Gnostic Doctrines and Supersensible Influences in Europe
This lecture is also known as: Mysteries of the Pleroma: the Corruption of their Influence in Europe and Asia Today. It is lecture 7 of 12 from the lecture series: Cultural Phenomena — Three Perspectives of Anthroposophy.
15 July 1923, Dornach
Translated by H. Collison
In a time of great and momentous decisions like the present it is all the more necessary that in their study of contemporary events and happenings, men's minds should also be raised to the Spirit. The Spirit is no abstraction but a reality which transcends and works into the physical life of humanity. It is by no means enough to admit that the Spirit pervades all things physical, for this is to recognise one fragment only of the world in which man lives and moves as a thinking and acting being. For many centuries it was justifiable to hold such a view, but in our age this justification has ceased. In the lecture to-day, therefore, we will consider how certain happenings in the physical world are connected with impulses emanating from the spiritual world.
To begin with, we will study the character of certain spiritual impulses which have been at work in the course of evolution and have led on to the present state of affairs in the world. For long ages now, Western civilisation and its offshoots have paid attention to one fragment only of the whole story of the evolution of the world, and from a certain point of view this was quite right. In times when the Old Testament became the authoritative record, it was proper to regard the creation of man by Jahve or Jehovah as the dawn of world-evolution.
But in still earlier times the intervention of Jehovah was regarded not as the incipient but as a much later episode in the evolutionary process. It was said that another, more purely spiritual phase of evolution had preceded the creation of the world by Jehovah as it is described in the Bible and as it is ordinarily understood. In other words, it was held that the intervention of Jehovah had been preceded by that of other Beings, that the creation of man had occurred after the passage of an earlier phase of the evolutionary process.
Those men in Greece who meditated upon the earliest stages of world-evolution spoke of a primordial Being for the understanding of whose nature a much more highly spiritual mode of knowledge is required than for an understanding of the events described in the Old Testament. These men spoke of the Being whom they held to be the actual Creator of the world — the Demiurgos.
The Demiurgos was a Being dwelling in spheres of lofty spirituality, in a world devoid of every element of that material existence with which in the Bible story the humanity created by Jehovah is naturally associated.
We must therefore think of the Demiurgos as a sublime Being, as the Creator of the world who sends forth other Beings from Himself. The Beings sent forth by the Demiurgos were ranked in successive stages, each stage being lower than the last. (Such expressions are, of course, quite inadequate, but no other words are available.) The life of these Beings, however, was held to be entirely free from the conditions of earthly birth and earthly death.
In Greece they were known as Aeons — of the first rank, the second rank and so on. The Aeons were Beings who had issued from the Demiurgos. Among these Aeons, Jahve or Jehovah was a Being of a relatively subordinate rank. And this brings us to a consideration of the teachings of the Gnostics, as they were called, in the early centuries of Christendom. It was said that Jehovah united with matter and that from this union man came into existence.
According to this Gnostic conception, therefore, Jehovah was a somewhat lower descendant of the more lofty Aeons who had proceeded from the Demiurgos, and as the outcome of Jehovah's union with matter, man was created.
“Pleroma” was the name given to a world which transcends, although it has its basis in the phenomena of the world of sense. This conception was thoroughly intelligible to the Ancients although it was utterly beyond the grasp of a later humanity. The Pleroma was a world at a higher level than the physical world but peopled none the less by individualised Beings. And at the lowest level, at the lowest stage of the Pleroma, the human being created by Jehovah comes into existence. At this same stage, another Being appears, a Being incorporate not in the individual man nor yet in a nation, but rather in humanity taken as one whole, a Being who remembers its descent from the Demiurgos and strives again to reach the spiritual world. The name of this Being was Achamoth and in Greece, Achamoth was a personification of the spiritual strivings of mankind. The urge which lives in men to reach the spiritual world again was therefore said to be due to Achamoth.
Another conception was then added to this world of ideas, namely, that in order to reward the strivings of Achamoth, the Demiurgos sent down an Aeon of a very high rank. This Aeon — so it was said — united with the man Jesus in order that the strivings of Achamoth might be fulfilled. The Gnostic teaching was that in the man Jesus there had dwelt a Being belonging to the ranks of the Aeons, a Being of a far more highly spiritual order than Jahve or Jehovah.
