Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Universe, Earth and Man
GA 105

Lecture VII

Animal forms—the physiognomical expression of human passions. The religion of Egypt—a remembrance of Lemurian times. Fish and serpent symbols. The remembrance of Atlantis in Europe. The Light of Christ.

11 Aug 1908, Stuttgart

In the last lecture it was shown how a differentiation had arisen in evolution generally, and particularly in human evolution, because human beings, and other beings also, could not await the right point in their evolution; they therefore fell behind and became hardened to a certain degree, while others retained the necessary softness and pliability until the right moment, and were thus able to carry out the changes that were fitting. It was also shown that it was only in the middle of the Atlantean epoch that the true human form appeared. In the previous epoch, and indeed at a very early period, the external form of man was very mobile; not only could he move his limbs as at present, but through inner powers he could elongate or shorten them, etc. To the ordinary consciousness of today it seems a kind of outrage to say such things about past conditions of the earth and of man. Even here among Anthroposophists you may have observed that we endeavour to develop certain truths step by step; we give them forth gradually, in small doses—they are then more easily digested.

Let us turn our attention once more to this early development. Even the Atlantean epoch had a beginning, and it came to an end through mighty water catastrophes of a very complicated kind. The Atlantean epoch lasted for a long, a very long, time. When we go back still further we come to other catastrophes in the course of evolution, these may be called volcanic in nature, when large tracts of land lying south of Asia, east of Africa, and north of Australia were demolished. On these tracts of land humanity had dwelt, and, to borrow a term from natural science, the land was called the Lemurian continent.

At that time humanity had a body much softer and more plastic than it is now; it was a period when man could assume many shapes; if we were to describe them they would seem very grotesque to the consciousness of the present day. We arrive here at a point of time before which no kind of feeling of personality, no feeling of selfhood, had as yet come to man. As he had no consciousness of self, and as the human shape was still very mobile and unfinished, something else happened. The shape which man presented outwardly—and which changed according to his emotions, being one thing at one time and something quite different at another—was in this way a kind of betrayer of his inner being; according as his thoughts and passions were good or bad his external shape assumed a different form. It was impossible at that time to entertain an evil thought and keep it hidden, for the external bodily form immediately expressed it, therefore man appeared in all kinds of shapes.

There were at this time very few of the higher kinds of animals; the earth was peopled by the lower animals and man. And if one were companionable—and such indeed we all were fundamentally—one could find one's fellowman through the expression they gave to this or that thought, or to this or that passion. What really are all such expressions? What are the physiognomical expressions of passions and thoughts? They are the shapes of animals. When we observe the form of animals we see in the higher orders of the animal kingdom nothing but thoughts and passions of all sorts worked into a great piece of tapestry. Everything that moves within the human astral body today, and remains hidden, was such a strong force at that time that it imparted at once to the soft body (which was really only formed out of fire-mist) the shape which was the expression of that passion. A large part of our present higher animals consists of human beings who were so entangled in their passions that they became hardened in these forms and fell behind in evolution. Anyone who looks with really occult perception on his environment can express his feeling approximately as follows: In the course of becoming an ego I have passed through that which I now see in lions and snakes; I lived in all these forms, for in my inner being I experienced the qualities which are expressed in these animal shapes.

Those human beings who were capable of rising, who maintained their inner centre, found a certain balance, so that they have within them only the possibility of these passions, which are, however, of a soul nature only, and take on no external form. This is what man's higher development means. In animals we see our own past, although these have not the same form as that in which they appeared in past ages, for millions of years have passed away since then. Let us suppose that passions such as are now found in lions were made manifest at that time in man's outward form, giving him the semblance of a lion, that this form then hardened, and the genus lion originated. Since that time, however, the genus lion has also passed through further development, and because of this the present lion has no longer the same form as at that time. The present lion is the descendant of a genus that branched off from the human long ages ago. In the various animals we have, in a certain sense, to see our degenerate descendants; this should help us to look with understanding into the world around us.

We must not, however, imagine that all the animal forms we see around us, and which represent certain conditions of hardening, are the result of evil human passions. Passions were necessary; man had to experience them in order that he might absorb from them into his own nature all that was useful; so that when we look back into such periods of the earth's evolution we find in our environment animal shapes that are in a state of material self-metamorphosis.

These are the expressions of passions, and working in them we find those Spiritual beings with whom we have become acquainted in previous lectures. We have to think of the earth as being still of a soft substance, and Spiritual beings working upon this substance, and forming the various animal-like shapes.

