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From Mammoths to Mediums
GA 350

I. About repeated lives on earth. Physical exercises, dancing and Sport

30 May 1923, Dornach

Good morning, gentlemen. As not all of you are here today I think I'll talk about things in such a way that the people who are not here won't miss much. Would you have any questions?

Mr Burle asked about reincarnation. Surely there are a lot more people on earth today than there were before.

Another question was that he had often noted people liking to go round and round—dancing, maybe, or in other ways. And a running dog would always come back to the same spot. Also, if one got lost in the woods or if there was a fog, one would find oneself in the same place again.

Rudolf Steiner: That is indeed a most interesting question. First, then, the question about incarnations. As you know, if we take account of the anthroposophical science of the spirit, we realize that everyone who is living today has a whole number of earth lives behind him and also ahead of him, and that the human soul therefore returns again and again. Now you should not think that this has anything to do with the belief, which was also quite common in earlier times, that human beings have lived in animal bodies and things like that. This is something our enemies pretend we say. There can be no question of this. But there are two objections that may be raised against the idea of human beings always coming back. The first of these is the one Mr Burle means.

The general view is that the earth's population is always growing, so that we have very many more people in Europe today, for example, than there were about 150 years ago. Is that right? Is this what you mean? That the figures would be too high if we were to trace the earlier lives of all the people who are part of today's large population? One would then have to say that there were fewer people in earlier times and many more people live on earth today. So how can it be that those people from earlier times appear in present-day bodies? That is the question. It is asked very often, the idea being that there are too many people on earth today for us to be able to say that they have all existed before.

Now there are a number of things that have to be taken into account. In the first place, statistics are always only produced for particular areas where the population happens to be increasing to an extraordinary degree, and this gives the idea that the population of the whole earth has always been growing. It would seem as if 3,000 or 4,000 years ago, let us say, there were only few people on earth, whereas today they are here in enormous numbers. People do sums of this kind. They say, for example, that the population of Europe has more or less doubled over the last 150 years. Continuing their calculations on this basis, they then say that there must have been terribly few people on earth 2,000 or 3,000 years ago.

But, gentlemen, this goes completely against the facts as we generally know them. Let me just mention the following. You see, if we go back to before the birth of Christ, let us say, 2,000 years back, that was a time when the most enormous pyramids were being built in the Nile region in Africa, in Egypt; the whole river was being regulated. And if you consider the masses of people needed to erect those vast buildings, even just to build the sphinxes, for instance, which are gigantic in size, in the large numbers in which they were built, you realize that it is quite wrong to say that Egypt's population was small at the time. No, the population must have been dense in Egypt then, much denser than the population of Saxony or of Belgium is today, for example. The historical facts thus definitely contradict the view that going further and further back in earth evolution one would find fewer and fewer people.

Also, if we go much further across into Asia we find vast canal systems. You know, if this is Europe [drawing on the board]—I've drawn this for you before—then Africa would be here. That would have been the Nile and Egypt, and over here this would be Asia. That is a vast continent which goes further. And here we have the teeming population who built the pyramids and so on. Over there in Asia was ancient Chaldea. As you know, the Bible says Abraham came from Ur in Chaldea. The land Chaldea existed in those times. And in that country vast canal systems were built in earlier times, remnants of which can still be found. This, too, needed vast numbers of people. So you have to see that the facts prove, quite simply, that vast masses of people existed in Africa and Asia some thousands and thousands of years before Christ's birth.

You also have to consider the following. When the Europeans went to America they settled there. But America was not empty of people at that time. The ancient Indian population that I told you about,1See lecture given on 3 March 1923 in GA 349. the people with copper-coloured skins, has now died out completely. Looking at the things they left behind, some of them buried by now, you realize that a vast population existed there, but the Europeans did not have contact with them.

So this is simply something that is not true, that there were far fewer people on earth in the past. Just think about it—exact figures are not known about the present population; it is only possible to give figures for specific areas. What do European statisticians of today know about the Chinese population now and a thousand years ago? All the things travellers tell us suggest that the population does not always decrease when one goes back in time as is generally assumed but that there certainly have been times when the earth was very highly populated. Then, of course, there have also been times when some areas in particular were less densely populated, but we shall see in a minute that this was nothing special. Generally speaking, and with reference to the things it is possible to know at a superficial level today, the objection that too many people exist today to be reincarnations from earlier times can definitely be shown to be untrue.

