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The Riddle of Humanity
GA 170

Lecture III

31 July 1916, Dornach

When we cast a glance back over the discussions of the previous two meetings, allowing the main experience to stand before our souls, we become aware of the fundamentally dual nature of the human being. We have seen how everything that comes to life in a human soul during waking consciousness can be traced back to the influence on man of the heavens and of the universe—to what these, taken in their cosmic significance, have imprinted on humanity. The foundations of certain other, deeper regions of human nature, regions which in a normal life only well up in dream-consciousness, can be traced back to terrestrial influences and impressions that are earthly in a more narrow sense. When the world is observed in the light of spiritual science, everything that is perceived by the senses must be seen as a real expression of the spirit.

The picture a human being presents to the senses reveals his dual nature. That is most easily imagined if you consider the skeleton. There it is most clear, for the skeleton is clearly divided into two distinct parts: the head—the skull—and the remaining parts of the body. And, in principle, the only thing that holds these two together is a thin skeletal cord. The head really has just been set on top of the rest. One can knock it off. This is an outer, pictorial expression of the dual nature of a human being, for the head makes waking consciousness possible. The remaining parts, the parts of the skeleton that hang down from the head, form the basis for the life that plays itself out more or less unconsciously. The unconscious life only wells up in dreams or in the creative fantasy of poets and artists, penetrating normal consciousness with its fire and warmth and light. In that, something of an unquestionably earthly nature is working into usual waking consciousness—the noblest part of earthly nature, perhaps, but earthly all the same. Yesterday, in the awareness of time that was typical of the ancient Hebrew culture we found direct evidence that mankind once possessed knowledge, explicit and fundamental knowledge, of the connections between super-earthly occurrences and human waking consciousness. We saw how that which can be called cosmic thought, and which is expressed in the movements of the stars, creates an image of itself in waking human consciousness. Man has a waking consciousness because, in the first place, he is able to make use of the organs in his head. And we have considered the wonderful way that mankind participates in the whole universe, and includes both its heavenly and its earthly aspects.

If one is going to do justice to everything connected with these weighty and significant facts, one must free oneself from prejudice. One ahrimanic prejudice is particularly common in those who still harbour a longing to be mystics. The prejudice comes to expression in a certain sensibility, and consists in the belief that what is earthly is worthless and absolutely must be overcome—that it is coarse, contemptible stuff that a spiritually striving person does not even mention. That for which one must strive is the spirit! This is the way such people experience things, even if their concept of the spirit is confused and they can only picture it in terms of the physical senses. Therefore I said that this prejudice expresses itself more as a sensibility in a particular direction. But one will never be able to understand the nature of either mankind or of the world as long as one clings to this prejudiced mode of experience. A person who is living on earth in an earthly human body can only preserve such a sensibility by viewing the earth in a one-sided way. Following from this attitude to the earth comes a longing—a partially justified longing—for the super-earthly and for things that should be experienced between death and a new life. But one will never be able to develop any sort of clarity in one's feelings for the life between death and a new birth as long as earthly things are regarded in the manner to which I just alluded. For, paradoxical though it may sound, the following is a true statement—and you will find it clearly expressed in various lecture cycles: the dead, those living in spirit and the soul in the interval between death and a new birth, speak of the earth in the same way that men on earth speak of heaven. The earth is a shimmering vision that hovers in front of them in the way the vision of heaven hovers in the mind's eye of those on earth. Earth is the desired other world for which those living in heaven yearn. They speak of earth in the way we speak of heaven. It is the longed-for land towards which they strive, the land of their approaching incarnation. If one loses sight of this, one forms a false picture of how the dead live.

