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FORCES OF EVIL

Day by day it becomes more evident that mankind is heading for the abyss. Religious life is almost non-existent, confusion rules in the economic sphere, chaos in the political.

As life becomes more complex so greater opportunity for wrong-doing is offered. Crime and hooliganism increase, standards of morality fall, atrocities and drug-taking are features of daily life. The details are endless.

In the scientific world enormous discoveries and sophisticated appliances have been made, but science does not concern itself with morality — hence the atom bomb, practices of vivisection, abortion, genetic engineering.

There are wars and rumours of wars, starvation, famine and disease. Bigger and better means of destruction are developed. Bacteriology and chemistry are put to evil use.

In a global sense we destroy the Earth's surface and pollute its waters and its atmosphere.

These are obvious manifestations of an ailing society but there are others which are not so obvious and for that reason all the more harmful. One might consider the half-truths and untruths which masquerade as advertisements or information, to say nothing of propaganda. Particularly insidious are the effects of the mass media. The mind is continually bombarded with impression after impression with little opportunity for digestion or reflection, especially where radio and television are concerned. It is not only that the continuous outpouring of news, views and entertainment stifles original thought and effort in many cases but that people become so hypnotized that they lack the will to switch off.

From time to time revelations are made with regard to the ethics of business and politics. It would be interesting to determine the relationship between expediency and conscience. A particularly threatening element enters into human affairs when the state tries to take control of everything and reduce the individual to a cypher.

A phenomenon of recent times is mass hysteria. It would seem sometimes that crowds become 'possessed'. In this connection, too, it would be pertinent to ask after the magic power apparently exerted by dictators or demagogues. In individual cases where wrongs have been committed, the perpetrators assert that they were prompted by some unknown voice.

We may well ask what has gone wrong. The great majority of mankind appear to be decent, respectable people, with a wish to get on with their own affairs and to live in peace and harmony with their neighbours. Yet crime and anti-social activities persist. It is true that many of the evils detailed above are recognized and many well-meaning efforts by well-meaning people are made to counteract them, but individuals or even groups seem powerless against overwhelming odds which they find difficult to define.

While evil in the old concept of falling into sin, or error, is connected with personal morality, there appear to be evils today for which it is difficult to hold anyone personally responsible. Admittedly they have developed as a result of human action but they seem now to have taken on a life of their own. In attempts to solve difficult situations in the world, others have been created which have become apparently insoluble. Short-sightedness may be one cause but it is difficult to apportion blame. Many people have the feeling that there is something in the background, some unknown undercurrent, which influences affairs.

Theology has always recognized the powers of evil. The concept of Satan, the devil, the powers of darkness, is nothing new. Some non-conformists, and especially the Salvation Army, have a very personalized concept of the devil, ever-present and ever-ready to misdirect.

Is the existence of evil powers something which lives abstractly in the imagination or is it fact? Perhaps we have to think concretely and consider these powers as real beings which exert an influence on mankind from realms beyond the physical. There is so much evil in the world today that to deal with evil forces becomes a task of everyday existence.

But where are they? How are they to be recognized? How do they work? In this chapter we shall characterize them and their works, in order to stimulate an awareness of them — which is the first step in overcoming them.

The Mission of Evil

It may sound like a contradiction in terms to suggest that evil might have a mission. Yet in a world order that is obviously organized there must be a place for everything. One would not appreciate the light if there were no darkness. How can one recognize the good if only the good exists? Can there be progress without resistance?

We have to refer to the themes of evolution and to the work of the Hierarchies as described in Chapter 1 of this book.

To put it briefly, it was the intention of the Godhead to create a being who would eventually be free to take his own development in hand. Perhaps the easiest way to understand this is to compare it with the birth, growth and development of the individual human being. The parents bring the child into the world, they look after it in the early stages when it cannot fend for itself. Gradually it frees itself from parental care and assumes self-responsibility. The pattern of human evolution follows the same line. Advanced spiritual beings create man; they guide and direct him in the infant and youthful stage. Then, since he is endowed with god-like forces which become more apparent, he is gradually released from divine guidance and becomes responsible for himself.

