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The Origin of Evil
GA 68a

20 February 1908, Cassel

Translator Unknown

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There are world riddles which not only meet us when we turn our attention to the great events of life, but which meet us at every touch and turn in everyday life. We could bring forward many such riddles of life, one such is that which shall occupy us today: the question of the origin of evil. It is one of those riddles which meet us in everyday life but which can only find an answer if we go back to the sources and origin of life. Such a question especially shows us in the way it has been treated by man since ancient times that really it can only fruitfully be approached by what we call spiritual science or the theosophical world view. Without that important insight in the world, without that penetration to the sources of existence which can flow to us through this stream of cultural life, an answer is not possible. Hence you will have to undertake with me a really wide path to the sources of existence in order to penetrate this, in a certain connection, everyday enigma. He who only regards the world with that mood flowing out of materialism which follows the course of actions only with the senses cannot find an answer to this question in the remotest degree.

Evil arises for us, but of course not in its real sense, in the inferior being in human life. The wise person who is also a believer asks how it is reconcilable with a wise ordering of the world which one also calls providence, that this providence lets man sink to what we call evil—that the Godhead lets man become evil in order then to punish him. Not merely the simple believer understands it thus but we hear the same in a poem which the young Goethe composed when he calls these words to a divine spirituality:

Thou let'st the poor man come to grief,
Then leavest him to his pain.

This question becomes really impenetrable to one who stands on less religious ground. Without a soul-spiritual basis we come to no ordered concept of evil, let alone any connection with the cosmic spirit. Since man was able to think, the leaders of man, the thinkers, have tried to solve the question: Whence comes evil? What meaning has it?

We must look back for once into that past age of Persian myths and the continuous conflict of Ormuzd against the evil powers already designated as Ahriman, a continuous fighter against the good. Ahriman is there shown us as the force which in conflict causes a strengthening of the good spirit. If with a great leap we immerse ourselves in the deep meaning of a German thinker, Jakob Böhme, then we find his writings and the continuous course of his life entirely filled with the question as to the origin of evil. Jakob Böhme says that a multiplicity only arises out of a unity, but the multiplicity must be guided however only by the will of the unity, as for example the two hands, which if they are not directed by one will are separate members. Without this guiding unity we can create no great work. These hands can storm against each other, they can mangle each other. The possibility is just then given when that which we call freedom is given to the two. As long as the two hands are determined by the personality, and as long as one will rule them, they will not turn against each other.

And here a feeling already flows into Jakob Böhme that evil has something to do with love. When the Divine Being flowing through the world so loves the world that it extends Being to everything and holds nothing back, in order to give to the multiplicity as great a freedom as possible then the many can strive against each other.

We could speak at length about this if we let the thinkers pass before us, we could bring forward many examples from the great epochs but we would always get only a kind of philosophical answer. Today however we do not want philosophical answers, and so without deviation we would occupy ourselves with the spiritual world in order to get a firm point for the answering of our question. In order not to expand our mode of observation too far I should like at once to go to the heart of the matter, and for this we must bring quite briefly the nature of man before the soul. We are clear that evil must have something to do with human nature.

If we consider man from the standpoint of what the eyes see and the hands grasp then we only have but one part of human nature in the sense of spiritual science. We only see the physical part of man which he has in common with all apparently lifeless beings. Everything to be found in the human body is also existing there, only of course these mineral forces exist in man in quite a special manner. They are so complicatedly interwoven) so manifoldly built up that the physical body would fall asunder through its own physical laws unless something penetrated it like water penetrates a sponge, something which combats in each man in each moment all disturbances in the physical body. We call this fighter the etheric or life body. In each one of you the physical body would be exposed in every moment to decay unless that fighter, that victor which we call the etheric or life body were in you. Man has this in common with the whole of living nature, this fighter is there in everything that lives. In the moment when at death the physical body is separated from the etheric body then it follows physical laws, it decays and passes over into lifeless nature. The etheric body is something that is regarded by science today as something impossible. Yet we cannot enter further into that but must bring forth the matter only sketchily. Besides the etheric body man has a third member of his being. For one whose spiritual eyes are opened this third member is always visible. You can present this third member logically to yourselves.

