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Original Impulses for the Science of the Spirit
GA 96

II. Inner Earth and Volcanic Eruptions

16 April 1906, Berlin

As announced, today's lecture will be concerned with a tragic event that has happened these days—the eruption of Vesuvius.11In April 1906 the summit peak of Vesuvius collapsed. The volume of matter involved was c. 100 million cubic metres. This material was ejected due to vapour pressure, raining down as ashes that darkened the region for days and combined with the lava flow to cause severe damage. More than 100 people lost their lives. See also lecture given in Berlin on 1 January 1909 (The Deed of Christ and the Opposing Spiritual Powers; from GA 107). It will, of course, not be possible to discuss the details of this natural event. Our task is to awaken insight into such natural phenomena out of the science of the spirit. Let me therefore present some basic elements that will make insight possible. We should note in advance that even among occultists it is considered one of the most difficult things to speak about the mysterious configuration and composition of our planet earth. It is known—anyone who is even a little informed on occult subjects will have heard of this—that it is easier to gain living experience of something of the astral and the mental world, of kama loka and devachan and bring it to ordinary daytime conscious awareness, than to penetrate the secrets of our own planet earth. These secrets are indeed among the ‘inner’ secrets, as they are called, reserved for a higher grade, the second grade of initiation. No one has so far spoken in public about the inner earth, not even within the theosophical movement. I would therefore stress from the very beginning that today's lecture is definitely not for people who are new to theosophy. This is not because there may be difficulties as regards purely conceptual understanding the content may in fact be easier to understand than many other things but because someone who does not have sufficient knowledge of the research methods used in the science of the spirit will immediately ask: ‘How do you know all this?’ I am going to give a rough outline of the facts and at the same time indicate the ways in which these matters can be investigated. There will no doubt be members of the audience who are not used to hearing unusual things, so that what I am going to say today may seem fantastic to them. Please remember that we can never understand everything. These things are part of the most advanced knowledge in occultism.

It will thus be necessary for me to speak about the inner earth from the occult point of view. As you know, scientists offer very little information. New theories on the origin of volcanoes and on volcanic activity in general, have come up roughly every five years in recent decades. What I am going to say today will be pushed aside with a wave of the hand by modern scientists, as something that has nothing to do with science.

As an introduction, let me show you how this objection would appear to occultists. It is considered to be the task of modern science to explain the devastating ejection of matter from the inner earth substance to the surface, the terrifying quakes that will now and then destroy thousands and thousands of human lives, explaining it in purely mechanical terms. One theory is that the inner earth consists of red-hot liquid matter, more or less like an overheated stove, another sees the origin of volcanic phenomena in foci in the surface layer that do not go deep down into the inner earth. More recent theories tend to take this second line. You can hear about the things modern science has to say in popular science lectures or read about them in a literature that varies in quality.

The objections that may be raised by geophysicists to the kind of approach we are going to use here may be compared with a very ordinary everyday event. Let us assume someone has had his room furnished by someone else who wanted to do something nice for him. A third person might come and speak of the loving care given to the choice of the different pieces of furniture, how he had followed particular ideas, and so on. But someone else might object: ‘Why should there be any underlying ideas? The pieces were made at a cabinet maker's and are therefore his work.’ Both are right, the person who speaks of the way the cabinet maker made the furniture and the other person who knows what was in the heart and mind of the person who gave the furniture and commissioned the cabinet maker to make the pieces. Scientists are therefore quite right from their point of view. But they should be able to rise to the admission that it is possible to have two completely different points of view. We are definitely not concerned to reject the cabinet-maker insights of modern science. What matters to us is to reveal the ideas according to which everything was created and brought into existence, and that is the spiritual aspect.

Let me now go straight on to considering the inner earth. This can of course only be done in general terms. As you can imagine, the interior of the earth will always look a little different, depending on where we are on the surface when we consider it. To the scientist of the spirit, the earth is far from being the dead product modern science presents. It has life and is filled with soul and spirit, just as the human body is not only what anatomists show it to be. Just as the human body is filled with soul and spirit, so is the whole body of the earth filled with soul and spirit. And just as the blood consists not only of the chemical compounds chemists are able to identify, so specific substances and layers in our earth are far from being just the things metallurgists, crystallographers and chemists are able to discover. Just as the nerves are not just the anatomical structures defined by scientists, having special significance in giving expression to a soul quality, so there is also an aspect of soul and spirit to everything that makes up our earth.

