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The Driving Force of Spiritual Powers in World History
GA 222

Lecture VII

23 March 1923, Dornach

The essential characteristic of our present age in evolution is to be recognized in the fact that the thoughts of man on Earth are abstract and dead, persisting in us as a residue of the living nature of the soul in pre-earthly existence.

This stage of development leading to abstract, that is to say, to dead thoughts is connected with the acquisition of consciousness of freedom within the process of evolution. We will give special attention today to this aspect of the subject by studying the course taken by evolution in the post-Atlantean era.

You know that after the great Atlantean catastrophe, the gradual distribution of the continents on the Earth as we know them today took place and that on the dry land, or within the areas of the dry land, five successive civilization- or culture epochs have evolved, epochs which in my book Occult Science: an Outline I have called the ancient Indian, ancient Persian, Egypto-Chaldean, Graeco-Latin and our present Fifth culture epoch.

These five epochs are distinguished by the fact that the constitution of man, in the general sense, is different in each of them. If we go back to the very early culture-epochs this constitution is also expressed in the whole outer appearance of man, in his bodily features. And the nearer we come to our own epoch, the more clearly is the progress of humanity expressed in the natural tendencies of the soul. Matters relating to this subject have often been described but today I will speak about them from a point of view to which less attention has hitherto been paid.

If we go back to the first, the ancient Indian civilization-epoch which was still partly a direct outcome of the Atlantean catastrophe, we find that in those days a man felt himself to be far rather a citizen of the Cosmos beyond the Earth than a citizen of the Earth itself. And if we study the details of life at that time which, as I have often pointed out, takes us back to the seventh/eighth millennium B.C., it must be emphasised that, not out of intellectual observation—for that was unknown in those days—but out of deep, instinctive perception in that remote past, great importance was attached to the outer appearance, the external aspect of a man. Not that the people of those days engaged in any kind of study of physiognomy—that, of course, was utterly foreign to them. Such a practice belongs to much later epochs, when intellectualism, although not yet fully developed, was already dawning. These men, however, had a sensitive feeling for physiognomy. They felt deeply that if someone had this or that facial expression it indicated certain musical talents. They attached great importance to divining the musical gifts of an individual from his facial expression but also from his gestures and movements, his whole appearance as a human being. In those olden days men did not strive for any more definite knowledge of human nature in general. At that time, if anyone had come to them saying that something should be ‘proved’, they simply would not have known what was meant. It would have troubled them, would almost have given them physical pain; indeed in still earlier times there would have been actual physical pain. To ‘prove’—that would be like carving someone with knives ... so these men would have said. Why should anything have to be proved? We do not need to know anything so certain about the world that it must first be proved.

This is connected with the very vivid feeling these people still had of having come from pre-earthly existence, from the spiritual world. In the spiritual world there is no such thing as ‘proving’. There it is known that proving is a matter that has meaning on the Earth but not in the spiritual world. The wish to prove something in the spiritual world would seem to indicate a definite norm of measurement : the height of a human being must be such and such ... and then, as in the Procrustean myth, something is cut off from one who is too tall and someone too short is stretched! This is more or less what ‘proving’ would be in the spiritual world. Things there do not allow themselves to be manoeuvred into proofs ; things there are inwardly mobile, inwardly fluid.

To an Indian belonging to the ancient Indian epoch with his vivid consciousness of having descended from the spiritual world, of having simply enveloped himself in this external human nature—to such an Indian it would have seemed highly curious if anyone had demanded of him that something should be ‘proved’. These people much preferred what we today should call ‘divining’ because they wanted to be attentive to what was revealed in their environment. And in this activity of ‘divining’ they found a certain inner satisfaction.

Moreover a certain instinct enabled them to infer cleverness in a man from a face of this or that type; from another face they inferred stupidity; from the stature they inferred a phlegmatic temperament, and so on. In that epoch, divining took the place of what we today would call explanatory knowledge. And in human intercourse the aim of reciprocal behaviour was to be able to infer the moral quality of a man from his attitude of soul; from his movements and gestures, his stature.

