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Universe, Earth and Man
GA 105

Lecture IX

The progress of man. His conquest of the physical plane in the post-Atlantean civilizations. The beginning and up-building of the “I am.” The chosen people.

13 Aug 1908, Stuttgart

Our task today is to comprehend the spiritual horizon within which man stands by investigating his origin. We have seen that in the course of his development throughout the Lemurian and Atlantean epochs he has gradually acquired his present form; we will now extend our study of this second epoch, the Atlantean, on into our own age so far as is necessary to an understanding of our subject.

We know that previous to the middle of the Atlantean epoch the conditions of the consciousness of man were quite different to what they are today. While in his physical body during the day he then saw objects by no means with the same sharp outlines he does now, everything was more or less blurred; and when at night he left his physical body he did not sink into dreamless sleep, but was able to perceive Spiritual Beings in a spiritual world.

We will now deal further with the fact that these beings (who also sought embodiment in Atlantean bodies) entered into a certain companionship with man, but will only remind ourselves that at that time man had a conviction, based on direct experience, that above the human kingdom to which he himself belonged there were other kingdoms—that of the Angels and of the Archangels; and that he learned to recognize these higher beings face to face, just as we now learn to recognize each other in the physical world. Then came the time when objective day consciousness became ever clearer and clearer, and, on the other hand, when dimness and darkness enveloped man at night. This was the period when the first rudimentary germs of ego or “I am” were laid down in man. By learning to perceive the objects around him he at the same time gained that form of self-consciousness it was intended he should develop.

We must conceive of everything in the world as graded; that just as there are all possible grades of beings in the animal and human kingdoms so also there are many different grades among the beings above man. Some beings in the kingdom of the Angels are very close to man, and others are at a higher stage; many grades are met with when we direct our gaze to the higher worlds. We have in the first place to understand clearly that at the time when man rose at night through dim clairvoyant consciousness into higher worlds these beings (to put it trivially) gained something from man through their intercourse with him; their own being was enriched. For though these beings stood above man they were still inwardly connected with him; they inspired him and influenced his imaginative consciousness, which was, however, dim. So that we must think of man in that ancient period as being in such a condition that when he withdrew from his physical and etheric bodies it was as if a higher being, or, in a wider sense, a whole host of higher beings, took possession of him. Fundamentally this is also the case today, only man is not aware of it, whereas at that time he was, though in a dim clairvoyant way. It has already been explained in other lectures that sleep is by no means unnecessary for man; it serves a very great purpose.

During the day man is continually making use of his physical and etheric bodies. The life we lead from morning till evening exhausts these bodies, and what we feel as fatigue is nothing more than the expression of the fact that indirectly through the astral body all kinds of perceptions have been taking place in us as well as impulses of joy, of sorrow, and of pain; all these have been playing through us. This wears out our physical and etheric bodies, and in the evening we are tired because all day long we have been destroying them.

When at night we leave these bodies on the bed the astral body and ego are not inactive; all night long they send their forces into the physical and etheric bodies; they work at repairing the disorganized and exhausted forces of these bodies; this they could not do if, on their withdrawal, they were not taken up into a higher kingdom. Above the human kingdom a spiritual kingdom is outspread, the kingdom of the Angels, Archangels, and other beings. It is as if ozone streamed from the Spiritual Beings that then surround us, and from whom we are separated during the day, because with our perceptions we are enclosed within the shell of our bodies. At night we plunge into this spiritual ozone; from it our astral body absorbs forces which it then pours into the physical and etheric bodies to repair them. Today man is unconscious of this, but at the time when he still possessed dim clairvoyant consciousness he saw how his astral body and ego left the other members and was absorbed into the divine spiritual world.

Things seen in one way in the physical world have a very different appearance above. One might even say that the Gods profit by participating thus in humanity. In order rightly to understand the relationship of man to the universe we must try to form a conception, which is not so easy, but is, however, necessary, if we are to understand his true position. We have said that the earth is the planet of love, that love will be first rightly developed upon the earth. To put it crudely, it will be bred here, and through their participating in mankind the Gods will learn to know love, though in another sense it is they who bestow it. It is difficult to picture this.

