Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Egyptian Myths and Mysteries
GA 106

Lecture 8

The Stages of Evolution of the Human Form The Expulsion of the Animal Beings. The Four Human Types.

10 September 1908, Leipzig

We have become acquainted with significant events in the evolution of the human organism. We have followed the organism from its beginning to the point of time when the moon departed from the earth. When we say “point of time”, we are not speaking literally, for these events occupied long periods. From the first moment when the moon began to show signs of withdrawing, until its departure had been completely accomplished, long stretches of time passed and many things occurred in evolution. But we have observed man until about the departure of the moon. We have understood man's form which, as its lower part, approximately from the middle of the trunk to the height of the hips, manifested a configuration not entirely unlike his present shape. This body, although soft, could have been seen with modern eyes, whereas the upper parts were visible only to clairvoyant consciousness. We have already pointed out how something of man's nature at that time has been preserved by myth, religion, and art in the centaur. The various parts of the body, the members that gradually evolved into feet, shanks, knees, thighs, represent the animal forms of our earth at that time. These animal forms, however, remained stuck at certain stages of evolution, beyond which man was able to progress. Let us try to understand this thoroughly.

In the earliest times, when the sun departed, no animal forms had yet appeared. After the sun had left, the highest form of animal was a type that stood at the level of our present fish. When we say that the human feet corresponded to this fish-form, when we look at the feet in connection with fish, what does this mean? It means that the feet were the only part of man that was physically perceptible at the time when certain forms were left behind which swam about like fish in the water-earth. The remaining parts were present only in a finer etheric form. What we have described as the chalice or blossom form, the light-organ, was entirely etheric, an illuminated air-form. Only the lowest part of man was able really to wade through the water-earth like the fish that had remained behind.

Thereafter there were higher animals, which are depicted in the image of the Water-man, the man whose body was visible as high as the shanks. Man has been formed in such a way as to leave behind him, at every stage of his existence, certain animal forms, beyond which he slowly progressed. When the moon began to withdraw, man was so far along that he had given his lower half, his lower nature, a physical shape, whereas the upper half remained entirely pliable. Then, we see taking hold, from the moon, that influence of the moonlight which the Egyptians called Osiris, which can work upon man through the different aspects of the moon. We see how the most important formations of the upper body, i.e., the nerves that bring about the present upper body, are worked into man from the moon. The nerves, going out from the spine, formed the upper body. At first, through the tones that Osiris-Apollo played on the human lyre, the mid-part, the hip-region, comes into form. All that had to remain stuck at this point, beyond which man progressed, appears in later evolution in the forms of the amphibians.

As long as the moon was connected with the earth, it more or less pushed man's evolution down. The fish form was still connected with the sun, which is the reason for the feeling that every healthy person today has toward fish. Think of the pleasure of seeing a beautiful glittering fish, a shining water-animal, and then think of the antipathy one feels toward a frog, toad, or snake, although these stand higher than the fish. The forms of that time appear in their decadence as the present amphibians, but man once had such forms in his lower corporeality. As long as man had only a lower corporeality to the hips, he was a sort of dragon. It was only later, when the upper body assumed solid form, that by use of this he transformed the lower. We may say that the fish reflects the form that man possessed through the forces he received while the sun was still united with the earth. Until the sun departed, man stood at the level of the fish.

Now the great beings, the leaders of evolution, departed as they shaped their sun, to reunite with the earth only at a much later time. One of the Spirits, one who went out with the sun, the highest of the guiding Sun Spirits, was the Christ. We feel a deep reverence when we realize that up to this time man was united with this Being who, as the noblest spirit, once departed from the earth with the sun. One felt that through the form of the fish one could characterize the time of the sun's departure from the earth, and also the forms given through the Christ himself. Earlier, man on earth was united with the sun, and as the latter departed he saw, preserved in the fish-shape, the form that he owed to the sun spirits. As he progressed further, the sun spirits were no longer with him. The Christ departed from the earth when man still had the fish-shape. The initiates of the first Christian period preserved this form. In the Roman catacombs the fish appeared as the symbol of Christ, to remind men of the great cosmic event in evolution when the Christ was still united with them in the earth. Man had progressed to the fish-form when the sun split off, and the first Christians felt a reference to the Man-Christ-form in the fish symbol as something of great profundity. Such a significant sign, which we view as a symbol of an epoch of cosmic evolution, is far removed from the external explanations that are often given. The true symbols refer to higher spiritual realities. They did not merely “mean” something to the early Christians. Such a symbol is a picture of this or that which one can really see in the spiritual world, and no symbol is rightly interpreted unless one can point to what can be seen in the spiritual world in connection with it. All speculation is at most preparatory, and the expression “it means” does not touch the point; for one first really understands the symbol when one shows how a spiritual fact is portrayed in it.

