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Supersensible Influences in the History of Mankind
GA 216

Lecture I

22 September 1922, Dornach

In recent lectures I have been trying to describe in some detail the connection of man as a being of body and soul with the spiritual Powers of the universe. I should like now to enlarge the picture by describing, in a similar way, certain historical happenings and their connections with spiritual worlds. In our materialistic age, study of the history of the human race is limited to its external aspect; attempts are made to depict what comes to pass in the physical world of sense, but no consideration is given to how the spiritual world plays into the activities and doings of men. In our epoch, human actions in the on-flowing course of history are never studied from the point of view of their connection with the Beings and Powers behind human existence.

Let us think of very ancient times in the evolution of mankind—to begin with, of those epochs described in my Outline Of Occult Science as the Old Indian and Old Persian periods of culture. Naturally, many things that were done by men in those times go to form the content of history. But it must be realised that happenings which then constituted external history were by no means the outcome of fully conscious deliberation on the part of men, for human consciousness was pervaded by a kind of dreamlike clairvoyance. Pictures arose in men's consciousness—pictures interwoven with the activities of Spiritual Beings who then spurred men on to deeds of one kind or another.

In the epoch of which I am speaking now, the process of inbreathing was extremely important. The fact that through the exercises of Yoga, breathing became a conscious process, a process of perception, indicates the significance of the part played by breathing in those ancient times. But the process of inbreathing was more important then than that of out-breathing.

We do not realise today that besides, shall I say, the coarse inhaled with the air, all kinds of substances are present, but in a state of exceedingly delicate, fine distribution. Those substances, too, which in present earth-existence are in the solid, mineral condition, are contained in the air in fine, delicate distribution, and the human being breathes them in. Now the peculiarity of these substances in their state of fine distribution through the air, is that they have the tendency to assume forms and shapes. Earthly substances too, of course, assume the forms we know as the mineral crystals. I am not here referring to the crystals but to substances finely distributed in the air, or one might also say, in the air-ether, inasmuch as this plays through the air. These substances, too, build forms—forms that do not resemble those of the minerals but of the organs in man. This is a peculiarity of the ether, which pervades the air. When we can observe this ether with Imaginative Knowledge, we see within it floating forms, delicate ether-forms with the shape of lung, or liver, or stomach—at any rate, shapes of the inner organs of man. With trained etheric sight all these forms can be observed in the cosmic ether. In comparison with our physical organs, however, these cosmic forms are usually of gigantic dimensions. We see gigantic ether-forms, with the shapes of liver, lung, and so on, interpenetrating the cosmic space around us. These forms, floating as it were in space, are breathed in by man—and it is good that this happens. For as man inbreathes these forms which enter into him with the air, they work beneficially and with healing effect upon his organs. Organs, after all, deteriorate as life progresses and, to speak colloquially, they are patched up again by what is inbreathed in this way. We well know how difficult it is for therapy to restore the physical organs, but this other kind of therapy works effectively and continuously upon the human being.

In those very early epochs of history it was possible for men, without special training and merely through their dreamlike clairvoyance, to see these ether-forms and, above all, to realise what it means when, together with the finely dissolved, pepsin-like substances in the ether, the form of the stomach, let us say, is breathed in and received by the corresponding organ in the human body. In olden times a very great deal was known about this connection with the delicate organisation of the surrounding world, and the further back we go in time, the greater was the knowledge.

This process of breathing in the ether-form was not as if air were automatically pumped into a space emptied of air. Think of an ether-form that passed into the human being through his inbreathing. Spiritual Beings were active as the cosmic forms sank into him. In recent lectures, some public and some given here, we have heard about certain Spiritual Beings and of their significance for man. I refer to those Spiritual Beings who have their physical reflection in the Moon and its light: the spiritual Moon-Beings. It was these Moon-Beings who, in the times of which I am now speaking, were able by way of these cosmic forms to pass from the cosmos into the human being. So that in those ancient epochs of historical evolution on the earth, men drew the spiritual Moon-Cosmos into themselves in the process of inbreathing, stimulating the spiritual Moon-Beings to activity within them.

What I am now telling you was the content of a science and was a body of wisdom to which much study was devoted in the most ancient Mysteries. For the Initiates of these Mysteries knew that human beings drew the spiritual Moon-Cosmos into themselves in this way. The Initiates knew, too, that this took place chiefly during the night, during sleep. But because in those olden days men were endowed with dreamlike clairvoyance, living in a state of consciousness midway between waking and sleeping, it was possible to reckon with the fact that these spiritual Moon-Beings entered into human beings during certain periods of the day-consciousness. And the leadership given to mankind by the Initiates of the ancient Mysteries aimed at gaining control of what passed into the human being in this way through the inbreathing, so that men might be able to utilise the forces of these Moon-Beings in their own deeds.