Physicists are actually only able to penetrate a short distance towards the inner earth. The few thousand metres they are able to reach are indeed of little significance. Scientists can only deal with the outermost shell of the earth's body. No such limits are set to clairvoyant research when it explores the body of our earth. Here it is indeed possible to penetrate to the centre of the planet earth. Clairvoyant research also sees the earth to be made up of layers, and it has been found that these layers open up to perception in stages.

Any of you who have heard the lectures on John's gospel12Lectures given in February and March 1906 (GA 97): Steiner R. The Christian Mystery (GA 97). Tr. A. R. Meuss. Gympie, Australia: Completion Press 2000. will remember that there are seven stages of Christian initiation. They are 1) the washing of the feet, 2) the scourging, 3) the crown of thorns, 4) carrying the cross, 5) the mystic death, 6) entombment and 7) resurrection. Something truly remarkable emerges for each of these initiation stages in relation to the scientific investigation of the earth. At each of these initiation stages a further, deeper layer of our earth becomes transparent. Someone who has reached the first stage of initiation can thus penetrate the first layer of the earth. Someone who has reached the second stage penetrates a second layer which looks very different. Someone who has borne the crown of thorns sees a third layer. Then comes the stage of bearing the cross, when the fourth layer becomes visible. The fifth stage, mystic death, opens up a further layer. There follows the sixth stage, that of entombment. The seventh layer corresponds to the resurrection. You thus have seven consecutive layers. Beyond these seven layers, which are the seven levels the human being reaches in going through these seven stages of initiation, lie two more layers of the planet earth, an eighth and a ninth. The inner earth thus consists of nine layers. I have made them all more or less the same width in the drawing (Fig. 1), though in reality they vary in thickness. The thickness of the layers will be of less interest to us, however.

Earth layers
Fig. 1

Let us try and describe those nine consecutive layers a little. The upper layer is the one which contains all the things to which modern science is limited, everything that exists by way of solid rock or the materials for solid rock.

Then comes the second layer. It differs from the one above it mainly in that it is in a relatively soft, fluid state. Everything it contains is such by nature that occultists call it the fluid or soft earth. The outer layer is called solid or mineral earth. The second layer contains things of which ordinary physics cannot tell us, for it is not possible for the time being to create conditions on the earth's surface where the kind of substance found in this layer can actually exist. It cannot be found on the earth's surface because it needs the tremendous pressure of the upper layer to hold everything in the second layer together. If you were to take the upper layer away, the material beneath it would rush out and spread out in the whole universe with incredible speed. That is the second layer.

The third layer is called the earth vapour. It is more difficult to characterize than the second. You might think of water vapour. Apart from its vaporous state it is also full of life. So we have a layer that essentially has life, whereas the other two earth layers, the first and second layers, do not actually have life. All the second layer has is a tremendous potential for expansion, to shatter apart. The third layer, on the other hand, has life, and this is present at every point.

The fourth layer is such that all the things found in the three layers above it, which still have more or less something of the nature of our ordinary matter, no longer have the substantial nature we find on the earth. The substances in this layer cannot be perceived with the outer senses. They are in an astral state. Everything that exists in the three uppermost layers of the earth and is still in a way related to the things we have on the earth's surface, is here found to be in the astral state. In the terms used in the Bible we can say: The spirit of God moved above the waters.13Genesis 1:2 Let us call it the ‘water earth’, which is also the occult term. The water earth is also the origin, the source of all matter on earth, all outer matter, irrespective of whether it is found in minerals, plants, animals or humans. This matter, found in everything there is on our earth, is in a volatile, astral form in this water earth. You have to realize that everything we have by way of physical forces also has its original astral forces, and that these original astral forces condense to become physical. These original forces exist in the fourth layer, the water earth.