We ask ourselves—Are the physical and etheric bodies everything? A simple consideration is enough to show that there is really something existing which stands far nearer to man than his bones, muscles, blood and nerves. Something lies quite close as a reality that is the sum of what we call feelings, instincts, passions. That belongs to us in reality and is existing in the same space where blood, muscles, nerves, exist. We have this part of human nature in common only with the animals, not with the plants.

Now there is a fourth member through which man is the crown of creation. The fourth member of his being is that which enables him to comprise everything which is in him, in the name ‘I’. This name ‘I’ is a name which already hides the secret nature of his being in the distinction which it shows compared with all other names which we have in language. Each person can call a chair “chair”, a table “table” etc., yet the name ‘I’ no one can hear from outside, it must come from one’s own soul. Each object can have its name resounding to us from outside, the ‘I’ can only be heard coming from oneself. All world views which were built on what we call spiritual science have always felt this. In the old Hebraic religion you find for this intimate name of the soul the unutterable Name of God. Why is it so called? If the soul is to hear her true name then something speaks in the soul which can be united with the soul without penetrating it through any organ from outside. The ‘I’ must resound from out of the soul itself. A spark of divine being is in the soul in which it utters its own name ‘I’.

That which a distorted philosophy has also wanted to find is the true significance of the word “Jahve”, the unutterable name of the divine soul-part in man. This was also meant when, in ancient Egypt, the veiled image of Sais was referred to. We can read the inscriptions: “I am Who was, Who is, and Who will be. My veil no mortal has lifted.” An investigator, a German romanticist said something correct out of an extraordinary instinct although he did not go deep enough: “No mortal has lifted the veil, we must become immortal.”

It was the view of the great Egyptian priestly magi that the ‘I’ was veiled but that the coverings must fall away. No other can solve the nature of the ‘I’ than the ‘I’ itself when it becomes conscious of its true nature by descending into its own depths where it grasps itself in its own immortality; then it knows what is concealed behind the veil. Of course only the very few today are inclined to gaze into the nature of the ‘I’, the utterance of Fichte still holds good: Most people would sooner regard themselves as a piece of lava in the moon than as an ‘I’. Since Fichte we have seen the coarse materialism flow into the culture of the 19th century. People today are very satisfied when they can partially know something physical and demonstrate it materialistically. They regard themselves as being more like a piece of lava in the moon than an ‘I’. It would be nonsensical to speak of the higher members of man's nature if in the sense of spiritual investigation one were to speak of the fourth member as a mere phenomenon of the physical body. Naturally spiritual investigation must have something in this sphere which must appear very stupid to a person who so often thinks today that everything must rest on the basis of scientific facts. That which occurs in the etheric body, the astral body and the ‘I’ is not the effect of the physical body but the reverse. What transpires in the physical and etheric bodies is the work of the astral body. Only when one gradually raises oneself to this view is one able to answer this question.

Just consider for example processes which meet us every day. Something arouses in us the feeling of shame. There is something in me of which I desire my environment should see nothing—I blush. Another process is the feeling of fear, noticeable through pallor. With shame a stream of blood rises to the head. With fear the blood recedes back from the head into the inner part of the body. What has happened? A soul process works on the body. Each of these events appears as the result of a soul process. They are indications of how soul working plays into the material. These effects in what is material are not so easily perceptible today. They have more or less withdrawn because of the mighty transformations which the physical body has undergone (as compared with earlier forms of existence). But the further we go back in human evolution all the more do spiritual influences get the upper hand.

There are indeed people today who go so far as to deny the working of the soul on the material body. One might not think that people exist with such materialistic views but there is in America a theological school which calls itself pragmatism. They have brought their views to an expression which reveals the grotesqueness of the materialism advocated therein. We need merely bring this utterance for once to our mind: “Man does not weep because he is sad, but he is sad because he weeps.” It is obvious here how the materialistic world view comes into contradiction with the healthy human understanding.

