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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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From Beetroot to Buddhism
GA 353

II. Aspects of human life that are not physical. Greek culture and Christianity

5 March 1924, Dornach

Well, gentlemen, has someone thought of something for today?

Someone asked about the purpose of the Shrovetide carnival, if Rudolf Steiner could tell them something about it. What were the origins and the significance.

Rudolf Steiner: You mean, what is the purpose of the Shrovetide carnival? Well, you see, the Shrovetide festival cannot really be understood if one asks about its purpose, for I think you'll admit that as the years go by people could manage without it, at least the way it is celebrated now. It would be fair to say that from the present-day point of view the Shrovetide carnival is essentially pointless. This is because it has lost its original meaning. The same thing has happened to it as to the orders, habits, etc. of old. They had meaning and purpose once but this has gradually been lost. The other festivals of the year are also gradually vanishing; little by little they lose significance unless they are given new meaning. So far nothing much has been done to give it meaning again. If it regained its original meaning, which it had in ancient Rome, for instance, it would have a profound influence on the whole of our social life.

Let us go back to ancient Rome. People had different roles then, just as they have today. One would be a civil servant, another a soldier, the third a workman, and so on, and the divisions were much sharper then, at least socially, than they are today. A human being who was a slave could actually be bought! So we may say the differences between people were still very marked in ancient Rome. But there were to be at least a few days every year when people could forget that they had a particular social position. Today we speak of democracy and think that all people are equal, at least in theory. The ancient Romans believed no such thing; for them, someone had to be born into one of the upper classes before he would even be considered to be a proper human being. To this day some people still believe the old saying that to be human you must at least be a baron, meaning that anyone less than a baron is not a human being.

This was a powerful thing in ancient Rome. They did not yet have a nobility in the sense that was to develop later on—for this is a medieval principle arising from the feudal system. But there were marked class differences in ancient Rome. For a few days in the year, however, people were to be equal and democracy should reign. It would not do, of course, for people to show their ordinary faces, for then they would have been recognized; so they had to wear masks. They would then be what their masks indicated them to be. One individual would be the carnival king and he could do anything he wanted during those days. He could issue commands where normally he would only be given them. And the whole of Rome went mad, topsy-turvy, for a few days. People could even behave differently to their superiors and did not need to be polite to them—just for a few days, to make people equal. This meant, of course, that people did not exactly weep or mourn on those days; for they were delighted to live like that for a few days. This developed into the carnival pleasures we know today. People would only do mad things for the few days when they were free. That was the origin of our carnival.

People liked it so much that it survived to this day. But things survive without people knowing the original meaning. And so the carnival is now a time when people let things go topsy-turvy. Then the Church thought it necessary to let Ash Wednesday come immediately afterwards, when people are conscious of their sins, not allowed to do anything they want, and so on, and since Christians had developed the custom, at least in earlier times, that people should go without things, the fasting period of Lent was established. And it was sensible to let Lent follow on from the carnival time, when people had to restrain themselves as little as possible, doing anything that pleased them, in so far as it was possible. And afterwards it is much harder not to eat things one has been eating before. And so the two events came together.

In Rome the carnival came much earlier, at about the time of our Christmas, for everything was afterwards moved to a later season. And so today's carnival has survived. I think the date is based on the date for Easter in most areas, but in Basel it is celebrated about a week later, as far as I know. I also hear that all this means is that people celebrate twice! So that would be what I can say in reply to this question.

It can be said of many things in human life that they originally had meaning but that this was then lost as time went on. And one asks oneself why all this should be.

Does anyone else have a question today?

Someone wanted to ask if Rudolf Steiner would continue with the look at history from the last time.

Someone else: I wanted to ask Dr Steiner if such a thing would be possible that people insult another person or cause him pain, that is, have an influence on them. Mrs A. had a 3-year-old child who would always see spirits come in through the door and the windows. The child often had disturbed nights, especially when the woman had washed their body linen—the woman would take things from the house-and then the child would always grow disturbed. In the end there was no more of this; the woman died later. I would like to ask Dr Steiner if such a thing might be possible.

