The Individual as a Factor of Development

For people interested in esoterics, you might find this interesting. It’s from Rudolf Steiner.

Within the sevenfold chain of metamorphoses – which has been described from many aspects in other works of the present author – the entire earth was, during the first two Root Races (called in Occultism the ‘Polarian’ and ‘Hyperborean’), in a half-spiritual condition. Substance first densified to the state of warmth, then to that of air. Then man remained in a stage between animal and actual human being. It would be absurd to speak of the existence of any occult centres of earthly human development during this time.

Earthly substance condensed in the third, Lemurian epoch to the watery state. The earth was covered with a world ocean that was the home to human beings who bore no trace of an individual consciousness or of individual purpose. This whole development was guided from the outside by the Divine Hierarchies and their helpers – the elemental spirits of nature, as well as humanoid beings who were so far ahead of general development that Divine leaders could incorporate (but not incarnate) in them.

sunrise or sunset photo of pink-hued clouds and choppy sea

The entire spiritual aura of the earth had at that time an unusually strong influence on all life-forms. The physical forces leading to mineralization of substance worked predominantly from North to South. For this reason the continents lie mainly on the Northern hemisphere. The etheric or life-forces worked predominantly from the South. The astral aura of the earth worked most strongly from East to West and West to East; the cosmos of astral forces worked into the earthly aura, accelerated the individualization of the human monads and led to the development of an individual consciousness.

The Lemurian root-race concentrated where today we find the wide expanse of the Indian Ocean. There were no continents, but the state of the surface of the watery sphere was not homogeneous. The human being had a cartilaginous spine and did not yet master the upright posture.

The next, the Atlantean, root-race developed where we find the Atlantic Ocean today. Continents began to rise out of the ocean for the first time. Man emerged from the watery element and settled on the land. In the process, and this is of particular importance, his spine assumed a vertical posture relative to the earth’s surface, man became an upright being. Man’s uprightness, according to Rudolf Steiner, is due to the migration from East to West, from the realm of the Indian Ocean to the region of the Atlantic Ocean. He had to move counter to the astral forces of the earth, so that their effect could multiply and could alter the as yet plastic, easily moulded reciprocal interaction of the sheaths of man, his physical, etheric and astral bodies.

But man owes not only his uprightness to the migration from East to West. In the process of settling the Atlantean continent (which took place over a sufficiently long time), the speech-organs of man developed – the larynx -, and in the course of the seven Atlantean sub-races (cultural epochs) he acquired the gift of speech, of language.

The Atlantean Root-race was followed by our own, the post-Atlantean (fifth) Root-race, which has no particular name. The Atlantean continent was destroyed by natural catastrophes, and most of its population migrated to the East. The new migration was not only unavoidable, but also necessary. For the astral aura of the earth could thereby work on the human astral body, so that the sense of thinking, the sense of mental picturing could develop (cf. Oct. 27, 1909, GA 115).

In the course of the post-Atlantean Root-race development turned westwards again and extended itself over the entire gigantic Eurasian continent as well as the North of Africa. The movement of the cultural epochs from East to West brought about a refined soul-spiritual working of the earthly aura on the human being. His bodily nature was already not very receptive to this kind of influence of the earth-aura, but meanwhile the cultural work within civilization had been added to the refined working of the cosmic forces. The development within the Root-races also has the character of a sevenfold metamorphosis. In traditional occultism the parts are known as sub-races; Rudolf Steiner calls them Cultural Epochs, which is especially pertinent with respect to our own and the previous Root-race. All such phenomena of development can only be treated here in a very compressed form, whereby the overall pattern and the essential aspects are described with regard to the development of ‘I’-consciousness as it shows today in the most advanced part of humanity, the Europeans.

