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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Awareness - Life - Form
GA 89

Theosophical Cosmology II

2 June 1904, Berlin

Following last Thursday’s introduction, I would now like to begin by giving you an outline of world evolution such as we are able to give on the basis of theosophical insights. Please take note that time being short, I can only give a brief outline, with many things only mentioned in passing. Perhaps we will have opportunity to go more fully into them at a later date.

Before going through the evolution of the universe and above all the development of our planet Earth in theosophical terms, we need to establish some concepts which Western people no longer have since they have been devoting themselves exclusively to physical phenomena for such a long time. It says in every book on cosmology that we only need to look out into cosmic space to see thousands upon thousands of worlds spread before us that are like our own solar system, and that our Earth, the planet on which our life has been going on for millennia, is like a tiny grain of dust among those many worlds, with the human being just a tiny life form on this grain of dust in the universe. All this, it is said, scientists have discovered since the time of Copernicus. We are told by scientists how wrong people were in earlier times when they saw the Earth as the centre of the world, believing that cosmic evolution had only been a preparation for their own human existence. It has been made very clear to us how small the human being is compared to the universe. The authors write that it is sheer presumption to think that the world was created to be the way it is just for the sake of man. Schiller spoke out against this way of looking at things most beautifully:

Don’t chatter so much about nebulas and suns! Is nature great just for giving you things to count? Your object is, of course, the most sublime in space; But, my dear friends, the sublime does not dwell in space. 31Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805), An die Astronomen.

And Goethe, whose knowledge of occult things is known to you from other lectures, said more or less the following on the subject: ‘What, after all, would be the purpose of the whole world with its solar systems and stars if it did not exist for the human being, so he may delight in it all and grow through it?’ 32Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832). The actual words in Goethe’s work entitled Winckehmann und sein Jahrhundert, Kapitel ‘Antikes’ are: ‘For why all the suns and planets and moons, stars and milky ways, comets and nebulae, worlds in existence and others evolving, unless ultimately there is a happy human being who innocent of all this takes delight in his existence?’ You see, people like these two, who took a truly spiritual view of the world, did not find the idea of the smallness of the human being and the dust-grain size of the world adequate.

Let us now consider cosmology and the human being in relation to the whole of evolution as we know it through theosophy. I need to say a few things first. Let us consider the position which present-day man holds in the world from the cosmological point of view. Everything we are able to perceive through the senses—be it the macroscopic senses we use every day or the more refined sensory perceptions available in science with its microscopes and dissection methods—everything we come across there in human beings is after all only the external physical human being. Those of you who have heard quite a few theosophical lectures before will know that this external human being is only the shell, an outer revelation of the actual, inner human being. What is the physical human being? If you study the anatomy you’ll find that he consists of a number of systems—the skeletal and muscular system, the nervous system, which has shaped itself into a brain, and so on. You also know that the brain is the organ of thought. As theosophists you also know that it is not the brain which does the thinking but that the brain is only a tool, so that the true essential human being only uses the brain as a tool for thinking. The spirit which thinks in the human being cannot be perceived with the tools provided by our physical senses; even someone whose astral senses have developed cannot see it. It therefore needs a well-developed sense of clairvoyance to really perceive what is truly doing the thinking in the human being. In theosophical terms we call this the true self. This inner core of essential human nature, the true self, is spiritual by nature. It does not occupy space, nor does it progress in time. It is beyond time and space, eternal. A description of this self was given in my lectures on the devachan, 33 In German in Über die astrale Welt und das Devachan, GA 88. and you will also be able to find an exact description in my book Theosophy, due to appear in a few days’ time? 34Chapter 9, on body, soul and spirit.

The spiritual self needs a physical brain in order to live and think in the present period of human evolution. We would be able to perceive things without a physical brain through our spiritual self in the astral world and in the devachanic or mental world, but in this external, physical world we can only perceive things with a physical brain. If we truly want to understand the human being of today, we have to say that today’s human being is a Spirit Self embodied in a physical brain. This physical brain first had to develop, however, it is not eternal like the spiritual self. The Spirit Self can be traced back to infinitely distant times in the past and we can also follow it to infinitely far distant times in the future. From a certain point in time onwards, this Spirit Self enveloped itself in the brain, creating the brain for itself in accord with its own inherent nature. Such an organ is not so easily created. It would be quite impossible for someone to create a viable brain in physical space by means of some process in the world. It would be an artificial object, but not a viable brain which a spirit might use for its instrument. Other organs had to be developed before such a brain could arise. A brain can only develop in the kind of physical body we have in the human physical body. It was therefore necessary for the development of our brain tool to be preceded by the development of the rest of the human body. Looking back on the developmental stages which preceded our present one, we see how the tool which human beings have today, the means for communication with the world around us, only evolved slowly and gradually. It is the aim and purpose of our present evolution on Earth that the human being with his spiritual self should have organs that would make it possible for him to understand the world in this particular way. Everything which has happened on this Earth through millennia has happened for the purpose that evolution might reach the point where a Spirit Self would have a brain it could use.

