From The Fall of the Spirits of Darkness (CW 177), a cycle of 14 lectures by Rudolf Steiner, Dornach from the 29 of September to the 28 of October, 1917. Translated by Anna Meuss FIL, MTA. This excerpt taken from the end of Lecture 5: CHANGES IN HUMANITY’S SPIRITUAL MAKE-UP, October 7, and Lecture 6: THE NEW SPIRITUALITY, October 8, 1917. Audio excerpt below.
At the Council of Constantinople it was decreed that the spirit did not exist; it was dogmatically stated that the human being consisted only of body and soul, and it was heresy to speak of a human spirit. In the same way attempts will be made to decree the soul, the inner life, as nonexistent.
The time will come — and it may not be far off — when quite different tendencies will come up at a congress like the one held in 1912 and people will say: It is pathological for people to even think in terms of spirit and soul. ‘Sound’ people will speak of nothing but the body. It will be considered a sign of illness for anyone to arrive at the idea of any such thing as a spirit or a soul. People who think like that will be considered to be sick and — you can be quite sure of it — a medicine will be found for this. At Constantinople the spirit was made non-existent. The soul will be made non-existent with the aid of a drug. Taking a ‘sound point of view’, people will invent a vaccine to influence the organism as early as possible, preferably as soon as it is born, so that this human body never even gets the idea that there is a soul and a spirit.
The two philosophies of life will be in complete opposition. One movement will need to reflect how concepts and ideas may be developed to meet the reality of soul and spirit. The others, the heirs of modern materialism, will look for the vaccine to make the body ‘healthy’, that is, makes its constitution such that this body no longer talks of such rubbish as soul and spirit, but takes a ‘sound’ view of the forces which live in engines and in chemistry and let planets and suns arise from nebulae in the cosmos. Materialistic physicians will be asked to drive the souls out of humanity.
People who think that playful ideas will help them to look ahead to the future are very much mistaken. We need serious, profound ideas to look ahead to the future. Anthroposophy is not a game, nor just a theory; it is a task that must be faced for the sake of human evolution.
If we are to continue in the right way today, we must consider something of the nature of the human being and how human beings are part of historical evolution. First of all we consider the fact that human beings have the power, or the gift, of the intellect. What does this mean? It means that we are able to form ideas. For the moment we need not reflect on where these ideas come from. The life of thought is with us wherever we are in waking consciousness. And we also feel, for instance, that when we walk, stand or do anything else, we are guided by our thoughts, by something which exists first of all in the mind. Later on we shall discuss if this really is the case. For the moment I merely want to establish what fills the conscious mind in everyday life. It is our thoughts. But when it comes to the world of thought as such, the matter is really quite different. And we shall not understand how human beings really relate to their thoughts unless we first consider the true nature of the world of thought.
In reality we are always, wherever we are — whether sitting, standing or lying down — not only in the world of air and light and so on, but also in a world of surging thoughts. You will find it easiest to get an idea of this if you look at it like this: When you walk on earth as an ordinary physical human being you are also a breathing human being, walking in a space filled with air. And in more or less the same way you move in a space filled with thoughts. Thought-substance fills the space around you. It is not a vague ocean of thoughts, nor the kind of nebulous ether people sometimes like to imagine. No, this thought-substance is actually what we call the elemental world. When we speak of entities which are part of the elemental world in the widest sense of the word, they consist of thought-substance, actual thought-substance. There is, however, a difference between the thoughts flitting around out there, which really are living entities, and the thoughts we have in our minds. I have spoken of this difference on a number of occasions. In my book due to be published shortly, and which I mentioned yesterday, [ Note 1 ] you will find further references to this difference.
You may well ask yourself: If there is such an elemental principle out there in thought-space and if I, too, have thoughts in my head — what is the relationship between the two? To get the right idea of how your own thoughts relate to the thought-entities out there you have to visualize the difference between a human corpse which has been left behind when someone has died and a living person who is walking about. The kind of thoughts you have to consider in this respect are the kind you gain from the world you perceive with the senses when in waking consciousness. Our own thoughts are actually thought-corpses. This is the essential point. The thoughts coming from the world we perceive with the senses and drag around with us when in waking consciousness are thought-corpses — thoughts that have been killed. Outside us they are alive, which is the difference.
We are part of the elemental world of thought in so far as we kill its living thoughts when we develop ideas on the basis of what our senses have perceived in the world around us. Our thinking consists in having those corpses of thoughts inside us, and this makes our thoughts abstract. We have abstract thoughts because we kill living thoughts. It is really true that in our state of consciousness we walk around bearing thought corpses which we call our thoughts and ideas. This is the reality.
