Our bookstore now ships internationally. Free domestic shipping $50+ →

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Atlantis and Lemuria
GA 11

II. Our Atlantean Forefathers

Our Atlantean ancestors differed more from the men of to-day than may be imagined by anyone who is wholly limited to the world of sense for his knowledge. This difference extends not only to the outward appearance, but also to mental capacities. Their science and also their technical arts, their whole civilisation, differed much from that of our day. If we go back to the early times of Atlantean humanity we shall find there a mental capacity altogether different from our own. Logical reasoning, the calculatory combinations upon which all that is produced at the present day is based, were entirely wanting in the early Atlanteans, but in place of these they possessed a highly-developed memory. This memory was one of their most prominent mental faculties. For example, they did not count as we do by the application of certain acquired rules. A multiplication table was something absolutely unknown in early Atlantean times. No one had impressed upon his understanding the fact that three times four were twelve. A person's ability to make such a calculation, when necessary, rested on the fact that he could remember cases of the same or a similar kind. He remembered how this was done on former occasions. Now it must be clearly understood that whenever a new faculty is developed in a being, an old one loses its force and precision. The man of the present day has the advantage over the Atlantean of possessing a logical understanding and an aptitude for combination; but on the other hand his memory power has waned. We now think in ideas, the Atlantean thought in pictures; and when a picture rose in his mind he remembered many other similar pictures which he had formerly seen, and then formed his judgment accordingly. Consequently all education then was quite different from that of later times. It was not intended to provide the child with rules or to sharpen his wits. Rather was life presented to him in comprehensive pictures, so that subsequently he could call to remembrance as much as possible, when dealing with this or that circumstance. When the child had grown up and had reached maturity, he could remember, no matter what he might have to do, that something similar had been shown to him in the days of his instruction. He saw clearly how to act when the new event resembled something already seen. When absolutely new conditions arose, the Atlantean found himself compelled to experiment; while the man of to-day is spared much in this direction, being furnished with a set of rules which he can easily apply in circumstances new to him. Such a system of education gave a strong uniformity to the entire life. Things were done again and again in exactly the same way during very long periods of time. The faithfulness of memory offered no scope for anything at all approaching the rapidity of our own progress. A man did what he had always seen done before; he did not think, he remembered. Not he who had learnt much was held as an authority, but he who had experienced a great deal and could therefore remember much. It would have been impossible in Atlantean times for anyone who had not reached a certain age to be called upon to decide on any affair of importance. Confidence was placed only in one who could look back on a long experience.

What is here said does not refer to Initiates and their schools, for they indeed are beyond the average development of their time. And for admission into such schools, age is not the deciding factor, but rather the consideration, whether the candidate in his former incarnations has acquired the ability to assimilate the higher wisdom. The confidence placed in Initiates and their agents in Atlantean times was not based on the extent of their personal experience, but on the age of their wisdom. For an Initiate, his own personality has ceased to have any importance; he is entirely at the service of the Eternal Wisdom, and therefore the characteristics of any period of time have no weight with him.

Thus, while the power of logical thinking was still wanting, especially in the earlier Atlanteans, they possessed in their highly developed power of memory something which gave a special character to their whole activity. But other powers are always bound up with the nature of one special human force. Memory is nearer to the deeper foundations laid by Nature in man than is the power of reason; and in connection with the former, other impulses were developed which bore greater resemblance to those lower nature forces than the motive forces of human action at the present day. Thus the Atlantean was master of what is called the Life-Force. Just as we now draw from coal the force of warmth, which is changed into the force of propulsion in our methods of traffic, so did the Atlanteans understand how to use the germinal force of living things in the service of their technical works. An illustration of this may be given as follows: Let us think of a grain of corn; in it slumbers a force; this force acts in such a way that out of the grain of corn the stalk sprouts forth. Nature can awaken this sleeping force in the grain, but the man of to-day cannot do so at will. He must bury the grain in the earth, and leave its awakening to the forces of Nature. The Atlantean could do something more. He knew what to do in order to transform the force in a heap of corn into mechanical power, just as the man of our day can transform into a like power the force of warmth in a heap of coal. In Atlantean times plants were not cultivated merely for use as food, but also in order that the slumbering force in them might be rendered serviceable to their commerce and industry. Just as we have contrivances for transforming the latent force of coal into the power to propel our engines, so had the Atlanteans devices for heating by the use of plant-seeds in which the life-force was changed into a power applicable to technical purposes. In this way were propelled the air-ships of the Atlanteans, which soared a little above the earth. These air-ships sailed at a height rather below that of the mountains of Atlantean times, and they had steering appliances, by means of which they could be raised above these mountains.

