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The Riddle of Humanity
GA 170

Lecture XI

26 August 1916, Dornach

The three lectures of today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow will be interconnected. Today I want to look at some things that will lay the groundwork for certain perspectives on man's relation to the cosmos and to all of life.

Consider the development of the human soul as we can observe it here between birth and death, living in the physical body. Among other things, we might notice that two properties, or complexes of energy, are necessary to the soul if it is to lead a fulfilling earthly life between birth and death—we have frequently directed our attention to such things.

What needs to be acquired, on the one hand, is memory. Just imagine that memory was not among our earthly possessions! You only need to consider how different our soul life would be if we could not look back to days past, all the way back to a certain moment after our birth, and could not retrieve what we have experienced from these more or less unplumbed depths. Our consciousness of our I, as we now possess it, is dependent on the way our experiences connect. I have drawn your attention to this frequently. Now, you all know that memory only begins to appear at a certain point in our earthly life. It is not present before then, and so all our experiences prior to that first remembered point in time are wrapped in forgetfulness. Therefore we can say: From a certain point in our earthly life onward, our soul life is related to our body in such a way that, in greater or lesser detail, our experiences can always be called up in us as memories—we can remember them.

This faculty of memory can only be developed under the influence of our earthly life, and developing a memory is one of the tasks of our earthly life. During that long period of our development when we were beings of the Moon, we did not have a faculty comparable to our earthly memory. In order for our organism to be able to develop memory, we have had to become a part of the organism of the earth, with all its forces deriving from the mineral realm. Memory develops as a result of the interaction between the human soul and the earthly, physical body. It is only during the Earth period of evolution that memory, in the form in which we develop it in our physical, earthly body, becomes necessary to the spiritual world. It only became necessary with the arrival of the Earth period because until then there were other things that took the place of memory. During the Moon period, for example, man's powers of dreamlike clairvoyance took the place of memory. Just imagine that every time you experienced something the experience would be written down in some particular place to which you always had access—as they occurred, all your experiences would be written down there, one after the other. Then all you would have to do to find an experience would be to look in that place where everything had been written down. And this is in fact the kind of experience undergone by man on Old Moon. Everything he experienced in his old, dreamlike, clairvoyant consciousness was, so to speak, engraved in a subtle etheric substance. Everything that man was able to experience through his dreamlike, clairvoyant consciousness was written into the substance of the world. And whenever a human soul needed something comparable to our memory of today, it simply had to direct its dreamlike, clairvoyant awareness toward what was engraved in the fine etheric substance of the world. Man on Old Moon looked at the traces left behind by his own experiences in the way people of today look at the objects of the external world. All one had to do to see something one had experienced was simply to observe the world substance. There, written into the substance of the world, one found the previous contents of that old, dreamlike, imaginative consciousness.

This way of living in the world was therefore very different from today's. Just imagine that you could re-think everything you ever thought, because it was following you about like the tail of a comet—that is a translation of the actual experience of Old Moon into the terms of present-day thinking. This condition had to end because mankind needed to become individualised. Man had to learn to present himself as an individuality. He can only do this if his experiences remain his own property rather than being immediately engraved into the world substance. His experience must be engraved only into his own fine etheric individuality, his own fine etheric substance. So long as man lives on Earth, whatever is developed in his waking consciousness is accompanied by movements of his etheric body. The shape of the physical body marks the boundary of these accompanying movements. To a certain extent they are unable to pass beyond the limits of the skin. Thus, for the whole of life between birth and death, the fine etheric substance, whose movements accompany experiences of thoughts, ideas, feelings and experiences of will, is rolled up within the physical body. We have often described how it all unrolls and is received by the world substance when the physical body is laid aside in death. Then, after death, we can begin to look back on everything that has been engraved into our etheric individuality and watch it be absorbed into the substance of the cosmic ether.

I have briefly mentioned how things stand with memory, which develops in response to the physical body's forces of resistance. The situation is similar with respect to something else that is important for our life on earth and which we rightfully acquire for ourselves there.

In addition to memory, our life on Earth also requires us to develop habits. Habits are another thing that we did not yet possess on Old Moon in the form that we have them on Earth. On Old Moon we possessed neither memory nor the ability to form habits—not in the earthly form they have today. If you observe human development from childhood onwards, you will see how habits gradually begin to develop us certain actions are repeated again and again. As we are educated, we receive guidance which establishes certain actions as habits. At first these have to be learned, but once they have become habits our souls perform them more mechanically.