Now let us proceed further with the evolution of humanity. Man took on the most diverse forms, and when he had developed upward to the hip-level he was at his ugliest in his physical form. The shape he then had is preserved in a decadent form in the snake. The time when man had reached the amphibian form, when the moon was still in the earth, is the time of shame and degeneracy in the evolution of mankind. Had the moon not then departed from the earth, the race of men would have succumbed to a horrible fate, failing increasingly into evil forms. Hence the feeling that the naive and unspoiled person has toward the snake, which retains the form that man had at his lowest point, is entirely justified. Precisely the unspoiled soul-attitude, which does not assert that there is nothing ugly in nature, feels a revulsion before the snake, because it is the document of human shame. This is not meant in a moral sense, but points to the lowest stage in human evolution.

Man had now to pass beyond this low point. He could do this only by abandoning the animal form and beginning to condense his spiritual upper part. We have seen that all the nobler parts could develop only through the intervention of the Isis and Osiris forces. In order for the Osiris forces to work in him, in order for the nobler part to develop, something important was necessary. Man's upper part had to find the possibility of bringing the spine out of the horizontal into the vertical. All this occurred through the influence of Isis and Osiris. Man was led from stage to stage by sun and moon, which kept themselves in balance. When half of man had become physical, sun and moon were in balance; therefore the hip region is designated as the Balance. At that time the sun was in the sign of the Balance.

Now we must not imagine—and this must be emphasized—that after the sun had stood in the sign of the Scorpion, and then in the sign of the Balance, the hips immediately developed. This would show the tempo of evolution as proceeding much too rapidly. The sun travels through the whole zodiac in a period of 25,920 years. At one time the sun rose in spring in the Ram, earlier in the sign of the Bull. The vernal point was always moving, going through the sign of the Bull, and so on. About 747 BC the sun again entered into the Ram; in our time it rises in the sign of the Fish. The time during which the sun traverses a sign has some significance, but such a period would not suffice for the change that had to take place in order for man to progress from sexuality under the sign of the Scorpion to the evolving of his hips under the sign of the Balance. We should have a false picture of this, if we thought that it could have occurred in one transit of the sun. The sun goes once through the zodiac, and only after this complete circuit does the forward step occur. In earlier times it had to make the transit oftener before the forward step could take place. Therefore we cannot apply to more ancient epochs the familiar time-reckonings of post-Atlantean times. The sun had first to go completely around—in earlier ages even several times—before evolution could progress a step. For those members that required a stronger molding, the time lasted even longer.

Man rises ever higher through this evolution. The next stage, during which the lower parts of the human trunk were formed, is designated by the sign of the Virgin.

We shall best understand evolution if we make it quite clear that, while man was becoming ever more human, animal beings remained stuck at certain stages. We have already said that man developed lungs, heart, and larynx through the influence of the moon forces. We have also shown to what extent Osiris and Isis participated in this. Now we must be quite clear that the higher organs, such as heart, lungs, larynx, and others, could develop only through the fact that the higher members of man—etheric body, astral body, and also the ego—cooperated in a definite way as the really spiritual members of man. After the point that was reached under the Balance, these higher members cooperated much more than in the preceding epochs. Thus the most manifold forms could appear. For example, the etheric body, or the astral, or the ego, could work especially strongly. It could even happen that the physical body might predominate over the other three members. Through this four human types developed. A number of men appeared who had worked out the physical body especially. Then there were men who had received their stamp from the etheric body, others whose astral nature predominated, and also ego-men, strongly marked ego-men. Each man showed what predominated in him. In the ancient times when these four forms originated, one could meet grotesque shapes, and the clairvoyant discovers what is present in the different types. There are representations, although these are not well known, in which the memory of this has been preserved. For example, those men in whom the physical nature became especially strong and worked on the upper parts, bore the mark of this in their upper part. Something was formed that was entirely suited to the baser form, and through what was thus active there appeared the shape that we see retained in the apocalyptic picture of the Bull, although not the bull of today, which is a decadent form. What was governed principally by the physical body at a certain time, remained stuck at the stage of the bull. This is represented by the bull and all that belongs to this genus, such as cows, oxen and so on. The human group in whom the etheric rather than the physical body was strongly marked, in whom the heart region was especially powerful, is also preserved in the animal kingdom. This stage, beyond which man has progressed, is preserved in the lion. The lion preserves the type that was worked out in the group of men in whom the etheric body was intensely active. The human stage in which the astral body overpowered the physical and etheric is preserved for us, although degenerated, in the mobile bird-kingdom, and is portrayed in the Apocalypse in the picture of the Eagle. The predominating astrality is here repelled; it raised itself from the earth as the race of birds. Where the ego grew strong, a being evolved that should actually be called a union of the three other natures, for the ego harmonizes all three members. In this group the clairvoyant actually has before him what has been preserved in the Sphinx, for the Sphinx has the lion-body, the eagle-wings, something of the bull form—and in the oldest portrayals there was even a reptilian tail, pointing to the ancient reptile form—and then at the front there is the human face, which harmonizes the other parts.

