Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

The Riddle of Humanity
GA 170

Lecture XIII

28 August 1916, Dornach

In the course of the preceding lectures I have had to say some things that could with justification be called paradoxical. For these things may well sound paradoxical when they are set against the materialism of our day. But that is how matters stand: what calls itself science today is only concerned with the facts that are available to the senses; but knowledge from the other side of the threshold is related to a different region of the world—perhaps it would be better to say, to a different form of the world—from that in which these facts lie. Remember some of the things that we have needed to discuss. Remember how the external human form led us to a description of man's relation to the cosmos. It was said that the structure of the human head—the head as it actually is—could not have developed within the bounds of a life on Earth, and could not even have begun there. It is the result of Moon forces which have been specially adapted to the case of each individual person so that it also refers back to his preceding incarnation. And the rest of the human body, excluding the head is, in turn, to some extent being prepared to become the head of the next incarnation. Thus, the human head refers back to a previous incarnation; the human body anticipates the next incarnation when it will have undergone a transformation. The human Gestalt really does connect directly with the previous incarnation and with the incarnation to come. A great cosmic relationship is revealed when the human being is considered in this light.

As you know, the rudiments of an understanding for the relation of the external human Gestalt to the twelve signs of the zodiac has been preserved from an earlier, wiser age. Although we naturally do not want to speak in the manner of the dilettantism that is so typical of contemporary astrological investigations, something needs to be said about the deep cosmic secrets that lie behind this way of apportioning the parts of the human body to the cosmos.

You know that astrology assigns the human head to the sign of the Ram, the throat and larynx to the Bull, the part of the body where the arms are attached and also what the arms and hands express to the Twins, the circumference of the chest to the Crab, everything to do with the heart to the Lion, the activities contained by the abdomen to the Virgin, the lumbar region to the Scales, the sexual region to the Scorpion, the thighs to the Hunter, the knees to the Sea-Goat, the calves to the Waterman, and the feet to the Fishes.

In this manner, the whole human body, including the head, is related to the forces that rule the cosmos and are symbolised by the fixed stars of the zodiac.

Diagram 1

Now we have also spoken of how the head itself is actually a transformation of the whole body—namely of the body of the preceding incarnation. And we find another twelve-fold division in the head, where the principal representatives of the sense organs come together. That, too, is a genuine twelve-foldness. The following diagram shows how matters stand.

We will let this (see drawing) represent the whole human body, dividing it among the twelve signs of the zodiac so that the head is given to the Ram, the throat to the Bull, and so on. And now, bearing in mind what has been said about the composition of the whole of the sense organism, this part here, which has been allocated to one sign, must be divided again among all twelve signs. Thus, here the whole process must be repeated again. I urge you to take note of this characteristic, which is true of all the great laws of the cosmos. Whenever there is a twelve-fold order, one part of it will have an independent existence as well as being just one part of the whole. In this case it is the head which, as a part of the whole, is allocated to one constellation, but also, as the unique, special case, is allocated to all twelve constellations. If what has been said is true, one must presuppose that the body of one incarnation becomes the head of the next incarnation. In the next incarnation, what is now the whole head must serve a single sense. A second sense will be formed out of what at present is manifest as the organs of speech, the larynx and everything in its vicinity. This will be metamorphosed and transformed in the next incarnation. A third sense will be formed from the expressive capacities of the arms and so on. The whole of the body that we bear in this world will become the head of our next incarnation; it will undergo a systematic metamorphosis so that the present twelve-fold order of the body can reappear as the twelve-fold order of the head.

One can certainly look for clues that indicate whether a twelve-foldness really is to be found in the head. Now most of you will be aware that there are twelve principle nerves that originate in the human head. When they are properly interpreted—rather than in the pitifully confused fashion of contemporary physiology of the brain—one can recognise that what was distributed over the whole body in the preceding incarnation reappears in these twelve nerves. So the apparent paradox of, for example, the reappearance in the head of what today is in the hands need not cause us to falter. In fact, one may even find it quite easy to grasp such things in their broad outlines. For if we thoroughly examine the physiology of the hands and arms do we not truly see that they already show a disposition to become organs of speech? Do not the hands and arms speak their own eloquent language? Why, then, should it be so difficult to believe that the situation might at some time be quite altered, so that the same things reappear at a different level of being, as sense organs within the head? Only those who have no inkling of what a true metamorphosis of being involves can laugh at the idea that what is now expressed in the body through the knees is being prepared so that it can reappear distributed over the entire body as the sense of touch, as the organ of touch. Our human knees, with their wonderfully constructed kneecaps are highly sensitive in some respects. This characteristic is being prepared to become our sense of touch in our next incarnation; then it will the organ of touch for the whole body. This is the kind of metamorphosis experienced by our various parts, and deep secrets of existence are revealed to us by such matters. But in order to come to a right view of these secrets of existence it is also necessary for us to approach them with reverence. We must not fall into the cynical mood prevalent in current science. In order to listen in on the secrets of being, we must approach them with reverence. For a considerable time now, the prevailing views of the world have reflected humanity's terrible pride and megalomania. The extent of the pride and megalomania at work in contemporary intellectual and scientific life generally goes unrecognised. But for anyone who is aware of it, the megalomania that sometimes emerges in particular individuals comes as no surprise.