The living thoughts in the outside world are certainly not unrelated to us; there is a living relationship. I can demonstrate this to you, but do not be frightened by the grotesque nature of this unaccustomed idea. Imagine you are lying in bed and it is morning. You can get up in two different ways. Ordinarily, you are not aware of the difference between them because you are not in the habit of making the distinction, and anyway you do not pay attention to this particular moment of getting up. Nevertheless, you can get up out of habit, without thinking about it, or you can actually produce the thought: I am now going to get up. There are people, however, who get themselves up out of sheer habit, and yet there is just a touch of the idea: I am going to get up now. To repeat, many people do not make the distinction, but it can be made in the abstract, and the difference is enormous. If you get up without giving it a thought, out of sheer habit and training, you are following impulses given by the Spirits of Form, the Elohim, when they created human beings as dwellers on earth at the beginning of earth evolution. So you see, if you switch off your own thinking and always get up like a machine, you are not getting up without thought having gone into it, but it is not your own thought. The form of movement involved in getting up involves thoughts — objective, not subjective, inner thoughts; these are not your thoughts but those of the Spirits of Form.
If you were a terribly lazy person who really did not want to get up at all, if it really was not in your nature to get up and you would only get up on reflection, against your nature, out of purely subjective thought, you’d be following ahrimanic tendencies; you would be following only your head, and therefore Ahriman. As I said, the distinction is not made in ordinary life. And everything else we do is really done in the same way as our getting up. Human beings truly are made up of two entities which can be outwardly distinguished as the head and the rest of the body. The human head is an extraordinarily significant instrument and much older than the rest of the body. The construction of the human head is such — I spoke about this last year — that the basic shape arose during Moon evolution, though the head has, in fact, come down through Saturn, Sun and Moon evolution. Humans would look quite different if they still had the shape they had during Moon evolution.
In very general terms we might say people would look like spectres, with only the form of the head emerging somewhat more clearly, which was the original intent. The rest of the body was not meant to be as visible as it is now. These things have to be considered, otherwise we cannot really understand human evolution on earth. The rest of the body was meant to be purely elemental by nature. In the head, everything would come into effect which has come down as Moon existence transformed by earth; let us call it ‘a’. But this inherited Moon existence transformed by earth is the actual human being, for the human being is really a head with only a very insignificant attachment.
The rest of the human being — let us call it ‘b’ and to begin with let us simply consider it to be this elemental, airy principle — is a manifestation of the higher hierarchies, from the Spirits of Form downwards. The right and only way of seeing the human being is to realize that everything shown here as ‘b’ has been created by the cosmic hierarchies. The human being which has evolved from the time of Saturn emerged against the background of the cosmic hierarchies. If you visualize the essential nature of the parts of the human being which are not head — you must think of it as all spirit, or at least all air — then you have the body of cosmic hierarchies (drawing on the board).
However, luciferic seduction entered into the whole process of evolution. The outcome was that this whole, more elemental, body condensed to become the rest of the human body, which of course also had an effect on the head. This will give you an idea of the true nature of the human being. Apart from the head, which is their own, having come from earlier evolution, human beings would be an outward manifestation of the Elohim if their bodies had not become sensuous flesh. It is entirely due to the temptations of Lucifer that this outward manifestation of the Elohim has condensed to become flesh.
Something very strange has arisen as a result, an important secret to which I have referred a number of times. What has happened is that the human being has become the image of the gods in the very organs which are normally called the organs of his lower nature. This image of the gods has been debased in human beings as they are on earth. The highest principle in human beings, the spiritual principle coming from the cosmos, has become their lower nature. Please, do not forget that this is an important secret of human nature. Our lower nature, which is due to Lucifer’s influence, was actually destined to be our higher nature. This is the contradictory element in human nature. Rightly understood, it will solve countless riddles in the world and in life.
We are thus able to say: In the course of human evolution man has, thanks to the luciferic element, made the part of him that should be constantly emerging from the cosmos into his lower nature. Many historical phenomena will find their explanation if you consider that this was known to the leaders of the ancient Mysteries, people who were not as facetious, cynical and narrow-minded as people are today. Certain symbols taken from the lower nature and used in the past, symbols that today are merely seen as sexual symbols, are explained by the fact that the priests who used them in the ancient Mysteries did so in order to give expression to the higher reality of the lower nature of man.
You can see how sensitive we have to be in dealing with these things if we are not to be facetious. Modern people slip easily into facetiousness, because they cannot even imagine that there is more to human beings than mere sensuality — which, in fact, is the luciferic element in our higher nature. Thus historical symbols are easily given entirely the wrong interpretation. It takes some nobility of spirit not to interpret the old symbols in a lower sense, even though they often can be interpreted in that way.
With this, you will also begin to realize that if thoughts from the elemental world come to us — they are living thoughts, not abstract, dead ones that come from the head — they must be coming out of the whole human being. Mere reflection will not achieve this. Today the idea is that we only arrive at our thoughts by reflection. Today the idea is: If human beings will just reflect, they can think about anything, providing the things they want to think about are accessible. This is nonsense, however. The truth is that the human race is in a process of evolution, and the thoughts developed by Copernicus, for example, or Galileo, at a particular time could not be reached by mere reflection before that time. You see, people fabricate the thoughts they have in their heads. But when a thought which marks a real change arises in world history, this thought is given by the gods and through the whole human being. It flows through the human being, overcoming the luciferic element, and only reaches the head out of the whole human being. I think this is something you can understand. In certain ages, particular thoughts just have to be waited for and expected; then human beings are not merely reflecting, nor is something conveyed through their eyes or ears, but inspiration comes from the world of the hierarchies and it comes through the whole essential human being, which is the image of the hierarchies.