Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

At the Gates of Spiritual Science
GA 95

9. Evolution of the Earth

30 August 1906, Stuttgart

If we ask how man has developed since the earliest times up to the present day, we must first recall what has been said about the being of man. Man has seven members: the first is, so to speak, the lowest; the etheric body is higher and of finer texture; the astral body is still higher and finer; of the Ego-body only the first rudiments yet exist. It would be wrong to conclude that the highest body now possessed by man is the most perfect, and the physical body the most imperfect. Exactly the opposite is true: the physical body is the most perfect part of the human being. Later on the higher members will of course reach a higher degree of perfection, but at present the physical body is in its way the most highly developed and has been constructed with ineffable wisdom. I once described to you, as an example of this wisdom and perfection, the structure of the thigh-bone. Every single bone is so artistically structured and wisely devised as to perform the maximum work with the minimum mass, in a way no human engineer could equal.

The more deeply we penetrate to an understanding of the wonderful structure of the human frame, the more marvellous will it appear to us to be. Take, for instance, the way in which the brain and heart have been designed. The heart makes no mistakes, but the astral body makes many. The passions and desires of the astral body surge against the physical body and overpower it. If a man eats the wrong sort of food, he is following the desires of his astral body. The physical heart keeps the circulation of the blood in order; the astral body incessantly attacks the heart, because it craves for things harmful to the heart. Coffee, tea, alcohol, are poisons for the heart, yet the heart often has to cope with them every day, and in spite of everything it keeps going. It is constructed so durably that it can withstand the attacks of the astral body for seventy or eighty years. The physical body is thus in all details the most perfect in the hierarchy of human bodies.

Less perfect is the etheric body, and still less so the astral; the Ego-body is the least developed of them all. The reason is that the physical body has gone through the longest period of evolution and is the oldest part of the human being; younger is the etheric body, still younger the astral, and the Ego-body is the youngest of all.

In order to understand how these bodies have evolved, we must realise that it is not only man who goes through successive incarnations, but that the law of reincarnation applies universally. All beings, and all the planets, are subject to this law. The Earth, with everything that is on it, has passed through earlier incarnations, of which three in particular are our immediate concern.

Before the Earth became the planet we know, it was a very different one. At the beginning of time it was a planet called, in occult science, Saturn. Altogether there have been four successive incarnations of the Earth: Saturn, Sun, Moon and Earth. Just as there is a Kamaloka and Devachan period between a man's successive incarnations, so is there between successive incarnations of a planet a period when it is not visible and has no outward life. This period has always been called Pralaya, and the period of incorporation, Manvantara. However, the names Saturn, Sun and Moon do not signify the heavenly bodies which are called so today. Our Sun is a fixed star; the old Sun was a planet, and in the course of its incarnations it has worked itself up from the substance and being of a planet to the rank of a fixed star. In the same way the Old Moon, as we call it, is not the same as the Moon we know today; it was the third incarnation of the Earth. Similarly with Saturn, the first stage of the Earth's evolution.

Even on the planet Saturn man was present. Saturn did not shine, but it sounded and could have been heard with Devachanic ears. After existing for a certain period it gradually vanished away, was for a long time invisible, and then shone out as Sun. The planet Sun passed through the same process and reappeared as Moon. Finally, after the same sequence, the Earth appeared.

But we must not picture these four planets Saturn, Sun, Moon and Earth—as four separate planets; they are four different conditions of the same planet. They are true metamorphoses of the one planet and all the beings that belong to it are metamorphosed with it. Man has never been on any other planet, but the Earth has existed in these four different conditions.

When the Earth existed as Saturn, only the first germs of the kingdom of man dwelt on it. The marvellously artistic structure of the human body was then present only in barest outline. There were no minerals, plants or animals. Man is the first-born of our creative process. But Saturn-man was very different from the man of today. He was for the most part a spiritual being; he would not have been visible to physical eyes—and of course at that time there were none. Only a being with Devachanic sight could have perceived him. The human form was like a kind of auric egg, and within it was a remarkable scaly structure, a sort of vortex, shaped like a small pear and as though made of oyster-shells. Saturn was permeated with these rudimentary physical structures—exudations, as it were, condensed out of the spiritual. From these structures, which gave only a faint indication of what they were to become, the physical body of man was gradually developed in the course of evolution. It was a kind of primal mineral, with no etheric body round it; hence we can say that man passed through the mineral kingdom; but to think of it as anything like our present-day mineral kingdom would be quite wrong. On Saturn there was no kingdom other than the human kingdom.

