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Polarities in the Evolution of Mankind
GA 197

Lecture II

March 7, 1920

It has been said on a number of occasions, and also two days ago when I presented the subject from a slightly different point of view, that it is important for us to consider the evolution of the human race in the light of spiritual science and grow aware of the gravity of the present moment. We shall then have to act out of our realization of the gravity of the situation, irrespective of our position in life.

Today I should like to add some further building stones to an edifice that seen in its entirety can show us the present-day tenor of the human mind and spirit and how we shall have to work for the further progress of humankind by taking this state of mind and spirit as our basis. To begin with let us refer to things which in the main are already known to us.

We know that the human race in its present state of civilization has by and large descended from the human race that evolved before disaster befell the continent of Atlantis. It has been said on a number of occasions that Atlantis occupied an area between present-day Europe, Africa and America that is today covered by the Atlantic Ocean. We know that under the influence of that disaster—in the course of its preparation and later as it proceeded—the peoples of that time migrated first in an eastward direction, populating Europe and then Asia as they moved on, and that the European and Asian peoples of the present day are in fact the descendants of the peoples of Atlantis. We also know that civilization then took the opposite route and people coming to colonize Europe brought civilization with them, as it were: cultural contents that had first been achieved in Asia. These then spread further from a number of centres in Europe. Thus I would say that the physical basis for modern civilization is provided by the peoples of Europe and Asia, descendants of the ancient Atlantean race that moved from the west to the east. Civilization itself however moved from east to west. These two movements can only be properly distinguished on the basis of spiritual-scientific investigation. The two are confused in conventional anthropology and it is not realized that only the culture, the civilization, has been transplanted from east to west, whilst the physical basis comes from migrations that proceeded from west to east.

People always have some relationship to the locality where they live. We relate in some way to the soil under our feet, to everything this soil produces, to the way the soil comes to expression in climatic conditions and provides a habitat. You can conclude from this—and spiritual science fully confirms it—that the peoples who went further into Asia in the course of those post-Atlantean migrations inevitably had to develop in a different way from those who had remained in Europe. In ordinary terms this means that the soil of Europe had a different effect on the descendants of the Atlanteans than the soil of Asia. In a way, we can define the difference between the populations of Asia and of Europe. The difference is that particularly during the earliest periods of post-Atlantean civilization, during the 9th, 8th, 7th and 6th millennium BC and the millennia that followed, the people of Asia adopted intellectual thinking, thinking as we know it, in a different way. This type of thinking did not fully emerge until the 15th century, as I said on the last occasion, but it was in preparation for centuries and indeed millennia before that.

This form of thinking as we know it today only developed in very recent times, assuming its true character in intellectual thinking as the soul itself became inwardly active. But the whole of our evolution, particularly in post-Atlantean times, has been tending towards this intellectual approach. It is significant that the post-Atlantean population of Asia accepted all that we may call intellectual more into its soul elements. We can say that due to local conditions the peoples of Asia were specifically predestined for the early stages of intelligence to enter into their souls. The most remarkable aspect of Asian civilization is that the soul element as such became the instrument for adopting the intellectual principle.

It was different with the people who had remained in Europe. Quite specifically the situation was that physical development, the physical organization that later on was to become the real instrument of intellectual development, evolved in such a way that even at an earlier stage it became the essential characteristic of these peoples, constituting itself in a way that was particularly suited to be the vehicle for the intellectual principle. If we therefore wish to characterize the descendants of the Atlanteans' earliest descendants, that is ourselves, we have to say that the Asian peoples got more into the habit of thinking with their souls; the Europeans got into the habit of thinking more with their bodies. That is in fact the major difference between the civilizations of Asian and Europe. If you want to show up the clear difference which exists between the kind of intelligence apparent in the Vedic writings or Vedantic philosophy and other cultural streams in Asia compared to European culture you have to say to yourselves: Asians are thinking more with their souls, Europeans more with their bodies.