Rudolf Steiner: These are, of course, things that affect all kinds of areas, and because people are superstitious, superstition would also play a role—superstition and also the facts. You simply have to understand that there are situations in the world that are not open to direct physical observation. Let me begin with some quite simple situations.

Think of a grape harvest. You gather the grapes and press them, putting the wine in barrels in the cellar. You will find that it grows restless at the time when the next year's wine is fermenting. A connection is there, although there is no physical link. This is a simple fact and it shows that there are connections in the natural world that cannot be observed using one's eyes and so on.

Today we have a method by which ordinary visibility can be bypassed. Even in lifeless nature we have situations today where visibility with the naked eye—not visibility of a more subtle kind—is done away with. Just think of wireless telegraphy. This is based on an apparatus that generates electricity that is not connected by wires but stands there by itself. Somewhere else, and in no way physically connected with it, is an apparatus with parallel plates that may be set in motion. It is called a coherer. To begin with, there seems to be no visible physical connection, but if you produce an electric current here, the signs move there; and if you link this up with an apparatus, you can receive telegrams, just as you can pick up electricity with wires. We know this is due to electricity spreading, but this is something we cannot see; it spreads without there being any tangible physical link. Here you have a connection in lifeless nature where we may certainly say: The visible sphere has been overcome, at least to some extent.

We can take this further. Think of a pair of twins. There is no physical contact between them when they have grown older. One may be in one place, the other in another. Yet it is possible to see especially in the case of twins that one may fall ill, for instance, and the other, who lives further away, likewise. Or one may feel sad about something, and the other one too. Such things show that there are effects in this world where we cannot say they are due to a direct physical influence.

When we come to the animal world, we soon find that animals have perceptions, for instance, that humans do not have. Let us assume an earthquake or a volcanic eruption is about to happen that will do great harm to those who live in the area. The people will stay where they are, feeling no disquiet; but the animals can often be seen to leave the area, sometimes days beforehand. This shows that animals may sense something that cannot be perceived by the physical senses. If it could be perceived in that way, the people, too, would know what was coming.

You can see from all this that it is possible for connections to exist in the world that are not physical. If we go into these more subtle connections we find that people, too, will sometimes sense something that they have certainly not been able to perceive with the physical senses. Let us take an example. Someone gives a sudden start and sees some kind of image before him—this is only a dream, of course. He shouts: ‘My friend!’ But the friend may be far away. The person may have the experience in Europe when the friend is perhaps in America. 'My friend! Something has happened to him!' As it turns out, the friend has died. Such things do certainly occur. It is possible to establish that they happen, though there is no physical link.

It has to be said, however, that it is a good thing for humanity that these things are none too common. Just think what it would be like if your head enabled you to perceive all the bad things someone else is thinking or saying about you—that would be a bad business! You know that when one has a telegraph, this has to be set up first, the wire has to be switched on, and then you get a transmission. With wireless telegraphy, too, this part must be functioning properly [pointing to the blackboard] or you get no transmission. Normal, healthy people are not connected to all the currents there are; they are switched off. In special cases it may however happen that someone is connected and able to receive something.

Let us assume, therefore—I cannot go into your particular case and there is good reason for this, for you probably do not know how well it is proven to be true. I'll consider a similar situation, and this should also explain yours. I always want to speak only of things that are properly authenticated, otherwise it may well be just talk. You probably did not know the people involved personally but read or heard about it?

