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The Responsibility of Man for World Evolution
GA 203

Lecture I

29 Januaary 1921, Dornach

You will have observed from our various studies that a connection exists, even though an inner connection, between a principal being inhabiting a planetary body at a certain period and this celestial body itself. One can consider this link between the human being and all that belongs to the whole earth from most varied aspects. We will study the subject today from a single aspect and thence again form ideas about the actual being of man.

We know, of course, that man goes through his earthly life in successive incarnations, and that these bring him into a more intimate relation with the actual planet Earth than the periods which lie between death and a new birth. The periods that man lives through between death and a new birth represent for him more of a spiritual existence; at such times, he is more withdrawn from the Earth itself than in the time between birth and death.

To be more withdrawn from the Earth or to be more closely connected with it, means, however, from time to time to stand in a certain relationship to other beings. For what we call the regions of the world outwardly perceptible to the senses is, after all, only the expression for certain connections between spiritual beings. Though our Earth may look to physical sight what the geologists imagine, may seem to be only a mineral mass surrounded by a sheath of air, yet in the last resort that is only the outer semblance. What actually appears as this mineral mass is nevertheless the bodily nature of certain spiritual beings. And again what we behold beyond the Earth, shining down as the world of stars, that too as we see it is only the outer sense expression for a certain association of Spiritual Beings, of Hierarchies. It is by virtue of the solid Earth, the firm ground upon which we live between birth and death, this physical external earth, it is through this that in the main we develop our life between birth and death. Through all that shines down to us from cosmic space, that sparkles to us as the star-world and that seems to concern us so little, with this we have a greater connection between death and a new birth. It is more than a picture, it is a reality of deepest significance if one says: Man descends from star- worlds to physical birth that he may pass through his existence between birth and death. We must not think, however, that the appearance of the universe which we have here on earth when we talk of the star-world is the same as what meets our spiritual vision in the period between death and a new birth. That which appears externally to man living upon earth as the star-world is then displayed in its inner being, its spirit-nature. There we have to do with the inner nature of what is outer nature for our earthly existence here. In fact we must say to ourselves: Whether we look down to the earth or up to the cosmos, what meets our sense-perception is always but a kind of illusory picture, and we only reach the truth if we go back to the Beings who underlie this semblance with the different grades of cosmic self-consciousness.

Thus it is semblance, illusion, whether one looks upwards or down: the truth, the essentiality, lies behind the semblance. That illusion meets us above end beneath is connected with the fact that our life between birth and death, on the one hand, and between death and a new birth, on the other hand, is always threatened with the possibility of leaving the path of full humanity. Here on earth between birth and death we can become too closely related to the earth, can unfold an urge to find too great an affinity with the earthly powers. And likewise between death and a new birth we can develop an urge to become too closely allied to the cosmic powers outside the earth. For here on earth we stand too near the external symbolic expression, to what is clothed in physical materiality, we stand here, as it were, estranged from the inner spirituality. When we evolve between death and a new birth we stand fully within the spirituality, we live with it, and again we are threatened with the possibility of being swallowed up, of being dissolved in it. Whereas here on earth we are exposed to the threat of growing hardened in physical existence, between death and a new birth we are exposed to the possibility of drowning in spiritual existence.

These two possibilities are due to the fact that besides those powers that are meant when speaking of the normal orders of the Hierarchies, other beings are also in existence. Just as the elemental beings are to be found in the three kingdoms of nature, just as man exists, as the nearer hierarchies exist of whom a genuine spiritual science says that they are there “according to their cosmic time,” so there exist other beings, who, as it were, unfold their nature at the wrong time. They are the Luciferic and Ahrimanic beings of whom we have often spoken. You will have already realised that the Luciferic beings are essentially those who as they now present themselves should have lived in an earlier cosmic epoch. On the other hand, the Ahrimanic beings as they now present themselves should live in a later cosmic epoch. Retarded cosmic beings are the Luciferic beings, premature cosmic beings are the Ahrimanic beings. The Luciferic beings disdained to take part with others in the age that was appointed to them; they are retarded, because they scorned to take full part in evolution. When they manifest themselves today, therefore, they are revealed as having stayed behind at earlier stages of existence.