I have often warned you not to interpret the basic dictum, ‘In the spirit, everything is reversed,’ too pedantically. One cannot obtain a correct picture of the spiritual world simply by turning around all one's pictures of the physical world. Nothing very special comes from applying such a rule abstractly. The particular facts must be considered, even though, as I have told you, this rule about reversal applies to many things. Then, for example, someone who is investigating the spiritual worlds can get to know an extraordinary land, a land where individuals find themselves among other men. The men among whom they find themselves are normal, earthly men like the devout people we meet on earth. I say, specifically, like devout people on earth, for these are people who have a certain feeling for things of the earth and a certain feeling for the things of heaven. Also among the people to be met there are those who totally deny everything earthly. They deny all matter, all substance. They maintain that only spirit exists and that it is a superstition to believe in matter.

The land I am describing is not in the physical world; it belongs to the spirit-region that is revealed when one's gaze is directed towards a particular part of the spiritual world that lies between, say, the middle of the eighteenth to the middle of the nineteenth centuries. All of you were then living in the spiritual world. At least in the first part of this period, we were all still living in the spiritual world. The majority of us were experiencing the heavenly realms which were about us, and also the earthly realm towards which we were striving and which, over there, was the world beyond. But then there were those who viewed all talk of earthly things as superstition. They maintained that only the spirit exists and that the earthly, material realm is just a dream world. And yes, naturally, these men, too, were eventually born. They were known by such names as Ludwig Buchner,5Ludwig Buchner (1824 – 1899). Ernst Haeckel,6Ernst Haeckel (1834 – 1919). Carl Vogt,7Carl Vogt (1817 – 1895). and so on. These men, whose lives on earth you are well-enough acquainted with, are the same ones who explained away belief in material things as superstition and who, during the stage when they were approaching their most recent life in the physical world, viewed the spiritual world as the only real world. They did this because the spiritual world was what was around them and they did not want to consider something that was not around them, some world beyond. Why, you will be asking yourselves, would such individuals be born into souls that developed the view that material is all that exists? You may ask yourselves this, but you can nevertheless understand it, when you see that these individuals showed a lack of understanding for the material world before they were born, and that this remained with them. For anyone who sees matter as something absolute, rather than as an expression of the spirit, has completely failed to understand matter. One is not a materialist when one represents materialism in the way the aforementioned personages represented it. Understanding the substantial nature of the material world does not make one a materialist; a person becomes a materialist precisely because he does not understand the substantial nature of matter. Thus, these individuals did not change, they retained their lack of understanding for matter.

So there you have an area in which the spiritual world is a total reversal of what the appearances in the physical world would lead you to expect. But, as I said, this rule should not be abstractly extended to cover everything. I have gone into all this about how the earthly realm becomes the ‘other world’ when we are living between death and a new birth so that you will not misinterpret the contrast that ancient Greek mythology expressed with the words, ‘Uranus’ and ‘Gaia’. Uranus and Gaia were not incompatible, one referring to what is absolutely valuable and the other to what is absolutely worthless. They were conceived as a polarity that exists within a unity: Uranus represents the peripheral, encircling realm whose polar opposite is the point at the centre, Gaia. To begin with, when they spoke of Uranus and Gaia, the Greeks did not limit their thoughts to the narrow confines of human sexuality or earthly life. They were thinking of the contrast we just mentioned—between heaven and earth. This is the contrast they intended.

I must go into this, as otherwise we will not be able to understand what is to follow. As it is these days, it is difficult to make certain truths about humanity accessible. But it is possible to just touch on certain things, which is what we shall do, in so far as that is possible.

As we enter into these considerations, I ask you keep in mind the sense in which human nature is dual, and how this is outwardly expressed in the form of the human body, with its head that is attached to everything else. The whole process of shaping the human head, the whole of the essential process, takes place during the time between the last death and a new birth. The physical head must be produced on earth, of course, but that is not what I am talking about. I mean the form that it acquires; and the way the head is formed depends on forces that go far back in time. The human head is received, ready-shaped, from heaven, for all the powers that are at work between death and a new birth are really concerned with building the head. The human head comes from the heavens, even though it must follow the path of physical birth and physical heredity. The rest of the body is the only part that comes from the earth. So, as regards the form of the body, a human being is a product of Uranus and Gaia: the head originates in heavenly forces, the body originates in earthly forces—Uranus and Gaia.

