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Polarities in the Evolution of Mankind
GA 197

Lecture I

March 5, 1920

The challenges presented by our age really have to be faced by every individual human being today. I have made it quite clear on a number of occasions that to understand the way individuals need to face those challenges we must be aware of how human evolution progresses all over the globe. The whole course of human evolution can only be clearly understood if we gain more profound insight into the powers that intervene in the course of earth evolution as a whole and also in human lives.

I have used a number of different approaches to show that as human beings we are part of an ongoing evolution that may be said to be taking its normal course. Spiritual science enables us to follow its progress over extended periods of time. I have also pointed out that there are certain powers that have different goals for mankind than the powers who desire to guide humankind in the normal course of evolution, a course during which the earth repeatedly comes to physical manifestation. Some of those powers we would call luciferic, others ahrimanic. I have spoken of this a number of times. It is necessary to take a very serious view of these things today, but our hearts and minds cannot really achieve this serious mood unless we pay proper attention to the way these luciferic and ahrimanic powers intervene directly in human lives.

As you know, a new era in human evolution started during the 15th century, very different from anything that went before. Thinking of this you will want to be aware of the many ways in which life is different in the present age, which had its beginning in the 15th century, if we compare it to the preceding age. We may say that one particular feature of the present age is that intellectual thinking has developed since the middle of the 15th century. Humankind has to undergo a major process of education in the course of Earth evolution. Part of it is this training of the intellect. Human beings had to find out, as it were, how human life can be lived when the emphasis is on intellectual thinking. They could never have been raised to be truly free individuals if the intellectual principle had not become part of them. We have no clear idea today of the extent to which people differed from us before the middle of the 15th century, particularly in this respect. We tend to take the things we are given for granted, without giving them much thought. We are now generally dealing with the peoples of civilized countries who are inclined to think with the intellect, and we have come to believe that people have always been thinking like this. That is not the case, however, Before the middle of the 15th century people were thinking in a different way. They simply did not think in the abstract terms in which we think today. Their thinking was very much more vivid and concrete, immediately bound up with the objects of the world around them. They were much more bound up with the feelings and will impulses that can be experienced in the human soul. We are living very much in our thoughts, though we are not sufficiently aware of this. We are not even aware of the source from which this way of thinking, the intellectual approach which we take so much for granted, has evolved. We shall have to go a long way back in human evolution to get a real understanding of the origins of this way of thinking, this intellectualism. Another question we must ask ourselves is whether anything still remains of the human activity out of which our thinking has evolved.

You know that older evolutionary forces persist into later ages and continue to be present side by side with those that are normal to the age in question. This also applies to our thinking. Reminders, echoes of thinking, of an activity similar to our thinking are experienced in our dreams, when a whole world of images emerges from our night time sleep. Experience teaches us to distinguish between the world of thoughts we evolve between waking up and going to sleep and the world of dream images which we experience in an entirely passive way. If we go back to earlier times in human evolution we find that the further back we go the more does the life of the soul during waking hours come to resemble the mental activity we know in our dreams today. Present-day thinking is the fruit of later stages of evolution. During earlier stages along this path the human soul developed activities more akin to dreaming. If we follow this dreamlike activity of the human soul a long way back we find ourselves going beyond Earth evolution as we know it. We come to a time when the earth had taken a physical form in the cosmos that preceded the present one. We have got used to calling it the Old Moon evolution. Human beings were part of this as well, but in an entirely different form. During that Moon evolution, i.e. the time when the earth materialized in a form that preceded the present one, the human being, the true ancestor of modern man, was still completely etheric. His soul became active in a way that was definitely dreamlike, consisting of dream images. The peculiar thing about this was that it related to the outer world in a way that is quite different from the soul activity we know as thinking. I would say that when our soul is active in thought we find ourselves rather isolated within the world. The world is outside us, it has its own processes. We reflect on those processes in our minds, but just when we think we are reflecting most profoundly on those external processes we actually feel ourselves entirely outside them. Indeed we often feel that we are best able to think about those external processes if we keep ourselves well isolated from them, withdrawing into ourselves. The human ancestor who was dreamy in his thinking, if I may put it like this, did not have that feeling. Developing in his way in his dreams what we develop in our way when we are thinking, he knew himself to be intimately bound up in everything he experienced with what went on in the world. We see the clouds, we think about them, but we do not feel that the powers alive in the clouds are also alive in our thinking. Our human ancestor did have the feeling that the powers alive in a cloud were also alive in his thinking. This ancestor said—and I must translate what he said into our language, for his language was a silent one compared to ours: The powers that are alive and active in the cloud out there produce images in my mind. He saw himself no more isolated from the great universe in which the cloud revealed its essential nature than my little finger is able to think itself isolated from the rest of me. If I were to cut it off it would wither; it would no longer be my finger. The human ancestor felt that he could not exist apart from the universe that belonged to him. My little finger might well say: The blood which pulses through the whole of the body also pulses within me; the whole of my organic life is governed by the same laws as the organic life of the rest of the body. The human ancestor said: I am part of the universe; the power that pulses within me as I evolve images is the same as the power that is alive and active in the forming of clouds. That is how the human ancestor felt himself to be closely related, intimately bound up, with the whole world.

