World History in the Light of Anthroposophy
and as a Foundation for Knowledge of the Human Spirit
25 December 1923, Dornach
From the foregoing lecture it will be clear to you that it is only possible to gain a correct view of the historical evolution of humanity when one takes into consideration the totally different conditions of mind and soul that prevailed during the various epochs. In the first part of my lecture I attempted to define the Asiatic period of evolution, the genuine ancient East, and we saw that we have to look back to the time when the descendants of the races of Atlantis were finding their way eastwards after the Atlantean catastrophe, moving from west to east and gradually peopling Europe and Asia. All that took place in ancient Asia in connection with these peoples was under the influence of a condition of soul accustomed and attuned to rhythm. At the beginning of the Asiatic period we have still a distant echo of what was present in all its fullness in Atlantis — the localised memory. During the Oriental evolution this localised memory passed over into rhythmic memory, and I showed how with the Greek evolution that great change came about which brought in a new kind of memory, the temporal memory. This means that the Asiatic period of evolution (we are now speaking of what may rightly be called the Asiatic period, for what history refers to is in reality a later and decadent period) was an age of men altogether differently constituted from the men of later times. And the external events of history were in those days much more dependent than in later times on the character and constitution of man's inner life. What lived in man's mind and soul lived too in his entire being. A separated life of thought and feeling, such as we have to-day was unknown. A thinking that does not feel itself to be connected with the inner processes of the human head, was unknown. So too was the abstract feeling that knows no connection with the circulation of the blood. Man had in those times a thinking that was inwardly experienced as a “happening” in the head, a feeling that was experienced in the rhythm of the breath, in the circulation of the blood, and so on. Man experienced his whole being in undivided unity.
All this was closely connected with the altogether different experience man had of his relation to the world about him, to the Cosmos, to the spiritual and the physical in the Cosmic Whole. The man of the present day lives, let us say, in town or in the country, and his experience varies accordingly. He is surrounded by woods, rivers and mountains; or, if he lives in town, bricks and mortar meet his gaze on every hand. When he speaks of the cosmic and super-sensible, where does he think it is? He can point to no sphere within which he can conceive of what is cosmic and super-sensible as having place. It is nowhere to be laid hold of, he cannot grasp it: even spiritually, he cannot grasp it. But this was not so in that ancient oriental stream of evolution. To an Oriental, the world around him which we to-day call our physical environment, was the lowest portion of a Cosmos conceived as a unity. Man had around him what is contained in the three kingdoms of nature, he had around him the rivers, mountains, and so forth; but for him this environment was permeated through and through with Spirit, interpenetrated and interwoven with Spirit. The Oriental of ancient time would say: I live with the mountains, I live with the rivers; but I live also with the elemental beings of the mountains and of the rivers. I live in the physical realm, but this physical realm is the body of a spiritual realm. Around me is the spiritual world, the lowest spiritual world.
There below was this realm that for us has become the earthly realm. Man lived in it. But he pictured to himself that where this realm ends another realm begins, then again above that another; and finally the highest realm which it is possible to reach. And if we were to name these realms in accordance with the language that has become current with us in anthroposophical knowledge — the ancient Oriental had other names for them, but that does not matter, we will name them as they are for us — then we should have above, for the highest realm, the First Hierarchy: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones; then the Second Hierarchy: Kyriotetes, Dynamis, Exusiai; and the Third Hierarchy: Archai, Archangels, Angels.
And now comes the fourth realm where human beings live, the realm wherein according to our method of cognition we to-day place the mere objects and processes of Nature, but where the ancient Oriental felt the whole of Nature penetrated with the elemental spirits of water and of earth. This was Asia. Asia meant the lowest spirit realm, in which he, as human being, lived. You must remember that the present-day conception of things that we have in our ordinary consciousness was unknown to the man of those times. It would be nonsense to suppose that it were in any way possible for him to imagine such a thing as matter devoid of spirit. To speak as we do, of oxygen and nitrogen would have been a sheer impossibility for the ancient Oriental. To him oxygen was spirit, it was that spiritual thing which worked as a stimulating and quickening agent on what already possessed life, accelerating the life-processes in a living organism. Nitrogen, which we think of to-day as contained in the atmosphere together with oxygen, was also spiritual; it was that which weaves throughout the Cosmos, working upon what is living and organic in such a way as to prepare it to receive a soul-nature. Such was the knowledge the Oriental of old had, for example, of oxygen and nitrogen. And he knew all the processes of Nature in this way, in their connection with spirit; for the present-day conceptions were unknown to him. There were a few individuals who knew them, and they were the Initiates. The rest of mankind had as their ordinary everyday consciousness a consciousness very similar to a waking dream; it was a dream condition that with us only occurs in abnormal experiences.
