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Supersensible Influences in the History of Mankind
GA 216

Lecture IV

29 September 1922, Dornach

I have been speaking to you about the secrets connected with the mummy and with cult and rites, indicating how the mummy enshrined secrets of antiquity before the Mystery of Golgotha, whereas cult and ceremonial rites in their more modern forms enshrine secrets whose full significance will be revealed only in the future. Today and tomorrow I want to add something to what has already been said and to begin with I will give you a picture in the form of a kind of narrative.

If you had been able to participate in many a scene in the Mysteries during a certain epoch of Egyptian development, in times when the custom of the mummification of bodies was at its height, you would have experienced something like the following. The Priest-Instructor in the Mysteries would have tried, first, to explain to his pupils that in the human head all the mysteries of the world lie concealed, in a very special sense. He would have bidden them regard the earth, the dwelling-place of man, as a mirror, a reflection of the whole cosmos. In very truth, everything that exists in the cosmos is also to be found in the earth itself. Looking upwards to the world of stars, we see the moon as our nearest neighbour among the heavenly bodies. Think of the earth and the moon circling around the earth.1 We can picture the course taken by the moon as it moves around the earth and all that lies between the earth and the orbit of the moon. Those who rightly understand how to interpret what they find when they dig down into the earth, will say: What is present in the environment is mirrored, and condensed, in an outermost layer of the earth itself.

And now take another planet, which together with the earth, circles round the Sun. We can picture this planet, Venus, and its path. This sphere is filled with delicate, aeriform, etheric substance. Again a lower layer in the earth must be pictured as a reflection of what is outside in the cosmos. Proceeding in this way we have the whole earth as a mirror image of the universe, remembering that what exists out yonder in a state of extremely delicate, ethereal volatility is condensed and still further condensed when it is found in the earth's strata. Thus at the centre of the earth, the outermost periphery of the universe would be condensed into a single point.

In the epoch to which I am now referring, the Initiate of Egypt spoke to his pupils of those things I have very briefly outlined. But the Initiate also said to his pupils: To understand the interaction between the cosmos and its mirror image, the earth, let us study the human head. The human head is formed in the mother's body through the combined working of the whole universe and the earth. But—so the Initiate would have said to his pupils—no observation of the human head can, in itself, enable us to understand its real nature, for the head in itself does not reveal its secrets. It contains innumerable secrets and mysteries but they remain concealed.

The human head is active from the earliest period of germination in the body of the mother until death but it does not contain within itself the effects of its own activity. The mystery of the human head is that it is infinitely active, but the effects of its activities are to be found in the other parts of the organism, not in the head itself.

An Egyptian Initiate would have spoken to his pupils just as I am speaking to you now, except that he would, of course, have used the forms of expression current in those days.

Diagrams were sketched on the blackboard, of circles one inside each other, the smallest indicating the earth in the centre and the larger circles the paths around the earth of the moon and other planets with their interpenetrating spheres

He would have made the following intelligible to his pupils. When the human eye looks at a colour, the perception of the colour gives rise to a change in the brain. What is thus produced in the human eye, with the resulting change in the brain is, in truth, a deed of the outer world. The processes that take place in the brain itself are deeds of the outer world. But the brain itself does something. When the brain receives a colour-impression from outside and a nerve-process arises inwardly as a result, the brain brings about something in the astral body and Ego. The actual effect of this, however, manifests in the other parts of the organism, not in the brain itself. Whereas the working of the external world results in a change in the brain, the brain, for its part, works, for example, upon the heart or upon some other organ of the human body. You can only perceive what the human head does when you know exactly what happens in the human physical body—so would the Initiate have spoken to his pupils.

The Egyptians had knowledge of these things, but because the possibilities that had existed in still earlier times were no longer at their disposal, the Initiates were obliged to adopt methods different from those used by the Initiates of ancient Persia or ancient India. The Initiates of ancient India let their pupils carry out exercises of Yoga, made them breathe in a particular way; and by transforming the breathing process into a sensory process the pupils acquired knowledge of the human physical body. And how did they acquire it?