Now just as man passes through the various stages of his life, as child, young man or woman, old man or woman, so so does a planet. Before Saturn manifested the flaky structures deposited within it, it was an Arupa-Devachan structure, then a Rupa-Devachan structure, and finally an astral structure. Then the flakes gradually disappear, and Saturn returns through the same stages into the darkness of Pralaya. A metamorphosis such as this, from the spiritual into the physical and then back again into the spiritual, is called in Theosophy a Round, or a Life-condition. Each Round can be divided into seven phases: Arupa, Rupa, Astral, Physical and back to Arupa.31Arupa: Sanskrit, “without form”, indicating the highest realm of Devachan. Rupa: Sanskrit, “form”. The Rupa planes are the lower spheres of Devachan. These phases, called “Globes”, are Form-conditions. But we must not imagine seven successive Globes; it is always the same planet which transforms itself, and its beings are transformed with it. Saturn passed through seven such Rounds or Life-conditions. In each Round its structure was being perfected, so that only in the seventh Round was its finally perfected form attained. Each Round has its seven transformations, or Form-conditions, so that Saturn will have passed through seven times seven, or forty-nine, metamorphoses. That is true of Saturn, and then of Sun, Moon and Earth; and in the future there will be three more planets: Jupiter, Venus and Vulcan.

There are thus seven planets, each going through seven Rounds and each Round through seven Form-conditions, expressed as 777 in occult script. In that script, 7 in the unit position means the Globes; in the tens, the Rounds, and in the hundreds, Planets. We therefore have to multiply the figures, and so we find that our planetary system has to pass through 7 by 7 by 7, or 343 transformations.

In H. P. Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine, which was in large part inspired by one of the highest spiritual individualities, we find a remarkable passage. But the great Initiates have always expressed themselves with caution and have given only hints; above all they leave some work for the human being to do. This passage, as H.P.B. knew very well, is full of riddles. There is nothing there about successive incarnations; the teacher said only, “Learn the riddle of 777.” His wish was that people should learn for themselves that this meant 343. The Secret Doctrine gives the riddle but not the solution: this has been discovered only quite recently.

The first germinal condition of man was thus to be found on Saturn in the most ancient times. Then Saturn vanished into Pralaya, and reappeared as Sun, and with it from the darkness of Pralaya came man, the ancient inhabitant of the Universe. In the meantime, however, man had gained the power to separate something from out of himself as the snail does its shell. He could separate shell-like structures as hovering forms; the finer substances he retained within himself so that he might evolve to a higher level. In this way he formed the minerals from out of himself, but these minerals were a kind of living minerals. On Sun, man evolved in such a way that the etheric body, as with planets today, could be added. Thus on Sun he passed through the plant stage, and on Sun there were thus two kingdoms, the mineral kingdom and the plant kingdom; and the latter was man. But these plant forms were quite different from those we know today.

Anyone who understands the deeper relationships will regard the plant as an inverted man. Below is its root; then come the stalk, leaves, stamens and pistils; the pistils contain the female reproductive organs and the stamens, the male. In all innocence the plant stretches out its reproductive organs to the Sun, for it is the Sun that kindles its reproductive power. The root is really the “head” of the plant, which stretches its reproductive organs out to the wide spaces of the world, while its head is attracted by the centre of the Earth. Man is the opposite of this: his head is at the top of his body, and below are the organs which the plant spreads out to the Sun. The animal comes in between: its body is horizontal. If you revolve a plant through 90 degrees, you get the position of the animal; turn it through 180 degrees and you get the position of man.

The old occult science gave expression to this in the ancient symbol of the Cross, saying, as Plato33Plato, 427–347 B.C. “... as Plato puts it.” In the dialogue, Timaeus. said in the language of the old Mysteries: the World-Soul is crucified on the cross of the World-Body. The World-Soul is contained in everything, but it has to work its way up through these three stages; it makes its journey on the cross of the body of the world.

On Sun, then, man was a plant-being, upside down compared with modern man. He lived in the Sun and was himself part of its body. The Sun was a body of light, composed of light-ether; man was still plant-like, his head directed towards the centre of the Sun. When later on the Sun left the Earth, the human plant had to turn round; it remained true to the Sun.

