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Leonardo da Vinci: The Vitruvian Man, Proportion Study after Vitruvius, 1492

Man (Sanskritमनुष Manushya; Hebrewאֱנוֹשׁ Enosch; Greekἄνθρωπος anthropos, from anti and tropos, literally: "the one turned against"; GermanMensch) is, from a spiritual-scientific point of view, the general term for that cosmic stage of evolution on which a being develops its I and its self-awareness, and in doing so rises from being a mere creature to becoming a creator. We are now called on Earth to attain this level of development. Other beings have reached the stage of humanity before us, and others will follow after us. The term "man" thus goes far beyond what we generally understand by it today. From a spiritual-scientific point of view, the human kingdom is the seventh and last of those seven Conditions of Life that must be passed through on every planetary stage of world evolution, the first of which was Old Saturn. The Earth on which we live now is the fourth planetary stage of evolution. Today's humanity is only on the fourth life stage, the mineral kingdom. Our earthly human evolution is therefore far from being complete, but in the not so distant future it will no longer take place on the physical-mineral level, but on higher stages of life.


In the course of earth evolution, the human being passes through repeated earth lives, between which he leads a purely soul-spiritual existence in the life between death and new birth. Mankind (Hebrewאֱנוֹשׁוּת Enoschut) in the spiritual-scientific sense comprises all human beings incarnated on Earth and furthermore also all human beings in life between death and new birth.

Humans today lives on Earth as homo sapiens (Latin: the "clever, understanding, wise, sapient, gifted with sense"). They are considered evolutionarily and anatomical in biological systematics as the only living species of the genus homo of the family of hominids (Latinhominidae), which belongs to the order of primates.

Goethe had already pointed out the morphological relationship between humans and the higher animals, which Charles Darwin, the founder of modern evolutionary theory, also appreciated. Unlike Darwin and his successors, however, Goethe also saw the fundamental difference between humans and animals, which for him, however, was not rooted in anatomical details but in the totality of the mental and spiritual abilities of humans.

Goethe's views were further deepened by Rudolf Steiner. From an anthroposophical point of view, the human being is not exhausted in the sensually visible material body, but also has higher, only super-sensually perceptible bodily, soul and spiritual members. What at first appears to the clairvoyant gaze as a multiplicity, however, forms a unity for higher cognition (Lit.:GA 7, p. 112), through which the I of man, i.e. his spiritual individuality, can unfold.

The threefold meaning of the word "man"

The noun "man", which is restricted to the German and Dutch language areas, is derived from the Indo-Germanic word root *manu- (man, man, Manu = "progenitor of mankind"), but is also related to the verbal root *men- ("to think, to consider, to admonish") and thus denotes the rational human being. In Latin, the word manus (the hand) corresponds to this. In summary, this characterises the human being as the one who acts rationally or intelligently - and who thereby prepares his own fate, his karma.

The legendary King Menes (around 3000 BC) is considered the founder of ancient Egyptian culture. Manu is the name given to those great initiates and leaders of humanity who, due to their high spiritual insight, are able to lead humanity from one age (→ world evolution) to the next (for example, from ancient Atlantis to our post-Atlantean age; the Indian Flood narratives in particular speak of this great Manu, who can be equated with the biblical Noah). Man in this sense is the one who has been given the Heavenly Feeding, the Heavenly Manna. In Germanic fairy tales and legends, the spirits of the deceased, who no longer belong to the earthly but to the spiritual realm of existence, are called Manen. This refers to the first spiritual element of the human being, to manas or the spirit self:

„The Egyptians called him who inaugurated the first "human" culture "Menes"; and at the same time they imply that man thereby also came into the possibility of error. For from then on he was dependent on the tool of his brain. That man could fall into error is symbolically indicated by the fact that the foundation of the labyrinth is placed in the time in which man was abandoned by the gods, which is an image of the windings of the brain as the tool for man's own thoughts, in which the bearer of these thoughts can lose himself. Manas is what the Orientals called man as a thinking being, and Manu is the name of the first main bearer of thought. Minos was the name given by the Greek peoples to the first formator of the human thought principle, and the legend of the labyrinth is also connected with Minos, because men felt how, since his time, they had gradually passed from the direct divine guidance into such a guidance through which the "I" experiences the influences of the higher spiritual world in a different way.“ (Lit.:GA 15, p. 41f)

