The Gospel of St. John
in Relation to the Other Three Gospels
5. Human Evolution within the Embodiments of our Earth
28 Jun 1909, Kassel
If we observe with clairvoyant consciousness the present form of a human being, composed as it is of physical body, etheric body, astral body, and ego, there emerges most clearly the important fact that as regards size and shape — at least in the upper portions — the physical and etheric bodies are approximately equal. The head in particular, if we think of it as it appears physically, coincides almost completely with its etheric counterpart: the latter protrudes only slightly beyond the physical head. This is by no means the case in animals. Even in the higher animals there is a tremendous difference between the shape and size of the etheric head and the physical head. If you observe, for example, a horse clairvoyantly, you see that the etheric head extends far beyond the physical head and has a decidedly different shape. If I were to draw a picture of what hovers above the trunk and head of an elephant you would be greatly astonished at the true being of that animal; for all that physical perception sees of such an animal is merely the solidified part in the center.
Let us examine this fact. The degree of man's perfection on our physical plane is basically due to the fact that his etheric body so nearly coincides with his physical body, that they so nearly cover. But that was not always the case. There have been periods in the evolution of our Earth, treated in the foregoing lectures, in which man's etheric body by no means thus coincided with his physical body, as it does today. In fact, man's progress during the course of his development is due to the circumstance that gradually his protruding etheric body crept into his physical body, as it were, until in time the two came to coincide. Here it is essential to keep in mind that this interpenetration of the etheric and physical bodies had to take place at a very special moment in Earth evolution if mankind was to achieve its development in the right way. Had it occurred earlier, man would have reached a certain stage of development too soon: he would have hardened there, and not been able to proceed. But a possibility for him to develop resulted from the fact that his etheric and physical bodies came to coincide at just the right time.
In order to understand this, let us examine more closely evolution as we viewed it in its larger outlines yesterday and the day before. Visualize once more how, at the beginning of our Earth evolution, the earth was united with the sun and the moon. At that time man had arisen again out of the potential germ that comprised the physical, etheric, and astral bodies. He existed, so to speak, in his first earth form, that is, the only form possible for him at a time when the Earth still contained both sun and moon. In spiritual-scientific literature this period of Earth evolution which man passed through, together with his planet, is usually called the Polarian period. It would lead too far afield today to explain this name, so let us simply accept it. Then came the time when the sun prepared to withdraw from the Earth, and when the beings that could not continue, so to speak, with the denser and constantly solidifying substances of the Earth departed with the finer substances of the sun. This period we call the Hyperborean. And then followed an epoch in which only the moon remained united with the Earth, a time in which increasing barrenness spread over our Earth life. Yesterday we learned how human souls abandoned this Earth and only withered human forms remained. In spiritual-scientific literature this period is called the Lemurian. It is the period in which the splitting off of the moon occurred, resulting in a revival on earth of all the kingdoms established there. The mineral kingdom stood least in need of reanimation, the plant kingdom more, and still more, the animal kingdom, while the further development of the human race called for the most outstanding and powerful forces.
This revival commenced with the moon's exit. As mentioned yesterday, only a handful of human beings were left, and these consisted of the three principles acquired during the Saturn, Sun and Moon evolutions, to which the potential ego was added on the Earth. But at the time of the moon's exit the human being did not bear the flesh substance in which we encounter him later: he was composed of the most tenuous matter of that time. In the Lemurian period the solid minerals of today were still liquid, dissolved in the other substances that nowadays are segregated as aqueous matter, like water. The air was still saturated with dense vapors composed of a great variety of substances. Pure air and pure water, as we know them today, did not exist at that time except in very limited areas of the earth.
It was out of the purest substances of the period, then, that man molded his evanescent, tenuous body. Had he employed coarser substances his body would have acquired a form with definite outline, with sharply defined contours; and these contours would have been inherited by the descendants, and the human race would there have come to a standstill. But it was not intended that man should create his form in matter of that sort: rather had he to see to it that he could freely move his corporeal substance according to the impulses of his soul. The matter forming his body was at that time so soft that it obeyed the impulses of will in all directions. Nowadays you can stretch out your hand, but by no effort of the will can you make it ten feet long. You cannot coerce matter because form, as it is today, is bequeathed. At the time of which we are speaking that was not the case. The human being could be shaped at will, could build the form according to the dictates of his soul. His further development demanded, so to speak, that he incorporate himself, after the withdrawal of the moon, in the softest possible substances, leaving his body plastic and flexible, capable of obeying the soul's every wish.
