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The Cosmic Prehistoric Ages of Mankind
GA 184

I. The Threefoldness of Space and the Unity of Time

20 September 1918, Dornach

I have often spoken to you of how the human soul has altered in the course of mankind's development, how short-sighted it is to believe that the constitution of the modern soul can be understood if one will not look back to the different changes it has passed through. We look back — I do not need to recapitulate it — to the most varied epochs of earthly evolution; we have in particular often characterised the post-Atlantean epochs in order to show how the constitution of man's soul continually altered. In speaking of such things one must advance from the abstract to the concrete. One must try to give as clear an answer as possible to the question: What was the nature of the human soul in the ages of antiquity? We look back to a far-off age in which — and this may be stated in more than a figurative sense — divine teachers themselves instructed men about the sacred mysteries of existence. We know that from this ancient epoch onwards men have come to learn of these mysteries of existence in most manifold ways. From epoch to epoch the conceptions of the human soul have actually become more and more different. The concepts and ideas which we have today, which live in us and which we put every moment into words, these lived too in earlier conditions of our soul but in an utterly different way. Many of our most ordinary ideas lived quite differently. Today I will speak of what are apparently the most ordinary concepts, two concepts living in man's soul. People denote them at every moment from their word-store, but they lived in the human soul in earlier times in an entirely different way. I will speak of the two concepts: Space and Time.

Space for modern man is the most abstract thing conceivable. What do men mostly picture as space? Three dimensions standing at right angles to each other — or if one reads philosophical text books: the state of extension of physical objects — or there are still other definitions of space. But all that — think how prosaic, cold, abstract, that all is! Three dimensions standing at right angles to one another, or even all that geometry has to say about space, — how frightfully abstract, how prosaic and poverty-stricken, so poverty-stricken that the whole of space — with time as well — has become for Kant subjective shadow, merely a form of conceiving sense-phenomena. This abstraction, space, of which modern man knows little more than that it has length, breadth and height, this abstraction, space, was a very different conception in the far past, of which, however, something still exists today for especially sensitive people — though indeed it is only a trace. One need not go back so extremely far; in the 6th, 7th, 8th pre-Christian centuries one may definitely say that space, as it was then experienced, was very different for the human soul from the prosaic abstraction that it is for man today. Even in the early Greek ages when the soul experienced space, it felt it to be something with which it was livingly united. It felt itself placed into a living Something, in feeling itself placed into space.

Today man has at most a vestige of the sense of standing with his personality, his human self within space. But the man of antiquity expressed a significant relation of himself to the universe, if he distinguished above and below, right and left, in front and behind. The living feeling that one expressed when in ancient times one spoke of above and below, of right and left, of before and behind, has terribly little to do with our abstract three dimensions, which have no other occupation at all than standing at right angles to each other. What a very monotonous occupation it would be through eternity, if one did nothing else at all but stand at right angles to one another like the three dimensions of geometry.

Above and below: it was something living when in ancient times man still experienced how he was first a little child and raised himself from below upwards, when he felt how the course of life consists in an unfolding in the direction of above and below. The course of life consisted in the experience of the direction of above and below. One only travels a tiny distance from the earth (unless one lives in the Ahrimanic age of aeroplanes, or in the Atlantean age but there it was not very high above the earth — you know of this from my description of Atlantis), only a very little distance in normal life does one travel upwards from the earth in growing, and thus experience the above and below, the opposition of above and below. But this opposition was felt in antiquity as the contrast of the world of consciousness and the objective world, — of the conscious and the unconscious world. How subject is related to object — that was a deep experience when one felt above and below. Above, and ever farther and farther upwards come the divine worlds, downwards the worlds which are opposed to the Gods, and the human being is placed within the Above and Below.

As late as to such men as Goethe (you only need study his “Faust”) you still find remains of the consciousness of above and below. In addition to the above and below men felt the right, and left. Today we must use abstractions if we speak of right and left. To the man of antiquity a living in right and left was an actual experience, one might say a genuine world of observation. The Above and Below is the line from infinity to infinity or from the conscious to the unconscious. Right and left: in experiencing right and left one experienced the connection in the world between mind and figure, between wisdom and form. You only need draw a symmetry-axis, what is left and right of it gives together the form and you cannot combine the right and the left without doing it purposefully, without relating the one to the other.

If above and below is pointing to man's mysterious relation to the spiritual and material worlds, then the experience of right and left is his relation to the worlds spreading out in form. And by relating the form in the right and left to one another, by letting wisdom prevail in the forms arranged symmetrically right and left, he experiences himself in the second element of space. This experience of sense in the shape, of wisdom in the form in all possible variations, this feeling of oneself within this harmony of sense and shape, of wisdom and form, was experienced by the man of old as what today is the abstract second dimension. The above and below, the right and left belonged to the flat plane, to the surface which can have no existence for the senses, which requires thickness, needs before and behind if it is to exist in the element of the sense-perceptible.

