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The Shaping of the Human Form out of Cosmic and Earthly Forces
GA 202

This is the 1st of 16 lectures given by Rudolf Steiner at Dornach, and dates from November and December of 1920. The title of this series of lectures is: The Bridge between Cosmic Spirituality and the Physical Constitution of Humans.

26 November 1920, Dornach

Translated by Charles Davy

I have often spoken of how man's bodily form is an expression of the course of his entire life. Anyone who understands the human head in the right way can recognise that the special moulding, the special formation of the head is connected with former lives which have been passed through by the human being before he descended to his present life on Earth. And when we consider the limb-organisation, extending it—naturally to cover the organs associated with the limbs, then we have something which, after certain metamorphoses, will underlie the formation beyond death of the future human head. At the same time, however, the human form points to man's connection with the Cosmos. As the human being stands before us today, we can certainly say that the particular formation of his head is a metamorphosis of his previous limb-formation. But the fact of his having any such formation of the head as the one he carries around is the result of his cosmic experiences before he set foot on the Earth. In essentials, the head-formation is an outcome of the Saturn, Sun and Moon evolutions; whereas the limb-man is a starting-point for the Jupiter, Venus and Vulcan evolutions. It is only the breast-man, embracing all that belongs to the present rhythmical system, who is the real man of the Earth. Thus we can say: What we have before us in the human head is formed out of the three preceding planetary embodiments of the Earth; and the starting-point for its subsequent embodiments is all that underlies man's limbs today. As a man goes through life between death and rebirth, he is repeating spiritually his experiences during the ages of Saturn, Sun, Moon. He takes his organism back from its earthly form to what it was as Saturn organism, Sun organism, Moon organism. Similarly; his limb-organism, as fashioned on Earth, will be further organised physically, will go through reorganisation, during the embodiments of Earth as Jupiter, Venus, Vulcan.

These things have, therefore, a human earthly aspect and also a cosmic one. Hence we can study the formation of the human head while keeping in mind the relation of man's essential being to the Cosmos. Now what came about during the Saturn-evolution and the Sun-evolution is certainly rather remote from our study of man; and so we are less able to form an opinion of it from our earthly point of view. On the other hand we can form a vivid idea of what took place during the old Moon-evolution, for this is to a certain extent repeated in the interaction between the Earth and the present Moon, and we can therefore study the human head in relation to that. We then come to certain secrets concerning the formation of the human organism.

Let us imagine—in the form of a diagram—a man standing on the Earth; he is thus not in the centre of the Earth but distant from it by the length of the Earth's radius. And if we draw the human head diagrammatically we can say: As the Moon moves round the Earth, it moves also round man's head. Naturally this is expressed diagrammatically and not in the correct proportions.

Now let us assume the Moon, as full Moon, to be here; then the light it is always said to reflect from the Sun will stream to the man. In this way the light of the Sun has an effect upon the man—and when I speak here of the ‘man’ I am always referring to the human head. On the opposite side we have the new Moon, and no light then reaches the man, who on this side is, as it were, left to himself. Less demand is made upon him by the stimulation of the light from outside; hence he is left more to his own inner development. And if you put the first quarter here and the last quarter there—the waxing Moon and the waning Moon—then from these two directions less stimulation is exercised by the light upon the man than from the direction of the full Moon and more than from that of the new Moon. Moreover in its course round the Earth the Moon travels through the Zodiac. Because of this the light is modified in a certain way—I might perhaps say differentiated, for the moonlight becomes different according to whether it comes from a position behind which there is, for example, the Ram, or from one behind which the Virgin stands. The moonlight is therefore differentiated in accordance with the sign of the Zodiac through which the Moon is passing.

Now imagine the diagram in relation to a relevant point in human development: imagine, that is, that through some course of events there establishes itself in the mother's body the spirit-germ of a human being, coming straight from his development between death and rebirth. During this time the Moon is working on the embryo. Then, you have, as a result of the Moon working in from the Cosmos—in connection naturally with other cosmic bodies—the configuration of the human head in the body of the mother. The configuration of the human head is altogether the work of the Moon.