And so, among those in whom these ideas lived during the early Christian centuries — and the hearts of many men in those times were turned with the deepest fervour and reverence to the Mystery of Golgotha — there grew up the conception of the great mystery connected with the man Jesus in whom a holy Aeon had come to dwell.
Study of this mystery took many different forms but no essential purpose would be served to-day by entering into a detailed consideration of the various ideas current in Greece, Asia Minor and its neighbouring districts, as to the manner in which this Aeon had been incorporate in the man Jesus. The kind of ideas which in those days men brought to their study of a mystery of this character have long since passed away from the sphere of human thinking. Man's thought to-day is concerned with all that surrounds and is connected with his life between birth and death and at best there dawns upon him the realisation that spiritual foundations underlie this physical world of sense. Direct, inner experience of the kinship of the human soul with the Pleroma which was once a matter of immediate experience and referred to as naturally as we refer to-day to man's connection with the spiritual world — which was moreover of far greater interest to human beings in those days than the physical world — this too has passed away. There is no longer any direct experience of kinship with the spiritual world. Such ideas lived in European civilisation no longer than the first three, or rather no longer than the first three and greater part of the fourth centuries of our era. By that time the minds of men were no longer capable of rising to the sphere known as the Pleroma, and the dawn of another age had broken. This was the age of thinkers like Augustine and Scotus Erigena who were among the first. It was the age of Scholasticism, of European Mysticism at its prime, an epoch when the language of the mind bore little resemblance to the language used in the early days of Christendom. Men's minds were now directed to the physical world of sense and on the basis of this material world they endeavoured to evolve their concepts and ideas of the super-sensible world.
Direct experience of kinship with the spiritual world, with the Pleroma, had died away. The time had come for man to pass into an entirely different phase of development. It is not a question here of the respective merits of two epochs of time, or of forming an opinion of the inherent value of the medieval mind. The point is to realise and understand that civilised humanity is faced with different tasks during the different epochs. In an earlier age, kinship with the world known as the Pleroma was a matter of immediate experience, and it was man's task and function to activate the spiritual forces of knowledge in the innermost recesses of the soul — the forces of spiritual aspiration. But as time went on, darkness crept over the world of the Pleroma. Faculties of an entirely different character began to function in the human mind and the development of rationalistic thought began. In the ages when there had been direct experience of kinship with the Pleroma, the faculty of individual thinking had not begun to function in the mind of man. Knowledge came to him through illumination, through inspiration and through an instinctive realisation of the super-sensible world. His thoughts were revealed to him. The springing-forth of individual thoughts and the building of logical connections in thinking denoted a later phase, the coming of which was already foreshadowed by Aristotle. This later phase of evolution cannot really be said to have begun in any real sense before the second half of the fourth century of our era. By the time of the Middle Ages the energies of the human mind were directed wholly to the development of thought per se and of everything that is associated with the activity of thinking.
In this connection, medieval culture and, above all, Scholasticism rendered inestimable service to the progress of civilisation. The faculty of thinking was turned to practical application in the shaping and association of ideas. A technique of thought of the very purest kind was worked out, although it too has been wholly lost.
The re-acquisition of the technique of Scholastic thought is a goal to which humanity ought for their own sake to aspire. But it goes against the grain in our days, when men prefer to receive knowledge passively, not by dint of their own inner activity. The urge to inner activity is lacking in our present age, whereas in Scholasticism it lived and worked with a tremendous power. And that is why even to-day it is possible for the thought of men who understand the essence of Scholasticism to be far more profound, far more consistent than the thought emanating from the world of science. Modern scientific thought is formal, short-winded, often inconsistent. Men should really learn a lesson from the technique of Scholastic thought, but the learning will not be of the kind that finds favour to-day. It must be an active learning, not a learning that consists merely in assimilating knowledge that has already been laid down as a model, or deduced from experiments.