In the process of growing up, the child meets difficulties, obstacles and resistance, and in so doing furthers his or her development. The case is similar in the development of mankind.

This provides an answer to the oft-repeated question as to why God allows evil. Strange as it may seem, evil exists to further man's development. The original work of the Hierarchies (the ranks of the higher beings) was to carry out the impulse of the Godhead and in general these beings can only reflect the good of the highest divine powers. They have no choice, but if man is to be free then he must be able to choose between good and evil. Accordingly, certain higher beings were allowed to change direction. Their influence is the basic cause of what we term evil. If man allows himself to be led astray and difficulties or catastrophes are the result, there is little point in accusing the Deity of neglect. Man, collectively, is responsible. At best he might, like Solomon, ask God for wisdom, but what is not learnt through wisdom will be learnt by experience and this may be hard.

What must be realized is that evil and freedom arise from the same source. The evolution of evil is permitted for the sake of human freedom. Evil awakens contra-forces. Of necessity man has to face the devil and risk contact but at the same time he has to avoid falling prey to him. This is a danger. The question arises as to whether man can use his new-found freedom in a positive way or whether he will succumb to the blandishments of his tempters.

The biblical story of Job makes illustrative reading. God allows Satan to afflict Job in many ways but Job remains steadfast throughout. Finally he demands to know the reason for his suffering, i.e. through the questions arising in his soul, his thinking force is awakened. In the end he is spiritually, as well as materially, richer than before.

As physical strength grows by contending with physical objects, so moral strength grows by contending with adversity. Thus evil has a purpose in the divine plan. But evil is not an abstraction. We need to realize that real opposing spiritual beings, the so-called Fallen Angels, have intervened in human evolution, and that these agencies have their own goal. Man can use their powers to make progress but must recognize them for what they are and not be led astray.

With the help of Christ it lies within the ability of man not only to further his own evolution but also to redeem his adversaries. More will be said on this subject later and in other contexts.

The Good: A Balance Between Two Extremes

The principle of life is one of expansion and contraction. We see it in the rhythm of night and day, in the seasons, in plant growth, in human respiration, in the processes of living and dying. The physical body can only exist in a natural state of balance, as for example in relationship to heat, where it is self-regulating. Give the body adequate nourishment and it is healthy but give it too little or too much and it registers its displeasure. Human life alternates between extremes and opposites and a state of health means a state of balance, harmony or equilibrium.

With regard to the inner life of man there are also two extremes. If he goes too far in either direction he creates discord. In each case what is good is found in between. We might consider such a fundamental feeling as love. Few would dispute that a lack of love has a negative effect, but too much of it, as in the case of a doting mother, is also harmful. One could look at many qualities in this way. Fixity of purpose may be considered a good thing and the ability to change is another. But fixity of purpose can become obstinate rigidity; ability to change becomes inconsistency. Between the two, flexibility or adaptability provides the balance. Similarly, interest lies between apathy and obsession, generosity between meanness and wastefulness, and courage between cowardice and foolhardiness.

All these attributes are examples of the dual tendencies of expansion and contraction which live within the soul. Life on Earth can also be considered from two points of view. There is a physical side and a spiritual. The purpose of life on Earth is to come to grips with the material world while not overlooking its spiritual origins. It is possible to descend too far into materialism or not far enough. Individuals provide us with examples of the one or the other but the two tendencies are present in every soul. There are those among us whose chief interest is in material things and others who have aspirations to a 'higher' life, overlooking earthly responsibilities. Our own activities sway between the mundane and getting away from it. Good is not the opposite of evil but the balance between two forces.

Earlier in this chapter, the objective existence of evil forces was mentioned. These exist in the world and the human being is subject to their influence. For the most part, however, he is unaware of this or at best only half aware. The situation is no different with regard to many other influences. Many are obvious, such as the Sun, weather, food and surroundings, but many are subtle, among which we might name friendships, literature, moral environment and conscience. But influences come also from the spiritual world. In the first two chapters mention has been made of impulses coming from our departed friends, or the spiritual Hierarchies, or our Guardian Angel. Here we have to consider two categories of beings whose influence is evil. The one is connected with all the forces which harden and consolidate, the other with the forces of disintegration and dissipation. The one would have man bind himself totally to material existence and forget spirit. The other would tear man away from the Earth and his duties connected therewith, and have him live in grand illusions. In collective terms these beings are known as Ahriman and Lucifer.

