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Supersensible Influences in the History of Mankind
GA 216

Lecture III

24 September 1922, Dornach

A wise man of ancient Egypt once spoke to a wise man of Greece words to this effect: You Greeks are a people who live only in the present, without taking history into account. You speak of what is happening immediately around you and give no thought to how the present has been taking shape since primeval times.

What did the Egyptian sage mean by this? He wanted to convey that the thoughts of the Egyptians were concerned with great problems of the cosmos, with the evolution of the earth through different forms, and that the Greeks, at most, had only pictures of these things in myth and saga. But in reality the Egyptian sage wanted to indicate what had resulted from the use made of the mummified human being, as I have been trying to explain in the last two lectures. The Egyptians set out to bring into the rhythm of inbreathing, impulses derived from certain Spiritual Beings for whom dwelling places had been created in the mummies. Let us try to picture as clearly as possible the significance of the mummy in days when Egyptian Initiation-culture was at its prime.

The mummy was the human being after the spirit-and-soul had departed from his physical form. While a man is alive, the forces active in his etheric organism, his astral organism and Ego, work within this form. The form is irradiated and permeated by the human “tincture” proceeding from the blood and the rest of the organism. The mummy was bare form, a form that could exist on earth only because the human being exists on earth. The Egyptian Initiates used this form—in which the soul and the spirit were not actually present—in order to acquire a power which, without the cult of the mummy, they could not have possessed.

We must try to picture times when the life of soul was quite unlike that of today. Before the Egyptian epoch, all the ideas and thoughts of man, all the experiences of his inner life, were imparted to him directly from the spiritual world. Even when immersed in his thoughts, therefore, he was living in revelations of the spiritual world. In the days of the ancient Indian and ancient Persian civilisations, all the thoughts of man were revelations from the spiritual world. No thoughts were stimulated in him by the external world, by plants, animals or other human beings. His life of soul was replete with thoughts proceeding from the Spiritual and they shed abundant light upon the world. Man lived in communion with the plants and animals and he also gave them names. But these names, too, came to him as revelations from the Gods. When, in the epochs of ancient India and ancient Persia, man gave a name to a flower, it seemed to him that a divine voice said to him distinctly: This is the name by which the flower is to be known. When he gave a name to an animal, he was conscious of hearing inwardly: This is the name by which the animal is to be known. In the civilisations of ancient India and ancient Persia, all such names came to men via their inner life of soul.

In the civilisation of ancient Egypt it was different. Clairvoyant experiences were now fading more and more into twilight and man no longer had clear perception of what was being revealed to him from the spiritual world. As a result he felt it increasingly necessary to live in communion with external nature, with the kingdoms of the animals, the plants and the minerals. But this, too, was out of his reach, for the time was not yet ripe. It was to come in the real sense only after the Mystery of Golgotha. The development of the human being in ancient Egypt had not reached the point where he could have lived in direct communion with the external world. He was obliged, therefore, to mummify the human body. For out of what was present in the mummified form from which the soul and the spirit had departed, he could receive enlightenment about nature around him, about the plants, the animals, the minerals. The first facts of knowledge about these kingdoms of nature came to man from the Spirits who spoke to him from the dwelling places provided for them on earth in the mummies. In the days when the Gods ceased to speak to man from the super-sensible world, he had recourse to helpers who were now able to live on the earth because the human form was preserved by mummification.

But the matter was full of complication. True, it would have been possible for the Initiates to receive from the Moon-Beings indwelling the mummies, enlightenment upon what should be introduced into human life and directives for the guidance and education of men. But because the necessary faculties of soul were still undeveloped, it would not have been possible, even for the Initiates, to obtain, without further measures, enlightenment on nature, on the kingdoms of the plants, animals and minerals, from the Moon-Beings in the mummies. And yet in this very domain the Egyptians were great. With the help of the culture connected with the mummies, they founded, for example, a wonderful art of medicine.

Of course, when a “clever” man of today interprets these things, he says: By preserving the mummies, the Egyptians obtained knowledge of the various organs and founded a science of anatomy, not merely of medicine. This, however, is an illusory conception. The truth is that purely empirical research and logical deliberation would have been no use to the Egyptians for their intercourse with the external world was not of this character; it was much more delicate, much subtler. But something was achieved by this careful preservation of the mummified form, namely, that the souls of the Dead were fettered for a time to their mummies.