In the earliest epoch of ancient Indian existence there was no such thing as division into castes—that came later. In connection with the Mysteries of ancient India there was actually a kind of social classification of men according to their physiognomies and their gestures. This was possible in early epochs of evolution, for a certain instinct prompted men to accept such classifications. What later arose within Indian civilization as the caste system was a kind of schematic arrangement of what had been a far more individual classification based upon an instinctive feeling for physiognomy. And in those olden days men did not feel outraged if they were ranked here or there according to their physiognomy; for they felt themselves to be God-given beings of Earth. And the authority of those from the Mysteries who were responsible for this classification, was absolute.

It was not until the later post-Atlantean civilization-epochs that the caste system gradually developed from antecedents of which I have spoken in other lectures. In the epoch of ancient India there was a deep and strong feeling that the basis of man's being was a divine IMAGINATION.

I have told you a great deal about the existence of a primordial, instinctive clairvoyance, a dreamlike clairvoyance. But in remotely distant times of the post-Atlantean era men not only spoke of seeing dreamlike Imaginations, but they said : In the particular configuration of the physical body of man when he enters Earth-existence there is present a divine Imagination. A divine Imagination becomes the basis of the being who descends to the Earth as man, and in accordance with it he forms his physiognomy and the whole physical expression of his manhood, from childhood onwards.

And so men not only looked instinctively, as I have indicated, at the physiognomy of an individual; they also saw there the Imagination of the Gods. They said to themselves : The Gods have Imaginations and they imprint these Imaginations in the physical human being.—That was the very first conception of what man is on the Earth, as a being sent by the Gods.

Then came the second post-Atlantean epoch, the ancient Persian. The instinctive feeling for physiognomy was no longer as strong as it had been in earlier times. Now men no longer looked upwards to Imaginations of the Gods but to THOUGHTS of the Gods. Formerly it had been assumed that an actual picture of man exists in certain divine Beings before a man comes down to the Earth. Afterwards, the conception was that Thoughts, Thoughts which together formed the Logos—the expression subsequently used—were the basis of the individual human being.

In this second post-Atlantean epoch—strange though it seems, it was so—great importance was attached to whether a human being was born during fine weather, whether he was born by night or by day, during the winter or the summer. There was nothing resembling intellectual reasoning but men had the feeling: whatever heavenly constellation is approved by the Gods, whether fine weather or blizzard, whether day or night, when they send a human being down to the Earth, this constellation gives expression to their Thoughts, to their divine Thoughts. And if a child was born perhaps during a storm or during some other unusual weather conditions, that was regarded by the laity as the expression of the divine Thought allocated to the child.

This was so among the laity. Among the priesthood, which in turn was dependent on the Mysteries, and kept the official register, so to speak, of the births—but this is not to be understood in the modern bureaucratic sense—these aspects of weather, time of day, season of the year and so forth, indicated under what conditions the divine Thought was allocated to a human being. This was in the second post-Atlantean epoch, the ancient Persian epoch.

Very little of this has persisted into our own time. Nowadays something extremely boring is suggested if it is said that a person talks about the weather. It is considered derogatory to say of anyone nowadays that he is a bore, he can talk of nothing but the weather.—In the days of ancient Persia such a remark would not have been understood ; it was someone who had nothing interesting to say about the weather who would have been regarded as exceedingly boring! And in point of fact it is true that we have lifted ourselves right out of the natural environment if no connection can be felt between human life and meteorological phenomena. In the ancient Persian epoch an intense feeling of participation in the cosmic environment expressed itself in the fact that men thought of events—and the birth of a human being was an important event—in connection with what was taking place in the Universe.

It would be a definite advance if men—they need not merely talk about the weather being good or bad, for that is very abstract—if men were again to reach the stage of not forgetting, when they are relating some incident, to say what kind of weather was experienced, what natural phenomena were connected with it.