The Spirits of Adversity

One cannot think of evil as an absolute. What is good in one place and at one time may be bad in another or at a different time. Just as it would be wrong to give adult food to a baby and vice versa, so an influence may be good or bad according to circumstances. This principle must be understood in trying to understand the two forces mentioned.

Neither can evil be understood in isolation. It is necessary to look at the whole evolution of man.

In earlier times of world history the faculties of the human mind were different from those of today. Humanity had less connection with the material world and possessed the possibility of perceiving the spiritual. Men were aware of the existence of the spiritual world and of spiritual beings, which can now only be experienced by those who have developed spiritual vision. These higher beings are the artisans of the cosmos. They created the solar system, Earth and man but in so doing they also furthered their own development. Like man, they evolve, but in evolution there is always the possibility of defection or falling behind. In order to provide man with the resistance that he needed for his progress, certain beings gave up their normal development and thus remained at an earlier stage or 'backward'. They continued, however, to influence mankind but their influence was now out of time and out of place and therefore apparently adverse in its results.

As already explained, in order to be 'free' humanity had to be given a choice and it was the task of the spirits of adversity to provide this. In a sense it was a sacrifice on their part. They influenced man but, because of their own development, the impulse they gave was different from what it would have been had they followed their normal evolution. In giving man powers they gave him the possibility of furthering their own ends in establishing their own kingdoms. Thus man received gifts but with them the opportunity of falling into error.

In Chapter 1, the various stages of the development of the Earth and of man were described. With regard to man we must recall that the human spirit as a spiritual being has not always inhabited a physical body. It was the intention of the good Gods that he should do this at a certain stage but Lucifer intervened and man came to know the physical world earlier than planned. This is described in the story of the Fall.

At present we live in the so-called post-Atlantean epoch. Before this was the Atlantean period (geographically in the region of the Atlantic Ocean), and before that, Lemuria (Indian Ocean). The Fall took place in the middle of Lemurian times. Up to that time the Earth had existed in a much more fluidic state than at present. Then it began to solidify. The soul and spirit part of man had been much less connected with the physical organism, which was still flexible and mobile. The bony structure had not consolidated itself. Now, however, the physical hardened in line with Earth development and a closer association took place between man's physical and spiritual organizations and man became a being who trod the solid earth, i.e. he was driven from Paradise.

This was brought about by the Luciferic beings in their own interest. If man could be given his own powers of understanding, i.e. if he could be cut off from divine guidance, knowing good and evil, then he might choose the latter and their own power would be greatly enhanced. Moreover, if the human being developed an intellectual capacity this would provide the Luciferic forces with an instrument by means of which they could further their own evolution.

It is difficult to visualize this process but one could think of it possibly as something akin to mind-reading. Having remained behind in their evolution, the Luciferic beings were lacking in certain faculties through which they might have participated directly in world events, but they could do this via the human being if his mind were suitably attuned. They therefore awakened in man a consciousness of the material world and a consciousness of the self. (This is expressed in the biblical words 'and they saw that they were naked'.) The human being became aware of the outer as well as the inner world and thus acquired the faculty of being able to differentiate between them. This meant that he experienced an elementary feeling of self-consciousness.

But the Luciferic influence had another result. Due to the retarded development of the Luciferic beings certain impulses were given to man at an inappropriate time. These affected his astral body, the seat of passions and desires. With the consciousness of self he could turn these in a selfish direction. He became capable of egoism and self-seeking. With the consciousness of the physical world came the possibility of experiencing disease, physical pain and death, as detailed in Genesis.

In a certain sense one could draw a parallel with individual human development. The child has a sense of individuality, an ego, but he is not in command of himself and can be swayed by all sorts of impulses and events. He gradually learns to exercise discretion and self-control as he matures. In the same way, humanity received the ego but needed time to reach the stage of adulthood.