It is entirely possible that one being may impart a gift to another, and only come to know his gift through the other. Picture to yourselves an exceedingly rich person who has never known anything but riches, nor ever experienced the deep satisfaction of soul which results from well-doing. Picture this person now as doing something good; he gives to the poor. The gift calls forth great thankfulness in the soul of the needy individual; this feeling of gratitude is at the same time a gift; it would never have existed if the rich person had not first given. He is the originator of the feeling of gratitude, although he does not himself feel it, and is only acquainted with it through its reflection, which streams back to him from the person in whom he roused it. It is approximately in this way that the gift of love is imparted to man by the Gods. They have progressed so far that they are able to kindle love in man so that he feels it, but they only learn to know it as a reality through man. From their heights the Gods reach down into the ozone of humanity and feel the warmth of love. We know that the Gods lack something when man does not live in love. The more human love there is on earth the more food for the Gods there is in heaven; the less love there is, the more the Gods hunger.

The sacrifice of man to the Gods is nothing else than the love which streams up to them, which man has produced. It is not difficult to picture that in ancient times, when man was still conscious of the Divine, this reciprocity—this mutual giving, from man and from the Gods—was quite different to what it became later. Indeed, there were some among divine Spiritual Beings who, because man could no longer rise by means of his dim clairvoyant consciousness, could no longer descend, or reach the sphere of humanity. Throughout the Atlantean epoch man lived with numerous divine beings, and the less capable he became of looking up to the Gods the less could a certain category of divine beings experience all they had formerly been able to experience through man. When Atlantis came to an end there were among the Atlantean gods some who suffered hunger, if we may so express it, because they could no longer find the way to man.

We must now picture the further development of man from this standpoint. We know that there was a realm in the neighbourhood of Ireland where dwelt the most advanced beings of the Atlantean epoch, those who were best prepared to pass through an advanced development. These now journeyed from the West to the East, populating Europe, where some remained at a particular stage of evolution, while others went further. The most advanced passed on to the neighbourhood of Central Asia, others into Africa. There were already in these parts some people left over from the older Lemurian and Atlantean epochs; these now mixed in diverse ways, and from them arose the people whom the Greeks represent in many artistic forms as the Satyr, the Hermes, and the Zeus types.

We must picture to ourselves that the condition of human consciousness changed from this time more and more. Those who had come over from Atlantis still possessed a remnant of ancient clairvoyant consciousness, but this continually decreased. At the time of the Atlantean catastrophe there were some even among those who had journeyed towards Asia, Europe, and Africa who had already lost every trace of clairvoyance, and, again, others who still had some remnants of it.

Everywhere under certain conditions there were some who (between sleeping and waking, for example) were able to obtain a clear view into the spiritual worlds. The spiritual being known as Wotan, for instance, was a “personality” well known to the Atlanteans; we might say that all the ancient Atlanteans were more or less in close touch with him, as some men today come in touch with a monarch, but the conscious connection was gradually lost. Among the peoples of Europe, especially the ancient Germans, there were many who in an intermediate condition between sleeping and waking could enter into relationship with Wotan, who actually existed in the spiritual world; but owing to the advance in evolution he was limited and could no longer make himself so generally known as before. There were people in Asia also who knew him, and this knowledge continued on into later times to which even history refers, a time when there was an original natural clairvoyance, and man could speak of the Gods from his own experience.

We must keep before us the fact that man was descending more and more into the material world; and because of this the Gods were less and less able to maintain their connection with him; many were able only to have companionship with certain outstanding beings. Certain of the Gods were unable to descend to ordinary humanity, but could only get in touch with personalities who rose to meet them, who developed themselves up to them. The varied dispositions of men, and the remnants of old clairvoyance, as well as the principle of initiation, mingled in a strange way, and this intermingling was preserved in the consciousness of the Germanic people.

During the Atlantean epoch men knew that during sleep, when outside the physical and etheric bodies, they rose into the kingdom of the Gods, the Gods were known to them, and they knew they would meet them there again. It was felt as a kind of punishment when, after death, man was for a time unable to behold the Gods and to be received into their company; when, after death, he had to pass through a period of probation owing to his having become too much entangled in material existence.