Herein lies the dubious character of Egyptian culture, a perpetual reminder that it was a culture in decline, in degeneration, and cannot be said to represent a golden age in human evolution. It was a culture that encroached upon the super-sensible destinies of men, for human souls after death were fettered, as it were, to the preserved, mummified form. And whereas through the Spiritual Beings indwelling the mummies, directives for human affairs could be received, it was not possible to obtain enlightenment about nature, about the animal, plant and mineral kingdoms directly, but only indirectly, in this sense, that the Moon-Beings were able to communicate secrets of nature to the human souls still fettered to the mummies. And so it was from the human souls lingering with their mummies that the Initiates of Egypt, in their turn, obtained enlightenment about the kingdoms of the plants, animals and minerals. A strange atmosphere pervaded Egyptian culture. The Initiates said to themselves: Before death our bodies are not suited to receive enlightenment about nature; a science of nature is beyond our reach; this can come only later, after the Mystery of Golgotha has taken place; our bodies now are unsuitable. Nevertheless we need enlightenment. As human bodies now are, men can acquire knowledge about nature only after their death. They live in the midst of nature here, but they cannot use the body in order to form concepts about nature. After death, however, such concepts can arise. Let us therefore detain the Dead for a period in order that they may give us enlightenment about nature.

Thus a dubious element was introduced into the historical development of humanity through Egyptian culture. Chaldean culture held aloof in this respect and was, so to speak, a culture of greater purity.

Now all these things—modern science, of course, will regard them as so much fantasy, but modern science holds the same opinion of a great deal that is true—all these things were known, particularly, to men of Hebrew antiquity. Hence the aversion to Egyptian culture indicated in the Old Testament although, through Moses, many elements of Egyptian culture found their way into the events there recorded. The Old Testament indicates the kind of attitude that prevailed in regard to all those things I have described as typifying Egyptian development. The attitude of the Initiates in ancient Egypt was this. They said: In order to acquire the powers that are essential for the direction and education of men, we must create external means since inner means are no longer available to us. But we must also anticipate something that will arise only in the future, namely, a science of nature. And there is no other way of achieving this than by letting the Dead, whom we fetter to their mummies, impart it to us. Time ran on and the Mystery of Golgotha took place. By the fourth or fifth century A.D., the old constitution of the soul, with its pictorial conception of the world, had completely passed away. Indications were already appearing of an epoch when men were to form their concepts of outer nature from outer nature herself and moreover when they would be capable of doing so. The whole organisation of man was inwardly transformed. He felt more and more that his soul remained empty when he waited for thoughts and ideas to be revealed to him directly out of the spiritual world. And so he turned to the observation of external phenomena; he formed his concepts and ideas from observations and, later on, from experiments. The process was exactly reversed.

And now, once again it was a matter of acquiring by other means something that was no longer within the reach of man's own powers. More and more since the fourth and fifth centuries A.D., it has been borne in upon men that a future must come when, despite the gift of intellect and the capacity to form thoughts and ideas about external nature through the intellect, this intellect must be spiritualized, so that thoughts will once again lead directly to Divine-Spiritual reality and the power inherent in such thoughts pass into the out-breathing. But this power has not yet come into existence. For the time being we have recourse only to the intellect that is bound up with the physical body.

Certain traditional conceptions which today have almost entirely died out and of which history knows nothing, were alive all through the early Middle Ages, from the fourth and fifth to the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and even later, although hidden in obscurity. Men now proceeded to make “mummies” of a certain kind, out of these conceptions—mummies that are analogous to those of Egypt although they take a different form and the analogy is not perceived. Modern humanity could have gained nothing by preserving the human form in the mummy, as was the custom in Egypt. What modern humanity preserved, was something different, namely ancient cults, mainly pre-Christian cults. And particularly since the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, with the birth of a completely intellectualistic culture, ancient ceremonies and rites were preserved in all kinds of occult Orders. Wonderful cults of antiquity, occult rites and ceremonies have been continued in Orders and Lodges of different kinds. They are mummies, like the mummies of human beings in ancient Egypt, as long as they are not irradiated and quickened by the Mystery of Golgotha. There is a very great deal in these cults and ceremonies, but of the wisdom they contained in ancient times only dead elements have been preserved, just as the mummy preserved the dead form of man. And in many respects it is so to this very day. There are innumerable Orders where ceremonials and rituals of all kinds are enacted; but the life has gone out of them, they are mummified. Just as the Egyptian felt a kind of awe when he gazed at a mummy, so in modern man there is not exactly awe, but a feeling of uneasiness perhaps, when he comes across these mummified procedures in his civilisation. He feels them to be something mysterious, as the mummy was felt to be mysterious.

