Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Supersensible Influences in the History of Mankind
GA 216

Lecture II

23 September 1922, Dornach

I spoke yesterday of certain happenings in history which lead over our study of the life and being of man to the spiritual worlds and I referred to two early epochs of history (the Egypto-Chaldean and the Greek) in this connection. I told you how the ancient Initiates sought to give guidance to men not only in matters of religion but in other domains too, including that of social life, by calling to their aid Spiritual Beings who are connected with the inbreathing. And we heard that these Beings in turn are connected in the cosmos with what is manifest, externally, in the Moon and its light. Certain Moon-Beings, in times when such intervention had become necessary, namely in the Egyptian epoch, were used by the Initiates in order to give direction to the religious and the social life in ancient Egypt and to other spheres too, of ancient historical development. We also heard of the importance assumed in Greek culture by Luciferic Beings, elementary Beings who were used by the Greek Initiates, for example by the Initiates of the Orphic Mysteries, as their helpers in the inauguration of Greek art.

I indicated that even today, to those whose perceptive faculty is deeper and more inward than is normally the case, the traditional heads of Homer in sculpture give the impression of a kind of listening, of hearing that is also touching, of touching that is also hearing. Homer listens to those Spiritual Beings of the air who use the state of equilibrium between the inbreathing and the out-breathing of man to create a rhythm between the breathing and the circulating blood. The Greek hexameter is based upon the wonderful ratio of number existing between the rhythm of the breathing and the pulse in the human being, as indeed are all the measures of Greek verse which, for this reason, as well as being creations of man have also been created by the mysterious rhythm which surges and shimmers through the cosmos. I said that when the Greeks speak of the lyre of Apollo, we can picture its strings being according to the impressions which came to men from this composite rhythm.

Since those days humanity has entered upon a quite different phase of evolution, the characteristics of which I have described from many points of view. Since the fifteenth century, mankind has been laid hold of by the intellectualism which now has sovereign sway in all human culture and civilisation, and arose because an older form of speech—the Latin language in its original form, which was still connected with that hearing of rhythm in the Graeco-Roman epoch of which I have spoken—continued far on into the Middle Ages and became entirely intellectual. In many respects the Latin language was responsible for educating man to modern intellectualism. This modern intellectualism, based as it is upon thoughts that are dependent entirely upon the development of the physical body, exposes the whole of mankind to the danger of falling away from the spiritual world. And it can be said with truth that as earlier creeds speak of a Fall into Sin, meaning a Fall more in the moral sense, so, now, we must speak of the danger to which modern humanity is exposed, the danger of a Fall into Intellectualism.

The kind of thoughts that are universal today, the so-called astute thoughts of modern science to which such great authority is attached—these thoughts are altogether intellectualistic, having their foundation in the human physical body. When the modern man is thinking, he has only the physical body to help him. In earlier periods of earth-existence, thoughts were entirely different in character for they were accompanied by spiritual visions. Spiritual visions were either revealed by the cosmos to man or they welled up from within him. On the waves of these spiritual visions, thoughts were imparted to men from out of the spiritual world. The thoughts revealed themselves to men and such “revealed” thoughts are not accessible to intellectualism. A man who builds up his own thoughts merely according to the logic for which modern humanity strives—such a man's consciousness is bound to the physical body. Not that the thoughts themselves arise out of his physical body—that, of course, is not the case. But modern man is not conscious of the forces that are working in these thoughts. He does not know what these thoughts are, in their real nature; he is entirely ignorant of the real substance of the thoughts that are instilled into him, even in his school days, by popularised forms of science and literature. He knows them only in the form of mirrored pictures. The physical body acts as the mirror and the human being does not know what is really living in his thoughts; he only knows what the physical body mirrors back to him of these thoughts. If he were really to live within these thoughts, he would be able to perceive pre-earthly existence, and this he cannot do. He is unable to perceive pre-earthly existence because he lives only in mirrored images of thoughts, not in their real substance. The thoughts of modern man are not realities.