The ancient Oriental went about with these dreams. He looked on the mountains, rivers and clouds, and saw everything in the way that things can be seen and heard in this dream condition. Picture to yourself what may happen to the man of to-day in a dream. He is asleep. Suddenly there appears before him a dream-picture of a flaring fire. He hears the call of ‘Fire!’ Outside in the street a fire engine is passing, to put out a fire somewhere or other. But what a difference between the conception of the work of the fire-brigade that can be formed by the human intellect in its matter-of-fact way with the aid of ordinary sense-perception, and the pictures that a dream can conjure up! For the ancient Oriental, however, all his experiences manifested themselves in such dream-pictures. Everything outside in the kingdoms of Nature was transformed in his soul into pictures.
In these dream-pictures man experienced the elemental spirits of water, earth, air and fire. And sleep brought him again other experiences. Sleep for him was not that deep heavy sleep we have when we lie, as we say, ‘like a log’ and know nothing of ourselves. I believe there are people who sleep so in these days, are there not? But then there was no such thing: even in sleep man had still a dull form of consciousness. While on the one hand he was, as we now say, resting his body, the spiritual was weaving within him in a spiritual activity of the external world. And in this weaving he perceived the Beings of the Third Hierarchy. Asia he perceived in his ordinary waking-dream condition, that is to say in what was the everyday consciousness of that time. At night, in sleep, he perceived the Third Hierarchy. And from time to time there entered into his sleep a still more dim and dark consciousness, but a consciousness that graved its experiences deeply into his thought and feeling. Thus these Eastern peoples had first their everyday consciousness where everything was changed into Imaginations and pictures. The pictures were not so real as those of still older times, for example the time of Atlantis or Lemuria, or of the Moon epoch. Nevertheless they were still there, even during this Asiatic evolution. By day, then, men had these pictures. And in sleep they had an experience which they might have clothed in the following words: — We ‘sleep away’ the ordinary earthly existence, we enter the realm of the Angels, Archangels and Archai and live among them. The soul sets itself free from the organism and lives among the Beings of the higher Hierarchies.
Men knew at the same time that whereas they lived in Asia with gnomes, undines, sylphs and salamanders, that is with the elemental spirits of the earth, water, air and fire, — in sleep, while the body rested, they experienced the Beings of the Third Hierarchy in the planetary existence, in all that lives in the whole planetary system belonging to the Earth.
There were however moments when the sleeper would feel: An utterly strange region is approaching me. It is taking me to itself, it is drawing me away from earthly existence. He did not feel this while immersed in the Beings of the Third Hierarchy, but only when a still deeper condition of sleep intervened. Though there was never a real consciousness of what took place during the sleep-condition of the third kind, nevertheless what was then experienced from the Second Hierarchy impressed itself deep into the whole being of man. And the experience remained in man's feeling when he awoke. He could then say: I have been graciously blessed by higher Spirits, whose life is beyond the planetary existence. Thus did these ancient peoples speak of that Hierarchy which embraces the Kyriotetes, the Dynamis and the Exusiai. What we are now describing are the ordinary states of consciousness of this ancient Asiatic period. The first two states of consciousness — the waking-sleeping, sleeping-waking and the sleep, in which the Third Hierarchy were present — were experienced by all men. And many, through a special endowment of Nature, experienced also the intervention of a deeper sleep, during which the Second Hierarchy played into human consciousness.