The Middle Ages, then, were the period during which man was meant to unfold an inner faculty in his soul, namely the faculty of thought. The Gods drew a veil over the Pleroma — which was a direct revelation of their life and being — because, if this revelation had continued to influence the human mind, men would not have unfolded that strong, inner activity of thought which came to the fore during the Middle Ages and from which sprang the new mathematics and its kindred sciences, all of which are the legacy of Scholasticism.
Let us try now to summarise what has been said. Throughout many centuries the Pleroma was a revelation vouchsafed to man. Through an Act of Grace from on high, this world of light revealed itself in and through the light that filled the mind of man. A veil was then drawn over this world of light. Yonder in Asia, decadent remains of the world behind this veil were still preserved, but in Europe it was as though a precipitous wall arose from Earth to Heaven, a wall whose foundations stretched across the districts of the Ural Mountains and Volga, over the Black Sea and towards the Mediterranean. Try to picture to yourselves this great wall which grew up in Europe in consequence of the trend of evolution of which I have told you. It was an impenetrable wall, concealing from men all traces even of those decadent remains of earlier vision of the Pleroma which were still preserved over in Asia. In Europe, this vision was completely lost. It was replaced by a technique of thought from which a vista of the spiritual world was entirely absent. There you have a picture of the origin and subsequent development of medieval thought. Great though its achievements were, men's eyes were blinded to all that lay concealed behind the wall stretching from the Ural and Volga districts, over the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. Medieval thought was incapable of piercing this wall and though men hankered after the East, the East was no reality.
This is not a symbolic but a true picture of Europe as it was in the Middle Ages. Under the influences of a Giordano Bruno, a Copernicus, a Galileo, men felt the call to set about understanding the Earth beneath their feet. And they then proceeded to work out a science of the Heavens modeled upon their conception of the Earth, in contrast to the older science of the Earth which had been a reflection of heavenly lore and of the mysteries of the Pleroma.
And so in the darkness there arose a new mode of knowledge and a new mental life, for the light was now shut off by the wall of which I have spoken.
The course of evolution is such that when the time is ripe for the development of certain definite faculties in one portion of the human race, other portions of humanity are separated off as it were behind a veil. And in the case of which we are speaking, a decadent culture grew up in the East behind the wall which had now been erected on the Earth, while Europe saw the beginnings of what was later to develop into Western culture in its most characteristic form. As a matter of fact the position to-day is fundamentally the same, except that men try now by means of historical documents and an external mode of knowledge devoid of all insight into the mysteries of the Pleroma, to inform themselves about the dark secrets of existence. The significance of these things in the present age becomes quite apparent when we look over to the East, behind the great wall, where decadence has corrupted an earlier insight into the world known as the Pleroma. What was once an instinctive but at the same time a highly spiritual form of knowledge has become corrupt; the life of the human soul in the spiritual worlds has descended to the material world which from the time of the Middle Ages onwards was the only world that remained accessible to the mind of man. Over yonder in the East we see a culture which in the true sense is not culture at all but an impulse to give an earthly, physical garb to purely spiritual experiences awakened by insight into the mysteries of the Pleroma.
Deeds of the Gods in the world of the Gods were conceived as the deeds of idols and the worship of idols superseded the worship of the Gods. Forces belonging in truth to the world of the Pleroma were dragged down to the material realm and gave rise to the practice of corrupt magical arts in the regions of Northern Asia. The magic arts practised by the Shamanic peoples of Northern Asia and their aftermath in Central Asia (Southern Asia too was affected to a certain extent but remained somewhat freer), are an example of the corrupt application of what had once been a direct vision of the Pleroma. What ought to have been achieved, and in earlier times was achieved by the inner activity of the soul was now assisted by earthly magic. The forces living in the Pleroma were dragged down to the material world in an Ahrimanic form and were applied not only on Earth but in the spiritual world bordering on the Earth, the influences of which pour down upon human beings. And so, Eastward of the Ural and Volga regions, in the astral world which borders on our physical world, there arose during the later Middle Ages, continuing through the centuries to our own day, an Ahrimanic form of magic practised by certain spiritual beings who in their etheric and astral development stand higher than man but in their development of soul and Spirit stand lower than man. Throughout the regions of Siberia and Central Asia, in the spiritual world immediately adjacent to the earthly world, terrible etheric-astral Beings are to be seen, Ahrimanic beings who practise an earthly, materialised form of magic. And these forces work upon human beings who are unskilled in such arts but who are infected by them and so come under the influence of this astral world.