We know that when man breathes in, the breath-impulse passes through the lungs into the whole of the body, through the spinal canal into the brain. In the brain, the breath-impulse combines with the other processes there, and then recoils. It was this recoil that the pupil of Yoga observed. The breath-impulse passes first into the lungs, through the spinal canal into the brain, and there expands; then it recoils and passes through the different organs, into the chest, and so on. Observing the recoil of the breath downwards into the organism, the pupil of Yoga was able to watch what the brain was doing in the chest, in the abdominal organs and so on. In the recoil through the spinal cord and the expansion through the whole body, the pupil of Yoga was able to observe what the head brings about in the organism. Such was the art connected with the breath, in times when the breathing process was made into a sensory process, when through observation of the breathing, a human being could answer for himself the question: How does my head work in my organism?

I told you in the last lecture that at a certain stage of the Egyptian epoch, this art had been lost and the Egyptian Initiates were obliged to resort to other means. The Initiates of Egypt led their pupils to the mummies, taught them to mummify the human organism, taught them, through observation of what was there presented to them, something that had once been learned by inner means, through contemplation of the breathing process. But I told you, too, that although the pupils of the Egyptian Initiates were no longer capable of following these spiritual processes, which are revealed as the deeds performed by the brain in the human organism—and that was the point of importance—nevertheless the Initiates were helped, as they spoke to their pupils, by the spiritual Moon-Beings. These spiritual Beings who would otherwise have wandered homeless about the earth, found dwelling places in the mummies. These were the Beings who could be observed, whose speech was still understood in that period of ancient Egyptian development and through whom the first science of nature was imparted. What the pupil of Yoga was able to perceive inwardly, through cultivation of the breathing process—these things were now taught somewhat in the following way. The Initiates would say to their pupils: The human head is involved in a constant process of dying. It is really dying all the time, and every night the organism must make efforts to counteract this dying process in the head. But what the head does during this dying process between birth and death results in the influx of new life into the other organs of the body, so that inasmuch as the forces of these other organs—not their substance, of course, but their forces—are sent on into the future, during the period between death and a new birth they become head, the head of the next earthly incarnation. But the Initiates impressed upon their pupils the necessity of understanding what is contained in the actual forms of the organs, and it was for this reason that such scrupulous care was given to the preservation of the mummies. By way of the forms in the mummy, the Moon-Spirits were able to reveal the secrets of the organs, their connection with the human head, and how they bear within them those forces of germination by means of which they become head in the next earthly life. Such was the teaching given by the Initiates of Egypt to their pupils, by means of the mummy.

At a certain period, then, it became necessary to teach in an external way what had once been inner teaching in the days when the Yoga philosophy and religion were at their prime. This, indeed, was the great transition that took place from the culture of ancient India and ancient Persia to that of Egypt: what had once been a teaching by inner means was now taught by external means.

The teaching given by the Initiates of Egypt was brought to a majestic climax when they said to their pupils: And now steep yourselves in the plastic quality of the forms lying before you in the mummy. Here you have very faint indications of that which during the life of man on earth is perpetually passing away, namely, the inner components of the human head. But you have before you in great clarity and precision the forms of the rest of the human organism. Contemplation of the mummy will not help you to study the life-processes, or the perceptive processes; but the plastic quality of the forms of the inner organs of the human body, the heart, the lungs, the kidneys, the stomach, and so forth—all this you can study from the mummy. Try to picture the following. During life, the breath is drawn back into the head and then streams out into the organism. In this breath there is a plastic force, which has the tendency to shape the breath into the form of a mummy. The breath, in its drive from the head towards the body, has the tendency towards mummy-formation. And it is only because the body works against this impulse and brings about out-breathing, that this “nascent” mummy is transformed back again. Thus what is seen streaming from the human head into the other part of the organism, taking shape there as the breath passes onwards, is a form like the mummy, a form that takes shape rapidly. In that the breath is breathed out, it dissolves again. All that remains of it is a form of appearance of the etheric body, which is almost always there, notably during waking life. Observation of the etheric body gives the feeling that from the head outwards the etheric body is trying all the time to form itself into a mummy and is in turn dissolved into a kind of resemblance with the human physical organisation. The inner, plastic force of the human etheric body tends to make it assume the form of a mummy, and then to dissolve this form again so that finally the etheric body resembles the physical organism. This was taught as an apotheosis of all the manifold teachings given by the Initiates of ancient Egypt to their pupils with the help of those super-sensible, elementary Beings whom we may call the Moon-Spirits.