It is by no means correct to speak of pure evil in connection with the Luciferic influence. Lucifer gave great gifts to mankind. Only when they are misused do they become evil. If man were still divinely led there could be no feeling of self, no choice, no freedom.

The name Lucifer means 'Light-bearer' and it is to the Luciferic powers that man owes all that can be accomplished through the human intellect. They brought the world of intellectual thought into Earth evolution. They gave man initiative, enthusiasm, freedom, and with these the possibility of doing evil. Lucifer's aim is to dominate man and this becomes possible if man chooses the wrong path.

At a much earlier stage of cosmic history other beings had fallen behind in their development. Historically they were first named in the Persian epoch when Zarathustra taught of the struggle taking place between the powers of light and the powers of darkness, i.e. Ahura-Mazdao against Ahriman. In post-Atlantean times the Persian age is the second of the great periods of civilization and it was the time when men's attention was directed towards the Earth. It was therefore a period when it was easier for Ahriman to infiltrate his influence. We have to understand the Ahrimanic forces as being the opposite to the Luciferic. They are the forces which lead to substantiality, to consolidation. When man became aware of the physical world through Lucifer, a great opportunity was offered to Ahriman. This was to persuade man that the physical is the only reality, an illusion from which the modern world suffers today.

Through Lucifer the human being achieved a certain independence. He became subject to influences of both the inner and the outer world and thus capable of error.

The influence of the spirits of adversity makes itself felt in various ways. At different times the one is more predominant than the other.

In the Lemurian epoch the Luciferic beings were very active. They inspired certain leaders of humanity and even incarnated and appeared as teachers themselves. Since freedom is connected with differentiation and diversity, they took an interest in speech. Originally there was one universal language but the Luciferic leaders brought it about that differences developed and hence different languages. Lucifer gave the first impulses to science and art, to thought and the memory of thought. Although contact with material things mean consciousness of them, it was not Lucifer's intention that men should immerse themselves in them. Rather was it his aim that, having awakened through contact with them, men should abandon earthly matters in favour of a sphere aloof from the Earth, a sphere where he would be the ruler.

Today the Luciferic influence is to be found in all that leads men away from reality and all that appeals to man 's pride, ambition and self-aggrandizement. It is present when the mind discards reality and lives in an airy-fairy imaginative world, when it sets up wonderful programmes for the betterment of mankind without reckoning with human nature. It is present in idle talk. Luciferic influence brings about disregard and disinterest in one's fellow men; only what the self feels and thinks is considered right.

On the positive side, it is due to Lucifer that we have a self-awareness and the possibility of forming great ideas and hypotheses. Through this faculty the mind is stimulated to discover things which it might otherwise not find out. Luciferic influence leads away from naturalism and the commonplace in art.

In the present epoch of world development it is the Ahrimanic forces which are prevalent. For the sake of his evolution man had to acquire knowledge of earthly matters, but in so far as the Earth is material, this is Ahriman's realm. We cannot avoid it but the path is beset with temptations.

Ahriman would persuade man that the material world is the only world, but there is no divine element at all, that man can create a worldly paradise. We observe the result of his persuasive efforts in that spiritual life is dominated by economics and politics. It is due to his influence that the mechanistic concept of the universe has been adopted and the idea that the welfare of humanity depends only on material and economic well-being. This has spread to education when only what is materially useful is advocated as subject matter.

Whatever the merits of certain inventions, they show the face of Ahriman. Under such headings one could consider all sorts of mechanisms but in particular such appliances as television, radio, cinema and the thousand and one things dependent on electricity. It is by no means a condemnation of their use if one points to negative aspects. One effect is that they encourage passivity; they dull the consciousness so that the will is weakened and the ego retreats, making way for outside influences to insinuate themselves. One might rightly ask whether there is a connection here with mass hysteria. If the ego is not awake there can arise the phenomenon of obsession and one has only to look at recent events both in Europe and elsewhere to pose the question as to whether demonic beings have not taken possession of certain personalities.