But there's something else to be considered as well. You see, looking at people today one comes to realize that one person may have gone through 1,000 years between death and his present birth, someone else perhaps only 500 years, and yet another may have been in the world of the spirit for 1,500 years before he came down again. The people who live today thus have definitely not all been here before at the same time but at different times. If the earth's population was smaller at some time, the souls would wait up above until it had grown larger again.

The things we are able to say about incarnation and reincarnation do therefore agree completely with the facts. I have often said—for this objection has been raised again and again over the years that I have been lecturing—it's just a matter of arithmetic. Let us assume someone lived in ad 300—somewhere or other. Someone else lived in 1000 AD [drawing and writing on the board]. It is now the year 1923. It is perfectly possible that the one I've drawn there meets the one you see here, because the second one had a shorter distance to cover. So now, in 1923, you have two people, but at those earlier times it was always only one. They do not all of them need to be here at the same time in order to return at the same time. It therefore is perfectly true also for times when the earth is less densely populated; it is just that fewer souls come down at such times.

So you see, if one is not thinking in fantasies but in real terms one has to understand that it simply was not the case that there would be two people, later four, then six, and so on. As we go back further in looking at the earth's population we realize that this is completely rhythmical. There are times when there are many people on earth and times when fewer people are on earth. And we shall never get back to a single pair, as it is says in the Bible. That is not what it means. There can be no question of 'one pair', the way it says there. For if we assume that there were just two people at one time we would have to say that there would always have to be just two, and none at all in between times. But that is not the way it is. Here true knowledge contradicts the beliefs of knowledge based on fantasy today.

But there's something else as well. You see, we have to understand clearly that some time must pass before a human being comes down to earth again. And so you may ask: 'Yes, but when does he come down?' Investigating the matter right through to the end one finds that one of them gave much thought to the world of the spirit when on earth, and he'd then grow into that world more easily after his death. Having given much thought to the world of the spirit, he'd need a relatively long time between death and rebirth. He could stay in the world of the spirit for a long time because he had already learnt a great deal about it here. People like that, who've given much thought to the world of the spirit, are able to develop better there, stay longer and return to earth later. Someone who has only given thought to the material world will come back relatively soon. So this is another way in which things shift and change.

That would be one objection. Then there is also another one. I have talked to you about this before.2See lecture given on 18 April 1923 in From Limestone to Lucifer. Tr. A. Meuss. London: Rudolf Steiner Press 1999. It is this: 'Why do we not remember our earlier incarnations?' Well you see, gentlemen, it's like this. If someone says human beings are able to do sums, that is beyond doubt. They can do sums. But then someone will come and say: 'I'll prove to you that man cannot do sums.' 'Oh, how'll you do that?' And he'll bring along a young child who cannot do sums. 'He's a human being, too,' he'll say.

That is how it is with earlier lives on earth. Human beings can learn this, and they will learn to remember their earlier lives on earth as they continue to evolve on this earth. This is one of the things we hear of in the science of the spirit, that at the present time human beings are not yet able to remember their experiences from the previous life. But what we have to say on this in the science of the spirit is in complete agreement with it. You see, gentlemen, you are in the waking state from morning till evening. You gain living experience from everything around you. And when you remember things, you'll only remember things you have known like this, in the waking state. Just think how quickly we forget even our dreams—which have no particular significance, as I've told you. Human beings therefore remember the things they have come across in the waking state. But there's something else which they do not remember, even here on earth. These are the things they experience in the sleeping state. And we actually experience a great deal more in our sleep than we do in the waking state, only at our present level of conscious awareness we are not yet able to take them in. Once we have gained the ability to do this—and human beings can gain this—we'll know that we experience a tremendous amount in our sleep. As a rule, however, people do not know this, and when they die the things they experienced in their waking life go away after two or three days. It then seems as if all the thoughts one has experienced in the waking state simply go away after two, three or four days. And then all the things we have experienced in our sleep will come up. As I have told you,3See lecture given on 21 April 1923 in the same volume as note 2. they'll take a length of time equal to a third of our whole life on earth. Here on earth we therefore also do not yet know about the things that are wholly inward experiences. We shall know them if we enter more and more deeply into the science of the spirit. So we also need not be surprised if things that happened in our previous life on earth do not come to conscious awareness in our present life. The other day4See note 2. I told you about the difference if I put down a collar stud unthinkingly—I'll then be running about, looking and looking for it in the morning—and about the situation where I specifically recall: that's where I put the stud; in that case I'll not run around but go straight to it. It all depends on whether we give thought to something.