The Egyptian Initiates directed the attention of their pupils especially to the past, to the inner experiences of human beings in very ancient times. This, in truth, was the essence of Egyptian culture, which for us today is so fraught with riddles. Sphinxes, pyramids, mummies—they are all enigmas. But these enigmas are unveiled to spiritual science when we know that the sphinxes represent forms that were actually visible to men in the time of Atlantis, and when we remember that the teachings concerning the mummy given by the Egyptian Initiates to their pupils were an echo of the Yoga teaching imparted, for example, by Initiates of ancient India to their pupils. It was not difficult for an Initiate of ancient India to give such teaching because in those remote times the slightest impetus would enable a man to perceive within a human physical organism this momentary birth of the ether-mummy and its retransformation.

It is deeply interesting to contemplate how these mysteries were unveiled in the Egyptian centres of instruction where such intimate connections were thus established with death. Through the methods adopted in Egypt, death preserved forms, which, during life, are hidden from observation but of which there must be knowledge if the being of man is to be truly understood.

The mummies were displayed before the eyes of the ancient Egyptians and I have told you that there is something analogous for human beings who have lived since the Mystery of Golgotha. For them, cults and rites in many forms have been preserved. I told you that at the time when men needed such forms, they began to “mummify” ancient cults and rites. In its first, faint beginnings, this custom arose in the fourth and fifth centuries A.D., but it comes more and more to the fore with the passage of time. In occult and other Brotherhoods, rituals are studied and enacted, but there is never anything essentially new in them. Ancient forms, ancient rituals, are preserved. Indeed those whose task it is to preserve these rites and ceremonies, who have to lead them, lay great stress upon the fact that the ceremonies and customs date back to very ancient times, that they have been preserved from remote antiquity. But we never find that the ceremonies or the effects produced by the rituals are really understood.

To “understand” such rites and ceremonies—what does this really mean? What does it mean to understand the nature of acts performed in rites and ceremonies? To answer this question we must go back to the times, say, of ancient India and ancient Persia and try to discover how ceremonies and rites were understood then. A man today is aware of a difference when, let us say, he touches a rose made of papier-mâché and when he touches a real rose. He is also aware of the difference, through his sense of smell, when he is near a rose. He is aware of the difference and says that the papier-mâché rose is a dead object whereas the rose picked from the rosebush is alive. In very early times, dating back to four or five thousand years before Christ, a man with true perception of the world seeing someone working with a machine or tool, say for cutting wood, would have called this a “dead” process; for even with the eye of spirit he would have seen not the physical substance but a kind of dead, shadow-image. But in ritualistic and ceremonial enactments he saw Spiritual Beings from the surrounding elementary world approaching and pervading all the forms and actions of the rite. He beheld spiritual reality in these enactments.

If you were to ask people today whether they have ever seen Spiritual Beings weaving and streaming through rituals and ceremonies in Churches or Lodges, you would find that this is never the case. In these ritualistic enactments today there is no more spiritual life than there was life in the Egyptian mummy of the human being who had been mummified. But inasmuch as these rituals were preserved, as the form of the human body was preserved in the Egyptian mummy, inasmuch as human enactments and rites were preserved by tradition—“mummified”, as it were—something was preserved that can and will be wakened into life when men have discovered how to bring into all their deeds the power that streams from the Mystery of Golgotha.

Men today have very little understanding of how to draw into their actions the power of the Mystery of Golgotha. Through the centuries, however, there were always individuals here and there who had some conception—even if not so clearly as in earlier times—of how the spiritual impulse that can live in the human being may be guided into all his actions, and of how the human being himself can be an intermediary between the Spirit and what comes to pass through him in the outer world. The right impulse must, of course, be at work before this can happen. Think of a man like Paracelsus. He was one of those isolated individuals who had an inkling, at least, that the spiritual must so live among men that it streams out from them into their actions. There is a great difference between man's mode of life today and what Paracelsus, for example, desired. Today people make a sharp distinction between certain domains of their life. For instance, they practise medicine, but according to materialistic conceptions. A doctor today may, of course, also be a religious man or woman in the modern sense; but the two domains are separated. Medicine is practised on the basis of materialistic principles and people seek what their souls need in an entirely separate sphere of religion—into which, as a result, a highly egoistical element finds its way. People only turn to religion when they want to know what is to become of them after death or how what they do tallies with what a God would be able to make of their deeds. Paracelsus had a very different attitude. He wanted to be a man of piety and religion as a doctor. He wanted each medical, each therapeutic deed also to be a religious deed. He regarded what he did with a sick man as the union of an external, human deed with a religious act. To Paracelsus, healing was still a sacred enactment and it was his constant ideal to make it so. His contemporaries had little understanding of this and today there is even less. It makes one's heart ache to hear the tradition which still persists in Salzburg, that Paracelsus was a drunkard and that returning to his house late one night in a state of intoxication, he met his death by falling over a rock and breaking his skull. If the real truth were told, one would, of course, have to point to the work of his enemies. Paracelsus' drunkenness was less responsible for his broken skull than were people who then proceeded to spread the fairy-tale about his habits.