It is a fact that must appear natural to us that such consequences are drawn, and they appear today in numerous spheres; only they do not come to the surface in such grotesque fashion. If we now keep firm that physical processes are effects of the spiritual-psychic then it will no longer appear wrong to us if, going back into very ancient times of human evolution we find these effects are all the more significant the further we go back, so that we have to reckon with far-reaching spiritual influences in ancient times of human evolution which today are concealed.

You know perhaps that the theosophical view says that human existence runs its course in repeated earth lives. We will only bring that forward briefly. Man goes through many earth lives in his evolutionary path to ever higher perfection. We say in spiritual investigation that everything that lives is subject to transformation. Everything in the world is subject to such transformation, not only man but also mighty worlds are subject to continual change. Just as when we regard the single human being and say “That which transpires in the present life between birth and death is the result of former incarnations,” so we can look to a whole heavenly body and we only understand such a body in the sense of spiritual science when we know that it has acquired in former lives that which it has become today. We also say of the earth and planets that they have passed through other incarnations. As the spiritually highly developed man can look back to former earth lives so earlier planetary conditions can be perceived from the standpoint of spiritual science. We point back to the previous planetary condition of the earth, and this pre-earth is called in spiritual science Cosmos of Wisdom.

A glance at what is around you can make clear to you why we look back to this pre-earth as the cosmos of wisdom. Just regard man’s physical body. Look at one piece. Take a piece of the thigh bone which is composed of countless scaffoldings and members. It is an artistically constructed structure built with wonderful wisdom. It is so constructed through engineering art full of wisdom that the thigh bone, in spite of its relatively small strength, is able to carry the upper body. No engineer is able to construct such a bridge-like structure with such wisdom, and whoever looks at this wonderful human structure knows what great wisdom is contained in it. We know however also that other members of man are not yet so wise. We need merely think how the passions and impulses of the astral body work. What we eat and drink often contain heart poisons, and yet the heart is built so full of wisdom that it can bear these attacks for decades. Everywhere we find this Wisdom spread out. In the structure of the body we find this wisdom everywhere, in each blossom, in each animal, and we see how the world is penetrated by this wisdom.

Let us look at the beaver and his dam, building it with marvellous art—if one measures the angles then one will find they are quite exactly measured. So we could observe bit by bit everything that surrounds us. Could we now extract this wisdom from out the world unless it were there within it? The materialistic mood denies that the wisdom which man draws out is in the phenomena. But a natural thinking would tell you that something which man extracts from nature must be contained in it. As little as one can drink water from a glass if none is in it, just as little can one extract wisdom from the world if none is in it. But this wisdom is there and spiritual science knows that this wisdom was in all things at the beginning of earth evolution. Thus in a plant seed for example was a beech; as a proof of this we see a beech tree grows from it and not an oak. The earth carried the wisdom which meets us today already when the things around us were still in germ. Just as truly as the seed comes not from the earth but from the plant, so truly the seed from which our earth was born arose from what the earth was previously. That was the cosmos of wisdom. That which you see today in each leaf, in each organ in man's form, in everything spread out around you, slowly and gradually arose, formed itself member by member and only appeared after wisdom had struggled with wisdom. We had an embodiment on the previous stage of our earth where the wisdom of things was worked out in which, so to say, the things in their wisdom were worked over. What has our earth, to which this Wisdom has come over, for a task? It has its special mission. Just as its predecessor developed the wisdom which surrounds us today bit by bit, similarly our earth today develops bit by hit another cosmic force, and this force is love. Therefore in spiritual investigation we call the earth the Cosmos of Love. The evolution of the earth so runs its course that love appears as a force becoming more and more dominant, and when the earth will have reached its goal then everything will be penetrated by the force of love. Hence we call the earth the cosmos of love. Just as on the previous cosmos the beginning was made with un-wisdom and only gradually was the form of wisdom worked out, so this earth runs its course so that gradually love is worked out. Then when the earth has reached its goal love will be spread out everywhere, everything will be permeated with love, and the earth will have beings on it who will find love just as we find wisdom in everything that surrounds us. Those who will be on the new embodiment of the earth will stand wonderingly before love, just as we stand in wonderment before wisdom. Our earth has the holy mission of letting flow the impulse of love into things. The impulse is here to fulfil this mission, to make it deed. Thus we have to think of the structure of our earth as the cultivation of love going through the entire earth evolution of man. If we see this then we have a handle for understanding today's question, only we must be clear that man is not the only being around us. You know the spiritual investigator does not speak of the spiritual worlds as of something far off in the clouds, but he speaks of them in a natural and self understood way. A person born blind who has his eyes opened suddenly sees everything flooded with light and radiance. He sees a new world around him which was existing before just as light and colours existed before his eyes were opened. In this world which only an unlogical thinking can deny, other beings are existing with other forms of spirituality than man has. We can form an idea of these spiritual beings by bringing to mind that man is in a continual evolution. He must ascend ever higher and higher. In each incarnat-ion he experiences something, he becomes an ever more perfect being.