And in this third, in the before and behind, ancient mankind felt the entrance of the material into the spiritual. (See diagram) Above and below, left and right he experienced as something still spiritual. It can have no material existence if something is merely above and below, and right and left — it is pure picture, must be pure picture in space; it becomes material only through thickness. In ancient times man felt vividly that in growing he made a few steps upwards from the earths surface in the direction of the above and below. He felt that in walking, he could move freely that he was in the element of his will: before and behind. In between stood the completely free self-movement to right and left while standing still.

Ancient man experienced in his being this threefold contrast as placed into the All; the remaining still with regard to right and left, the striding into the world with regard to before and behind, the gradual movement from below upwards in the direction of the above-below. This was the experience of the man of old. In experiencing the above and below he felt weaving in the universe all that today we call the intelligence, the reasoning of the universe. All that rules in the universe as intelligence was interwoven in space with his idea of the above and below, end since he could share in this intelligence of the world through his growth from below upwards, man felt himself to be intelligent. The participation in the above and below was at the same time a participation in cosmic intelligence. And participation in the right and left, in the interweaving of sense and shape, of wisdom and form, was for him the feeling that weaves through the world. And his restful remaining still, surveying the world, was to him a uniting of his own feeling with the universal feeling. His striding through space in the direction of forwards or back was the unfolding of his will, the placing of himself, with his own will, into the universe, the universal will, He felt his own life to be interwoven with the above and below, the right and left, the before and behind. The conscious and the unconscious: above and below; wisdom and form: right and left; spirit and matter: in front and behind. Such was the experience of the man of antiquity.

At the same time, however, he experienced the indefinite — if I put it crudely — when one stands on one's head then the under is above and the above under. So too is it for the antipodes, and if one counts oneself in with the earth, the below is above and the above underneath. One can imagine too through some circumstance or other that what is normally right is in front, what is normally left is behind. These directions are just as living and weaving in space as in a certain respect they are indistinguishable, weaving into one another. Ancient man felt as he thus experienced himself in the three-divisioned space that the Divinity ruled in the threefoldness. The divine ruling in space directed man then to the divine in duration.

He experienced — and what I am saying now was actually experienced — he experienced in space the divine manifestation, ruling in threefold manner. It was the image in him of the threefold God: Father, Son and Spirit or by what other terms the three-membered God was known. Threefoldness is truly not thought out in the mind, is not an invention. The threefoldness with all its qualities was experienced in its reflection when ancient man experienced livingly the three dimensions of space.

And just as in a certain respect want of clearness can prevail about the above and below, just as right and left can also be before and behind, so in certain circumstances an uncertainty can also enter into the reciprocal relationships of God, Son, Spirit. In the sphere of the transitory, the sphere of space, man experienced the three dimensions concretely, not abstractly or geometrically as we do. And as he experienced concretely how the divine expressed itself in space, in the transitory, he therefore related the transitory to the element of duration; the three-dimensioned space became for him the reflected image of the three-dimensioned spirituality.

The idea of ancient man was approximately: If I live here below on earth I live in the threefoldness of space, but this is to me the reflected proof of the threefold nature of the divine origin of the world.

Today space has become an abstraction and only a few people perceive the depth-dimension, the thickness-dimension, that is, the above and below, the in front and behind, or the plane-dimension of right and left. Even among philosophers little of this experience is to be found. But yet some few who reflect on things and are not entirely asleep come to realise that the depth-dimension really arises in the unconscious observation lying not so very far below the consciousness. Men still feel the depth, but that is the last shadowy relic of space-experience. In the evolved religions an understanding for the Oneness of God has taken precedence of the real understanding of the threefoldness. The understanding for the unity of God has an origin similar to that for the threefold nature of God through space.

My dear friends, spiritual science seeks its information out of the divine facts themselves. Simple-minded people that come and say that no external proof for this or that is given. Well, we have gone into a great deal. I could still relate many things, but it shall not occupy our time today. I will only point out that it is largely the unscientific nature of modern science, so-called, if the verification cannot be found. Just this one thing I will say, and it is as it were an external proof of the fact that the man of antiquity felt in the same way I have described today. Why have the ancient Rabbis called God also Space? Because in earlier time, even in Judaism, they felt what I have shown you today concerning mankind. If science could really think in different domains it would find countless riddles which at the same time, however, are true proof, external proof of what spiritual science has at any rate to find out of the spiritual facts. One of the names for God among the Rabbis is Space; Space and God denote the same.