The element of danger for modern evolution lies in the fact that whereas, in truth, the spiritual, the pre-earthly life, is contained in the substance of the thoughts, the human being knows nothing of this; he knows the mirrored pictures. And, as a result, something that is really attuned to the spiritual world falls away. These thoughts are attuned to and have their roots in the spiritual world and are mirrored by the physical body; what they mirror is merely the external world of the senses. In respect of the modern age, therefore, we may speak of a Fall into sin in the realm of intellectualism. The great task of our age is to bring spirituality, the reality of the Spirit, once again into the world of thought and to make man conscious of this. If he wants to live fully in the modern world, a man cannot altogether rid himself of intellectualism, but he must spiritualise his thinking, he must bring spiritual substance into his thoughts.

Because this is our task, our position is the reverse of that of the Initiates of ancient Egypt. The Initiates over in Asia, before the Egyptian epoch, were able, because men were endowed with the old clairvoyance, to utilise the intermediate state of consciousness between sleeping and waking to have as their helpers the Moon-Spirits who lived in the inbreathing. But during the Egyptian period men gradually lost this old clairvoyance and the Initiates were forced to provide for their helpers dwelling places on the earth, because these Moon-Spirits had, as I said yesterday, become homeless. I told you that the dwelling places provided by the Egyptian Initiates for these Moon-Spirits were the mummified bodies of men, the mummies. The mummies played a part of the greatest imaginable importance during the Third Post-Atlantean period of evolution, for in the mummies there dwelt those elementary Spirits without whose help the Initiates on earth could do very little to influence the social life of men. In more ancient times still, it had been possible to enlist the help of the Moon-Spirits living in the inbreathing of men for the spiritual guidance of earth-evolution; and when this was no longer possible a substitute was created in ancient Egypt by making use of the Spirits who had a dwelling-place in the mummies.

Today we are in the opposite position. The Initiates of Egypt looked back to what had been possible in a past age and were obliged to create a substitute. We, in our day, have to look towards the future, to that future when once again there will be men who live in communion with the spiritual world, who will bear the impulses of their morality in their own individuality, who live in the external world as I have described in my Philosophy of Spiritual Activity by saying that moral impulses must be born in the individual and from the individual work out into the world. This is possible only when the out-breathing of men is such that the air exhaled by an individual who has within him quickened moral impulses, impresses the images of this morality into the external life of the cosmos. Just as with the inbreathing, as I described yesterday, the cosmic ether-forms enter into man and work for the preservation of his organs, so what develops within the individual himself must enter as an impulse into the out-breathing and pass, together with the out-breathed air, into the external cosmos. And when in a distant future, the physical substance of the earth disperses into cosmic space—as it will do—there must exist a life that has taken shape in the cosmic ether out of these images of moral Intuitions that have passed into the ether with the out-breathed air. As I have described in Occult Science, when the physical substance of the earth is dispersed in the universe, a new earth, a “Jupiter” planet will arise from the densified forms out-breathed by individuals in times to come. Thus we must look towards a future when the out-breathing will play a role of predominating importance, when the human being will impart to his out-breathing those impulses whereby he is to build a future.

New light can here be shed upon words from the Gospel: “Heaven and earth will pass away but My words will not pass away.” I have often indicated the meaning of this passage, namely, that what surrounds us physically, including the world of stars, will one day no longer exist; its place will be taken by what flows, spiritually, out of the souls of men to build the future embodiment of the earth, the Jupiter embodiment. The words: “Heaven and earth will pass away but My words will not pass away”, may be supplemented by saying: Men must be so permeated with Christ that they are able to impart to the out-breathed air the moral impulses quickened within the soul by Christ's words—impulses which will build the new world out of the forms proceeding from the human being himself.