Now at birth, when a human being makes his appearance, this whole thing is so strongly evident that one can truly say that part of him, his head, has just been introduced into the physical world and still expresses only the forces of the heavenly realm from which it has come—and that another part, the body, is the expression of earthly forces. This is especially evident just after birth. There is a strong contrast between the head and the rest of the body for those whose sight is informed by a deeper knowledge of the human being. With a little child there really is this strong contrast. One has only to learn to observe such things without preconceptions; then one will soon notice what an immense and pronounced contrast there is between the head, which is the Uranus sphere of the human being, and the remaining body, which is the sphere of Gaia.

Lets us consider the first significant phase of life, the phase up to the change of teeth at approximately the seventh year. As you know, this marks the end of the first significant stage of human life. It is a very important time, a time marked also by the appearance of a paradox that it is very important to understand. For, during the period leading to the change of teeth at around the seventh year, those who observe a human being physically are observing falsely. I have frequently alluded to this from other points of view. To put it briefly, people look upon a human being during the first seven years as if it already were male or female. From a higher point of view this is entirely false. But the materialism of today does hold this view. That is why the materialists of today look upon manifestations during the first seven years as if they were already manifestations of sexuality, which is not at all the case. Matters will be in a much healthier state when it is understood that a child is an asexual being during its first seven years, and not a sexual being at all. To use a trivial expression, it only looks as though a child were already male or female during the first seven years. This is because there is no physical distinction between what one calls masculine or feminine during the first seven years and what one calls masculine and feminine later. For materialism, the physical is all that there is, so what comes later seems to be a continuation of what was already there. But that is not the case at all. And I now ask you to really experience what I am saying, to take it into yourselves, so that it is not misunderstood and immediately mixed up with value judgements. What I say is meant objectively, so please do not fall into the pattern so often found in other areas today, whereby one judges on the basis of previously-held values instead of judging objectively.

During the first seven years, what appears to be masculine is not masculine as such—and here I ask you to keep in mind what I have said about Uranus and Gaia; it has the external form that it has in order that the heavenly forces working from the head can continue to influence the individual being and the human form in accordance with what is super-earthly and heavenly. That is why it appears masculine. But it is not male; it is formed by Uranus in accordance with the super-earthly! I said: the head is the part of the human being where the heavenly takes precedence, the earthly takes precedence in the rest of the body. But the earthly radiates into the heavenly, just as the heavenly radiates into the earthly. Mutual relationships connect them; it is only a question of which one predominates. I would like to describe matters by saying that, with one kind of human being, the heavenly aspect is the preponderant influence on the body, including the parts other than the head, with the result that one says he is male. But this still has nothing to do with sexuality, but only with the fact that this particular organisation is more Uranian, whereas in the case of other individuals, their organisation is more terrestrial, Gaian. During the first seven years, the human being is not a sexual being; that is maya. The bodies differ in that some show more how the heavenly side is at work and others show more from the earthly side. In anticipation of value judgements that might insinuate themselves into our discussions, I began by saying that from a universal point of view the earthly sphere has as much value as the heavenly. I did not want anyone to harbour the belief that we were devaluing the feminine, in the style of Weininger, by taking some elevated, mystical standpoint that makes it out to be merely earthly or merely Gaian. Each is the pole of the other, and this has nothing to do with sexuality.

What, then, is going on in the human being, in the human organisation, during the first seven years? You must take what I am going to describe as the predominant circumstances; the opposite is also there, but what I am characterising is the predominant situation. For you see, during the first seven years the head is constantly being worked on by forces that stream to it from the rest of the organism. There are also forces that flow from the head to the rest of the organism, of course, but during this period these are relatively weak in comparison to the forces that stream from the body to the head. If the head grows and continues to develop during the first seven years, this is due to the fact that the body is actually sending its forces into the head; during the first seven years, the body imprints itself into the head and the head adapts to the bodily organisation. With regard to human development, the essential thing during the first seven years is that the head becomes adapted to the bodily organisation. This welling-up of the rest of the organisation into the head is what is behind the distinctive facial metamorphoses that someone with a finely developed sense for it can observe during the first seven years. Just watch once the development of a child's face, and observe how it changes at the time of the change of teeth, when the whole body is more or less poured into the facial expression.

