Lucifer AhrimanThe Balance in the World and Man, Lucifer and Ahriman
by Rudolph Steiner
THE idea of other worlds lying beneath or behind the physical world is very familiar to us, and as an introduction to what I propose to put before you, I want to speak today of certain characteristics of these worlds. By widening and extending the knowledge we already possess, still other aspects of this subject will become clear to us.
As you know, the world bordering upon that known to our ordinary consciousness is the so-called world of Imagination. The world of Imagination is far more inwardly mobile and flexible than our physical world with its clear-cut lines of demarcation and its sharply defined objects. When the veil formed by the physical world is broken through, we enter an ethereal, fluidic world, and when we experience this first spiritual world, the feeling arises that we are outside the physical body. In this spiritual world we are at once conscious of a new and different relationship to the physical body; it is a relationship such as we otherwise feel to our eyes or ears. The physical body in its totality works as if it were a kind of organ of perception; but we very soon realize that, properly speaking, it is not the physical but the ether-body that is the real organ of perception, The physical body merely provides a kind of scaffolding around the ether-body. We begin, gradually, to live consciously in the ether-body, to feel it as a sense-organ which perceives a world of weaving, moving pictures and sounds. And then we are aware of being related to the ether-body within the physical body just as in ordinary life we are related to our ears or eyes.
This feeling of being outside the physical body is an experience similar in some respects to that of sleep. As beings of spirit-and-soul we are outside the physical and etheric bodies during sleep, but our consciousness is dimmed during the experience, and we know nothing of what is really happening to us and around us.
You will see from this that there can be a relationship to the physical body quite different from that to which we are accustomed in ordinary life. This is a fact to which attention must be called by Spiritual Science and it is an experience which will become more and more common in human beings as evolution leads on into the future.
I have said repeatedly that the cultivation of Spiritual Science today is not the outcome of any arbitrary desire, but is a necessity of evolution at the present time. This feeling of separation from the physical body is an experience that will arise in human beings more and more frequently in the future, without being understood. A time will come when a great many people will find themselves asking: “Why is it that I feel as if my being were divided, as if a second being were standing by my side?” This feeling will arise as naturally as hunger or thirst or other such experiences and it must be understood by men of the present and future. It will become intelligible when, through Spiritual Science, people begin to understand what this experience of division within them really signifies.
In the domain of Education, particularly, attention will have to be paid to it; indeed we shall all have to learn to pay more heed than hitherto to certain experiences which will become increasingly common in children as time goes on. It is true that in later life, when the whole impression made by the physical world is very strong, these feelings and experiences will not be particularly noticeable in the near future, but as time goes on they will become more and more intense. They will occur, to begin with, in children, and grown-up people will hear from children many things which in the ordinary way are pooh-poohed but which will have to be understood because they are connected with deep secrets of evolution.
We shall hear children saying: “I have seen a being who said this or that to me, who told me what to do.” — The materialist, of course, will tell such a child that this is all nonsense, that no such being exists. But students of Spiritual Science will have to understand the significance of the phenomenon. If a child says: “I saw someone who came to me, he went away again but he keeps on coming and I cannot get rid of him” — then anyone who understands Spiritual Science will realize that a phenomenon which will appear in greater and greater definition as time goes on,is here revealing itself in the life of the child. What does this really signify?
We shall understand it if we think of two fundamental and typical experiences, the first of which was particularly significant in the Greco-Latin age, while the other is significant in our own time, when it is beginning, gradually, to take shape. Whereas the first experience reached a kind of culmination in the Greco-Latin epoch, we are slowly moving towards the second.
Experiences deriving from the influences of Lucifer and Ahriman are all the time playing into human life. In this basic experience of man during the Fourth Post-Atlantean or Greco-Roman epoch, Lucifer's influence was the greater; in our own epoch, Ahriman is the predominant influence. Lucifer is connected with all those experiences which, lacking the definition imparted by the senses, remain undifferentiated and obscure.