Since about the fourth and fifth centuries of our era, elementary Spiritual Beings from other worlds have entered into the sphere of the earth—Beings who were not previously there. We may call them Earth-Spirits, in contrast to the Moon-Beings who in the epochs of ancient India and ancient Persia fulfilled an important function and who then, having become homeless on the earth, took up their abode in the mummies; in contrast also to the daemons of the air who played an important role in ancient Greece and to whom Homer “listened”. We can speak of elementary Earth-Spirits in contrast both to the Moon-Beings who lived in the inbreathed air and to the Air-Beings who moved, in their cosmic dance, in the state of balance between inbreathing and out-breathing, and were mirrored in Greek art. These Earth-Spirits will one day be the greatest helpers of the individual human being with his own moral impulses—they will help him to build a new earth planet out of his moral impulses. We can call these helpers “Earth-Spirits”, elementary Earth-Spirits, for they are intimately connected with earthly life. They expect to receive from earthly life a stimulus that will enable them to undo their activity in the future incarnation of the earth. As already said, these Beings have come into the sphere of earth-evolution since the fourth and fifth centuries of our era. In public lectures, as well as elsewhere, I have emphasised that remnants of the old clairvoyance persisted for some time after the Mystery of Golgotha had taken place. In those days there were still external institutions, ceremonial cults and the like, by means of which these Beings who had come into the sphere of earth-evolution maintained their footing—if I may use a trivial expression. The particular tendency of these Beings is to help man to become very individual, so to shape the whole organism of a man who has within him some strong moral idea that this moral idea can become part of his very temperament, character and blood, that the moral ideas and individual moral quality can be derived from the blood itself. These elementary Earth-Beings can render significant help to men who are acquiring individual freedom in ever-greater measure. But a great and powerful obstacle confronts these Beings.

If, instead of speaking from theories—theories are never to be taken quite seriously—we speak about the spiritual world from actual experience, we can hardly refer to these Spiritual Beings in any other way than that in which we refer to men, for they are present on the earth just as men are present there. Thus we can say: These Beings feel especially deflected from their aim by the factor of human heredity. When the superstition of heredity is very potent, this runs counter to all the inner inclinations and propensities of these elementary Beings who are by nature turbulent and passionate. When Ibsen brought out a work like his Ghosts, which helped to make heredity a fixed superstition, these Beings were roused to fury. (As I said, you must get accustomed to hearing them spoken of as if they were men). Let me express it pictorially. Ibsen's disheveled head, his tangled beard, the strangely wild look in his eyes, his distorted mouth—all this comes from the havoc wrought by these Beings because they could not endure Ibsen, because in this respect he was one of those typical moderns who persist in upholding the superstition of heredity. Those who fall victim to this “ghost” believe that a man inherits from his parents, grandparents and so on, propensities in his blood of which he cannot get rid, that his particular constitution is due entirely to inherited qualities. And what in Ibsen came to the fore only in a grotesque, poetic form and also with a certain grandeur—this tendency pervades the whole of modern science. Modern science does indeed suffer from the superstition of heredity. But the aim that ought really to be pursued by modern man is to free himself from inherited qualities and abandon the superstition that everything comes from the blood flowing down from his ancestors. Modern man must learn to function as an individual in the true sense, so that his moral impulses are bound up with his individuality in this earthly life, and he can be creative through his own, individual moral impulses. The Earth-Beings serve this aim and can become man's helpers in pursuit of it.

But in our modern world, circumstances for these Earth-Beings are not as they were for the Moon-Beings who, having become homeless, were obliged to find dwelling places in the mummies. These Earth-Beings to whom we must look as the hope of the future, are not homeless in humanity but they wander about like pilgrims gone astray, meeting everywhere with uncongenial conditions. They feel constantly repelled, most of all by the brains of academic scholars, which they try at all costs to avoid. They find disagreeable conditions everywhere, for belief in the omnipotence of matter is altogether abhorrent to them. Belief in the omnipotence of matter is, of course, connected with the “Fall” into intellectualism, with the fact that the human being holds fast to thoughts that are, fundamentally, of no significance because they are only mirror-images and he is quite unconscious of their real nature and content.