You must realise that in those ancient times there was no such thing as intellectual instruction of the kind that is current today. Nevertheless the Initiates of the Mysteries had much more potent ways and means of guiding and leading the peoples than was the case later on—and, above all, than is the case today. In the earliest period of human evolution the Initiates had developed the art of conversing with the Moon-Beings breathed in by man during the night and during the clairvoyant periods of his waking consciousness, and of causing these Moon-Beings to inculcate something very definite into humanity. Inasmuch as the Moon-Beings, via the inbreathing, became their helpers, the Initiates of the ancient Mysteries were able, in this way, to give wonderful leadership to mankind.

Only the most inadequate conceptions exist today of these deeply mysterious processes which had their outward image in all manner of ceremonial rites—processes which were used in olden times in order, from the centres of the Mysteries, to lead and guide humanity.

As evolution proceeded, a different age came to birth. Darkness gathered over the old clairvoyance, with the result that the special processes, which the Initiates had been able to make elective in the days of ancient India and ancient Persia, presented greater and greater difficulties. Up to the time of the Mystery of Golgotha, of course, and for a few centuries afterwards, remnants of the old clairvoyance persisted, particularly in certain regions. But it was already dim and by the second or third century B.C. the procedure of which I have spoken could no longer be as effective as it had been in the earliest times of human evolution after the Atlantean epoch. The Initiates of the Mysteries were more and more at a loss when they desired to make use of the power of the Moon-Beings in the guidance of mankind. If I am to describe what then took place between the Initiates and the Moon-Beings, I will say the following: When an Initiate of the Egypto-Chaldean epoch approached one of these Moon-Beings with the object of charging this Being, when he had entered into a man via the inbreathing, to instill this or that into the soul, the Moon-Being would often reply to the Initiate: During the hours of day-consciousness we no longer have any dwelling-place on the earth; we find a dwelling-place only during the hours of night.

But the Initiates would have regarded it as unlawful thus to influence men on earth during the hours of night-consciousness by way of the Moon-Beings, for this would have meant handling them like automatons. Such procedure would have given rise to what is described in certain terminology as an art of black magic, and with this the good Initiates would, naturally, have nothing whatever to do. So it was deeply significant for them when the Moon-Beings who were to be their helpers in the guidance of humanity, made answer: During the hours of the day-consciousness we have no dwelling-place on the earth. The Initiates of these Mysteries were thus faced with the danger of being without helpers in the methods they had used for leading mankind. On the other hand, what came into the world with the Christ Mystery was not yet in existence. There was an intermediate period between that of the ancient clairvoyance, when the procedures I have described were possible, and the epoch that changed the whole character of the workings of the Spiritual on the earth—the epoch inaugurated by the Mystery of Golgotha.

The Egypto-Chaldean epoch, following that of ancient Persia, provides the best illustration for study of this intermediate period. The Initiates among the Chaldean peoples hardly knew at all how to tackle the dilemma of which I am now speaking. In a certain respect they were extraordinarily helpless and they sought what they needed for the guidance of men through somewhat external means, namely, through their star-lore, their art of astrology. For what the Chaldean Initiates learnt through their astrology could be experienced in quite a different way through the Moon-Beings who passed into the bodies of men via the inbreathing. Now, however, the Moon-Beings were saying: There is no dwelling-place for us on the earth. And so the Chaldean Initiates substituted a power of external observation for the inner power, which in former days had been imparted by these Beings.

The Initiates of Egypt set to work quite differently. They sought for ways and means whereby dwelling places might be provided on earth for the Moon-Beings. For Beings, therefore, who according to the eternal laws of world-evolution no longer had their appointed dwelling places on the earth—for these Beings the Initiates of the Egyptian Mysteries sought to provide shelter. And the priests of the Egyptian Mysteries, the Egyptian Initiates, did indeed succeed in providing dwelling places on the earth for the Luciferic Moon-Beings. By peopling the burial places with mummies, the Egyptian priests found the solution to the secret of enticing the Moon-Spirits to come down to the earth, although according to the laws of world evolution this was no longer their allotted role. Mummified human beings, mummified corpses, became dwelling places for the Luciferic Moon-Beings. In earlier lectures I have spoken from a different point of view of what the mummified corpse signified, and I refer to it now from the aspect of cosmological history. Surrounded by their rows of mummies, the Egyptian Initiates were able to make observations that were no longer possible in a natural way. In earlier times it was merely a matter of being together with men and clairvoyantly observing their breathing. In substitution for this a method was found for bringing about what had once happened in the natural process of inbreathing. Places were established to which these Spirits could descend—the Spirits who now had no dwelling-place within humanity during the hours of day and would otherwise have been obliged to wander homeless about the earth. Under such conditions they could have played no part in the affairs of the earth, and places were therefore established where they could, as it were, be given shelter. These places were the mummies, the mummified corpses of men. The mummies became the dwelling places of the Moon-Beings. Standing with full understanding before the mummies, the Egyptian Initiate studied what the Initiates of earlier times had studied from life in its fresh and natural state. The Egyptian Initiate observed the activities of the Moon-Beings in the dwelling places that had thus been provided for them, and by this means he became aware of what these Moon-Beings were able to inculcate, in manifold ways, into the historical development of humanity.