The Ahrimanic beings cannot, so to say, wait till a later age in cosmic evolution to develop the qualities implanted in them. They want to forestall the time. And so they harden in their present existence and reveal themselves to us now in the form they should reach only in a later development of cosmic life.

When we look out into cosmic space and behold the totality of the stars—what is this sight? Why do we have this view? We have this special sight, the appearance of the Milky Way, the appearance of the rest of the star-strewn heavens, because it is the manifestation of the Luciferic nature of the world. All that surrounds us shining and radiating is the manifestation of the Luciferic nature of the world, it appears as it does because it has remained behind at an earlier stage of its existence. And when we walk over the solid ground of the earth it is hard and solid because conglomerated within it are the Ahrimanic beings, beings which should only possess at a later time of their evolution the stage that they now provide for themselves artificially.

Thus it is possible that if we surrender ourselves to the sense world by gazing at the aspect of the sky, we make ourselves more and more Luciferic. When in the life between birth and death we have this inclination to gaze upon the heaven, this means nothing actually immediate and direct; it means a sort of instinct that has remained in us from the time before birth or conception when we were in the spiritual world and lived with the stars. We have entered then into too close a relationship with the cosmic worlds and we have retained this inclination—though indeed to surrender oneself to gazing at the physical star-world is not a particularly noticeable tendency of mankind. We develop this tendency when through our karma—which we always draw to us between birth and death—we have too deeply slept away the time between death and a new birth, when we have developed too little inclination to live there in full consciousness.

If we immerse ourselves in the earthly life, on the other hand, that is directly developed here between birth and death. That is the actual Ahrimanic possibility in man's life. The Luciferic possibility is connected with what we acquire through our relationship to the illusory spirit-world; the Ahrimanic relationship which we form is due to our developing too great an inclination between birth and death towards the surrounding physical external world.

If we grow too strongly into a connection with the earth, so strongly that we never turn our thoughts to the super-sensible that lies beyond the merely terrestrial, then the Ahrimanic affinity appears in us.

Now all this has a deeper significance for the whole development of man's being. If between death and a new birth we are swallowed up, as it were, in the spiritual world and then later do not find the right balance between the spiritual and the material world, evolving with too strong an affinity to the extra-earthly, we can gradually come to an earth existence—can come even in the next incarnation to an existence in which we cannot grow old. Such things are now, in this age, reaching a critical point. That is the one possibility that confronts us as a danger—the not being able to age. We can be reborn and the Luciferic powers con hold us back at the stage of childhood, they can condemn us in some way not to become mature. Those people who give themselves up all too easily to an ardent enthusiasm, a nebulous mysticism, who have a disinclination for severely contoured thinking and scorn to form clear concepts of the world, those people, that is to say, who scorn to develop inner activity of soul and go through life more or less in dream—they are exposing themselves to the danger in their next incarnation of not being able to grow old, of remaining childish in the bad sense of the word. It is a Luciferic attack that will break into humanity in this way.

Such human beings would then not descend rightly into earthly life in the next incarnation, they would not leave the spiritual world sufficiently in order to enter earthly life. The Luciferic powers, who at one time formed a connection with our earth, endeavour to unfold instincts in man that would make his earthly evolution come to a stage where men remain children, where they do not grow old. The Luciferic powers would like to bring about a condition where no aged people walked about on earth but only those who spent their life in a sort of illusory youth. In this way, the Luciferic powers would gradually bring the earth planet to the point of becoming one body with one common soul, in which the separate souls, so to say, were swimming. A common soul-nature of the earth, and a common bodily-nature of the earth, that is Lucifer's aim for humanity's evolution. He would make of the earth a great organic being with a common soul in which the single souls would lose their individuality,