Among those who were in a position to value material life less than non-material life the conviction grew that they were not bound to the material world, but that immediately after death they could enter the kingdom of the spirit, which was well known to them. The opinion was held by the various peoples inhabiting Europe that those men who fought bravely and met death on the field of battle, who valued the honours of war more highly than material honours, were not dependent on material existence. They were convinced that in such a case the hero met with some deity or other immediately after death. Those who did not die on the battlefield, who had not learnt to value spiritual possessions more than material life, were said to have died ignobly, and not to be mature enough to be taken immediately into the realm of the spirit, but would first have to enter a kingdom in which they would have to undergo certain trials.

This idea is expressed in the meeting with the Valkyre, and is connected with an ancient clairvoyant memory. It was thought rightly that the man who met death on the field of battle was taken up by the Valkyre, and it is quite in harmony with such an idea that in its further development it should have been pictured in ancient Europe as symbolic of initiation. Among other peoples other ideas had developed, but in Europe personal bravery and personal excellence were considered to be most valuable.

It was always understood, and rightly so, that as regards initiation man might experience even during life that which normally he only experienced after death, namely, direct communication with the spiritual world. As the warrior experienced his first meeting with the Valkyre upon the battlefield, it was obvious that those who sought initiation had to experience this in physical life. In one part of Europe Siegfried was looked on as the last of the heroes of initiation. This fact is preserved in the legend of Siegfried, which tells how the hero united himself with the Valkyre during life, just as dying warriors did upon the battlefield.

Let us now try to enter into the mentality of those who migrated from the West towards the East. They had risen in a certain way up to the point where they were fitted to enter upon a further development. They had not become ossified, and had within them the germs of a more perfect development, but they had retained a comparatively strong clairvoyant capacity. Among all the people who had gone forth from Atlantis the Europeans were most gifted with clairvoyance; it was less strong among those who peopled Africa. Those who had emigrated earlier into Asia, and who were among the most advanced, came upon a still older people who were in possession of a still older clairvoyance, so that there was much clairvoyance in those parts.

Then there was a certain small colony consisting of the most advanced men of the Atlantean epoch who had settled near the Gobi desert. What kind of people were these, and what do we mean when we say they were the “most advanced?” It means those least able to see into the spiritual world, for advancement consisted in their having proceeded from the spiritual world and having entered into the physical world. They were the people who felt constrained to say: “Formerly we had connection with the spiritual world, but we have it no longer.” This loss filled their hearts with sorrow; they longed for the spiritual world from which they had come and which they valued more than that in which they now dwelt.

Conditions varied among the different European populations. Under certain conditions many could still see into the spiritual worlds. When the Mysteries still existed in Europe, and Initiates—who through occult development could rise in full consciousness to the spiritual world—spoke of those worlds and of the beings dwelling there, or of the varied parts men had to play after death; when the initiates brought all this in mighty pictures before the people by means of myth and legend, they found some who understood them, for some still had vision. The peculiar conditions of life and of environment in ancient Europe caused even uninitiated persons to experience the spiritual world. Though they could not come in contact with the higher Gods they believed in the spiritual worlds and trusted in them. These worlds were real to them, hence they felt their humanity in a quite different way from other peoples. Let us try to enter into the feelings of these ancient Europeans. They said: “I am indeed connected with the Gods.” Through consciousness of this a strong sense of personality developed in them, a special sense of the divine worth of the human personality, and, above all, a strong sense of freedom. We must picture this state of feeling vividly, for it was this consciousness of the personality which the people of Europe took with them when they went south and peopled the Grecian and Italian peninsulas. We can note stragglers from those who were possessed of this feeling, particularly among the ancient Etruscans. Even in their art we can observe this strong sense of freedom, for it had a spiritual foundation. Before the rise of the true Roman kingdom there was an Etruscan population in the Italian peninsula which had a high degree of freedom in its system of government; on one hand it was somewhat hierarchical, and, on the other, free in the highest sense. Each town made provision for its own freedom, and an ancient Etruscan would have felt any kind of confederacy, in our sense of the word, as unbearable. Everything which passed southwards in the peninsula as a sense of freedom, or a feeling for personality, sprang from the causes we have mentioned.