Lucifer is connected with the experience of breathing, of the in-breathing and the out-breathing. The relationship between a man's breathing and the functioning of his organism as a whole must be absolutely regular and normal. The moment the breathing process is in any way disturbed, instead of remaining the unconscious operation to which no attention need be paid, it becomes a conscious process, of which we are more or less dreamily aware. And when, to put it briefly, the breathing process becomes too forceful, when it makes greater claims on the organism than the organism can meet, then it is possible for Lucifer (not he himself but the hosts belonging to him) to enter with the breath into the organism.
I am speaking here of a familiar experience of dream-life. It may arise in many forms and with growing intensity. A nightmare in which the disturbed breathing process makes a man conscious in dream, so that experiences of the spiritual world intermingle with the dream and give rise to the anxiety and fear which often accompany a nightmare — all such experiences have their origin in the Luciferic element. When, instead of the regular breathing, there is a feeling of being choked or strangled, this is connected with the possibility that Lucifer may be mingling with the breathing.
This is the cruder form of the process, where, as the result of a diminution of consciousness, Lucifer intermingles with the breathing and, in the dream, takes the form of a strangler. That is the crude form of the experience. But there is an experience more delicate and more intangible than that of being physically strangled. It does not, as a rule, occur to people that a certain familiar experience is really a less crude form of that of strangulation. Yet whenever anything becomes a problem in the soul or gives rise to doubt concerning one thing or another in the world, this is a subtler form of the experience of being strangled. It can truly be said that when we feel obliged to question, when a riddle, either great or trifling, confronts us, then something seems to be strangling us, but in such a way that we do not heed it. Nevertheless, every doubt, every problem is a subtle form of nightmare.
And so experiences which often take a crude form, become much more subtle and intangible when they arise in the life of soul itself. It is to be presumed that science will be led some day to study how the breathing process is connected with the urge to question, or with the feeling of being assailed by doubt; but whether this happens or not, everything that is associated with questioning and doubt, with feelings of dissatisfaction caused when something in the world demands an answer and we are thrown back entirely upon our own resources — all this is connected with the Luciferic powers.
In the light of Spiritual Science it can be said that whenever we feel a sensation of strangulation in a nightmare, or whenever some doubt or question inwardly oppresses or makes us uneasy, the breathing process becomes stronger, more forceful. There is something in the breathing which must be harmonized, toned down and modified if human nature is to function in the right and normal way.
What happens when the breathing process becomes excessively vigorous and forceful? The ether-body expands, becomes too diffuse; and as this takes effect in the physical body, it tends to break up the physical body. An over-exuberant, too widely extended ether-body gives rise to an excessively vigorous breathing process and this provides the Luciferic forces with opportunity to work.
The Luciferic forces, then, can make their way into the human being when the ether-body has expanded beyond the normal. One can also say that the Luciferic forces tend to express themselves in an ether-body that has expanded beyond the limits of the human form, that is to say, in an ether-body requiring more space than is provided within the boundaries of the human skin.
Of attempts made to find an appropriate form in which to portray this process, the following may be said. — In its normal state, the ether-body moulds and shapes the physical form of man. But as soon as the ether-body expands, as soon as it tries to create for itself greater space and an arena transcending the boundaries of the human skin, it tends to produce other forms. The human form cannot here be retained; the ether-body strives to grow out of and beyond the human form. In olden days men found the solution for this problem. When an extended ether-body — which is not suited to the nature of man but to the Luciferic nature — makes itself felt and takes shape before the eye of soul, what kind of form emerges? The Sphinx!
Here we have a clue to the nature of the Sphinx. The Sphinx is really the being who has us by the throat, who strangles us. When the ether-body expands as a result of the force of the breathing, a Luciferic being appears in the soul. In such an ether-body there is then not the human, but the Luciferic form, the form of the Sphinx. The Sphinx is the being who brings doubts, who torments the soul with questions.
