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The Riddle of Humanity
GA 170

Lecture XV

3 September 1916, Dornach

The particular details of the things we discussed yesterday are complicated and difficult to follow. But we can nevertheless come to some general conclusions by reviewing the picture they form as a whole. No doubt you have already concluded that the twelve senses with which we have become acquainted are not formed solely in accordance with the principles of regular evolutionary progress. The ahrimanic and luciferic principles have also participated in their development. From this we can see that it is necessary to be much more objective about these luciferic and ahrimanic elements than is frequently the case, for the simple reason that they have played such a decisive role in the formation of the collective human constitution. Now, we should remind ourselves that Lucifer and Ahriman only create hindrances for human development when they are displaced and appear where they are not supposed to appear. So it is also easy to imagine that when, as we saw yesterday, the ahrimanic principle influences the upper end of the series of the senses, and the luciferic principle influences the lower end, they are not acting legitimately and in accordance with the evolutionary roles allotted to them. And various human aberrations then arise as a consequence. The aberrations must be possible, as otherwise a human being could not determine his path in the cosmos through the use of his own free will. Finding the right path for our development depends precisely upon learning to maintain our sovereignty against the ahrimanic and luciferic influences. It depends on constant struggle to maintain our balance between these two powers, so it is inevitable that the things that only the power of Lucifer and Ahriman can give us, also make it possible for us to go astray.

Many things would be clarified by a further elucidation of truths such as those that were sketched yesterday, for they contain the key to countless riddles of life which confront present-day humanity. But it is not possible at present to speak about these consequences, even though they follow from entirely objective, spiritual-scientific considerations—not even in our circles. What we want to discuss now are the life forces, the impulses of life which we have described as a kind of internal planetary system. We can view the seven life processes just as we have viewed the twelve regions of the senses.

Breathing, warming, nourishment, secretion, maintenance, growth, reproduction—those are the seven life processes which make up the inner human planetary system and which contrast with the inner zodiac formed by the twelve senses. But luciferic and ahrimanic influences have distorted these seven life impulses—just as they have distorted the zodiac system of the twelve senses—to produce something other than would have been produced if evolution had proceeded along its rightful course. Again we can say that the outermost three life processes, those which have more to do with bringing a person into relation with the outer world, are subject to ahrimanic influence; and the life impulses that have more to do with the internal life process are subject to luciferic influence. Only in the middle is there a kind of balance—in excretion, which tends of itself, because of its natural structure, to remain in balance.

Breathing involves something that can be described as follows: We do not breathe as we would breathe if only regular, progressive, divine-spiritual impulses were active in the breath—the impulses mentioned at the beginning of the Old Testament; more than the power of Jehovah is active in our breathing. For, during the Atlantean period, ahrimanic forces caused our breathing system to be modified and these modifications now affect the way we breathe. Thus, we not only breathe, we consume our organism. And we experience this consumption as a kind of feeling of well-being. It is a fact that, during the course of our life between birth and death, we use our breathing process more energetically than was intended. The consumption of our life forces is very closely connected to this ahrimanic influence. One can say, broadly speaking, that if it were not for this ahrimanic influence we would not inhale as much oxygen in a given period of time, and the consumption of our organism associated with the process of ageing would not be as intense as it now is—I mean ageing in the sense that it involves something that can be seen and not just the passage of years. This is related in many ways to ahrimanic influences on the process of breathing.

Because of ahrimanic influences in our organism, things are burnt up more quickly than a regular evolution would dictate: consumption is a kind of incineration. We actually burn ourselves up.

Through ahrimanic influence, nourishment includes the forming of deposits, so that our nourishment is not merely processed, but is also stored away in our organism as virtually foreign matter. The most familiar process involved here is the production and storage of fat.

The process of getting fat has to be explained here by referring to its ahrimanic side. Of course it also has its luciferic side, but that is a different matter. So storage, the possibility of accumulating food we have eaten so that it remains with us and is stored in our organism as virtually foreign matter, can also be traced to ahrimanic influences: consumption, combustion and storage.