In earlier times people knew that they lived on earth several times over, but as the millennia passed they did not think of this at all as something that was of the spirit. This is why they cannot remember it in their present life on earth. But a time will come when they will remember, just as a time will come for the 4-year-old child when he will be able to do sums.

Now to your other question. People have a desire to go round in a circle. That is a perfectly true statement. Here I have to remind you of the following. We have to learn to stand and walk when we are young children, something we have spoken of before.5See lecture given on 17 March 1923 in the same volume. Imagine now you are lying asleep in your bed, waking up again with a dream, and the dream may not just be one where you are turning round and round—this, of course, would be in your dream—but actually flying. Dreams of flying, in the first place only in one's soul, of course, are not that uncommon. The reason why someone flies in his dreams is usually this. He wakes up; he is used to having the ground under his feet or the seat of a chair or something under him when sitting up in the waking state, in short, always to have something under him. When he is lying down, it is quite uncommon to touch the bottom of the bedstead with the soles of his feet, and the soles are usually free. The individual will thus wake up in a position he is not used to. He'll think he is in the air and flying. This is what he'll think at first.

But now you have to consider the following. If we first have to learn to walk and to stand, that is, to be upright, as children, this means being upright is not something we have in us from birth; we have to learn it. But if we ask ourselves: Where does it come from, this being upright? What is it that we do when we walk upright? Now you have to consider this carefully. Imagine this is the surface of the earth [Fig. 1]. If you loosen a stone here it will fall to the ground. Why? We say because the earth attracts it. If it is really just like that, so that the earth pulls it towards it as if it were on a string, this is something we need to think about. We might talk about it another time. But in any case, a force exists that pulls it down, otherwise it would not fall to the ground. And wherever the stone may be, it will always drop to the ground straight down.

We, too, must learn to take the direction of this line. We must learn to stand in the vertical when we are earthly human beings. And so we adapt ourselves to this vertical line. The whole of our physical body would serve no purpose if we did not assume the vertical position. Look at animals that do not walk upright but on all fours—their toes are quite different in form from our fingers. If our physical body is to have meaning, therefore, we must take up the vertical position. This is absolutely necessary.

man on the surface of the Earth
Figure 1

But does the ether body also need what the physical body needs? You know I've told you that we do not only have this physical body which we see with our eyes when we look at someone, which we can touch with our hands, but we also have a subtle ether body. Now this ether body does not need to adapt. It keeps different habits. What habits? Well, gentlemen, you know that the earth is round and that night and day alternate. What makes night and day alternate? You know, the sun is here [drawing on the board], and when its rays come to the earth like this, it is daytime on this side. It would always be day if the earth did not rotate. So when this half, which I've made red, gets to over here, it will be night on this half and day on the other half, which then comes over here.

Night and day therefore arise because the earth rotates. Just think now, the human ether body, this subtle body which we also have, does not get so used to the vertical position as a child does, but always wants to follow this rotation of the earth. This ether body always wants to move around the earth; this is how it wants to be; this is the movement it always makes. If the ether body did not want to make this movement, you would want to rotate all the time when you are just walking in the direction of the earth, wanting to go round and round all the time because you'd hurt all over from the shove you are given. There has to be something in you that always goes with the movement of the earth; otherwise you'd be hurting all over all the time. You can also see from this how little thought is given to things in modern science. People know very well that the earth is rotating and not just making the movement the physical body makes when it has adapted to the vertical position. But they do not know of any body that follows this movement. That is the situation.

