According to Steiner, our ancient ancestors were quite different from us today, just as the early Earth was quite unlike the planet we know today. The first two periods of our earthly existence are called the Polarian (or Polarean) and Hyperborean ages. They are hard to describe, because they were so unlike anything we know now. But here is Steiner taking a whack at it. (You may find his descriptions rather vague, and you may also notice certain inconsistencies. Don’t blame me — I’m just the messenger.)
“[H]e [i.e., man] belonged to other worlds [before coming to Earth]. Only the one immediately preceding will be indicated here. This was a so-called astral or soul world. The beings of this world did not lead an external, (physical) bodily existence. Neither did man ... Only to the clairvoyant eye would such a man have been perceptible.
“As a matter of fact, all the more highly developed human beings of that time possessed clairvoyance, although it was quite dull and dreamlike. It was not a self-conscious clairvoyance.
“These astral beings are in a certain sense the ancestors of man.
“...The soul or astral ancestors of man were transported to the refined or etheric earth. So to speak, they sucked the refined substance into themselves like a sponge, to speak coarsely. By thus becoming penetrated with substance, they developed etheric bodies. These had an elongated elliptical form, in which the limbs and other organs which were to be formed later were already indicated by delicate shadings of the substance. All processes in this mass were purely physical-chemical, but they were regulated and dominated by the soul.
“...[I]t was not a certain number of human souls which entered upon the earthly scene, but rather a kind of soul tree which could produce innumerable single souls from its common root.
“...With their entry into terrestrial materiality, an important change had taken place within the souls themselves ... External material processes exercised an effect on the soul, which now appeared in material garb ... As today we perceive the vibration of the air as sound, these etheric beings perceived the vibrations of the etheric matter which surrounded them. Such a being was basically a single organ of hearing. This sense developed first.
“With the increasing densification of terrestrial matter, the spiritual being gradually lost the ability to mold this matter ... A new manner of reproduction arose ... While before there had been no organs of reproduction, these now made their appearance.
“...[A] certain portion within [proto-human] the form is [i.e., was] isolated. This portion is withdrawn from the immediate influences of external matter. Only the body outside of this isolated portion remains exposed to these influences ... In the separated portion, the soul element continues to act. Here the soul becomes the carrier of the life principle ... Thus the bodily ancestor of man now appears endowed with two organs. One is the physical body, the physical envelope. It is subject to the chemical and physical laws of the surrounding world. The other is the sum of the organs which are subject to the special life principle.
“...[A]n inner life of the body begins. The body no longer merely participates in the vibrations of the outside world, but begins to perceive them within itself as special experiences. Here is the starting point of perception. This perception at first appears as a kind of sense of touch.
“...With this an important stage in the development of mankind is reached. The immediate influence of the soul has been withdrawn from the physical body. The latter is totally given over to the physical and chemical world of matter. It disintegrates at the moment the soul can no longer dominate it with its activity. Thereupon occurs that which one calls “death.” ... As soon as the soul no longer has any power over the physical body, the latter becomes subject to the chemical and physical laws of the outside world, that is, it dies away ... As previously at the time of division, the whole body was filled with soul activity, so the organs of reproduction and perception are now filled with it. We are thus dealing with a reincarnation of the soul life in the newly-developing daughter organism.
“...[T]hese two stages of the development of man are described as the first two root races of our earth. The first is called the Polarean, the second, the Hyperborean race.
— Rudolf Steiner, COSMIC MEMORY (Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1959), chapter 8, “The Hyperborean and the Polarean Epoch”, GA 11.
Here are some additional indications of our history during the Polarian period:
“[I]n the beginning of its development, our Earth was united with Sun and Moon. At that point man had arisen once more out of the earliest germ which comprised physical, etheric, and astral bodies; he appeared, so to speak, in his first earthly form — the only one possible to him while the Earth still contained both Sun and Moon. This period of Earth evolution, which man experienced in common with his planet, is usually called in the literature of spiritual science, the ‘Polarian’ period. It would lead too far to explain today why this period is called ‘Polarian’; meanwhile let us simply accept the term.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE GOSPEL OF ST. JOHN (Anthroposophic Press, 1948), p. 66.
“In the so-called Polarian Race (the first Root Race) the etheric body was the most important. Man's whole body at that time consisted of fine etheric substance. Only later did the etheric body densify by permeating itself with physical matter. At the end of the first Root Race, man was not fettered to the ground as he is today. He hovered through the etheric earth, and his organs too, were etheric.’” — Rudolf Steiner, “(On) Apocalyptic Writings” (transcript, Rudolf Steiner Archive), lecture, October 10,1904, GA unknown.
“The Polarian human beings were very similar to four-footed animals, but they were formed out of a soft, pliant substance similar to a jellyfish, but much warmer. The human beings with the best forms, consisting of the noblest components, received at that time help of a special nature, for beings were still connected with the Earth who had earlier reached a higher stage ... When the Earth eventually emerged out of the darkness the whole Sun-mass was united with it. In that epoch the first or Polarian Race began.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF ESOTERICISM (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1982), lecture 23, GA 93a.
“[The] altar is so constructed that it is placed towards the East. The priest stands at the north side; here he reads the Message. This signifies that man in the first race, the Polarian, was in the north, and thence gradually descended into matter.” — Rudolf Steiner, “The Significance of the Mass” (transcript, Rudolf Steiner Archive), lecture, March 17, 1905, GA unknown.