Just go back with me to the beginning of our development on Earth for a moment. Someone who has developed mental vision will perceive the following. At the beginning of our planetary evolution, our Spirit Self had reached a particular level in its existence. At that time, when the Earth was in its seed stage, each of us was at a particular level of development. Imagine all the spiritual selves which were, are and will be incarnated on Earth taken back to the time when our evolution on Earth began. All of you did already exist at the time, though not the way you are today but in a completely different state. We have a specific mission in our Earth evolution; human beings are intended to be something as the result of this evolution.

Let me tell you in a few words, in narrative style, what the Spirit Self was when it entered into evolution on Earth. Standing at the gates of our earthly existence, the Spirit Self had quite a different kind of consciousness from today. We can get an idea of it by entering into the position of someone in a dim dream state who is unable to reflect on the images that flit past his conscious mind and use concepts; he merely sees them put before him and proceeding before his mind’s eye in a panorama. Each individual Spirit Self had this dream level of consciousness, and this had to go through earthly evolution and evolve from the dim awareness of perceiving images to the bright, clear conceptual conscious awareness we have in the daytime. The dreamy state of consciousness which the spiritual self had at the beginning of earthly evolution may be compared to that of the animals, though the level of conscious awareness is not the same. The mission our spiritual self has to accomplish in the course of this planetary period is to let conscious awareness grow clearer and clearer; when we are going to leave this earthly evolution in the far distant future, we will have taken this bright, clear conscious awareness to its highest point.

We call the spirits that entered into earthly evolution at that time the pitris, which means ‘fathers’. We were such pitris at the time; this was the nature we had made our own at that earlier state of evolution. We had gone through preliminary stages before we entered into earthly evolution and worked our way up to the dream-like pitri state. So now we know where we ourselves had got to when earthly evolution began. The pitris had to vest themselves step by step with all the organs they needed so that they might use a physical brain within the physical bodily constitution we know today to communicate with an environment which is also physical. The final thing the human being had to achieve—this is evident from what has gone before—was that he had to become a thinking physical entity, so that his self might be able to think in the physical realm. I now come to the second idea we have to consider in advance. If you examine the brain scientifically in all its aspects, using only the senses, you will find that it consists of the same kind of matter and is controlled by the same kind of forces as all other physical entities on earth. If you look at a rock crystal, a piece of calcite or rock salt, a plant or an animal and investigate it chemically and physically, you will find that the whole of our physical nature, in so far as it can be seen by eyes and taken hold of by hands, consists in a similar way of the same chemical and physical forces which are active in the mineral, plant and animal worlds. We therefore say in theosophy that to reach his present level of development, the human being had to vest his spiritual self in a mineral body. The spiritual self created a mineral body for itself. This took a long time, and the process has not yet come to an end. In future human beings will continue to evolve in this mineral vestment. Some organs are still in the seed stage in our bodies, 35 See Foundations of Esotericism (note 13). and they still need to develop. These are new senses, of which only vestiges exist at present. You see, the human being—his spiritual self—needed a long time to vest himself in the physical body which he has today.

Go back to the time when the spiritual self of man started the work of creating this mineral body for itself, a body able to walk and to stand, with all the mechanisms for growth and reproduction which are a necessity for man, with a nervous system and with the kind of brain the human being needs. Go back in your mind to the time when all this was in the early seed stage, and then move on to the time when the human being will have reached the highest point in his evolution, when an organ will have developed in the middle of his head that will enable him to have different perceptions from those we are able to have today. The whole mineral evolution of the present human being is taking place between these two points. In theosophical terminology we call such a period a ‘round’. The round I have just been describing for you, this period of evolution, is called the 'mineral round’. Yet before the human being developed this body in a way that allowed him to create the brain as a tool, he had to prepare other parts of his nature. The spiritual self, being a purely spiritual entity, could not have controlled such a mineral body just like that. Think of the spiritual self as a dot, if you like, and imagine this dot inside a mechanism such as our body; this dot would never have been able to move the mechanism, it would never be in a position to think by means of a physical brain.

