, spiritual treasures will pour from Chinese culture, and this portion of humanity, in their amazement, will realize that the products of such culture cannot be grasped by the pedantic thought common in the West, but only by deeper insight into the ancient Taoist culture which arose on the soil of the ancient Chinese civilization. Spiritual Science often goes against the grain because, by its very nature, study of it will induce belief. Those who deliberately pull nightcaps over their eyes will be amazed, but on the other hand also rather relieved, when in Spiritual Science they come across many things that have passed over into Chinese culture from Atlantean times. They will comfort themselves by saying: “There is no need to believe in that, for what history has preserved is studied simply because it is of interest!” This is the attitude of the philologists and archaeologists ... there is no need to believe in it; one can get hold of it by study and be exempt from having to “believe.” But when the wisdom casts off its fetters over yonder, it will have another effect as well: its obvious and intrinsic greatness will shock and amaze. It will pour over what mankind has acquired in Christian culture in such a way that it will have to be seen in its true perspective, studied from the right point of view. The proper approach will be to say: This spirituality existed; in bygone ages it constituted the spiritual culture of our Earth. But every epoch has its own mission, and that of Western culture is to drink at the wellsprings of the spiritual reality behind world-existence, so that this spiritual reality is perceived behind the material world, behind what eyes can see and hands can grasp — as a revelation from the spiritual world. Men will have to understand that their mission now belongs to a different age and that they must stand firm on the ground prepared by Christianity!
That is the other picture. Men will joyfully receive what derives from olden times but will illumine it, vivify it, with what the more recent, post-Atlantean, Christian culture has imparted to the soul. Weaklings, however, will say: “We will accept spirituality from whatever source it may come, for all that interests us is a sensational vista of the spiritual worlds.” There may actually be neo-theosophists who will say: “The truth is not to be found through deep comprehension of the Christ-Principle; it lies in what has been preserved by the Chinese, coming to light again when they bring forth the Atlantean wisdom hidden in the deepest strata of their souls.” Europe might well be offered a new “Secret Doctrine” compiled from the truths of Chinese wisdom. This would imply that, after all, the proper model for modern theosophists is a much more ancient Theosophy which did not feel called upon to derive the founts of spiritual life from Christian Mysticism and Christian Love — nor, for the matter of that, to plagiarize — and even that very imperfectly — the wisdom of ancient India somewhat embellished by the wisdom of ancient Egypt! As for the weaklings, they will be just as eager for Chinese wisdom as for the spirituality which they think is opened up for them by the ancient or also by the “newly revealed” Indian wisdom. After all, to Europeans, India is almost as remote as China; and if people are told of revelations made possible in China owing to certain forces having been set free, this may well seem more credible to them than that anything of the kind should have transpired in Berlin.
If we ponder over these things we shall find the true balance between joyful acceptance of what has been preserved from ancient epochs of culture and a firm footing on the soil resulting from evolution through the ages. That heed shall be paid to the importance of maintaining this balance is and will remain the constant care of the Movement with which we identify ourselves. It is simply an untruth when here or there it is said that we are out to reject or ignore what is offered in the way of Indian spirituality, for example. It is an untruth, as everyone who has taken part in our work well knows; and it would be grievous if such untruths were to take root in the world in connection with our Movement. Opinions that are at variance are easy to deal with; they soon balance themselves out. But inaccurate statements give rise to one misunderstanding after another ... for it is the peculiarity of misunderstanding that it constantly gives birth to fresh misunderstandings! With this in mind it must be our primary task to realize how far our own standpoint on the soil of Western spiritual life is justified in face of the other phases of human evolution. On the other hand, we must take care that everything we say about those other phases of evolution, about other forms of spirituality, is presented honestly and truthfully. Again and again it must be repeated and realized by Theosophists that even if much of the spiritual insight we have been able to gain goes under, its influence will remain! No matter what transpires, our work must be full of sincerity, integrity, and truthfulness. And if, in future times, all that people will be able to say of our particular work is that many a thing was improved, many another has not survived — nevertheless it was an example of the fact that occultism and earnest spiritual research can be entirely free from charlatanism or humbug, that the striving for occult knowledge can be true, genuine, and sincere ... if that can be said of us, we shall really have done something to further the development of the occult life! And the fact that we would not admit anything of which in the future these things could not be said, may be accounted among our finest achievements.