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The Foundations of Esotericism
GA 93a

Lecture III

Berlin, 28th September 1905

There are three elements in evolution which must be differentiated: form, life and consciousness. Today we will speak about the different kinds of consciousness.

We can regard plants and lower animals as the means whereby higher beings extend their senses into the world in order to behold this world through them. Let us take our start from the sense organs of the plants. When we speak of these we must be clear that we are not only dealing with the sense organs of the single plants, but with beings in higher worlds. The plants are, as it were, only the feelers which are extended by the higher beings; they gain information through the plants.

All plants have cells, more especially at the root-tip but also in other places, in which granules of starch are to be found. Even in otherwise non-starch-containing plants, these starch granules appear at the root-tips. Members of the lily family, for instance, which otherwise contain no starch, possess these starch granules in the cells attached to the roots. These starch granules are loose and movable, and the important point is whether they are situated in one place or another.

Whenever a plant turns even slightly, one starch granule falls towards the other side. This the plant cannot stand. It then turns again in such a way that the granules come back to their right position. And these starch granules actually lie in a symmetrical relationship to the direction of the gravity of the earth. The plant grows upwards because it senses the direction of gravity. By observing the starch granules at the root-tips, we learn to recognise a kind of sense organ. This is for a plant the sense of gravity. This sense belongs not only to the plant, but to the soul of the whole earth, which orders the growth of the plant in accordance with this sense.

This is of primary importance. The plant takes its direction in accordance with gravity. Now if one takes a wheel, for instance a water-wheel, into which plants can be inserted, and turns the wheel together with the plants, another force is added to the force of gravity: a revolving force. This is now in every part of the plant, and its roots and stalks grow in the direction of the tangent of the wheel, in the direction of the tangential force, not the force of gravity. In accordance with this, the starch granules adjust their position.

Let us now consider the human ear. At first we have the outer auditory passage, then the tympanum, and in the inner ear the little auditory bones: hammer, anvil and stirrup—quite minute bones. Hearing depends upon these little bones bringing the other organs into vibration. Further in we find three semicircular membranous canals arranged according to the three dimensions. These are filled with fluid. Then we find, further within the ear, the labyrinth, a structure in the form of a snail shell, filled with very fine little hairs. Each of these is tuned, like the strings of a piano, to a particular pitch. The labyrinth is connected with the auditory nerve that goes to the brain.

The three semicircular canals are especially interesting. They stand in relation to one another in the three directions of space. They are filled with little otoliths, similar to the starch granules of the plant. When these are disturbed a person cannot hold himself erect or walk in an upright position. In the case of fainting the rush of blood to the head can cause a disturbance in the three canals. The sense of direction in man depends on these three semicircular canals. This is the same sense which in the plant, as sense of balance, is localised in the root-tips. What occurs in the root-tips is, in the human being, developed up above in the head.

In surveying the whole evolution: plant, animal, man, one discovers definite relationships between them. The plant is reversed in man. The direction of the animal lies midway between them. The plant has sunk its roots into the earth and directs its sexual organs upward towards the sun. If we turn the plant halfway round we have the animal. If we turn it right round we have man. That is the original significance of the cross;11This is described in more detail in a lecture 22.11.1907. ‘The plant is drawn with its direction vertically towards the earth, the human being also vertically directed away from the earth, the animal horizontal.’ St. John, Notes on 8 lectures. Lecture 7. (Typescript). plant kingdom, animal kingdom, human kingdom. The plant sinks its roots into the earth. The animal is the half-reversed plant. Man is the completely reversed plant. This is why Plato says: ‘The World Soul is stretched on the Cross of the World Body.’12Plato, Timaeus Chapter 8.