We must picture to ourselves that with the advance of time all the conditions of our earth have greatly changed. These air-ships of the Atlanteans would be quite useless in our days. Their utility lay in the fact that at that time the atmosphere enveloping our earth was much denser than now. Whether, according to the scientific conceptions of the present day, such an increased density of the air can be easily conceived, need not concern us here. Science and logical thought can never, from their very nature, determine what is possible and what impossible. Their task is only to explain what has been proved by experience and observation. And the density of the air here spoken of is, in occult experience, as much a certainty as any given fact of the world of sense can be to-day. And just as firmly established is the fact—perhaps even more inexplicable to the physics and chemistry of our time—that in those days the water over the whole earth was much more fluid than it is now. And owing to its fluidity, water (being driven by means of the life-force in seeds) could be used by the Atlanteans for technical purposes impossible to-day. On account of the densification of water, it has become impossible to set it in motion and to guide it in the same premeditated manner as was once possible. From this it is sufficiently evident that the civilisation of Atlantean times differed fundamentally from our own, and it will also be readily conceivable that the physical nature of an Atlantean was quite different from that of the contemporary man. Water when drunk by the Atlantean could be worked upon by the life-force within his own body in quite another way than is possible in the physical body of to-day. And thus it arose that the Atlantean could use his physical strength at will, quite otherwise than ourselves. He had, as it were, the means within himself of increasing physical forces when he required them for his own use. It is only possible to picture the Atlanteans correctly when one knows that they had conceptions of fatigue and the loss of strength absolutely different from our own.

An Atlantean settlement, as may be gathered from what has already been said, bore a character in no way resembling that of a modern town. But there was a much closer resemblance between it and Nature. We can only give a faint suggestion of the real picture when we say that in early Atlantean times—till about the middle of the third sub-race—a settlement resembled a garden in which the houses formed themselves out of trees whose branches were intertwined in an artistic manner. Whatever the hand of man fashioned at that time grew naturally in like manner. Man, too, felt himself entirely akin to Nature, and so it arose that his social instinct was quite different from our own. Nature is indeed the common property of all men; and whatever the Atlantean built up with Nature for its foundation, he regarded as common property, precisely as the man of to-day thinks it only natural to regard as his own private property that which his acuteness and his reason have produced.

Anyone who familiarises himself with the idea that the Atlanteans were endowed with such mental and physical powers as have been depicted, will likewise learn to understand that at still earlier periods mankind presents an aspect which but very faintly reminds us of what we are accustomed to see to-day. And not only man, but Nature which surrounds him, has also changed enormously in the course of time. [With regard to the time-periods at which the conditions shown held sway, something more will be said in the course of these communications. For the present the reader is warned not be surprised if the few figures given him in the previous chapter seem to contradict what he finds elsewhere.] The forms of plant and animal have altered; the whole of terrestrial Nature has undergone a transformation. Regions of the earth which were formerly inhabited have been destroyed, and others have arisen.

The forefathers of the Atlanteans lived on a part of the earth which has disappeared, the principal portion of which lay to the south of what is Asia to-day. In Theosophical literature they are called Lemurians. After passing through various stages of evolution the greater number fell into decadence. They became a stunted race, whose descendants, the so-called savages, inhabit certain portions of the earth even now. Only a small number of the Lemurians were capable of advancing in their evolution, and it was from these that the Atlantean Race developed. Still later something similar occurred. The great mass of the inhabitants of Atlantis fell into decadence; and the so-called Âryans, to which race belongs the humanity of our present civilisation, sprang from a small division of these Atlanteans. According to the nomenclature of the “Secret Doctrine,” Lemurians, Atlanteans, and Âryans are Root-Races of humanity. If we think of two such Root-Races preceding the Lemurian, and two following the Âryan in the future, we have altogether seven. The one always arises out of the other in the manner pointed out in the case of the Lemurian, Atlantean, and Âryan Races. And each Root-Race has physical and mental qualities entirely different from those of that which precedes it. While, for example, the Atlantean brought his memory and everything in connection with it to a high degree of development, the duty of the Âryan of the present is to develop thought-power and all that appertains thereto.

