I’m still reflecting on the phenomenon of evil that was the subject of my last post, and in particular the statement from Rudolf Steiner with which that post ended: “What people in our epoch must learn is the need to wage a fully conscious fight against the evil that is making its way into human evolution.”
Steiner was speaking at the time of the First World War. He was undoubtedly looking ahead to all the horrors that were to be visited on human beings in the 20th and 21st centuries and to our present time, in which unspeakable depravities are being committed, often in the name of God.
Rudolf Steiner exhorted people to wake up and to observe what was really going on, not only behind the façade of political and economic events but also beyond our immediate physical reality. Almost exactly 100 years ago, and not long after the Russian revolution, he spoke in terms that are just as relevant today:
“At the present time of severe trials it must be quite natural to anyone who has a heartfelt interest in the endeavours of anthroposophical spiritual science to reflect upon the relations existing between the fact that this spiritual-scientific movement started at the beginning of the twentieth century to send its impulses into the evolution of mankind and the other fact that mankind of the present age has been engulfed by catastrophic events. How catastrophic these events are for mankind has not yet been fully understood, for people are accustomed today to a life without the spirit. To live without the spirit, however, is to live superficially; and to live superficially causes human beings to sleep away the important impressions of the events taking place around them. To sleep through important events is a special characteristic of the human being of the present age. There are few people today who arrive at an adequate conception of the severity and incisiveness of present-day events. Most of them live from day to day.”
Why has there been this intensification, a kind of industrialisation, of the scale of evil on this Earth? And how can we wake up to what is really going on and begin to counteract “the evil that is making its way into human evolution”?
By way of context, I have written in an earlier posting about what Steiner called “the war in heaven” that took place over the period 1840 to 1879 between the Archangel Michael and the dark angels. I won’t repeat it here, except to say that since that time, when these dark forces were cast out of heaven and into the earth, they have been working within the blood and nervous system of human beings in an attempt to reverse both human and angelic evolution.
It is no coincidence that since the fall to earth of these dark angels, humanity has endured what must surely be the most terrible century in the whole of human history.
Rudolf Steiner speaks of the Archangel Michael who maintains the balance in the world between too much disembodied fantasy (dominated by Lucifer) and too much cold intellectuality and materialism (dominated by Ahriman). Lucifer and Ahriman are in Steiner’s view two polarities of evil but they are also actual spiritual beings, who are active within humanity. They are evil in the sense that they both strive to hinder the human being’s spiritual development. But Steiner does not have a simplistic view of Lucifer and Ahriman as merely oppositional to humanity; in a lecture given in Munich on February 17th 1918, he had this to say:
“The spiritual Beings, whose task it was to fight against the Michaelic principle, were the same ones whose task it was to bring differentiation into humanity, to split unified humanity into races and peoples, to bring about all those differences connected with the blood, with nerves, with temperament. This had to happen. We may call these spiritual beings who had to bring such differentiation into humanity “Ahrimanic” Beings. We may call them such, but we must realise that the Ahrimanic principle was a necessity in the whole course of human evolution.” (Schmidt Number S-3482)
Christ and Michael hold the balance between these two polarities and they work closely together, for Michael is known as the Countenance of Christ. By casting down the angels of darkness into the earth, it is almost as though Michael has inflicted a situation in which human beings have had to suffer far, far more than would have been the case if we had been left to our own devices. And here we come to a strange paradox, which is that the forces of both good and evil proceed from God.
This is a powerful reason why many people say they do not believe in God, for how can a god of love who is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent allow phenomena such as Islamic State to exist? Yet initiates tell us that God has two aspects, which when understood and viewed correctly, enable us to see the purpose of evil. Evil can be viewed as the unevolved and undeveloped aspect of life, the force which tests us and absorbs and removes that which is unwanted. The illumined soul will not attempt to get rid of evil by attacking it, but by radiating love, light, beauty and truth.
I find this a difficult concept to understand and accept. If I were given the opportunity to prevent an assault on a Yazidi girl by killing the Islamic State fighter who had imprisoned and raped her, then I would choose to shoot him as though he were a rabid dog. I would take on that karma quite willingly. I don’t think that any amount of radiating love, light, beauty and truth would do much to save that young girl in such circumstances. Clearly, and as must be evident to all who know me, I’ve still some way to go before becoming an illumined soul. 🙂
Nevertheless, I can see that the general point holds, and that by fighting evil on its own terms, we are merely strengthening and perpetuating its effects. So what might Steiner have meant when he called on us to wage a fully conscious fight against the evil that is making its way into human evolution?