These are the four types. But in the Atlantean time the man-form predominated, as the human shape gradually constructed itself out of the eagle, lion, and bull natures. These transmuted themselves into the full human form, and this gradually transmuted itself into the shape that was present in the middle of Atlantis. Something else occurred through all these events. Four different elements, four forms, merged harmoniously in man. One is present in the physical body, in the bull nature; these are the predominating forces that evolved up to the evolutionary period of the Balance. Then we have the lion nature in the etheric body; in the astral body, in the predominating forces of the astral, the eagle or vulture nature; finally, the predominating forces of the ego, the true human nature. In single beings, one or another of these members had the upper hand. Through this the four types arose. But one could meet still other combinations. For example, the physical, astral, and ego might be equal, while the etheric predominated; that is a particular type of mankind. Then there were beings in whom the etheric, astral, and ego had the upper hand, while the physical was less developed, so that we have men in whom the higher members prevail over the physical body. Those human beings in whom the physical, astral, and ego predominated, are the physical ancestors of the males of today, while those in whom the etheric, astral, and ego predominated, are the physical ancestors of the females of today. The other types disappeared more and more; only these two remained, and evolved into the male and female forms.

How was it possible that gradually just these two forms evolved? This occurred through the differing effects of the working of the Isis and Osiris forces.

We have seen that in the phases of the new moon, when the moon is dark, Isis is characterized, but that Osiris is characterized in the shining phases of the full moon. Isis and Osiris are spiritual beings on the moon, but we find their deeds on the earth. We find them on the earth because it is through these deeds that the human race divided into two sexes. The female ancestors of human beings were formed through the influence of Osiris; the ancestors of men were formed through the workings of Isis. The influence of Isis and Osiris on mankind occurs through the nerve filaments, through the working of which mankind is developed into male and female. In the myth this is shown through Isis's seeking Osiris; the male and the female seek each other on the earth. Over and over again we see that wonderful events of cosmic evolution are hidden in these myths.

When the stage of the Balance had been passed, there gradually evolved in the upper members of the human being the differentiations we describe as male and female. Man remained unisexual much longer than the animals. What had long since occurred in the other animals now for the first time took place in man. There was a time when there was a unified human form, containing nothing of the method of propagation that later developed. During this time the nature of man contained both sexes in one being. “And God created man male-female,” is the way it stands in the Bible, not “Male and female created he them.”1Most texts are silent on this question, but the International Critical Commentary (New York, Scribner's,1895), in discussing Genesis I:27, at least shows that others have entertained the male-female hypothesis. See also the curious remarks in the speech of Aristophanes in Plato's Symposium. He created both in one. It is the worst possible translation when we say, “Male and female created he them.” This has no sense in face of the real facts.

Thus we look into a time when human nature was still a unity, when every person was virginally reproductive. This stage of evolution is portrayed in Egyptian traditions drawn from the vision of the initiates. I have already pointed out that the older representations of Isis were as follows: Isis is suckling Horus; but behind her stands a second Isis with vulture wings, who holds out the Ankh to Horus to indicate that man stems from a time when these types were still separate and that later the other astral being also sank down into man. This second Isis points to how the astral element predominated at one time. What was later united with the human form is here portrayed behind the mother, as the astral form that would have had vulture wings if it had followed only the astrality. But the time when the etheric body predominated is portrayed in a third Isis, lion-headed, behind the others. This threefold Isis is thus presented out of a deep vision.

From this point of view we shall also understand something else. There must have been a period of transition between unisexuality and the division into two sexes; there could have been an interim condition between the virginal propagation in which fructification occurred as a result of the forces living in the earth—which at the same time were fertilizing substances—and the other method of bisexual propagation. This bisexual propagation emerged completely only in the middle of the Atlantean epoch. Earlier there was an intermediate stage. At a certain epoch in this intermediate stage, a change of consciousness took place. Man then required much longer spans of time than today to go through an alternation of consciousness. That was a time in which consciousness was especially strong when, at night, man experienced himself as a spiritual being among his spiritual companions. Day-consciousness, on the other hand, was weak. This condition of consciousness changed in another period, when man's consciousness while in the physical body became strong, while his soul life became weaker upon leaving the physical plane at night.