Diagram 1

Then comes the period that leads to sexual maturity—roughly from the seventh to the fourteenth year. And now exactly the opposite happens: the forces of the head flow uninterruptedly down into the organism, into the body; now the body adapts to the head. The resultant total revolution in the organism is very interesting to watch: the welling-up of the forces of the body into the head during the first seven years concludes with the change of teeth. Then there is a reversal in the flow of forces, which begin to stream downward. It is these downward-streaming forces that turn a human being into a sexual being. Now, for the first time, the human being becomes a sexual being. To begin with, what turns the organs that are simply heavenly or earthly into sexual organs, comes from the head; and that is spirit. The physical organs are not even intended for sexuality—that is exactly the way to put it—they are only adapted to sexuality later on. And the judgement of those who maintain that they are originally adapted to sexuality is superficial. On the contrary, the organs are adapted to the heavenly sphere in one case, to the earthly sphere in the other. They first acquire a sexual character during the period between the seventh and fourteenth years, when this is introduced into them from without by the forces that stream down from the head. That is when a human being begins to become a sexual being.

Diagram 2

It is extraordinarily important to form a precise view of these things, for in practice one is constantly being confronted by people who come with their very small children, complaining about sexual improprieties. But such things are not possible before the seventh year, because nothing sexual is yet present, nothing that has sexual significance. In such cases no healing can come from a medical direction; it needs to come naturally, as people stop calling things by false names and thereby cease to surround them with false concepts. One should recover that holy innocence with which the ancients viewed such matters. Given their atavistic knowledge of the spiritual world, it never would have occurred to them to begin applying sexual terms to those who were still children. I have already alluded to these things in other contexts.

In the light of these important truths about the human being that we have obtained from the spiritual world, truths concerning man's relation to the earthly and heavenly worlds, you can begin to appreciate how the caricature-like ideas of such a man as Weininger do have a certain justification. For if he could have understood matters in the way they have been presented here, he would have been justified in saying: ‘A human being comes into this physical world from the spiritual world in such a way that the head must first develop here in the physical world for seven years before it can produce the masculine out of heavenly forces and the feminine out of earthly forces.’ Later on, it will be our task to look at other currents and forces important to human development. For the moment, it will be helpful to concentrate our attention on the first fourteen years of human development. Only through such things will you begin to see how true it is to say that external life is a life of maya—is the great deception. For it really is a deception that a human being seems to arrive in the world as a male or a female. A human being first becomes a sexual being through what is acquired by the head from the earth during the first seven years there.