And so there is a definite connection between the Sphinx and the breathing process. But we also know that the breathing process is connected in a very special way with the blood. Therefore the Luciferic forces also operate in the blood, permeating and surging through it. By way of the breathing, the Luciferic forces can everywhere make their way into the blood of the human being and when excessive energy is promoted in the blood, the Luciferic nature — the Sphinx — becomes very strong.
Because man is open to the Cosmos in his breathing, he is confronted by the Sphinx. It was paramountly during the Greco-Latin epoch of civilization that, in their breathing, men felt themselves confronting the Sphinx in the Cosmos. The legend of Oedipus describes how the human being faces the Sphinx, how the Sphinx torments him with questions. The picture of the human being and the Sphinx, or of the human being and the Luciferic powers in the Cosmos, gives expression to a deeply-rooted experience of men as they were during the Fourth Post-Atlantean epoch, and indicates that when, in however small a degree, a man breaks through the boundaries of his normal life on the physical plane, he comes into contact with the Sphinx-nature. At this moment Lucifer approaches him and he must cope with Lucifer, with the Sphinx.
The basic tendency of our Fifth Post-Atlantean epoch is different. The trend of evolution has been such that the ether-body has contracted and is far less prone to diffusion or expansion. The ether-body, instead of being too large, is too small, and this will become more marked as evolution proceeds. If it can be said that in the man of ancient Greece, the ether-body was too large, it can be said that in the man of modern times the ether-body is compressed and contracted, has become too small. The more human beings are led by materialism to disdain the Spiritual, the more will the ether-body contract and wither. But because the organization and functions of the physical body depend upon the ether-body — inasmuch as the ether-body must permeate the physical in the right way — the physical body too will always tend to dry up, to wither, if the contraction of the ether-body is excessive; and if the physical body became too dry, men would have feet of horn instead of the feet of a normal human being. As a matter of fact, man will not actually find himself with feet of horn, but the tendency is there within him, owing to this proclivity of the ether-body to weaken and dry up. Now into this dried-up ether-body, Ahriman can insinuate himself, just as Lucifer can creep into an extended, diffuse ether-body. Ahriman will assume the form which indicates a lack of power in the ether-body. It unfolds insufficient etheric force for properly developed feet and will produce hornlike feet, goat's feet.
Mephistopheles is Ahriman. There is good reason, as I have just indicated, for portraying him with the feet of a goat. Myths and legends are full of meaning: Mephistopheles is very often depicted with horses' hoofs; his feet have dried up and become hoofs. If Goethe had completely understood the nature of Mephistopheles he would not have made him appear in the guise of a modern cavalier, for by his very nature Mephistopheles-Ahriman lacks the etheric forces necessary to permeate and give shape to the normal physical form of a human being.
Yet another characteristic of Mephistopheles-Ahriman is due to this contraction of the ether-body and its consequent lack of etheric force. The best way to understand this will be to consider the nature of man as a whole. Even physically, the human being is, in a certain respect, a duality. For think of it. — You stand there as a physical human being. But the in-breathed air is inside you, is part of you as a physical being. This air,however, is sent out again by the very next exhalation, so that the “man of air-and-breath” pervading you, changes all the time. You are not merely a man of flesh, bone and muscle, but you are also a “breath man.” This “breath man,” however, is constantly changing, passing out and in. And this “breath man” is connected with the circulating blood.
Within you, separate as it were from this “breath man.” is the other pole: the “nerve man” with the circulating nerve-fluid. The contact between the “nerve man” and the blood is a purely external one. Just as those etheric forces which tend towards the Luciferic nature can only find easy access to the blood by way of the breath, so the etheric forces which tend towards the Mephistophelean or Ahrimanic nature can only approach the nervous system — not the blood.
Ahriman is deprived of the possibility of penetrating into the blood because he cannot come near the warmth of the blood. If he wants to establish a connection with a human being, he will therefore crave for a drop of blood, because access to the blood is so difficult for him. An abyss lies between Mephistopheles and the blood. When he draws near to man as a living being, when he wants to make a connection with man, he realizes that the essentially human power lives in the blood. He must therefore endeavor to get hold of the blood.