Let us now recall how it was said that the Egyptian religion repeated the facts of the third epoch of the earth, preserving the results of it as religious knowledge. The Egyptian form of religion contained as knowledge that which had taken place at one time on earth. You will now wonder no longer that so many animal and animal-headed shapes appeared in Egyptian art. This was a spiritual repetition of what had actually existed on the earth at one time, and was more than a mere simile. In a certain sense it is literally true when we say that the souls who principally incarnated in Egyptian bodies remembered the Lemurian epoch, and that their religion was spiritually a reborn memory of it.

Thus epoch after epoch of the earth is born again within the souls of men in the various religious conceptions through which the world passes. Even at a period later than this the environment of man was absolutely different from what it is now, and, of course, the conditions of consciousness were essentially different.

We must clearly understand that from the Lemurian epoch to the middle of the Atlantean epoch the present human form was only gradually constructed. By the middle of the Atlantean epoch it had reached, in a normal way, to a certain perfection through Jehovah and the Spirits of Form; the totality of what we find in man today was first formed throughout this period, viz., from the Lemurian epoch to the Atlantean epoch. The man of Lemuria, had we been able to see him clairvoyantly, would have presented still further problems, for functions which today are separate were still united in him in a certain way. For example, when the Lemurian evolution was in its prime neither such a breathing system nor such a system of alimentation existed as we have now. Substances were quite different; respiration and nutrition were in a certain sense connected; they performed one common function which was only divided later. Man absorbed a kind of watery, milky substance, and this supplied him at the one time with that which he now acquires separately in the processes of respiration and nutrition.

Another thing was also not as yet separated. We know that in the course of the period with which we are dealing the senses first opened to the outer world. Our present senses did not perceive external objects at that time man was limited to a picture-consciousness; vivid dream pictures rose within him, but there was no external objective consciousness. On the other hand, he received, as the first heralding of outer life—the first inkling of outer sense perception—the capacity to distinguish heat and cold in his environment. This was the very first beginning of sense perception on the earth, for the man of that time still moved within the fluidic element, but he now knew whether he was approaching a warm place or a cold one. This was made possible through an organ which he possessed at that time and which has since become atrophied.

You will have heard that within the human brain there is an organ called the pineal gland; today it is atrophied, but formerly it was open outwardly; it was an organ of force, and sent forth rays. Man moved about in the watery element with a kind of lantern which developed a certain light. This lantern, when the pineal gland was developed, projected from the head, enabling man to distinguish different degrees of warmth. It was the first universal sense organ. Natural science describes it as a degenerated eye. This it never was; it was an organ of warmth, and could in fact perceive not only in its immediate environment, but also at a distance. It had also another duty.

This organ, which closed when the other senses opened, was in certain ancient periods an organ of fertilization, so that sense-perception and fertilization were associated at one time. Through this organ man absorbed into himself from his environment the forces which made him capable of bringing forth his like. At one particular period, when the sun was in a certain position and the moon still one with the earth, the atmosphere of the earth was able to furnish the substance which caused this organ to shine. There actually were periods (and certain fishes which at times develop a light remind us of them) when there was a common fertilization of the human being, who was without sex at that time, and when, because of the sun being in a particular position, he was enabled to bring forth his like. Sense-perception and fertilization, nutrition and breathing, were intimately connected in the primeval past.

The various organs were differentiated gradually, and very gradually man acquired the form he now possesses. Through this he became more and more fitted to be his own master, and to develop what we call ego-consciousness. But all through the period when he moved through the earth's atmosphere guided by his perception of warmth he was under the influence of higher beings. It was principally the forces of the sun (which had already left the earth) working upon the earth's atmosphere that stimulated the organ of self-consciousness. On the other hand, there was another organ which was specially stimulated through the moon-forces (both before and after it withdrew from the earth). This is situated in another part of the brain, and is usually called the pituitary body. Today this organ has no particular duty, formerly it regulated the lower functions, those of nutrition and respiration, which originally were one. With this pituitary body were connected all the inner forces by which man inflated himself and was enabled to assume various shapes—everything by which he could voluntarily alter his form. Those alterations which were less voluntary depended on the other organ, the pineal gland.