The unity of the divine has an origin similar to that of the threefoldness of the divine. It is connected with the living experience of Time. Time too was not the abstraction to the man of old that it is to us today. But the concrete experience of time was lost still earlier than the concrete experience of space. If one reads Plato or Aristotle today with a real understanding, and not in the way many schoolmasters read — well, I have often quoted the note written by Hebbel in his diary where the reincarnated Plato sits before the schoolmaster as a pupil, and the teacher reads a dialogue of Plato's with his class and the reincarnated Plato is given very poor marks. Hebbel noted this in his diary. One who reads Plato and Aristotle today, not as is often done by a schoolmaster, but with really deep understanding, finds that this feeling for space was still fully in existence in the 6th, 7th, 8th pre-Christian centuries. It was however already shadowy in Plato and Aristotle, and the living experience of time was lost still earlier than those pre-Christian centuries. It was strongly alive in the second post-Atlantean epoch the ancient Persian, where a cold shiver would have been produced among, for instance, the pupils of Zarathustra, if one had spoken to them of time as a line running from the past to the future. It runs quite uniformly, but does nothing else than run its course from the past to the future.

Again in the Gnosis there existed a more shadowy feeling — but scarcely still to be recognised — for the living nature of time. They did not speak of a line running from past to future but they spoke of Aeons, the creators who were there earlier and from whom the later proceeded, where one Aeon always passed on the impulse of creation to others. Time was so imagined pictorially that in the hierarchical succession the preceding Being always gave the impulse to the one following; the following was ever, as it were, brought forth by the preceding, the preceding Being enclosed the next following. One looked up to the preceding Being, as more divine than the one succeeding. “Later” one experienced as more non-divine, “earlier” one experienced as more divine. This looking towards the change in evolution from the divine to the non-divine was contained in the living experience of time. Everything would fall apart if one were not to weave the divine and the non-divine to a unity. That is identical with our modern abstractions of past and future.

But in this picture of time, looking right back to the “Ancient of Days”, and encompassing the ever more and more encompassing, one experienced the image of God as Unity. Just as the three-divisioned, threefold Space was experienced as the image of the threefoldness of God, so was Time experienced as the image of the oneness of God. The basis of monotheism lies in the ancient time-experience, the basis for perceiving the Trinity lies in the ancient space-experience. Thus has the constitution of man's soul changed, thus has what was once alive became abstract and dry. However paradoxical this may sound: modern man most certainly has an abstract picture when he speaks of space, and he pictures or so I believe — a living relationship when he speaks of a friend. But that concreteness, that elementary experience, which today speaks from friend to friend, that is still abstract in comparison with the intensive experience of the universe which ancient man had when he experienced space and time, which to him were the images of the Unity and Trinity of the Divine.

Thus have we become dry and abstract in respect of space and time, and something else must take their place, something that we must again experience, that must be more and more inwardly realised. We must learn to feel that duality, that contrast in the world of which I have spoken during recent weeks. My dear friends, think for once that someone were to see only the rippled surface of water. This crinkly, rippled water-surface is in fact an abstract line. What is the concrete? There below, the water; there above, the air. And out of the duality air and water, in the co-operation of their forces, there arises the maya, the rippled surface. But so is our world the rippled surface, so too are we as men if we behold ourselves only as we look within maya; if we behold ourselves in reality then here too we must see: below, the water; above, the air.

Below the water — we see it if we observe transitory evolution, as I have brought it before you recently, where man develops in such a way that what he can conceive as a child he would grasp only as an old man. What he conceives in the age of puberty, he knows somewhat earlier, but still only towards old age. I depicted the course of human life, where it is only in old age that one grasps in oneself what one has been in childhood and youth. Life runs thus not apparently, but in reality on the surface, I have said that perhaps one does not need such a perspective today for life on the surfaces but for dying one needs it. — That the conception of the below; and belonging to it, the conception of the real above the region of duration. I spoke of this region in a recent lecture, 115th September 1918 where man does not evolve, but has that which belongs to duration his whole life through from birth to death. But we cannot consider today how the below and the above interweave, if we do not realise the below, there where it threatens to become fixed, where it threatens to harden; and if we do not realise the above there where it threatens to dissolve, to spiritualise itself — if we do not develop the feeling for the contrast: the Divine — the Luciferic the Ahrimanic. Man of old had something alive in his soul when he spoke of his space-experience, his time-experience; the man of the Earth-future must develop inner concepts, inner impulses representing: Divine — Ahrimanic Luciferic.