Secretion is, in a sense, a special case; it is an exception.

Maintenance has undergone luciferic influences. All forces are modified by our inner process of maintenance, and the result of this is very similar to the process of storage. All our predispositions towards cyst-formation, towards becoming ossified and sclerotic, belong in this category. We harden our organism during the course of our life. This happens through luciferic influences and is connected with luciferic interventions. Until these processes of hardening exceed a certain degree and manifest as sclerosis and other symptoms of illness, we experience them as a kind of underlying feeling of organic well-being. We only cease to experience it as a feeling of well-being when matters go beyond a certain point; then it becomes an illness-as sclerosis, as glaucoma, or some other, similar illness.

The process of growth has also suffered from luciferic influences. Without these, a person's growth would be a continuous process between birth and death. Without luciferic influences there would be no particular discontinuities in the process of human growth. But the luciferic influence manifests itself immediately and powerfully during the first stages of growth. There it turns the process of growth into a process of maturation. Maturation, sexual maturation, is a luciferic modification of straightforward processes of growth. Everything that is associated with it shows that this discontinuity is not in accordance with the original evolutionary disposition, which would lead to a continuous process of growth. Everything that is connected with the sexual maturation of a man or woman, all the various modifications right down to the change of voice, are connected with this luciferic influence.

Luciferic influences have turned reproduction into procreation, into the possibility of external, physical propagation. In accordance with the original, progressive, divine-spiritual powers, a human being should only be able to reproduce himself. And we must reproduce ourselves continuously, must we not? In order for us to grow, an inner process of reproduction must take place, new parts must constantly be forming. It is due to luciferic influences that external reproduction has been added to this. As you know, this latter luciferic influence on growth and reproduction, in particular, is also described in very clear terms in the Bible. One only has to turn to the Bible. There you will find powerful, titanic pictures which truly show the very things I have been describing.

So you see that we are dealing, once again, with a collaboration between Lucifer and Ahriman.

                    1 Breathing—Consumption
    Ahrimanic       2 Warming—Combustion
                    3 Nourishing—Conservation

            4 Secretion

                    5 Maintaining—Sclerosis
    Luciferic       6 Growing—Maturation
                    7 Reproducing—Procreation

Surveying what has been said about the twelve zones of the senses and the seven life processes—about the human being's inner zodiac and inner planetary system—you will have to confess that knowledge that is capable of bringing such things to light must be pursued differently from what is usually called knowledge today. Today's knowing, today's knowledge, only touches the outermost surface of things, so to speak. But we must achieve ideas and concepts that are capable of reaching to the threshold of the spiritual world. One does not have to be in the spiritual world, all one has to do is to try, through spiritual science, to formulate ideas which are truly appropriate to the threshold of the spiritual world. Then one will feel how this leads to a knowing and a knowledge that is much more active and inwardly intense, and that is actually capable of penetrating to what is active within a being—in the present case, to what is active within the human being himself. It is not enough to station ourselves opposite the cosmos as mere observers, content to watch how its outer surface affects us; to a certain extent we must participate in the cosmos. One must participate in the forces at work within a being, in what lives and weaves within it. Spiritual science does not only lead us to further knowledge, it leads us to a different kind of knowing. As a typical contemporary anatomist or physiologist it will be impossible for you to distinguish what is ahrimanic in the process of breathing from what is, so to speak, regular, since all of these naturally occur at the same time and it is necessary to slip into the very process of breathing and experience it. Then one does indeed experience the interplay of both forces, of both impulses. This manner of submerging oneself in the world is one of the things that our present age has lost, especially in our present-day sciences, where it has been lost many times over. As I have often pointed out, it is so easy to believe that this active, inwardly engaged manner of knowing either never existed, or that it has long since been lost to humanity—this way of knowing which submerges in the being of things and leads one beneath the surface to the real forces. But that is not so. Actually, it was not even so very long ago that men lost it. You only have to go back a little way in the course of the centuries. You will discover this inwardly active knowing persisted into times not long past.