In connection with these matters we must remember that ancient mythological lore was the outcome of a wonderfully spiritual conception of Nature. When men spoke in Greece of the Fauns and Satyrs and of the activities of the Fauns and Satyrs in earthly happenings, these beings were not the creations of fantasy as modern scholars would have us believe. The Greeks knew the reality of the Fauns and Satyrs who peopled the astral sphere adjacent to the earthly world. Approximately at the turn of the third and fourth centuries of our era these astral beings withdrew into regions lying Eastwards of the Ural, the Volga and the Caucasus. This territory became their home and there they entered upon their later phase of development.
Against this cosmic background the faculty of thought in its pure form began to evolve in the souls of the men of Europe. So long as they adhered rigidly to an inwardly pure, inwardly austere activity of thinking of which Scholasticism affords a splendid example their development was thoroughly in harmony with the aims of the spiritual world. They were preparing for something that must be achieved in our present age and in the immediate future. But this purity was not everywhere maintained. Eastwards of the great wall of which I have spoken, the urge had arisen to drag down the forces of the Pleroma to the earthly world and apply them in an earthly, Ahrimanic form of magic. And Westwards of this wall, the urge towards rationalistic thought and towards a purely intellectual grasp of the earthly world mingled with the element of lust in material existence. In other words, a Luciferic impulse gradually insinuated itself into the working of the faculty of pure reason now dawning in the human mind.
The result of this was the development of another astral world, immediately adjacent to the Earth, together with the efforts that were being made to unfold the faculties of pure reason and a pure, inwardly active form of thought. This astral world was ever-present among those who strove with the purity of purpose of men like Giordano Bruno, Galileo and others to promote the development of the faculty of earthly thought and to establish a standard and technique of thought. In and among all this activity we can divine the presence of beings belonging to an astral world — beings who attracted not only to themselves but to the religious life of men, forces proceeding from the element of lust in earthly existence, and whose aim was to bring the strivings for rationalistic thought into line with their own purposes. And so the efforts of the human mind to unfold the faculty of pure thought were gradually tinged with earthly, material considerations.
The technique of thought manifest in the latter part of the eighteenth century and especially in the nineteenth century was influenced in a very high degree by the astral forces which by this time had insinuated themselves into the sphere of rationalistic thought. The material lusts of human beings which a pure and developed technique of thought ought to have been capable of clarifying and to some extent dispersing, gave birth to an element well-fitted to provide nourishment for certain astral beings who set out to direct the forces of this astute, keen thinking to the needs of material existence.
Such is the origin of systems of thought of which Marxism is an example. Instead of being sublimated to the realm of the Spirit, thought was applied merely to the purposes of physical existence and of the world of sense. In this way the realm of human thinking became easy of access to certain Luciferic beings indwelling the astral world. The thoughts of men were impregnated through and through with the thoughts of these astral beings by whom the Western world was obsessed just as the East was now obsessed by astral beings whose existence had been made possible by the decadent magic arts practised among the Shamanic peoples. Under the influence of these astral beings, the element of earthly craving and desire crept into the realm of an astute but at the same time material mode of thought. And from this astral world influences played into and took possession of men of the type of Lenin and his contemporaries.