The fifth layer is called the fruit earth. This is for a quite specific reason. Scientists or people in general will ask: ‘How did life come about?’ This is a frequent subject of discussion not only in popular lectures but also in the scientific literature. But you must still be wet behind the ears in the sphere of spiritual science to ask this question. It is a question that simply does not arise in the science of the spirit, only the question: ‘How has dead matter come about?’ I have tried to explain this to you before using an analogy. Look at pit coal. It is simply rock now, and yet if you were able to trace it back through several millennia in earth's evolution you would find that the matter you have there in that piece of coal comes from vast forests of ferns that have turned to coal. So what is pit coal? It has developed from whole forests; dead today, it once was wholly alive.

If you were able to look at the bottom of the sea you would find all kinds of calcareous formations. If you were to observe marine creatures you would see that they are all the time secreting lime, calcium carbonate. This calcareous shell remains behind as solid matter. So once again you have something dead that is the product of something living. If you had developed your supersensible organs of perception and were able to go back far enough in earth's evolution, you would find that everything dead comes from something alive, and that even rock crystal and diamonds, in short, everything that is dead, derives from life. Fossil development in outside nature is a process similar to the development of a skeletal system in us. You know there are fishes that do not yet have a bony skeleton. In man, too, you would find no bones in earlier stages, only cartilage. Everything that is part of the skeletal system is the beginning of lifelessness in man, it is the same condensation process and you should think of the earth's living body in the same way. The whole of it is a living organism. The right question to ask is therefore: ‘How did dead matter, lifeless matter, come about?’ To ask how the living came from the dead is one of the silliest questions to ask, for life was there first, and dead matter separated out from it in fossils, in a hardening process. And so there was life throughout the whole of our earth once, and the life which existed then, where there was as yet no dead matter, was originally living matter. This is still to be found in the finite earth. It does not just have a life similar to present life, like the things we talked of before. Here in the fruit earth we have life at its most original, and this was also to be found on the earth's surface when nothing lifeless had as yet developed. So that is how we should see the fifth layer, the fruit earth.

The sixth layer is the ‘fire earth’. Just as the fruit earth contains all that lives, so the fire earth holds all that exists by way of drive or instinct. It holds the original sources of all that is animal life, life that may know pleasure and pain. You may think it strange, but it is true that this fire earth is sentient as soon as it expands. This can be observed. It is a truly sentient layer of the earth. Everything that exists on earth and once filled the whole earth is found in specific layers in the earth. Just as dead matter comes from life, so does everything that merely has life come from the soul sphere. Anything which merely has life does not come from anything bodily. Sentience, soul quality, comes first, and the bodily arises from it. All forms of matter originate in soul quality.

The seventh layer is called the earth mirror or reflector, and there is a particular reason for this. Someone who is not familiar with the ‘seven unutterable secrets of occultism’, as they are called, would find the content of this seventh earth layer grotesque. It holds all the forces of nature, but as spirit. Let me try and explain it like this. Think of magnetism, electricity, heat, light or any force of nature, but as something spiritual. Thus a magnet attracts iron. That is an inorganic effect. Think of this in spiritual terms, as if the magnet were attracting the iron out of inner sympathy, and think of electrical wires as transformed into something spiritual and moral, as if the forces of nature were not mechanical, indifferent forces but had moral effects. Think of the forces of heat, repulsion, attraction in terms of soul and moral qualities, qualities, as if you wanted to do something nice for people and had an inner feeling about this. So this is how you first of all imagine the whole of nature in moral terms.

And now think of the whole of nature as something immoral. Imagine everything you can think of by way of morals in human nature has been turned into its opposite. This is what appears in the earth mirror. So there is nothing there of what here on earth we call ‘the good’; quite the contrary, the kind of activities that are most powerful there are those that are the opposite of what people call good. Such are the qualities of the material parts in this layer of our earth. Originally it actually had a great deal more of them, but they are gradually improving as morality develops, and the moral development of our earth means that the forces in this earth mirror will change completely from being immoral to being moral. The moral process in human society has significance not only for society itself but for the whole planet. It comes to expression in the way the forces of this layer change into moral forces of nature. When our human race will have progressed so far that it will have produced the highest morality, then everything anti moral in this earth mirror will have been overcome and transformed into something moral. That is the purpose of the seventh layer.

