Plant, Animal and the Human Being – Reading 1
“There was still alive in men of that time a vision and perception of the connection of the human being with the Spirit of Nature. This connection they perceived in the following way. Through all that the human being learning concerning the working of the elementary spirits in Nature, and the working of the Beings of Intelligence in the planetary processes, he was led to this conclusion: All around me I see displayed on every side the plant-world – the green shoots, the buds and blossoms and then the fruit. I see the annual plants in the meadows and on the countryside, that grow in Spring-time and fade away again in Autumn. I see, too, the trees that go on growing for hundreds of years, forming a bark on the outside, hardening to wood and reaching downwards far and wide into the Earth with their roots. But all that I see out there – the annual herbs and flowers, the tress that take firm hold into the Earth – once upon a time, I, as man, have borne it all within me.
You know how today, when there is carbonic acid in the air, that has come about through the breathing of human beings, we can feel that we ourselves have breathed out the carbonic acid, we have breathed it into space. We have therefore still today this slight connection with the Cosmos. Through the airy part of our nature, through the air that gives rise to the breathing and other air-processes that go on in our human organism, we have a living connection with the great Universe, with the Macrocosm. The human being today can look upon his out-breathed breath, upon the carbonic acid that was in him and is now outside him. But just as we are able today to look upon the carbonic acid we have breathed out – we do not generally do so, but we could – so did the initiates of olden times look upon the whole plant-world. Those who had been initiated in the Oriental Mysteries, or had received the wisdom that streamed forth form the Oriental Mysteries, were able to say: I look back into the evolution of the world to an ancient Sun epoch. In that time I bore still within me the plants. Then afterwards I let them stream forth from me into the far circles of Earth existence. But as long as I bore the plants within me, while I was still that Adam Cadmon who embraced the whole Earth and the plant-world with it, so long was this whole plant-world watery-airy in substance. Then the human being separated off from himself this plant-world. Imagine that you were to become as big as the whole Earth, and then to separate off, to secrete, as it were, inwardly something plant-like in nature, and this plant-like substance were to go through metamorphosis in the watery element – coming to life, fading away, growing up, being changed, taking on different shapes and forms – and you will by this imagination call up again in your soul feelings and experiences that once lived in it. Those who received their education and training in the East at about the time of Gilgamesh were able to say to themselves that these things had once been so.
And when they looked abroad upon the meadows and beheld all the growth of green and flowers, then they said: We have separated the plants from ourselves, we have put them forth from us in an earlier stage of our evolution; and the Earth has received them. The Earth it is that has lent them root, and has given them their woody nature; the tree-nature in the world of plants comes from the Earth. But the whole plant-nature as such has been cast off, as it were, by the human being, and received by the Earth. In this way man felt as intimate and near relationship with everything of a plant-nature.
With the higher animals the human being did not feel a relationship of this kind. For he knew that he could only work his way rightly and come to his true place on the Earth by overcoming the animal form, by leaving the animals behind him in his evolution. The plants he took with him as far as the Earth; then he gave them over to her that she might receive them into her bosom. For the plants he was upon Earth the Mediator of the Gods, the Mediator between the Gods and the Earth.
Men who had this great experience acquired a feeling that may be put quite simply in a few words. The human being comes hither to the Earth from the World-All. The question of number does not come into consideration; for, as I said yesterday, they were all and each within the other. That which afterwards becomes the plant-world separates off from man, the Earth receives it and gives it root. The human being felt as though he had folded the Earth about with a garment of plant growth, and as though the Earth were thankful for this enfolding and took from him the watery-airy plant element that he was able, as it were, to breathe on to her.
In entering into this experience men felt themselves intimately associated with the God, with the chief God of Mercury. Through the feeling: We have ourselves brought the plants on to the Earth, men came into a special relation with the God Mercury.
Towards the animals, on the other hand, man had a different feeling. He knew that he could not bring them with him to the Earth, he had to cast them off, he had to make himself free from them, otherwise he would not be able to evolve his human form in the right way. He thrust the animals from him; they were pushed out of the way and had then to go through an evolution of their own account on a lower level than the level of humanity. Thus did the man of olden times – of the Gilgamesh time and later – feel himself placed between the animal kingdom and the plant kingdom. In relation to the plant kingdom he was the bearer, who bore the seed to the Earth and fructified the Earth with it, doing this as Mediator for the Gods. In relation to the animal kingdom he felt as though he had pushed it away from him, in order that he might become man without the encumbrance of the animals, who have consequently been stunted and retarded in their development.
The whole animal-worship of Egypt has to do with this perception. The deep fellow-feeling, too, with animals that we find in Asia is connected with it. It was a sublime conception of Nature that man had, feeling his relationship on the one hand with the plant world and on the other hand with the world of the animals. In relation to the animal he had a feeling of emancipation. In relation to the plant he felt a near and intimate kinship. The plant world was to him a bit of himself, and he felt a sincere love for the Earth inasmuch as the Earth had received into herself the bit of humanity that gave rise to the plants, had let these take root in her, had even given of her own substance to clothe the trees in bark. There was always a moral element present when man took cognisance of the physical world around him. When he beheld the plants in the meadow, it was not only the natural growth that he perceived. In this growth he perceived and felt a moral relationship to man. With the animal man felt again another moral relation: he had fought his way up beyond them.
…In Ephesus men could still have sight of the super-earthly, and in no small measure. Self-identification with Artemis, with the Goddess of the Mystery of Ephesus, still brought to man a vivid sense of his relation to the kingdoms of nature. The plant world, so it taught him, is yours; the Earth has only received it from you. The animal world you have overcome. You have had to leave it behind. You must look back on the animals with the greatest possible compassion, they have had to remain behind on the road, in order that you might become Man. To feel oneself one with the Macrocosm: this was an experience that was still granted to the Initiates of Ephesus, he could still receive it straight from the Realities themselves.”
R.Steiner, World History in the Light of Anthroposophy, Lecture 5, 28 December 1923, CW233