Let us assume a woman, Mrs A, had a dispute with a Mrs B whilst she was pregnant. It happens, does it not, that people have disputes. Perhaps Mrs B, who lives in the neighbourhood, really cursed Mrs A, and Mrs A got a terrible fright when Mrs B was making such a hullabaloo. The result may be that the child, when it is born, shows a certain dependence on Mrs B, and Mrs B also on the child, and it may well happen that this makes the child sensitive to what is given to it as body linen or the like, with Mrs B washing it. Feeling some regret at what she has done to Mrs A, Mrs B needs something from her house, to soothe her. If the object is taken from her she will try to get it back by all possible means. People sometimes take all kinds of things though they are not thieves by nature. They only steal those things; they do not steal otherwise, but seek to get hold of those things by all means. And it may indeed happen that if it is taken away from them they sicken and die from a kind of inner consumption, a consumptive fever, for human health is also influenced by elements of soul and spirit. Or they may die of a heart attack or a paralysis. This may certainly be the case.

We may say, therefore, that these things happen, and they can be explained because under certain conditions one person certainly has an influence on another even if there is no physical contact. But one must always be able to consider the cause. In the case you mention the cause may have been completely different. But if there had been a row during Mrs A's pregnancy that might have been the reason for the later connection between Mrs B and the child.

Well, gentlemen I have been asked to continue with the subject I spoke of last week. I showed you that people's lives were completely different in ancient India, perhaps four or five millennia ago. Due to the special nature of those peoples, and the way the nations came together, the ancient Indians developed their view of the human physical body.

The Egyptians, whose lands were completely under the influence of the Nile, and who owed everything they were to the Nile, as it were—a situation that makes people aware of the ether—developed a view of the human ether body.

The people of Assyria and the Babylonians lived at some altitude where the air was particularly clear and the stars could be easily observed. They developed a view of the astral body.

The Jews, who had to move from place to place in earlier times, and initially had no lasting abode, thought and felt more out of inner human nature. They developed a view of the human I.

We thus see the gradual development of human awareness of the physical body, the ether body, the astral body and the I. You see, Yahveh actually means 'I am the I am'. That is the meaning of the word. And if Yahveh is worshipped as the greatest god, such recognition of the greatest god clearly points also to the human I.

If we follow the evolution of history in this way, we find that all those peoples essentially gave expression in thoughts and feelings to the way they experienced life. Indians knew a rich, fruitful world of nature, a continual flowering and abundant growth. They really perceived the riches of the physical world and out of this developed their view of the physical body. The Egyptians saw that help came to them only from the Nile, which one can see; they therefore developed the concept of the ether, and so on. All those peoples really developed their views from their life experience.

This was different with another nation. We may say [blackboard drawing]: Here ancient India, here Arabia; here then Egypt, this is where the Nile flows. Then over here we have a land that extends towards Africa and connects with Europe. This is where Assyria would be, as I showed the last time, here Egypt, here India; here we would have Palestine, where the Jews lived; and here we have Greece. People coming from many different parts of Asia and Europe settled and intermingled here in Greece. There were original inhabitants, but as time went on the Greek nation evolved on this European peninsula. The Greeks, we might say, were the first to open their eyes and see something of the world that was not purely inner experience. Indians knew the natural world from inside; the Egyptians had living experience of ether activity; the Assyrians gained experience of the astral body from the stars; the Jews had living experience of their I. The Greeks were really the first to look at the world outside. The others did not actually look at the world. We are thus able to say that the Indians, Egyptians, Babylonians and Jews did not have a real view of the natural world; they did not know much about it because they did not open their eyes to look at it. A view of the natural world developed among the Greeks because they actually looked. And humanity did not really perceive the outside world until the Greeks did so.

You see, the Indian view was like this: 'This physical world here is part of the whole world, and I came from the realm of the spirit at birth and shall return to it when I die.' The Egyptians did believe it was necessary to preserve mummies so that individuals might be able to return to them; but they also had their particular view of the spirit. The Babylonians saw the will of the spirits in the starry heavens, the astral sphere, which they observed. And you know that the Jews held the belief that Jehovah, Yahveh, would take them back to the time of the Fathers. Essentially they were therefore also concerned with something that connects human beings with the world of the spirit.

