Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Cosmic Memory
GA 11

iii. Our Atlantean Ancestors

Our Atlantean ancestors differed more from present-day man than he would imagine whose knowledge is confined wholly to the world of the senses. This difference extended not only to the external appearance but also to spiritual faculties. Their knowledge, their technical arts, indeed their entire civilization differed from what can be observed today. If we go back to the first periods of Atlantean humanity we find a mental capacity quite different from ours. Logical reason, the power of arithmetical combining, on which everything rests that is produced today, were totally absent among the first Atlanteans. On the other hand, they had a highly developed memory. This memory was one of their most prominent mental faculties. For example, the Atlantean did not calculate as we do, by learning certain rules which he then applied. A “multiplication table” was something totally unknown in Atlantean times. Nobody impressed upon his intellect that three times four is twelve. In the event that he had to perform such a calculation he could manage because he remembered identical or similar situations. He remembered how it had been on previous occasions. One need only realize that each time a new faculty develops in an organism, an old faculty loses power and acuteness. The man of today is superior to the Atlantean in logical reasoning, in the ability to combine. On the other hand, memory has deteriorated. Nowadays man thinks in concepts; the Atlantean thought in images. When an image appeared in his soul he remembered a great many similar images which he had already experienced. He directed his judgment accordingly. For this reason all teaching at that time was different from what it became later. It was not calculated to furnish the child with rules, to sharpen his reason. Instead, life was presented to him in vivid images, so that later he could remember as much as possible when he had to act under particular conditions. When the child had grown and had gone out into life, for everything he had to do he could remember something similar which had been presented to him in the course of his education. He could manage best when the new situation was similar to one he had already seen. Under totally new conditions the Atlantean had to rely on experiment, while in this respect much has been spared modern man due to the fact that he is equipped with rules. He can easily apply these in those situations which are new to him. The Atlantean system of education gave a uniformity to all of life. For long periods things were done again and again in the same way. The faithful memory did not allow anything to develop which was even remotely similar to the rapidity of our present-day progress. One did what one had always “seen” before. One did not invent; one remembered. He was not an authority who had learned much, but rather he who had experienced much and therefore could remember much. In the Atlantean period it would have been impossible for someone to decide an important matter before reaching a certain age. One had confidence only in a person who could look back upon long experience.

What has been said here was not true of the initiates and their schools. For they are in advance of the stage of development of their period. For admission into such schools, the decisive factor is not age, but whether in his previous incarnations the applicant has acquired the faculties for receiving higher wisdom. The confidence placed in the initiates and their representatives during the Atlantean period was not based on the richness of their personal experience, but rather on the antiquity of their wisdom. In the case of the initiate, personality ceases to have any importance. He is totally in the service of eternal wisdom. Therefore the characteristic features of a particular period do not apply to him.

While the power to think logically was absent among the Atlanteans (especially the earlier ones), in their highly developed memory they possessed something which gave a special character to everything they did. But with the nature of one human power others are always connected. Memory is closer to the deeper natural basis of man than reason, and in connection with it other powers were developed which were still closer to those of subordinate natural beings than are contemporary human powers. Thus the Atlanteans could control what one calls the life force. As today one extracts the energy of heat from coal and transforms it into motive power for our means of locomotion, the Atlanteans knew how to put the germinal energy of organisms into the service of their technology. One can form an idea of this from the following. Think of a kernel of seed-grain. In this an energy lies dormant. This energy causes the stalk to sprout from the kernel. Nature can awaken this energy which reposes in the seed. Modern man cannot do it at will. He must bury the seed in the ground and leave the awakening to the forces of nature. The Atlantean could do something else. He knew how one can change the energy of a pile of grain into technical power, just as modern man can change the heat energy of a pile of coal into such power. Plants were cultivated in the Atlantean period not merely for use as foodstuffs but also in order to make the energies dormant in them available to commerce and industry. Just as we have mechanisms for transforming the energy dormant in coal into energy of motion in our locomotives, so the Atlanteans had mechanisms in which they—so to speak—burned plant seeds, and in which the life force was transformed into technically utilizable power. The vehicles of the Atlanteans, which floated a short distance above the ground travelled at a height lower than that of the mountain ranges of the Atlantean period, and they had steering mechanisms by the aid of which they could rise above these mountain ranges.

One must imagine that with the passage of time all conditions on our earth have changed very much. Today, the above-mentioned vehicles of the Atlanteans would be totally useless. Their usefulness depended on the fact that then the cover of air which envelops the earth was much denser than at present. Whether in face of current scientific beliefs one can easily imagine such greater density of air, must not occupy us here. Because of their very nature, science and logical thinking can never decide what is possible or impossible. Their only function is to explain what has been ascertained by experience and observation. The above-mentioned density of air is as certain for occult experience as any fact of today given by the senses can be.