In the plant the organ of direction lies in the root-tips. In man it is in the head. What in man is the head, is the root in the case of the plant. The reason, why in man the sense of direction is connected with the sense of hearing, is that hearing is the sense which raises man into a higher kingdom. The last faculty to be attained by man is the faculty of speech. Again, speech is connected with the upright carriage, which without the sense of direction or balance would not be possible. The sound which man produces through speech is the active complement to the passive sense of hearing. What in the plant is simply a sense of orientation has become in man the sense of hearing, which bears within itself the old sense of orientation in the three semicircular canals, which are arranged in accordance with the three dimensions of space.

Every being possesses consciousness. This is also true of the plant, but its consciousness lies on the devachanic plane, on the mental plane. A diagram of the consciousness of the plant would have to be done in the following way:

The plants can also speak and answer us, only we must learn to observe them on the mental plane. There they tell us their own names.

Man's consciousness reaches down to the physical plane. Here his consciousness depends upon the same organ with which the plant is made fast to the earth. We first learn to know man in a true sense when we see how he produces speech and in speech the word ‘Ich’ (I). This ‘I’ has its roots in the mental plane. Without the faculty of uttering the little word ‘I’ we might regard the human form also as that of an animal.

The plant has its roots in the mental plane and man by means of his organ of hearing is an inhabitant of the mental plane. This is why we connect the ‘Es denkt’ (‘it thinks’) with speech. The ear is a higher development of the sense of direction. Because man in relation to the plant has reversed his position and turned again to the spirit, he has in the organ of hearing the old residue of the sense of direction. He gives himself his direction. These are therefore two opposite kinds of consciousness: the plant's consciousness on the mental plane and here the consciousness of man, who carries his being down from the mental world into the physical world. This earthly consciousness of man is called Kama-manas.

Each of the sense organs has a consciousness of its own. These different forms of consciousness, the consciousness of the visible, the audible, the sense of smell and so on, are brought together in the soul. The consciousness only becomes ‘manasic’ when its separate forms are gathered together in the centre of the soul. Without this integration man would fall apart into the consciousness of his organs. These were originally fashioned through the solar plexus, through the sympathetic nervous system. When man himself was a sort of plant, he too was not yet conscious on the physical plane. At that time the higher consciousness first developed the organs.

In a condition of deep trance the central consciousness is silenced. Then the separate organs are conscious and the person begins to see with the pit of the stomach and the solar plexus. Such a consciousness was possessed by the Seeress of Prevost.13Notes published by Justinus Kerner. Stuttgart 1828. She describes correctly light forms which are however only to be observed by the consciousness of the organs. The lowest consciousness is that of the minerals. A somewhat more centralised consciousness, one more like the consciousness of present day man, is the astral consciousness. The development of consciousness in the whole astral body finds its expression in the spinal cord. Then a person perceives the world in pictures. Only those people whose physical brain does not operate have such a consciousness. Idiots, for instance, see the world in pictures; their soul life is analogous to dream life. They can only say that they know nothing of what is going on around them. Other beings in the world have a similar consciousness.

When someone develops astral consciousness, so that he experiences dreams consciously, he can undertake the following: Let us assume that we are in a position to develop this consciousness and imagine ourselves standing before the flower called Venus Fly Trap. If we gaze at it long enough and let it work upon us quite exclusively there comes the moment when we have the feeling that the centre of consciousness sinks down from the head and creeps into the plant.14This is more clearly dealt with in lecture 4. One is then conscious in the plant and sees the world through it. One must transfer one's consciousness, into the plant. Then one becomes aware of how things appear to the astral perception of this being. One then experiences this soul. A sensitive plant's consciousness is quite similar to that of an idiot; not a purely mental consciousness. Such a plant has brought consciousness down to the astral plane. Thus there are two kinds of plants; those which only have their consciousness on the mental plane, and those which have it also on the astral plane.