Those other people who had gone the farthest into Asia included a small company from whom the divine spiritual world had withdrawn the most. In its place they had acquired something else, something that had been saved from the world, which had withdrawn into profoundest darkness—this was the ego, or the “I am.” They felt that what was preserved within them as the “I am” was the eternal core of their being, and that it had sprung from the spiritual world; they felt all the forms they had previously seen were like a sacred memory, and that their strength depended upon this firm core which remained within them. As yet they did not perceive the ego in its complete form; this only came later, but those who were the most advanced, who had descended most deeply, developed a certain tendency which they might have expressed as follows: What we have to treasure above all else is the consciousness of our divinity, consciousness of that in which is to be found the deepest memories of our soul. Even if this soul has forgotten the divine beings which once it knew, we can find the way back to them by looking within our own being—by being conscious of our ego. In short, the consciousness of a formless God was now evolved, a God who does not appear in outward form, but who must be sought within man's innermost being. This conception, which is a very old one, was transformed in the course of man's further development into the commandment: Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image or likeness of thy God.

In primeval ages man experienced God by means of an image. Now the image had withdrawn into the invisible world, and man strove with all his strength to bring forth a conception of God from out his own ego. There, where God is formless, man strove to form an idea of Him and to realize His power. This was not immediately possible; during the first post-Atlantean civilization the memory of what had been lost was still too vivid. Man felt in his soul “The door is shut,” and the longing to enter again into the spiritual world was too strong. Hence in the first age of civilization the people were filled with longing for the hidden world of the spirit; they looked with great reverence up to the Initiates and besought them to allow them to become partakers of this lost world. The first great age of post-Atlantean culture was founded under the influence of Initiates by means of colonies. This was the wonderful awe-inspiring pre-Vedic culture, the last remnants of which are to be found in the Vedas; in it the longing for the spiritual world was so great that men strove by artificial means to regain contact with the Spirits and Gods which they had lost. The longing to fly from the physical world into which they had entered was overwhelmingly strong; we find this feeling in the souls of those who were instructed by the Initiates—the Holy Rishis.

We see the feeling developed in them which they might have expressed as follows: “The world of the physical plane into which we have now entered, which we see spread out around us, is merely illusion; it is worthless; it is Maya; but the world lying behind this illusory physical plane is valuable.” Thus a feeling of the worthlessness of the physical plane was developed, a feeling of the need to flee from it in order to attain that which was spiritual. A feeling evolved which was the basis of this ancient civilization, that man must lose his strong sense of personality if he was to be conscious of his divine origin. He strove for complete absorption in divinity, with extinction of his personality; this was of more value to him than life within that personality. We must try to understand the mood of this ancient civilization, we shall then understand this turning away from all that was material, and how, if man desired to seek the divine he had to free himself from the bonds of sense and get away from all illusion, from Maya.

Such was the nature of the first post-Atlantean age; but the mission of the whole epoch is that man should make the surroundings in which he lives more and more his own, that he should master them more and more.

In the Persian, that is, the pre-Zarathustra, civilization we see the first phase of the conquest of the external world. The ancient Persians (we refer here to the prehistoric Persians) had already a different consciousness from that of the ancient Indians; they regarded the physical plane as something real. It no longer appeared strange to them; they said: “We can bring spirit into the physical plane and can cultivate it here.” They paid attention to the physical plane; they did not study it as yet, but they considered it; the ancient Persians still perceived a hostile element in their surroundings, but thought that the enemy could be overcome. The Persian made a friend and companion of the God Ormuzd in order that he might redeem matter. He worked into the physical world gradually; he began to perceive that this is not only Maya, not merely soulless appearance, but a reality which must be taken into account.

In the great migration towards the East there was another group which moved more towards Asia Minor and Africa, where the Chaldean and Egyptian civilizations were founded. Through them a further step forward was made in the conquest of the physical plane. Here the condition of the people was such that they no longer regarded what is of the senses as merely hostile or illusory. When they looked up to the stars they said: “Those stars are not Maya, they are not mere appearances!” They thought much about the stars, and studied how one star approached another and what changes took place in the constellations. They felt the stars were an outward expression of the ruling Gods; they were a script which the Gods had written what they saw was not merely appearance but a revelation of the Gods.