And the Initiates in the Mysteries, — they received a still further degree of consciousness. Of what nature was this? The answer is astonishing; for the fact is, the Initiate of the ancient East acquired the same consciousness that you have now by day! You develop it in a perfectly natural way in your second or third year of life. No ancient Oriental ever attained this state of consciousness in a natural way; he had to develop it artificially in himself. He had to develop it out of the waking-dreaming, dreaming-waking. As long as he went about with this waking-dreaming, dreaming-waking, he saw everywhere pictures, rendering only in more or less symbolic fashion what we see to-day in clear sharp outlines; as an Initiate however he attained to see things as we see them to-day in our ordinary consciousness. The Initiates, by means of their developed consciousness, attained to learn what every boy and girl learns at school to-day. The difference between their consciousness and the normal consciousness of to-day is not that the content was different. Of course the abstract forms of letters which we have to-day were unknown then; written characters were in more intimate connection with the things and processes of the Cosmos. Reading and writing were nevertheless learned in those days by the Initiates; although of course by them alone, for reading and writing can only be learned with that clear intellectual consciousness which is the natural one for the man of to-day.
Supposing that somewhere or other this world of the ancient East were to re-appear, inhabited by human beings having the kind of consciousness they had in those olden times, and you were to come among them with your consciousness of the present day, then for them you would all be initiates. The difference does not he in the content of consciousness. You would be initiates. But the moment the people recognised you as initiates, they would immediately drive you out of the land by every means in their power; for it would be quite clear to them that an initiated person ought not to know things in the way we know them to-day. He ought not, for example, to be able to write as we are able to write to-day. If I were to transport myself into the mind of a man of that time, and were to meet such a pseudo-initiate, that is to say, an ordinary clever man of the present day, I should find myself saying of him: He can write, he makes signs on paper that mean something, and he has no idea how devilish it is to do such a thing without carrying in him the consciousness that it may only be done in the service of divine cosmic consciousness; he does not know that a man may only make such signs on paper when he can feel how God works in his hand, in his very fingers, works in his soul, enabling it to express itself through these letters. Therein lies the whole difference between the initiates of olden time and the ordinary man of the present day. It is not a difference in the content of consciousness, but in the way of comprehending and understanding the thing. Read my book Christianity as Mystical Fact, of which a new edition has recently appeared, and you will find right at the beginning the same indication as to the essential nature of the initiate of olden times. It is in point of fact always so in the course of world-evolution. That which develops in man at a later period in a natural way had in former epochs to be won through initiation.
Through such a thing as I have brought to your notice, you will be able to detect the radical difference between the condition of mind and soul prevalent among the Eastern peoples of prehistoric times and that of a later civilisation. It was another mankind that could call Asia the last or lowest heaven and understand by that their own land, the Nature that was round about them. They knew where the lowest heaven was.
Compare this with the conceptions men have to-day. How far is the man of the present time from regarding all he sees around him as the lowest heaven! Most people cannot think of it as the ‘lowest’ heaven for the simple reason that they have no knowledge of any heaven at all!
Thus we see how in that ancient Eastern time the Spiritual entered deeply into Nature, into all natural existence. But now we find also among these peoples something which to most of us in the present day may easily appear extremely barbarous. To a man of that time it would have appeared terribly barbarous if someone had been able to write in the feeling and attitude of mind in which we to-day are able to write; it would have seemed positively devilish to him. But when we to-day on the other hand see how it was accepted in those times as something quite natural and as a matter of course that a people should remove from West to East, should conquer — often with great cruelty — another people already in occupation and make slaves of them, then such a thing is bound to appear barbarous to very many of us.
This is, however, broadly speaking, the substance of oriental history over the whole of Asia. Whilst men had as I have described, a high spiritual conception of things, their external history ran its course in a series of conquests and enslavements. Undoubtedly that appears to many people as extremely barbarous. To-day, although wars of aggression do still sometimes occur, men have an uneasy conscience about them. And this is true even of those who support and defend such wars; they are not quite easy in their conscience.
In those times, however, man had a perfectly clear conscience as regards these wars of aggression, he felt that such conquest was willed of the Gods. The longing for peace, the love of peace, that arose later and spread over a large part of Asia, is really the product of a much later civilisation. The acquisition of land by conquest and the enslavement of its population is a salient feature of the early civilisation of Asia. The farther we go back into prehistoric times, the more do we find this kind of conquest going on. The conquests of Xerxes and others of his time were in truth but faint shadows of what went on in earlier ages.
Now there is a quite definite principle underlying these conquests. As a result of the states of consciousness which I have described to you, man stood in an altogether different relation to his fellow man and also to the world around him. Certain differences between different parts of the inhabited Earth have to-day lost their chief meaning. At that time these differences made themselves felt in quite another way. Let me put before you, as an example, something which frequently occurred.