First, we need to understand what is the fundamental trait of all human evil. According to Steiner, speaking in Berlin on 15th January 1914, “all human evil proceeds from what we call egotism. In the whole scope and range of ‘wrong’, from the smallest oversight to the most serious crime, whether the imperfection or evil originates more in the body or in the soul, egotism is the fundamental trait which underlies it all… and that the path which leads beyond evil here in the physical world is the one upon which we combat egotism.”
But there is another paradox here, and it’s a tricky one, to do with the dual nature of the soul: qualities which in our physical sense-world appear as egotism, are the very same qualities which need to be strengthened and intensified if we are to ascend into the world of spirit. Steiner tells us that it is only when the soul has developed a self-rooted ego-strength that it can begin to rise up into the higher worlds of spirit; in other words, the soul in the spiritual world between death and rebirth is mainly concerned with itself and its own destiny resulting from its previous earthly lives. This is necessary because in the spiritual world the more a soul has strengthened itself and developed its potential, the more it can participate and serve the whole – the soul has to draw out from the ego what is inherent in itself, otherwise it has nothing to offer.
This strengthening and empowering of our ego in the spiritual world between death and a new birth is what enables us to prepare an incarnation in the physical world in which our outer thoughts and actions can become as unegotistic as possible. And it is only in the physical world, here on Earth, that we can find the conditions which allow us to overcome egotism. Earth gives us the opportunity to develop altruism and unselfishness, and to break the habit of egotism, so as to become more moral. It is by understanding this paradox that Steiner gives us the key to avoiding the evil that is otherwise inherent in each one of us:
“What does this dual nature of the soul actually mean for us? It means that we must be very careful not to falsely transpose something that has its rightful place in one world – the intensification of inner strength in the world of spirit – to another, the physical world, except when we are attempting to penetrate the world of spirit. It means that only evil will come of the human being allowing his earthly sense-nature to be permeated by this inner intensification and self-consolidation, even though this is exactly what the realm of spirit requires…what is absolutely necessary for spiritual progress, perfecting and intensifying one’s own being, is a source of evil and wrong if transposed directly upon the things of outer, physical life…Whether we enter the spiritual world through self-development or by passing over the threshold of death, we must dwell there within the inner strength of our being. Yet we cannot manage this unless we develop altruism in the physical world. Altruism in the physical world has its mirror-image in the rightful egotism needed in the world of spirit.” (ibid.)
This is quite a tough concept to grasp and to compound the difficulty, Steiner gives us here what seems to be a counter-intuitive understanding of the origin of evil:
“So we can begin to answer the question about the origin of evil and wrong-doing in the world. It comes about when we allow our better, higher nature (not our worst) to descend and be submerged in the physical realm, a realm which cannot as such be evil. It comes about when we develop qualities in the physical realm which do not belong there, which have their rightful place in the realm of spirit. Why do we have a potential for evil? Because we are also spiritual beings! Because we have to be able to develop those qualities when we penetrate into the spiritual world, which become bad when we apply them in the physical…What brings about evil is misapplying spiritual qualities to physical life. If we could not be evil, we could not be spiritual beings either. Without the characteristics which make us evil, we could not enter the spiritual world.” (ibid.)
Steiner also tells us that, since the beginning of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch, the propensity for evil lies in the subconscious of every person, and that there is no crime, however dreadful, that each one of us, as people of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch, does not have the potential to commit. And he asks:
“What on earth is the reason for these forces in the universe which infiltrate our being? They are certainly not there in order to bring about evil acts in human society. They no more exist to provoke us to criminal actions than the forces of death exist to make us die; they are present in the universe so as to awaken in us a propensity, once the consciousness soul has developed, for opening ourselves to the life of spirit…These forces of evil are active in the universe. We must assimilate them, and by so doing we implant in our being the seed which enables us to have conscious experience of the spirit. In the context of our social order they appear in a perverted form, but they really do not exist to incite us to evil acts. They exist to enable people at the stage of the consciousness soul to break through to the life of the spirit.”
These are indeed difficult ideas to understand, and they need much thought and reflection before one can begin to make any sense of them. But Steiner helps us by indicating where all these struggles will ultimately lead: the forming of a community of human beings with emancipated, independent and differentiated egos:
“This is the mission of the Earth, expressed through love: that one ego learns to encounter another in freedom. No love is perfect that proceeds from coercion, from being linked or bound together through necessity. Only when each ego is so free and independent that it can choose not to love, is its love an entirely free gift. This is really the aim of the divine plan – to make the ego so independent that it can offer the free, individual gift of love even to God…The ego therefore represents the promise of the human being’s highest goal. But if it does not find love, if it hardens inwardly, it is also the tempter that casts us into the abyss. Then it becomes what separates people from each other, leading them ultimately to the great War of All against All – not only the war of nation against nation (for the concept of nations will then no longer have anything like the significance it possesses today) but the war of each single individual against every other in all realms of life; the war of class against class, caste against caste, the war between different generations and races. In all realms of life, then, the ego will become the focus of strife and contention, which is why we say that it can lead both to the highest and to the lowest possible qualities.”