Then came the time when certain elements, indispensable for our present-day life — air and water — were purged of all they contained in the way of dense matter: what had formerly been dissolved in the water was now precipitated. Just as dissolved substances precipitate in cooling water, so the dissolved matter sank, as it were. The water became pure water and the air was rid of denser matter: air and water were reconditioned, and man was able to use this rarefied matter for his physical development.
From this third age human beings gradually passed over into an evolutionary epoch we call the Atlantean, because during that time the greater part of the human race inhabited a continent, now submerged, situated in the area now occupied by the Atlantic Ocean — between America, and Europe-Africa. So after the Lemurian age had continued yet a while, the human race carried on its evolution on the Atlantean Continent; and that was the scene of all that I shall now describe, as well as of much that was mentioned yesterday.
At the time the moon withdrew from the earth only a small number of the human souls that were to incarnate later were on the earth: most of them were distributed over the various cosmic bodies; but during the last part of the Lemurian and the first part of the Atlantean age these souls descended to the earth. Only few human beings, as I told you, had been able to experience the crisis of the Lemurian epoch, for only the most robust — those capable of living in the ever hardening substance prior to the moon's exit — had survived the moon crisis of the earth. But when everything that had solidified during the moon crisis began to soften again, when descendants appeared who were no longer compressed within fixed outlines through hereditary exigency, but were mobile, then the souls gradually descended from the various planets and moved into these bodies. Those forms, however, that incorporated very soon after the withdrawal of the moon retained their rigid form through heredity, and could not receive human souls even after the separation.
We can visualize the process accurately by imagining the craving of these souls to return to earth. Down there, forms came into being in the greatest variety, descendants of those that had been left over after the separation; and among these, many different degrees of solidification obtained. Those human souls — in fact, all soul beings — that in a certain respect felt as yet the least urge to unite completely with a physical substance now selected the softest forms for occupation, and soon abandoned them again. But the others, those that united at this early stage with the hardened forms, were imprisoned in them and consequently were compelled to remain behind in evolution. In fact, the animals ranking closest to man came into being as a consequence of this impatience on the part of certain souls descending from cosmic space. These souls sought earth bodies prematurely and made definitely bounded forms of them before they could be wholly permeated by etheric bodies. The human form remained plastic until such time as it could adapt itself completely to the etheric body; and it was thus that the physical and etheric bodies came to cover, as explained, approximately during the last third of the Atlantean age. Previously, the human soul principle that descended kept the earthly body in a fluid state and guarded against a complete amalgamation of the etheric body with any part of the physical body. This interpenetration of the etheric and physical bodies came about at a definite point in time. The Atlantean epoch was already under way when the physical human body assumed a definite form and began to harden.
Had nothing else occurred at this point in the Atlantean development, had no other factor intervened, evolution would have taken a different course: man would have passed rather rapidly from an earlier to a later state of consciousness. Before he became a complete unit as regards the principles of body and soul he was a clairvoyant being, but his clairvoyance was dim and dull. He was able to see into the spiritual world but he could not address himself as “I”, could not distinguish himself from his surroundings. What he lacked was self-consciousness, for this only entered during the period of evolution in which the physical body united with the etheric body.
Well, if nothing else had intervened, the following is what would have occurred in a comparatively short time: Hitherto man had had a consciousness of the spiritual world. Plants, animals, and so on, he could not see distinctly, but what he did see was spirit enveloping them. He would not have seen the form of an elephant, for instance, very clearly, but he would have seen the etheric principle extended over its physical body. This form of human consciousness would have gradually disappeared, the ego would have evolved along with the coincidence of the physical and etheric bodies, and man would have seen the world confronting him as though from another side. While previously he had beheld clairvoyant pictures he would thenceforth have perceived an outer world; but at the same time he would have perceived as well the spiritual beings and spiritual forces underlying this outer world. He would not have seen the physical image of the plant as we see it today: he would have perceived the spiritual being of the plant coincident with the physical image.