Suppose a conquering people has made its way from the North of Asia, spread itself out over some other region of Asia and made the population subject to it. What has really happened?
In characteristic instances that are a true expression of the trend of historical evolution, we find that the aggressors were — as a people or as a race — young, full of youth-forces. Now what does it mean to-day to be young? What does it mean for men of our present epoch of evolution? It means to bear within one in every moment of life sufficient of the forces of death to provide for those soul-forces that need the dying processes in man. For, as you know, we have within us, the sprouting, germinating forces of life, but these life forces are not the forces that make us reflective, thoughtful beings; on the contrary, they make us weak, unconscious. The death forces, the forces of destruction, which are also continually active within us — and are overcome again and again during sleep by the life forces, so that not until the end of life do we gather together all the death forces in us in the one final event of death — these forces it is that induce reflection, self-consciousness. This is how it is with present-day humanity. Now a young race, a young people, such as I have described, suffered from its own over-strong life forces, and continually had the feeling: I feel my blood beating perpetually against the walls of my body. I cannot endure it. My consciousness will not become reflective consciousness. Because of my very youthfulness I cannot develop my full humanity.
An ordinary man would not have spoken thus, but the initiates spoke in this way in the Mysteries, and it was the initiates who guided and directed the whole course of history.
Here was then a people who had too much youth, too much life forces, too little in them of that which could bring about reflection and thought. They left their land and conquered a region where an older people lived, a people which had in some way or other taken into itself the forces of death, because it had already become decadent. The younger nation went out against the older and brought it into subjection. It was not necessary that a blood-bond should be established between conquerors and enslaved. That which worked unconsciously in the soul between them worked in a rejuvenating way; it worked on the reflective faculties. What the conqueror required from the slaves whom he now had in his court was influence upon his consciousness. He had only to turn his attention to these slaves and the longing for unconsciousness was quenched in his soul, reflective consciousness began to dawn.
What we have to attain to-day as individuals was attained at that time by living together with others. A people who faced the world as conquerors and lords, a young people, not possessed of full powers of reflection, needed around it, so to say, a people that had in it more of the forces of death. In overcoming another people, it won through to what it needed for its own evolution.
And so we find that these Oriental conflicts, often so terrible and presenting to us such a barbarous aspect, are in reality nothing else than the impulses of human evolution. They had to take place. Mankind would not have been able to develop on the earth, had it not been for these terrible wars and struggles that seem to us so barbarous.
Already in those olden times the Initiates of the Mysteries saw the world as it is seen to-day. Only they united with this perception a different attitude of mind and soul. For them, all that they experienced in clear, sharp outlines — even as we to-day experience external objects in sharp outlines, when we perceive with our senses — was something that came from the Gods, that came even for human consciousness from the Gods. For how did external objects present themselves to an Initiate of those times? There was perhaps a flash of lightning (to take a simple and obvious illustration). You know very well what a flash of lightning looks like to a man of to-day. The men of olden time did not see it thus. They saw living spiritual Beings moving in the sky, and the sharp line of the flash disappeared completely. They saw a host, a procession of spiritual Beings hurrying forward over or in cosmic space. The lightning as such they did not see. They saw a host of spirits hovering and moving through cosmic space.
The Initiate also saw, with the rest, this spiritual host, but he had developed within him the perception that we have to-day, and so for him, the picture began to grow dim and the heavenly host gradually disappeared from view, and then the flash of lightning could become manifest.
The whole of Nature, in the form in which we see it to-day, could only be attained in olden times through initiation. But how did man feel towards such knowledge? He did not by any means look on the knowledge thus attained with the indifference with which knowledge and truth are regarded to-day. There was a strong moral element in man's experience of knowledge. If we turn our gaze to what happened with the neophytes of the Mysteries, we find we have to describe it in the following way. When a few individuals, after undergoing severe inner tests and trials, had been initiated into the view of Nature, which to-day is accessible to all, they had quite naturally this feeling: consider the man with his ordinary consciousness. He sees the host of elementary beings riding through the air. But just because he has such a perception, he is devoid of free will. He is entirely given up to the Divine-spiritual world. For in this waking-dreaming, dreaming-waking, the will does not move in freedom, rather is it something that streams into man as Divine will. And the Initiate, who saw the lightning come forth out of these Imaginations, learned to say: I must be a man who is free to move in the world without the Gods, one for whom the Gods cast out the world-content into the void.
