Evolution and Extraterrerestials

Rudolf Steiner

A Lecture given at Dornach on May 13, 1921 for members of the Anthroposophical Society(GA 204)

(From a shorthand report not revised by the lecturer.)

This is a time when a great deal of attention, ranging from serious science to science-fiction, is being devoted to “outer space.” There is speculation on various levels about visitants from other worlds. Behind it all there may be an instinctive feeling — true in itself though often distorted in expression — that the apparent isolation of man on earth is not final; that man is not alone in the universe. We are therefore reprinting here a lecture (first published in English in the quarterly, “Anthroposophy,” for Easter, 1933, and long out of print) in which Rudolf Steiner spoke, briefly and enigmatically, of the need to recognise and welcome certain beings, “not of the human order,” who since the seventies of the nineteenth century have been descending from cosmic spheres into the realm of earth-existence, bringing with them “the substance and content of Spiritual Science.” — The Editors [of the Golden Blade]

The human will is threatened with being deprived of spiritual impulses and with becoming involved in the spidery web that will creep over the earth.” The association of these words with the World Wide Web, which did not exist in Steiner's time or that of the editors of the Golden Blade, may be coincidental. – The Editors [of SCR]

The lectures I have given recently on the nature of colours may have helped to show you that we can begin to understand man in his real being only when we relate him to the whole universe. If we ask: What is man in his true nature? — then we must learn to look upwards from the Earth to what is beyond the Earth. This is a capacity of which our own time particularly stands in need. The human intellect has become more and more shadowy, and as a result of the developments which took place in the nineteenth century, it is no longer rooted in reality.

This unmistakably indicates that it is high time for man to discover how he can receive new impulses into his life, and we will turn our attention today to certain great cosmic events with which we are already familiar from other points of view.

Most of you will have read the book An Outline of Occult Science, and will have realised that one of the great events in earthly evolution was the separation of the moon from the earth. The moon as we see today, shining towards us from cosmic space, was once united with the earth. It then separated from the earth and now circles around it as its satellite. We know what incisive changes in the whole sweep of evolution are connected with this separation of the moon from the earth. We must go far back in time, before the Atlantean deluge, to find the epoch when the moon departed from the body of the earth.

Today we will confine our attention to what came to pass on earth in connection with the being of man, and with the kingdoms of Nature around him, as a consequence of the separation of the moon from the earth. From the lectures on colours we have learnt that minerals — that is to say, the coloured mineral substances — actually derive their different hues from this relationship of the moon to the earth. Recognition of this fact enables us to make these cosmic events part of an artistic conception of existence. But other matters of the greatest significance come into consideration here. Man's being is the product of preceding metamorphoses of earth-existence — namely, the [old] Saturn, Sun and Moon periods of evolution [1], when no mineral kingdom existed. The mineral kingdom as we know it today came into being for the first time during the Earth period. Mineral substance, therefore, became part of man's being only during this Earth period. During the stages of old Saturn, old Sun and old Moon, man had nothing mineral within him at all. Nor was his constitution adapted for existence upon the earth. By his very nature he was a being of the cosmos. Before the separation of the moon, and before the mineral substances with their many colours came into being, man was not adapted for earthly existence.

Let me put it in this way. It was a very real question for the Spiritual Beings who guide earthly evolution as to what must happen to man. Should he be sent down to the earth or be left to pass his existence in a realm beyond the earth? It can be said with truth that the separation of the moon, with the consequent changes in the earth and in the being of man, was the outcome of a decision on the part of the Spiritual Beings who guide and direct the evolution of humanity. It was because this coarse moon-substance was sent out of the earth that man's organism developed in such a way as to make it possible for him to become an earthly being. Through this event — through the separation of the moon and the incorporation of the mineral kingdom into the earth — man has become an earthly being, existing in the sphere of earthly gravity. Without earthly gravity, he could never have become capable of freedom. Before the separation of the moon he was not, in the real sense, a personality. He was able to become a personality because of the concentration of the forces that were to build his body. And this concentration of forces was the result of the separation of the moon and the incorporation of the mineral kingdom into earthly existence. Man became a personality, and freedom was henceforward placed within his reach.

