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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Principle of Spiritual Economy
GA 111

IV. Results of Spiritual Scientific Investigations of the Evolution of Humanity: I

29 March 1909, Rome

Tonight we will talk about sin, original sin, illness, and so on. Let us first look backwards into the past and then allow the future to pass by our spiritual eyes. We have before our modern era the time of Rome and Athens, which was preceded by the Egyptian-Chaldaic period; actual historical records are lacking for the time before then. However, for these older prehistorical epochs there are two sources that can give information; ancient religious teachings for those who know how to decipher them and retrospective images that can be perceived by clairvoyant consciousness. It is the latter we wish to discuss.

Everything on earth is subject to the laws of evolution, and that is especially true for the life of the human soul. The life of the soul in ancient times was different from what it is today. In prehistoric times, thousands of years in the past, the scope of the souls of human beings in Europe, Asia, and Africa was much wider and more comprehensive than that of human beings of our time. To be sure, they did not have the kind of mind that enables us to read or to do arithmetic, but they did possess a primitive clairvoyance and a tremendous memory of which ours cannot have the slightest notion. We shall see later why that was so.

To give you an idea of how these prehistoric people perceived the world, let me tell you, for example, that they saw everything surrounded by an aura when they awakened to their day-consciousness. A flower, for instance, appeared to them surrounded by a circle of light similar to that we see around the light of street lamps in the evening fog. And during sleep these human beings were able to perceive the soul- spiritual beings in their full reality. Human beings learned gradually to see the contours of objects more clearly, but simultaneously and in direct proportion to their ability to do so, the conscious interaction with the spiritual world and the beings in it decreased; it ceased altogether when the ego became individualized in every single being.

The earth, too, had quite a different configuration in those early ages. Human beings lived in other regions and on other continents, and our own ancestors lived on a continent that is now covered by the Atlantic Ocean. The traditional name for this continent is Atlantis, and its disappearance as well as the legend of the universal flood is related in the myths of all peoples. The Atlantean culture was magnificent, and mankind lost many important insights with its destruction, insights that now can be retrieved only with great difficulty. Just as we in our times know how to harness the forces hidden in fossil plants—coal—for trade and industry, so the ancient Atlanteans knew how to utilize the driving forces in grain as energy, for example for the purpose of propelling their air vehicles that moved just a little bit above the ground in air that was much denser than is ours.

Let us now look at the physical organism of the Atlantean individual. It had the peculiar characteristic that the etheric body was not completely identical with the physical body and that the head of the etheric body projected beyond the head of the physical body. This peculiarity is connected with the clairvoyant capabilities of the Atlanteans, also with their extraordinary memory and with their magical powers. The ether-head had a special and central point of perception.

When the ether-head in the course of evolution retracted more and more into the physical head, the profile was changed. Now we have at that point an organ, the development of which will restore the power of clairvoyance in humanity: the pineal gland. And thus, the clairvoyant power of the Atlanteans, as well as their tremendous memory and their magical powers, disappeared gradually; and in its place we developed our present ability to think and to do mathematics.

Going still farther back, we find other catastrophes. The volcanos that we have today are the last remnants of an epoch when whole parts of the earth were destroyed by fire. The continent that perished in those times is designated by the name “Lemuria” and was the area that is now largely taken up by the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The inhabitants of that continent had bodies that were quite different from human bodies in our age and by our standards would appear grotesque. The relationship of the physical to the astral body was different in those early human beings. The crown of the head was open, and rays of light penetrated this opening, so that the head was surrounded by a resplendent aura, and this gave one the appearance of having a lantern on top. The last remnant of this Lemurian head structure can be seen today when we look at the head of a newborn baby and discover the small opening on top that remains open for about a year or a little longer. The bodies of the Lemurians had gigantic dimensions and were made out of a fine, almost gelatine-like substance.

Human beings in the Lemurian age were not at all independent and could do only the things they were inspired to do by the spiritual forces within whom they were, in a manner of speaking, imbedded. Receiving everything from these forces, they acted as if driven by a soul-instinct. At this time the powerful effect of spiritual beings who had not descended into a physical incarnation made itself felt. These beings, who were not well-disposed to humanity, had such an effect on humanity that it attained the independence it had lacked heretofore. According to divine providence, mankind was certainly meant to attain this independence some day, but only through the influence of these beings did that independence come about so early. Together with the other forces, these beings slipped into the astral bodies of human beings, who had not yet entered into a close relationship with their own essence, and bestowed on them a kind of will power that would enable them to do evil since it was only astral and not guided by reason. The influence of these forces, called Luciferic forces, as we can see, may be good or bad because, on the one hand, they led mankind astray and, on the other, gave it freedom.