But each Root-Race itself must pass through different stages, and these again are always sevenfold. At the beginning of a time-period belonging to a Root-Race, its leading characteristics appear in an immature state; they gradually reach maturity, and then at last decadence. Thus, the members of a Root-Race are divided into seven sub-races. However, it must not be imagined that one sub-race immediately disappeared on the development of a new one. On the contrary, every one of them continued to exist for a long time, while others flourished beside it. Thus there are always dwellers on the earth, living side by side, but showing the most varied stages of evolution.

The first sub-race of the Atlanteans arose from a portion of the Lemurian Race which was greatly advanced and capable of further evolution. For instance, in this latter race the gift of memory showed itself only in its very earliest beginnings, and even so much did not appear until the latest stages of its evolution. It must be realised that a Lemurian could indeed make images of his experiences, but could not preserve them as recollections; he immediately forgot what he had pictured to himself. That, in spite of this, he lived to a certain extent a civilised life; for instance, that he possessed tools, erected buildings, and so on, was not due to his own imagination, but to an inner mental force which was instinctive. Yet we must not imagine an instinct similar to that which animals possess at the present time, but an instinct of another order.

The first sub-race of the Atlanteans is called in Theosophical literature the Rmoahal. The memory of this race was especially derived from vivid sense-impressions. Colours which the eye had seen, tones which the ear had heard, continued to operate long within the soul. This was manifested in the fact that the Rmoahals developed feelings quite unknown to their Lemurian ancestors. For instance, adherence to that which had been experienced in the past constituted part of such feelings.

Now the development of speech depended on that of memory. As long as man did not remember the past, there could be no narration of experiences by means of speech. And because the first rudiments of a memory appeared in the latest Lemurian period, it was only then possible that the ability to give names to things heard and seen could begin to appear. It is only those who have the faculty of recollection who can make any use of a name which has been given to an object; and consequently it was in the Atlantean period that speech found its development. And with speech a tie was formed between the human soul and things exterior to man, since he then produced the spoken word from within himself, and this spoken word appertained to the objects of the outer world. Through communication by means of speech a new bond also arose between man and man. All this, indeed, was still in an elementary form at the time of the Rmoahals; but nevertheless it distinguished them profoundly from their Lemurian ancestors.

Now the forces in the souls of these first Atlanteans still retained something of the force of Nature. Man was then in a certain manner more nearly related to the Nature-spirits surrounding him than were his descendants. Their soul forces were more Nature forces than are those of the men of the present, and so, too, the spoken word which they uttered had something of the might of Nature. Not only did they name objects, but their words contained a power over things and over their fellow-creatures. The word of the Rmoahal possessed more than mere meaning; it had also power. When we speak of the magic force of words we indicate something which was a far greater reality at that time, and for those men, than it is for men of the present. When a Rmoahal pronounced a word, this word developed a force akin to that of the object designated by it. Hence it is that words had the power of healing at that time, and that they could hasten the growth of plants, tame the rage of animals, and produce other such effects. All this force gradually faded away among the later Atlantean sub-races. It might be said that that fullness of strength which was a product of Nature wasted away little by little. The men of the Rmoahal race regarded such fullness of strength altogether as a gift from mighty Nature herself; and this relation of theirs with Nature bore for them a religious character. Speech was, to them, something especially sacred, and the misuse of certain tones in which dwelt a significant power was to them an impossibility. Every individual felt that such misuse must bring him terrible injury. The magic of such words, they thought, would change into its opposite; that which rightly used would cause a blessing would bring the author to ruin if wrongly employed. In a certain innocence of feeling the Rmoahals ascribed their power less to themselves than to Divine Nature working in them.