In the pursuit of spiritual science it has often been necessary for me to draw attention to the terrible presence of this pride, a pride that has become especially evident during recent phases of human development. Frequently I have spoken about the way men write about human deeds. Just read what the textbooks and other books have to say about the human spirit of discovery. Look, for example, at what is said about the discovery of paper—this same paper about which one can become so despondent these days when one sees all that is printed on it. But just look at all that is said about the capacity that enables a human being to discover such things! I have often pointed out that a wasp's nest consists of the very same material; it is made of genuine paper. The elemental beings who govern the building of wasps' nests really discovered this substance millions of years before humanity discovered it. Other examples can be found-thousands of them. Look at a telescope. It can be turned in two different ways; it can be rotated as well as adjusted up and down. The example of the telescope has already been noted by Schraieg, an author who made several attempts to draw our attention to such things. Look at what man has made here! He has built it with two different devices for rotation: above there is a device that is called a hinge-joint in mechanics, and below is a device called a tenon-joint. These make it possible to rotate the telescope in two different ways and provide the twofold rotation that is required. Now, as you can easily test for yourselves with a telescope, it would be mad to reverse their positions and put a tenon-joint above where the hinge-joint is, and a hinge-joint below instead of a tenon-joint. That would not be advantageous. This invention, this mechanical device, can be held up as an example of the kind of significant discovery of which mankind is capable. But each of you is carrying about a much more ingenious version of this same device. In the back part of your head, where it sits upon a vertebra of your neck, you have a hinge-joint above and a tenon-joint below. That is why you are able to turn your head up and down, as well as to rotate it sideways. So you can find in the human organism the very same thing that is the object of present-day human thought.

There is nothing that has ever been discovered—or ever will be discovered—that cannot be found somewhere in the human organism. All the mechanical devices men have ever discovered or will discover, everything capable of contributing to human evolution, is to be found in the human organism. A human being only lacks the things that have nothing to contribute to human evolution; they are either lacking, or are included in a form very different from the form in which mankind has introduced them into its evolution. Considering the whole nature and spirit of evolution, there must have been a time, far, far back in an early age, when this extraordinary mechanical joint, and many other things as well, first came into being. Now it exists. And we will find that this formation is always present, no matter how far back we trace what we refer to as the course of human development—namely that part of it in which humanity possessed its present form. And however could it have developed through purely mechanical means? Just consider how this device is especially suited to certain purposes—so well suited, in fact, that it is well-adapted for use on a telescope. Any other device would be useless. Could it have come about through that fundamental law applied by the superficial Darwinians—the most superficial, I might add—namely, that something well-adapted to a purpose must have developed out of what is less well-adapted? But what could be less well adapted in this case. Anything less well-adapted would make it entirely impossible for man, in his present form, to live. A man simply could not live as he now lives, and so it is impossible to imagine that there has been a transition from the less-adapted to the better-adapted in such a case. Those who have developed the critique demanded by popular, superficially-grasped Darwinism have always drawn attention to such truths.

How will mankind's relationship with the cosmos be explained in future ages? My answer to this question will also sound somewhat paradoxical. You will recall that I have explained how the current belief that the heavens will reveal their own nature is just an empty phrase. Copernicus investigated the secrets of the heavens in the belief that the heavens would reveal themselves to him. In truth, however, the secrets of the heavens explain what lives on Earth and, conversely, the secrets of the Earth explain the secrets of the heavens.

Paradoxical as it may sound, people of the future will study embryological development and find great cosmic laws revealed in what they can observe. Universal secrets will be revealed to them as they watch how the embryo develops out of the cell and its surroundings to become a whole human being. And what can be observed in the heavens will be received as the principles in accordance with which one explains what happens here on earth in the plants, animals and, particularly as regards embryology, in man. The heavens explain the earth—Earth explains the heavens. You have heard me explain that before. A real and serious principle of knowledge of the future, one that must be expanded, still sounds like a paradox to us today.