The people of Asia may thus be said to have taken the intellectual element into a higher aspect of their human nature, with the result that an advanced civilization developed much earlier. This however was a civilization of the soul that had fewer abstract concepts, a culture that found its own ways to higher things, using the human soul and spirit to reach the soul and spirit of the world without resorting to abstract concepts. That is where the spiritual nature of Asian civilization lies—inasmuch as it is essentially a civilization based on soul qualities. The peoples of Asia largely left their bodies unused when it came to thinking; they merely carried their bodies with them through life on earth. The life of the mind was nurtured entirely at soul level. You cannot understand the peculiar nature of Asian culture unless you look at it from this point of view.

Europeans were basing their thinking more and more on the physical body. That is also why the foundations were more strongly laid among them than in Asia for a culture in which freedom can be the central principle. The people of Asia, endowed with intelligence at soul level, still were more part of the whole cosmic organism. The human body specifically isolates itself from the rest of the cosmic organism. Using it as the instrument for our intellectual life we become more independent, though this independence is more bound up with the body than is the case with the people of Asia who have developed intelligence within the soul principle and are consequently less independent.

As the time approached in the history of humankind that was to bring the Mystery of Golgotha, an advanced culture of soul and spirit had evolved in Asia. At the time of the Mystery of Golgotha it had already reached its culmination and was in the early stages of decline. Do not let us deceive ourselves: European ideas do not make it easy to grasp the great culture which had grown out of the soul and spirit of the Asian peoples. When people who are thoroughly European in their way of thinking, people for whom the physical body is the instrument of thinking, want to get Europeans to appreciate Asian ideas, as Deussen4 Paul Deussen, philosopher and Sanscrit scholar. has done, for example, the outcome in no way represents the contents of Asian civilization of soul and spirit, for everything alive in it has been translated into European thought. It has even happened that interpretations of certain spiritual streams in India caused a sensation in Europe—those published by von Garbe5 Richard von Garbe, Sancrit scholar. for instance, yet it was nothing more than European materialism producing a garbled translation of Asian soul and spirit culture. Publications of this kind contain a trace of the real spirit of ancient Asia. It is necessary to point this out very firmly because, as I have said before, belief in authority has reached an extreme degree and people really have nothing in them that permits them to acknowledge the validity of something, except the fact that it has been written by university professors. There is of course no real inner reason why Deussen's or Garbe's botchwork should be considered important in any way, except that there is this belief in authority in Europe which is going sadly astray. People are no longer in a position even to find any kind of inner reason; they merely believe one thing or another to be right because some outer authority says so. It does not help to avoid saying the truth about these things—even if it means making more enemies—for the gravity of the present situation absolutely demands that there shall be no compromise where certain things are concerned and that the truth must be clearly stated.

The advanced culture of the spirit in Asia was already to some extent in decline when the event of Golgotha occurred. This event of Golgotha—it cannot be sufficiently stressed—was first of all taken in and understood by minds that were the product of Asian culture. It is important to distinguish between the Mystery of Golgotha as a historical event that happened in the Near East at the beginning of Christian era and the notions people have of this Mystery of Golgotha. At the time when the event occurred, Europe did not have the capacity to grasp it fully, for it was an event that could only be grasped in soul and spirit. European civilization, however, had spread by using physical matter as its instrument. The event which occurred at the beginning of our Christian era could not be directly grasped in a civilization based on physical and material things. Asian civilization on the other hand had an intellectual life based on soul and spirit and out of this was able to find concepts with which to grasp the event of Golgotha. The event that happened in Palestine was thus poured into the conceptual world of the Orient. In that form it travelled westward through Greece and Italy and came to Europe as a tradition.

People can be given something in an external way that they cannot yet grasp in their hearts and minds. Things may come to them in the form of a tradition or through the written word. Europe initially was given the explanation, its understanding of the Mystery of Golgotha, out of the oriental tradition. Christianity was understood in the light of oriental wisdom, a wisdom of soul and spirit that was truly great at a time when the Mystery of Golgotha, and the way Christ related to the whole of Earth evolution, were still perceived gnostically. It dwindled more and more as Europeans were increasingly blending their own unique characteristic into this tradition. They had to bring their particular characteristic of an intellectual life bound to the physical body into the way they saw these things. The following happened, particularly in Europe: In early times the human bodies of Europeans were very much the instrument of their kind of elementary intellectual thinking, but then this body gradually began to die. Physical evolution of European humanity until the 15th century and even to this day consisted in the physical body growing more and more dead. Our physical bodies are growing denser and denser and more and more bony. We cannot demonstrate this with the methods of ordinary anatomy and physiology, but it is true. We no longer have bodies as inwardly alive as those of people living in the 1st, 3rd and even the 10th and 11th centuries. Our European bodies of today have grown bony, paralyzed, compared to those ancient bodies that were inwardly alive. Thus you have on the one hand a tradition designed for the soul and spirit of Asian people who preserved the ecclesiastical creeds, and on the other hand a more and more European body that increasingly felt those Asian traditions to be alien and in the end no longer found itself able to take in the ideas coming from Asia.