We may ask why, in the course of evolution, the dim, clairvoyant form
of consciousness was not simply superseded by a consciousness of objects
which at the same time would have provided perception and knowledge of
spirit. That is because precisely during the moon crisis, when man was
reviving, he began to be influenced by beings that must be characterized
as retarded, although they are on a higher plane than man. We have
already acquainted ourselves with a. number of such higher beings and we
know that some of them ascended to the sun, others to various planets.
But there were also spiritual beings that had failed to complete the
tasks they were obligated to perform on the moon. These beings, ranking
lower than the Gods and higher than man, we designate Luciferic beings
after their leader, Lucifer, the highest and most powerful among
At the time of the moon crisis man had evolved to the point of possessing a physical body, etheric body, astral body, and ego. For his ego, he was indebted to the influence of the Spirits of Form; for his astral body, to the Spirits of Motion; for his etheric body, to the Spirits of Wisdom; and for his physical body, to the Thrones. The Spirits of Form — Exusiai, or Mights, in Christian esotericism — were those who made it possible for the germinal ego to join the other principles. Now, if man had been involved only in the normal stream of development, and if all the beings surrounding him had properly absolved their tasks, certain beings would have worked on his physical body, others on his etheric body, others on his astral body, and still others on his ego — as they should have done, to put it that way — each being working on the principle assigned to him. But here were those beings that had lagged behind on the Moon, the Luciferic beings. If they had been able to carry on their work in the right way they would have been appointed to work on the ego; but on the Moon they had only learned to work on the astral body, and that entailed a significant consequence. Had it not been for these Luciferic spirits man would have received his ego principle; and his further development would have taken a course, in the last third of the Atlantean age, involving the exchange of his dim, clairvoyant consciousness for the consciousness of outer objects. As it was, however, the effects of the Luciferic spirits penetrated his astral body like powerful rays.
And the nature of these effects? Well, the astral body is the vehicle of impulses, desires, passions, instincts, and so forth; and in the constitution of his astral body man would have developed quite differently had he not been affected by the Luciferic spirits. He would have developed only such impulses as would have guided him surely and advanced him unfailingly. The spirits would have led him to see the world as consisting of objects behind which the spiritual beings revealed themselves. But what would have been lacking is freedom, enthusiasm, the sense of independence — a passion for these loftier considerations. Man would have lost his former clairvoyant consciousness and would have regarded the glories of the world as a sort of God, for he would have become a component part of divinity. Furthermore, such a view of the world would have induced a perfect reflection of itself in his mind, but in all his perfection he would have remained a reflection of the universe.
But before this could occur the Luciferic spirits filled his astral body with passions, instincts, desires which merged with all that became part of him in the course of his evolution. This meant that he was able not only to perceive the stars, but at the same time to warm to a rapturous enthusiasm in beholding them; not merely to follow the divinely inspired instincts of his astral body, but to unfold impulses of his own through freedom. That is what the Luciferic spirits had infused into man's astral body; but it implied another factor, something else that they had given him as well: the potentiality of evil, of sin. This would not have existed had he been led forward step by step by the more sublime Gods. The Luciferic spirits made man free and endowed him with the capacity for enthusiasm; but at the same time they created the eventuality of base desires. Given a normal course of development, man would in every case have associated the normal sensations with whatever cropped up, so to speak. As it was, however, he derived greater pleasure from things of the sense world than he should, he clung to these with undue interest. And the result was that the process of physical solidification set in at an earlier stage than it would have done otherwise.
So man attained to a solid form sooner than the divine-spiritual beings had intended, so to speak. It was in the last third of the Atlantean age that he really should have descended from a gaseous to a solid form; as it was, however, he descended prematurely and became a solid being. That is what the Bible describes as the “fall of man”.
But during the period just considered there were also lofty spiritual beings at work on the ego with which they had endowed man. In the same measure as these human beings descend again and unite with human bodies, the spiritual beings infuse the forces that advance man on his cosmic path: they hold a protecting hand over him. But on the other hand we have the activity of those beings who failed to learn to work on the ego, who now work on the human astral body, and there develop quite special instincts.