The Greek noun "anthropos" (Greekἄνθρωπος) denotes the erect, the upright striding man, literally the one turned against (anti) (tropos). Man, who is most clearly distinguished from the animal precisely by his upright posture, thus spans, as it were, his being between earth and heaven and receives from both sides, from the sensual and from the spiritual world, the impulses which fill his intellectually gifted soul and which he must actively and independently combine with one another through the power of his individual I. The anthropos is the one who is most clearly distinguished from the animal by his upright posture. The anthropos detaches himself from nature, overcomes the natural instincts, and at the same time also confronts the world of the gods as an independent being, which creates its own firm standpoint in its soul, based on the intellect, from which it views and judges the world. This refers to the development of the intellectual soul, which flourished in Greco-Roman culture.

"Homo", human, means earthly, belonging to the earth, to the clan, and refers to the same Indo-Germanic root *ghdem-, *gh(d)om- as the word humus, the fertile arable soil. In Greek, it corresponds to the word chton = earth; the ancient name given to their land by the Egyptians, kemi or chemi (the root of our modern term "chemistry"), also derives from this and actually referred to the fertile mud regularly left behind by the Nile flood. The biblical naming of the first human being, Adam (Hebrewאדם, derived from אֲדָמָה adamah "earth, dust, ground, soil"), also points in the same direction.

„Man - Manushya: in Sanskrit the word for human being. But with this word Manushya, the basic feeling that was associated with being human in a large part of the people is also indicated. Now, what does one refer to when one gives man the name Manushya, when one uses this root word to designate man, what does one refer to? One refers to the spiritual in man, one judges above all man as a spiritual being. If one wants to express: man is spirit, and the other is only the expression, the revelation of the spirit, - if one therefore primarily attaches importance to man as spirit, then one says "Manushya".

After what we have discussed in preparation, there can now be another view. One can, above all, direct one's attention, when speaking of the human being, to speak of the soul. And then one will, I would say, pay less attention to the fact that man is spirit. They will take into consideration that man is soul, and let the external, the physical, that which is also connected with the physical, recede more into the background in the designation of man. One will then take the designation of man above all from that which expresses that something soul-like lives in man, which expresses itself in the eye, which expresses itself in the fact that man's head lifts up to the heights. If one examines the origin of the Greek word anthropos, this is roughly what it expresses. If one could say that those who used the word manushya or a similar sounding structure to designate man looked above all to the spirit, to that which descends from the spiritual world, then one must say that those who designate man with a word that echoes the Greek word anthropos, above all the Greeks themselves, express the soul in man.

But a third thing is possible. It is possible to see above all that in man there is the external, the earth-born, the corporeal, that which is produced by physical means. Then man will be called by a word which is, as it were, the producer or the produced. That will be contained in the word. If one examines the word homo for its origin, then what has just been described lies within it.“ (Lit.:GA 175, p. 302f)

The twofold origin of man

„On Saturn the physical human body was formed in various stages. At that time he could not yet have been the bearer of an etheric body. This only came into being during the course of the Sun. At the same time, in the successive solar cycles, the physical body was transformed in such a way that it could be the bearer of this etheric body, or that the etheric body could work in the physical body. During the lunar evolution the astral body was added; and again the physical body and the etheric body were so transformed that they could be suitable vehicles and tools for the astral body. Thus the human being on the moon is a being composed of physical body, etheric body and astral body....

At the same time something else happened during the three great cycles on Saturn, Sun and Moon. During the last Saturn cycle the spiritual man (Atma) was formed with the help of the spirits of the will (Thrones). During the penultimate solar cycle, the life spirit (Buddhi) was added to this with the assistance of the Cherubim. And during the third last lunar cycle, the spirit self (Manas) united with the two through the help of the seraphim. Thus, during these three great cycles, two different human origins came into being: a lower human being, consisting of physical body, etheric body, astral body, and a higher human being, consisting of spirit man (Atma), life spirit (Buddhi) and spirit self (Manas). The lower and the higher human natures initially went their separate ways.

Earth evolution is there to bring together the two separate human origins.“ (Lit.:GA 11, p. 196ff)

On Earth, where the upper and lower trinity touch, the spiritual spark leaps over, igniting the individual human I and thus giving the impulse for the independent spiritual development of the human being.