Just as the Egyptian Initiates were obliged to wrestle with the problem of how to bring down the Moon-Beings who had become homeless, so it is our task now to help these other Spirits to find the earth a fruitful, not an unfruitful field. The worst possible rebuff for these Beings is constituted by all the mechanical contrivances of modern life that form a kind of second earth, an earth devoid of Spirit. The Spiritual indwells the minerals, plants and animals, but in these modern mechanical contrivances there are only mirrored thoughts. This mechanized world is a source of perpetual pain to these Beings as they wander over the earth. Complete chaos prevails in the out-breathing of men during the hours of sleep at night. These Beings who should be able to find paths in the carbonised air out-breathed by men, feel isolated, cut off by what intellectualism creates in the world. And so, much as it goes against the grain, much as modern man struggles against it, there is only one thing to do, namely, to strive to spiritualise his actions in the external world. This will be difficult and he will have to be educated up to it. Modern man is extremely clever, but in the real sense he knows nothing, for intellect alone does not create knowledge. The modern intellectual, surrounded by his mechanical contrivances in which mirrored thoughts are embodied, is well on the way to losing his real self, to knowing nothing of what he really is. Inner reality, inner morality in his intellectual life—that is what modern man must acquire, I will tell you what I mean by this.

Human beings today are exceedingly clever but there is really not much substance in their cleverness. Every imaginable subject is talked about, and people pride themselves on their talk. Examples lie very close at hand. A curious one in European literature is a volume of correspondence, in Russian, between two men—Herschenson and Ivanow. The literary setting is that these two men live in the same room but they are both so clever that, when they are talking, their thoughts jostle to such an extent that neither of them listens to the other; they are both always talking at the same time. I can think of no other reason why they should write letters to each other, for there they are, in the same square room, one in one corner and the other in the corner opposite. They write letters to each other—very lengthy letters containing a vast number of words but no real substance whatever. One of them says: We have become much too clever. We have art, we have religion, we have science—we have become terribly clever ... The other man, reading these remarks, is merely astonished at the stupidity of the writer, although he is, admittedly, clever in the modern sense. But in his own view he has become so clever that he doesn't know where to begin with his cleverness and he longs to return to times when men had no ideas about religion, no science, no art, when life was entirely primitive. The second man cannot agree, but his opinion is that as this whole medley of culture develops it must abandon certain fundamental ideas if anything at all is to result from it. The two men are really talking about nothing, but they pour out floods of clever words. This is only one example and there are many such.

Intellectualism has reached such a pitch that this kind of discussion is possible. It is just as if a man is proposing to sow a field with oats ... it never occurs to people that it is up to them to sow seeds in culture and in civilisation—they merely criticize what has been and what ought not to have been and what, in their opinion, ought to be different ... Very well, then, a man is proposing to sow a field with oats and he discusses with someone else whether this would be a good thing to do. They begin to debate: Ought one to sow oats here? Once upon a time the field was sown with corn. Ought one to show oats in a field that was once sown with corn, or has the field been spoilt by having had corn on its soil? Were there not people living near the field who knew that the field contained corn? And is not the thought that one should now sow oats somewhat marred by the fact that certain people knew that corn had been sown in the field? These people may have been pleasant people. Should one not also take into account that the people who knew about the corn in the field were quite pleasant? ... and so on, and so on. This is more or less the kind of talk that goes on; because what nobody realises is that his task is to sow the oats! Whatever the value of our culture—whether one desires to return to the condition of Adam or that the world shall come to an end—a man who has something real to contribute to culture will not sit down and write letters to his neighbour in the style of the correspondence of which I have spoken. This sort of thing is one of the worst products of modern mentality; it is symptomatic of the deplorable state of modern cultural life.