It was otherwise in the second sub-race (the so-called Tlavatli peoples). The men of this race began to feel their own personal value. Ambition, an unknown quality among the Rmoahals, showed itself in them. We might say that the faculty of memory grew into the comprehension of life in communities. He who could look back on certain deeds demanded from his fellow-men some recognition of his ability. He claimed that his work should be held in remembrance, and it was this memory of deeds that was the basis on which rested the election, by a group of men allied to each other, of a certain one as leader. A kind of kingship arose. Indeed, this recognition extended beyond death. The remembrance, the commemoration of forefathers, or of those who, during life, had one merit, arose in this way, and thus in single family groups there grew up a kind of religious reverence for the dead—in other words, ancestor-worship. This has continued to spread into much later times and has taken the most varied forms. Among the Rmoahals a man was still esteemed only according to the degree in which for the moment he was able to make himself valuable by the greatness of his power. Did anyone want recognition for what he had done in former days, then he must show by new deeds that he still possessed the old power. He must call to remembrance his old achievements by the performance of new ones. That which had once been done was valueless in itself. Not until the second sub-race was the personal character of a man of so much account that his past life was taken into consideration in the estimation of it.

A further result of the power of thought in drawing men to live together appeared in the fact that groups of men were formed who were united by the remembrance of deeds done in company. The forming of such groups originally depended wholly upon the forces of Nature, on their common parentage. By his own intelligence man had as yet added nothing to that which Nature had made of him. One mighty personality now enlisted a great company to share in a common undertaking; and the remembrance of this work, being retained by all, built up a social group.

This manner of living together in social groups only impressed itself forcibly when the third sub-race (the Toltec) was reached. It was therefore the men of this race who first founded what may be called a commonwealth, the earliest kind of statecraft. The leadership, the government, of this commonwealth passed from ancestors to descendants. That which had formerly continued only in the memory of their fellow-men, the father now transferred to the son. The deeds of their forefathers would be kept in remembrance by the whole race. The achievements of an ancestor continued to be cherished by his descendants. However, we must clearly understand that in those times men really had the power to transfer their gifts to their offspring. Education was based upon the representation of life in comprehensive pictures, and the efficacy of this education depended on the personal force which proceeded from the teacher. It was not an intellectual power which he sought to excite, but rather those gifts which were more instinctive in character. By such a system of education the father's ability was really, in most cases, transferred to the son.

Under conditions like these, personal experience won for itself more and more importance in the third sub-race. When one group of human beings severed itself from another group, it brought with it for the foundation of its new community the vivid recollection of what it had experienced in its former surroundings. But all the same, these memories contained something with which they were not in sympathy, something in which they did not feel at ease. In this connection, therefore, they sought something new, and thus conditions improved with every new settlement of the kind. And it was only natural that the improved conditions should find imitators. These were the facts on which rested the foundation of those flourishing commonwealths that arose in the time of the third sub-race, and are described in Theosophical literature. The personal experiences undergone found support from those who were initiated into the eternal laws of mental development. Mighty rulers received initiation in order that personal ability might have its full provision. A man gradually prepares himself for initiation by his personal ability. He must first develop his forces from below upwards, so that enlightenment may then be imparted to him from above. Thus arose the King-Initiates and Leaders of the people among the Atlanteans. In their hands lay a tremendous amount of power, and great, too, was the reverence paid to them.

But in this fact lay also the cause of their fall. The development of memory led to enormous personal power. The individual began to wish for influence by means of this power of his; and the greater the power grew, the more did he desire to use it for himself. The ambition which he had developed became selfishness, and this gave rise to a misuse of forces. When we consider what the Atlanteans were able to do by their command of the life-force, we can understand that such misuse must have had tremendous consequences. An enormous power over Nature could be placed at the service of personal self-love.

And this was what happened in full measure during the period of the fourth sub-race (the original Turanians). The members belonging to this race, who were instructed in the mastery of the forces mentioned, made manifold use of these to satisfy their wayward wishes and desires. But these forces put to such a use naturally destroy one another in their action. It is as if the feet of a man wilfully moved forwards while at the same time the upper part of his body desired to go backwards.