That Faust's pact with Mephistopheles is signed with blood is a proof of the wisdom contained in the legend. Faust must bind himself to Mephistopheles by way of the blood, because Mephistopheles has no direct access to the blood and craves for it. Just as the Greek confronted the Sphinx whose field of operation is the breathing system, so the man of the Fifth Post-Atlantean epoch confronts Mephistopheles who operates in the nerve-process, who is cold and scornful because he is bloodless, because he lacks the warmth that belongs to the blood. He is the scoffer, the cold, scornful companion of man.
Just as it was the task of Oedipus to get the better of the Sphinx, so it is the task of man in the Fifth Post-Atlantean epoch to get the better of Mephistopheles. Mephistopheles stands there like a second being, confronting him. The Greek was confronted by the Sphinx as the personification of the forces which entered into him together with excessive vigor of the breathing process. The human being of the modern age is confronted by the fruits of intellect and cold reason, rooted as they are in the nerve-process. Poetic imagination has glimpsed, prophetically, a picture of the human being standing over against the Mephistophelean powers; but the experience will become more and more general, and the phenomenon which, as I have said, will appear in childhood, will be precisely this experience of the Mephistophelean powers.
Whereas the child in Greece was tormented by a flood of questions, the suffering awaiting the human being of our modern time is rather that of being in the grip of preconceptions and prejudices, of having as an incubus at his side a second “body” consisting of all these preconceived judgments and opinions. What is it that is leading to this state of things?
Let us be quite candid about the trend of evolution. During the course of the Fifth Post-Atlantean epoch, so many problems have lost all inner, vital warmth. The countless questions which confront us when we study Spiritual Science with any depth, simply do not exist for the modern man with his materialistic outlook. The riddle of the Sphinx means nothing to him, whereas the man of ancient Greece was vitally aware of it. A different form of experience will come to the man of modern times. In his own opinion he knows everything so well; he observes the material world, uses his intellect to establish the interconnections between its phenomena and believes that all its riddles are solved in this way, never realizing that he is simply groping in a phantasmagoria. But this way of working coarsens and dries up his ether-body, with the ultimate result that the Mephistophelean powers, like a second nature, will attach themselves to him now and in times to come.
The Mephistophelean nature is strengthened by all the prejudices and limitations of materialism, and a future can already be perceived when everyone will be born with a second being by his side, a being who whispers to him of the foolishness of those who speak of the reality of the spiritual world. Man will, of course, disavow the riddle of Mephistopheles, just as he disavows that of the Sphinx; nevertheless he will chain a second being to his heels. Accompanied by this second being, he will feel the urge to think materialistic thoughts, to think, not through his own being, but through the second being who is his companion.
In an ether-body that has been parched by materialism, Mephistopheles will be able to dwell. Understanding what this implies, we shall realize that it is our duty to educate children in the future — be it by way of Eurythmy or the development of a spiritual-scientific outlook — in such a way that they will be competent to understand the spiritual world. The ether-body must be quickened in order that the human being may be able to take his rightful stand, fully cognizant of the nature of the being who stands at his side. If he does not understand the nature of this second being, he will be spellbound by him, fettered to him. Just as the Greek was obliged to get the better of the Sphinx, so will modern man have to outdo Mephistopheles — with his faunlike, satyrlike form, and his goat's or horse's feet.
Every age, after all, has known how to express its essential characteristic in legend and saga. The Oedipus legends in Greece and the Mephistopheles legends in the modern age are examples, but their basic meanings must be understood.
You see, truths that are otherwise presented merely in the form of poetry — for instance, the relations between Faust and Mephistopheles — can become guiding principles for education as it should be in the future. The prelude to these happenings is that a people or a poet have premonitions of the existence of the being who accompanies man; but finally, every single human being will have this companion who must not remain unintelligible to him and who will operate most powerfully of all during childhood. If adults whose task it is to educate children today do not know how to deal rightly with what comes to expression in the child, human nature itself will be impaired owing to a lack of understanding of the wiles of Mephistopheles.