Descent of animals from man

Drawing from GA 95, p. 157

Contrary to today's prevailing interpretation of evolution, humans did not descend from animals, but it is the other way round. Man, of course not yet in his present form, has set apart the animals from himself in the course of his development.

„The entire animal kingdom was once within man, that is, man stood on a level between the present animal kingdom and the human kingdom. In order to be able to develop further, he had to separate from himself those parts which could not take part in his development. At that time he expelled what today forms our animal kingdom. Originally, therefore, the animals were far less different from man than they are now. Then they gradually degenerated. Now the separation of the animal kingdom did not happen suddenly, but very gradually. First the fish, then reptiles and amphibians, then birds and mammals. And with these groups, too, there was only a gradual separation. For example, the predators were set out earlier than the apes. When the lions were eliminated, the constellation in which the sun was located was called Leo, and when man expelled the bull nature, the constellation was called Taurus. The names of the four apocalyptic beasts in the Revelation of John point to the same thing. They are called Eagle, Lion, Bull, Man.“ (Lit.:GA 95, p. 157f)

„There are sixteen groups of human instincts and passions and so there are also sixteen groups of animals. Zoology, too, will one day realise how all this gradually came out. We can easily show how the various members of the mammalian nature had to separate. The formation of hoofs, for example, occurred because the nature of the animal closed itself off from the outside world in a very special way. The claws or paws were formed as a result of the aggressive nature. Claw nature expresses a completely different stage of development from that of the hoofed animal. We also see such a contrast expressed in the centaur and sphinx figures.

In the second part of Faust, an occultly very important book, this is depicted where the sphinxes meet Mephistopheles and laugh at him because of his horse's hoof as a sign of nature hardened in the hoof, a nature that has selfishly closed itself off from the world.“ (Lit.:GA 104a, p. 108)

From the group-I to the individual I

Second occult apocalyptic seal

„If we look back into the ancient times of humanity, we find everywhere that the present I has developed out of such group consciousness, group-I, so that for the seer, when he looks back, the individual human beings flow together more and more into the group souls. Now there are mainly four types of group souls, four archetypes of group souls. If you take all the different group souls of the different souls, they have a certain similarity, but also differences. If you divide them up, you get four groups, four archetypes. You can see them clearly if you look back clairvoyantly to that time when man was not yet in the flesh, had not yet descended to Earth. For now we must visualise more precisely the moment when man descended into the flesh from the spiritual regions. We can only describe this moment in great symbols.

Once there was a time when our Earth had a much softer matter than it has today, when rock and stone were not yet as solidified as they are today, when plant forms still looked different, when the whole was embedded in water caves like a primordial sea, when air and water were not separated, when animals and plants were formed in water by all the beings who dwell on the Earth today. When the mineral beings began to take on their present form, one could say that man emerged from invisibility. This is how he presented himself to the initiate. Surrounded on the outside by a kind of shell, he descended from the regions that are now the air regions. Man was not yet densely physically there when the animal was already present in the flesh. He was a fine air being, even in the Lemurian times. And he has so evolved that the clairvoyant picture presents itself with the four group souls: on one side like the image of a lion, on the other like the image of a bull, above like that of an eagle, and in the centre below something that is already human-like. This is how the clairvoyant image shows itself. This is how the human being emerges from the darkness of the spirit land. And that which has formed him in power appears in a kind of rainbow formation. The more physical forces surround the whole formation of this human being like a rainbow. - It is necessary to describe this human development in the most varied fields and in the most varied ways. Now it is described as it appears to the researcher in retrospect: how these four group souls have formed themselves out of the common divine-human which descends. From time immemorial this moment has been symbolised in the form that you find depicted on the second of the so-called seven occult seals. This is the symbolic representation, but it is more than a mere symbol. There, coming out of the indeterminate spiritual, you have these four group souls, the rainbow all around and a number twelve. We must also understand what this twelve number means.