Perhaps you will say, quite rightly : But surely we have not to assume that it is always the full Moon which sheds its rays on eyes or nose, and that the back of the head, which should depend on inner development and not on the external world, is always exposed to the influence of the new Moon? It is true that this is not unconditionally so. In essentials, however, the full Moon is active on some part of the face, whereas the activity of the new Moon is concentrated on the back of the head. In the body of the mother, too, the child has a special position in relation to the Cosmos. According to how the Moon sheds its rays more or less obliquely on that part of the embryo destined to become the face, the human being will have certain of those gifts bestowed upon him which depend upon the head. He will have different gifts, physically, if the bright moonlight sheds its beams on his mouth rather than upon his eyes. This is connected with a person's talents, in so far as they depend on the Cosmos. But the essential thing to be borne in mind today is that during the embryonic development of the human being the chief influences proceeding from the Moon are those that give form to the human ovum, starting with the formation of the head. For in the human being the head is the first thing to take shape. This is brought about by the Moon—that is, by the movement and activity remaining over from the old Moon and from the other previous embodiments of the Earth. You see here how the head is cosmically connected with the external world; how during the development of the embryo the human being is caught up in that cosmic condition to which the tone is given essentially by the Moon and its activity. This comes about through the movement made by the Moon, through the encirclement of the head by the Moon, which occurs ten times during the human being's embryonic development. Thus the Moon first passes by and works upon the formation of the human face—leaving it then in peace to continue its growing. During this period the Moon retires. When the formation of the face has been in abeyance for some time, the Moon re-appears and gives it a fresh impetus. It does this ten times. And during these ten lunar months the human head is formed rhythmically out of the Cosmos. Thus the human being waits for ten times twenty-eight days in the mother's body, under the influence of cosmic forces mediated through the moon.

Now what really happens here? As a being of soul and spirit a man descends to the personality he has chosen out of the whole Cosmos to be his mother. And from that time the Moon takes over the formation of his head. Were he to remain within the mother's body for twelve lunar months, a quite self-enclosed, circular formation would result. But he remains there for only ten lunar months. Hence something of his development is left incomplete, and after birth all that works in out of the Cosmos is occupied with this. Thus, before birth, ten-twelfths of the cosmic forces work upon the forming of the human head, the remaining two-twelfths being left over for the formative work which continues outside the mother's body—though it actually begins during the embryonic period. In addition to the cosmic forces there are others, and these come from the Earth itself: they do not work on the head but on the limb-system.

If you imagine this, here, to be the Earth (diagram above) and this to be a diagram of man's limb-system, then the forces which in the limbs continue their activity inwardly are essentially earthly, telluric. Into arms and hands, in legs and feet, there play forces of the Earth, and this process, continued inwardly, becomes metabolism. But this inward metabolism is outwardly an interchange of forces. When you move your arm or your leg the movement is not simple; it has to do with the forces of the Earth. When you move your legs in walking you have always to overcome the force of gravity, and what happens results from the interplay between these forces of gravity and the forces working inwardly.

Whereas in metabolism these inward forces enter into interplay with the chemical properties of the Earth-substance, there is an interchange between the forces in arms and legs and the forces of the Earth. These activities are connected with temporal conditions different from those prevailing in the mother's womb. In the mother's body we have ten times twenty-eight days—that is, ten moons or 280 days.

Here we have to do essentially with the course of the day. Where the development of the limb-man is concerned we have to do with the course of the year. We see also how in their earliest stage the human limbs are developed with a continually decreasing rapidity. A man needs actually twenty-eight years for their full development, though this is certainly not so evident during the final seven years as it is up to the age of twenty-one. He needs twenty-eight years to develop his limb-system outside his mother's body, though it is within the mother's body that the development begins.