Observing the physical life of man in this period we see an image of these two mutually antagonistic powers: the divine-spiritual powers at work upon the ego, and the Luciferic beings. Let us now trace the spiritual factor of this process. During the time of desolation on earth the human souls ascended to the various cosmic bodies belonging to our solar system. Now they returned in as far as they were able to find bodies in the line of physical heredity. Remembering that the earth was most sparsely populated precisely at the time of the moon's withdrawal, you can imagine that the expansion of the human race started from a mere handful of people. Gradually the number increased, more and more souls descended and occupied the bodies coming into being on earth. Throughout a long period there were descendants only of the few who were present at the time of the moon's exit, and upon these the lofty sun forces themselves acted: these human beings had retained sufficient vigor to present to the sun forces a point of contact, even during the moon crisis. They and their descendants felt themselves to be sun men, so to say.
Let us understand this clearly. For simplicity's sake, imagine that during the moon crisis there existed all told but one human couple. (I do not wish to decide whether this was actually the case.) This couple has descendants, these in turn have descendants, and so on; and thus the human race branched out. Now, as long as there existed only the progeny, in the narrower sense, of the old sun men, all these enjoyed a quite special form of consciousness by reason of their ancient clairvoyance. At that time human memory included not only experiences that had occurred since birth, or as is the case today, since a certain point of time after birth, but everything that the father, grandfather, and even early progenitors, had experienced. Memory reached back to the ancestors, to all with whom a man was related by blood. That was because in a certain sense the sun forces held a protecting hand over those of blood relationship, those who traced their descent to the human beings who had survived the moon crisis. The sun forces had engendered the ego consciousness and maintained it throughout the line of blood generation.
Now the human race multiplied and the souls that had ascended into cosmic space returned to earth. Those souls, however, in whom the sun forces were strong enough still felt these forces, although they had descended and become related to spheres quite different from those of the sun. But then came the time when these souls, as later descendants, lost that connection, and with it the common ancestral memory. The more the human race multiplied, the dimmer became this living consciousness that was connected with blood heredity. This was because the powers that led men forward and implanted the ego in them were opposed by the Luciferic powers that influenced the astral body. The Luciferic powers obstructed everything that cemented men into a unit. What they wanted to teach them was freedom, self-consciousness.
So the oldest survivors of the moon's withdrawal thought of the word “I” as referring not only to what they experienced themselves, but to what their ancestors had experienced. They felt the common sun being that worked in their blood. And even after this state, too, had passed, those who had come down, for instance, from Mars felt the bond that united them with the protecting Spirit of Mars. Having been recruited from Mars souls, the descendants of those who had come down from Mars felt the protecting hand of the Mars Spirit.
It was against this group feeling, in which love held sway, that the Luciferic spirits attempted their attack. They learned how to cultivate the individual human ego, as opposed to the common ego developed by such groups. The farther back we seek, the more firmly we find the community consciousness bound up with consanguinity, and passing on in time we see it decreasing: man's feeling of independence becomes ever stronger, and he senses the necessity for developing an individual ego, as opposed to the common ego.
Thus two realms were at work in the human being, the realm of the Luciferic spirits and that of the divine-spiritual beings. The divine-spiritual powers brought men together, but did so by means of blood ties, while the Luciferic beings sought to separate them, to segregate them individually. These two forces were active throughout the Atlantean age, and they remained so even after the Atlantean Continent perished through the great catastrophies, and Europe, Asia, and Africa on one side, and America on the other, had assumed their present form. They are still active in the fifth earth epoch, right into our own time.
Thus we have described five earth epochs: the Polarian, in which the earth was still united with the sun, the Hyperborean, in which the moon was still united with the earth, and the Lemurian; then the Atlantean; and finally, the post-Atlantean, our own age. We learned how the Luciferic spirits intervened and worked against the divine-spiritual powers that drew men together, and we have come to understand that something very different would have occurred had the Luciferic spirits not taken a hand in human evolution. In the last third of the Atlantean epoch the old form of clairvoyant consciousness would have been exchanged for a consciousness of objects — but an object consciousness permeated by spirit. As it was, however, the Luciferic spirits brought about a premature hardening of the physical body, enabling man to get his bearing in the physical world at an earlier stage than would otherwise have been the case; and the result of all this was that man entered upon the last third of the Atlantean age in a totally different state than he would have done if the divine-spiritual beings alone had guided him. Instead of an outer world aglow and spiritualized by higher beings, he now beheld a physical world only, for the divine world had withdrawn from him.