This changed in ancient Greece. The Greeks were really the first to grow fond of the outside world. They thought a great deal of it; there is a Greek saying that it is better to be a beggar in the upper world—meaning Greece, here on earth—than a king in the realm of shadows, meaning the dead.8Homer, Odyssey, 11th canto. The Greeks, then, came to love the world above all things, and thus were also the first to develop a view of the natural world.

The other peoples developed a view of the human being. The Indians in particular, had a certain view of the human being in very early times. But they did not gain this by dissecting dead bodies! If that had been necessary the Indians would never have gained a view of the human being. They sensed how the liver, the lung, functions in a particular part of the human body; this was still possible at the time. The Indians gained great wisdom because they knew from an inner sense and feeling how the liver functions, and so on. Today we only know how a bite of meat tastes in the mouth. The Indians knew from inner experience how a bite of meat behaved in the intestines, what the liver did, what the bile did, just as today we have experience of the bite of meat in the mouth.

The Egyptians developed geometry because they needed it. They had to establish the position of their fields over and over again, for the Nile would flood everything year after year. This, too, is something we produce out of the head. The Babylonians developed astrology, knowledge of the stars, again something beyond earthly concerns; they had no great interest in earthly things. The fact that the Jews had no great interest in earthly things is evident from the way their real interest lay anywhere except with the world we perceive through the senses. They were well able to think but had no real interest in the sense-perceptible world.

The people who had the greatest interest for the world perceived through the senses were the Greeks. If one goes into this, it is interesting to find that they saw the whole world differently from the way we see it today. This is most interesting. We see a blue sky today. The Greeks did not see blue the way we do; their sky was much darker, almost blackish, with a slight tinge of green. They were particularly conscious of the colour red. Our perception of red is so weak, we can hardly imagine the impression that colour made on the Greeks. Humanity only gradually developed a feeling for blue, and with this humanity has come away again from that sensory impression. The Greeks therefore developed a particular liking for things that existed outside themselves. And because of this they specially developed something we call a mythology today. The Greeks venerated a whole world of gods—Zeus, Apollo, Pallas Athene, Ares, Aphrodite; they saw gods everywhere. They venerated those gods because the natural world around them, which they loved, seemed to them to be filled with life and with spirit. Not as dead as it is for us, but filled with life and spirit. They thus venerated the gods everywhere in the natural world that had become dear to them.

Because of this, people who depended on Greek civilization, culture and spirit in those ancient days forgot the things the Indians, Egyptians and Babylonians had known in mind and spirit.

You no doubt know the powerful effect Greece has had on the whole of human development. It continues to this day. Anyone able to send his son to grammar school today makes him learn Greek. This was much more widespread earlier on. You were an ass in those days if you did not know Greek or were unable at least to read the work of the Greek writers and poets. Greece has had a tremendous influence on the world because this was the first nation to take an interest in this outside world.

Whilst the Greeks developed this interest in the outside world, the significant development happening in Asia was that the Mystery of Golgotha spread from there. This was when Greece had been conquered and everything was essentially under Roman rule. What was the significance of this Roman rule? It was full of the Greek spirit. Educated Romans would all know Greek, and the educated people in Rome knew Greek as a matter of course. The Greek spirit had the greatest influence everywhere. Whilst Greek culture was thus spreading, something else happened in Asia, in a little-known Roman province—that was Palestine at that time, with the Jews conquered. A man had appeared, Jesus of Nazareth, who said something very different from what people had ever said so far. And as you can imagine, because it was something different, people did not immediately understand him. At the beginning very few people understood what he said.