I have often explained that the course of earthly evolution does not depend on the mineral, plant, animal kingdoms, which are all, in fact, waste products of evolution, but on what takes place within the boundary of the human skin. The evolutionary forces of our planet lie within the organisation of man. If you remember this you will understand that what finally becomes of the earth cannot be learnt by forming physical concepts, such concepts have only a narrow, limited interest for us. In order to realise what will become of the earth we must know the human being itself. But the human being can enter into a union, a relation of forces with the Luciferic power that has united itself with the earth, and then the earth can carry too few individualised beings; it can become a collective being with a common soul-nature. That is what the Luciferic powers are striving for. If you take the picture that many nebulous mystics describe ns a desirable future state, where they want to merge into the ALL, to vanish in some kind of pantheistic Whole, you will be able to see how this Luciferic tendency is already living in many human souls.

On the other hand, the Ahrimanic beings have also entered into a connection with our earth. They have the opposite tendency. They act above all through the forces that drew our organism, into itself between birth and death, that permeate our organism through and through with spirituality, that is, make us more and more intellectual, imbue us increasingly with reasoning and intelligence. Our waking intelligence depends on the connection of the soul with the physical body, and when this is exaggerated and becomes too strong, then we become too similar to physical existence and likewise lose the balance. The inclination then arises which hinders man in future from alternating in the right way between earthly life and the spiritual life that lies between death and a new birth.

That is the goal for which Ahriman strives; he would hold men back in the coming earthly age from passing in the right way through earthly life and super-earthly life. Ahriman wishes to hold man back from going through future incarnations. He would like even now, in this incarnation, to cause man to live through everything that he can live through on earth. But that can only be done intellectually, one cannot do that in full humanity. It is, however, possible for man to become so clever that in his cleverness he can conceive of all that still may be on earth. In fact, many men have just such an ideal, that is, to form an intellectual concept of all that may yet come about on earth, But one cannot acquire the experiences that are still to be passed through in future lives. In this life, one can only acquire the pictures, the intellectual pictures, and these then become hardened in the physical body. And then man reaches a profound disinclination to go through future incarnations. He positively sees a sort of blessedness in not wanting to appear on earth again.

I have often pointed out that oriental culture has fallen into decadence and Ahriman is particularly able to create this deviation in the decadent East. While the Orientals are inwardly under the influence of Lucifer, Ahriman can approach their nature and implant in them the inclination in a definite incarnation to wish to have done with earth existence and not appear again in a physical body. The Ahrimanic approach is the more easily accomplished since the Oriental is already under the power of Lucifer. It can then even be placed before men as an ideal by certain teachers, who are in the service of Ahriman, that in a certain incarnation, before the earth itself has reached its goal, they should have finished with physical existence on earth.

Certain theosophical teachings have slavishly borrowed various things from the modern decadent Orient. Among these tenets appears one which has never in any way been taken over into our anthroposophical conception, namely, that it even denotes a special grade of perfection for a human being to appear no more in an earthly life. That is an Ahrimanic impulse and one in fact, that can also bring about something of a terrible nature. The earth could reach the point not, as desired by Lucifer of becoming a great unitary organisation with a unitary soul-nature, but of becoming over-individualised. Men would someday reach a stage of Ahrimanic development where they would. certainly die, but the terrible part would be that, after they had died, they would become as like the earth as possible, would continue to cling to the earth, so that the earth itself would become merely an expression of separate individual human beings. The earth would become a sort of colony of the single individual human souls.

This is what Ahriman strives to do with the earth: to make it entirely an expression of intellectuality, to intellectualise it completely. It is absolutely essential for mankind to realise today that earthly destiny depends on man's own will. The Earth will become what the human being makes of it. It will not be what physical forces make of it. These physical forces will die out and have no significance for the Earth's future. The Earth will be what man makes of it.