Certain kinds of animals also have a consciousness on the astral plane, which is likewise the plane of idiot consciousness. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky mentions especially certain Indian night insects, nocturnal moths. Spiders also have an astral consciousness;15Described by H.P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine, Vol. 3. the delicate spider webs are actually spun out of the astral plane. The spiders are merely the instruments of astral activity. The ants too, like the spiders have a consciousness on the astral plane. There the ant heaps have their soul. This is why the behaviour of the ants is so precisely regulated.16See further in lecture 4.

The minerals also have consciousness. This lies on the higher mental plane, in higher regions than that of the plant. Blavatsky calls it Kama-prana consciousness. Man too can later achieve this consciousness while retaining his present state of consciousness undisturbed. He then no longer needs to enter into a physical body, no longer needs to be incarnated. The stones are below on the physical plane and their consciousness is in the higher regions of the mental plane. The crystals are ordered from above. When a man is able to raise his consciousness to this level he then forms his physical body for himself out of the minerals of the world.

The three parts of the brain (thinking, feeling, willing) must later become completely separated. Then man's consciousness must be master of his brain, as in an ant heap a higher consciousness rules. But as in the ant heap, one can separate the workers, the males and females from one another, so, later, a complete separation into three parts can also take place in the brain. Then man becomes a planetary spirit, a creator who brings things into being. As the Earth Spirit builds the crust of the earth, so at that stage man also will build a planet. For this he must have a Kama-pranasic consciousness. Today he has only a Kama-manasic consciousness. This consists in the consciousness of the organs being saturated, impregnated with understanding (Manas). The consciousness becomes, as Blavatsky says, rationalised. The process of rationalisation is brought about during the ascent from animal to man. Organ-consciousness by itself can recognise the objective, but does not know the means whereby it can be achieved. Rationalised consciousness can direct the means. Blavatsky says quite rightly: ‘A dog, for instance, which is shut into a room has the instinct to get out, but he cannot do this because his instinct is not as yet sufficiently imbued with understanding to enable him to take the necessary steps; whereas man immediately grasps the situation and frees himself.’ We therefore differentiate with Blavatsky:

  1. The organic consciousness possessed by the organs.
  2. The astral consciousness possessed by animals, certain plants and idiots.
  3. The kama-pranasic consciousness of the stones, also to be achieved later by man.
  4. The kama-manasic consciousness, dependent on understanding.

In this way one must differentiate the members of the cross of world-existence.

The real meaning of the cross is infinitely deep. The old sagas also are pictures, drawn out of such depths. A great service was bestowed on the human soul by the sagas, as long as man in earlier times could understand their truths in his feeling life. An example of this is the old saga of the sphinx.17The Sphinx (daughter of Chimaera and her son the hound Orthus)—a monster with the body of a hound, a woman's head, lion's claws, dragon's tail and wings—was sent to Thebes where she dealt out death and destruction by means of a riddle. She asked the unfortunate ones who confronted her: What creature goes on four legs in the morning, on two at midday and on three in the evening? Oedipus was the fortunate one who found the answer—man. Upon which she threw herself down from her rock. In the painting in the large cupola of the first Goetheanum the motif representing Greece also includes this Sphinx-Oedipus theme. The sphinx propounded the riddle: In the morning it goes on four, at mid-day on two and in the evening on three. What is that? It is man. To begin with, in the morning of the earth, man in his animal state went on fours. The front limbs were at that time organs of movement. He then raised himself to the upright position. The limb system separated off into two categories and the organs divided into the physical-sensible and the spiritual organs. He then went on two. In the distant future the lower organs will fall away and also the right hand. Only the left hand and the two petalled lotus flower will remain. Then he goes on three. That is why the Vulcan human being limps.18(In Latin Vulcanus, in Greek Hephaistos.) The god of fire and the forger of metals. He limped because twice Zeus, in anger, threw him out of Olympus. According to the original myth his smithy was in Olympus, but in later versions in volcanic regions. His legs are in retrogression; they cease to have significance. At the end of evolution, in the Vulcan metamorphosis of the Earth, man will be the three-membered being that the saga indicates as the ideal.