What did this Jesus say, when he appeared in Palestine? He said, in the way he was able to put it in those days: 'People everywhere believe today'—this was the today of that time—'that the human being is a creature of the earth. He is not, however. He comes from the world of the spirit and will return to it on his death.' Christianity has had an influence for almost 2000 years now, and so it may seem strange to hear of such a thing being said in those days. But the situation was very different. Asian and African ideas of the spirit were little known then; they had not spread far. People were more interested in the world. And what Jesus of Nazareth was teaching at that time was tremendously important, especially compared to the worldly Greek culture of the Romans.

With this, however, Jesus of Nazareth would have done no more than bringing back to life what earlier peoples—the Indians, the Egyptians and so on—had already said in the past. It would merely have been a return of the things I have told you, things that were already known. But Jesus of Nazareth did not merely rehash something that was already known, for he also said the following. He said: 'If I had only listened to what people are able to tell me today, I would never have found the teachings of the spirit, for the truth is that people really no longer know anything about the spirit. This is something that has come to me from beyond this earth.' He had thus become aware that he was not only Jesus, but that a spirit had arisen in his soul who was the Christ. Jesus was to him the individual born of a woman here on earth. The Christ was the spirit who had entered into his soul at a later time. Then the truth arose in his soul that human beings are spiritual by nature.

At this point we must ask ourselves how the ancient teachings of India, Egypt, Babylon and the Jews were kept alive. If you consider the life of mind and spirit today, you find the Church on one hand and schools on the other. At most those who rule the Church are in dispute with those who govern the schools as to how much influence the one should have on the other. They are, however, separate establishments. This was not the case among the ancient Indians, Egyptians, Babylonians or Jews. Anything connected with religion in those times was also connected with the schools; church service and school service were one. Much of this has continued on to the present time, but it is no longer the case, as it was then, that the priest would also be the teacher. Priests were teachers in India, Egypt, Babylon and so on. And they taught in the places where religious rites were also held. The religious rites were completely bound up with the teaching work. Those were the mystery centres. People did not have churches and schools but places that were both, places we now call mystery centres.

The general view was, however, that one had to be cautious in what might be learned. You see, the ancient view was that people had to have the necessary maturity before certain knowledge was given to them. This is something that has been lost today. And the people who held the highest rank in the mystery centres were known as the Fathers. A remnant of this is that in the Catholic Church, for instance, certain priests are still called Father. In those early times, the Fathers were those initiated into knowledge in India, Egypt, Babylon and so on. And those they taught—people who had been admitted because the Fathers believed they could make them ripe for knowledge—would be called the sons. All other people, who were not admitted to the mysteries, were called the children of the Fathers, or also sons and daughters.

You will understand that this created a certain attitude, which was that people—much more capable of belief at that time than people are today—truly felt those who served the mysteries to be their Fathers; they were glad to have them as their Fathers in the spirit. And above all people believed that these spiritual Fathers were communing more closely with the gods than those outside the mysteries who had to receive the message from the Fathers. People gradually became very dependent on those Fathers. A situation which, I believe, the Roman Catholic Church would dearly like to create today was taken as a matter of course at the time. This was so in all countries. And no one would object to it. People would say: 'To be truly human you either have to be a Father, and commune directly with the gods, or you have to learn about the gods from the Fathers.’ You would be human therefore in so far as those who served in the schools, in the mysteries, told you something.

A difference developed between children of God and children of man, sons of God and sons of man. Those who were part of the mysteries would be called sons of God, because they looked up to the gods as they did to the Fathers. Those who lived outside the mysteries, who were merely told what came through the mysteries, were called children or sons of man. Thus the distinction arose between sons of God and sons or children of men. This may seem almost ridiculous today, but at the time is was perfectly natural. Today a difference is made—perhaps not in Switzerland, though for all I know a bit of it exists here as well, but in neighbouring countries—between excellencies and ordinary people, the barons and the ordinary people. It is a bit less now, but not long ago it was taken as a matter of course. In earlier times it was a matter of course that a difference existed between sons of God, children of God, and sons of men.