The evolution of man upon the earth since the separation of the moon has proceeded through many different stages. And we may say that if nothing else had happened except this departure of the moon from the earth, it would still have been possible for man to draw out of his organism, out of his body and soul, pictures such as arose in ancient, clairvoyant vision. Nor was man deprived of this faculty by the separation of the moon. He still envisaged the world in images, and if nothing else had happened, he would be living in a world of images to this day. But evolution went on. Man did not remain fettered to the earth. He received an impulse for evolution in the other direction — an impulse which reached its climax in the nineteenth century.

Even when long ages ago the human being, as ‘metabolic man,’ became subject to the force of earthly gravity, he was adapted as ‘head man’ for a cosmic existence. In effect, the intellect began to evolve. The old clairvoyant pictures densified into the forms of intellectual consciousness, as it was until the fourth century after Christ. It was then for the first time that the human intellect began to grow shadowy. This process has been increasingly rapid since the fifteenth century, and today, although the intellect is an altogether spiritual faculty in man, its existence is not rooted in reality. It has only a picture-existence. When the person of today thinks merely with his intellect and faculty of reason, his thoughts are not rooted in reality at all. More and more they move about in a shadowy existence which reached its climax during the nineteenth century. And today man is altogether devoid of the sense for reality. He lives within a spiritual element, but is at the same time a materialist. His thoughts — which are spiritual but merely shadow-thoughts — are directed entirely to material existence.

Thus the second great process or event was that man became more spiritual. But the spiritual substance once derived from matter no longer ensouls him. His nature has become more spiritual, but with his spiritual faculties he thinks only about material existence.

You know that the moon will one day reunite with the earth. According to the astronomers and geologists, who live in a world of abstractions, this reunion of the moon with the earth is placed thousands and thousands of years ahead. But this is mere illusion. In reality it is by no means so very far distant. Humanity as such is becoming younger and younger. Human beings are coming to a point when their development of body and soul will proceed only up to a certain age in life. At the time of the death of Christ, of the Event of Golgotha, human beings in general were capable of development in body and in soul until the 33rd year of life. Today this development is possible until the 27th year. In the fourth millennium a time will come when men will be capable of development only until the 21st year. In the seventh millennium the bodily nature will be capable of development only until the 14th year of life. Women will then become barren. An entirely different form of earthly life will ensue. This is the epoch when the moon will again approach the earth and become part of it.

It is high time for man to turn his attention to such mighty events of the realm of existence beyond the earth. He must not go on dreaming, vaguely and in the abstract, of some form of Divinity, but he must begin to be alive to the great happenings that are connected with his evolution. He must know what it means to say that the moon once left the earth and will enter the earth again.

Just as the separation of the moon was a decisive event, so too will be its re-entry. It is true that as human beings we shall still be inhabiting the earth, although birth will no longer take place in the ordinary way. We shall be connected with the earth by other means than through birth. We shall, however, have evolved in a certain respect by that time. And we must learn to connect what is happening today — I mean the fact that the intellect is becoming more and more shadowy — with what will one day be a great event in earthly evolution — the re-entry of the moon into the substance of the earth.

If the intellect continues to become even more spectral than it is already, if men never resolve to receive into their being what can now flow to them from spiritual worlds, then they will inevitably be absorbed into the shadowy greyness of their intellectual life.

What is this shadowy intellect? It cannot understand the real nature and being of man. The mineral world is the only realm which the shadowy human intellect is to a certain degree capable of understanding. Even plant life remains enigmatic; still more so the animal life, while human life is altogether beyond the grasp of the mind. And so man goes on his way, evolving pictures of existence which in reality are nothing but a great universal question. His intellect cannot begin to grasp the real nature of plant or animal, and least of all that of the human being. This state of things will continue if man fails to listen to what is being given to him in the form of new Imaginations, in which cosmic existence is pictured to him. The living wisdom that Spiritual Science is able to impart must be received into his shadowy, intellectual concepts and thoughts, for only so can the shadow-images of the intellect be quickened to life.