The Luciferic spirits had taken a hand in the shaping of man's astral body; and now, because he had united with the physical world, Zarathustra's “Ahrimanic spirits”— we can also call them “Mephistophelian” spirits — interfered with his outer perception, with the relation of his ego to the outer world, with his ability to distinguish his ego from the outer world. The constitution of his physical, etheric, and astral bodies is not as it would have been had only the superior Gods worked on them. Beings we term Luciferic gained access to his astral body and expelled him from Paradise sooner than was intended; and the consequence of this Luciferic activity was the interference of the Ahrimanic, or Mephistophelian, spirits in his perception of the outer world, which they now showed him in its physical form only, not as it is in reality. That is why these spirits that dupe mankind with what is spurious are called by the Hebrew People mephiz-topel: mephiz, the corrupter, and topel, the liar. This eventually became Mephistopheles; and it is merely another name for Ahriman.
Now, what did Ahriman effect in man, as opposed to Lucifer? Lucifer brought about a deterioration of the forces of the astral body greater than it should have been, as well as the premature induration of man's physical substance though it must be kept in mind that thereby the attainment of freedom was made possible. The Mephistophelian spirits, on the other hand, prevented man from discerning the spiritual basis of the world, tricking him instead with a mere illusion of it. Mephistopheles induced in men the belief that the outer world is nothing but a material existence, that there is no such thing as spirit underlying and permeating all material substance. The scene so beautifully portrayed in Goethe's Faust has been enacted by mankind throughout the ages. On the one hand we see Faust seeking the path into the spiritual world; on the other, Mephistopheles, who calls that spiritual world “nothingness”, because it is to his interest to represent the sense world as being all that exists. Faust replies, as would every spiritual scientist in this case, “In what is nothingness to thee I hope to find my all”. — Only when we know that in every tiniest particle of matter there is spirit and that the idea of matter is a lie; only when we recognize Mephistopheles as that spirit in the world who vitiates our conceptions — only then can the outer world appear to us as it really is.
What was needed to carry mankind onward, to prevent its succumbing to the fate prepared for it by Lucifer, by Ahriman? As early as in the Atlantean age the influence of the Luciferic beings had to be checked. Even then there were men who worked on themselves in such a way as to counteract the Luciferic influence in their astral bodies, who were on the alert for what emanated from Lucifer, who examined their own souls for Luciferic passions, instincts, and desires. And as a result of eradicating these Luciferic qualities they recaptured the capacity for seeing in its pure form what all men would have seen had they not been exposed to the influence of the Luciferic, and later of the Ahrimanic, spirits. By means of pure living and conscientious self-knowledge certain human beings of the Atlantean epoch sought to rid themselves of this Luciferic influence; and this enabled them, at a time when remnants of the old clairvoyance still survived, to see into the spiritual world and discern loftier things than could the others, whose physical substance had hardened as a result of the Luciferic influence. Such men — those that cast out the Luciferic influence by means of strong-minded self-knowledge — became the leaders of the Atlantean age. We can call them the Atlantean Initiates.
Now what, exactly, was the nature of Lucifer's activity? In the main, Lucifer directed his attack against everything that united human beings, against blood ties that expressed themselves in love. But the leaders just mentioned knew how to resist Lucifer's influence, and by doing so they acquired the ability to envision this connection spiritually: they came to realize that the factor conditioning man's progress lies not in separation, in segregation, but in that which unites men. Hence these initiates endeavored to restore, as it were, the ancient state of affairs in which the upper spiritual world was not yet threatened by Lucifer's power. They aimed at eradicating the personal element: Kill that which endows you with a personal ego! Gaze back to olden times when the ties of blood spoke so eloquently that a descendant experiened his ego as reaching back to his earliest forebear; when the first ancestor, long since dead, was still held sacred! — The age of the primeval human community — that is the age into which the Atlantean leaders endeavored to lead men back. Throughout this whole period of evolution there appeared such leaders of mankind again and again, proclaiming, Endeavor to resist the influences that would drive you to a personal ego; try to learn what it was that bound men together in olden times! Then you will find the way to the divine spirit.