When you see what has just been described coming out, you have the clairvoyant feeling that it is surrounded by something of a quite different nature and kind than that which is coming out of the indeterminate spiritual. And what it is surrounded by was symbolised in ancient times in the zodiac, in the twelve signs of the zodiac. - The moment of entering clairvoyance is connected with many other experiences. The first thing that the etheric body perceives is that it feels as if it were growing larger and larger and expanding beyond what it perceives. The moment comes when the initiate says to himself: I do not merely see these four figures, but I am in there, I have extended my being over them. - He identifies himself with it. He perceives that which is symbolised by the twelve constellations, by the twelve number.“ (Lit.:GA 104, p. 58ff)

Man as the Fourth or Tenth Hierarchy

Man is called to join the choir of spiritual beings in the future as the tenth Hierarchy and, as the Spirit of Freedom and Love, to imbue the cosmos with completely new qualities. More precisely, human beings are even destined from the beginning to open a new fourth hierarchy after the three groups of celestial hierarchies, which comprise all the known nine choirs of angels - in three gradations of the human.

„Man himself is the fourth hierarchy. But by no means was that understood by this fourth Hierarchy, which now goes about in the world as a two-legged, ageing, so highly peculiar being, for to those who actually know at that time just the present human being appeared as a peculiar being. They have spoken of the original man before the Fall, who still existed in such a form that he had power over the earth just as Angeloi, Archangeloi, Archai had power over lunar existence, as the Second Hierarchy had power over solar existence, the First Hierarchy had power over Saturnian existence. One spoke of man in his original earthly existence and could then speak of man as the fourth Hierarchy. And with this fourth Hierarchy came, though as a gift from the upper Hierarchies, but like something which the upper Hierarchies first had like a possession, which they guarded, which they did not need themselves: life came. And life came into the colourful world which I have thus described to you in hints.“ (Lit.:GA 233a, p. 23f)

„What have we actually called man up to now? - We have called a certain stage of development a human being. We have found that the spirits of personality were human beings on Old Saturn; we have found that even the thrones must once have been human beings; we have found that man develops further, that he ascends into higher entities; we have even come to know the first stages of ascent in the angels, archangels; we have come to know in these entities beings who sacrifice something. We have seen the beginning of sacrifice, which is present in the highest sense in the Thrones...

Thus the concept of evolution is structured for us from the point where one takes to the point where it flows out, where it is created. We see the concept of the Creator arise before our spiritual eye, and there we say to ourselves: thus from the creature to the Creator every being develops. But now, Archangels, they have developed into human beings on the Old Sun, Spirits of Personality on the Old Saturn, Angels on the Old Moon, we human beings on the Earth, and so it will go on; beings will always, always develop into human beings. Does it all go on so endlessly? Is it really only an eternal running of cycles, by which, for example, is repeated on the Sun what was already there on Saturn, only that a number of beings arrive later? For the Spirits of Fire come a stage later than the Spirits of Personality. Is it really all so that beings always evolve from helpless creatures of the beginning to those who can sacrifice themselves? That is not the case, that is not the case at all! The great question arises: Is the humanity on Saturn led by the Spirits of Personality, the humanity of the Archangels on the Sun, that of the Angels on Mars, the same humanity as that which we lead here on Earth? When we look at the nature of the Angels, for example, do we only see in them the image of our own next epoch, the epoch of Jupiter? Do we see in the Spirits of Fire only the image of those beings whom we shall be on Venus? Is there really reason to say to ourselves: Here we are on our Earth, we shall reach higher stages in the evolution of the world, we ourselves shall ascend in the Hierarchy, but the beings we can become are all there already, and our own stage has been trodden by other beings before! Is that so? This is the great question which must come to the mind of every one who has listened to the lectures with an open mind. If we have only to do with a becoming human which repeats itself eternally, then we are like the Spirits of Personality on Old Saturn, like the Archangels on Old Saturn, like the Angels on Mars. For us this may be important, for the higher gods it would only be a multiplication of their creatures, and they would have achieved nothing special as progress. But it is another question: Will human beings perhaps one day, just by becoming human on Earth, develop into beings who can do something that the Angels cannot do, that the Archangels and the Spirits of Personality cannot do either? Has the whole of Creation learned something by producing human beings after the archangels and angels? Has Creation made any progress? Has man, by making himself comfortable to descend lower, perhaps thereby become eligible to ascend higher still? Let us pose this question to ourselves as a kind of consequential question.“ (Lit.:GA 110, p. 152ff)


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References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may find at Rudolf Steiner's Complete Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - books, lectures and articles by Rudolf Steiner online (Jim Stewart). - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Steiner's complete works for free download as PDF.