Consider the life process. To begin with, it forms the whole out of which we are composed—indeed, we are constituted by this life process. But it is really an inner planetary system composed of seven interacting impulses. As I said before—just remember what we have been considering this week—if one wants to have real knowledge, one must accustom oneself to some paradoxes.

I said that what occurs in a human being, and what today's materialistic Darwinism is trying to discover in the human being, will not provide an explanation for what happens in man. Rather will it explain the macrocosm, the universe. And the reverse is also true: the explanation for what is within the human being will be found in the large-scale astronomical processes of the external world. To do so, however, it is necessary to submerge in the world processes and live within them. One cannot merely gaze at the world process from outside. How Sun, Moon, Mars, Jupiter, and so on, travel across the heavens is something that can be observed superficially, from the surface. But in order to experience the effect they have as they pursue their course through the cosmos, it is necessary to participate in the differentiated forces which emanate from them. In other words, one must livingly experience the differentiated forces that are at work in the universe. A distinctive force radiates from each planet.

But if you can entertain the thought that what exists within us is explained by what is to be found in the universe, you are not far removed from a further thought, one that is quite correct: a really living acquaintance with the powers that reside in the planets makes human life understandable. The spiritual science of the present seeks to understand human life on the basis of what the universe tells us about it. Such knowledge once existed. It is not necessary to go very far back into the Middle Ages to discover some extraordinary sayings that found their way into print. Nowadays, either they are not understood, or they are explained superficially. But these sayings show that there was a living understanding of these matters just a few centuries ago, even though it was an atavistic understanding:32‘O Sun, of this world thou king ...’

This verse is to be found among a series of similar verses in texts attributed to the fifteenth century author, Basilius Valentinus. They have been published repeatedly since the seventeenth century. The version used by Rudolf Steiner agrees with that in Basilius Valentinus, Chymische Schtiften, Hamburg, 1717, p.144.

O Sun, of this world thou king,
All thy race fair Luna doth sustain
And Mercury nimbly binds you in marriage,
Though all in vain lacking Venus' patronage.
As chosen man Mars sets his face,
Sustained for you is Jupiter's grace
That thereby Saturn old and grey
Himself in many colours doth array.

There you have one of these sayings, one that points to the inner, living being of the planets. It refers to the forces that are revealed when the regions of the planets are not just considered externally and superficially. This saying expresses the powers that live in the whole of the planetary system, but it expresses them so as to show how they manifest in the human sphere.

What do such sayings express? Here is a paraphrase of what is expressed: Between birth and death we live here in a physical body. This depends, by and large, on forces the Sun gives to the Earth. But other forces are also necessary to the existence of humankind. Man needs to do more than just manifest his completed form through the forces of the Sun. Humanity must be able to procreate and maintain itself and, for this, forces that emanate from the Moon are required:

All thy race fair Luna doth sustain

Furthermore, the forces that emanate from Sun and Moon are united by Mercurial impulses:

And Mercury nimbly binds you in marriage

And so the whole process already begins to become more spiritual. Our physical being—the very fact that we possess a human form—is dependent on the Sun. Thus, the Sun, taken as a physical being, is the king of this world. The Sun also exists spiritually for us, but only because the Christ has descended from the Sun to the Earth. But, taken in the first place as a physical body, it is the Sun that makes it possible for us to live as physical men on the Earth.

All thy race fair Luna doth sustain

makes the transition to the spiritual. It goes still further in that direction with:

And Mercury nimbly binds you in marriage

and still more so with:

Though all in vain lacking Venus' patronage

which is saying that the Venus impulses must radiate through the whole and warm it through, as it were, until it glows. The Venus impulse, in its turn, needs support. It needs to be connected with forces that originate in Mars. What issues from Jupiter is even more spiritual, but in a physical sense: ‘Jupiter's grace’. And only through the constant influence of the Saturn forces can a man finally make his appearance as a member of the human race. This oldest of the powers now works from the outermost periphery; it works from out of the realms of soul and spirit, enabling them to wholly penetrate the physical human constitution. Through the agency of Saturn we are not mere flesh and blood; rather are we flesh and blood that is warmed by the soul and spirit streaming through it. The most ancient of the powers in us, the power of Saturn, ‘old and grey’, enables the soul to be manifested in us:

That thereby Saturn old and grey
Himself in many colours doth array.