In its first Round, Sun merely repeated the Saturn period: it was not until the second Round that the further evolution of man began. When the Sun had evolved to its limit in the seven Rounds, it disappeared into the darkness of Pralaya, and eventually reappeared as Moon.

The first Moon-Round was again only a repetition of Saturn in a rather different form. The second Round also brought nothing new; it was a recapitulation of life on the Sun. In the third Round there was something new: man acquired an astral body in addition to the two earlier bodies. In his outward form we might compare him to the animals of today, for he had three bodies. He had in fact reached the stage of the animal kingdom. He had raised himself to the plant kingdom by ejecting the mineral kingdom. Thus there were two kingdoms apart from man. Then he once more cast off a smaller part, separated himself from it, and went on to the higher level.

During this third Round of Moon an important cosmic event took place. Sun and Moon separated, so there were now two bodies. At the beginning of the second Round the Sun was still there unchanged; then a small segment in the lower part of the Sun detached itself, so that in the third Round there were two bodies side by side.

The Sun kept the finer parts, sending rays to the Moon from the outside, and providing the Moon and all the beings with what they needed. This was the advancement of the Sun; it became a fixed star, and is no longer concerned directly with the three kingdoms; it only imparts to them what it has to give. It gave a home to higher Beings who, now that the Sun had got rid of its inferior parts, could develop further. In the fourth Round all this reached its highest possible level; in the fifth the two bodies reunited and finally disappeared as one body into Pralaya.

The Old Moon had as yet no solid mineral kingdom. It was a globe which, instead of a solid earth crust, had something like a living and inwardly growing peaty mass. This living foundation was permeated with woody structures out of which grew the plant kingdom, as it then was. These plants, however, were really a sort of “plant-animal”: they were able to feel and under pressure would have experienced pain. And man in the animal kingdom of the time was not like any animal of today; he was halfway between animal and man. He was of a higher order than our present animals and could carry out his impulses in a much more systematic way. But he was lower than modern man, for he was not able to say “I” to himself. He did not yet possess an Ego-body.

These three kingdoms dwelt on the living body of the Moon. An important fact is that these Moon-men did not breathe as man does today; they breathed fire, not air. Through this breathing in of fire the warmth permeated their whole being; then they breathed out the fire and heat and became cold again. What man has nowadays as the heat of his blood, Moon-men had in the warmth of their breath. Many of the older, still clairvoyant painters symbolised this in the image of the fire-breathing dragon; they knew that in ancient times there had been these Moon-beings who breathed fire.

After disappearing into Pralaya, the Moon reappeared as Earth. In the first Round the whole Saturn-existence was repeated, in the second the Sun, and in the third the Moon-existence. During the third Round the separation of Sun and Moon was repeated, but on the returning path of this Round two bodies reunited.

In the fourth Round the Sun and Moon came forth again as one body, and now the Earth began to form itself. At this point an important event occurred: an encounter of the Earth with the planet Mars. The planets interpenetrated, the Earth going through Mars. At that time Mars possessed a substance, iron, which the Earth lacked, and Mars left this iron in the Earth in a vaporous form. But for this occurrence, the Earth would have had to remain as it was, possessing only what was already there. Man would have risen as far as the animal kingdom, as it then was; he would have breathed warmth, but he would never have acquired warm blood, for there is iron in the blood. In fact, according to occult science the Earth is indebted to Mars to such an extent that the first half of its evolution is called Mars. Mercury has equal significance for the second half; the Earth entered into a connection with Mercury and is still closely related to it. Hence in occult science the terms Mars and Mercury are used instead of Earth.

This planetary stage will be followed in the future by three others: Jupiter, Venus, Vulcan. These seven stages of the Earth, as recorded in occult science, are preserved in the days of the week, though in German they are somewhat confused:

Saturn Saturday, Samedi Samstag
Sun Sunday Sonntag
Moon Monday, Lundi Montag
Mars Mardi, Tiu—Tuesday Dienstag
Mercury Mercredi, Wednesday Mittwoch
Jupiter Jeudi, Tor, Donar—Thursday Donnerstag
Venus Vendredi, Freya—Friday Freitag

Thus do the names of the days of the week reflect the occult doctrine of the passage of the Earth through these various stages: a remarkable chronicle which makes it possible for these truths to be kept ever and again in mind.

We shall see in the course of the next few days how Theosophy enables us to understand for the first time what our early forefathers expressed quite simply in names, and how the most ordinary everyday things are linked with the most profound.