Now imagine you faint. When you faint something departs from your physical and ether body. It is the I and the astral body, that is, the part of you that is the actual element of spirit and soul. And you'll then be aware that the astral body wants to rotate. You will first of all rotate in soul and spirit just as you do with that dream in the morning when you sensed that you had no ground under your feet. When you faint, therefore, you first of all rotate in the mind. When someone feels dizzy, for instance, only the soul part wants to rotate. But imagine now you walk on without giving it a thought. Now, if you walk without giving it a thought you are moving the physical body mechanically. You then do not think about your walking, and especially if there's a mist in the woods you won't be able to give thought to your walking. You don't know which way to turn—where should I go? For you normally aim towards a particular point when you walk with your physical body. You may not always be aware of it, but the path directs you towards a particular point. But if there's a mist you don't see anything, and then your physical body does not know its way about. Along comes your ether body; it only wants to follow its own movement, which is circular. It will follow its own circular motion and take the physical body along with it! When you are merely dreaming or feeling dizzy, the astral body makes the movement. But once you've got going, the ether body brings the physical movement into the physical body and you go along with that. You can see from this that the ether body is not at all earthbound. The human ether body thus does not go along with the way things are on earth.

Now consider this. Between birth and death man is a creature of this earth. He has to work. But as you know, you can't work all the time. The physical body would be worn down, and so on. The person then wants to move his physical body, but not the way it has adapted to the earth; he wants to follow the ether body. The ether body wants to make circular movements, however, and so the person dances. Dancing is usually a matter of someone not wanting to follow his physical body but his ether body. The desire to dance actually exists so that a person may forget his physical body and can feel himself to be a spirit that belongs to the cosmos.

The problem would be, however, that people would always want to follow their inner feeling and belong far too much to the cosmos, going with their ether bodies. People do not usually want to move the way the earth wants them to move, they'd really like to follow their ether bodies. And it might suit them very well to move as much as possible in circles, the way the ether body wants to move. People must therefore get used to the kind of movements that belong to the earth. And we have also adopted those movements in education, doing physical exercises. Why do people do physical exercises? It means that they adapt even more to the earth than they would otherwise be able to do. People do physical exercises so that they let go more of the ether body, do not always follow the ether body. But if they are not to be completely estranged from the big world, the outer world, people must also make movements that do not tie them to the earth.

Now you see, we live in the age of materialism today. The people who have the greatest longing for materialism live in the West. The Orientals, who once had an ancient culture, the people of Asia, have no great desire to belong to the earth. They see the earth very much as a vale of tears, much more so than Christians do, and the people who live in the Orient, in Asia, want to be off again as quickly as possible.

But Western people like the earth so much, terribly much. It is not that they admit this to themselves, but they'd really like to stay on earth for ever. And here I must tell you something. The ether body wants to move towards the heavens. The planets move in orbits, and so the earth, too, moves in an orbit. The ether body wants to be in orbit, the physical body wants to get out of this orbit. It does get out of it when it has much work to do; but let us consider how it is for people of the upper classes in the West who do not have to do any work. It feels a bit strange to them, for the ether body is always tormenting them. When such a steak-eating individual moves around in the world his ether body is teasing and tormenting him all the time, and he wants to go round in circles. This steak-eater then wants to follow the circular movements of the ether body. Wow! This is extremely uncomfortable! The ether body always wants to dance, to make nice round movements, and the steak-eater cannot keep up. He therefore wants to get his physical body in a condition where it is strong enough not to let itself be pulled into circular motion by the ether body all the time. The individual therefore takes up sport—not just physical exercise but sport. And the result is that the individual comes completely out of the ether body and only follows the physical movements of the earth. He makes friends with the earth more and more and leaves the world of the spirit aside.

You must not think that we merely leave the world of the spirit aside by not thinking about it. We do it also by such means as being so active in sport that we separate the physical body completely from the ether body. This is a terrible thing for the human being; I'd say it is a matter for serious concern. The more they get involved in sport the more do people forget about things of the spirit. After their death they will then come back immediately from the world of the spirit, within a very short time. If it were not the case that everything in the West does receive a little of the spirit, the earth would gradually be populated only by people who do not at all want to go back to the world of the spirit. And you would then have nothing but people on earth who gradually bring the earth to utter ruin. We are beginning to do this a little bit even now. This little bit is already quite serious for present-day humanity. But once people start to give no more consideration to their ether body but only their physical body, this will bring about horrific conditions on earth. And so one must once again intervene by means of the science of the spirit. The only possible way is to oppose movements that are entirely designed to drive man into his physical body, making him wholly earth-man, using other movements that are in opposition.