We need to feel isolated from everything that goes on outside us in our thinking, as though the umbilical cord has been cut and we are separate from the essential origins and causes of the existing world. In ordinary life we are not aware of the pulses beating throughout the universe. Our thinking has grown abstract. Our thinking tells us nothing, as it were, of what is alive and active within it. This provides the actual potential for the freedom of human beings, a freedom where we do not feel that something is thinking in us but that we ourselves do the thinking.

The human ancestor was unable to form ideas independently of the universe as a whole. The human ancestor felt himself to be bound up with the existing world; he knew that this existing world contained more than just abstract forces of nature. He knew that power was also wielded by entities that differed from human beings, entities that did not have a physical body such as the human body, though human beings might feel that they had citizenry of the universe in common with them. The ancestor was not aware of ‘forces of nature’; he felt himself to be in communion with nature spirits. Today we may say that everything that happens in nature follows the laws of nature, and we are part of that nature. For the human ancestor who lived in a far distant past it was natural to say that everything that happened in nature outside himself happened out of will impulses of the spirits of nature. We say the earth attracts the bodies that are on it due to gravity, and according to the law of gravity the gravitational pull decreases at a rate that is proportional to the square of the distance between the two objects. We call this a special case of a law of nature. When we speak of nature we base ourselves on such abstract notions. The human ancestor knew that an essential spiritual element was present in the phenomenon we have made into an abstract gravitational force.

Certain spiritual powers who may be said to be involved in human evolution thus developed a relationship to human beings. This would normally cease the moment Earth evolution proper began for the human being. At that point human beings would be released from the tutelage of those spiritual powers, powers they had felt to be flowing and floating into them during the Old Moon stage. So we must ask ourselves what it was that made human beings grow independent of the guidance of spirits with whom they had felt at one, however dimly. It happened when the mineral kingdom became part of human nature. In those far distant times of which I have just spoken, human beings did not yet have the mineral kingdom within them. Their organization would not have been perceptible to our present-day sense organs, for it did not yet include mineral elements.

To grasp this without getting caught up in preconceived notions we need to consider what it truly means when an organism includes the mineral kingdom. People tend to be superficial in their thinking about such things. We look at a mineral, a stone, and quite rightly consider it to be the way it presents itself to our observation. Then, however, we look at a plant in exactly the same way we look at a stone. In reality it is not the actual plant we see. A plant is really something entirely beyond sensory perception. Consider a system of forces that in a sense has the qualities of an image. Its relationship to the mineral kingdom is that this otherwise invisible organization soaks up the mineral kingdom and the forces that are active between individual component elements in the kingdom. I have a plant before me. It is an invisible system of forces that absorbs mineral principles from the mineral kingdom. The result is that the mineral aspect occupies the space also occupied by the invisible system of forces. I see this mineral aspect, though it is merely something the plant, which is not perceptible to the senses, has absorbed. That is how it is even with a plant. When we talk about plants today we are really talking only of the minerals contained within them and not about the plants themselves. It is important that we clearly understand this in the case of a plant, for it also applies to animals and humans, only more so.