The individual who then called himself Christ Jesus, and who was called this, said: 'You do not become a son of God, a child of the spirit, through another person. Everyone becomes this through God himself. It is only a matter of being aware of this.' People of old would say that the Father from the mysteries must make them aware of it. Christ Jesus said: 'You have the seed of the divine in you, and you merely have to make the effort and you can find it in yourself.'

He thus showed what makes people all over the world the same in their souls. And the biggest difference to be overcome by Christ Jesus was the one between sons of the gods and sons of men.

This was later widely misunderstood—in the old days because people did not want a time to come when no distinction was made between sons of gods and children of men, and later because people no longer knew what was meant by it. Just as people later no longer knew what the carnival meant, so they no longer knew what was meant by 'sons of gods' and 'sons of men'. This is why we find all the time in the Bible that on one occasion Jesus Christ is called Son of God and on another Son of Man. All the passages where reference is made to the Son of God and the Son of Man really mean that the two terms may be used to say the same thing, which is why they are given in alternation. If one does not know this one cannot really understand the Gospels. And they really are very poorly understood today, especially by those who declare their belief in them.

This, then, shows the principle that really came into the world through Christ Jesus at the level of feelings. Considering things in a more superficial way today, I have to say: You see, there were also other great differences between people everywhere. Just think of ancient India where a distinction similar to those between classes of animals was made between Brahmins, priests, peasants and workers. The Egyptians had a whole army of slaves. Their castes were not so strictly separate, but they did exist. Even in ancient Greece and Rome a difference was made between freeborn people and slaves. These outer differences have only been wiped away in more recent history because the difference between children of the gods and children of men had been removed. What happened in Palestine through Christ Jesus thus had a tremendous influence on the whole social life of humanity.

Now we may indeed ask in the light of all this: Is it true that one can find out where the spiritual principle comes from that exists in the human being, having come from beyond this earth? You see, it is extremely difficult to speak of this today, because everything is considered in material terms. Think of language. You know people in different countries speak different languages. In spite of this all languages secretly have something in common. This may not be as clearly apparent as it is in Germany and in England, in Germany and in Holland. But it is indeed true that languages, however different, show a certain similarity. You may find, for instance, that if you enter into the language that is spoken in India, you may not immediately understand, but the shapes of individual words show similarity, for instance, with the German language.

How do people try to explain this? They'll say: 'Well, such and such a language evolved in one place on earth—for everything is said to come from the earth—and then people migrated, taking their language to some other place, where it changed a little. But it all comes from one language.' That is the most misguided belief scientists have produced in recent times. For you see, gentlemen, the misguided beliefs of scientists are exactly as follows. Imagine someone living in India getting hot in the sun. The view then arises that a person may grow hot. Later on people in Europe discover that they, too, can grow hot in summer. And now they do not use their brains but their senses and say: 'The fact that we get hot is something we cannot explain in terms of the present situation; but people got hot in ancient India and they emigrated to Europe, transplanting the ability to grow hot to Europe.'

Well, gentlemen, anyone saying that is, of course, mad. But that is what the language experts say! They do not say that there has been the same influence coming from outside the earth in India and in Europe; they say the language migrated. When people get hot in two parts of the world we don't say they have brought the ability to get hot with them when they migrated. Instead we look at the sun which shines in both places and makes people hot in both India and Europe. If you find two languages that are far apart geographically but show similarities, this is not due to migration but to a common influence, just as the sun's influence exists for the whole earth. Coming from beyond the earth it affects peoples in very different parts of the earth. People simply do not want to admit that there is such an influence on mind and spirit, and they therefore think up all kinds of things where one simply does not notice that they are crazy because they are so scholarly. If people were not afraid of being taken for mad they would also deny that the sun makes us hot; instead they would say: 'In very early times the capacity for getting hot developed, and this has been transplanted to all parts of the globe.' They would deny the sun's influence, except that this would be crazy. This is something to consider when we seek to understand how Christianity arose.

It is too late today to take this further. We'll continue next Saturday.