Customs today are less violent in such matters—less violent but not so very different. A time will come when a deeper conception of the cult and of all ceremonial enactments will take root in men. And then the true teachers will be able to reveal to their pupils something similar to what was revealed by the Initiates of Egypt with the help of the mummy. The Egyptian Initiate was able to make his pupils realise that they could behold in the mummy something, which in still earlier times, became actual experience through transformation of the breathing process into a sensory process. And so, when the cult can once again be truly understood, those who possess this understanding will be able to make clear to their pupils that enactments in sacred cults and rites have an immeasurably greater significance for the cosmos than deeds performed by men in the external world with mechanical tools or the like. Tools, as you know, also play a part in cult and ritual. When true ceremonial, true ritualistic enactments are again established in place of what is customary today, Initiates will be able to say to their pupils: An enactment in cult or rite is a call to the spiritual Powers of the universe who through the deeds of men should be able to unite themselves with the earth. Such an enactment, performed according to a true rite, is different from an act of a purely technical nature. An act that is purely technical or mechanical, however, does bring something about, for with machines many things can be made and used in life. Clothes, for instance, are made with a sewing machine. The clothes are worn and eventually wear out. This is what happens to the products of machines. But it is not so with sacred enactments. I told you in the last lecture that provided a man has the requisite faculty and the true conception of sacred enactments, he can come into contact with spiritual Beings who are as closely connected with the earth as the Spirits who spoke to the Egyptians out of the mummies were connected with the moon. Through machines, through external technical devices, man comes into contact with the physical nature-forces of the earth. Through the sacred enactments of cult and ritual he comes into contact with the elementary-spiritual Powers of the earth, with those Powers who point the way to the future.

And so in times to come an Initiate will be able to say to his pupils: When you participate truly in a sacred enactment of cult or ritual, you are engaged in something of which the materialist says that it has no reality, or, if he is a cynic, he will say that it is all child's play. Nevertheless the enactments of a true rite contain spiritual power. The elementary spiritual Beings, who are evoked when such a rite is enacted, have need of the rite because from it they draw nourishment and forces of growth.

A time will come when the earth will no longer exist. Everything that is around our physical senses, everything that is present in the kingdoms of minerals, plants, animals, in air and clouds, even the radiance of the stars ... all this will pass away and, as I have described in An Outline Of Occult Science, the earth will prepare to pass over to the Jupiter embodiment. This future Jupiter planet will be a subsequent incarnation of the earth just as our own future earthly life will be a reincarnation of our present existence, save that the periods of time involved are immeasurably longer. Of the substance present today in minerals, plants, animals, in wind and clouds, not a single particle will remain in that distant future. The processes set up by machines and technical devices will have performed their task—and they too will have become things of the past. But within what was once earth, within what was once external, technical civilisation, something different will have been prepared.

Think of the earth and within it the different processes of nature and plant life. Machines are there, with all that they bring about on the earth; animals and the physical bodies of men move over the earth ... All this will pass away. But on this earth, in future time, sacred rites will be enacted out of a true understanding of the spiritual world. Through these rites and sacred enactments, elementary spiritual Beings are called down. As I have said, a time will come when the material substance in minerals, plants, animals, clouds, the forces working in wind and weather and also, of course, all the accoutrements used in rites and ceremonies, will pass away, will be dissipated in the universe. But the spiritual Beings who have been called down into the sphere of the rites and sacred enactments—these will remain when the earth approaches its end. They will remain, in a state of more perfect development, within the earth, just as in autumn the seed of next year's plant is concealed within the present plant; just as the dry, withered leaves fall away from the plant, so the substance in the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms will disintegrate in the universe, but the perfected elementary Beings will be there, living on into the Jupiter existence as a seed of the future.

And so once again an Initiate will be able to bring the teaching given to his pupils to a grand climax. He will be able to say: “Just as the Initiate of Egypt, standing before the mummy, was able to explain to his pupils all the mysteries of the human head and therewith all the mysteries of the earth and the cosmos around the earth, I am able to explain to you how the earth will arise from its destruction—rise again through the spiritual Beings who develop onwards to the future in cults and rites enacted with true understanding.”