Now just as among the Initiates of Egypt there were some who acted unlawfully, who used the information conveyed to them by the Spirits indwelling the mummies to give false instruction and direction to humanity, so in the mummified ceremonies of many occult Orders an impetus is given to introduce a false twist here or there in the guidance of mankind. I told you that something made possible by mummification of the corpse, passed into the human being by way of the inbreathing. As I said yesterday, the Spiritual Beings needed by the Egyptians had no dwelling-place on earth. And this was provided by the mummies. Those Spiritual Beings and forces which by way of the out-breathing are to bear the inner configuration of man into the ether-world, find no paths in the everyday world, but they are able to move along paths created in these ceremonies—even though they are not understood and are mummified.

In the epoch of Egyptian civilisation, the Moon-Spirits found themselves homeless during the hours of the day. The Spirits who work in the out-breathing of man, these elementary Earth-Spirits who are to be the helpers of mankind today—they have no dwelling-place by night, but they slip down into these ceremonies and ritualistic enactments. There they find paths and are able to live. During the day it is still possible for these Beings to live as it were an honourable existence, for by day the human being thinks, and his intellectualistic thought-forms are passing outwards all the time with the breath as, driven through the cerebral fluid, through the spinal canal, it is then again exhaled. During the hours of night, however, when a man is not thinking, no thought-forms go forth from him; there are no little “ether-ships” upon which the Earth-Spirits can go forth into the world in order to impress man's form into the cosmos of ether. And so ways and directions for the Earth-daemons have been created through these mummified ceremonies. What is contained in all kinds of occult Orders, especially since the birth of modern intellectualism, has a basis similar to that of the cult of the mummy in Egypt, which so suddenly made its appearance. For the human being cannot have knowledge of outer nature without knowledge of himself and of his own form. When the Egyptians set out to acquire a knowledge of nature, they were able to have the mummified human form before them. When it behooved men of the modern age to find something that is not merely passive, ineffective thought elaborated by the intellect but that can really go forth into the world and produce an effect there, then they were obliged to surround themselves with symbolism, symbolism which points to what should really take shape within them in a spiritual sense.

These ceremonial forms and enactments in Lodges and Orders are devoid of soul—the soul has departed from them. As little as the soul of a man indwelt his mummy, as little does there inhere in these ceremonies the power of soul that once was present when they were conducted by the Initiates of olden time. Spiritual life pulsated through the ceremonies when they were being enacted among the ancient Initiates—a spiritual life flowed out from human beings into the ceremonies. In those days, man and the ceremony were one. Think, by way of comparison, of how externalised the ceremonies have become in Orders of the modern age!

The modern man cannot get beyond his intellect. I told you yesterday how even a Benedictine Father, whose vocation it is to be a servant of the Spirit, how even he cannot get away from intellectualism. Modern man cannot find his way out of intellectualism any more than the ancient Egyptian could find his way into it. The ancient Egyptians needed the souls of men already dead in order that a science of nature might be imparted to them. The man of modern times needs something that again imparts to him a spiritual science, a knowledge of the Spirit, because as yet he is unable to unfold this himself.

Now quite apart from the many occult Orders which have become pure mummies, have no deep background, and are carried on more out of a liking to dabble in mysteries, we find that as late as the first half of the nineteenth century there always existed, as well as these others, very earnest and sincere Orders, in which more was imparted than, for example, an average Freemason today receives from his Order. The Orders to which I am referring were able to impart more, because certain needs prevailed in the spiritual world among Beings belonging to the Hierarchy of the Angeloi who are of less interest to us on the earth but very important in our pre-earthly existence. Certain Beings of the Hierarchy of the Angeloi, too, have needs of knowledge, and can only satisfy them by letting human beings reach over, probingly as it were, to these genuine occult Orders before they have come down from pre-earthly into earthly existence. It has actually happened that in connection with certain Lodges working with ancient ceremonial forms, men of vision have been able to assert: Here there is present the soul of a human being who will descend to the earth only in the future. Before the man is born, the soul may be present in such a Lodge and, through their feelings, men can acquire a great deal from this source. Just as the human soul hovered around the mummy, was still bound in a sense to the mummy, so in certain occult Lodges the spirits of human beings not yet born hover in a kind of anticipatory existence. What happens in a case like this does not stimulate intellectual thoughts, for modern men have these thoughts naturally and need no such stimulus. But when they are working in their occult Lodges with the right mood of soul, they can receive communications from human beings not yet born, who are still in their pre-earthly existence and who can be present as a result of the ceremonies. Such men feel the reality of the spiritual world and can, moreover, be inspired by the spiritual world.