Such destructive action could only be arrested by the cultivation of a higher force in man. This was thought-power. The effect of logical thinking is to restrain selfish personal wishes. We must seek the origin of this logical thought in the fifth sub-race (the original Semites). Men began to go beyond the simple remembrance of the past, they began to compare their various experiences. The faculty of judgment developed, and wishes and desires were regulated according to this discernment. Man began to calculate, to combine. He learnt to work in thoughts. Whereas formerly he had abandoned himself to every wish, he now asked himself whether, on reflection, he approved of the wish. While the men of the fourth sub-race wildly rushed after the satisfaction of their desires, those of the fifth began to hearken to the inner voice. And this inner voice had the effect of checking the desires, even if it could not crush the demands of the selfish personality.

Thus did the fifth sub-race implant within the human soul the interior impulses of action. In his own soul man must decide what to do and what to leave undone. But, while man thus gained thought-power inwardly, his command over the external forces of Nature was being lost. The forces of the mineral kingdom can be controlled only by means of this combining thought, not by the life-power. It was therefore at the cost of the mastery of the life-force that the fifth sub-race developed thought-power. But it was just by so doing that they created the germs of a further evolution of humanity. Now it is no longer possible for thought alone, working entirely within the man, and no longer able to command Nature directly, to bring about such devastating results as did the misused forces of earlier times, even if the personality, self-love, and selfishness were ever so great. Out of this fifth sub-race was chosen its most gifted portion, which outlived the destruction of the Fourth Race and formed the nucleus of the Fifth,—the Âryan race, whose task it is to bring to perfection the power of thought and all that belongs thereto.

The men of the sixth sub-race—the Akkadian—trained their thought-power still more highly than did the fifth. They distinguished themselves from the so-called original Semites by bringing into use in a wider sense the faculty mentioned. It has been said that the development of thought-power did not indeed allow the demands of the selfish personality to attain such destructive results as were possible in earlier races; but that, nevertheless, these demands were not killed out by it. The original Semites at first regulated their personal affairs as their reason suggested. In place of crude desires and lust, prudence appeared. Other conditions of life presented themselves. Whereas the races of former times inclined to recognize as their leader him whose deeds were deeply engraved in the memory, or who could look back on a life rich in recollections, such a rôle was now rather adjudged to the wise man; and if formerly that was considered decisive which was still fresh in the memory, so now that was regarded as best which appealed most strongly to the reason. Under the influence of thought men once clung to a thing till it was considered insufficient, and then in the latter case it came about naturally that he who had a novelty capable of supplying a want should find a hearing. A love of novelty and a longing for change were, however, developed by this thought-power. Everyone wanted to carry out what his own sagacity suggested; and thus it is that restlessness begins to appear in the fifth sub-race, leading in the sixth to the necessity of placing under general laws the capricious ideas of the single individual. The glory of the states of the third sub-race lay in the order and harmony caused by a common memory. In the sixth this order had to be obtained by deliberately constructed laws. Thus in the sixth sub-race must be sought the origin of law and legislation. And during the third sub-race the segregation of a group of human beings took place only when in a manner they were compelled to leave, because they no longer felt comfortable within the prevailing conditions, brought about by recollection. It was essentially different in the sixth. The calculating power of thought sought novelty as such; it urged men to enterprise and new undertakings. Thus the Akkadians were an enterprising people inclined towards colonization. It was commerce especially that fed the young and germinating power of thought and judgment.

In the seventh sub-race—the Mongolian—thought-power also developed; but in them existed qualities of the earlier sub-races, especially of the fourth, in a much greater degree than in the fifth and sixth. They remained true to their sense of memory. And so they came to the conclusion that the most ancient must also be the wisest, must be that which could best defend itself against the attack of thought. They had indeed lost the command of the life-force, but that which developed in them as thought-power had in itself something of the power of this life-force. It is true they had lost the power over life, but never the direct, instinctive belief in the existence of such a power. This force, indeed, became to them their God in Whose service they performed everything which they considered right. Thus they appeared to their neighbours to be possessed of a mystic power, and the latter yielded to it in blind faith. Their descendants in Asia and in some European regions showed, and still show, much of this peculiarity.

The power of thought implanted in man could only attain its full value in evolution when, in the Fifth Race, it acquired a new impulse. After all, the Fourth could only place this power at the service of that which had been fostered by the gift of memory. It was not until the Fifth was reached that such forms of life were attained as could find their instrument in the faculty of thought.