From the middle of the 15th century onwards the influence of the bony European body has been such that in the end that old tradition only survived in empty outer phrases among religious communities. For many centuries the tradition had been so much alive that little regard was paid to the Gospels and people took their cue from life itself. As the European body came to die off people felt impelled to say: Let us cast off the old tradition; we want to put our faith only in the Word, the Word as it is written. People believe they have the Word when in fact they only have a poor translation of it. It gradually came about—though no one is willing to admit it—that really all one had was the outer shell of the Word of old that once held within it the tidings of the Mystery of Golgotha in the garb of oriental wisdom, a wisdom of soul and spirit.

This oriental wisdom is little understood by the people who generally interpret or translate the Gospels; they understand little, if any of it. The point is that it is necessary to see the Mystery of Golgotha in a new light. However, unless we Europeans get beyond what a dying physical body is able to give we will be unable to do so. We must develop through spiritual science and come to grasp the spiritual world in a way where we are independent of this body. Our future salvation entirely depends on our ability to grasp the spiritual world in this way, independently of our physical bodies, going straight for the spirit. It will have to be different in essence from the oriental culture of soul and spirit, which came as though of its own accord as human beings evolved. Europeans of the present time will need to achieve it by their own efforts. They will have to nurture spiritual science. They will have to create an educational system where from the bottom rung upwards spiritual science is not presented as a theory but flows into everything we do as we teach and train the children. Spiritual science should also flow into higher education and should be alive in everything connected with art, literature and so on, everything that is our common cultural life. This European culture must provide for the nuturing of spiritual science itself. On the basis of such a spiritual science the Mystery of Golgotha will then be seen in a new light. We shall have to say that those were the old times when the Mystery of Golgotha was only interpreted in the light of the wisdom of spirit and soul that belonged to the Orient. A new wisdom will have to grasp the Mystery of Golgotha in a new and living way.

We have spoken about these things quite often and in many respects. It is necessary, however, that they take hold of our soul from all sides. It is necessary that we come to experience a seriousness that absolutely fills our hearts and minds with the realization that new insight has to be gained into the Mystery of Golgotha. This is something that makes the seriousness that is required particularly in Central Europe even more austere.

Looking with more profound insight at what has become cultural life in the second half of the 18th and first half of the 19th century particularly in Central Europe you really have to say this: The bodies of people in Central Europe were already dying, but they still were so much alive that the people were able to rise to a world of ideas more alive than ever seen before in the evolution of humankind. Nowhere else did human minds rise to abstract ideas in such a way that whilst living in these abstract ideas one was not in the sphere of death but in the sphere of life. That was achieved in Goetheanism, for instance, and by German idealist philosophers. It is not something to be found anywhere else in human evolution. It was also in a way a culmination, one merely has to get this quite clear in one's mind. People today no longer want to know how Schelling, for instance, to take just one of the Goetheanists, moved in a sphere of abstract thoughts and yet, whilst speaking in quite abstract terms, was alive in the way he moved in the sphere of abstract thoughts: as alive as people usually are when they speak of food and drink. The same applies to Fichte. This was an area of human evolution where we are especially aware of an ability to descend into the sphere of concepts and ideas in a way that was very much alive. Something quite special exists therefore for this Central European population, special in the whole context of human evolution in more recent times. They have their own characteristics that enable them in particular to take up the vocation of humankind for the present day: namely, to enter into spirituality again. These characteristics only came to be submerged beneath other things in the second half of the 19th century.