From this we see how man has changed, and how, through obtaining a solid, definite shape, he has separated himself from the beings working on him from outside, who had made of him an instinctive being. All this gives us a clearer idea of the processes in human evolution which led at length to that condition when, in the middle of the Atlantean epoch he was sufficiently matured for the outer world to influence him through his sense organs, and he reached a position where he could form an opinion of the outer world. Up till that time judgment had flowed into him from without. What we might call a kind of thinking flowed into him, somewhat as is the case with animals today. We have to bear in mind that humanity progressed irregularly, one portion entered into a condition of hardening earlier, another later, and we have already seen the various kinds of human forms that developed. We saw how certain human beings became stunted in their development by allowing this hardening process to take place too soon, by assuming some particular shape too soon, and how through this different races developed. Only those people, who migrated from their homes in the neighbourhood of Ireland were really mature enough to be receptive of what the earth had to offer to their outward sight; and as they traveled from the West to the East they populated the various countries they passed through in which remnants of those people were found who had gone by other paths. With these they mingled, and from this union the various civilizations originated, while from those who were most backward when migration took place has sprung the European civilizations.

In order to complete our preliminary studies we must first glance into the mighty cosmos and then at the earth itself. We have explained man's evolution in connection with the animals, and shown how he thrust them from him and left them behind at an earlier stage of evolution. There is, of course, a great difference in animals; between the higher and the lower forms there is a certain boundary in development that is of importance.

Remember that as man evolved he gradually thrust aside the animal forms, and that he had only a very fine etheric form at the time when earth and sun were still united. When these separated he thrust from him certain animal forms, and these have remained behind at the stage in evolution which corresponds to the time when the sun was still within the earth. From these entirely different forms have naturally arisen in the course of time, for we are here concerned with a very long after-development. Were we to select a characteristic form which is still to be found today, and which may in some way be compared with those which remained behind when the earth was thrust away by the sun, we must select the form of the fish. This is the form which remained over when the earth was thrown, as it were, on its own resources; it is that which still has within it the last echo of the Sun-Forces. Let us keep this moment before us. There were quite other beings which were more of a plant-like nature, but with these we shall not deal at present.

The beings who represented the first material construction of the human form at the time of the sun's departure have undergone manifold changes, but in fishes is preserved that which reminds us of our separation from the sun; reminds us that at one time we belonged to the sun.

The sun departed from the earth and began to influence it from outside, and it also influenced the earth-man; gradually alternating conditions of consciousness developed—those of waking and sleeping. Gradually the condition developed in which man was more united with his ego and also with his higher principles (his etheric and astral body), and this condition alternated with another in which the astral body withdrew from the physical body. This condition is still preserved today in the alternation between waking and sleeping. Let us for a while study this alternating condition. We all know it, for it belongs to the most elementary teaching of Anthroposophy; we know that when man is awake there is a regular connection between his physical, etheric, and astral bodies, and his ego. When he is asleep the astral body and the ego withdraw from the physical and etheric body.

In the very early epoch with which we have been dealing the ego was not yet present, and in its place part of the etheric body withdrew; this condition may be compared with that of sleep. Now we must clearly understand that when man leaves the physical and etheric body behind on the bed he really bestows on them the value of a plant. Plants have a sleep-consciousness; so has man's physical and etheric body during sleep. But at the present time during sleep the astral body and ego of the normal man have also a kind of vegetable consciousness, for he is not aware of his environment. This was different in olden times, for then when the astral body and ego withdrew the man was dimly conscious of the spiritual world which was around him.

We can now form an idea of another important fact which came to pass through the sun separating from the earth. Before this took place the whole man, as regards his physical, etheric, and astral bodies, was under the influence and the control of the material and spiritual Sun-Forces, but after it depended upon the sun's position; it depended on whether the man in regard to his physical, etheric, and astral bodies came under the sun's influence, and whether it shone on him directly or not. We may now ask: Was there not at this epoch another influence coming from the sun?

Yes; at the time when no physical eye had as yet seen the sun, when the sun did not as yet penetrate the dense atmosphere of the earth, man's etheric and astral body (when outside the physical body) received important influences from the Spiritual Forces proceeding from the sun. He was unable to perceive these influences, for he was not mature enough, but later he became able to do so through receiving a force which enabled him to see that which came to him spiritually from the sun.

What was this event which made man capable of perceiving the forces which dwelt in the sun, those very exalted forces which had to leave the earth and unite themselves with the sun? When did this perception come to him? Gradually these forces streamed into the earth, and the most important point of time, that into which the whole thing resolves itself, was when man received full power to assimilate not only the physical forces, but also the spiritual forces of the sun in full consciousness. This was the moment of Christ's coming to the earth.