During the Earth period, if the I is to unfold properly, habits must be developed in the right way. What took the place of habits during Old Moon? During that period, every time we needed to accomplish something or whenever something was supposed to happen through us, we were directly influenced by one or the other being from the higher spiritual world. Our deeds were always held in check by the impulses we received from the beings of a higher world. At that time we were much more a member of the whole organism of the hierarchies than is the case now, in the Earth period.

If we had remained in this state, we should never have developed the power to be free, for every detail of our actions would depend on the impulses of higher beings. They would have to exercise their power whenever we acted. We can only receive into ourselves the gift of freedom by being released from the sphere of the beings of the higher hierarchies and by entering into a condition in which repeatedly[,] acts can become habits. In this manner it is possible for actions to originate in us. And so, acquiring the capacity to form habits is also intimately connected with the way humanity achieves inner freedom.

Even during the Earth period, the state we leave behind when we enter through birth into physical existence resembles our previous state on Old Moon. Up there in the spiritual world, before we are born and step down into earthly existence, we are powerfully influenced by higher spiritual impulses. There in the spiritual world it is always higher spiritual beings who guide us to what we need to do; they help us prepare an earthly existence that will proceed in accordance with our karma. When we enter the physical body we are torn from this world in which habits do not exist—this world which is subject only to the uninterrupted impulses of higher spiritual beings. To a degree we still possess an echo of our condition in the spiritual world when we enter physical existence. This expresses itself in the way we behave as children up to the age of seven. As children we follow habits less and are more under the influence of imitation. At first we begin to do things under the direct influence of what is happening around us: we imitate the examples that are shown to us. This is an echo of the way we had to act in the spiritual world. There it was necessary for us to receive an impulse for every single thing we did. That is why children imitate to begin with, directly following the impulses that come to them. Independence, the capacity of the soul to act independently, only emerges in the course of time, just like the capacity to live in accordance with habits.

Both memory and habits are important ingredients of our soul life. Both these significant elements of our soul life are metamorphoses. They are transformations of quite other conditions in the spiritual world. Memory is a transformation of the way imaginative dream experiences leave their traces behind them in the spiritual world; habit arises when one is torn free from the impulses of higher spiritual beings.

Looking at these matters in the way we have just done enables one to arrive at a concept of how differently constituted from the world on this side of the threshold is the world on the other side of the threshold. We need to be able to think in this way. Again and again it must be emphasised: On the other side of the threshold everything is different. We go to the trouble to characterise the spiritual world by using words that apply to the physical world, it is true. But again and again it must be made clear that we have to gradually accustom ourselves to shaping these pictures in a manner that is as different as possible from that in which we picture the physical world. Only in this way can we ever arrive at adequate and correct pictures of the spiritual world.

At the same time, considerations such as the preceding ones give us a glimpse of what is important and essential to our earthly existence. It is utter nonsense to believe that earthly existence should be valued lightly. I have already drawn your attention to this mistake, from various points of view. Like all the other phases of human development, earthly, physical existence has its purpose. We reap permanent, eternal gains from what our soul experiences by having a physical body and by way of what we experience under the influence of memory and habit, which are gifts of the physical body. Gradually, in the course of repeated Earth lives, we acquire these gains. Again and again, therefore, we have to more or less give up the power of memory and return to the state to which we were accustomed during Old Moon; we have to give back to the substance of the cosmos what has been engraved in us during our life on Earth. And this is what does happen as soon as we die. We have to submit ourselves to the impulses of the higher spiritual beings once more in order that the ability to follow their impulses can be translated into habit when we have returned to an earthly body.