Today's consciousness originated in clairvoyant consciousness, which we find increasingly more developed as we go back in human evolution. The Lemurians were able to perceive things only with their soul. They were, for example, unable to perceive the form, the color, or the external qualities of a flower. It revealed itself to them as a shining astral configuration that they perceived with a kind of inner organ. According to the divine plan, human beings were not supposed to perceive the world with external sense organs before the middle of the Atlantean period, but the Luciferic forces made this happen earlier, at a time when human instincts had not yet matured. That represents the “Fall” of mankind. Religious documents tell us that the snake opened man's eyes, but without the interference of Lucifer the human body would not have become as firm as it now is and the Atlantean humanity would have been able to see the spiritual side of all things. Instead, man fell into sin, illusion, and error, and to make things worse, toward the middle of the Atlantean period he was also subjected to the influence of Ahrimanic forces. The Luciferic forces had worked on the astral body, but the Ahrimanic forces worked on the etheric body, especially on the ether-head. By that, many human beings fell into the error of mistaking the physical world for the world of truth. The name “Ahrimanic” comes from Ahriman, the name the Persians gave to this erroneous principle. Zoroaster told his people about Ahriman, warned them about him, and exhorted them to become one with Ahura Mazdao—Ormuzd. Ahriman is identical with Mephistopheles and has nothing to do with Lucifer. Mephistopheles comes from the Hebrew word me-phis-to-pel, which means the liar, the cheater. Satan in the Bible is Ahriman too, not Lucifer.

Ancient Atlantis was gradually destroyed in the course of centuries by floods, and the inhabitants left over from the catastrophe retreated to regions that had been spared, such as Asia, Africa, and America. The first region in which Atlantean culture continued to develop was the area that later came to be called India. There the people kept a clear memory of the earlier clairvoyance and of the perception of the spiritual world. It was therefore not difficult for their teachers—the Rishis—to direct their attention to the spiritual side of the world, and initiation was easy to achieve. Clairvoyance was never completely lost; there always existed some clairvoyant people up to the time of Christ. We can recognize a remnant of this primitive form of clairvoyance in mythology, in which the central concern was with beings who had actually been alive, such as Zeus, Apollo, and so forth. Although the Ahrimanic influence began in the Atlantean epoch, as we have said, it unfolded its full strength only later in human evolution. The ancient Indians were sufficiently protected against Ahriman; for them the physical world was never anything else but maya, illusion. Only in the most ancient Persian period of Zarathustra did people begin to place value on the physical world and thereby come into the power of Ahriman. This clarifies for us Zarathustra's admonition of which we spoke earlier.

As the evolution of humanity reached the Greek period, human beings were confronted by another force that began to drive them back up to the spiritual world from which, as it were, they had been expelled since the Lemurian age. This new force was the Christ-Principle, which entered Jesus of Nazareth and permeated His three bodies—the physical, the etheric, and the astral. When the human soul is completely imbued with the Christ-Principle, the Ahrimanic and Luciferic powers will be defeated, and through this principle the course of evolution will be reversed. Christ would not have been able to influence humanity had His coming not been announced to it a long time before He actually appeared. Inwardly, however, humanity has always been led by Christ; we can deduce this from the magnificent images by which His coming was prophesied. Who else could have inspired such mighty imaginations?

Immediately after the mystery of Golgotha when Christ's blood ran from five wounds and His spirit permeated the lowest realms, the incarnation of Christ brought about a remarkable change in the physical, etheric, and astral bodies of humanity. Christ's etheric and astral bodies multiplied like a grain of seed, and the spiritual world was filled with these copies. For example, human beings living in the period from the fifth or sixth through the tenth centuries who had developed sufficiently received at their birth such an imprint of the Christ-Incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth. St. Augustine is the individual in whom such partaking in the etheric body of Christ is most clearly evident, and the great significance of his life must be attributed to this fact. On the other hand, Christ's astral body was incorporated into human beings from about the tenth to the sixteenth centuries, and this explains the appearance of human beings who were endowed with extraordinary humility and virtue, such as St. Francis of Assisi and the great Dominicans who reflected the wonderful astral qualities of Christ. These individuals were imbued with such a clear image of the great truths they practiced throughout their lives. By contrast, St. Augustine was never free of doubt and always experienced the conflict between theory and practice. Of the great Dominicans, St. Thomas Aquinas30St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) was the Italian theologian and philosopher whose philosophy was declared the official philosophy of the Catholic Church. He is generally regarded to have been the most prominent mind of scholasticism. is especially noteworthy because in him the influence of the astral body of Christ was manifest to a high degree, as we shall see later. Beginning with the sixteenth century, copies of the Christ-Ego begin to weave themselves into the egos of a few individualities, one of them being Christian Rosenkreutz,31Christian Rosenkreutz is generally regarded by most scholars as the pseudonym for the German writer Johan Valentin Andrea (1586–1654). In his works Fama fraternitatis (1614) and in Confessio rosae crucis (1615), he traced the development of the Rosicrucian Society to Arab and Oriental origins. the first Rosicrucian. This phenomenon led to the feasibility of a more intimate relationship with Christ, as is revealed by esoteric teaching.

The power of Christ will make human beings more perfect, spiritualize them, and lead them back into the spiritual world. Mankind developed its reason at the expense of clairvoyance; the power of Christ will enable human beings to learn on this earth and to ascend again with what they will have acquired on earth. Human beings descended from the Father, and the power of Christ will lead them back to the Father.