During the Old Moon stage, then, human beings did not have this mineral inclusion. Human beings living on the present earth have been made in such a way that they need the mineral kingdom, having absorbed the mineral kingdom and its forces into them, as it were. What significance does this have for human nature? In the first place human beings acquired a mineral body for thinking in images the way they did at the earlier stage. As evolution progressed the mineral human body provided the basis for intellectual thinking. This happened at a relatively late state, from the middle of the 15th century onwards, having been a long time in preparation.

Modern intellectual thinking is based on the fact that human beings have received a mineral body into them. As human beings we need a mineral body first and foremost to be able to think. The older form of thinking in images had been based on what we call the third elemental kingdom. The mineral kingdom had the function to transform this pre-earthly form of thinking into our earthly way of forming ideas on the basis of thought. Within the great scheme of things the spirits with whom human beings had to feel themselves connected, in forming those ideas that were images in the distant past, were then relieved of their function. We will have to picture those spirits rather differently from the way we are accustomed to picture non-human entities. People, even people of good will who may admit that there is more to life than is apparent to the senses, tend to stick too close to the human form. This anthropomorphism takes over whenever people try and create an image in their minds of anything that is above the human sphere. It is easy to accuse Feuerbach and Buechner1 Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach, German philosopher. Referring to Feuerbach's anthropomorphism, Rudolf Steiner repeatedly quoted from his book Das Wesen des Christentums (1841), e.g. in a lecture given in Dornach on 15 October 1921 (Anthroposophie als Kosmosophie, GA 207, English title Cosmosophy).

Ludwig Buechner, German physician and materialist philosopher.
of being anthropomorphists. We have seen more than enough of this kind of thing. We have seen the legal way of thinking evolve in the Western world, with earthly misdeeds and crimes judged by earthly judges who impose penalties, and so on. The rewards and punishment meted out for sins, i.e. for something belonging to a sphere beyond this earth and seen more as imperfections in the Christian faith, have gradually come to look more like the proceedings in an earthly court of law. The religious ideas of the West have a great deal of human jurisprudence in them. We let the gods mete out punishments of the kind we know earthly courts of law impose. If we truly wish to get beyond the merely human we must firmly decide not to think in entirely human terms. We must think beyond anything anthropomorphic, and that indeed is what really matters in human life. That is the approach we must use if we want to see clearly that the spirits who influenced the thinking in images which human beings had at the time of the Old Moon lost that function in the normal progress of human evolution but are not prepared to accept this with good grace. We might ask why they do not submit to the will of the gods who guide normal progress. They simply do not. We have to accept that as a fact. The original intention was that they should only influence dreams within the human sphere and everything related to dreaming. In the context of today's lecture we refer to them as luciferic spirits. Their proper sphere would be everything that has to do with dreaming and anything related to this. They are not satisfied with this, however. They haunt the human way of thinking that has evolved out of their own sphere, human thinking now bound to the mineral sphere. When we allow anything that normally rules our dreams, the life of the imagination, to enter into our thinking we fall prey in our thinking to luciferic nature, to the influence of spirits that should only have influenced the old form of thinking in images that belonged to the human ancestors. They have retained their power and instead of limiting themselves to our dreaming, our life of the imagination, our creative artistic work, they are constantly trying to influence our thoughts and make them dependent on impulses similar to those that existed in pre-earthly times. Our thinking is still greatly influenced by elements coming from this source, by the luciferic principle.

It is justifiable to ask in all seriousness what powers are these that have such an influence on our thinking. These influences arise from the sphere where we human beings are still rightfully dreaming and rightfully asleep above all else. They come from the sphere of our feelings and emotions. We experience our feelings the way we normally experience dreams and we experience our will the way we experience sleep. There we are still rightly cocooned in a world which becomes a luciferic world as soon as it evolves in our thinking. We therefore will not manage our evolution as human beings properly unless we make the effort to evolve other thoughts as well, thoughts increasingly independent of mere feelings and emotions, of anything arising in us out of dreamlike inner experience even when we are fully awake. Theoretical principles will not help us achieve this, only life itself can do so. We find, however, that the mental habits humankind has acquired put up great resistance to the cultivation of mind and soul that is needed. We must be on the lookout for this resistance. We find that in the present time in particular people are not prepared to listen to anything that does not arise from their own inner prejudices, their feeling of how things should go, their personal preferences. They are not in the habit of listening to anything which in a way has been decided independently of human beings, requiring merely their consent. I should like to give you a brief example which I used on one occasion to explain to someone that there is an important difference with regard to what human beings are thinking.