It is very remarkable that indications of these trends are everywhere to be found in legends and fairy-tales. In their very composition, legends and fairy-tales which seem so unintelligible to modern scholars, point either to the Mephistophelean, the Ahrimanic, or to the Sphinx, the Luciferic. The secret of all legends and fairy-tales is that their content was originally actual experience, arising either from man's relation to the Sphinx or from his relation to Mephistopheles.
In legends and fairy-tales we find, sometimes more and sometimes less deeply hidden, either the motif of the riddle, the motif of the Sphinx, where something has to be solved, some question answered; or else the motif of bewitchment, of being under a spell. This is the Ahriman motif. When Ahriman is beside us, we are perpetually in danger of falling victim to him, of giving ourselves over to him to such an extent that we cannot get free. In face of the Sphinx, the human being is aware of something that penetrates into him and as it were tears him to pieces. In face of the Mephistophelean influence he feels that he must yield to it, bind himself to it, succumb to it.
The Greeks had nothing like theology in our modern sense, but were very much closer to the wisdom of Nature and the manifestations of Nature. They approached the wisdom of Nature without theology, and questions and riddles pressed in upon them.
Now the breathing process is much more intimately connected with Nature than is the nerve-process. That is why the Greek had such a living feeling of being led on to wisdom by the Sphinx. It is quite different in the modern age when theology has come upon the scene. Man no longer believes that direct intercourse with Nature brings him near to the Divine Wisdom of the world, but he sets out to study, to approach it via the nerve-process, not via the breathing and the blood. The search for wisdom has become a nerve-process; modern theology is a nerve-process. But this means that wisdom is shackled to the nerve-process; man draws near to Mephistopheles, and owing to this imprisonment of wisdom in the nerve-process, the premonition arose at the dawn of the Fifth Post-Atlantean epoch that Mephistopheles is shackled to the human being, stands at his side.
If the Faust legend is stripped of all the extraneous elements that have been woven around it, there remains the picture of a young theologian striving for wisdom; doubts torment him and because he signs a pledge with the Devil — with Mephistopheles — he is drawn into the Devil's field of operations. But just as it was the task of the Greek, through the development of conscious Egohood, to conquer the Sphinx, so we, in our age, must get the better of Mephistopheles by enriching the Ego with the wisdom that can be born only from knowledge and investigation of the spiritual world, from Spiritual Science.
Oedipus was the mightiest conqueror of the Sphinx; but every Greek who wrestled for manhood was also, at a lower level, victorious over the Sphinx. Oedipus is merely a personification, in a very typical form, of what every Greek was destined to experience. Oedipus must prove himself master of the forces contained in the processes of the breathing and the blood. He personifies the nerve-process with its impoverished ether-forces, in contrast to those human beings who are altogether under the sway of the breathing and blood processes. Oedipus takes into his own nature those forces which are connected with the nerve-process, that is to say, the Mephistophelean forces; but he takes them into himself in the right and healthy way, so that they do not become a second being by his side, but are actually within him, enabling him to confront and master the Sphinx.
This indicates to us that in their rightfully allotted place, Lucifer and Ahriman work beneficially; in their wrongful place — there they are injurious. The task incumbent upon the Greek was to get the better of the Sphinx-nature, to cast it out of himself. When he was able to thrust it into the abyss, when, in other words, he was able to bring the extended ether-body down into the physical body, then he had overcome the Sphinx. The abyss is not outside us; the abyss is man's own physical body, into which the Sphinx must be drawn in the legitimate and healthy way. But the opposite pole — the nerve-process — which works, not from without but from within the Ego, must here be strengthened. Thus is the Ahrimanic power taken into the human being and put in its right place.
Oedipus is the son of Laios. Laios had been warned against having a child because it was said that this would bring misfortune to his whole race. He therefore cast out the boy who was born to him. He pierced his feet, and the child was therefore called “Oedipus,” i.e., “club foot.” That is the reason why, in the drama, Oedipus has deformed feet.