It is extremely interesting when, here or there, striking phenomena are still mentioned, as, for instance was the case in connection with the death of Kaspar Hauser. Because it was a striking phenomenon, mention is made of the fact that the sun was setting on the one side while the moon was rising on the other, and so forth.

And so we can come to understand human nature as it was in the second post-Atlantean epoch.

In the third post-Atlantean epoch this instinct in men had very largely already died out—the instinct for perceiving the spiritual, for perceiving divine Thoughts in the phenomena of weather—and then men began gradually to calculate, to compute. Calculation of stellar constellations replaced the intuitive grasp of the divine Thoughts of man in the natural order; and when a child was born into the world they calculated the positions of the stars, of the fixed stars and the planets. It was essentially in the third, the Egypto-Chaldean epoch that the greatest importance was attached to the capacity to reckon from the stellar constellations the conditions under which a human being had passed from the pre-earthly into the earthly life.

So there was still consciousness of the fact that man's earthly life was determined by conditions of the extra-terrestrial environment. But now it was necessarily a matter of calculation; the time had come when the connection of the human being with the divine-spiritual Beings was no longer directly perceptible.

You need only consider how the whole mental process is really external when it is a matter of calculation. Most certainly I am not going to speak in support of the laziness of youth or of the later indifference to arithmetic shown by grown men. But it is a very different matter to give precedence to external modes of thinking which have very little to do with the whole being of man, and are simply arithmetical methods. These methods of calculation were introduced in all domains of life during the third post-Atlantean epoch. But, after all, the calculations were concerned with super-earthly conditions in which Man was at least reckoned to have his rightful abode. Whatever was calculated had been permeated through and through with feeling. But calculations today are sometimes thought out, sometimes not even thought out but arrived at simply by the application of method; calculation today is often unconcerned with content, being simply a matter of method. And the absence of content that is sometimes obvious in mathematics because method alone has been followed, is really appalling—I do not say this out of ill-will—but it is terrible. In the Egypto-Chaldean epoch there was still something thoroughly human in calculations.

Then came the Graeco-Latin epoch. This was the first postAtlantean civilization-epoch in which man felt that he was living entirely on the Earth, that he was completely united with the Earth-forces. His connection with the phenomena of weather had already become a matter of mythology. The spiritual reality with which he had still felt vitally linked in the second post-Atlantean epoch, that of ancient Persia, had become the world of the Gods. Men no longer stressed the significance of climbing Olympus and plunging their heads in the mist veiling the summit; they now left it to the Gods, to Zeus, to Apollo, to plunge their heads in this Olympic cloud. Anyone who follows the myths belonging to this Graeco-Latin culture-epoch will even now have the impression that at one time men felt a relationship with the clouds and with phenomena of the heavens, but that later on they transferred this relationship to their Gods. Now it was Zeus who lived with the clouds, or Hera who created havoc among them. In earlier times man was involved with his own soul in all this. The Greek exiled Zeus—this cannot be stated in drastic terms but it does indicate how things were—the Greek had exiled Zeus to the region of the clouds, to the region of light.

The man of the ancient Persian epoch felt that together with his soul he still lived in that region. He could not have said, ‘Zeus lives in the clouds or in the light’—but because he felt his soul to be at home in the realm of the clouds, in the realm of the air, he would have said: ‘Zeus lives in me.’ The Greek was the first man in the post-Atlantean epoch who felt himself to be wholly a citizen of the Earth, and this attitude too developed only slowly and by degrees. Hence it was in the Graeco-Latin epoch that the feeling of connection with pre-earthly existence first died away. In all the three earlier post-Atlantean civilization-epochs men were keenly aware of their connection with the pre-earthly existence. No-one could have confronted them with a dogma denying pre-existence. In any case such dogmas can be formulated only if there is some prospect of their being accepted. One must be sensible enough to lay down as a dogma only that for which a number of people are prepared through evolution. The Greeks, however, had lost all awareness of pre-earthly existence and they felt themselves to be entirely men of the Earth—so much so that although they felt themselves to be still permeated by the divine-spiritual, yet they were thoroughly at one with all that belongs exclusively to the Earth.