Now, those who take these things into their hearts, as well as their heads, are sure to stumble over a question at this point. Nor is it a question that can easily be evaded: How is it that man comes to live in maya, in deception? What is the meaning of this? Is the fact that we live in deception not grounds for an inherent sadness? Surely it would have been better if the Godhead, the gods, had not allowed human beings to live in deception at all? Would it not have been better for man to apprehend the world without being deceived, so that he would not always have to seek truth behind the appearances? Why, why must man live in a world of deception? These questions about why we must live surrounded by deception can lead to a very pessimistic view of the world. But there are good reasons why we must live in the midst of deception; for if we were born into truth to begin with, if truth came at birth without our having to search for it, we would never be able to develop a personality and would never be able to acquire freedom. Only in the sphere of the Earth can a human being achieve freedom. And he can only do so by developing a personality through his earthly striving. Initially he confronts a world of mere appearances whose inner substance has to be sought out. The search releases inner forces that will make him, gradually and through many incarnations, into a free person. Take some worthwhile book like Dante's Divine Comedy. Theoretically, and not only theoretically for it is altogether conceivable, a person of today might come to know Dante's Divine Comedy in an entirely different way from what is usual. Today how does someone become acquainted with The Divine Comedy? Either it is recited and he hears it presented in external sounds that have nothing to do with the content of The Divine Comedy, or else he reads it. If he reads it, in reality he has nothing before him but abstract characters, which do not have the slightest thing to do with the content of The Divine Comedy. Yes, this is how people become acquainted with the contents of a worthwhile work today. One becomes acquainted with it externally through recitation, although speaking has nothing to do with the work as it sprang from Dante's head; it is only an external means of communication. Theoretically—and I say emphatically, not only theoretically—it would be possible for us to approach the contents of The Divine Comedy in a different fashion: it could make its appearance from within us if, at a particular age, the contents were to simply rise up out of our soul and appear in waking consciousness through a dream. This is not just theoretical; it could very easily happen if the world were not organised so that, to begin with, we had to make our way through maya. If it were not that we first had to make our way through maya, there would come one fine day when we would experience, rising up like a dream, everything that has ever been accomplished by the likes of Homer, say, and Dante, and Plato, and so on. We would not have to resort to anything external in order to become acquainted with it. Raphael would not have had to create external pictures. He need only have brought them to life in his spirit, and those that lived after him, without recourse to anything beyond a certain orientation towards Raphael, would have been able to experience the pictures rising up out their own inner being.

What I am telling you is no hypothesis; on the Moon this is how things stood with us, this is how things were passed on. This is how things really were then. On the Moon, one did not have to learn to read; everything arose out of one's own inner being. An event had to happen once; thereafter it rose up from within. But freedom was not possible. One was an automaton, subject to the past. What rose up from within was determined by the past. It was not possible to become a free person. Not there. We do not have to strive for knowledge in order to repeat, pointlessly, what is already there, but in order to become a free person. And we have progressed to the Earth period from the Moon period, from a time when we were not free beings and when everything simply rose up in our imaginations. Now we have to reach out to the external world. Our spiritual experience of the process of reading or listening enables us to be there as a free individual. It is not entirely true to say that man strives for knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Humanity achieves knowledge in order to become free and individual. We do not want to lose sight of this fact.

The other thing we do not want to lose sight of can be introduced with a further question. One can question why the external world should need to be repeated in our concepts and ideas. What, really, is the point of it? Why should we, with our thoughts and ideas, repeat the external world? Surely it is of no concern to the external world that we repeat it!—If you pursue the following train of thought you will get a more exact grasp of this: A man is there. If he had been murdered in his youth, he would not be there. Because he is there, he experiences—in addition to the fact that the world is there—a repetition of that world as a picture within his own inner world. That picture would not exist at all if he had been murdered in his youth. And yet nothing would be different in the outer world. It is a different matter if he intervenes in that world, but as far as the external world is concerned, what lives in our knowledge is pure repetition. If we were robots, and everything we did between birth and death were a reaction to the external world, then our knowledge would be entirely superfluous. We would do all that we had to do, and knowledge would just be a superfluous parallel phenomenon. You could imagine that the knowledge man carries with him is something added to nature and to the universe, but that it makes no difference to nature or to the universe that such a thing is added to it. Nature could just as well have produced robots whose thoughts do not mirror everything that happens. For nothing out there is changed when we accompany events with our thoughts and concepts, creating pictures of them. If you take a picture of some place with a camera, then, in addition to the place, there also is a picture of it, but it is entirely the same to that place whether the picture exists or not. This is how it is with our ideas. They are an addition. So why should nature not be organised like this?—thus one might question. All of us have long since become so accustomed to thinking that we do not ask this question any more; we have grown so fond of thinking. Like eating and drinking, we are used to it, so the question does not arise for us. But you know how many people there are out there who would be quite delighted not to have to think and to be able to function like a machine. Thinking is too heavy a burden to them and they flee from every thought. Now that, too, is contained in the question: Why hasn't nature fashioned man so that thinking is not even included among his possessions? We have answered one part of this question. Man becomes a free individuality by virtue of his thinking. Such a question, however, allows of many kinds of answers. Nor is it the only thing that can help us to understand.