For our soul-spiritual nature is physically expressed by the colour of our skin. And all the colours are actually contained in this colour.

That thereby Saturn old and grey
Himself in many colours doth array.

These stiff, clumsy old verses preserve an ancient wisdom. Such wisdom once existed; it has been lost in our present-day superficiality and now we must try to find it again. From the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries onward, as the fourth post-Atlantean period came to an end, the stream of this old atavistic wisdom also ran dry. It was replaced by purely physical wisdom, which stays on the surface of things instead of entering into them. Through spiritual science we must once more seek a wisdom that enters into the nature of things. Once people spoke as we spoke yesterday and today, attempting to characterise the twelve zones of our senses and the seven impulses of life, the seven life-movements, and to show how they participate in the spiritual forces that rule the cosmos. A lost wisdom will thus begin to re-emerge; but, as this lost wisdom emerges it must be grasped in full consciousness, not as it was grasped during the period of these verses, when men were not fully conscious. The people who knew these old verses had learned them from old traditions. And if you had asked those who really felt the power of these verses within themselves how they had come by this knowledge, they would have said, ‘It is true that we know this verse, “O Sun, of this world thou king, all thy race fair Luna doth sustain ...” and that if you understand it, you understand the human life processes. But we have no idea how one comes to understand such things.’ That is how they would have answered you.

In ancient times spiritual beings taught such things. This came about through a process that was not fully conscious. The divine inspirations that descended to Earth from the spiritual world were written down in verses. The concepts and ideas of the verses preserved an ancient wisdom. This is also the reason why the loss of understanding for the spirituality of speech ran parallel to the process by which wisdom and knowledge were materialised. If we could go back to the truly historical period of the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries—not to that fable convenue that passes for history these days—we would find that people knew that speech is related to processes in the spiritual world. They did not express it in the way we have just expressed it, especially not in Europe. They did not say that the ability to speak is the result of a process that diverges from the progressive direction of evolution and is subject to ahrimanic and luciferic influences. But they had a subconscious feeling for it, knowing that human beings do not really have the right to possess speech as it is ordinarily used. Speech had to be ennobled before high spiritual truths could be compressed into holy verses. And the verses were regarded as holy. That is precisely why the truths were formulated in such verses. I have chosen a clumsily shaped verse, one that could still have been found in the late afterglow of the fourth post-Atlantean period. Nevertheless, the verse is shaped so that its very clumsiness lends it a certain festive air. The ahrimanic influences were paralysed, so to speak, by what was poured into the mould of such verses. The feeling of holiness which these verses conveyed countered ahrimanic influences with a feeling which paralysed them. Thus there is a balance. The ahrimanic that comes from without was held in balance from within by a feeling, a feeling of holiness. This led to the extraordinary attitudes toward speech that were held in ancient times, attitudes which have been lost entirely because they had to make way for an external relationship with speech and the spirit of speech.

The heralds of modern materialism appeared a short time after the beginning of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. In earlier times, speech had been regarded as a kind of gesture, a gesture that pointed to reality but is not in itself real. I have frequently attempted to clarify what this actually means. If one says, ‘dog’ or ‘wolf’ or ‘lamb’, one is using a linguistic expression. Contemporary speech theorists are unable to come to terms with these expressions because they believe that they do not refer to anything. For when we encounter one four-footed creature we call it a dog, and if some other four-footed creature of the same kind comes along, we also call it a dog. The word designates them both as dogs; the word ‘dog’ is applied to one dog and to all. People of today experience a split: words seem to hang in thin air. They no longer see the spirit in things—for them, the spirit is a non-entity—so that the things signified by the words have also become non-entities. I made this clear when I said that people claim words are merely names—that ‘lamb’ and ‘wolf’ are nothing but words. But if one pens up a wolf and feeds it with nothing but mutton—in other words, with matter from sheep—until all of its original matter has been exchanged, one can prove for oneself that these are not merely words, merely names. For now none of the original matter would be present in the wolf. But has the wolf become a thorough-going lamb? Certainly not! There is more to the ‘wolf’ than just matter. Materialistic views really are so foolish that it is very easy to disprove them. For observations such as I have just described really do quite effortlessly knock materialism out of the ring. It ceases to be possible to come to terms with words, however, when one is no longer able to consider what the wolfness of the wolf is, and the lambness of the lamb.