Just as the man of head is connected with the past and is able to come into being because the relation of the Moon to the Earth recapitulates the past evolutions of Saturn, Sun, Moon, so is the limb-man connected with the Earth, but actually with the preparation for the transformations of Earth into Jupiter, Venus, Vulcan. Hence a human being cannot form his head directly on the Earth, for over this the Earth has no power. It is only because he brings with him the forces from before birth, before conception, and is then sheltered within the mother's body from his earthly environment, with the Cosmos working upon him by way of the Moon—only because of all this can the head come into being as a higher metamorphosis of the limb-man of the previous incarnation. The man of the limb-system, arising as he does under the influence of the Earth, cannot come to completion; he can do nothing for the head. During Earth-evolution he is incapable of what he will be able to do during the Venus-evolution. Just as the stag casts his antlers, the human being will then dispense with his head, and out of the rest of himself develop a different one—certainly an enviable lot for the Venus-man! But this is what actually appears to spiritual vision as the future condition of the human being. Things that are part of reality appear grotesque compared with those having earthly limitations, but reality far outstrips what is accessible to our narrow earthly understanding. We must face the fact that our earthly power of observation gives us merely part of reality, and that when we observe only earthly conditions we really know nothing of the human being.

Thus in man we have a cosmic being who, it is true, is formed for the main part in the body of the mother; and we have an Earth-being who is formed, configured, differentiated, under the influence of earthly conditions, while the Sun apparently takes its course round the Earth, passing the constellations of the Zodiac on its way. Hence you will recognise in the human being two contrasting conditions, one of a cosmic nature, the other earthly. The cosmic nature works in such a way that the human being would receive from the Cosmos a head that was perfectly round. The face is formed by the sunlight shining upon it by way of the Moon, and when the Sun turns its light away, the basis for the back of the head is created. The spherical form that would have been imparted by the Cosmos is differentiated. Were the kindly Moon not there to give shape to the human head, a human being would be born as an undifferentiated sphere. On the other hand, because the mother is on the Earth, the Earth itself has its effect. The reason why the human being as embryo does not develop only a head is that the Earth is already at work during the time when the head is being given its form. Were he to be subject to the working of the Earth alone, however, and the Cosmos were to have no effect, he would be just a pillar. The human being is at the mercy of these two tendencies—either of being made a pillar, a radius, by the Earth, or of receiving a spherical form from the Cosmos. Circle and radius actually underlie the forming of a human being. The fact that he is not a pillar, that he is not born with feet joined together, with hands joined together, is due to the course of the year being involved, due to winter and summer working in spiritually, indicating the various cosmic relations between the Earth and its surroundings. The difference between winter and summer is like the difference between the new Moon and the full. Just as new Moon and full Moon, in their different ways, determine the nature of the face and of the back of the head, so do those cosmic forces coming to expression in winter and summer, spring and autumn, determine the configuration of our limb-system, so that we have two legs and are not just a pillar. In order that in our head we should not be entirely cosmic, but cosmic toned down by the earthly, and in order that our limb-system should not be entirely of the Earth but something earthly moderated by the cosmic, the yearly course of the Earth is cosmically conditioned. We have therefore a cosmic nature influenced by the earthly and an earthly nature cosmically influenced. Were we not in our cosmic being influenced by the earthly, as man we should be a round ball; were we not, as man of the limb-system, as earthly man, influenced by the Cosmos, we should be a pillar. This combined working of cosmic and earthly is expressed in our human form. No-one understands the human form who has no wish to take into consideration the interplay of Earth and Cosmos. It is wonderful how the human being is an expression of the whole world; an expression of the world of the stars in his form, which is at the same time an image of those forces that stream from the Earth and have a conditioning effect upon him. Imagine man's earthly nature without this cosmic influence: we do not carry this earthly nature within us but it works in us. As a basic influence it streams from the centre-point of the Earth, sending its forces from there. That which makes its appearance in our human strength, working there also as will, has from ancient times been called by a word that might be rendered as ‘strength’ or ‘force’.

The formative influence from the Cosmos, which we have to picture through in the circle underlying especially the form of our head, works in our head without coming to full expression because of being toned down by the earthly element: and this from olden days has been called ‘beauty’. So we see that taken as a whole the influences at work in a human being have a value transcending both the physical and the moral, for they have a value which embraces both. The strength that comes from the Earth and works in us as muscular force is physical and moral at the same time. The beauty shining around us, the beauty underlying our head, appears in our head as the beauty of thoughts, and this, too, is related to both the physical and the moral.