In the evolution of our epoch this conception has a glorious beginning. It can be pictured as follows. Human beings satisfied their hunger and thirst by what lay on the tables before them. But there came the Being Who dwelt in the body of Jesus of Nazareth, Who gathered His closest disciples around Him and said: “Here is bread, here is wine. Do not now look upon what your outer eyes see in bread and wine, upon what your tongue can taste and your physical body digest. All that is earthly bears within it the seeds of decay. But if you have within you the true impulse you can permeate earthly substance with the Spirit of the earth. For then it is no longer bread, nor is it wine, but something that can live in the inmost depths of man himself, something that lives and has its being in his body and that he can spiritualise and that will be carried over into the future when everything on the earth has passed away.” Christ entered into the body of Jesus of Nazareth and in his whole being, Jesus of Nazareth was spiritualised. He could point to bread and wine, saying: “This is not the true form of bread and wine. Their true form is what indwells the human being—this is My Body, this is My Blood.” And the words receive their full significance from those other words of Christ: “Heaven and earth will pass away but My Words will not pass away.”

I have said many times: The kingdom of plants, of animals, of minerals, all that lives in wind and storm, in clouds—even the radiance of the stars—will be dispersed and scattered; not one particle will remain. But what man prepares spiritually—this will remain.

In earlier times of the evolution of humanity it was known that words contain Spirit. The modern view is that when we speak, movement is brought into the air through the speech-organs and these movements then beat upon the drum of the ear [(Trommelfell, drum of the ear, so-called because the modern view is that the movements of the air, “drum” or beat upon the membrane.)], the nerves begin to move, and there the process ends. In earlier times it was known that words enshrine the movements of elementary Spirits, that forces in words spoken in sacred ritual, for example, stream into the external action and that the Spirit living in man unites with this external enactment. Thereby the elementary Spirits who are developing onwards to the future enter, in actual presence, into the sphere of the sacred rite. Men who understand these things can realise what the “word” signified in olden times. Today it means little more than “noise and smoke”, and Goethe was justified when he used the expression Schall und Rauch. But in days of yore the “word” signified the indwelling Spirit, not the abstract, conceptual properties, but the spiritual reality inherent in the word. In the word there is much that is spiritual. Christ indicates that the life with which man imbues the word is contained in what comes to pass in sacred enactments of rite and cult, namely, a process whereby elementary Spirits are borne on-wards to the fulfilment of their existence, and He said:

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My Words will not pass away.”

And now think of the beginning of St. John's Gospel: “In the Beginning was the Logos, the Word ...” The Logos is the Christ. What, then, are the Bread and the Wine in the service of Holy Communion? The Bread and the Wine are the Body and Blood of the Logos. And as we have heard, the Logos relinquishes what is transient, seizes what is in the becoming, prepares what is to come.

Thus we can point to the Mystery of Golgotha as a glorious climax, just as teaching in days of old culminated in the revelation of the ether-body assuming the shape of a mummy and then immediately changing into a form resembling that of the human physical body. But I have emphasised over and over again that man will have to re-establish his connection with the spiritual world if the earth is to attain its goal. Just as the predecessors of the Egyptians, perceiving the breath and its expansion in the organism, inwardly experienced a nascent mummy-formation and its immediate re-transformation, so, in the future, men must perceive in the out-breathing process, in the passing of the out-breathed air into cosmic space, the communication to cosmic space of what takes shape within the human organism, the spiritualisation of the environment through the human being himself. The ancient Egyptians said: The mummy represents a form which the human being strives inwardly and spiritually to assume with every indrawn breath. Initiates of the future will say: Every out-breathing is a manifestation of man's striving to become a cosmos, a whole world. Contemplation of how the inbreathed air surges down from the head into the organism—this brings understanding of the human being. Contemplation of how the indrawn air is breathed out again by man into the world—this can bring understanding of the cosmos. Understanding of the cosmos will be born when Imaginative Knowledge is able to span the world; with Imaginative Knowledge we can also recognise what the human being himself sends forth into the external world with his out-breathing. It is what he is preparing for the future.

Thus what man does in the course of history and what comes to pass in the cosmos are interwoven, intermingled. Without realisation of this there can be no understanding of the world, for history must be studied in its cosmic aspect and historical happenings must reveal to us the workings of the cosmos.