The eighth part of the inner earth is given various names. In the Pythagorean School of antiquity it was called the number generator. In the Rosicrucian School it was called ‘the fragmenter’. This eighth layer, which in turn consists of a number of forces, has a most peculiar property that can only be discovered in a very strange way. When the pupil has reached the stage which in Christian initiation is reached only after the resurrection, he must do the following if he is to get any idea at all of what is happening here. He has to take a flower, for instance, and visualize it very clearly in his mind's eye. Then he must concentrate on this place in the inner earth, doing it in such a way as if he were looking into this place through the flower. Everything would then be seen a hundred and a thousand fold through the flower. Hence the name is ‘the fragmenter’. If you were to take a formless object, a piece of wood, perhaps, this would not happen. But if you take a plant, an animal or even a human being, they would then appear to you in countless numbers. A work of art would also be multiplied many times in this way. Not a piece of formless matter, therefore, but a work of art, irrespective of what kind, providing it is substantial—this is multiplied many times. This is a particular property of this layer, which is why it is called the fragmenter, or in the Pythagorean School the number generator, the latter because it shows the things that exist on earth as single objects multiplied many times over.

Then comes the ninth layer, which lies immediately around the earth's centre. This is extremely difficult to penetrate for people today, even for someone advanced in spiritual training. All one can say is that one can become aware that certain parts of the inner earth have a particular relationship to individual organs of the human and animal body. Above all you find forces there that have been moved to the periphery. These are forces the mode of action of which is difficult to describe. They are in a living connection with the human brain, and further inwards with human brain functions. Still further inside in this sphere are forces that relate to the human and animal powers of reproduction.

So here we have the configuration of our earth as seen with the clairvoyant eye and taught in occult schools ever since such schools existed. What you see drawn on the board here is a mystery that is really and truly taught in all occult schools.

There are, however, all kinds of connections between individual layers, just as in the human body individual organs are linked in many different ways by blood and nerves. Links go from the centre in all kinds of directions. Above all there are two directions in which forces move; these are exactly at right angles to one another and pass through the centre of the earth. They are not strands but directions in which forces move. Many other directions may also be noted. The following is important when looking at these things. When we explore the uppermost layer we find it is interrupted by a hollow space that lies inside this outermost layer. A kind of canal links this hollow space with the fifth layer which we call the fruit earth.

A natural disaster such as a volcanic eruption involves the deeper layers of the earth, which I have drawn for you. This applies to both volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. The material of the uppermost layers is set in motion by forces that go from the fruit earth to the hollow space I have mentioned. These forces essentially arise in the fifth layer of the inner earth. The fire earth is also involved, for it is disturbed. It is really always in a state of unrest but becomes particularly restless at times when abnormal phenomena such as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions occur. Now the fruit earth—from which all life has arisen—is connected with all that lives. The fire earth on its part is connected with everything that has sentience, knowing pleasure and pain, with the lower soul aspect, its passions and drives.

I can only give you a few glimpses of this vast area, to show how events on the earth relate to unrest in the fire and fruit earths. When the human being of today was for the first time fructified with a higher soul principle on this earth and began to be human, tremendous drives were still active under the influence of the fruit and fire earths. It was all raging and roaring in a way that was very different from anything possible today. Human beings of the Lemurian age were tremendously active. That whole Lemurian continent which lay in the region between today's Australia, Asia and South Africa, perished in catastrophic volcanic eruptions, with the fruit and fire element of the earth raging wildly. This was connected with an element in human beings who at that time still lived entirely in their drives and instincts. A close connection still existed then between drives, desires and passions on one hand and volcanic activity on the other. The end of the Lemurian continent was brought about by the magnificent egoism of the last Lemurian races who practised a form of black magic that is beyond our powers of imagining.