Paradoxical as it will appear to the materialistic intellect of today, it is nevertheless true that if we wish to understand historical development during the Egyptian epoch of culture, we must study not merely the external monuments but that eternal Chronicle of worlds which can be read with the vision of Imagination and Inspiration, and in which are recorded the deeds of those spiritual Moon-Beings to whom no outer monuments were erected and who left no written scripts. But the achievements of the men to whom the monuments were erected—these achievements were inspired through the work of the Initiates with the Moon-Beings in the mummies, inspired by the spiritual Moon-Beings for whom, during the hours of day-consciousness, dwelling places on earth had been provided in the mummies. We can, in truth, only understand the origin of what is recorded in the ancient scripts when we are able to check out, in the life of the cosmos, those Beings who tell us: “During the third, second and first millennia before Christ we could come down to the earth only because the Priest-Initiates of Egypt provided dwelling places for us in the mummies.” From these Moon-Beings we can learn the intentions behind deeds that go to form the history of that epoch.

To understand man in his true being, we must turn to the stars and to the Hierarchies, as I said in the last two lectures given here. But to understand the historical development of humanity we must be able to study, as well, the Spiritual Powers that play into this development. We must study the meaning of a phenomenon as striking as that of the mummification of the human corpse in ancient Egypt. The inner purpose of things often regarded by modern materialism merely as curious customs can be understood when we are able to investigate them by means of spiritual science.

Once upon a time the mummies were the homes of Gods, dwelling places of Moon-Beings who were now Luciferic Beings. In the Greco-Roman epoch, the fourth Post-Atlantean epoch, conditions were somewhat different. The process of inbreathing now ceased to play the predominating part. In-breathing retained its significance, certainly, but it was no longer as important as it had once been. Inbreathing and out-breathing were now of equal significance for the human being. The Greek Initiates were well aware of this fact and the wonderful balance between inbreathing and out-breathing, which was characteristic of the Greeks, enabled their art to become the model to which history always points. It would not have been in keeping with the nature of the Greeks to receive the Moon Beings specifically by way of the inbreathing. Through the work of their Initiates, the Greek people were able to make effective those Beings who hovered—half flying, half floating in the air, and who liked best to be cradled in the condition of balance between inbreathing and out-breathing. Looking back to those ancient times of Greek development when the real inspiration was given for what manifested, later on, in a more external form—looking back to the times when forms of primitive grandeur were the source and wellspring of plastic art, of the Greek art of tragedy and of philosophy, we find that the Priest-Initiates of the Mysteries in their guidance of humanity, were able to make use primarily of those Beings who cradled themselves in the condition of balance between man's inbreathing and out-breathing. We can have no real knowledge of the Apollonian art, or of Orphic wisdom, unless we realise that their inspiration came from dæmonic Beings moving within this condition of balance between inbreathing and out-breathing. The strings of Apollo's lyre were tuned in accordance with what could be observed of those Beings who lived between the moon-sphere and the earth-sphere, who liked best to hover, to dance, as it were, on the strings of the cosmos which had been woven into the balance between inbreathing and out-breathing. The dance of the daemons of the air—this was mirrored in the tuning of the strings of Apollo's lyre.

Thus we must look into the spiritual world if we would gain knowledge of what has come to pass in external history. Think of what I said some time ago, namely, that scansion, the development of the art of ancient recitative, of the hexameter, is based on the relation between the rhythms of breathing and blood-circulation in man. Remind yourselves of what I once said in a series of lectures about the development of the hexameter. The study that led to the creation of the hexameter was, for the Greek Initiates, full of concrete realities. As we breathe in, we receive the moving waves of cosmic life into ourselves, and adjust them to our inner being. As we breathe out we impart to the rhythm of the breath something of the vibration of the pulse in the circulating blood. Thus we can say: The external world pulsates into our inbreathing. In our out-breathing our own blood pulsates. And so a Greek Initiate who was schooled in these things was able to observe how in and around the human being, in his ether-body and astral body, cosmic rhythm and the rhythm of the blood were meeting and intermingling and how denizens of the air were moving and dancing in these rhythms.