Nevertheless, the initial task of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch was to develop materialism. To a certain extent, it was necessary for materialism to be introduced. Therefore, this fifth post-Atlantean epoch requires one to really wrestle with the inauguration of materialism—or, better said, the initiation of the world into materialism and into materialistic thinking, feeling and experiencing. That had to come from two sides. In the first place, people had to be convinced that the salvation of humanity lay in materialism and in treating the world as nothing but matter—naturally, it was only salvation for the materialistic streams of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch, but it always was presented as being universal. In the times when people still remembered these old verses, the world was not treated as if it were nothing but matter. In those times, as is expressed in such verses, it was still possible to experience oneself as participating in the living reality radiating from the whole life of the planetary system. And such verses can be understood. But in order to do so, humanity must acquire something it has not had before: it must be able to deal with the external, mechanical, materialistic world in order to discover the next, central task of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. For, from the present time onward, spiritual science must begin to play a role in this epoch. But, as you will be able to judge from the resistance which it encounters, it will not establish its validity quickly and will only realise its full significance during the sixth post-Atlantean epoch. That is how things stand. For everything materialistic will continue to be a source of essential opposition during the whole of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. That is one aspect.

Another aspect is the way in which speech is misunderstood. Words are treated as if they have nothing to do with reality unless they directly refer to properties perceivable by the senses, and nothing else. At some time mankind had to be faced with this. Mankind had at some time to confront the assertion, ‘There are words in your language that have nothing to do with reality; in past times one thought they had, but this was the result of superstitions and unfounded preconceptions. In truth, it is necessary for you to free yourselves from the content of words, for words refer to idols.’ Thus did Bacon, Bacon of Verulam, introduce the misunderstanding of speech into our newly-arrived, fifth post-Atlantean epoch. Under the direction of the spiritual world, he began to drive out mankind's old feeling that language can contain the spirit. He referred to all substantial concepts and all universal concepts as idols. And he distinguished various categories of idols, for he went about his work very thoroughly.

Firstly, he said, there are certain words that have simply arisen out of people's need to live together. Men believe that these words designate something real. These words are idols of the clan, of the people, idols of the tribe. Then, once men start to understand the world, they attempt to mix an erroneous spirituality into their way of seeing things. The knowledge mankind obtains arises as though in a cave; but to the extent that he hauls the external world into this cave, man creates words for what he would like to know. These words also refer to something unreal. They are the idols of the cave: idola specis. There are still other kinds of idols—words, that is—that designate non-existent entities. These arise out of the fact that men are not just gathered together into races or peoples by virtue of their blood relationships, but because they also form associations in order to manage one thing and another—and, indeed, more and more is being managed, so that ultimately everything will be managed. Soon a person will not be able to walk about in the world without having a doctor on his left side and a policeman on his right to see that he is thoroughly ‘managed’. Is that not so? Bacon says that other unreal entities, along with the words that express them, have arisen because of this. These unreal entities stem from our living together in the market-place; they are the idols of the market-place: idola fori. Then, there are yet other idols which arise when science creates mere names. Naturally, there are frightfully many of this kind. For if you were to set all our lecture cycles before Bacon, with all they contain about spiritual matters, all the words referring to spiritual things would be idols of this kind. These are the idols that Bacon believes to be the most dangerous, for one feels especially protected by them, believing that they contain real knowledge: these are the idola theatri. This theatre is an inner one where mankind creates a spectacle of concepts for itself. The concepts are no more real than are the characters on the stage of a theatre. All the idols expressed in words are of these four kinds.