These things must be faced fairly and squarely. People who hold a certain position in life are often capable of doing a great deal; but the important thing is that they should do what is right at each given opportunity. There are innumerable possibilities for action at this very minute—11:45 a.m., 23rd September, 1922—but it is up to every individual to do what the particular situation demands of him. This principle must also operate in the life of thought. People must learn that certain thoughts are impermissible, and others permissible. Just as there are things that ought to be done and things that ought to be left undone, so people must learn to realise that by no means every thought is permissible. Such an attitude would bring about many changes in life. If it were universally cultivated, newspapers written in the modern style would be practically impossible, for those who discipline themselves at all would turn their back upon the thoughts voiced in such newspapers. Just as there must be morality in men's actions in the world of practical affairs, so, too, morality must pervade the life of thought. Today we hear from everyone's lips: This is my point of view, I think so-and-so ... Yes, but perhaps it is not at all necessary to think it, or to hold such a point of view! In their life of thought, however, people have not yet begun to adopt moral principles. They must learn to do so and then we shall not be treated to floods of pseudo-thoughts as in the correspondence I have mentioned ... All these things are connected with the fact that intellectualism has diverted men right away from the Spirit, from understanding of the truly spiritual. A good example of this is ready to hand, and I will give it to you, before speaking in the lecture tomorrow, about what must come to pass in order that intellectualism may be prevented from ousting men altogether from the world of realities.

A certain Benedictine monk, by the name of Mager, has written quite a good little book about man's behaviour in the sight of God. This little book only goes to show that the Benedictine Order was a magnificent institution in the period immediately after its foundation, for the influence of the rules of the Order of St. Benedict is still strong in the writing of this modern monk. One can really have a certain respect for this little book (it is not expensive as prices go nowadays, for it came out in a cheap edition) and, in comparison with much of the trash that is published today, it can be recommended as reading matter. It really is an example of the best writing emanating from those particular circles, although all such literature is, of course, antiquated, quite behind the times. And now this Benedictine monk has also felt inspired to speak about Anthroposophy. So do all kinds of people, and from every possible angle! They cannot be expected to abstain from this in their thoughts because they do not realise that they have no understanding whatever of Anthroposophy. It must be admitted, however, that what Mager writes about Anthroposophy is by no means in the worst category, and it is useful to consider his book because it is characteristic of the intellectualism prevailing in our time. Mager says: The anthroposophist tries to develop his faculties of knowledge so that he can actually behold the spiritual. Certainly, Anthroposophy aims at this and can, moreover, achieve it. Alois Mager admits that it would be an extremely good thing if men could really unfold perception of the spiritual world, but he maintains that they are incapable of this. He is even of the opinion that it is not, in principle, impossible, but that the general run of human beings cannot attain real vision of the spiritual world. He proves that he is not, fundamentally, opposed to this aim, because he says: Two men were actually able to develop their faculties of cognition to such an extent that they could gaze into the spiritual world: Buddha and Plotinus.

It is very remarkable that a Catholic monk should hold the view that the only two men really able to see into the spiritual world were Buddha and Plotinus—Plotinus who is naturally regarded by the Catholic Church as a visionary and a heretic, and Buddha, one of the three great figures whom, in the Middle Ages, the faithful were made to abjure. Nevertheless, Mager says of Buddha and Plotinus that their souls were capable of looking into the spiritual world. He uses a strange picture as a comparison, very reminiscent of modern trends of thought, especially of militaristic thought. He compares the spiritual world with a city, and those who desire to approach it he compares with soldiers who are storming this Divine City. He says it is as if an army had equipped itself to storm a city; but only two of the bravest soldiers succeed in scaling the battlements, and so the attack collapses. During the World War, how often did we not read, in the communiqués, of attacks collapsing ... and today a Benedictine monk speaks of knowers of the Spirit as soldiers who want to storm the city of the spiritual life, but the attack fails, with the exception of what the two valiant soldiers, Buddha and Plotinus, were able to achieve. Mager, you see, is simply not able to admit that man can approach the spiritual world; his intellectualism makes him incapable of it. One is surprised, however, at his refusal to admit that any Christian can draw near to God with real knowledge. Being quite sincere in this respect he would naturally be obliged to reject a book like my Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, for its aim is to show that the individual, out of himself, can give birth to moral impulses in the truest sense. Mager's view is that this can never be, for he maintains that when the human being is left entirely to his own resources, nothing spiritual can come out of him. Therefore he says that both private and public life will, as time goes on, be based wholly on the precepts of the Gospels. He means, in other words, that without understanding what the Gospels actually say, private and public life will be organised according to Gospel precepts—which are beyond the grasp of human powers of knowledge.