At this point I should also to draw your attention to something I have already mentioned frequently in the past, for it is very, very important and cannot be repeated often enough. We acquire memory and habits during our life on Earth. For a start, let us look at memory. Considering it as we just have done, memory seems to be a natural gift of the Earth. And, as you know, a person can always develop the power and ability to remember, no matter how weak his memory seems at the time. Suppose that, as memory developed, nothing were to happen except what is entirely natural—nothing but what is precisely in accordance with the way in which it would develop under the influence of the mineral forces at work in the physical organism of the Earth. In that case we would not develop a memory such as the one to which we are accustomed. Normally we do much more than this—you all know that we do much more toward developing a memory. Perhaps it would be better to say, more is done to us. We learn things by heart. After a certain age we are required to learn things by heart, to memorise them. It makes a difference whether our memory is acquired by simply allowing it to develop more or less of itself, or whether we are required to do more than would just happen automatically. Eventually we retain a poem if we read it often enough or if it is recited to us frequently. But this is not sufficient for education these days; in addition we are required to memorise poems. Why, we are even punished if we have not memorised the poem assigned to us. This is how things are in the present cycle of human development.

I ask you, please, do understand what I am now saying. No one should go about saying that today I was thundering on about memorising, saying it should be done away with. That is not what I am saying! In our time it really is necessary for us to memorise certain things, for our cycle of development requires that our memory be trained in a quite particular way.

What, then, happens in our souls when memorising is brought in to help our natural inclination to acquire a memory? In this case, we summon Lucifer. And it is right that luciferic forces be called in to help build memory. Once more I want to emphasise that you are not to say: Oh, one must protect oneself from Lucifer; let us cease requiring our children to memorise anything! This is a bad habit that some have acquired. Again and again they express the belief that one must protect oneself from Lucifer and Ahriman by doing everything possible to prevent them from having access to us. The person who tries to protect himself from them is the one to whom they really do have thorough access! Luciferic and ahrimanic powers must be reckoned with in world development. They must retain their place in it; what matters is that this happen in the right way.

Let us look at a special case: Why is it necessary to call upon luciferic powers to help us to develop memory? The people of today are no longer aware of it but, in the past, in times not so long ago in the development of humanity, memory was of a different strength than is the memory of today. We need a relatively long time to memorise a longer poem. The ancient Greeks did not need so much time. Many of the ancient Greeks knew the Homeric poems from beginning to end. But they did not learn them in the fashion in which we memorise things today, for then the power of memory was constituted differently. How were things memorised during the fourth post-Atlantean epoch? What happened in those days was a kind of repetition of what had happened to an even greater degree in the Atlantean period itself, and which I have described in my writings about development in the time of Atlantis. On Old Moon there were powers which made it possible to draw behind one the contents of dreamlike imaginative experiences, like the tail of a comet. These powers from Old Moon were carried over and were transformed from a more outward power, which involved interaction with the world, into a more inward power. As it was transformed into an inward power, memory began to awaken in Atlantean humanity and the world seemed to bestow it on them automatically. And in Atlantis man did not have to exert himself very much to develop his memory, for it was like a power which he encountered in his dealings with the external world and which flowed into him from there. This state of affairs was repeated during the fourth post-Atlantean epoch. Then what had previously happened to him in his interactions with the world without his needing to do anything further about it, was to a certain extent repeated within the human being.

Now that man has entered the fifth post-Atlantean epoch, he finds it increasingly necessary to exert himself in order to acquire the power of memory. What came to him automatically during the time of Atlantis, and again during the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, must now be made his own so that it can contribute to his individualisation and freedom. Whenever something is required that really corresponds to a previous ability—as when powers that were once natural are summoned to help build memory—we are dealing with a manifestation of Lucifer. Whenever we artificially call upon something in our age that was natural in the age of Greece, something like the effortless acquisition of memory, it becomes luciferic. But in order to summon up a strong impression of this luciferic element in your souls be aware of the role that Lucifer has played in the development of humanity. You must be aware of this as we describe these things. During the Greco-Roman times Lucifer was more or less kept within bounds. He was still in his rightful place. But he is no longer kept in his rightful place in the same way. Now, in order for man to be able to further develop his memory, it is necessary for him to enter into an agreement with Lucifer. Now it has become necessary for man to do something actively for his memory; during the Greco-Roman epoch memory came of itself without his needing to do anything further about it. Thereby what merely happened to the human being during the Greco-Roman epoch today has become a luciferic deed.

In the same moment that luciferic activity appears, however, the other side of the balance becomes active: the ahrimanic side. And, on the one hand, at the same time that humanity has been memorising things and thus calling on the assistance of Lucifer to build their memory it has, on the other hand, also been developing an ahrimanic support for memory by writing things down. On frequent occasions I have indicated that the people of the Middle Ages were not mistaken in feeling that printing was a particularly ‘black art.’