It is terribly painful to be aware of a very sleepy human being in Central Europe today walking over the graves of Lessing and Goethe and Herder and Schelling. This human being considers its role to be that of a soul asleep. If we were to pick up the thread of the writings and thoughts of those great minds, not in an external way but entering into the spirit in which they wrote, we would find the element that can raise Europe to the heights. Europe cannot be made to rise to the heights by Gospel words repeated parrot-fashion in the churches that no one understands. Europe can only be made to rise if people seek to grasp the spiritual worlds by developing further what Herder, Goethe and others have been working towards. There is however hardly any awareness of this at the present time. It is a sad sign of the times for example that in a cultural community which possesses treasures like Fichte's ‘Goal and Purpose of the Human Being’, Schelling's Bruno and Schiller's Letters on Aesthetic Education6 Johann Gottlieb Fichte, German philosopher. Die Bestimtnung des Menschen 1800.

Friedrich Wilhem Joseph von Schelling German philosopher. Bruno, oder über das göttliche and natürliche Prinzip der Dinge. Ein Gespräch (Bruno, or concerning the divine and natural principle of things. A dialogue).

Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller, German dramatist, poet and historian. Briefe über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen (letters on aesthetic education) 1795.
and there are many more I could mention; that in such a cultural community people could follow a trend that led to the inane and superficial Americanisms of Ralph Waldo Trine7 Ralph Waldo Trine, American writer. and the like. We have things that are much more sublime but we let them sleep and turn to other things.

The further we penetrate into the actual life of the mind and spirit the more it becomes apparent that something new is emerging in the life of humankind today. Central Europeans are far from understood by Western Europeans; Western Europeans are far from understood by Central Europeans, even in ordinary life. People are not aware of this, however. They think they understand each other. They do not realize that they are not communicating their thoughts. I am not referring to the way Americans and Europeans fail to communicate, but Central and Western Europeans. You come across some odd things in this respect.

The last time I was here I told you that vilification is rife not only within Germany but also outside its borders.8 Stuttgart, 21 December 1919. In Weltsilvester and Neujahrsgedanken GA 195. English in The Cosmic New Year. London: Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co. 1938. I told you about this man Ferriére,9 A. Ferrière. La loi du progres economique et la justice sociale. Suisse-Belgique Outremer juillet-aout 1919; 1:no.3-4 for instance, who spread one of the strangest tales in a Swiss-Belgian journal, saying that it was of course generally known that I was ‘Rasputin’ to William II10Grigoriy Efimovich Rasputin, reputed ‘holy man’ who influenced the Tsarina and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.

TN. William II (1859–1941), third German emperor and ninth king of Prussia.
and had a major share in all the bad advice William II was given in those terrible days. This slanderous story came to be widely known particularly in French-speaking Switzerland and I therefore defended myself by writing down the truth of the matter, stating the bare facts. I said that I had only ever seen the former emperor briefly and from a distance, had never spoken with him at all and never sought to contact him even through others. These are the bare facts I stated in a letter to Dr Boos11Dr Roman Boos. anthroposophical lecturer, writer in the field of social sciences. Pioneer of the Threefold Movement. who then gave Mr Ferriére the necessary set-down. The matter was published in the journal in question together with Ferriére's reply. This went more or less as follows: Once again the great difference between the Latin and the Germanic mind is demonstrated. The Germanic mind takes everything so seriously. ‘My readers’, Ferriére wrote, ‘will of course not have been deceived; they will have realized that what I wrote was intended to be plaisanterie and not méchanceté.12TN. plaisamerie—joke; méchanceté—spitefulness, malice. Apart from that let me state that it is possible to learn that something we may have heard from people whom we think we can believe need nevertheless not be true, even if it is a widely believed rumour. I am taking note of this.’ And so on.

That was the elegant reply the ‘Latin mind’ was able to give, with a plaisanterie concerning the Germanic mind. At least one has the satisfaction that these things have come to the fore; very often they are not even noticed.

They assume even greater significance where a more profound view is taken of the world, at the point where they relate to initiation knowledge and everything connected with this. This is a sphere where it is indeed necessary to mention these things just for once, though some people consider it highly dangerous to touch on them even today. I want to talk to you today about a matter that in the opinion of representatives of initiation knowledge, Western representatives in particular, should not be discussed.