There is something in the biography of Goethe which strikes anyone who has a feeling for such things as very significant, particularly when it is mentioned by people who, although they do not know the whole truth, none the less indicate it out of a kind of half-conscious knowledge. Karl Julius Schröer, of whom I have often told you, was quite remarkable in this respect when he was speaking of Goethe. Again and again when he was lecturing on the works and biography of Goethe, a striking phrase would fall from his lips. Schröer would say: “Goethe experienced that once again and the experience rejuvenated him.” Schröer spoke of Goethe as a personality who, say at the age of seven, had had a certain experience; then at the age of fourteen, perhaps, he experienced something different, but the second experience really brought him back a little nearer childhood. Goethe became younger, was rejuvenated. At the age, say, of twenty-one, he was again rejuvenated. Schröer depicted Goethe as if, from stage to stage, he was constantly being rejuvenated.

Study Goethe's biography with care and you will find clear indications of this. Even when he had become a corpulent official in Weimar with a double chin, even in the days when in his dealings with certain people he was a surly, morose old man—and there is much to suggest that in his intercourse with others he was anything but pleasant—even then, in advanced age, Goethe underwent a rejuvenation. It would have been impossible for him, at a great age, to write the second part of Faust if he had not been thus rejuvenated. For about the year 1816 or 1817, Goethe was not a personality from whom one could have expected anything like the second part of Faust, which was written from the year 1824 onwards. A rejuvenation had actually taken place. Moreover Goethe himself had an inkling of this, at any rate in his younger years, when he depicts Faust being given a draught of youth. It is really part of his own biography.

When we investigate what was responsible for this, we realise that it was Goethe's membership of a Lodge. Other venerable figures of Weimar, perhaps only with the exception of Wieland, Chancellor von Muller and one or two others, were ordinary members of the Lodge like many bona fide officials in Weimar. It was their habit to go to Church on Sundays and also be members of the Lodge—the contrast did not worry them! It was the custom in such circles. But it was different in Goethe's case, different too, in the cases of Chancellor von Muller, Wieland and one or two others. They actually experienced these rejuvenations because in their souls they had intercourse with men as yet unborn. Just as the priests of the temples in ancient Egypt had intercourse with the souls of men after their death, so persons such as I have named had intercourse with human beings still living in pre-earthly existence. And from this existence before birth, human beings can bring spirituality into the world of the present. They bring, not intellectualism, but spirituality, which a man then receives through his feelings and which can pervade his whole life.

Thus it may be said that the first elements of intellectual thinking unfolded by mankind in the course of evolution, were learnt by the Egyptians from the Dead, And the first elements of spiritual truths, which have been learnt again by men in the modern age, were acquired from unborn human beings by certain outstanding personalities out of the Initiation-teachings given in occult Orders. Study Goethe's works and again and again you will find flashes of spiritual wisdom which he is not able to express in the form of thoughts but which he clothes in pictures often reminiscent of symbols used in occult Orders. The pictures came to Goethe in the way described. And there are many other such cases.