And learning to see through these idols is to provide the salvation of human knowledge-this was inaugurated by Bacon of Verulam. The idols must be understood, their idol-like character, their character of unreality, must be recognised, so that we can at last turn our attention towards reality. But if all these species of idols are removed, nothing remains but the five senses. Everyone can prove this for themselves. Notice has thereby been served on humanity of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch: although we need the idols and the words that express them as a kind of common currency, they are only seen in the correct light when we recognise their character as idols, their unreal character. We need them as currency for the tribe, or for individual knowledge, or the market-place we share. We even need them for scientific investigations, for the inner theatre. But only that which the hands can grasp and the eyes can see is to be accepted as real—only what can be investigated in the chemical laboratory, in the experiments of the physicist, in the clinic. The important book which gave Bacon of Verulam's doctrine of the idols to the fifth post-Atlantean epoch inaugurated this way of looking at the world; it is the classic source. And such a book shows us how the very thing that, from a certain point of view, must be resisted, nevertheless can make its appearance in the world in accordance with the rightful cosmic plan. The fifth post-Atlantean epoch had to develop materialism. Therefore the programme for materialism had to be introduced from out of the spiritual world. And the first stage of the programme of materialism is contained in the doctrine of the idols, which did away with the old Aristotelian doctrine that words refer to categories which have real significance.

Today, humanity is already very advanced along the course of regarding anything that is not perceivable by the senses as idols. Bacon is the great inaugurator of the science of idols. Why, then, should the spiritual world not employ the same head that was intended to draw mankind's attention to the idol-like character of speech, to introduce also the practical details of what more or less appears to be a materialistic paradise on earth? In any case, it was essential to present it in a light that would seem paradisiacal to the materialistic frame of mind that had to emerge in the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. This age needed some corresponding practical ideal. An age which had these views on language was bound to respond to the idea or applying its mechanics to neighbouring spheres of the heavens. Thus the ideals of the materialism of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch are born from the same head that gave us the doctrine of idols. One of the not-yet-fulfilled ideals that you can find in Bacon is the idea of artificially-created weather. But that will come! This ideal from Bacon's Nova Atlantis will also be fulfilled. In Bacon we encounter for the first time the idea of airships that can be guided, and the idea of boats that can submerge. This far we already have progressed in the intervening time. For Bacon, Bacon of Verulam, the great inaugurator, was also a practical materialist, capable of conceiving of these practical mechanisms that are appropriate to our fifth post-Atlantean period.

One can always discover impulses that are intruding, as though from the substrata of the world, when one is trying to strike the fundamental character of a particular period of time. Inventions for controlling the weather, for sailing in the air, for sailing under the sea, belong with those of the theory of idols. Those are ideas and ideals that belong together, and so it is that they appear in the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. These things must be judged objectively. One needs to see clearly that words can be employed differently without either viewing them as idols or by turning them into idols. There is a plan behind human evolution. Gradually, according to plan, various impulses appear in the course of evolution. Now that the theory of idols and all that is contained in Nova Atlantis has made its appearance, the last remnants of the great atavistic spiritual theories, views and experiences have been extinguished. So this ground must be recaptured by a newly-appearing spiritual science, proceeding now in the full light of consciousness. During the fourth Atlantean Epoch, someone formulated the ideas that introduced materialism into the ancient Atlantean period. This is described in my writings. Just as it was necessary, in the fourth epoch of Atlantis, for the materialism of Atlantis to be formulated in the head of an old Atlantean, so the fifth post-Atlantean epoch needed its Nova Atlantis, which has a similar function for this epoch. These things cannot be grasped unless they are considered in the light of spiritual science. A person who can observe the fine details of history will find these deeper connections. But today a foundation in spiritual science is necessary. For ordinary history is just a fable convenue; it only says what the various nations, races, peoples and citizens want to hear. Real history has to be obtained from the spiritual world.

Personalities like Lord Bacon, Bacon of Verulam, more or less set the tone of an age. In the case of such persons, the biography is of much less importance than what is revealed by their place in the entire process of developing humanity.