One might say therefore: There was a time when man was separated physically from the sun. Among animals the fish directs our thoughts to this time, for it recalls the condition of man before he was obliged to be separated from the sun. Then came the time when the higher forces whose leader is Christ—the great Sun-Spirit—left the earth; after which man gradually matured until able to receive these higher forces in the same way he received the physical Sun-Forces from outside. Inward spiritual power had to appear on earth as a fact, just as earlier the physical sun forces had appeared.

Of what was it the duty of Initiates to remind man when Christ appeared? They had to remind him of his ancient home on the Sun, and the symbol used for this was the symbol of the fish. This is why the fish appears in the catacombs as a true symbol connected with the evolution of humanity, and the disciples of the early centuries, seeing the fish symbol everywhere, received the words of the Initiates which rang in their ears with deep emotion, for spiritually it led them to the inward holiness of the story of Palestine, and at the same time led them forth cosmically into the mighty evolutionary phases of the earth.

Such things as these were studied in the schools of the Initiates, and in outward symbols like that of the fish, which were to be found in many places, we have an expression of these mysteries, just as geologists see in the fossils of plants tokens of a primeval past. But just as the impress of a fossil points to an original reality, so the symbol of the fish is a token of that which was cultivated within the mysteries.

This symbol did not appear suddenly. Long before the coming of Christ the Prophets of the Messiah had directed their pupils to His coming, and everywhere, back to the time of the Druidic Mysteries, the fish symbol played its part.

To proceed: a time came when the moon separated from the earth; previously the earth and the moon had formed one body. Then the threefold formation—sun, moon, and earth—came into being. Mighty were the natural catastrophes which then took place; events were of a very stormy nature. The physical part of man was not then at a very high stage of development, and he left it behind him as an ossified type.

In order to understand this we must keep one thing in mind: when the sun separated from the earth, the earth went back in development, it degenerated; and only after the moon withdrew with the worst constituents did improvement again take place. There was, therefore, for some time an ascending development until the departure of the sun; then a descending one, when everything became worse, more grotesque; then, after the moon withdrew, a re-ascending development again.

From this stage of evolution we have also a form which has degenerated, and which does not by any means appear now as it did then, but it exists; it is the form which belonged to man before the moon withdrew, before he had an ego. The animal form which recalls the lowest stage of earthly devilment, the time when man plunged most deeply into passions and when his astral body was susceptible to the worst external influences, is that of the serpent, a creature in which is preserved the shameful depths of our evolution on this planet, although what we see now has degenerated still further. The symbol of the serpent is also derived from evolution; it has not been thought out, but is rooted in the depth of things.

Fish and snake symbols are derived from the mysteries of our evolution. It is quite natural for a person to experience a feeling of pleasure when he sees the glistening body of a fish in the pure, chaste watery element; it gives him a feeling of peace; just as to those of a pure disposition it gives a feeling of horror to see a creeping snake. Such feelings are by no means meaningless memories of things once passed through. Man likes to see the wonderful living sunny form of a fish in water; he recalls his former innocence when as yet he possessed no ego, but was directed by the best Spirits in evolution; and it is a fact that he remembers the most horrible period in evolution, the time when he was near to falling out of evolution, when a crawling snake approaches him.

One can now understand the unconscious experiences of the human soul which are so puzzling to us, and which appear with such vividness when man is unaffected by culture, when we realize that the feelings we thus experience are connected with cosmic facts. Through this knowledge many things are made clear. Man can certainly overcome his fear of snakes, but this is by culture; but the fundamental feeling of repulsion is in his soul, and it points us back to the ancient times of which I am speaking. They were times when man was physically at the snake stage, when those elemental Beings set to work of whom we said that they prepared man for freedom, prepared him to receive the Christ in His full meaning and grandeur.

We now ask: Who were the elemental Beings who helped man not to sink into the depths? They are those mentioned in the last lecture, those who worked on him when he had descended to the depths, and who led him again to the heights—the Luciferic beings. The Sun-Spirits did not yet work upon him, but those beings did who sacrificed themselves. They moved among the people of the earth in a very remarkable way. Outwardly they had a certain human form, for even the highest spirits have to incarnate in forms which are to be found on earth, so these Beings took upon them the external shape that was man's at that time. They said: In form we are similar to man, but our true home is not on the earth; it is upon the two intermediate planets, Venus and Mercury. The best part of their souls were on these planets, but their outward form, which in fact was a kind of illusion, was on earth.