Western representatives of initiation knowledge will tell you again and again that it simply will not do for anyone to spread initiation knowledge they have gained for themselves. You will find that when genuine initiates in the West present initiation knowledge in books available to the public they always deny having personal experience of the things of which they are writing. You will find that it is quite typical—such things have appeared particularly in America—to have a preface, that is part of the whole technique, which says the following: ‘None of these things are my own, of course, for if they were just my own I would not mention them’. Take a look, you will find this kind of thing in many documents published particularly by Western initiates. If you ask why it is done like this you will be given an answer that within certain limits is certainly true for Western initiation science. You will be told that anyone learning something directly from the spiritual world, who knows the secrets of the spiritual world, cannot tell another person that he has it from personal experience—these will be the words used to answer the question—for if he betrays the fact that he has initiation knowledge from personal experience he becomes dependent for life on the person to whom he betrayed his secret.

This attitude has its roots in the essential nature of Western initiation science. The effect is that anything to do with initiation is discussed in a very superficial way among Western initiates in their societies, and that there are indeed initiates moving around among Western humanity of whom nobody knows that they are initiates. This is an attitude that has to be overcome in the new age; it cannot hold true in Central Europe, and the spirit which must arise in Central Europe will have to fight this attitude. It will have to fight it by coming to understand the Mystery of Golgotha in the new and spiritual way I have talked about. It will have to come to understand the presence of the Christ in huMan life.

Here lies a major secret. The usual initiation knowledge in Western countries is far removed from Christianity; otherwise the Theosophical Society would not have excluded or caricatured the Christian faith and presented a purely oriental, pre-Christian Indian wisdom as something new. It is a peculiar characteristic of this Western initiation knowledge that its initiates only have something of their initiation if they have at least one pupil who reiterates their ideas. There is no point whatsoever in having initiation knowledge just for oneself. If your eyes look straight ahead you will not see a single object. In the same way you will not encounter your own ideas of the spirit as a Western initiate unless you can see your own ideas repeated by someone else. There are all kinds of indications of this, but it is not properly realized.

Indeed, if this is the case then it is true that someone who betrays to another person the fact that he is an initiate will be in the power of that other person for the rest of his life. The other could then refuse to serve him and say: I am not going to repeat your ideas. That implies some degree of dependence. That essentially is a characteristic of the initiation knowledge I have frequently referred to in other respects, referring to it as the dominant initiation science in the West.

There is only one way out of this dependence on one's followers and that is to be in communion with Christ, who can truly be found on earth since the Mystery of Golgotha. We are not then in communion with a human being who is not perceptible to the senses but with the first among brothers who has come among men, with the living Christ walking among us. If we are in a communion with Christ the way we had to be in communion with other persons in pre-Christian initiation, we need not be afraid to share our own wisdom with our fellow human beings. There is no other way in the present time in which original initiation wisdom can be directly communicated than by being in communion with Christ. There is no other way. A genuine initiation wisdom of the present age will have to look for such communion with Christ.

If this initiation wisdom were not there to be found we could make no progress in social understanding. It is no longer possible to evolve social ideas nowadays unless we base ourselves on initiation. Yet we have need of social ideas. A social system born wholly out of Western initiation wisdom would depend on that initiation wisdom being kept secret even at its lowest levels—certain higher levels cannot be made known today because people must have the necessary preparation. Keeping things secret in this way is not compatible however with the principle of people being equal, a principle modern Europeans and indeed the whole civilized world consider important today. So you see that exactly when it comes to initiation wisdom a colossal difference shows itself between the Central European and the Western mind. The difference becomes even more apparent in the case of initiation wisdom than in the situation where people talk above each others heads in the present time and believe humankind can be brought to an abstract uniformity. That cannot be done. Human beings are differentiated and this differentiation shows itself particularly if one takes a more profound look at initiation knowledge. This is an important subject and it will no doubt be necessary for me to explain it in more detail during the time I am here. When it comes to genuine spiritual insight one simply cannot be slipshod about things, and a lack of seriousness concerning the truth is unacceptable. It simply will not do. Truthfulness is of the essence.