People's minds are already turned towards becoming earthly human beings. You'll understand, now that I have given you so many talks, that without being a philistine, such things do make one's heart ache.

You see, I also went to England last summer. When we were just about to leave, all England was full of excitement, waiting for the evening papers to read about the most important event. Everyone was eagerly waiting for the evening papers. What were they waiting for? The football results!

Now we've just come from Norway. Many people were there when we left. The station platform was full of people. And when the train started to move people shouted hurrah, hurrah. At the next station they were shouting: 'Three cheers for him!' Well, this was not for us, of course, and the question is, who was it for? I just managed to find out that it was for football players who'd come to Norway from Central Europe and were on their way home again. So what does interest people today? Well, they are much more interested in these things which gradually draw the physical body away from the ether body, making the human being wholly into a creature of the earth, than in any event connected with the weal and woe of millions of people.

Because of this, other movements have to be made to oppose the movements that are now being made all over the world, spreading more and more. These are the eurythmic movements. They take their orientation from the ether body. When you see eurythmy being done, you'll see all the movements which the etheric body makes. When you see sport being done, you'll see all the movements which the physical body makes.

Yes, gentlemen, this is extraordinarily important, for it also means a longing for sport. I do not want to say anything against sport in general. Sport is of course quite a good thing if it is done by people who also work, for one has to get used to more unnatural movements at work; if one then does natural movements in sport, movements that are more adapted to the physical body, then recreation in sport is a good thing. But the way people are active in sports today, with many of them having no need for recreation, what is this, really? You see there are sports people today who may perhaps—not all of them, of course, but there are certainly some—quickly go to church in the morning, where they pray: 'I believe in a god in heaven,' and so on. Then they go to the sports field. Now they are not putting it in words, but if we put what they do in words it is this: 'I do not believe in a god in heaven, of course. I believe in flesh and bones, for this alone makes life worth living.' You see, that is the inevitable, unconscious consequence of the things people do today. You are a materialist not only if you say you do not want to know about things of the spirit but also with things like these, where the whole human being is torn away from the spiritual element.

Concerning your question one is therefore able to say this. When someone walks in the woods and there's a mist and he loses his way, it'll happen on occasion that he runs after his ether body. That is not so bad, for he'll come back to the same place again. When you turn around yourself—that is not so bad, it means a lot of swinging to and fro like a pendulum, now to the ether body and now to the physical body. This is because human beings have both of them and should also develop both. That is the way the situation is. But in the Western world there is a general tendency today to leave the ether body out completely and care only for the physical body, and this causes the terrible materialism which is the truly harmful materialism. For materialism in thought is not the most harmful. The most harmful kind of materialism is the one where the whole human being descends to the animal level. This is what we have to consider. It happens only too easily that people say: 'Oh, he's a philistine, for he rants and raves against sport. Sport is something extremely useful!' But I do not rant and rave against sport. People are free to indulge in sport, they are free human beings. But they will completely ruin themselves as human beings if they devote themselves only to things to do with sport.

Here it is necessary to understand clearly that the things I said in the first chapter of Towards Social Renewal6Steiner, R., Towards Social Renewal (GA 23). Tr. F. T. Smith. London: Rudolf Steiner Press 1977. apply in the widest possible sense. When I wrote the book I did of course think I'd write in a way that would make people think about the subject. Well, they've not cared a rap about it. They did not reflect at all and the book has not been understood. I said that whilst we do have a large democratic proletarian movement, one finds, on taking a closer look, that most proletarians today are copying everything middle-class people have done before, they follow the academic line, and they believe in the things that are said at the universities. Sometimes the proletarian parties are the first to agree to legislation—remember freedom of choice in medical treatment?—and the socialists are generally the first to say, 'Yes, that calls for an expert committee,' and so on. And when it comes to sport—sport is of course a middle-class invention which they try to copy as well. It won't always quite work; but they certainly copy it as far as attitude goes, considering sport to be the only beneficial thing. But in fact the proletarian movement will only come to be something if they do not copy what the other classes did before. I therefore specially wrote that first chapter. One could see the proletarian movement everywhere getting under the influence of belief in authority. That is why I wrote that first chapter of Towards Social Renewal, thinking that people would give thought to the matter.