We thus have two things. We know that our spiritual self had a dream-like state of consciousness in the beginning, when it would never have been able to control the mineral body. It needed to create a mediator if it was to control the body. What makes me move my hand? First of all I have the thought: I want to move my hand. If I had only the thought, this would be alive in me, but it would never be able to move a physical hand upwards, just as mere thought could not lift a bottle, for instance. If you want to move the bottle, a power would have to be added to the thought which mediates between the thought and my physical body. Such a power exists in the astral world. I would not be able to move my arm if there were not an astral power between my thought and my physical body, of which the arm is a part. This astral power acts as mediator between thought and physical body, physical arm. There has to be a mediator between my spiritual self and my physical body, and this mediator is astral by nature. If I move my leg or my hand, if I set my brain in motion to hatch ideas—my physical body must be connected with my thought by the astral body.

You know from previous lectures that the human being has such an astral body. A clairvoyant sees it in an astral cloud which we call the aura of a person, with his wishes, will impulses and desires living in it. When I have a thought, the thought is unable to do anything by itself. If wish or will impulse is added, this is a power, something shining out, which the clairvoyant is able to perceive. Before the human being developed the physical and mineral body he has today, he had to create an astral body for himself, a wish body, which can mediate between his thoughts and his physical and mineral nature. Another period of development had to precede the one which I have called the ‘mineral round’, and the astral body had to be developed in this. So you need to go back to a period when the human astral body was in preparation. It was only after this that the physical and mineral body could be embedded in the astral body. This period, which also had its beginning and end and which preceded the mineral round, is called the ‘astral round’.

So you see there are two ‘times’. We are living in one of them now, in the mineral round. It was preceded by another, the astral round. But the human astral body also needed to be prepared for. It could only be made part of human nature in a quite specific way. The astral body did not exist before we were born, and it will be gone some time after our death. It arises and disappears again, being subject to specific laws. Look at a child. The astral body of a child is correspondingly small; it grows as the child grows physically. Growth and reproduction are the basis of the mineral and physical and also the etheric nature of the human being. We have to develop according to the laws of growth and reproduction in our life on Earth. The basis for such origin and growth does not lie in the astral body. This only holds wishes, will impulses and desires. We are astral entities just as animals are, and we share a quality with plants and animals which is capable of reproducing itself out of the organism and let it grow from small to large size. If you want to put it in words, you may say that what I have been describing is the configuring principle, which configures the form. Our physical body and our ether body must have a specific configuration as they arise, and this must be able to grow and enlarge. You can get an idea of this if you consider a seed ... [gap in the notes].

The power of configuration does not belong to the astral sphere. The astral is able to live to the full within something that has been configured, but it first needs to be configured itself. The human astral body could not have arisen if it had not been preceded by a period of evolution during which the human form was prepared. Let me call this the configuring period, in theosophical terms the ‘rupa round’. This is the period during which the configuration of the human form was prepared for, so that his present form could then evolve.

Everything we are able to follow up in these three ‘rounds’ are the vestments enveloping the spiritual self of man. In the mineral round the human being put on the mineral vestment. In the astral round which went before this, the human being prepared the astral vestment, and in the rupa round, which came even earlier, the human being gained the ability to give himself the configuration which he needed if he was to perceive, think and act as a human being.

As theosophers we can say: When we were pitris, living in that dream-like state of consciousness at the beginning of our evolution on Earth, we were outcome, fruit, if I may put it like this. We did not come from nothing at the time, but had already gone through stages of development; we were the result of earlier periods which we will describe later. Very much as a plant sprouts from a seed when this is put into new soil in spring, so we, too, have to prepare for the arena which is the Earth, so that we might be able to evolve on it. We were the outcome of another world, and now had to be the beginning of a completely new world. Yet we first had to get our bearings in this new world. You may keep a seed obtained in autumn through the winter and then put it in new soil in the spring, and that is also how pitri nature does it, in a way. It must first be put into a new environment, into a form of matter in the earthly world which had not existed in earlier planetary periods. If you wanted to get an idea of the forces and forms of matter existing at the earlier planetary stage in which we evolved into pitris, you would find them very different. This means that yet another period of evolution must have preceded that one, a period when the human Spirit Self, having come across from an earlier period, first of all had to get used to the new environment. This, then, takes us to a period of evolution that goes very far back.

The further we go away from the present, the harder is it to form ideas. A theosopher does not think he can go back to the beginning of the world with his questions. When people hear something about theosophy for the first time they’ll often ask: ‘How did the world come into existence?’ 36See part 2 of this volume. As theosophers we are no longer able to ask quite a number of those questions, for we do not get back to a beginning. You saw the time when we came across from pitri nature. A clairvoyant is able to study this time by using specific methods. But the human being did not come into existence then, for he had already reached a particular level of development by that time. A theosopher does not speculate or think about these things in abstract terms. He pursues the things to be learned, his experiences, intuitions in the supersensible sphere, and he will tell of anything learned and experienced. Just as an explorer would only describe the regions he has visited, let us say in Africa, and not anything which he has not seen, so a theosopher would not say anything about the beginning of the world which is far, far away. A theosopher can only follow our evolution for some distance, and we do this through what we learn and not through speculation.