This quickening to life of the shadow-pictures of the intellect is not only a human but a cosmic event. You will remember the passage in the book Occult Science dealing with the time when the human souls ascended to the planets and afterwards descended once more to earth-existence. I spoke of how the Mars-men, the Jupiter-men and the others descended again to earth. Now an event of great significance came to pass at the end of the seventies of last century. It is an event that can be described only in the light of facts which are revealed to us in the spiritual world. Whereas in the days of old Atlantis human beings descended to the earth from Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and so on — that is to say, souls were drawn into the realm of earth-existence — since the end of the seventies of last century, other Beings — not of the human order — have been descending to the earth for the purposes of their further development. From cosmic realms beyond the earth they come down to the earth and enter into a definite relationship with human beings. Since the eighties of the nineteenth century, super-earthly Beings have been seeking to enter the sphere of the earth. Just as the Vulcan-men were the last to come down to the earth so now Vulcan Beings are actually coming into the realm of earthly existence. Super-earthly Beings are already here, and the fact that we are able to have a Spiritual Science at all today is due to the circumstance that Beings from beyond the earth are bringing the messages from the spiritual world down into earthly existence.

But, speaking generally, what is the attitude adopted by the human race? Human beings are behaving very shabbily to these Beings who are appearing from the cosmos and descending — slowly and by degrees, it is true — to the earth. The human race does not concern itself with them; it ignores their existence. And it is this which will plunge the earth into tragic conditions, for in the course of the next centuries more and more Spiritual Beings will be among us — Beings whose language we ought to understand. And this is possible only if we try to grasp what comes from them: namely, the substance and content of Spiritual Science. They want to give it to us and they want us to act in the sense of Spiritual Science. Their desire is that Spiritual Science shall be translated into social behaviour and action on the earth.

I repeat, then, that since the last third of the nineteenth century Spiritual Beings from the cosmos have been coming into our own sphere of existence. Their home is the sphere lying between the moon and Mercury, but they are already pressing forward into the realm of the earth and seeking to gain a foothold here. And they will be able to find it if human beings are imbued with the thought of their existence. This can also be expressed as I expressed it just now, by saying that our shadowy intellect must be quickened to life by the images of Spiritual Science. We are speaking of concrete fact when we say: Spiritual Beings are seeking to come down into earth-existence and ought to be willingly received. Catastrophe after catastrophe must ensue, and earthly life will fall at length into social chaos if opposition is maintained to the advent of these Beings. They desire nothing else than to be the advance-guards of what will happen to the earth when the moon is once again united with the earth.

Today people may consider it comparatively harmless to elaborate only those automatic, lifeless thoughts which arise in connection with the mineral world and the mineral nature of plant, animal and human. Materialists revel in such thoughts which are, well, thoughts and nothing more. But try to imagine what will happen if people continue to have no other thoughts until the time is reached in the eighth millennium for the moon to unite again with the earth. Those Beings of whom I have spoken will gradually come down to the earth. Vulcan Beings, ‘Supermen’ of Vulcan, ‘Supermen’ of Venus, of Mercury, of the Sun, will unite with this earth. But if human beings persist in nothing but opposition to them earth-existence will pass over into chaos in the course of the next few thousand years.

It will be quite possible for the men of earth, if they so wish, to develop a more and more automatic form of intellect — but that can also happen amid conditions of barbarism. Full and complete humanity, however, cannot come to expression in such a form of intellect, and people will have no relationship to the Beings who would fain come towards them on the earth. And all those Beings of whom men have such an erroneous conception because the shadowy intellect can only grasp the mineral nature, the crudely material nature in minerals, plants and animals, nay even in the humanity itself — all these thoughts which have no reality will in a trice become substantial realities when the moon unites again with the earth. And from the earth there will spring forth a terrible brood of beings, a brood of automata of an order of existence lying between the mineral and the plant kingdoms, and possessed of an overwhelming power of intellect.