Now these unborn human souls can give enlightenment only about spiritual truths which can be experienced in the non-earthly world—about the things of heaven and what lies out-side the actual arena of earth-evolution. But because the elementary Earth-Spirits find a foothold in the ceremonies, communications can be made by the Unborn to these Earth-Spirits. And if there is anyone present at the ceremonies with a gift for hearing from the Earth-Spirits what has been communicated to them by the Unborn, such men can, in their turn, give voice to what the Unborn say to the Earth-Spirits. Think of the wonderful understanding of nature possessed by Goethe and by other men in those days, for example, the Danish writer Steven, or men like Troxler, or Schubert who wrote so prolifically on the subject of dreams and whose best inspirations came from the Nature-Spirits. And there were many others—more numerous in the first half of the nineteenth century than later on—who are examples of what came to men by this means. Often, too, something else happened. Communications made in this way by the Unborn to the Nature-Spirits did not always result in the voicing of spiritual secrets of nature. In some human beings these communications became part of their very soul. The forces of the Nature-Spirits were received into their individual qualities of soul and this expressed itself in the style in which such men wrote. Anyone who has a feeling for such things today will realise that the very style of historians such as Ranke or Taine or a typically modern English historian, is intellectualistic. Ranke's style in itself is intellectualistic. The sentences are strung together in an intellectualistic way; the subject is cleverly placed, the predicate just where it should be, and so on. It is all so clever that even a schoolmaster could be satisfied with it, but compare this kind of style with that of Johannes Muller in his twenty-four volumes of world-history: that is a style ... well ... as though an angel were speaking. And in other domains too, in the eighteenth century, many things were written in a style which has no trace of this lack of individuality, this irritating objectivity, but on the contrary, has a quality which makes us feel that elementary forces of nature are streaming through the writer, so that his style seems to flow from the cosmos, from the universe. In such cases something resembling what went out from the mummies to the Initiates of ancient Egypt, comes to modern man. These are facts of great significance, taking place behind the veils of outer history, and they must be recognised by anyone who desires really to understand the evolution of humanity. And so, although these things have remained unrecognised for a time because nowadays there are no ears to hear them—we see how preparation was made for the spiritual power that must enter into and live within the intellect in future ages if humanity does not wish to take the path leading towards the decline of the West depicted by Spengler.

The ancient Egyptians mummified the human form. Since the fourth and fifth centuries A.D., humanity has mummified ancient cults, making it possible, in this way, for forces from beyond the earth to work in the ceremonial of these old cults. Human beings themselves contributed little to these cults; but superhuman beings often contributed a great deal. It is the same with cults of the Churches, and those who have vision of realities can often dispense with the person who stands in the flesh before the altar, because—apart altogether from the officiating priests—they are able to perceive the presence of these Spiritual Beings in the ceremonies.

When we think about these things, it will be clear to us that if we really desire to approach what is all around us spiritually, quite a different kind of language is necessary from that to which modern man is accustomed. Nor shall we be surprised at the appearance of a work like Fritz Mauthner's Kritik der Sprache, which sets out to prove that the ideas men have conceived of Spiritual Beings are words and nothing more. And if words are not to be believed, then, obviously, one cannot believe in Spiritual Beings. Such is the purport of Mauthner's Kritik der Sprache.

Yes, but as far as a large proportion of modern humanity is concerned, Mauthner is quite right. A large proportion of modern humanity has nothing but words with which to speak of the super-sensible. Here, unfortunately, the Kritik der Sprache is right. What is necessary is that real spiritual substance shall again be brought into words. And so it was also necessary in the course of historical evolution that during a period when men themselves were unable to lay hold of this spiritual substance, it should be continued and developed for them by superhuman Beings and by unborn human beings, just as intellectuality was prepared for the Egyptians by those who had already passed through death. The Egyptians received from the Dead the intellectuality in which we are now steeped. We, in the present age, have to learn or at least study by way of the now mummified cult, the spirituality we have not yet acquired—for cult has many things to tell us. Through this different kind of mummy we must supplement our intellectual knowledge with the spirituality of the future. Mummified enactments have taken the place of the mummified human being; mummified ceremonies have superseded the mummified human form.

In this way we must study what proceeds behind the veils of world-history; otherwise every account of the flow of history remains a jumble of external, seemingly fortuitous happenings. But they are not fortuitous when their background is known and understood; they become so only if men refuse to recognise their background. They throw up waves, as it were, of which man believes that each is separate and distinct from the other, whereas the truth is that they all surge upwards together from the depths of an ocean. In reality, processes in history are waves thrown up to the surface, into the sphere of man's life, from the depths of a spiritual sea of world-evolution. In each historical fact we should perceive one such wave, and abandon the belief that one wave arises fortuitously by the side of another. Each wave, that is to say, each historical fact, arises from spiritual depths of that historical evolution which flows onwards eternally, from age to age.