The end of Atlantis, the Flood, as it is called, was also connected with the moral quality of Atlantean peoples. Only traces remain of all this, yet up to a certain level we can show a definite connection between the lives people led and such phenomena. We must of course be extremely cautious in establishing this, for it is only too easy for fantasy to creep in. One has to base oneself solely on facts determined by occult research. Occultists seek to establish what happened when Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, when the earthquake happened in Calabria,14The worst earthquakes in Calabria had been in 1783, 1812 and 1906. the earthquake at the time of Christ, or the Lisbon earthquake in 1755. Many people died in those natural disasters. If people perished in them, this does not necessarily mean they did something in a previous life to deserve it. It is, however, part of the karma of these people that they should perish in this way. This is one reason why one looks at the karma of those who perished. The other is the following. Theosophical handbooks often describe kama loka and devachan as if it was merely a consequence, an effect of the previous earth life. But the dead actually still influence this earth life. They play a role when changes occur on earth, in phenomena of civilization or of nature. Imagine we were born in the early years of Christianity and then reborn again in the present age. The fauna and flora of Europe would have changed tremendously. Many animals and plant species would have become extinct, with others taking their place. In the science of the spirit the explanation of this is not considered to be something supernatural, but that the powers man has when he is not in his body actually join forces with those of nature, so that human beings influence their future lives with the powers they have in devachan or kama loka. If you see animals today that differ from those seen thousands of years ago, this is partly due to human influences. Human beings thus have a part in what we call the forces of nature. The dead are continually involved in work on the natural phenomena, and in many respects we can regard natural events reflecting something which the dead bring about in this world.

The matter is not so simple in the case of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, but these nevertheless have something to do with human beings who have not yet reincarnated. They are quite definitely connected with souls that are to be incarnated at the time when such earthquakes take place. As an occultist one thus has two problems to solve, firstly the question as to what happens with the people who die in earthquakes, and secondly the question as to what kind of people they are who are born at the time of an earthquake, so that they may come down into this visible world. Both kinds of investigation show a connection between the cataclysms and the moral and intellectual qualities we must observe in humanity. It emerges that the people who perish in such a tragic event are quite apart from all their usual karmic tendencies brought together with other souls in the place where an earthquake occurs because of karmic realities. All the souls that perish in such quakes are given the opportunity of overcoming a final element that still blocks the way for their karma, so that they may change from materialists into idealists and gain insight into things of the spirit.

On the other hand people who are born in such situations are strangely enough souls who are attracted to drives, instincts and passions, in a way, and born to be real materialists. People born under the influence of such an event become materialists, and generally practical materialists, people who are materialistic in their morals in life. The power of nature is connected with the power which human beings develop as their own in devachan, and the forces that arise when the fire and the fruit earth react in such disasters have an inner connection with souls who are destined to have an attitude of practical materialism in their next life. Souls born under the auspices of volcanic eruptions are thus truly materialistic unbelievers, people who want to know nothing of a life in the spirit.

These are the two facts we can truly state, and you can easily see how this will continue to go in that direction in earth evolution. The more human beings overcome genuine materialism, the fewer such disasters will there be in our earth. There is this attraction between materialism and the principles to be found in the fire and fruit earth, and our earth will grow calmer and more harmonious to the same degree as humanity comes free of materialism.

There has, however, been a strange development with regard to materialism in recent centuries. As you know, I have always stressed that medieval times were more spiritual than our own age. The majority of people, at least in Europe, had more of a feeling for spirituality. More recent times, when materialism has been growing, have brought numerous volcanic eruptions. Vesuvius is the only volcano that is still active on the mainland of Europe. Consider the number of eruptions there,15Some of the figures taken down were incorrect and have been omitted. with particularly severe ones recorded in 79, 203, 472, 512, 652, 982, 1036, 1139 ... 1872, 1885, 1891 ... 1906.

These figures may be read in any way you want. All I can say is that occult teachings were popularized for much deeper reasons than people generally believe. Those who initiated this knew full well what was intended, and that was intensive spiritual development for humanity in harmony with the great cosmic scheme of things. A lay person may show little interest in decisions made in the spiritual science movement the great, all-encompassing thoughts about what happens, not only for humanity, but also for the world. It seems to be dogma, but in reality it is something of tremendous depth and significance for the whole cosmos.