One must have a feeling for the reason why such mythology could be evolved for the first time in the Greek period, after the connection of man's own soul with super-earthly phenomena had been lost. In the first post-Atlantean epoch man felt himself to be the product of divine Imagination which he conceived as being present in the sphere of soul and spirit (diagram). Later he felt himself to be the product of divine Thoughts manifesting in the phenomena of the heavens, in wind and weather, and so forth. Then he gradually lost the consciousness which once led him into the cosmic expanse but had narrowed more and more into the confines of the Earth. Then came the Egypto-Chaldean epoch, when through calculation man was recognized as a cosmic being. And then came the fourth epoch, the Graeco-Latin epoch, when man became wholly a citizen of the Earth.

If we look back once again into the third post-Atlantean epoch, we come to a time when, although men calculated the conditions of their heavenly existence, at the same time they still had very strong feelings about where they were born on Earth. This is a particularly interesting fact. Except for calculation, men had forgotten their heavenly existence and in any case the calculation had first to be made. It was the age of astrological calculations. But a man who perhaps had no data at all for the time of his birth, nevertheless felt the effects of calculation. One who was born in the far south felt in what he could experience there, the effects of the calculation; he attached more importance to this than to the calculation itself. The calculation was different for one who was born in the north. The astrologers of course could work out the calculation itself but the man felt the effects of it. And how did he feel these effects?

He felt them because the whole natural tendency of his soul and Body was bound up with the place of his birth and its geographical and climatic characteristics ; for in this third postAtlantean culture-epoch man felt himself to be primarily a creature of breath. His breathing in the south was not the same as it was in the north. He was a being of breath. Of course, outer civilization was not advanced enough to enable such feelings to be expressed ; but what was living in the human soul was a product of the breathing-process; and the breathing process in turn was a product of the place on Earth where a man was born, where he lived.

This was no longer so among the Greeks. In the Greek age it was not the breathing-process or the connection with the locality on Earth that was the determining factor. In the Greek age it was the tie of blood, the tribal feeling and sentiment that gave rise to the group-soul consciousness. In the third postAtlantean epoch, group-souls were felt to be connected with the earthly locality. In that epoch men pictured to themselves wherever there is a holy place, the God who represents the group soul is within it; the God was attached to the locality. This ceased during the Greek period. Then, together with the Earth-consciousness, with the attitude of soul bound to the Earth through man's feelings, sentient experiences and instincts, there began the feeling for kinship in the blood. Man had been brought right down to the Earth. His consciousness no longer led him to Look beyond the Earth; he felt that he belonged to his tribe, to his race, through his blood.

And what is our own position in this fifth post-Atlantean epoch? This is almost obvious from the diagram I have sketched in accordance with the facts. Yes, we have crept into the Earth. We have been deprived of the super-earthly forces; we no longer live and should no longer live, with the purely earthly forces which are astir in the blood; we have become dependent upon subterranean forces, sub-earthly forces.

That there are indeed such forces you may learn from what is done with potatoes. You know, of course, that in the winter the peasants bury their potatoes in trenches; then they keep alive, otherwise they would perish. Conditions under the Earth are different; there the summer warmth is maintained during the winter.

Now the life of plants in general can only be understood when we know that up to the flower the plant is a product of the previous year. It grows out of the Earth-forces; it is only the flower that needs the actual sunlight.

What, then, does it signify for us as human beings that we become dependent upon sub-earthly forces? It is not the same for us as for potatoes. We are not laid in trenches in order that we may thrive during the winter. Our dependence upon sub-earthly forces signifies something quite different, namely, that the Earth takes away from us the influence of the super-earthly. We are deprived of this influence by the Earth. In his consciousness, man was first a divine Imagination, then a divine Thought, then the result of calculation, then Earth-man. The Greek felt himself to be a man belonging altogether to the Earth, living in the blood. We, therefore, must learn to feel ourselves independent of the super-earthly ; but independent, too, of what lies in our blood.