What perspectives thus open out? We see the great ideals of Man, the Man of the future elevated like a God. We see that as man today stands higher than animal and plant thus will the future man stand to his present existence. Spiritual science knows already today that beings stand above man at his present stage in evolution who are as perfect as we will be in a far future. They are beings highly exalted above man and who long ago passed through the stage we are at today, who have a purely spiritual life and no longer have need to descend to a physical body. Thus we see as man begins his earthly existence, as he leads over what was existing of him from the cosmos of wisdom, then not only he enters the cosmos of love but also higher spiritual guiding beings.

Who are these? The same as those who let their wisdom flow into the cosmos of wisdom. The same as those who built that cosmos of wisdom out of their creative wisdom. What we have finished before us today has been created by these beings. They are the possessors of productive wisdom. They have put in their wisdom. Because previously in the cosmos of wisdom they developed creatively in reference to wisdom, they have acquired the power of letting love trickle as it were on the earth to all earth men, and bit by bit this love flows to the earth. We need merely cast a brief glance at this earth, then we see how love gradually developed. It appears to us in ancient times in the narrowest limits. Who loved each other in ancient times? At first only small groups of those blood-related. Then we see love spread beyond the narrowest blood relationship. The circle love draws together becomes ever wide. At first we see marriage only between those closely related. Then love spreads to a whole tribe, and then in the Old Testament the whole people is loved, and he who does not belong to the people is foreign. The way is far but we have taken the great step where love is led over from the principle of blood relationship into the spiritual, to the great brother-bond which should span the earth to the Christ-Principle. This is referred to in the utterance: Who does not forsake father and mother, brother and sister and follow Me … etc.

This utterance is not to be taken literally. It refers to the fact that love should leave the narrow circle of blood relationship and become spiritual. It should embrace each soul; that is the great mission of Christianity, to make love more and more spiritual until it reaches the form of an all embracing love with which the whole earth should be permeated, so that the beings of the next world will find this love in all things as we have found wisdom. So we see that during earth existence the mission is fulfilled in that what man has brought over from the pre-earth is permeated with love. The assimilation of love is the task man has to develop in the earthly course of the human race. Thus we can see that a whole force which leads men together, progresses ever further into ever widening circles.

That is possible only to love. Let us go back once more from the cosmos of love to the cosmos of wisdom. What was existing of man at the transition? That which I described as the four members of his being making man the crown of creation was not yet existing at the beginning of our earth evolution, only the beginnings of the physical, etheric and astral bodies. But just as a seed decays and yet rises again letting a plant arise, so man disappears at the transition from the cosmos of wisdom to the cosmos of love, to arise again on our present earth and gradually the ‘I’ develops. This I must be there as the counterpart to the force of love. Love has other conditions of existence than wisdom. Wisdom can run where all the single members are dependent on each other. Wisdom can rule where a being in love holds sway. But if love is to pass from one being to another that can only happen where it is a free gift which must be there as a Father force.

Only such beings have the force for love who have the divine force for the ever greater acquirement of freedom.