These are things we have to emphasize again and again. So let me repeat. I have tried on this occasion to speak of something that will not normally be mentioned, not even in our theosophical movement, presenting it for those who are accustomed to receive spiritual things in the right way. I have tried to refer to certain points that are connected with the most profound secrets of occultism. They can help you to gain moral insight into events of the kind we have known in the last few days. There is, however, one thing we must always keep in mind. Beware of attaching anything fantastic to these complex and comprehensive situations. We must limit ourselves to things substantiated by sound methods that have proved their value not just for thousands of years but from the very beginning of occultism. We should only consider things that truly have their origin in initiation science, where access to these secrets is possible. What I have told you of today about the significance of such events is based on genuine research—the importance for the individual who perishes and also for the individual who is born at such a time, compelled by his own urge to incarnate. These are things that give as deep insights into human nature.

An occultist should not be afraid of saying things even if they sound incredible and I would therefore in conclusion wish to tell you something incredible which nevertheless is based on sound research. Something remarkable happened during the well-known eruption of Vesuvius that caused Herculaneum and Pompeii to be buried. As you know, the famous Roman writer Pliny the Elder died on that occasion.16Gaius Plinius Secundus (AD 23 or 24–79). The 20 volumes he wrote about the wars between the Romans and Germanic tribes have been lost; Tacitus partly based his own work on them. Pliny was in command of the Roman fleet when the great eruption of Mount Vesuvius occurred. Wanting to see the phenomenon from close-by he landed at Stabiae (Castellamare) where the gases killed him. It is extraordinarily significant to do an occult study of his destiny. Today I do not want to consider his personal destiny but something else. You all know what is meant by the ‘akashic record’. You know that with the help of this record it is possible to go back to certain points in time, for instance the time of that eruption of Vesuvius. Something strange emerges here. I spoke of the peculiar nature of he eighth layer in this lecture, the fragmenter or number generator. This layer also has great significance for the physical human body. The physical matter of the human body as we know it in the usual sense perishes when we die. It dissolves in the uppermost layers of the earth, but the sum total of energies maintaining the form of the physical body does not. You can find this in the seventh layer, the earth mirror, as it is called. So if you pick the moment when someone has just died in the akashic record and follow the fate of the different bodies, you will see that the physical corpse perishes, but the physical form can be found as something that remains in the seventh layer, the earth mirror. That is where the things are kept that can be studied in the akashic record. It is actually a kind of reservoir for the forms that remain. The matter perishes, but the form is preserved.

If you follow such a preserved human form you see that it remains in this seventh layer for a time. After that it is indeed split apart in the eighth layer, the number generator or fragmenter. What happens is exactly the same as I told you earlier when speaking of a flower. This form body of a human being will appear to you to be divided many times over. It will appear again later when other human beings are configured. Note this well, therefore. Man, as he lives amongst us today, has not only his individual nature, his inmost nature; he also has other human beings in him where his form is concerned, in the middle of his body. And it is in fact possible to show the influence which the fragmented bodily form of Pliny has had on the thinking of materialistic scientists who took this fragmented form into themselves.

Such mysterious things are discovered when we penetrate the earth's constitution. You will now be able to understand that in some respect the outer aspect, the configuration of our body, also depends karmically on such earlier events. An occasion like the death of Pliny has an effect on the configuration of many brains in later times, not on the souls but on the physical forms. These are especially subtle processes and they are truly important if one wishes to understand the connection between man and earth.

The secrets known by the Rosicrucians I have spoken to you before about their profound wisdom—include insights of the kind I have spoken of today. The Rosicrucians did not see the earth as a lifeless clod, the way modern scientists do. Goethe, the great poet and theosophist, also knew that the earth is not dead or lifeless. It was no poetic speechifying, but an image showing a spiritual reality when he made the Earth Spirit say the words:

In life's floods, in roaring activity
I move up and down,
Going hither and thither.
Birth and the grave,
Weaving to and fro,
Creating ardent life,
I work the rushing loom of time,
Weaving the godhead's living garb.17Goethe, Faust 1, Night scene.

To Goethe, this earth was the outer garment of divine powers. Today I wanted to show you something of the way they work.