This has come about because we no longer live through the period between our twenty-first and twenty-eighth years in the same way as men did in earlier times; we no longer have the second experience described yesterday, we no longer have living thoughts as the result of consciousness influenced by the super-earthly, but we have thoughts which have no inner vitality at all and are therefore dead. It is the Earth itself, with its inner forces, which kills our thoughts when we become Earth-men.

And a remarkable vista ensues: as Earth-men we bury what is left of man in the physical sphere; we give over the corpse to the Earth-elements. The Earth is also active in the process of cremation; decay is only a slow process of burning. As to our thoughts—and this is the striking characteristic of the Fifth post-Atlantean period—when we are born, when we are sent down to the Earth, the Gods give over our thoughts to the Earth. Our thoughts are buried, actually buried, when we become men of Earth. This has been so since the beginning of the Fifth post-Atlantean epoch. To be possessed of intellect means to have a soul with thoughts from which the heavenly impulses have been taken away by the Earth-forces.

The characteristic of our manhood today is that in our inmost soul, precisely through our thinking, we have united with the Earth. On the other hand, as a result of this, it is only now, in the Fifth post-Atlantean culture-epoch that it is possible for us to send back to the Cosmos the thoughts which we imbue with life through our earthly deeds in the way described at the end of yesterday's lecture.

Evolutionary impulses of this nature lie at the very roots of the significant products of human culture. And our feelings cannot but be profoundly stirred by the fact that at the time when European humanity was approaching this Fifth postAtlantean epoch, poetic works such as Wolfram von Eschenbach's ‘Parsifal’ appeared. We have often studied this work as such but today we will direct our eyes of soul to something that is to be found there as a majestic sign of the times. Think of the remarkable characteristic that now becomes evident, not only in Wolfram, but wherever the poetic gift comes to expression in men of that period.

A certain uneasiness is perceptible concerning three stages in the evolution of the human soul. The first trait to be observed in a human being when he comes into this world, when he submits himself to this life and is living in a naive connection with the world—the first trait to be observed is simplicity, dullness.

The second, however, is doubt. And precisely at the time of the approaching Fifth post-Atlantean epoch, doubt is graphically described. If doubt is close to the heart, a man's life (or soul) must have a hard time1With a slight variation Dr Steiner was quoting the opening couplet of Wolfram von Eschenbach's ‘Parsifal’. In the original the lines are as follows:
Ist zwîfel herzen nâchgebûr.
—such was the feeling prevailing in those days. But there was also the feeling: man must wrestle his way through doubt to blessedness. And blessedness was the word used for the condition created when man has brought divine life again into thoughts that have become ungodly, into dead thoughts that have become completely earthly. Man's submergence in the earthly realm—this was felt to be the cause of the condition of doubt; and blessedness was felt to be a break from earthly things through the vitalizing of thoughts.


This was the gist of the mood prevailing in the poetic works of the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries, when man was struggling onwards to the Fifth post-Atlantean epoch. The dawn of this epoch was felt more intensely at the time than it is today, when men are weary of thinking about these things, when they have become mentally too lazy. But they will have to begin again to think deeply about such matters and to set their feelings astir, otherwise the ascent of mankind would not be possible. And what does that really mean? The Earth acts as a mirror for man; he is not intended to reach a sub-earthly level. But his lifeless thoughts penetrate into the Earth and apprehend death, which pertains to the Earth-element only. However, the nature of man himself is such that when he imbues his thoughts with life he sends them out into the Cosmos as mirror-pictures. And so all the living thoughts that arise in man are seen by the Gods glittering back from evolving humanity. When man is urged to make his thoughts come alive he is being called upon to be a co-creator in the Universe. For these thoughts are reflected by the Earth and stream out again into the Universe, must make their way again out into the Universe.