Today I would still like to speak about a third, similar paradox. It is related to what we have just said about Lucifer and Ahriman in connection with Goethe's Faust. There is a certain justification in our seeing everything that is expressed in human emotions, passions, feelings, and so on, as the revelations of Lucifer. We can observe that the luciferic realm works more from within. Lucifer has to be there alongside Eve as she sets about making herself beautiful. She must appear beautiful to herself so that she can become the being who finds herself essentially beautiful and whose beauty brings about the Temptation. In order for the counterpart of this to enter into the course of Earth evolution, Ahriman must act: he must act so that the sons of the gods will find the daughters of mankind beautiful, that is, so that they see beauty in objects. Lucifer had to act in order to influence Eve so that she would feel herself beautiful and could bring about the Temptation. In order for it to become possible to behold an object as beautiful, and possible for beauty to become an external cause, Ahriman was necessary. The former happened in the Lemurian period, the latter, in the Atlantean period.

But one must become more and more familiar with the agency of Lucifer and Ahriman. Naturally, I can only describe individual details regarding the manifestations of Ahriman and Lucifer. But you should try to collect all the individual characteristics I have described into comprehensive pictures of them both.

Some of you might well be acquainted with the paradoxical events that are typical of what can be encountered if one moves in circles which engage in occultism, quasi-occultism, occult fraud, and all that is connected with these. In such circles there is something one can experience again and again. Suppose some prominent celebrities were among the members of a society which claimed to be occult. Such groups always include some such celebrities. They are believed. They are the authority upon which one swears. And now something emerges that is promulgated as a dogma. Now, suppose there emerged the dogma that a certain person in the group is the reincarnation of a great and towering individuality, someone who had accomplished things that would have been impossible for other men, someone who followed a path, let us say, and wrote down great truths, thousands of copies of which are spread across the globe. These writings are greatly admired, even though all they contain may be generalities. But that does not matter. Repeatedly this happens: precisely those things that are the most superficial will be regarded as ‘utterly profound’ by thousands upon thousands of people, provided they are served up with the required sentimental ‘soul-sauce’.

I will describe something typical, rather than single out a particular case. The first thing you will often observe when something like this occurs is that various persons will rise up in terrible revolt against what is happening. They will say, ‘We want nothing to do with dogma. Such a thing is nonsense and we do not want any of it; we shall never believe it.’ They instigate a kind of campaign against it. Then some celebrity or other appears to defend the matter in question, and has a meeting with one of the rebels. Then you can observe how, in the space of a few hours, the rebel does a complete about-face and becomes the most rabid of the followers. Sometimes it does not even last an hour—not even a single hour is required. Such things can be experienced repeatedly. Others come along thereafter, asking themselves, ‘How can it be? These women, or men—and, as a matter of fact, it does not just happen with the women, but with the men as well—were thinking quite clearly about the situation a short while ago. Now, after just a short conversation with this occult celebrity, they have been transformed and seem to believe the whole thing.’ Some of you sitting here know that these things do happen. Has the person really been convinced in such cases? No, there can be no question of conviction in the sense in which we usually speak of it, referring to the consciousness of normal waking life. Matters have to be understood in an entirely different light. And for the sake of understanding them, let us consider Ahriman's character for a moment.

One of the chief characteristics of Ahriman, you see, is that he has not the slightest acquaintance with the impartial relation to truth that a human being experiences here on earth. Ahriman knows nothing about this impartial relation to truth, nothing about striving for truth by simply trying to arrive at ideas that accord with an objective world. Ahriman knows nothing of this. He is not concerned with such things.

Ahriman's fundamental place in the cosmos, which I have often described, means that it is a matter of complete indifference to him whether an idea he has formulated is in accordance with reality. Although we would not call them true in the human sense, the truths Ahriman constructs are always determined by their effects. He never says anything just to be in accord with something else, but only in order to achieve some end. What he says is said in order to achieve some effect or other.

It would be ahrimanic, for example, if I were to tell someone something about our building in order to get them to undertake a certain task—saying things that I know will influence the person to undertake the task without any regard for whether or not what I say is true.