We are living in a decisive hour of earthly evolution in which humanity can choose one of three paths. One can live in nebulous mysticism, in dreaming, in an infatuation for things of the physical, senses, that is, in going along in a muse—for life in material nature is indeed only musing and brooding—in a sleep condition in which one passes through life without clear ideas. That is one of the tendencies to which man may incline.

A second tendency would be for men to permeate themselves entirely with intellect and intelligence, to gather together as it were everything that intellect can gather together, to scorn all that poetry and phantasy can spread over earthly existence, to turn everywhere to the mechanical and to dried-up pedantry. Men stand today before the decision either to become spiritual voluptuaries entirely sunk in their own existence—for whether one submerges in one's own existence through nebulous mysticism or material desolation is ultimately only two sides of the same thing—or else to consider everything prosaically, to bring everything into a routine scheme, to classify and correlate everything. Those are two of the possibilities.

The third possibility is to seek for the balance, the equilibrium between the two. One cannot speak of the equilibrium in so definite a way as of the two extremes. One must strive for equilibrium by not being too strongly attracted by either, but pass through the two in a proper balance of life, letting the one be regulated and ordered by the other.

This cosmic hour of decision stands before the human soul today. Man can decide to follow the Luciferic temptation and not let the earth complete its evolution, to let the earth resemble the Old Moon, or rather make it a caricature of the Old Moon, a great organism with an individualised dreamy soul, in which the human beings are contained as in a common Nirvana. Or man can become over-intellectualised, give up the common possession of the earth, desire to have nothing in common, but ossify the body and make it sclerotic by permeating it with too much intellect. Man can decide whether to make the body a sponge through nebulous mysticism and sensuality, or make it a stone through over-intellectuality, over-self-sufficiency. And modern humanity looks as if it did not desire the balance between the two alternatives, but wanted the one or the other.

We see on the one hand an ever-increasing expansion of the Western instincts which aim at intellectuality, self-sufficiency, pedantry, and form opinions in such a way that intellectualism is pressed too strongly into the body. On the other hand, we see the danger threaten from the East that men burn up and consume the body. We see it in the conceptions of the decadent Orient and we see it—only another aspect—in the frightful social developments arising in Eastern Europe. The hour of decision has already arrived. Mankind must decide today to find the equilibrium. And the actual task set before man can only be recognised from the depths of spiritual-scientific knowledge. One must study those ideas that can show what possibilities of evolution lie before mankind in two directions, On the one hand we have the merging in Nirvana which has in fact become a “sacred doctrine of the Orient”—though far removed from the ancient conception of Nirvana which meant a striving for equilibrium out of the old clairvoyance. The Nirvana as now conceived by the decadent Oriental is the world of Lucifer. On the other hand, what the modern Western civilisation is striving for—in so far as it does not fill itself with the knowledge of Spiritual Science—is the mechanising of the world, a continuous striving to make the processes of human existence mechanical. Ahrimanising on the one hand—Luciferising on the other hand.

I described lately from a certain aspect the chaotic, unorientated life of recent times and if this should continue then undoubtedly humanity would become Ahrimanised. This process can only be checked if the conception of the spiritual world is brought into the over-intellectual life, the over-individualised human existence completely saturated with egoism. This concept of the spiritual world is needed everywhere, but above all it is necessary for a spiritual impulse to enter the different sciences. Otherwise it will gradually come to the point where the various sciences rule mankind like some abstract authority. Humanity will become totally Ahrimanised by these different sciences which encircle man with authoritative power. It is especially important at the present day when social life problems are so thrusting at human evolution to lift up the gaze to the connection of man with his planetary life.