Some might object that part of the migrants from Atlantis (the Indians) moved to the West but also have mental picturing today, and that following the Lemurian epoch not all of humanity on earth settled in the West and yet all acquired uprightness. To this one can reply that it is precisely objections of this kind that should move us to come to clarity on the criteria that determine development. Indeed, with the passage of time everything that is acquired by the most advanced part of humanity becomes the property of all, but in a qualitatively different way – without individual effort, solely through the spirits guiding humanity. But the time will come when a development that is not based on ‘I’-consciousness will be entirely impossible. But it is hardly possible to explain to a materialist that the intellectuality of a Japanese, for example, is qualitatively different from that of an English person or a German, although something of this could already be inferred from an analysis of the personal pronouns.} As a result man developed the threefold soul – the Sentient, Rational and Consciousness-soul. Humanity, says Rudolf Steiner, was not only to come to mental picturing, but also to concepts … Humanity … takes the direction eastwards in order to acquire pictorial thinking, while pure concepts could only be won by means of a movement back to the West (Ibid.).

A brief summary may be permitted. In Ancient Lemuria the development of humanity passed through seven sub-races; followed by the migration of the most advanced part of humanity to the West, whereupon man acquired uprightness and the ability to speak. The development of humanity also passed through seven sub-races or cultural epochs on Old Atlantis, after which a further migration occurred – eastwards. It took place in three streams – across North Africa, and through Southern and Middle Europe. The separation of the streams was due to differences in the occult-religious education that the groups of human beings had received on Atlantis through the various oracles oriented to the different planetary spirit-leaders – the spirits of Jupiter, Mars etc. The great Initiates received from the corresponding Atlantean oracles the impulses of leadership, which the Gods were at that time gradually beginning to place in the hands of human beings.

The stream of migrants who took the path through Europe and into the South of Russia were the Aryans. They spread as far East as Lake Baikal. Their vanguard reached India. In the region of today’s Gobi Desert the great Initiate Manu, the leader of this entire stream of Aryan migrants, founded a new Mystery centre from which further Initiates arose, who became the founders and leaders of the post-Atlantean cultural epochs.

1808 antique map image of North Africa and Southern Europe

At the time of Old Atlantis the Aryan race was characterized by the fact that it lost its declining clairvoyant abilities more rapidly than the representatives of the other races. We must note that super-sensible faculties constituted the main characteristic of the aristocratic elite on Atlantis. This is why the Aryans as a race were generally despised in times long past. The faculties germinating in them, all that we master as logic and conceptual thinking today, were not appreciated at that time, and so the Aryans were counted among the lower castes. After the migration some of them settled in the Southern area of the vast Siberian region, between the Urals and Lake Baikal (cf. Chapter VI, p. *). Others continued their migration further to the South. It would appear to be a result of this movement – against the stream of etheric forces of the earth – that the first post-Atlantean, Old Indian culture was passive and lived in a half dreamlike state. But in the course of this epoch man developed the individual ether-body and this meant the final overcoming of the animal-stage of human development. Seven Holy Rishis were sent from the Mystery centre of Manu to the Indian peninsula, in order to lead this culture.

The Old Indian cultural epoch lasted 2160 years (the time taken by the earth to move through a sign of the zodiac, as a centre of mighty forces that work down into earthly development). From there the cultural impulse went over to Persia-Iran (the earth moved from the sign of Cancer to that of the Twins). The great Initiate Zarathustra was sent from the initiation centre of Manu to the people living there. He taught them how to work metals and use the soil for farming, and sense-perceptions received a strong developmental impulse. The bonds of the astral body began to loosen and the human being acquired an individual astral body – the bearer of the individualized sense and feeling perceptions and of desires and passions.

In order to lead the third, Old Egyptian cultural epoch, a next great Initiate was sent – Hermes Trismegistos. Human beings now began to develop the individual sentient soul, and, bound up with this, individualized feeling and experience, and individualized tendencies and drives.

At the beginning of the fourth, Greco-Latin, cultural epoch the Mystery centre in the region of today’s Gobi Desert had already lost its earlier importance (but the memory lived on in the tradition of Shambala). The cultural development, and that of history which had now begun, now had a momentum of their own. The Greeks partly took over the spiritual impulses from Egypt, but also developed them in part out of their own strength.