They gave to man what he needed, namely, guidance and teaching, for the reason that their home was not on earth, which was the first planet to be formed, but upon Venus and Mercury. These beings must be described as the first teachers, the first Initiates of humanity; outwardly they resembled the human beings of that time, but inwardly they possessed lofty and important qualities enabling them to work upon humanity as a whole, and also to work on the more advanced individuals in special schools, which were the first Mystery schools. There were always some of these more advanced individuals who had their home in the stars and who, although connected with the stars, had a human shape and walked among men.

Man himself continued to progress, and now passed on into the middle of the Atlantean epoch; the present human form only began to develop during the first half of that epoch; only then did man begin to feel fully at home in it.

Now, there were some beings in those ancient times who were very low down in the scale of humanity; these became the backward races; there were others who kept themselves plastic; and, again, others who only occasionally inhabited human bodies. What I am now about to describe happened very frequently in the first part of the Atlantean epoch. Imagine a man of that time who for an Atlantean was highly evolved; through certain procedures it frequently happened that such a man was caused to separate his physical body (which was then very plastic) and his etheric and astral bodies from his more spiritual parts, which then withdrew more into the spiritual world so as later to take on another body.

It very frequently happened that, long before the physical, etheric and astral bodies were ready to die, they were willingly vacated by their soul and spirit-principles. These, when they had belonged to especially exalted individuals, were pure and good bodies. Highly spiritual beings then let themselves descend into these bodies; and so it frequently happened during the ancient Atlantean epoch that beings who were otherwise unable to incarnate on earth made use of such advanced bodies in order to descend among men. These were the beings who acted as great teachers in the Atlantean schools of initiation. They worked powerfully with the means available at that time.

When at that time man left his physical body at night he had what may be called a dim clairvoyant consciousness; during the day the outline of objects was still indistinct, and there was no such clearly defined difference between the conditions of sleeping and waking as exists today. It happened, therefore, that the ordinary man beheld such an individual as I have described in an alternating manner—by day he saw him like a man, but at night he saw him quite otherwise, in a spiritual soul-like way, though he knew it was the same being who appeared to him by day in a physical body. These were beings belonging to Venus and Mercury who interposed into human existence and were with man day and night. The remembrance of these beings remained in the souls who incarnated again and again among the peoples of Europe, and they recalled them when they uttered the names Wotan, Thor, etc.

When the inhabitants of ancient Europe spoke of the Gods they were no imaginary figures to them, but memories of forms seen in Atlantis. In the same way, when the Greeks spoke of Zeus, Apollo, and Ares these were forms they had themselves perceived during the Atlantean epoch. Whereas in the Egyptian age memories of ancient Lemuria arose, in the Grecian age memories of the earthly experiences on Atlantis rose within the souls of the people.

We must clearly understand that if everything contained in later religions was a memory of facts connected with the earth at an earlier age some very important event would have to take place when the last of these memories had appeared; this was about the time when the Greeks and Romans recalled the Atlantean epoch. This was also the time when the Christ brought an essentially new Impulse into evolution. We indicated the nature of this Impulse when we spoke about the long intermediate period of evolution in which Luciferic beings were preparing mankind, making him capable of receiving the Christ Impulse, so that the sun should not merely send down its force externally, but that inner forces should also stream into man from it. This period has not nearly come to an end; it is still in its beginning, for with the coming of Christ only the first impulse was given for the inwardly spiritual part of the sun to stream to earth in addition to the physical sunlight. Ever stronger will that light become, which as Spiritual Sunlight, or Christ-light, will irradiate mankind from within as the physical sunlight illuminates him from without.

It will come to pass in the future that man will look upon the sun, not only with his external eyes perceiving its glory, but he will also experience the spiritual side of the sun in his inner being. Only when he is in a position to do this will he fully understand what really dwelt on earth as the Being whom we call Christ Jesus. Only slowly and gradually will man come to an understanding of this; and just as truly as in pre-Christian times he had to understand the pronouncements of those spiritual beings who guided man when he contracted in his descent into the physical world, so by a truly spiritual effort he must henceforth try to understand the Spiritual Power which at one time went forth from the earth with the sun. Man must be able to receive this Power again as an inner spiritual force; he must comprehend this Christ power—this Spiritual power which imparts to him the great impulse for the future.

The object of spiritual science, and of all that can be acquired as spiritual teaching, is to enable us to comprehend this Power of Christ. One cannot say that Anthroposophy is Christianity, but one can say that what has been given to man and to the earth by the Christ Principle will be gradually made comprehensible through the instrumentality of Anthroposophy. When that mighty Impulse is understood it will pour into humanity more and more, for man has need of it in order that, after having contracted and sunk most deeply into matter, he may once more tear himself free and turn again to his spiritual home.