This swarm will seize upon the earth, will spread over the earth like a network of ghastly, spider-like creatures, of an order lower than that of plant-existence, but possessed of overpowering wisdom. These spidery creatures will be all interlocked with one another, and in their outward movements they will imitate the thoughts that men have spun out of the shadowy intellect that has not allowed itself to be quickened by the new form of imaginative knowledge by Spiritual Science. All the thoughts that lack substance and reality will then be endowed with being.

The earth will be surrounded — as it is now with air and as it sometimes is with swarms of locusts — with a brood of terrible spider-like creatures, half-mineral, half-plant, interweaving with masterly intelligence, it is true, but with intensely evil intent. And in so far as man has not allowed his shadowy intellectual concepts to be quickened to life, his existence will be united not with the Beings who have been trying to descend since the last third of the nineteenth century, but with this ghastly brood of half-mineral, half-plantlike creatures. He will have to live together with these spider-like creatures and to continue his cosmic existence within the order of evolution into which this brood will then enter.

This is a destiny that is very emphatically part of human evolution upon the earth, and it is quite well known today by many of those who try to hold humanity back from the knowledge of Spiritual Science. For there are people who are conscious allies of this process of the entanglement of earth-existence. We must no longer allow ourselves to be shocked by descriptions of this kind. Such facts are the background of what is often said today by people who out of old traditions still have some consciousness of these things and who then see fit to surround them with a veil of mystery. But it is not right any longer for the process of the earthly evolution of humanity to be veiled in mystery. However great the resistance, these things must be said, for, as I constantly repeat, the acceptance or rejection of spiritual-scientific knowledge is a grave matter for all mankind.

I have been speaking today of a matter upon which we cannot form a lukewarm judgment, for it is part and parcel of the very texture of cosmic existence. The issue at stake is whether human beings will resolve in the present epoch to make themselves worthy to receive what the good Spirits who want to unite with men are bringing down from the cosmos, or whether people intend to seek their future cosmic existence within the tangled, spider-brood of their own shadowy thoughts. It is not enough today to speak in abstract terms of the need for Spiritual Science. The only thing to do is actually to show how thoughts become realities. Dreadfully abstract theories are hurled at people today, such, for example, as “Thoughts become things,” or similar phrases. Abstract statements of this kind altogether fail to convey the full and concrete reality. And the concrete reality is that the intellectual thoughts evolved inwardly by people today will in time to come creep over the earth like a spider's web wherein human beings will be enmeshed, if they will not reach out to a world lying beyond and above their shadowy thoughts and concepts.

We must learn to take in deepest earnestness such matters as were indicated at the conclusion of my lectures on the nature of colours, when I said that the science of colour must be lifted out of the realm of abstract physics into a region where the creative fantasy and feeling of the artist who understands the real nature of colour go hand-in-hand with a perception of the world illumined by Spiritual Science. We have seen how the nature of colour can be understood, how what modern physics, with its unimaginative ideas, casts down into the Ahrimanic world, can be lifted into the sphere of art, so that there can be established a theory of colours — remote, it is true, from the tenets of modern science, but able to provide a true foundation for artistic creation, if man will only receive it into his being.

And there is another thought, too, that must be taken very seriously. What do we find today all over the civilised world? Young students go into the hospitals or to universities to study science, and the constitution of the human being is explained to them. By studying the corpse they learn about the bones and the rest of the organism. By a series of abstract thoughts they are supposed to be able to acquaint themselves with the nature of man's being. But in this way it is only possible to learn something about the mineral part of the human organism. With this kind of science we can only learn about the part of man's being which has a significance from the time of the separation of the moon until its return, when the shadowy thoughts of modern times will become spidery creatures having a concrete existence.