I have said already that when etheric forces are impoverished, the feet cannot develop normally, but will wither. In the case of Oedipus this condition was induced artificially. The legend tells us that he was found and reared by shepherds after an attempt had been made to get rid of him. He goes through life with clubbed feet. Oedipus is Mephistopheles — but in this case Mephistopheles is working in his rightful place, in connection with the task devolving upon the Fourth Post-Atlantean epoch.
The harmony between ether-body and physical body so wonderfully expressed in the creations of Greek Art, everything that constituted the typical greatness of the Greek — of all this, Oedipus is deprived in order that he may become a personality in the real sense. The Ego that has now passed into the head becomes strong, and the feet wither.
The man of the Fifth Post-Atlantean epoch has quite a different task. In order to confront and conquer the Sphinx, Oedipus was obliged to receive Ahriman into himself. The man of the Fifth Post-Atlantean epoch, who confronts Ahriman-Mephistopheles, must take Lucifer into himself. The process is the reverse of that enacted by Oedipus. Everything that the Ego accumulates in the head must be pressed down into the rest of man's nature. The Ego, living in the nerve-process, has accumulated “Philosophy, Law, Medicine, and, alas, Theology too” — all nerve-processes. And now there is the urge to get rid of it all from the head — just as Oedipus deprived the feet of their normal forces — and to penetrate through the veils of material existence.
And now think of Faust standing there with all that the Ego has accumulated; think of how he wants to throw it all out of his head, just as Oedipus deprives his feet of their normal forces. Faust says: “I have studied, alas! Philosophy, Jurisprudence and Medicine too, and saddest of all, Theology” . . . he wants to rid his head of it all. And moreover he does so, by surrendering himself to a life that is not bound up with the head. Faust is Oedipus reversed, i.e., the human being who takes the Lucifer-nature into himself.
And now think of all that Faust does, so that having Lucifer within him, he may battle with Ahriman, with Mephistopheles who stands beside him. All this shows us that Faust, in reality, is Oedipus reversed. The Ahriman-nature in Oedipus has to get the better of Lucifer; the Lucifer-nature in Faust has to help him to overcome Ahriman-Mephistopheles. Ahriman-Mephistopheles operates more in the external world, Lucifer more in the inner life. All the misfortunes that befall Oedipus because he must take the Ahriman-nature into himself, are connected with the external world. Doom falls upon his race, not merely upon himself. Even the doom that falls upon him is of an external character; he pierces his eyes and blinds himself; similarly, the pestilence which sweeps his native city — this, too, is an external doom. Faust's experiences, however, are of the soul — they are inner tragedies. Again in this respect, Faust reveals himself as the antithesis of Oedipus.
In these two figures, both of them dual — Oedipus and Sphinx, Faust and Mephistopheles — we have typical pictures of the evolution of the Fourth and Fifth Post-Atlantean epochs.
When history, in time to come, is presented less as a narration of external happenings and more as a description of what human beings actually experience, then and only then will the significance of these fundamental experiences be fully understood. For then man will perceive what is really at work in the onflowing evolutionary process, of which ordinary science knows only the external phantasmagoria.
In order that the Ego should be strengthened, it was necessary for Ahriman-Mephistopheles to enter into Oedipus — the typical representative of the Greeks. In the man of the modern age, the Ego has become too strong and he must break free. But this he can only do by deepening his knowledge of spiritual happenings, of the world to which the Ego truly belongs. The Ego must know that it is a citizen of the spiritual world, not merely the inhabitant of a human body. This is the demand of the age in which we ourselves are living. The man of the Fourth Post-Atlantean epoch was called upon to strive with might and main for consciousness in the physical body; the man of the Fifth Post-Atlantean epoch must strive to become conscious in the spiritual world, so to expand his consciousness that it reaches into the spiritual world.
Spiritual Science is thus a fundamental factor in the evolution of the Fifth Post-Atlantean epoch.