Within the old religious Faiths man's conception of this connection with the spiritual world is outworn and stunted. It is stunted to a merely abstract intellectual acknowledgment as, for instance, the evangelical Confession threatens to become, or stunted to an external power-principle as the Roman Faith. Those are in fact only other expressions for what is drawing near man to seduce him. It is essential, however, for man to find his inner orientation and to acquire an inner impulse so that the view may be unimpeded of what links him to his planet and through his planet to the whole cosmos. Men must feel again that Geology is not knowledge of the earth. A colossal mineral mass on which are watery oceans and which is surrounded by air is not the earth, and what surrounds us as Milky Way and suns, that is not the universe, The universe is Ahrimanic beings beneath, Luciferic beings above, which appear through the outer sense-illusion, and Beings of the normal Hierarchies to whom man raises himself when through both sense-illusions he comes to the truth; for the actual Beings do not appear in the external sense-illusion, they only manifest themselves through it.

The man of today must recognise this: I can consider the earth. If I am able to interpret what appears on the earth below as the emanation of Spiritual Beings then I perceive what lives in Cherubim, Seraphim, Thrones. But if I am unable to form a spiritual picture of what lives on the earth, if I surrender myself to the illusion of its material appearance, then I remain geologist. I cannot swing myself up to geosophist, then my being becomes Ahrimanised. And if I gaze up to the star-worlds and only form concepts of what I see physically, then I make myself Luciferic. If I am able to read the Spirit in what appears to me in outer semblance. if I can say to myself: Yes, I behold stars, I behold a Milky Way and suns, they inform me of Kyriotetes, Exusiai, Dynamis—Spirits of Wisdom. Powers, Mights—then I find the equilibrium.

It is not a question of talking of cosmic beings as superior to earthly beings, the point is everywhere to penetrate the sense-appearance to the genuine essentiality, to that essentiality with which we as men are really connected. Sense-appearance of itself does not deceive us. If we interpret sense-appearance in the right way, then the Spiritual Beings are there, then we have them. Sense-appearance as such is not deceptive, it is our concept of it that can be deceptive, through our too close relationship with the earthly between birth and death on the one hand, through our too close relationship on the other hand with the extra-earthly while we dwell there between death and new birth.

If man confines himself to what has gradually formed within our civilisation he experiences hardly anything of such views. And our civilisation has totally forgotten that it was once different. People read today even with a certain eagerness what was written about Nature in the twelfth, thirteenth centuries but they do not read it with enough discernment. If they read with discernment they would realise that the time in which man thinks as he does now is only a few centuries old. They would see that people thought differently about things of the outer world in the eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth centuries, even in the fourteenth century; that in the stone, in the earth, they did not see stone, earth, but the body of the divine-spiritual. And in the stars they certainly did not see what one sees today but the revelation of the divine-spiritual. It is only in recent centuries that man has merely a geology and a cosmology but not a geosophy and a cosmosophy! Under the cosmology he would become Luciferised, under the geology he would become Ahrimanised, unless he saved himself by finding the equilibrium through a geosophy and a cosmosophy, And, in fact, since man is born out of the whole universe all this together is needed to give Anthroposophy. Anthroposophy consists of these different “sophies,” cosmosophy, geosophy, and so on. We only understand man aright when we know how to bring him into a spiritual connection with the universe. Then we shall not look for him in a one-sided way in his relationship with light, levity, which would mean servitude to Lucifer, nor one-sidedly in his relationship with gravity, a servitude to the Ahrimanic powers, but endeavour to pour into his will the impulse to find the equilibrium between levity and gravity, between inclining to the earthly and inclining to the Luciferic. Man must reach this balance and he can do so only by again acquiring the super-sensible in addition to his sense-concepts.

Now, still something of a complete paradox: Bring before your soul what has just been said, and how man must know of it so that he can come to a decision in this world-age; assume that one must actually speak of a possible Ahrimanising and Luciferising of the world. Bring this before your soul as a weighty matter for humanity. Then take what you read today in popular literature, what reaches your mind from lecture rooms and other educational institutions, and observe the immense disparity, then you will see what is required if men are to come out of the present decadent life to what is of urgent importance. Serious work in spiritual fields is urgently necessary and this can only be accomplished if one resolves to take earnestly such ideas as we have again discussed today.

Tomorrow we will continue further.