Between these—between, that is, what we are as earthly beings toned down by the Cosmos and what we are as cosmic beings toned down by the earthly—there is the trunk-man. What is this trunk- or torso-man? He is essentially the rhythmic man who causes the cosmic to swing down continually towards the earthly and the earthly to swing up towards the cosmic. We have circling round in us a continuous stream from the limb-system and this finds its way to the head through the breathing, while a stream from the head makes its way through the breathing to the limb system. So that there is always this wave movement, this surging to and fro between limb-system and head. It is brought about by our rhythmic system, working through the heart and lungs and the circulation of the blood. How then does the circulation arise? It comes from the interplay between straight line and circle, receiving its form from the Zodiac and the planets. A force proceeding from the head tends to send the blood round a circular path, while a force from the limb-system tends to keep it in a straight line. From the interaction of these two forces there arises in us, under the impetus of breathing, the particular course followed by the blood. This rhythmical system is the mediator between the cosmic and the earthly in man, so that through it is woven a connecting link in him between the cosmic, or the beautiful, and the strength that is of the Earth. The link thus woven in the trunk-man, understood in terms of soul and spirit, has from ancient times been given the name of ‘wisdom’.

The beauty of the Cosmos projected into the human being is the wisdom living in his thoughts. But the moral force coming from the strength of the Earth by way of heart and soul becomes moral wisdom. In man's rhythmical system, earthly wisdom and cosmic wisdom meet. Man is an expression of the whole Cosmos, and where there is the will to understand this configuration, it can be understood. In so far as man is formed out of cosmic mysteries, he is able to see into them, and can even perceive a certain connection with them in earthly life itself. Consider the cosmic beauty that works into a man by way of his head: there you have the feminine contribution; and you have the male contribution in the force that appears in a man's earthly strength. You are then able to say: In the act of fructification a union is consummated between the cosmic and the terrestrial. There can be no understanding of the nature of man's task on Earth unless we perceive the particular way in which he is formed. For then indeed we see that the head has its form because the earthly forces are at first unable to work on the human being; you see that he brings his pre-natal being into the realm of Earth and that in the mother's body an extra-terrestrial influence works formatively upon him by way of the Moon. Strength or force works from the Earth and forms the limb-system without being able to bring it to completion, so that the limb-system has to pass through death. For the forces in the limb-system have to be spiritualised, imbued with soul. Beyond the Earth, accordingly, between death and a new birth, they develop further by taking on, in soul-spiritual terms, the form of the head. It is only with the help of the Jupiter and Venus forces the head can arise out of the limb-system in this way. Earthly forces are not the determining factor in a man from birth to death. Those that worked previously on Saturn, Sun, Moon have by then become spiritual, and must be developed spiritually between death and rebirth; and that which lies beyond death has to be spiritualised also—then the future can grow out of the past, then man's limb-organisation can become head. We may therefore say : A man dies so that in the spiritual world he can become able to bring to expression the form which, partly toned down by the earthly, can be expressed by virtue of having gone through the conditions of Saturn, Sun and Moon. Here on Earth a man can experience as his limb-system only the earthly nature developed through his rhythmical system. But in his limb-system he is forming the future. This cannot be completed; he has to die and become head again, and the form of his head is prepared at first in pre-earthly spheres. Thus the form of a human being is connected with repeated earth-lives. Because physically he is born as a being who has acquired his form during the conditions on Saturn, Sun and Moon; because he receives from the spiritual world his tendency to express in spherical form his experiences on Saturn, Sun and Moon, his head on Earth—since it is not of the Earth—is continually giving him over to death.