Let us suppose that we had been born with a different organisation. As children, after we had received our head from the heavens, our body from the earth, and had been set down by the beings of the hierarchies, by the angels, the archangels, and so on, suppose that we had proceeded to go about doing what we had to do without our ever having to suffer under the strain of all the pains and torments this so often involves—without our ever developing an inner soul life. If we assume that this were so, then very important consequences would follow. We could only be born once and die once if we were organised like this; we could not live a succession of lives on earth. A plant whose blossoms never develop into fruit only lives once. A plant develops further through its seeds. The seed of our next earthly life develops within our developing soul life. Within it is the seed. If we did not have an unfolding soul life, with its knowledge, our earthly death would be the end of our life. Therefore, the understanding we develop in our inner soul life is not a mere repetition of what is out there; to the extent that our souls are shaped by knowledge, we carry the future within us. And that has great significance. Except for the things related to knowledge, everything we bear in and with us, is more or less the work of the past. The understanding we develop represents the real seed of the future. The real seed of the future develops within the sphere of our knowledge.

Now, in closing, I would like to touch on the leading thought of our next lectures. It will take us into important areas concerned with the cosmic aspects of human nature.

We carry all our knowledge within us, all of it, from the most naive understanding to the most abstract knowledge—and the two are not so terribly different—we just have an incorrect sense of their value. Thus, deep beneath our outer surface we carry this within us. It is super-sensible, for the content of knowledge is, of course, a super-sensible thing. In reality it is a collection of forces that rest within us. And then we pass through the gates of death; what happens then? Now, I have often described what happens then, but I would like to describe it once more from the standpoint of these forces.

A human being consists of head and body. No matter how precious it may seem, our head actually is ‘on the way out’. Here I am referring to forces, not to the outer form. You can let a person's body waste away, or you can burn it, of course, but the forces do not cease to exist. They remain externally present, and the spiritual forces on which the body depends also remain. But the head disappears. As I said, you may well consider it to be a valuable part of your organism, but after death that does not matter—after death it is nothing special. This refers to the outer form of the head, of course, not to its soul content. For, as regards your passage from death to a new birth, what is important to the heavens is the part of your last earthly life that you could only receive from the earth, namely, the rest of the body. That, with its various forces, is what is transformed into the new head during the time between death and a new birth. Here you have the head, there, the rest of the body. This head was the body of your previous incarnation; your present body will be the head of your next incarnation. The forces that you develop by means of your head in this life are what will transform the forces of your body into a head for the next life. The earth gives you a body for that purpose. The head you carry around now is the transformed body of your previous incarnation, for metamorphosis applies to all of life. It is not only there in the transformation of a plant's leaves into the petals of its blossom; metamorphosis does not just affect our subordinate aspects; metamorphosis rules throughout. Your body is a head that is yet to come—your head is a transformed body.

These are the ideas I wanted to touch on. You carry your head about in its present state. Phrenologists study the shapes of the head, but what they do is not worth much unless it is based on initiation, because everyone possesses his own kind of head. The head is nothing other than the inherited body of the previous incarnation. Every person's head is different from the head of anyone else and the characteristic types the phrenologists describe are merely rough observations. Just think what a marvellous connection there is: A human being has a dual nature. But not only does man have a dual nature; in addition to that, his external shape also carries both past and future. The human head gives you reincarnation where you can really put your hands on it, for the shaping of the head is the result of our previous life. The head we bear in the next life will be a transformation of our body. Wherever one looks deeply into the foundations of existence one finds metamorphosis. Someone who understands the things I have just been explaining is enabled to look deep, deep into the nature and origins of world existence and human existence. As I said, I wanted to touch on these ideas because they will provide the leitmotif of the next two lectures. These will be concerned with how one incarnation works on in the next incarnation, and how the previous incarnation works over into the present one, through the metamorphic relationship of man's head-ness to his body-ness, if I may be allowed to use these expressions.