Equally certain however is the fact, perhaps even more at that time the water on the whole earth was much thinner than today. Because of this thinness the water could be directed by the germinal energy used by the Atlanteans into technical services which today are impossible. As a result of the increased density of the water, it has become impossible to move and to direct it in such ingenious ways as once were possible. From this it must be sufficiently clear that the civilization of the Atlantean period was radically different from ours. It will also be understood that the physical nature of an Atlantean was quite different from that of a contemporary man. The Atlantean took into himself water which could be used by the life force inherent in his own body in a manner quite different from that possible in today's physical body. It was due to this that the Atlantean could consciously employ his physical powers in an entirely different way from a man of today. He had, so to speak, the means to increase the physical powers in himself when he needed them for what he was doing. In order to have an accurate conception of the Atlanteans one must know that their ideas of fatigue and the depletion of forces were quite different from those of present-day man.

An Atlantean settlement—as must be evident from everything we have described—had a character which in no way resembled that of a modern city. In such a settlement everything was, on the contrary, still in alliance with nature. Only a vaguely similar picture is given if one should say that in the first Atlantean periods—about to the middle of the third subrace—a settlement resembled a garden in which the houses were built of trees with artfully intertwined branches. What the work of human hands created at that time grew out of nature. And man himself felt wholly related to nature. Hence his social sense also was quite different from that of today. After all, nature is common to all men. What the Atlantean built up on the basis of nature he considered to be common property just as a man of today thinks it only natural to consider as his private property what his ingenuity, his intelligence have created for him.

One familiar with the idea that the Atlanteans were equipped with such spiritual and physical powers as have been described, will also understand that in still earlier times mankind presented a picture which reminds him in only a few particulars of what he is accustomed to see today. Not only men, but also the surrounding nature has changed enormously in the course of time. Plant and animal forms have become different. All of earthly nature has been subjected to transformations. Once inhabited regions of earth have been destroyed; others have come into existence.

The ancestors of the Atlanteans lived in a region which has disappeared, the main part of which lay south of contemporary Asia. In theosophical writings they are called the Lemurians. After they had passed through various stages of development the greatest part of them declined. These became stunted men, whose descendants still inhabit certain parts of the earth today as so-called savage tribes. Only a small part of Lemurian humanity was capable of further development. From this part the Atlanteans were formed.

Later, something similar again took place. The greatest part of the Atlantean population declined, and from a small portion are descended the so-called Aryans who comprise present-day civilized humanity. According to the nomenclature of the science of the spirit, the Lemurians, Atlanteans and Aryans are root races of mankind. If one imagines that two such root races preceded the Lemurians and that two will succeed the Aryans in the future, one obtains a total of seven. One always arises from another in the manner just indicated with respect to the Lemurians, Atlanteans, and Aryans. Each root race has physical and mental characteristics which are quite different from those of the preceding one. While, for example, the Atlanteans especially developed memory and everything connected with it, at the present time it is the task of the Aryans to develop the faculty of thought and all that belongs to it.

In each root race various stages must also be gone through. There are always seven of these. In the beginning of a period identified with a root race, its principal characteristics are in a youthful condition; slowly they attain maturity and finally enter a decline. The population of a root race is thereby divided into seven sub-races. But one must not imagine that one subrace immediately disappears when a new one develops. Each one may maintain itself for a long time while others are developing beside it. Thus there are always populations which show different stages of development living beside each other on earth.

The first subrace of the Atlanteans developed from a very advanced part of the Lemurians who had a high evolutionary potential. The faculty of memory appeared only in its rudiments among the Lemurians, and then only in the last period of their development. One must imagine that while a Lemurian could form ideas of what he was experiencing, he could not preserve these ideas. He immediately forgot what he had represented to himself. Nevertheless, that he lived in a certain civilization, that, for example, he had tools, erected buildings and so-forth—this he owed not to his own powers of conception, but to a mental force in him, which was instinctive. However, one must not imagine this to have been the present-day instinct of animals, but one of a different kind.

Theosophical writings call the first subrace of the Atlanteans that of the Rmoahals. The memory of this race was primarily directed toward vivid sense impressions. Colors which the eye had seen, sounds which the ear had heard, had a long after-effect in the soul. This was expressed in the fact that the Rmoahals developed feelings which their Lemurian ancestors did not yet know. For example, the attachment to what has been experienced in the past is a part of these feelings.

With the development of memory was connected that of language. As long as man did not preserve what was past, a communication of what had been experienced could not take place through the medium of language. Because in the last Lemurian period the first beginnings of memory appeared, at that time it was also possible for the faculty of naming what had been seen and heard to have its inception. Only men who have the faculty of recollection can make use of a name which has been given to something. The Atlantean period, therefore, is the one in which the development of language took place. With language a bond was established between the human soul and the things outside man. He produced a speech-word inside himself, and this speech-word belonged to the objects of the external world. A new bond is also formed among men by communications through the medium of language. It is true that all this existed in a still youthful form among the Rmoahals, but nevertheless it distinguished them profoundly from their Lemurian forefathers.