Many years ago I gave a lecture in a town in southern Germany—today it is no longer in southern Germany—on the wisdom taught in the Christian faith.2 ‘Die Weisheitslehren des Christentums in Lichte der Theosophie’ (The wisdom taught in the Christian faith in the light of Theosophy),Colmar, 21 November 1905 (no written record in existence).—As you know, it is always necessary to limit the subject matter presented in a particular lecture and one can only speak within that context. When people hear just a single lecture, such a single lecture will impress one person in one way and another in a different way, particularly if one has been objective and dispassionate in presenting the subject. It certainly would not be possible for anyone to get an idea concerning the total philosophy that lies behind a single lecture if they just listened to that one lecture. If the wisdom taught within the Christian faith is the subject for example, it will of course be impossible to conclude from the contents of the lecture what the speaker thinks about the connection between light and electricity, say. It is therefore possible for something to happen the way it did on that occasion. I spoke about the wisdom taught within the Christian faith and two Roman Catholic priests were in the audience. They came up to me afterwards and said: ‘No objection can be raised to what you have been saying’—this by the way was many years ago now—‘but we have to say that whilst it is true that we say the same thing we do say it in such a way the everybody can understand it’. My reply was: ‘Reverend fathers, surely it is like this: You or I may have some kind of inner feeling that we are speaking for everybody, but that is not the point, for that is a subjective feeling. After all it is perfectly natural—if we go entirely by our feeling I, too, must believe that I am speaking for everybody, just as you think you do; that is self-evident; otherwise we would do it differently. But we are now living in an age when our belief that something is justifiable does not count. We need to let the facts speak for themselves. We must learn to look to the facts. Subjectively you believe you are speaking for everybody. But now let me ask you about the facts. Does everybody still come to your church? That would show that you are speaking for everybody. You see, I speak to those who do not come to your church to hear you speak. My words are for those who also have the right to hear of the wisdom taught in Christianity.’ That is how we must take our orientation from what the facts have to tell.

It is necessary for us to tear ourselves away from our subjective feelings. If we do not do so the luciferic element will enter into our thinking. We would not have gone through the truly dreadful campaign of untruthfulness that has gone around the world in the last five years, the final consequence of something that has long been in preparation, if people had learned to pay rightful attention to what the facts have to tell and not to their emotions, with nationalists the worst in stirring up such emotions.

On the one hand there is the absolute necessity today to do something about our thinking and to comply even if something goes against the grain. On the other hand people dislike having to be so true to reality that one looks to the facts for guidance.

We shall not be able to attain to the higher worlds and the knowledge to be gained there if we do no train ourselves in rigid adherence to the facts of the external world. Once you have got at least to some extent into the habit of liking to hear the facts you will often suffer tortures when people of the present age want to tell you something. Very often the kind of thing you hear people say is: ‘Oh, someone said something and that was frightful, quite terrible!’ Terrible in what way? You say is was terrible but that only tells me how you felt about it. I really want to hear exactly what it was. ‘Well, it really was terrible what was said there…’ And these people simply do not understand. All the time they want to describe their subjective feelings concerning the matter, whilst you want to hear an objective report of what they actually saw. It is especially when people tell you something someone else has told them, that it is quite impossible to tell if they are simply passing on what they have heard or if they have actually looked into the matter they are talking about. This is an area where one has to remind people again and again that truthfulness concerning the knowledge to be found in supersensible spheres can only be achieved if we train ourselves as far as possible to adhere closely to the facts in the sense-perceptible world. That is the only way in which human beings can overcome the luciferic elements that stream into their thoughts—by learning to base ourselves on the facts.

On the one hand mankind is open to luciferic influences, on the other to ahrimanic influences. It had to be said that thinking here on earth evolved from earlier stages of human soul life when human beings absorbed a mineral body, as it were. This mineral body is indeed the organ for the earthly way of thinking. It does however bring it predominantly into the sphere of the powers we call ahrimanic.