But everything that aids memory externally is to some degree ahrimanic. Again, I am not saying that it is right to flee from everything that is ahrimanic, although perhaps it is precisely in our circles that too much is done to call up Ahriman. One loves him far too much!

Herein lies the task of mankind—to establish a position of balance, and not believe that Lucifer and Ahriman are to be escaped without more ado! It is rather to confess, boldly, courageously and energetically, that these two kinds of beings are necessary to world development and that the powers coming from the ahrimanic and luciferic sides are there for man to put to use in his own activities and development. These are there for man to use, but it also is necessary for him to establish a balance between Lucifer and Ahriman in the most varied spheres. Lucifer and Ahriman must balance each other. So we must pursue our activities in such a way that they are able to balance one another. This is the reason why it was necessary for the luciferic and ahrimanic elements to intervene in Earth evolution. And from our previous studies we know that the description that stands at the beginning of the Old Testament is an important symbol for the intervention of the luciferic element. There it is described how woman tempts man and how the luciferic element intervenes—indirectly, through woman—in the development of the Earth. This is how the intervention of the luciferic element, which we locate in the Lemurian period, is symbolised in the Bible.

The intervention of the ahrimanic element followed after that, during the Atlantean period. And, just as a knowledge of the human being was required in the fourth post-Atlantean period in order to understand the biblical symbol of Lucifer, so today the fifth post-Atlantean period needs this knowledge in order to begin to understand the counter-symbol and be able to present it to the human soul in an adequately sketched, if incomplete, fashion. (I have mentioned this earlier.) Just as Lucifer stands at the side of Eve, so Ahriman stands at the side of Faust; and just as Lucifer approaches woman directly, so does Ahriman directly approach man. Just as man is tempted indirectly through woman, Gretchen is indirectly lied to through Faust. Since Ahriman is the one who is at work, lies are the means by which Gretchen is tempted. Ahriman is the spirit of deception whom we can picture as standing opposite Lucifer, the spirit of temptation. This is one way we can name them: Lucifer, the tempter, and Ahriman, the deceiver.

There is much in the world that is there purely for the purpose of protecting mankind from luciferic temptation. There are rules, teachings, descriptions of moral impulses, and institutions established in the course of human development—all these are there to protect mankind from luciferic temptations. Today, the right means for protecting oneself from the ahrimanic fall, the fall into untruth, are much less developed.

All the luciferic parts of the human being are related to the passions and emotions. Where falsehood and deception play a role, however, one can feel Ahriman at work in man's development. In our time it is not only necessary for people to arm themselves against luciferic challenges. They must also prepare themselves against the challenges of Ahriman, now that he has entered the field.

Some of this is contained in the Faust poems, which show how man can fall to Ahriman, even in such a matter as the misunderstanding of words. In his Faust, Goethe gives us a fine picture of how Faust passes through various ahrimanic dangers. There are various confusions between Lucifer and Ahriman, to be sure, but for reasons mentioned today and previously, Goethe was right to use Ahriman rather than Lucifer in his own Faust. There is much in both the first and second parts that is ahrimanic, right into such details as the role of misunderstood words. At the end of the second part there is a conversation. Faust believes the talk is about some diggings; but a grave is what is actually meant! ‘Graben’ (to dig, en-grave)—and ‘Grab’ (grave) are the words! Ahriman's impulse resounds here, right into the misunderstanding of ambiguous words. Goethe had an extraordinarily fine sense for representing ahrimanic impulses. In a manner more instinctive than conscious he wove untruth and distortion into those places in Faust where ahrimanic impulses are at work. It is very important to understand this.

Just as memory and habit are to a certain degree metamorphoses and transformations of modes of activity in the spiritual world, so also are there further capacities which we develop in the spiritual world which are transformations of what we have acquired here in the physical world and what has been revealed here. We have been characterising memory and habit as the results of transformations, as metamorphoses of spiritual experiences of an earlier time. But some things, for example, such as the relationship of our ideas to external objects, only appear for the first time in the physical world. Objects surround us. We picture them in our thoughts. What we call physical truth is the agreement of our ideas with the objects; this is truth on the physical level of existence. If we express an idea for which the physical plane does not provide a proper model, then it is not true. Whenever we speak of physical truths this always refers to an agreement between what we are thinking and the physical facts. In order to relate to the truth in this manner it is necessary for us to live in a physical body and be able to use it to look at external things. It would be nonsense to imagine that such a relation to the truth could already have existed on Old Moon. That is an accomplishment of life on Earth. Only when we acquire a physical body is something like this agreement between ideas and external objects possible. This, however, provides Ahriman with his field of action. And how does this provide him with it?