A form of knowledge must develop which produces quite a different conception of the being of man, and it can be developed only by raising science to the level of artistic perception. We shall realise then that science as it is today is capable of grasping only the mineral nature, whether in the mineral kingdom itself or in the kingdoms of plant, animal and man. Even when applied to the plant kingdom, science must become a form of art, and still more so in the case of the animal kingdom. To think that the form and structure of an animal can be understood by the means employed by anatomists and physiologists is nonsense. And so long as we fail to realise that it is nonsense, the shadowy intellect cannot be transformed into a living, spiritual comprehension of the world. What is taught to young students today in so abstract a form in the universities must be transformed and must lead to a really artistic conception of the world. For the world of Nature itself creates as an artist. And until we realise that Nature is a world of creative art which can be understood only through artistic feeling, no healing will come into our picture of the world.

In the torture-chambers of mediaeval castles, people were shut into what was called the ‘iron maiden,’ where they were slowly spiked with iron teeth. This was a physical and more tangible procedure than that to which students in our day have to submit when they are taught anatomy and physiology and are told that in this way they are acquiring knowledge of the nature of man — but fundamentally it is the same kind of procedure. All that can be understood of the nature of man by such methods derives from an attitude of mind which is not unlike the attitude of those who were not averse from applying tortures in the Middle Ages. Students learn about the human being as he is when he has been dismembered — they are taught only about the mineral structure in man, about that part of his being which will one day be woven into the network of spider-like creatures extending over the earth.

It is a hard destiny that power should lie in the hands of people who regard the truest thoughts as absurdities and who scorn the impulses that are most inwardly and intimately bound up with the well-being of human evolution, with the whole mission of humanity in the world. It is a tragic state of things and we dare not shut our eyes to it. For it is only by realising the depth of such a tragedy that men will be brought to the point of resolving, each in his own place, to help the shadowy intellect to admit the spiritual world that is coming down from above in order that this intellect may be made fit for the conditions of future times. It is not right for the shadowy intellect to be driven down into an order of existence lower than that of the plants, into the brood of spidery creatures that will spread over the earth. Man's being needs to have reached a higher level of existence when, in the eighth millennium, women will become barren and the moon will unite once again with the earth. The earthly must then remain behind, with man directing and controlling it from outside like an object which he need not carry over with him into cosmic existence. Man must so prepare himself that he need not be involved in what must inevitably develop upon the surface of the earth in this way.

From pre-earthly existence man has descended to this earthly life. His birth from woman began with the departure of the moon, but this physical form of birth is only a passing episode in the great sweep of cosmic evolution and will be replaced by another. It is the phase which was destined to bring to man the feeling and consciousness of freedom, the self-completeness of individuality and personality. It is a phase by no means to be undervalued. It was necessary in the whole cosmic process, but it must not remain forever unchanged. Man must not give way to the easy course of assuming the existence of an abstract God, but bring himself to look concretely at things that are connected with his evolution. For his soul and spirit can only be inwardly stimulated when he really understands the nature of the concrete realities connected with the great epoch towards which his successive earthly lives are leading him.

That is what a true Spiritual Science tells us today. The human will is threatened with being deprived of spiritual impulses and with becoming involved in the spidery web that will creep over the earth. There are people who imagine that they will gain their ends by promoting their own spiritual development and leaving the rest of their fellow beings in a state of ignorance. But the vast majority live in complete unawareness of the terrible destiny that awaits them if they lend themselves to what an ancient form of spiritual knowledge called the “sixteen paths to corruption.” For just as there are many ways in which the shadowy intellect may be directed to the impulses and knowledge coming from the spiritual world, so naturally there are many ways in which varieties of the shadowy intellect will be able to unite with the spider-beings who will spin their web over the earth in times to come. Intellect will then be objectivised in the very limbs and tentacles of these spidery creatures, who in all their wonderful interweaving and caduceus-like convolutions will present an amazing network of intricate forms.

It is only by developing an inner understanding for what is truly artistic that man will be able to understand the realm that is higher than mineral existence — that realm of which we see an expression in the actual shaping and form of the surfaces of things in the world.