We can of course become aware of the need to base ourselves on the facts, on a real world that will get us out of the habit of being swayed by our subjective emotions. We must not, however, fall prey to the kind of thinking that is nothing but an inner activity arising from the mineral body. Here we come upon a truth that many people find highly unpalatable.

You know how some are idealists or spiritualists and others are materialists. There is plenty of discussion in the world as to which is the right approach, spiritualism or materialism. All these debates are of no value whatsoever for certain regions of the human organization. Human beings can develop in two ways. We can use the mineral body we have absorbed into ourselves as the instrument for our thinking, and indeed we have to use it, otherwise we would merely be dreaming. But we can also rise beyond this instrument in our thoughts; we can develop a spiritual point of view, spiritual vision. If we do this we will of course have been thinking with the aid of our material organization, but we will have used this to reach a further stage of human development, ascending to the world of the spirit as a result. On the other hand we can stop at the point where as earth beings we let our mineral body do the thinking. It is perfectly able to do so. That in fact is the danger, and materialism cannot be said to be wrong in its views, particularly where thinking is concerned. This mineral body is no mere photographic print. It is able to think for itself, though its thinking is subject to the limits of life on earth. We need to raise the experience our mineral body is able to give us into the spheres that lie beyond sensory perception.

It is therefore possible to say that it may indeed be true that human thoughts are merely something exuded by the human mineral organization. That may indeed be right, but human beings must first do it right.

Human beings have the freedom to develop on earth in such a way that they are merely the product of matter. Animals cannot do this; they do not get to the point where mineral inclusion leads to the development of thinking activity. Animals cannot choose to prove the truth of the materialistic point of view. Human beings are at liberty to prove the truth of the materialistic point of view; all it needs is the will to do so out of a materialistic attitude to life.

Human freedom is such that people are indeed free to make materialism come true for the human kingdom, that is, they can take a course that will lead to human beings on earth concerning themselves only with material things. Fundamentally speaking, therefore, it is a matter of choice if we become materialists. If we are strong enough to bring to realization what people are told is a materialistic attitude then this attitude will be made to come true by human beings.

This influence on human beings comes from ahrimanic powers. They want to keep everything connected with Earth evolution at the point which has been reached for human beings by that very Earth evolution—that is the point of having a mineral organization. They want to make human beings perfect, but only as far as their mineral organization is concerned. The luciferic powers want to keep human beings, who now have acquired a mineral organization, at the earlier stage that was right for them before they acquired a mineral organization. So we have two powers pulling at the traces, luciferic and ahrimanic powers. The luciferic spirits want to get human beings to a point where they finally cast off their mineralized bodies and go through an evolution that has no relevance in earth life and has merely been an episode in earth life. The luciferic spirits aim for the gradual elimination of everything relating to the earth from the whole evolution of mankind. The ahrimanic spirits aim to take firm hold of this earthly, mineral aspect of human beings, isolate it from progressive evolution and let it stand on its own. That is how luciferic and ahrimanic spirits are pulling in different directions.

It is absolutely vital that having presented the large outline we now come to apply this to ordinary everyday life. We do not consider a U-shaped bar of iron to be a horse-shoe when it is in fact a magnet. In the same way we really should not consider human life to be entirely the way it may appear on the outside. If you shoe a horse with magnets you fail to realize that a magnet has more to it than a horse-shoe. Yet it happens quite often nowadays that people speak of human life exactly like someone who shoes his horse with magnets rather than with horse-shoes. People have no hesitation in speaking of positive and negative electricity in the inorganic sphere, or of positive and negative magnetism, yet they hesitate to speak of luciferic and ahrimanic elements in human life. These are just as effective in human life as positive and negative magnetism are in the inorganic sphere. It is just that the idea of positive and negative magnetism is more easily understood. It does not take as much effort to grasp it as it does to grasp the idea that there are luciferic and ahrimanic elements. That is also the reason why we shall only learn to deal with the empty talk one hears today, empty talk that turns into lies, by knowing that it is luciferic by nature.