Ahriman is known as the father of lies. But lies and deceit do not always appear in their own colours. In fact they are most effective when they appear in the guise of truth and in modern times we can find plenty of examples. For instance, knowledge that is based only on material concepts is only half true. The fact that it is considered the whole truth is deceit. The facts may be true in themselves, yet in the greater context they are false. It is an illusion to think that matter is the sole reality. It is a serious error to think that if one understands one aspect of the world to the exclusion of others one has the whole truth.

Untruth can appear in various forms. What might be considered a trivial example is in the writing of references where only the positive is stated — admittedly a dilemma for the writer — but untruth nonetheless. As for the statements by politicians...

Similarly there is untruth in statistics, for which there is a modern craze. In the first place, figures are probably gathered for a particular aim and there is thus bias from the start. But in any case, figures can be interpreted in many ways. Different party or secretarian opinions can be proved with equal validity. The same applies to advertisements.

Just as Lucifer can stimulate enthusiasm, which can develop to extremes, Ahriman, at the other pole, induces apathy towards spiritual matters — hence a lack of interest, tediousness, superficial understanding, learning and working merely for a livelihood. He would keep intellectual knowledge in a compartment by itself without reference to the human being.

Thinking, under Ahrimanic influence, considers only the physical. It produces cleverness without conscience and leads to moral deficiencies. If the human being has evolved from dust alone, what is he? Does it matter if thousands are annihilated? Atom bombs? Extermination camps? Or if man is just a higher animal, is it not natural that he should have animal instincts? And if he gives vent to these, what is it but nature taking her course?

Alternatively, the human being is considered as a highly complex machine; but a machine has no morality. Does it matter then if man is dehumanized, depersonalized and treated as something of an automaton?

The fact that truth or a good impulse can be inverted into the opposite has already been mentioned. Let us look at the idea of brotherly love and what happens in the name of brotherly love.

No one will argue that it is not a desirable ideal but, in a modern context, what happens now in the name of brotherliness? An individual who does not wish to conform to someone else's idea finds himself isolated or rejected. On a wider scale imposed state socialism is on the same level as compelling a man to say his prayers. Self-determination of nations based on folk-culture may be an impressive idea but where does this lead? Wars, rivalries, sanctions, nationalism, racialism, chauvinism — the very opposite of brotherly love.

Historically the influence of the Luciferic and Ahrimanic forces alternates in intensity, yet Lucifer and Ahriman work together. Where one is effective the other is able to follow. The one prepares the way for the other. An example is in the matter of language. The earlier Luciferic impulse towards diversity, which was essential at the time in the interests of individual development, has now become hardened and diversity has become dissension. Another instance is that Lucifer leads man to the physical world, then Ahriman tries to persuade him that that is all there is. Whoever suffers from Luciferic inspired delusions with regard to self-importance will find Ahriman ready to provide wealth and resources to make the delusion reality, to achieve power and glory in the material world. On the other hand, one who has amassed material goods can easily be tempted to indulge in feelings of pride and self-importance.

An excellent example of the working of the two forces is found in our present mode of life. Much work which has to be accomplished is of a dull, soul-destroying, routine nature. Perhaps the assembly line is the best example although office routine might run in a close second. The human being seeks an escape and finds relaxation in matters that take him out of himself — in alcohol, in drugs, in questionable distractions.

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To summarise: those influences which would entice man to flee the Earth and over-emphasize himself are due to Lucifer. Among the effects on his soul we could list passion, fanaticism, pride, self-indulgence, pseudo-occultism. On his physical body the result is fever. Ahriman's influence is towards the world of matter, to encourage intellectual thinking without the relationship to the human being, towards rigidity, production of formulae, technology. On the body the result is manifest in all forms of hardening and calcification.

Between Scylla and Charybdis

In classical mythology, Odysseus, as representative of the striving man, had to sail between Scylla and Charybdis, identified physically as a rock and a whirlpool in the straights of Messina. Mythological pictures can be interpreted on several levels and in this story one can easily think of the two forces mentioned. When they are recognized, the human being may find the right path more easily. He cannot avoid them but he cannot afford to yield to them.