We are coming up to a very difficult period in human physical existence, which anthroposophists characterise as the actual incarnation in physical form of the great dark archangel, Ahriman. This will be the last of three unique incarnations of which Steiner spoke – the incarnation of Lucifer in about 3000 BC (believed by many to have been as the Yellow Emperor in China, he of the terracotta army); the incarnation of Christ in Palestine two thousand years ago; and the incarnation of Ahriman “before only a part of the third millennium of he post-Christian era has elapsed”, probably in America. Each of these incarnations is prepared for many years, indeed centuries, in advance, and we can see quite clearly already the kind of evil influences that the future Ahrimanic incarnation is bringing to bear upon our human societies. As I said earlier, the past one hundred years has been the most terrible century in the whole of human history and the evil is worsening and intensifying as we approach the actual incarnation. In a lecture given in 1919, Steiner told us the following:
“Just as there was an incarnation of Lucifer in the flesh and an incarnation of Christ in the flesh, so, before only a part of the third millennium of the post-Christian era has elapsed, there will be, in the West, an actual incarnation of Ahriman: Ahriman in the flesh. Humanity on earth cannot escape this incarnation of Ahriman. It will come inevitably. But what matters is that people shall find the right vantage point from which to confront it.
Whenever preparation is being made for incarnations of this character, we must be alert to certain indicative trends in evolution. A being like Ahriman, who will incarnate in the West in time to come, prepares for this incarnation in advance. With a view to his incarnation on the earth, Ahriman guides certain forces in evolution in such a way that they may be of the greatest possible advantage to him. And evil would result were people to live on in a state of drowsy unawareness, unable to recognise certain phenomena in life as preparations for Ahriman’s incarnation in the flesh. The right stand can be taken only by recognising in one or another series of events the preparation that is being made by Ahriman for his earthly existence. And the time has now come for individual human beings to know what tendencies and events around them are machinations of Ahriman, helping him to prepare for his approaching incarnation.
It would undoubtedly be of the greatest benefit to Ahriman if he could succeed in preventing the vast majority of people from perceiving what would make for their true well-being, if the vast majority of people were to regard these preparations for the Ahriman incarnation as progressive and good for evolution. If Ahriman were able to slink into a humanity unaware of his coming, that would gladden him most of all. It is for this reason that the occurrences and trends in which Ahriman is working for his future incarnation must be brought to light.”
I recently attended a talk given at Emerson College by T.H (Thomas) Meyer, in which he reminded us of a passage towards the end of Steiner’s fourth Mystery Drama, The Soul’s Awakening. Thomas drew our attention to a scene between the initiate, Benedictus, and another character whom Benedictus at first does not recognise:
Benedictus: Who are you, who come to shadow-life from out the chaos of my soul horizon?
Ahriman: (aside) He sees, but yet he does not recognise me and so he will not cause me painful terror when at his side I try to use my power.
(Ahriman then tries to tempt Benedictus with special spiritual knowledge but Benedictus does not take the bait.)
Benedictus: Whoever you may be, you only serve the good, when for yourself you will not strive, or when you lose yourself in human thinking, to rise anew in cosmic revolution.
Ahriman: It is high time for me to turn away in haste from his horizon, for when his sight can think me as in truth I really am, there will arise and grow within his thinking part of the power that will slowly destroy me. (Ahriman disappears.)
So the play is telling us that when we can see Ahriman as he really is, in all his manifestations and influences, then there will arise and grow within our thinking part of the power that will slowly destroy Ahriman. Our best way to prepare ourselves for the evil that is making its way into human evolution is to be alert to what is really going on; and to recognise Ahriman in all his guises and in all the countless ways in which his influence is affecting us and our fellow human beings.
In the same lecture I quoted last, Steiner said:
“To the extent to which people can be roused into conducting their affairs not for material ends alone and into regarding a free and independent spiritual life, equally with economic life, as an integral part of the social organism — to that same extent Ahriman’s incarnation will be awaited with an attitude worthy of humanity.”
I will be touching upon some of the more grotesquely distorted and evil aspects of our present-day economic life, and how these can affect the free and independent spiritual life, in my next post.