A seed entered into our evolution from an earlier time. The human being was a formless seed on Earth. We call this time the ‘arupa round’ or ‘formless round’. Thus we have four periods of time up to the point where we are now. We call them ‘rounds’. The first, second and third rounds have passed. We are now in the fourth round, and three more will follow. We will speak of these later. We call the human being of the fourth round the human being of the mineral world, because he has configured himself in the mineral forces. We call someone of the preceding round, the astral round, when he was able to shape his astral body, a human being of the third elemental world. We distinguish human beings of the third, second and first elementals worlds. During the first elemental world, or the first round, human thoughts moved in formless thought matter. During the second elemental world, or the second round, human thoughts moved in configured thought matter. And in the third elemental world, human thoughts could be configured to wish level; they were able to assume the configuration we are able to perceive as astral rays in the astral world. It was only in the fourth round that the human being reached the point where he could control the mineral world. Just as a human astral brain developed from astral matter in the third round, so the human being was able to create a physical brain for himself in the fourth round that allows him to think.

We thus have three elemental worlds and the mineral world. The three elemental worlds are where the human being of the past lived. What follows can only be touched on lightly. But you’ll be able to grasp it if we use analogy. Our present round will be followed by another, when the human being will reach an even higher level of evolution. He will then be able to think not only in his physical brain, but in the power which we call the astral power. He will be able to control not only physical matter but also the astral power. To make this clearer, let me give you an example. If I want to move this glass from here to here, I need physical mediation—my hand. The human being of the fourth round has reached the point where he can act with conscious deliberation in the physical, the mineral world. He is not yet, however, capable of conscious control of the astral power and has not yet developed an astral organ for the will. He will be able to do this in the fifth round. The human being of the fifth round will be able to control the astral world just as he is today able to control the physical world. In the sixth round the human being will have progressed even further. He will then be able to control the configuring world, just as today he controls the physical world and in the fifth round will be able to control the astral world. In the fifth round the human being will be able to fulfil a wish not just in the place where he has it. He will be able to send his wishes to distant places. In the sixth round the human being will have the power to configure. He will then be able to control rupa power himself. After the sixth round our earthly evolution will have been completed. The human being will then have taken in everything he is able to learn on Earth. Only then will he have gained a real, clear self-awareness. He will then no longer need mediation, having reaching his goal. In the seventh round the human being, having reached his goal, will again be formless. He will, however, have taken in all the things which he had to learn.

The human being has to go through seven rounds. I have only been able to give an approximate description of these. One thing we must remember is that the human being and the Earth have not been physical for the whole of our mineral round. They had to reach this state first, assuming it in order to become physically perceptible. We look back from our mineral round to the other stages of development. We are able to perceive that we are looking at a seven-stage evolution of our Earth, and that the Spirit Self had to go through seven levels or rounds. During each of these rounds the Spirit Self was in one of the natural worlds. Let us look at the human being. He has gone through the first, second and third elemental worlds and is now in the fourth round, which is our present world.

The next time we meet I will show that only the human being reaches the mineral stage during this fourth round. Today’s mineral matter, unenlivened natural matter such as rock crystal, calcite and so on, reached the peak of its evolution in the first round. The plants of today reached their peak in the second round, and today’s animals did so in the third round. The human being achieved physical and mineral evolution in the fourth round.

We thus see that millennia ago another Earth preceded our own. The mineral world then arose. The human being was then only in his first elemental world. In the second round, plant nature evolved; both mineral and plant nature then existed, with the human being in his second elemental world. Then came the third round, when animal nature became part of earthly evolution. The human being as such was still astral then and not yet able to descend into mineral embodiment. In the fourth round, finally, with mineral, plant and animal already extant, the human being was able to achieve embodiment in the mineral principle. We thus have four worlds side by side in the four rounds: the mineral world in the first, the plant world in the second, the animal world in the third and the human world in the fourth round. The human world sent the other three worlds ahead as preparatory stages. Goethe was right, therefore, to ask: ‘What would the whole of nature be if it did not have the human being for its goal?’ This great cosmic process had to be instituted; the human being had to evolve through three rounds so that he might assume mineral form in the fourth. The human being has been the creator, the co-creator, though his form was not visible. As pitri, he came across from another period of evolution. We worked on those first rounds in a dream-like state of consciousness. We worked to prepare for the creation of our Earth, so that a world would arise that could be the basis for our evolution.

This is the process of Earth evolution from a beginning (which I have been able to show you today) to the point in time where we are now. We will add to this the next time we meet.