With the advent of the fifth, European, cultural epoch (in 1413 AD) cultural-historic development underwent a peculiar transformation. In contrast to the earlier cultural epochs, when the great Initiates came to those special regions that since the Atlantean migration were settled by people, now the population itself came to Europe and displaced its original inhabitants – the Celts, a deeply spiritual people which was, however, not suited to fulfil the tasks of the European culture. In the 2nd-1st century B.C. the descendants of the people who had once migrated with Manu to the Siberian region – the Germanic and subsequently the Slavic tribes – returned to Europe. For millennia they had remained as it were in a culturally static condition, untouched by the development undergone by other peoples through the course of three-and-a-half cultural epochs. At the same time the leadership of these tribes was so constituted, during the epoch of Old Atlantis, that out of the cosmos impulses streamed down to them, which prepared the coming of the Christ – the God of the human ‘I’ – to the earth. These peoples retain the forces with which they have been endowed, until the moment when the general cultural development of humanity, whose central motif is the elaboration of the threefold soul, is ready to carry its elements to a unity by way of individual ‘I’-consciousness.

We have to point out again that the development of the cultures is in a certain way comparable to the spiritual development of the individual human being. In order to create new and independent cultural phenomena a people has to set to work the ether-forces given to it specifically, which, as we have described, are used up in the course of cultural activity, so that with its completion we have on the one hand a mature culture, on the other, a people or group of peoples who created the culture, but who are now weakened as to their life-content, and as though ‘burnt out’. They offer themselves up as a sacrifice, as it were, on the altar of the spiritual development of mankind, and other peoples must take their place, men of a different constitution of spirit and soul, who are able to carry further the cultural impulse which, with the exhaustion of the final developmental stage, undergoes a profound metamorphosis.

Here lies the origin of the concept of senile, ageing and young nations. The Persians, Egyptians, Jews, Greeks of today are senile peoples. Their blossoming or, let us say, ‘national youth’ lies far in the past. The young nations link on to this past through the exercise of ‘spiritual economy’, so that they do not have to begin all over again. But it is they who will themselves create the new in the spiritual development of humanity and who will have to expend their life-forces, whereby in time they too will grow old.

In this way the senile nations serve the new culture solely with the spiritual values they have created. Any claim for spiritual leadership on their part, or the wish to create something fundamentally new, is the death of culture. Of necessity these nations must learn to follow others, for those who create the new culture have been prepared for this task through millennia by the higher spiritual leadership, and have an entirely different soul-spiritual constitution. An analysis of culture provides ample evidence for this fact, so long as it is not falsified by political and nationalistic doctrines.

For those peoples who are approaching the challenge of new spiritual tasks the Divine Hierarchies create a special etheric-astral aura which corresponds to the entire physical-spiritual constitution of those who will be subject to their influence. This again is similar to the situation of an individual human being incarnating on earth. It is entirely justifiable to speak of the incarnation of a people into culture.

It is the special purpose of the development of the European cultural epoch to provide the human being with the possibility of unfolding the last and highest member of the soul – the consciousness-soul. But simultaneously with the development of all three soul-elements the divine world places the spiritual leadership of humanity’s earthly evolution into the hands of man, who stands before the task of developing an individual ‘I’ that can be the centre of an autonomous, universal self-regulation, self-determination of the personality, which requires him to master pure thinking. In other words, the possibility is opened up for the first time in evolution, for the attainment of freedom by the individual spirit. And the third task of the European culture is that man, after development of the threefold soul has been accomplished, can begin to work individually on the threefold spirit, consisting of Spirit Self, Life Spirit and Spirit Man or, to use the concepts of Old Indian esotericism, Manas, Buddhi and Atma. The Germanic and Slavic tribes that came to Europe were prepared for the fulfilment of these three tasks.

None of the previous epochs had such a wealth of tasks to fulfil, and none was at the same time so full of changes. For the qualitative change of the course of evolution stands in relation to the quantity of tasks. Up to the 16th century A.D. man was only approaching the development of individual ‘I’-consciousness. In our modern cultural epoch he learns to master it, not as an initiate, but as a simple participant in the cultural process.

waves and water image courtesy David Di Veroli at Unsplash and 1808 map of North Africa courtesy Robert Wilkinson at wikimedia