Such was the study to which Homer applied himself when he was developing the hexameter, in particular, to its highest perfection of form—for the hexameter is born from the connection between the human being and the world.

Many things become clear for the first time when we study history with the eye of knowledge permeated by art, and with the eye of art permeated by knowledge. I have no desire to speak about the materialistic mentality of today, which instead of pondering deeply about the origin of, let us say, the “Songs of Homer” finds a way out by saying that Homer never existed. That is the simplest way out of the difficulty, from the standpoint of modern materialism. It is not possible for materialistic science to understand Homer, and according to a mentality that has become so vain and self-glorious in our times, anything that is incomprehensible cannot possibly exist. Things that cannot be explained by the academic mind do not exist! Homer is incomprehensible—therefore he never existed. He cannot be explained, so he doesn't exist ... but after all, surely there is it more sensible explanation than this!

In museums everywhere you will find sculptured heads of Homer. I am not saying that the likeness is particularly good, but when we look at this blind Homer, whose eyes, in spite of blindness, have such a mysterious expression and whose head has a striking pose, the portrayal is good enough to make us feel perhaps he blinded himself voluntarily—I am, of course, speaking metaphorically—perhaps he deliberately made himself blind in order that sight should not disturb a certain kind of listening; for Homer listens. Without the distraction of sight, he experiences the interplay between the pulsation of the cosmos and the pulsing of human blood, the pulsing of the human ether body, where the Beings of the air carry out their dance of harmony and melody. In a kind of whirring ... as when one listens to the whirring of a swarm of flies ... Homer heard the hexameter and, undisturbed by sight or the ordinary clear light of day, it is as if his ears were touching at the same time as hearing.

Look at the heads of Homer from this point of view. The form of marble or plaster gives the impression of hearing that is also touching, touching that is also hearing; life of a very special kind is present here. The head-nature seems to flash from within through the blinded eyes. There is something that seems not only to hear, but actually to touch the sounds, to detain them, in order to lead over into scansion by the human voice what was drawn in from the cosmos. So it was, in days when the predominating factor was not the inbreathing or the out-breathing, but the interplay between them. Contemplation of the head of Homer should give rise to the eager question: How did he breathe? This head is undisturbed by external light, is wholly given up to the mysteries of the breathing. To have this feeling about the sculptured heads that can be seen in many places would be more intelligent than to argue away the existence of Homer. The reasons produced by scholars when they argued away the existence of Homer were so subtle and deceptive that even Goethe was a little disturbed. The German philologist Wolf was the first to argue away the existence of Homer and even Goethe could not entirely put aside his subtle, plausible contentions. And although Goethe always had a feeling of horror at the thought that Homer had been demolished by Wolf, he was nevertheless a little shaken by the extremely astute arguments put forward. Modern cleverness is capable of anything! On this subject I have always said: Modern men are clever, extraordinarily clever and astute; but cleverness does not necessarily mean that they really know the world.

Hermann Grimm set to work ... not to bring Homer to life again, for he had not really been demolished by Wolf—all that had been demolished was a picture that had grown up in the course of time ... Hermann Grimm set to work as follows. He said: We will not, to begin with, concern ourselves with Homer, nor with Wolf who is supposed to have demolished him, but we will turn to the Iliad itself. Let us read this epic of Homer, not as a philologist reads it but as a human being reads it. Let us take the first Book, the first Song, and try to discover by what kind of art the introduction, the continuation and the further development were created. Then pass to the second Song; again we find a remarkable unity in the composition and realise with what a wonderful feeling for art each Song is built on the preceding one. Hermann Grimm pursued this method of study through the whole of the Iliad and it did not fail. Then he said: It would indeed be strange if Homer had never existed, if one man had written a portion of the Iliad, a second man another portion, a third man another, and so on, and then such fragments had merely been put together—as people will probably one day say of Faust, because contradictions have been found in it. It would indeed be strange if a work like the Iliad with its unbroken uniformity of composition had been compiled from all kinds of fragments discovered here or there.

Truly, it is necessary in studying history to picture the weaving and working of Spiritual Beings in the happenings and proceedings of history. Anthroposophical spiritual science must also have this aim, and I have tried today to pursue it in respect of very early periods and up to the time of Greek culture. In the lecture tomorrow we shall see how in the present age, since the Mystery of Golgotha, Spiritual Beings have been manifestly working in human deeds which have become increasingly free and we shall learn what we ourselves have to do in order to find help as did the Egyptian Initiates when they provided shelter for certain Moon-Beings. Something not altogether dissimilar may have to be brought about, but out of a true understanding of the Spirit.