I believe you will be able to imagine that such a thing is possible-to calculate what to say to a person in order to create a certain effect while remaining indifferent to the objective truth of what is said. There are all kinds of minor instances of such things happening to people. One could recall various things, but just imagine all that the aunties say when they are trying to be matchmakers and bring two people together. They will say that it is the bride or the bridegroom who are doing things. They are not really concerned whether what they say is right, only with the influence it has on bringing about the match. That is just one little exemplary illustration! Ahriman, of course, does not bother himself with such insignificant cases. But everything in human life provides us with analogies.

Thus, when Ahriman speaks he is interested in the effects of what he says. And when this kind of thing is going on, he helps by formulating his statements to assist the process. Now, suppose it were useful for Ahriman to produce a group of people on earth who believe in some particular thing—in the kind of thing I was just now talking about. The ability to win people over to ahrimanic truths can be acquired by someone who has been sufficiently initiated into corrupt occultism, provided that this form of initiation has not awakened in him the impulse to replace that occultism with the rightful kind. He can link himself to Ahriman so as to be able to convince people of ahrimanic truths—if I may use this paradoxical turn of speech-truths that are not true at all in the human sense, but which will have their effects! That is what is always at the root of such events as I have been describing: in the space of a brief hour, ahrimanic arts are employed to influence the person who has been a thorough-going rebel. In association with Ahriman it is possible to influence a person and bring him to believe that some human being or other is the reincarnation of a particular, towering individuality. All that one has to learn is how to inject truths into some sphere of life—in this case, into the human sphere—while taking account of their effect, but not their objectivity.

To be sure, there are some men who are so ignorant and foolish that they simply take on ahrimanic influences unconsciously, without any other person having to resort to the ahrimanic arts. But the ahrimanic arts are also being practised among mankind—arts which are directly applied and are achieved through association with Ahriman. And these things resulting from the association of men with Ahriman have an especially great significance for our times. For a considerable time now, things have been happening to humanity that can only be understood by someone familiar with the secrets to which we have just been ever-so-lightly alluding.

Ahriman never concerns himself with whether or not an idea agrees with the objective world. He is only interested in its effects and in how it can be used.

Other matters are important to Lucifer. He possesses different qualities, which have already been mentioned. But in order to better acquaint ourselves with these matters, we need to pay special attention to one particular quality of Lucifer. For neither is he concerned with whether an idea accords with the objective world. Most emphatically not! He wants those ideas to be evolved which will generate the greatest possible human consciousness. Understand well what I am saying: he wants to generate the greatest possible amount of human consciousness—as intense and as widely spread as possible. This widespread consciousness that interests Lucifer is also connected with a certain human inner sense of gratification, which accompanies it. And this kind of gratification also belongs to Lucifer's domain. Perhaps you will remember me describing how, until a certain phase of the Atlantean epoch, everything to do with sexuality happened unconsciously. Various peoples have beautiful myths pointing to the unconscious nature of the sexual process in earlier times. It only became conscious during the course of time. Lucifer played an essential role in bringing this unconscious sphere more and more into the light of consciousness. This is what Lucifer wants: his goal is to bring about a human consciousness that is not right for its time; at the wrong period of time he wants to give men consciousness of something—conscious to a degree that could only be rightly developed at another point in time. Lucifer is not willing, without further ado, to allow mankind to be determined by anything external. He wants everything that affects consciousness to work from within. This is what gives all visionary life, which is pressed outward from within, its luciferic character. One must get to know Lucifer, for as spiritual forces working in the cosmos it is, of course, necessary for him and his powers to be put to work in the proper place. But as one gets to know him, one can be especially struck by Lucifer's dreadful lack of the slightest understanding for even the most harmless of delights, if they apply to something external. Lucifer has not the slightest understanding of man's harmless delight in what is around him. He understands what can be kindled by all manner of inward things. He has a great understanding for how a person can develop a passion in which he indulges and which gives him pleasure, so that as much unconscious material as possible is drawn up into consciousness. But in spite of his wisdom—for, naturally, Lucifer possesses a lofty wisdom—he cannot understand the innocent jokes that people make about external events. Such things lie entirely outside Lucifer's domain. And one can protect oneself from luciferic bombardment—which he is exceedingly ready to attempt—by learning to live in the innocent delights, delights that come to us innocently from without and entertain us. When we take pleasure in a good caricature, Lucifer gets incredibly angry.

These are the kinds of relationships that are revealed when one leaves behind the concreteness of the sense world and steps across the threshold. There, in that sphere, all possesses the character of living being; nothing has the character, typical of the physical world, of being just a thing. As soon as one enters even the elemental world, everything is alive. So you can see that we can pretty well say that it is a matter of indifference to both Ahriman and Lucifer whether or not an idea is in harmony with the objective world. Ahriman is interested in the effects of what he says; Lucifer is interested in expanding human consciousness in certain situations where man should not be conscious. Such awareness is accompanied by a kind of inner pleasure, although it is not right for the present cycle of time.