This attitude had retained its purest form among those we know as the ancient Hebrew People. Just recall and try to understand the exhortations of the leaders of this old Hebrew nation. They stood before their people and proclaimed: You have reached a state in which each of you stresses the personal ego in him — each of you seeks his being within himself alone. But development will be furthered only by subduing the personal ego and exerting all those forces that guide you to the consciousness of being all connected, of having descended one and all from Abraham, of being members of a great organism reaching back to Abraham. If you are told, “I and Father Abraham are one”, and you take these words to heart, ignoring all that is personal, then you have the right consciousness that will lead you to the divine; for the path to the divine leads by way of the original ancestor. — The vital impulse determining the leadership of those who contended against the Luciferic influence was preserved longest by the Hebrew People. But man had been entrusted with the mission to develop and cultivate the ego, not to destroy it. The old initiates had no quarrel with the personal ego, but they maintained that the ascent to the old Gods should be made by way of the early forebears.
With the coming to earth of the great impulse, as we characterized it yesterday — the Christ impulse — a new utterance resounded for the first time clearly and distinctly; and it was among the Hebrew People that it could be heard with special clarity and distinctness, because this was the people that had longest preserved what we may consider an echo of the old Atlantean initiate teaching.
Christ transmuted that teaching of the old initiates, and said: It is possible for man to cultivate his own personality. He need not obey the physical bonds of blood brotherhood alone: he can look into his own ego and there seek, and find, the divine. — What we have characterized as the Christ impulse bears within it the force which, if we unite with it, offers us the possibility of establishing a spiritual bond of brotherhood among human beings, in spite of the individuality of the ego. Thus the Christ force was very different from the one prevailing in the community into which He was placed. There the idea was, I and Father Abraham are one. That is what I must know if I am to find the way back to the divine. — But Christ said: There is another Father through Whom the ego will find the way to the divine; for the ego, or the I am, is one with the divine. There is something eternal thou canst find if thou remainest within thyself.
That is why Christ could characterize the force He would transmit to men with the words we find in the Gospel of St. John, Before Abraham was, was the I am. And the “I am” was nothing other than the name which Christ called Himself. If men can enkindle the thought within them: Within me there dwells something that existed long before Abraham; I have no need to go back to Abraham, for I find the divine Father Spirit within me — then they can turn into good all that Lucifer contributed to the cultivation and fostering of the ego, which had proved an obstacle in the path of humanity. The transformation of Lucifer's influence into good: that was the deed of Christ.
Supposing that only the high divine-spiritual beings had been at work, those who had restricted love to blood ties, who kept demanding of men that they go back through the whole line of descent if they would find the way to the Gods. Had that occurred, mankind would have been herded together into one human community without enjoying full consciousness; and never would men have risen to a complete awareness of their freedom and independence. But that is what the Luciferic spirits inoculated in man's astral body before the advent of Christ. They segregated men, tried to make them independent of each other. But Christ turned to good the evil that would inevitably have resulted had the Luciferic influence become extreme. If the latter had run its full course mankind would have lost its capacity for love. Lucifer endowed man with freedom and independence; Christ transmuted this freedom into love. And the bond Christ brought mankind is what will lead men to spiritual love.
This point of view throws a different light on the deeds of the Luciferic spirits. Are we still justified in thinking of their once having lagged behind as due to indolence and laziness? No indeed, for it was done in order to fulfill a definite mission in Earth evolution: to prevent men from becoming fused into a mere mass through purely natural ties, as well as to prepare the way to Christ. It is as though they had said to themselves on the Moon: We will renounce our present goal in order to be able to work on the Earth in conformity with progressive development. This is one of the examples that show how an ostensible evil, a seeming error, can turn out for the best in the whole context of world events. To enable the Christ to intervene in Earth evolution at the right moment, certain Moon spirits had to sacrifice their Moon mission and prepare for Him. This shows us that Lucifer's retardation on the Moon can also be regarded in the light of a sacrifice.
In this way we come ever closer to a truth which should be engraved in the human soul as a lofty moral maxim: When you see something evil in the world, do not say, Here is evil — that is, imperfection; ask, rather, How can I attain to the enlightenment which will show me that on a higher plane this evil is transformed into good by the wisdom of the cosmos? How can I learn to tell myself: Here you see naught but imperfection because you are as yet unable to grasp the perfection of this imperfect thing?
Whenever man sees evil he should look into his own soul and ask himself, Why am I not yet able to recognize the good in this evil that confronts me?