We have therefore to think of two worlds: one lying Eastwards of the districts of the Ural Mountains, the Volga and the Caucasus, and the other Westwards of this region. These two worlds in themselves constitute one astral sphere. The beings of this astral region are striving in our present age to enter into a kind of cosmic union. Westwards of the Ural and Volga districts live the beings whose life-breath is provided by the thinking of the West, permeated as it is by a Luciferic influence. In the astral sphere Eastwards of the Ural and Volga districts dwell those beings whose life-element is provided by magic arts which are the debased, materialised form of what once was a power functioning in the world known as the Pleroma. These beings are striving to unite, with the result that there has come into existence an astral region in which human beings are involved, and which they must learn to understand. If they succeed in this, a task of first importance for the evolutionary progress of mankind will be accomplished. But if they persist in ignoring what is happening here, their inner life will be taken hold of by the fiery forces emanating from the Ahrimanic beings of Asia and the Lucifer beings of Europe as they strive to consummate their cosmic union. Human beings are in danger of becoming obsessed by these terrible forces emanating from the astral world. Eastwards and Westwards of the Ural and Volga districts, then, we must conceive of the existence of an astral region immediately adjacent to the Earth — a region which is the earthly dwelling-place of beings who are the Fauns and the Satyrs in a later metamorphosis.
If the whole reality is revealed to us as we look over towards the East of Europe to-day, we see not human beings alone but an astral sphere which since the Middle Ages has become the Paradise of beings once known as the Fauns and Satyrs. And if we understand the nature of these beings, we can also follow the processes of metamorphosis through which they have passed since then. These beings move about among men and carry on their activities in the astral world, using on the one hand the Ahrimanic forces of decadent, Eastern magic and on the other, the forces emanating from the Luciferic, rationalistic thinking of the West. And human beings on the Earth are influenced and affected by these forces.
In their present state, the goat-form which constitutes the lower part of the bodily structure of these beings has coarsened and become bear-like, but on the other hand their heads are radiant and possessed of a high order of intelligence. They are the mirrored personifications of Luciferic rationalism developed to its highest point of subtlety. The beings indwelling this astral Paradise are half bear-, half goat-like in form, with semi-human countenances exhibiting a subtle sensuousness but at the same a rare cleverness. Since the later Middle Ages and on through the centuries of the modern age this astral region has become a veritable Paradise of the Satyrs and Fauns in their present metamorphosis, and there they dwell.
And in the midst of all these mysterious happenings a laggard humanity goes its way, concerning itself merely with physical affairs. But all the time these forces — which are no less real than the phenomena of the world man perceives with his physical eyes and grasps with his physical brain — are playing into earthly existence.
The conditions now developing as between Asia and Europe cannot be fully intelligible until we understand them in their astral aspect, their spiritual aspect. The decadent forces emanating from Shamanic arts which have been preserved in the astral regions of Central and Northern Asia are striving to consummate a kind of cosmic union with the impulse which has received the name of Bolshevism, and Eastwards and Westwards of the Ural and Volga districts endeavours are being made to consummate a union between a certain form of magic and Bolshevism. It is a world of myth and is for this reason well-nigh incomprehensible to the modern mind. Luciferic elements in the form of Bolshevism are striving to unite with the decadent forces proceeding from Shamanic arts and coming over from the East. From West to East and from East to West forces are working and weaving in this astral Paradise. And the influences which pour down from this astral world into the earthly world emanate from the passionate efforts for union between the beings known in olden times as the Fauns and Satyrs who surge over from the East, and the spirits of the West who have developed in a high degree, everything that is connected with the head.
The spectacle presented to super-sensible sight may be described in the following way: The nearer we come to the Ural and Volga districts, the more do these cloud-like, spiritual forms seem to gather together into a mass of heads, while the other parts of the bodily structure become indistinct. Seething over from the East we see those other beings, known in days of yore as the Fauns and Satyrs. Their once goat-like form has coarsened to a bear-like form and the further West they come in their efforts to consummate their astral union with the Luciferic beings of the West, the more do their heads seem to disappear. These beings come into existence in the astral world and the Earth-sphere is their home just as it is the home of physical humanity. They are the tempters and seducers of humanity on Earth because they can take possession of men; they can obsess human beings without in any way needing to convince them by means of speech.
It is urgently necessary that these things should be realised to-day. Men must awaken those inner faculties of soul which once gave birth to the mythological lore of olden times. For it is only by rising to the sphere of Imaginative knowledge that we can stand with full consciousness in the onward-flowing stream of human evolution.