The I is the counter-pole of love. The I impressed itself in the same measure as love impressed itself. That could only happen gradually in evolution. In the beginning blood speaks, the blood which is related to the loved being. Here love appears to us at the most primitive stage. Love develops more and more to a soul-spiritual force, and therewith the ‘I’ makes itself free. But in order to understand the true evolution of man within the cosmos of love we must keep one thing in mind. We must see that in the cosmos things go on as in a school. Here some always remain behind. similarly this happens in the cosmos. Those beings of whom we have spoken who stand exaltedly above man, those created in productive wisdom could pass over to love. But some remained behind who did not reach the final goal of the cosmos of wisdom, who did not finish their task. They still had to work at wisdom and could not yet stream out love which was not yet given to them.

They are beings who stand between the exalted beings and man. Spiritual science calls them the Luciferic beings under the dominion of Lucifer. One may laugh but just as, for example, magnetic forces are around us, so are the luciferic. They extend into the cosmos of love from out of the cosmos of wisdom. They were the beings who endowed man with their small wisdom. They created the subjective, intellectual wisdom of man in the ‘I’ which first became impregnated as it were therewith. An independence was given to this I which only suited it on the cosmos of wisdom if this love-filled wisdom had reached a definite stage. Thus the ‘I’ got a force which it should now transform in independence. Only in the measure in which the Christ principle illuminated it did the ‘I’ become capable of placing itself in harmony with all the forces of its environment on the earth. Before this approach to the Christ ideal is attained such beings again and again take firm hold in man, who are the opposing powers of the ‘I’. Their force is a separating force which will separate the ‘I’ too soon. The Luciferic beings lead a conflict against everything which brings men together.

This force has also its good task. It hinders man falling into, as it were, a primeval mash of love. Just as man had to be prepared for love, so earlier they had to be prepared for wisdom. Thus this luciferic principle is to be seen as the principle of illumination of independence. So we have two forces which lead humanity in two different directions and therewith we have the principle of the independent I which consolidates itself out of this conflict. Without this independence love would not be possible; without this independence the origin of evil would not be possible; love makes evil necessary. Hence comes the principle of love which arises from the spirits of love, and the principle of wisdom which arises from the spirits of wisdom. Both lead us from soul to soul, spirit to spirit, I to I. Evil rests on this spiritual fact. The possibility of evil was given with the possibility of love. Only because the God of the earth is the God of Love, and beings became independent I-men was the origin of evil possible. Love made evil possible.

Man first attains free love and true greatness through the Luciferic powers, and only thereby he takes the forces of evil into himself. The forces of love must penetrate the whole earth, must have overcome evil, have converted it as it were by the end of the earth's course. We see that what man owes to evil is a good. He owes to evil freedom. The origin of evil lies in the Luciferic principle as lies also the origin of freedom, with which is given the possibility of the development of love.

If we think of the earth without everything evil then only a tiny force of love is necessary to overcome the forces of evil. The forces of love grow because they have the task of transforming the existing evil in love. Thus we really see something of what Böhme felt, that evil strengthens the mission of love. Thus we see together with the origin of evil the meaning of evil, and if we consider evil spiritually scientifically then we see evil justified in a certain way. Then wherever it meets us we regard it with other feelings.

If this penetrates our feelings then it makes quite a different impression on us, not for one who just grasps it speculatively but for one who grasps it theosophically. If we have quiet hours and elevate our spirit to the great riddles then we must experience something so mighty that in evil we yet feel the good. Thus we permeate ourselves with feelings which then go with us in life at every step. We face the whole world thinking, feeling and acting, and that is most essential. Oh, we will become mild if we see what formerly enraged us. These feelings which result as the foundation from those quiet hours constitute the theosophical life. We shall consider this tomorrow even more applied to daily life. Today we have only been able to indicate the function of evil in fleeting outline.

We have attained the view that we are short-sighted if we bring forward as an objection to the evil, the wisdom, the love, the spirit of the world. We have seen that this spirit of love powerfully flows through the world, and is such a good spirit that once it brought evil into the world in order to bring about the most effective, beneficial good.