The soul powers of these first Atlanteans still possessed something of the forces of nature. These men were more closely related to the beings of nature which surrounded them than were their successors. Their soul powers were more connected with forces of nature than are those of modern man. Thus the speech-word which they produced had something of the power of nature. They not only named things, but in their words was a power over things and also over their fellow-men. The word of the Rmoahals not only had meaning, but also power. The magic power of words is something which was far truer for those men than it is for men of today. When a Rmoahals man pronounced a word, this word developed a power similar to that of the object it designated. Because of this, words at that time were curative; they could advance the growth of plants, tame the rage of animals, and perform other similar functions. All this progressively decreased in force among the later sub-races of the Atlanteans. One could say that the original fullness of power was gradually lost. The Rmoahals men felt this plenitude of power to be a gift of mighty nature, and their relationship to the latter had a religious character. For them language was something especially sacred. The misuse of certain sounds, which possessed an important power, was an impossibility. Each man felt that such misuse must cause him enormous harm. The good magic of such words would have changed into its opposite; that which would have brought blessings if used properly would bring ruin to the author if used criminally. In a kind of innocence of feeling the Rmoahals ascribed their power not so much to themselves as to the divine nature acting within them.

This changed among the second subrace, the so-called Tlavatli peoples. The men of this race began to feel their own personal value. Ambition, a quality unknown to the Rmoahals, made itself felt among them. Memory was in a sense transferred to the conception of communal life. He who could look back upon certain deeds demanded recognition of them from his fellow-men. He demanded that his works be preserved in memory. Based upon this memory of deeds, a group of men who belonged together elected one as leader A kind of regal rank developed. This recognition was even preserved beyond death. The memory, the remembrance of the ancestors or of those who had acquired merit in life, developed. From this there emerged among some tribes a kind of religious veneration of the deceased, an ancestor cult. This cult continued into much later times and took the most varied forms. Among the Rmoahals a man was still esteemed only to the degree to which he could command respect at a particular moment through his powers. If someone among them wanted recognition for what he had done in earlier days, he had to demonstrate by new deeds that he still possessed his old power. He had to recall the old works to memory by means of new ones. What had been done was not esteemed for its own sake. Only the second subrace considered the personal character of a man to the point where it took his past life into account in the evaluation of this character.

A further consequence of memory for the communal life of man was the fact that groups of men were formed which were held together by the remembrance of common deeds. Previously the formation of groups depended wholly upon natural forces, upon common descent. Man did not add anything through his own mind to what nature had made of him. Now a powerful personality recruited a number of people for a joint undertaking, and the memory of this joint action formed a social group.

This kind of social communal life became fully developed only among the third subrace, the Toltec. It was therefore the men of this race who first founded what is a state. The leadership, the government of these communities, was transmitted from one generation to the next. The father now gave over to the son what previously survived only in the memory of contemporaries. The deeds of the ancestors were not to be forgotten by their whole line of descent. What an ancestor had done was esteemed by his descendants. However, one must realize that in those times men actually had the power to transmit their gifts to their descendants. Education, after all, was calculated to mold life through vivid images. The effectiveness of this education had its foundation in the personal power which emanated from the educator—He did not sharpen the power of thought, but in fact, developed those gifts which were of a more instinctive kind. Through such a system of education the capacities of the father were generally transmitted to the son.

Under such conditions personal experience acquired more and more importance among the third subrace. When one group of men separated from another for the foundation of a new community, it carried along the remembrance of what it had experienced at the old scene. But at the same time there was something in this remembrance which the group did not find suitable for itself, in which it did not feel at ease. Therefore it then tried something new. Thus conditions improved with every one of these new foundations. It was only natural that what was better was imitated. These are the facts which explain the development of those flourishing communities in the period of the third subrace, described in theosophic literature. The personal experiences which were acquired found support from those who were initiated into the eternal laws of spiritual development. Powerful rulers themselves were initiated, so that personal ability might have full support. Through his personal ability man slowly prepares himself for initiation. He must first develop his powers from below in order that the enlightenment from above can be given to him. In this way the initiated kings and leaders of the Atlanteans came into being. Enormous power was in their hands, and they were greatly venerated.

But in this fact also lay the reason for decline and decay. The development of memory led to the pre-eminent power of a personality. Man wanted to count for something through his power. The greater the power became, the more he wanted to exploit it for himself. The ambition which had developed turned into marked selfishness. Thus the misuse of these powers arose. When one considers the capabilities of the Atlanteans resulting from their mastery of the life force, one will understand that this misuse inevitably had enormous consequences. A broad power over nature could be put at the service of personal egotism.