Matters such as those we have just been talking about give one a feeling for the interconnections between the spiritual world and the physical world. Ahriman has a proper task in the spiritual world and he should also exercise a certain influence on the physical world. But he should not actually enter the physical world! He should not be admitted to matters involving the agreement between external objects and the ideas we acquire through our physical bodies. He carried out certain activities on Old Moon. If he is allowed to carry out those same activities here on Earth he distorts the connection between our ideas and external objects. Wherever man is engaged in bringing his ideas into agreement with external objects and external facts Ahriman is supposed to keep his fingers off—if I may express myself symbolically. But he does not keep them off, not Ahriman—truly not! If he kept his fingers off there would be no lying in the world!

Now I am not sure whether it is necessary to prove that there is still lying in the world. But, if there is lying in the world, then it is proof that Ahriman is at work there in a manner in which it is not proper for him to work. This activity of Ahriman in the physical world is one of the things that humanity must overcome. You might say, though: There is much beauty in the world, but in some respects it really is a bungled job; if God the Father were entirely perfect He would have created human beings in such a way that they could not stoop to lying. Such a Father God would have told Ahriman that he is to have nothing to do with the physical world! And, as we have again heard today, Ahriman is not the only one who takes a certain pleasure in discovering what is wrong with the world. There are also philosophers of Pessimism about, philosophers who derive their views from the negative qualities of humanity. The nineteenth century produced not only some pessimistic philosophers, but also some who went beyond Pessimism to become representatives of ‘Miserable-ism.’ Among the other views of the world, that one also emphatically exists! Julius Bahnsen29Julius Bahnsen (1830 – 1881). was not only a pessimist, he was a ‘miserablist’.

Why, then, is Ahriman allowed into the physical world? In the last lecture I gave you an example of how strongly he is permitted to work in the world. As you will recall, I described how an event was arranged so that it would go according to an exact plan. This event was observed, not by the usual kind of audience, but by thirty young lawyers and students of jurisprudence—in other words, by men who were preparing themselves to become judges of human deeds. The event had been planned beforehand so that what was going to happen was known in detail. What the experiment demonstrated about establishing a correct relationship between how people think about happenings in the external world and what actually goes on is shown by what occurred after the event. The thirty were asked to describe what had happened. Twenty-six of them gave a false description; only four could give a true description and even their descriptions were only approximations of the truth. Thirty people witness an event that follows a carefully prepared plan and it is possible for twenty-six of them to give thoroughly false descriptions of it! That shows you how effective Ahriman is! There you can see how actively present he is! But what would happen if he were not there? Then we certainly would be some kind of lambs. We would feel the impulse to think of things exactly in accordance with the facts before us, and we would consistently allow ourselves to speak only about the facts we observe. But we would have to do this! There could be no talk of freedom! We would have to act in this way; we never could act otherwise; and we never could become free beings. If we are to be able to speak the truth as free beings it must be possible for us to lie, and we are therefore obliged to develop within ourselves the power to conquer Ahriman every time we speak. He has to be there, ‘provocative and active, doing his devil's work’. Those words should give you a picture of Ahriman's presence and of how error only occurs when we follow him directly instead of remembering that he is the one to be overcome as, provocative and active, he goes about his devil's work. Some speak about flight. They say, pulling long faces: ‘But is this not perhaps something ahrimanic? Oh, I must not have anything to do with this!’ In many cases, the only thing all this signifies is that the person in question is moving toward the comforts of Lucifer and leaving freedom behind.

What would help would be to acquaint oneself with the impulses that need to be overcome. To a certain extent we need Ahriman on one side and Lucifer on the other in order to bring about a balance between them.

These are the preliminary considerations I wanted to share with you today. They provide the necessary foundations for the spiritual-scientific vistas on life and the cosmos that will open out before us tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.