A further advance had been made; sensible matter was now considered as an expression of Divinity; man began to look for wisdom in things of sense. In the Egyptian world man's gaze was turned from the heavens and directed to the earth; geometry was studied so that the earth might be measured. That to which the spirit could attain was thus joined to substance perceived by the senses—an essential advance in evolution. Thus, step by step, evolution progressed.

Now, there was formed within the third age of civilization a small company which separated off in a certain way and absorbed all that could be gained from ancient tradition as well as from recent knowledge. This small company, whose Initiates had preserved the ancient wisdom and the earlier companionship with the Gods, knew how to impart what they had gained as experience from the spiritual world, and they had also absorbed the wisdom of the Chaldeans—the writings of the Gods in space—as well as the wisdom of Egypt, which expressed the union of spirit with that which is physical. This group of people, who, in a certain sense, may be called the “chosen people,” had to make preparation for the greatest period in the world's history; they are the people of the Old Testament, who in their Testament possessed the greatest and most significant document regarding long-past events and also those that were to come. It is not only an error in learning, but a farce, when some historical work is thought even to approach the Old Testament in value; for it portrays in mighty pictures man's descent from divine heights, and shows at the same time how historical experiences are connected with cosmic events. All this is contained in the Old Testament, and, above all, its contents correspond exactly with the events of evolution.

We have now seen how the rudimentary germ of the human ego was prepared step by step in earthly evolution. We have seen that this rudimentary germ would never have been able to evolve if the sun, and afterwards the moon, had not separated from the earth. It was only possible for it to develop through man's horizon with regard to the spiritual world being gradually limited and then closed.

Let us consider how this rudimentary germ developed. What had man gradually learnt during the earth's development? We must first look back to those ancient times when he was as yet unable to see physically, when he lived in the spiritual world; then came the time when the external objects of the physical world appeared to him as if blurred, when he could still see in the spiritual world as well. Who was it prepared man so that in later times, when he was to behold the sun clearly, he should be ready for this change? It was the God we call Jehovah who brought man to full maturity; He who separated Himself from the Elohim in order, from the moon, to prepare for the most important moment in the earth's evolution. While man was still unable to see the outer world Jehovah instilled ego-consciousness into Him. It was He who in the time of the old dim clairvoyant consciousness entered into man at initiation, and it was He who appeared to man in dreams and prepared him slowly to receive the “I“ which he could obtain fully only through the coming of Christ.

Christ has not only come once, but only once in personal form; His last coming was in Jesus Christ. In ancient times He worked also through the Prophets. Christ Himself indicates this in the Gospel of John, where He says that those who did not believe Moses and the Prophets would not believe Him either, for Moses and the Prophets spoke of Him, not indeed as already on earth, but as one whom they foretold. In this sense Christ has a certain story in earthly evolution. If we go back to the ancient Mysteries we find everywhere the story of Christ and His descent. Let us for a few minutes consider the European Mysteries. We find in all of them a certain tragic feature. If one transports oneself into these ancient Mysteries one always finds that the teachers told their pupils: “You may raise yourselves to divine heights, and receive a high degree of initiation, but there is something you cannot yet know fully, something for which you must wait and which we can only indicate: this is the coming of Christ.”

They always spoke of Christ in the northern Mysteries as “He who would come”; they knew Him everywhere, but not as One already on the earth. The Initiates in Asia and Egypt also knew Him as the approaching Christ. “One day,” they said, “He will appear.” They knew also that the olden Mysteries could not lead men to the highest stage of development. This idea has been preserved symbolically, only too much stress must not be laid on such things; they must be accepted generally, partly as truth and partly as allegory, and not be outlined too sharply. Some echo of this tragic feature regarding the ancient Gods and the waiting for the Christ has survived. The glory of the old Gods was to disappear before the glory of Christ.

This is found even in the most recent legends of the Teutonic gods, where something remarkable is ascribed to Siegfried—he was invulnerable and had the strength of an Initiate according to the European Mysteries; he was, however, vulnerable in one spot. He was wounded in this spot, and thus met his death. In what place was he vulnerable? The place on which later the cross was laid on Him for Whom they were looking with such expectation. The place where Siegfried was vulnerable was covered by the cross in the journey to Golgotha. This legend contains a last memory of that tragic feature which passes through all the ancient European Mysteries. But in those other Mysteries into which Moses was initiated, from which the Old Testament has proceeded, and which Moses implanted in his people so far as seemed possible to him, this strange feature in human evolution is often referred to. It is more than a mere picture; there is something which imparts deep reality to it, which we might illustrate as follows. Let us think of a man as regards his astral body, his ego, his etheric and physical bodies; let us think of these four principles as shone upon by the sun.