But of course, giving thought to things is something people who do sports do not like at all. For when someone is very active in sport this will get him out of the way of thinking things over. For we can only think with the ether body. You may try as hard as you like—you can't think with your physical body. And when someone asks if they should eat meat or only vegetables in order to be able to think better, all one can say is: 'You can't cultivate your thinking by eating; you have to do it with the ether body. You have to enter into the ether body there.'

So you see, the ether body reveals its presence in the human being in the circular movements which people want to make, in the longing to dance, or in people losing their way and walking in a circle.

Yes, gentlemen, if you've ever lived in Vienna, for example, you'll know that the Viennese like to enjoy life. They are quite frivolous; they have warmth of heart, but they are frivolous. In Vienna you have the Prater, large pleasure gardens, vast pleasure gardens. It is a place where people usually go on a Sunday, unless they are the kind of ne'er-do-well who goes there every day. You get hot dogs there, clowns and all kinds of things. But the paths in the Prater are laid out in a peculiar way. They are laid out in such a way that you will always end up in the same place. You walk down a long avenue, entering the woods somewhere, and after some time you'll be back in the place where you were before! If you started from a hot dog stand, you'll be back there again. That is how the paths are laid out. You see, they did not of course say to themselves, 'Let's encourage the people of Vienna to come out here and enjoy themselves,' but they had an inner feeling for this, and so they made the paths run in such a way that people don't even need a mist to find themselves back at the beginning again. They made the paths go round the way the ether body likes them, so that people feel quite taken out of their physical bodies. For you can feel taken out of yourself there, and this will really make you feel good. You'll go around in circles unless you have a direction. And if the paths are already made in such a way that you'll walk in circles willy-nilly, you'll also feel good. And that was what the people who designed the Prater wanted the Viennese to feel—that their ether body would feel really good as they found themselves back at the hot dog stall again and again. It is very cleverly done. You can go and look how the paths run. When you give yourself up to this—you'll always come back again, but you go round. And it is this turning round which makes people feel really good, especially if they do it all Sunday afternoon.

This is of course a much more innocent feeling of well-being than in many other cases. You know that one can also lose one's bearings in other ways. I've told you the story before. Coming home late at night and not quite knowing if you're drunk or not, you put your top hat on your bed. If you see one, you're not drunk, if you see two, you're drunk. This is because it is going round. You see, in that case, something is also turning. It is the astral body. When someone lies in bed who is drunk, his astral body is going round. But when someone brings the ether body into it in a more mental way, by following paths that go round, it is the ether body which goes round. That is the more innocent way of going round and round.

Drinking goes to the astral body; turning round oneself more to the ether body. There you can also see the difference. For when I look at someone who is drunk, well, he does not turn round like someone following circular paths, for everything is going round and round for him, as if his astral body itself had now become the earth's globe. He goes round and round the way the earth goes round. That is the astral body which is going round.

But when people are dancing or going round and round in Vienna's Prater, the ether body is going round. It takes the physical body along with it; it is the more innocent way. We may say that when someone is dancing the ether body is going round, and when someone is drunk it is the astral body which is going round.

You see, these things are not considered in modern science and because of this the big questions relating to our civilization cannot be answered, for people do not know how to arrange things so that human beings will not become utterly inhuman. Humanity will get more and more animal-like if today's sports craze continues. Something of the spirit must come to humanity. And I am convinced that people who on the one hand get to know the earth through work will on the other hand also feel a longing to enter into things of the spirit and will gradually come to understand that we must also take care of the spiritual side of things, that this is necessary.

This, then, is what I wanted to say to you for the moment. We'll be talking a lot more about these things, so that they will be clear to everyone.