Similarly we shall only learn to deal with everything that shows itself here and there as the materialistic point of view by knowing that it is ahrimanic by nature. In future mere external characterization will not get us anywhere when we want to understand human life; all we would be doing is talk around the subject and commit the most stupid of errors when we try and apply such ideas to real life. One thing we would not be doing is to see human life in such a way that social impulses can be gained from our knowledge of human institutions. This has a very much to do with the utter seriousness required when looking at everything connected with evolutionary trends where humankind is concerned. We cannot gain understanding of the life we are now living unless we raise our vision from earthly concerns to spheres beyond this earth. There is a particular point to this.

Looking back into earlier stages of human evolution—though not as far back as those I have spoken of earlier—people generally base themselves on such historical documents as are available. There are historians—well-known names—who say that the history of humankind is made up of everything to be found in the written records. If you start from such a definition of history, like the historian Leopold von Ranke, you will obviously arrive at a particular kind of history. The art of writing is itself part of history, however, it has evolved from something else, and in real terms one cannot do anything with this kind of definition.

We need only go back as far as Chaldean-Babylonian times, to ancient Egyptian times, and we shall find that at that period of human evolution human beings still related to the cosmos in a very different way. People today have no real idea of what it meant to connect one's life to the course of the stars, the planets, and their position relative to the fixed stars of the zodiac. These things have become an empty abstraction nowadays. Do you think a modern astrologer delving into ancient astrological writings to compile his horoscopes—if at least he does search through the old writings, and does not produce new ones; the new ones are terrible!—has even the slightest idea of the living connection which the ancient Egyptians and Chaldeans felt to exist between human beings and the movements and positions of the stars viewed from the earth? Everything is different today. It has to be said that an important part of human evolution since those times has been the narrowing down of human awareness to the physical world. What did those Egyptians know of the earth? It was the ground under their feet. They knew more about the heavens. They moved in the vertical in gaining their experience. The ancient Greeks did not yet go into the horizontal either; they, too, gained their experience by going vertically. The vertical came to be reduced as the horizontal started to spread. The maximum limitation human beings experienced in their knowledge of the heavens came with the great increase in knowledge of the earth that came when men sailed around the globe and found that having sailed away to the west they would return from the east. It was necessary for human understanding in the vertical direction to become obscured. Human beings had to be isolated from the universe so that they could find within themselves the only power that can lead to human freedom. Moral impulses will arise out of this human freedom in their turn.

Human beings therefore no longer relate to the spheres beyond the earth in the vertical fashion the ancient Greeks and Chaldeans did. We have had the training that only a horizontal surface can give and must now ascend again in moral, ethical terms. We must learn how human life is influenced by powers that do not show themselves in the course taken by the world that exists outside us. Those are the luciferic and ahrimanic powers.

People tend to put their minds to other things, however, and sometimes I also have to tell you something relating to our spiritual movement that takes its orientation in anthroposophy. This has accepted the task of working out of the full seriousness the time demands and listening to the language spoken from the cosmos beyond this earth, as it were, a language which tells us that we must once again come to see the way the human being is connected with the whole cosmos. Again and again, however, things make themselves heard in this work—please forgive the abrupt change of subject—which even today draw attention to some very peculiar points of view taken by people who oppose our aims of furthering the progress of mankind. Let me read you a passage from a letter that is really typical. As I said, please forgive the abrupt change of subject but we are obliged to inform you of all kinds of things that are going on at the present time with the purpose of undermining and destroying this movement which endeavours to take up the challenge of the present age.

There is someone in Norway3 Details not known. who had made it his task to destroy our movement. To assure himself that he has a right to do so, this man is writing to leading figures—that is how one does these things nowadays. He wrote to a publication called Politisch-anthropologische Monatsschrift [Political Anthropological Monthly]. This journal sent him the following information: ‘Dr Steiner is a Jew of the purest water. He is connected with the Zionists, indeed associated with them, and works for the Entente.’ The editor added that they—i.e. people of this kind—'have had their eye on him for some time.’

I just wanted to tell you this in conclusion, as yet another case among the many one gets today, with a new one coming up almost daily. That is the attitude anthropologists are now taking to the efforts being made in the anthroposophical field.