Through Christ's coming to the earth man has become able to absorb both the physical and spiritual forces of the sun. Previously this was different. Then, during sleep, when at night the astral body and ego were outside the physical body and etheric body, the direct sunlight did not fall upon man, only sunlight that was reflected from the moon. Man absorbed this reflected light, not the direct sunlight. This is exactly the same (in an external, symbolic, yet true form) as in the case of the Christ, Who lived as the spiritual part of the sunlight, and with Jehovah, who reflected the true Christ-light until such time as men were sufficiently mature to receive it direct. Jehovah sent the Christ down to humanity as from a mirror.

Men spoke of Him when they spoke of Jehovah. Hence Jehovah says to Moses: “Say to thy people, I am the ‘I AM.”’ This was the name later applied to the Christ. He would not as yet turn His own countenance to men. Jehovah prepared humanity; he sent them the image of Christ before Christ Himself descended, for man had to learn to comprehend the complete descent of Christ into the physical world with His “I am” in the depths of his own being. Therefore this people, which had been prepared in the truest sense for the coming of Christ, held most firmly to the conception of a formless God. They had to attain to a new conception of God, not merely to remember an old form. This people with its Jehovah-religion became in fact those who prepared for the coming of the Christ.

Now, we must clearly understand that everything that has to be specially striven for in the world must proceed from strong impulses; hence the idea of the power of the formless God spread through all the Old Testament; an entirely abstract God, condensed within the centre of a mere I-principle, stands at the centre of the religion of the Old Testament—an image-less I-God.

How could this God first obtain a form that could be comprehended by a people living on the physical plane which they had to conquer? Through a wise dispensation something remarkable originated in Southern Europe.

Emigrations had taken place from Asia and Africa; these mingled with other streams coming from the North. Those that came from the East brought the firm conviction of the worthlessness of Maya, of the need to change the material kingdom of men into a kingdom of the spirit; these mingled with others who had gained a stronger feeling of personality. Those with the greatest spiritual force, who had remained longest behind in the emigration from West to East, met in Asia Minor and in the Grecian and Italian peninsulas; here the fourth age of civilization was built up, and the conquest of the physical world advanced another stage.

The mission of the third age, the Egypto-Chaldean, had been to perceive and comprehend the profundities of God; from it had to spring a people who were able to seek God in an abstract way, as a Spiritual Being with the least content of anything sensely. Meanwhile in Southern Europe another group was being formed. Certain men had come down from the north with their strong northern consciousness of personality in them; a union was formed between matter and the human soul. The result of this we see and admire in the art of Greece, in the temples of Greece, and in the tragedies of Greece, in which man began to represent his own destiny. In these tragedies he secreted his own spirit in matter, incorporating it with external objects. One might say that we have here a marriage between what is spiritual and what is physical, wherein each has an equal share. In all that the Greeks produced spirit and matter had an equal share, and this was also the case in a certain sense with the Romans; they knew that spirit dwelt in them, that spirit could become personality in them.

It was only at this stage of human evolution that that which had been foretold could assume actual form upon the physical plane. Christ could only descend to the physical plane when man had conquered it. A Christ would not have been possible in the old civilizations, when the physical plane was only seen as Maya, and a longing for the past filled the souls of men. At the time the union occurred which we have seen represented in Greek art man had turned more and more to the physical plane; this was expressed in the strong consciousness of the Roman citizen; it was also the time when the Christ-principle was able to appear in the flesh.

We have to consider all those who worked previously to the coming of Christ as being indeed acquainted with Him, but we must look on them as Prophets who could only foretell; they beheld in the coming of Christ the fulfillment of that for which they themselves had striven.

In the following lectures we shall see how Christianity is mingled with other elements in the era subsequent to the coming of Christ, and how this produced the conditions that now surround us. Today the period has been described when, through the conquest of the physical plane, man made himself sufficiently mature to understand the God-man—the Christ.