This was accomplished in full measure by the fourth subrace, the Primal Turanians. The members of this race, who were instructed in the mastery of the above-mentioned powers, often used them in order to satisfy their selfish wishes and desires. But used in such a manner, these powers destroy each other in their reciprocal effects. It is as if the feet were stubbornly to carry a man forward, while his torso wanted to go backward.

Such a destructive effect could only be halted through the development of a higher faculty in man. This was the faculty of thought. Logical thinking has a restraining effect on selfish personal wishes. The origin of logical thinking must be sought among the fifth subrace, the Primal Semites. Men began to go beyond a mere remembrance of the past and to compare different experiences. The faculty of judgment developed. Wishes and appetites were regulated in accordance with this faculty of judgment. One began to calculate, to combine. One learned to work with thoughts. If previously one had abandoned oneself to every desire, now one first asked whether thought could approve this desire. While the men of the fourth subrace rushed wildly toward the satisfaction of their appetites, those of the fifth began to listen to an inner voice. This inner voice checks the appetites, although it cannot destroy the claims of the selfish personality.

Thus the fifth subrace transferred the impulses for action to within the human being. Man wishes to come to terms within himself as to what he must or must not do. But what thus was won within, with respect to the faculty of thought, was lost with respect to the control of external natural forces. With this combining thought mentioned above, one can master only the forces of the mineral world, not the life force. The fifth subrace therefore developed thought at the expense of control of the life force. But it was just through this that it produced the germ of the further development of mankind. New personality, self-love, even complete selfishness could grow freely; for thought alone which works wholly within, and can no longer give direct orders to nature, is not capable of producing such devastating effects as the previously misused powers. From this fifth subrace the most gifted part was selected which survived the decline of the fourth root race and formed the germ of the fifth, the Aryan race, whose mission is the complete development of the thinking faculty.

The men of the sixth subrace, the Akkadians, developed the faculty of thought even further than the fifth. They differed from the so-called Primal Semites in that they employed this faculty in a more comprehensive sense than the former.

It has been said that while the development of the faculty of thought prevented the claims of the selfish personality from having the same devastating effects as among the earlier races, these claims were not destroyed by it. The Primal Semites at first arranged their personal circumstances as their faculty of thought directed. Intelligence took the place of mere appetites and desires. The conditions of life changed. If preceding races were inclined to acknowledge as leader one whose deeds had impressed themselves deeply upon their memory, or who could look back upon a life of rich memories, this role was now conferred upon the intelligent. If previously that which lived in a clear remembrance was decisive, one now regarded as best what was most convincing to thought. Under the influence of memory one formerly held fast to a thing until one found it to be inadequate, and in that case it was quite natural that he who was in a position to remedy a want could introduce an innovation. But as a result of the faculty of thought, a fondness for innovations and changes developed. Each wanted to put into effect what his intelligence suggested to him. Turbulent conditions therefore began to prevail under the fifth subrace, and in the sixth they led to a feeling of the need to bring the obdurate thinking of the individual under general laws. The splendor of the communities of the third subrace was based on the fact that common memories brought about order and harmony. In the sixth, this order had to be brought about by thought-out laws. Thus it is in this sixth subrace that one must look for the origin of regulations of justice and law.

During the third subrace, the separation of a group of men took place only when they were forced out of their community so to speak, because they no longer felt at ease in the conditions prevailing as a result of memory. In the sixth this was considerably different. The calculating faculty of thought sought the new as such; it spurred men to enterprises and new foundations. The Akkadians were therefore an enterprising people with an inclination to colonization. It was commerce, especially, which nourished the waxing faculty of thought and judgment.

Among the seventh subrace, the Mongols, the faculty of thought was also developed. But characteristics of the earlier sub-races, especially of the fourth, remained present in them to a much higher degree than in the fifth and sixth. They remained faithful to the feeling for memory. And thus they reached the conviction that what is oldest is also what is most sensible and can best defend itself against the faculty of thought. It is true that they also lost the mastery over the life forces, but what developed in them as the thinking faculty also possessed something of the natural might of this life force. Indeed they had lost the power over life, but they never lost their direct, naive faith in it. This force had become their god, in whose behalf they did everything they considered right. Thus they appeared to the neighboring peoples as if possessed by this secret force, and they surrendered themselves to it in blind trust. Their descendants in Asia and in some parts of Europe manifested and still manifest much of this quality.

The faculty of thought planted in men could only attain its full value in relation to human development when it received a new impetus in the fifth root race. The fourth root race, after all, could only put this faculty at the service of that to which it was educated through the gift of memory. The fifth alone reached life conditions for which the proper tool is the ability to think.