Now you must understand, this condition would have been unbearable for the Initiate, had there not been for him moments that compensated for it. Such moments he did have. For while on the one hand the Initiate learned to experience Asia as God-forsaken, Spirit-forsaken, he learned also to know a still deeper state of consciousness than that which reached up to the Second Hierarchy. Knowing the world bereft of God, he learned also to know the world of the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones.
At a certain time in the epoch of Asiatic evolution, approximately in the middle — later on we shall have to speak more exactly of the dates — the condition of consciousness of the Initiates was such that they went about on Earth with very nearly the perception of the kingdoms of the Earth which is possessed by modern man; they felt it, however, in their limbs. They felt their limbs set free from the Gods in a God-bereft earthly substance.
In compensation for this, however, they met in this godless land the high Gods of the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones. As Initiates they learned to know, no longer the grey-green spiritual Beings that were the Pictures of the forest, the Pictures of the trees, they learned as Initiates to know the forest devoid of Spirit. Theirs, however, was the compensation of meeting in the forest Beings of the First Hierarchy, there they would meet some Being from the Kingdom of the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones.
All this, understood as giving form to the social life of humanity, is the essential feature in the historical evolution of the ancient East. And the driving force for further evolution lies in the search for an adjustment between young races and old races, so that the young races may mature through association with the old, with the souls of those whom they have brought into subjection. However far back we look into Asia, everywhere we find how the young races who cannot of themselves develop the reflective faculties, set out to find these in wars of aggression.
When, however, we turn our gaze away from Asia to the land of Greece, we find a somewhat different development. Over in Greece, in the time of the full flower of Greek culture, we find a people who did indeed know how to grow old, but were unable to permeate the growing old with full spirituality. I have many times had to draw attention to the characteristic Greek utterance: Better a beggar in the world of the living than a king in the realm of the shades. Neither to death outside in Nature, nor to death in man, could the Greek adapt himself. He could not find his true relation with death. On the other hand, however, he had this death within him. And so in the Greek we find, not a longing for a reflective consciousness, but apprehension and fear of death.
Such a fear of death was not felt by the young Eastern races; they went out to make conquests, when as a race they found themselves unable to experience death in the right way. The inner conflict, however, which the Greeks experienced with death became in its turn an inner impulse compelling humanity, and led to what we know as the Trojan War. The Greeks had no need to seek death at the hands of a foreign race in order to acquire the power of reflection. The Greeks needed to come into a right relation with what they felt and experienced of death, they needed to find the inner living mystery of death. And this led to that great conflict between the Greeks and the people in Asia from whom they had originated. The Trojan war is a war of sorrow, a war of apprehension and fear. We see facing one another the Greeks, who felt death within them but did not know, as it were, what to do with it, and the Oriental races who were bent on conquest, who wanted death and had it not. The Greeks had death, but were at a loss how to adapt themselves to it. They needed the infusion of another element, before they could discover its secret. Achilles, Agamemnon — all these men bore death within them, but could not adapt themselves to it. They look across to Asia. There in Asia they see a people who are in the reverse position, who are suffering under the direct influence of the opposite condition. Over there are men who do not feel death in the intense way it is felt by the Greeks themselves, over there are men to whom death is something abounding in life.
All this has been brought to expression in a wonderful way by Homer. Wherever he sets the Trojans over against the Greeks, everywhere he lets us see this contrast. You may see it, for instance, in the characteristic figures of Hector and Achilles. And in this contrast is expressed what is taking place on the frontier of Asia and Europe. Asia, in those olden times, had, as it were, a superabundance of life over death, yearned after death. Europe had, on the Greek soil, a superabundance of death in man, and man was at a loss to find his true relation to it. Thus from a second point of view we see Europe and Asia set over against one another.
In the first place, we had the transition from rhythmic memory to temporal memory; now we have these two quite different experiences in respect of death in the human organisation. To-morrow we will consider more in detail the contrast, which I have only been able to indicate at the close of to-day's lecture, and so approach a fuller understanding of the transitions that lead over from Asia to Europe. For these had a deep and powerful influence on the evolution of man, and without understanding them we can really arrive at no understanding of the evolution we are passing through at the present day.