Hence when we grasp the meaning of the evolution of mankind and the world, we feel that in a way we are led back again to the epochs that have already been lived through. In the Egypto-Chaldean epoch, man's status an Earth was arrived at by means of calculation; but for all that he was always brought by this means into connection with the surrounding world of stars. Today we proceed historically, starting from man; man becomes the starting-point for a study which you will find presented in the book, Occult Science: an Outline, where we have actually sent out living human thoughts and noted what they have become when we follow them in the cosmic environment as they speed away from us, when we learn to live with these living thoughts in the cosmic expanse.

These processes indicate the deep significance of the fact that man has come to the stage of having dead thoughts, that he is, so to speak, in danger of uniting completely with the Earth.

Let us follow the picture further. Genuine Imaginations make this possible. It is only deliberately thought-out Imaginations that lead us no further. Think for a moment of a mirror. We say that it throws the light back. The expression is not quite accurate, but in any case the light must not get behind the mirror. There is only one way in which this could happen and that would be if the mirror were broken. And indeed, if man does not vitalize his thoughts, if he persists in harbouring merely intellectualistic thoughts, dead thoughts, he must destroy the Earth.

Admittedly, the destruction begins with the most highly rarefied element: warmth. And in the Fifth post-Atlantean epoch man has no opportunity of ruining anything other than the warmth-atmosphere of the Earth through the ever-increasing development of purely intellectualistic thoughts. But then comes the Sixth post-Atlantean epoch. If by that time man has not been converted from intellectualism to Imagination, destruction would begin, not only of the warmth-atmosphere but also of the air-atmosphere, and if their thoughts were to remain purely intellectualistic, men would poison the air, ruining, in the first place, all vegetation.

In the Seventh post-Atlantean epoch it will be possible for man to contaminate the water, and if his exudations were to be the outcome of purely intellectualistic thoughts, they would pass over into the universal fluidity of the Earth. Through this universal fluidity of the Earth, the mineral element of the Earth would, in the first place, lose cohesion. And if man did not vitalize his thoughts, thereby giving back to the Cosmos what he has received from it, he would have every opportunity of shattering the Earth.

Thus the life of soul in man is intimately connected with natural existence. Intellectualistic knowledge today is a purely Ahrimanic product, aiming at blinding humanity to these things If a man is persuaded that his thoughts are merely thoughts and have nothing to do with happenings in the Universe, he is being deluded into believing that he can have no influence upon the evolution of the Earth, and that either with or without his collaboration the Earth will at some time come to an end in some such way as foretold by physical science.

But the Earth will not come to a purely physical end; its end will come in the way brought about by mankind itself.

Here again is one of the points where we are shown how Anthroposophy connects the moral world of soul with the physical world of the senses, whereas today no such connection exists and modern theology even considers it preferable to regard the moral sphere as being entirely independent of the physical. And philosophers today who drag themselves about, panting and puffing, with backs bent under the burden of the findings of science, are happy when they can say : Yes, for the world of nature there is science; but philosophy must extend to the Categorical Imperative, to that about which man can know nothing.

These things today are often confined to the schools and universities. But they will take effect in life itself if mankind does not become conscious of how soul-and-spirit is creative in the physical-material realm and of how the future of the physical material realm will depend upon what man resolves to develop in the realm of soul-and-spirit. With these basic principles we can become conscious on the one side of the infinite importance of the soul-life of mankind, and on the other side of the fact that man is not merely a creature wandering fortuitously over the Earth, but that he belongs to the whole Universe.

But, my dear friends, right Imaginations give rise to what is right. If man does not vitalize his thoughts, but is more and more apt to allow them to die, then his thoughts will creep into the Earth and, in the end, he will become an earthworm in the Universe, because his thoughts seek out the habitations of the earthworms. That too is a valid Imagination.

Human civilization should avoid the possibility of man becoming an earthworm, for should that happen the Earth will be shattered and the cosmic goal that is quite clearly within the scope of human capacities, will not be reached. There are things which we should not merely take into our theories, into our abstract speculations, but deeply into our hearts, for Anthroposophy is a concern of the heart. And the more clearly it is grasped as a concern of the heart, the better it is understood.