These things which find expression in a man's repeated lives on Earth are intimately connected with cosmic evolution. It is not true that the things we have touched upon today, and shall be going into further tomorrow and the day after, are beyond human understanding. Human beings can understand them, but they have to be investigated through Spiritual Science. Everyone who gives free play to the sound development of thought can understand them. Yet one is always hearing that there can be no immediate understanding of spiritual-scientific matters. if anyone says: ‘These things have been told to me by a spiritual investigator, but I cannot look into them for myself’, it is just as if it were complained that after matriculating a boy could not cope with the differential calculus.—Everyone can learn what Spiritual Science has to say, just as anyone can learn in principle to apply the differential calculus—though the latter is more difficult than the former. It is not true that because we are not clairvoyant we cannot understand these matters. Just as we have no need for clairvoyance to use the differential calculus, we have no need of it to see into the cosmic connection with the external world. We have only to bring sound concepts to bear. The matter is even the reverse of what is so often said. Someone, for; example, may say: One man has a certain conception of the world, another takes a different view : how can one know which is right?—If you are consistent, if you follow up everything, taking note of what has been said, you will find that only one conception is possible. You cannot argue about beauty, wisdom, strength, and what they mean. For each has only one meaning. The fact that the formation of our head has a peripheral character, and that in the rest of us the element of strength is present in radial form these things always have the same meaning. There is nothing here to be discussed, the facts are quite clear. The difficulty in spreading Spiritual Science lies in this—that today here and there some society may organise lectures on Anthroposophy, or perhaps on its social aspect, the Threefold Commonwealth, and people go to hear the lectures, afterwards attending others and still others—without any desire to come to a definite inner decision. They take the content of Spiritual Science as something on a par with that of other movements. But with Spiritual Science this cannot be done though it may be done with other world-conceptions, one being rather better, another worse. They all get a hearing; people, as it were, nibble at them. But that won't do where Spiritual Science is concerned; there one has to make up one's mind, for it goes to the root of things. There is need for that strenuous exertion of the will which leads to decisions; which avoids distractions and is determined to get down to fundamentals. This will not be accomplished by veering between one world-conception and another, nibbling here, nibbling there. Spiritual Science calls for energy and thoroughness and therefore has against it the spirit of the times, all the slovenliness and weakness of the times. It demands a strength and clarity of spirit for which people today have no liking; they find it disturbing, uncongenial. In primeval days men came to these things with instinctive knowledge; and the old documents—which our scholars study without understanding them—are full of indications that their wisdom embraced something like these relationships between man and the Cosmos. Then this faded away. Humanity relapsed into chaos. But from this chaos man must rescue himself through his own will-forces; out of this chaos he must consciously re-discover his connection with the Cosmos—and he can do it. At the beginning of this lecture I told you how the head cannot be understood if its cosmic origin is not taken into account; nor can the limb-man be understood unless his earthly formation is considered. Both find their balance in the breast-man, the rhythmical organisation, which is continually trying to make the straight circular and the circle into a straight line. When you look at the bloodstream you have the straight, and the tendency to make a straight line of the circle, too; how the course of the blood arises depends on the movement of the stars, and so on. The form is connected with the constellations, the movement with the movement of the planets. This has been referred to from other points of view. Now what happens to the human heart and soul when knowledge of this kind is absorbed? We are bound to say that for those who take it in the right way it becomes as clearly evident as the truths of mathematics. These are certainly evident though the higher truths will not be evident to a fifteen-year old boy; and it is the same with the things we have been discussing.

On the other hand these things can have a decisive influence on our feeling and perceiving. Out of this wisdom there arises a feeling for the divine. It is only a knowledge that keeps to the surface of things which can be irreligious, not a knowledge that goes into them deeply. If we look once more at man's connection with the Cosmos, in the starry heavens above all we see beauty as an expression of spiritual entity, and then we become able to imprint the beauty of things on our art. Then in art there will not be merely external nature as seen by the senses, but with this deeply penetrating knowledge we shall in fact reach what Spiritual Science is. And we shall then appreciate something I said in the introductory lecture to this course—how here at the Goetheanum the unity of science, art and religion is sought. What is said by the one from whom the Goetheanum has its name?

He who has art and science too
Will never lack religion;
But he who does not have them both
Then let him have religion!

That means: Let him have the religion that comes from without; but anyone who possesses the essentials of science and art has religion from within—that is Goethe's conviction.

He who has art and science too
Will never lack religion—

hence those who are striving, in the way referred to, for the unity of religion, art and science, do well to call their Building the ‘Goetheanum’. But to comprehend what has arisen here on this foundation is apparently no task for the superficiality of the age, which looks condescendingly on everything and merely nibbles at one thing after another. Spiritual Science calls for decisions—for decisions that are necessary because the spirit of this science has the will to penetrate into the depths of the world. This must be grasped, too, out of the depths of the human heart.