The representative of humanity

The representative of humanity

The Goetheanum at Donach

The Goetheanum at Donarch

In so far as the forces of Lucifer and Ahriman are concerned, man needs them and can use them. His present task is to find the balance. He must neither lose the world nor himself and the problem becomes essentially one of awareness. To be conscious of evil is to take the first step in overcoming it. This is admirably illustrated in the story of Rumpelstiltskin. When the queen knows his name, he loses power over her. The story of Michael and the Dragon illustrates the power of consciousness struggling with the forces of darkness.

Lucifer, the light-bearer, gave man the gift of understanding and the impulse towards freedom. A vital question is what man does with these gifts. If he uses his understanding in a purely intellectual manner, overlooking the spiritual world, then he falls prey to Ahriman who will try to convince him that the earthly world is the only reality. If he uses his freedom for self-indulgence instead of self-development, he can only degenerate.

Exclusive knowledge of the material world is Ahrimanic. Interest and enthusiasm are Luciferic. Knowledge combined with interest and enthusiasm provides the middle way.

To form illusions about ourselves is Luciferic. Objective observation is Ahrimanic. To observe our inner nature as from a third person's point of view is to provide the balance. We should try not to get carried away by our own impulses; we must try not to look upon the world as something separate from ourselves.

Man has to meet these two forces which in the course of history he has to recognize as evil. He has to contend with them but in so doing he furthers his own development and at the same time works towards their redemption.

In a special hall in the Goetheanum, Switzerland (the world-centre of Rudolf Steiner's work), is a huge wooden carving, designed and partly executed by Rudolf Steiner himself (see illustrations). It portrays three figures. At the top is an angel-like form with broken wings. In the lower part, in what appears to be a sort of cave is a devil-like figure, chained. In the centre and standing independently, one hand reaching upwards and the other down, is a figure usually referred to as the Representative of Humanity. In sculpted, artistic form, this expresses the power of the Christ to overcome the two adversaries. One could also consider the figure as man between the two elements of his being.

The Coming of Antichrist

The New Testament gives several references to the coming of the Antichrist.

In the Gospel of St Matthew, Christ himself is reported as giving warning of imposters:

'For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ, and shall deceive many.' (24: 5.)

'For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.' (24: 24.)

St Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, explains that the day of Christ will come after attempts at deception:

'Let no man deceive you by any means; for that day shall not come, except there come a falling-away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.' (2 Thessalonians 2: 3--4.)

In the first epistle of John we read:

'...and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists.' (1 John 2: 18.)

From the book of Revelation (16) we learn of the battle of Armageddon, where the kings of the Earth, under demonic leadership, will wage war against the forces of God.

According to Rudolf Steiner the prophecies will soon be fulfilled. Since the middle of the fifteenth century an Ahrimanic influence has been pervading mankind in preparation for an actual incarnation that will take place in the near future. The influences such as have been described are pointers, and Ahriman derives the greatest benefit if they are not noticed.

This being who will incarnate will show great signs and wonders. He will attain worldly power and recognition and will offer mankind some sort of spiritual powers or insight for which little effort is required. Through disguise and deception he will seek to establish a world in which true spirit is abolished.

In the present discourse it would lead too far to discuss the redeeming role of the Christ. This subject is dealt with elsewhere but it can briefly be stated that Christ stands by man's side to help him in his struggle. Christ incarnated to combat evil and His kingdom 'is not of this world'. His advice was to 'watch and pray'; that is to say, mankind must be awake and active. Recognition of evil is the beginning of its conquest. To pray means to awaken the spiritual faculties and recognize the spirit at first hand.

But there is also another prophecy and this concerns the imminent second coming of Christ. This event is not to be understood in the sense that Christ will again appear in the flesh but that man will develop faculties by which he can experience Christ in the supersensible realm. It is in Ahriman's interest to forestall this and hence his intense activity at present.

The battle has been joined. If the human being is conscious of these matters he is on the road to victory. The retarded beings must be confronted and man can use the powers which they give, but he must avoid being dominated by them.

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Rudolf Steiner. An Introduction to his Spiritual World-View, Anthroposophy. © Roy Wilkinson 1998