Now there were times in human evolution in which we must recognize a transitional stage. Man's consciousness for the physical world was still damped down, and it was in this damped-down state that fructification occurred. In the periods of subdued consciousness, when man rose out of the physical world into the spiritual, fructification took place, and man noticed this only through a symbolical dream-act. In tender, noble fashion he felt that fertilization had occurred in his sleep, and in his consciousness there was only a delicate and wonderful dream; for example, that he threw a stone, that the stone fell into the earth, and that a flower rose out of the earth.

It is of special interest that in this time we have also to take into account those who had achieved this stage earlier. When we say that certain beings remained at the Bull stage, others at the Lion, others at the Eagle, and so on, what does this mean? It means that if these beings had been able to wait, if they could have developed their full love for the physical world only at a much later time, they would have become human beings. If the lion had not willed to enter into the earthly sphere too early, it would have become a man; the same is true of the other animals that had split off up till then. Let us repeat it in this way: All that was human at the time when the lion formed itself said either, “No, I will not yet take up the lower substances; I will not go down into physical humanity,” or, “I will go down; I wish what has evolved to come into existence.” Thus we must think of two beings. The one remains above in the etheric realm of the air and only in its earthly parts reaches down to earth, while the other strives to descend completely to the earth. The latter might become a lion; the former became a man. Just as the animals remained fixed at a certain stage, so now certain men remained fixed. It was not the best men who became human too early. The better ones were able to wait; they remained for a long time without descending to the earth and there carrying out the act of fructification consciously. They remained in that state of cognition in which this act of fructification was a dream.

One may say that these men lived in Paradise. We find that the men who descended earliest to earth had especially strongly formed bodies, with crude and brutal countenances; while the men who wished first to mold the nobler parts had a much more human form. What is here described was preserved in a wonderful myth and rite. The rite is mentioned by Tacitus2Tacitus's Germania, Section 40, reads in part as follows:
“On an island of the ocean is a holy grove, and in it a consecrated chariot, covered with robes. A single priest is permitted to touch it. He interprets the presence of the goddess in her shrine, and follows with deep reverence as she rides away drawn by cows. Then come days of rejoicing and all places keep holiday, as many as she thinks worthy to receive and entertain her. They make no war, take no arms; every weapon is put away; peace and quiet are then, and then only, known and loved, until the same priest returns the goddess to her temple, when she has her fill of the society of mortals. After this the chariot and the robes—if you are willing to credit it, the deity in person—are washed in a sequestered lake: slaves are the ministrants and are straightway swallowed by the same lake: hence a mysterious terror and an ignorance full of piety as to what that may be which men behold, only to die.”
and is well known as the myth of the goddess Nerthus (Hertha), who descended every year into the sea in a boat. But those who drew the boat had to be killed. Nerthus is thought of (as is often done today) as a phantom of the imagination, as some kind of goddess to whom a cult had been dedicated on some island. It has been believed that the Nerthus shrine could be found in Lake Hertha on Rügen. It was thought that the place where the chariot sank might be found there. This is a remarkable fantasy. The name of Lake Hertha is a new invention. Earlier it was called the Black Lake because of its color, and it never occurred to anyone to call it Lake Hertha and relate it to the goddess.

There are much deeper things in this myth. Nerthus is the transitional stage between the virginal fructification and the later propagation. Nerthus, who dives down into a shadowy consciousness, perceives her immersion in the sea of passion only in a tender, symbolic act; she perceives only a reflection of it. But although the higher humanity still felt things in this way, those who had already descended at that time had lost their original naïveté. They already saw this act; they were lost for the higher human consciousness, and were worthy of death. The memory of this event of primeval times was preserved in rites in countless regions of Europe. A ceremony was carried out at certain times in commemorative festivals. This was the chariot of the Nerthus image, which dived down into the sea of passion, and it was the gruesome custom that those who had to serve, who drew the chariot and could see what went on, had to be slaves and were killed during the rite, as a sign that these were mortals who saw the act. Only the initiated priests could remain present during the ceremony without being harmed. From this example we see that in the time when what is here described was known in certain regions, the Nerthus cult existed. In these regions there was a consciousness that shaped this myth and the rite.

Thus mankind evolved through the most manifold forms, and thus what are real facts were presented in pictures. It has already been said that such pictures should not be regarded as allegories, that their content has a relation to the real facts. Such pictures arose like dreams. So the Osiris myth also was dreamed before the pupil could actually see the facts of human evolution, and only what prepares the way for real seeing is a symbol in the occult sense. A symbol is a description of real events in pictures. In the next lecture we shall discuss the effect of these descriptions.