Goethe's theory of metamorphosis was a most significant discovery. The pedants of his day regarded it as dilettantism, and the same opinion prevails today. But in Goethe clarity of insight and intelligence was combined with a faculty of vision which perceived Nature herself as an active expression of artistic creation. In connection with the animal world, Goethe only reached the point of applying this principle of metamorphosis to the forms of the vertebrae and cranial bones. But the process whereby the forms of a previous existence are transformed, whereby the body of the earlier life is transformed into the head of the subsequent life — it is only by an inner understanding of this wonderfully artistic transformation of the radial bones into the spherical that we can truly perceive the difference between the head and the rest of the human structure. Without this insight we cannot perceive the inner, organic connection between the head and the rest of the human body.

But this is a form of art which is at the same time science. Whenever science fails to become art, it degenerates into sophistry a form of knowledge that hurls mankind into calamity so far as his cosmic existence is concerned. We see, therefore, how a true Spiritual Science points to the necessity for artistic insight and perception. This faculty was already alive in Goethe's soul and comes to expression in his hymn in prose, entitled Nature, written about the year 1780, and beginning: “Nature! We are surrounded and embraced by her...” The ideas are woven together so wonderfully that the hymn is like the expression of a yearning to receive the Spirit from the cosmic All.

It can be said with truth that the development of the thoughts contained in Goethe's hymn to Nature would provide a dwelling-place for the Beings who would fain come down from the cosmos to the earth. But the barren conceptions of physiology and biology, the systematising of plant-life and the theories that were evolved during the nineteenth century — all the thoughts which, as I showed in the lectures on colour, have really nothing to do with the true nature of the plants — can awaken no real knowledge, nor can they get anywhere near the being of man. Hence the body of knowledge that is regarded today as science is essentially a product of Ahriman, leading man towards earthly destruction and preventing him from entering the sphere which the Beings from beyond the earth have been trying to place within his reach since the last third of the nineteenth century.

To cultivate Spiritual Science is no abstract pursuit. To cultivate Spiritual Science means to open the doors to those influences from beyond the earth which have been seeking to come down to the earth since the last third of the nineteenth century. The cultivation of Spiritual Science is in very truth a cosmic event of which we ought to be fully conscious.

And so we survey the whole span of time from the separation until the return of the moon. The moon which, as we say, reflects the sunlight back to us, is in truth deeply connected with our existence. It separated itself from the earth in order that man might become a free being. But this period of time must be utilised by man in such a way that he does not prepare the material which, with the re-entry of the moon into the earth-sphere, would combine with the moon-substance to produce that new kingdom of which I have tried to give you a graphic picture.

Now and then there arises in human beings of our time a kind of foreboding of what will come about in the future. I do not know what meaning has been read into the chapter in Thus Spake Zarathustra, where Nietzsche writes of the ‘ugliest man’ in the ‘valley of death.’ It is a tragic and moving passage. Nietzsche, of course, had no concrete perception of the valley of death into which existence will be transformed when the spidery brood of which I have spoken spreads over the earth. Nevertheless, in the picture of this valley of death in Nietzsche's imagination there was a subconscious vision of the future, and within this valley of death he placed the figure of the ‘ugliest man.’ It was a kind of foreboding of what will happen if men continue to cultivate shadowy thoughts. For their destiny then will be that in hideous shape they will be caught up by the forces of the moon as it comes down into the sphere of the earth and will become one with the brood of spidery creatures of which I have been speaking.

What purpose would be served by keeping these things secret today, as many people desire? To keep them secret would be to throw sand into the eyes of men. Much of what is spread over the world today under the name of spiritual teaching is nothing but a process of throwing sand into people's eyes so that no single event in history can be understood for what it really is. How many people realise today that events of fundamental and incisive importance are taking place? I have already spoken of these things. But how few are prepared really to enter into them! People prefer to shut their eyes to what is happening and to think that, after all, the events are not really of such great significance. Nevertheless, the signs of the times are unmistakable and must be understood.

This was what I wished to say in regard to the way in which the being of man upon the earth is connected with the cosmos.

[1] Old Saturn, Sun and Moon refer to previous incarnations of the earth, not the heavenly bodies of today with the same names.