In both cases things are achieved that ideas, formed solely on the basis of their agreement with the external world, could not achieve. For the reasons I have described, malicious occult circles cultivate an alliance with Ahriman. They also cultivate an alliance with Lucifer in order to find pleasant methods for bringing about visionary experiences—in other words, methods that kindle visions from within.

Of course, Lucifer and Ahriman also work in the human unconscious. There they accomplish the same things that the malevolent occult circles deliberately set about doing, the same things in which these circles are engaged, in alliance with Lucifer and Ahriman. And much of the criticism that must be levelled against the way our own fifth post-Atlantean epoch is unfolding in that great world out there, can be traced back to luciferic and ahrimanic impulses. At present, luciferic and ahrimanic streams have a strong grip on the world and their effect is chaotic. This is shown not only by the great amount of lying and falsification that goes on, but also by everything that is said, simply because it corresponds to emotions and passions without any regard for justifying it by showing how it accords with objective reality. For, in the present phase of human development, if we want to be in the exclusive care of benevolent powers we cannot disregard the objective truth of our assertions and mould them to the shape of our passions. Atlantean humanity was capable of inwardly determining truths that would accord with the corresponding objective reality. This capacity persisted into the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, at the latest. But, as we know, it exists no longer. It is precisely for the purpose of allowing mankind to learn to observe and investigate the external world without basing its assertions on subjective passions, that we are going through our present cycle of development.

Thus, today, when truths are nevertheless formed on a subjective basis without any attempt being made to bring them into agreement with the external world, there is a luciferic stream at work. This luciferic stream has allied itself with ahrimanic streams. One brings about a form of consciousness that is wrong, the other brings about falsehood or lying. And what we are describing is already very, very widespread at the present time. These days, many souls have been lured away from a right awareness for whether an idea harmonises with the objective world. They are not in the least concerned about it. And if someone does show concern for whether his ideas agree with the objective reality, he is not understood. In such cases, a person is met on all sides by a distinctive attitude—it is difficult to find the right word for it, an attitude of surprise—people are surprised that it is even possible to think in this fashion. In such circles one meets the least agreement precisely when one is attempting to point to characteristics of reality by simply drawing attention to the things of the world and repeating them in one's ideas, basing everything one says on what is there. Sometimes this is scarcely understood. It is not understood that this is radically different from what happens when someone simply shapes his assertions to match one or the other of his passions, be these personal or national. Therein lies a radical distinction of which people of today are not even aware. Many is the time that people fail to consider whether their assertions are in accordance with the facts; they simply form them in accordance with their own preconceptions and along already-established lines of thought. But what matters today is whether or not our assertions are in accordance with the facts. Otherwise we cannot hope to accomplish the transition to an epoch in which the spiritual world can be seen in the proper light. We will never be able to discover the facts of the spiritual world unless we develop an attitude that acknowledges the facts of the physical world. The right way of experiencing the spiritual world must be developed here in the physical world. That is why we have been placed in the physical world: it is our task here to seek for ideas that are in harmony with objective reality, so that we acquire this ability and so that it becomes a habit we can carry with us into the spiritual world.

But today so many people base their assertions on nothing but emotion and are not in the least interested in whether they agree with objective reality. This is precisely the opposite of the direction in which humanity must move if it is to progress. And, especially in our materialistic age, the notion of thinking in accordance with reality has been so frightfully distorted by the influences we have been describing; thinking that is in accord with reality has become a rarity. And an honest attempt to think in accordance with reality today collides with all the contemporary thinking that is at variance with reality. A dreadful example of this is the way in which our anthroposophical Movement again and again collides with thinking that has not been measured against reality. But the facts are there, and in the end one cannot remain silent if one is sincere about this Movement.

These collisions between attempts to think in accordance with reality and thinking that is an enemy of reality show what is involved in standing up for the truth today. That other thinking is opposed to reality in the manner we have described. It is true that every age must fight with the forces of opposition; but in every age it is necessary to get to know them in the particular shape and particular metamorphosis they have assumed. The stream of the Pharisees, for example, has not died out; today it is present in another form. And we will only be able to proceed with the necessary clarity if we really understand this distinction between thinking that is in harmony with reality and thinking that is an enemy of reality.