It is really not to be wondered at, when, with the intellectualism of today, Mager says: It is my innermost and well-founded conviction that Steiner's Anthroposophy can only be described as a clever systematising of hallucinations into a picture of the world, as a materialisation of the spiritual ... It is grotesque that this should come from a man who, in himself, is honest and sincere and is by no means among the most trivial thinkers of the present day. In order to do him justice I told you that quite recently he wrote a good little book. This critique of Anthroposophy is his latest production. Think once again of the sentence: It is my innermost and well-founded conviction that Steiner's Anthroposophy can only be described as a clever systematising of hallucinations into a picture of the world, as a materialisation of the spiritual ... My reply would be: “Very well, let us assume that you are in earnest about your conceptions of God and of the Spirit. You must place the spiritual somewhere when you aspire to reach it ... but you do not admit that man's powers of knowledge are capable of this. Why, then, are you a priest, desiring to dedicate your whole life to the service of the spiritual? You admit that the material proceeds from the spiritual. If, now, someone attains to a knowledge of the Spirit, what is the nature of such knowledge?” Those who adhere merely to knowledge of the material, well, they have the material before them and the spiritual amounts only to a number of thoughts. But a man who truly turns to the spiritual experiences its reality. Within the spiritual, the things that can be seen with physical eyes are present only as indication. Father Mager regards this as hallucination, so he says that Anthroposophy systematises hallucinations. His view is quite understandable, because in speaking of the spiritual we cannot speak as we do about a material table that the eyes can see and the hands can touch. A material object exists in the spiritual merely as indication, and so it seems to Mager to be hallucination.

And now let us go further, and say to him: “You, Father, are dedicating your life and service to the spiritual and you most certainly acknowledge that the creator of the material is the spiritual. What, then, is the world in your view—materialisation of the spiritual? Yes, but this is exactly what you censure in Anthroposophy! You speak of a picture of the world that is a materialisation of the spiritual, but you believe for a fact that this world has been created out of the Spirit, through materialisation. This is what Anthroposophy tries to fathom. Your strongest censure of Anthroposophy is that Anthroposophy takes in earnest something that you, yourself, ought to take in earnest, but are not willing to do so. That is why you censure Anthroposophy. According to your view, the God in whom you believe must surely once have taken a materialisation of the spiritual in earnest! Otherwise there would have been no Creation. Are you, therefore, taking your religion in earnest when you censure Anthroposophy for trying to grasp how the spiritual can gradually become the material?”

Into what an abyss we gaze when we see how a man like this approaches Anthroposophy! This man is really clever, moreover he is not like others who are all cleverness and nothing else; he knows a little and has also learnt how to think. But just realise what his judgement of Anthroposophy implies and you will understand what kind of fruit is produced by intellectualism, even when it is dedicated to the service of the Spirit today. You will realise, too, that this intellectualism must be superseded by methods differing from those adopted by the priests of Egypt to overcome the spiritual dilemma that had arisen in their epoch. Of the Powers to which intellectualism must turn we will speak in the lecture tomorrow.