“During the Polarian age everything was inward, was within the warmth body of the earth ... The Polarian age was followed by the Hyperborean age, with a race of human beings who had airlike bodies. The sun had separated from the earth and now worked from outside.” — Rudolf Steiner, READING THE PICTURES OF THE APOCALYPSE (Anthroposophic Press, 1993), lecture 6, GA 104a.
“The continent which then existed between the present Europe, Africa and America may be called in spiritual science, Atlantis. (The above-described period of human evolution, preceding the Atlantean, is dealt with from a certain aspect in the relevant literature. It is there called the Lemurian epoch of the Earth, whereas the time when the Moon forces had not yet unfolded their most powerful effects may be called the Hyperborean age. This epoch was preceded by yet another, which coincides with the very earliest time of physical Earth evolution. In Biblical tradition the time before the entry of the Luciferian beings is referred to as the time of Paradise, and the descent on to the Earth — man's entanglement in the world of the senses — as the expulsion from Paradise.)” — Rudolf Steiner, OCCULT SCIENCE - AN OUTLINE (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1969), p. 192.
“[M]an's soul is [i.e., was] incarnated in the subtle matter of the firemist [the substance of the "Earth" at that time] ... If we wish to form an idea of his bodily appearance at the stage of development just depicted, we can best do so by thinking of it as water-vapour, or as a cloud floating in the air ... All that we can call intelligence, understanding and reason, are yet lacking in him. He moves about with a floating, rather than pacing, motion by means of four limb-like organs ... [T]he guiding power, or understanding, was not within the beings [i.e., humans] themselves; rather were they controlled by an intelligence outside themselves. Higher beings, more fully developed than they, hovered round them, as it were, and guided them." — Rudolf Steiner, ATLANTIS AND LEMURIA (Rajput Press, 1911, pp. 213-215.
Here are additional indications concerning the Hyperboran period:
“During the Age which preceded the Lemurian Age, we have the Hyperborean Age on the Earth, that of the Sun Men, of the Apollo-Men. They were formed out of a still nobler and even more delicate substance ... The Sun-men too had attained a certain high development. There were also Sun Adepts, who had progressed further than the other Sun-men. They passed over to the Moon. There also they had the possibility of being on a higher level than the Moon-men, and they developed to quite special heights. They were the forefathers of the Earth-men, but had hastened much further ahead. When now in the second Epoch of the Fourth Round the Hyperboreans lived in their soft forms, these Sons of the Sun were in position to incarnate and they formed a particularly beautiful Race. They were the Solar Pitris. Already in the Hyperborean Epoch they created for themselves an upright form, completely transforming the Hyperborean bodies. This the other human beings were unable to do. In the Hyperborean Epoch the Solar Pitris became the beautiful Apollo-men, who in the Second Race had already attained the upright posture ... [T]the Sun was still united with the Earth ... During the Hyperborean Period the whole again divided. One part severed itself and the Earth emerged out of the Sun. It is at this point that the Kant-Laplace theory is relevant. The earth was in a nebulous condition coinciding with the Kant-Laplace theory. The outer appearance seemed like the rings around Saturn. Now the second or Hyperborean Race evolved. Gradually the seeds of the Moon-Men appeared on the Earth, the Pitris in various degrees of perfection. They all still had the possibility of reproducing themselves through self-fertilisation.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF ESOTERICISM, lecture 23.
"Then comes the time when the Sun is preparing to quit the Earth; when the beings who cannot abide the grosser substance of the Earth separate from the latter with the finer substances of the Sun. ‘Hyperborean’ is the name we give to this age ... We have thus described five evolutionary periods of the Earth: the Polar, in which the Earth was still united with the Sun; the Hyperborean, in which the Moon was still united with the Earth; the Lemurian, the Atlantean, and finally, the post-Atlantean, our own time.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE GOSPEL OF ST. JOHN, p. 66ff.
“[T]he moon split off from the earth. This event caused a great revolution. The objects which surround man lost a great part of their heat ... This change in influence goes hand in hand with a transformation of the human form. One half of this form, together with two organs of movement, now becomes the lower half of the body, which functions mainly as the carrier of nutrition and reproduction. The other half of this form is turned upward, so to speak. The remaining two organs of movement become the rudiments of hands. Those organs which previously had served for nutrition and reproduction are transformed into organs of speech and thought. Man has become upright. This is the immediate consequence of the extrusion of the moon. With the moon all those forces disappeared from the earth through which, during his fire mist period, man could still impregnate himself and produce beings like himself without external influence. His whole lower half — that which one often calls the lower nature — now came under the rationally formative influence of the higher entities. What these entities previously could regulate within man, since the mass of forces now split off with the moon was then still combined with the earth, they now have to organize through the interaction of the two sexes. It is therefore understandable that the moon is regarded by the initiates as the symbol of the force of reproduction. After all, these forces do inhere in it, so to speak. The higher beings we have described have an affinity with the moon, are in a sense, moon gods ... [M]an comes under a double leadership. In his lower part he is under the power of the moon gods; in his developed personality, however, he comes under the leadership of those entities which are summed up under the name 'Lucifer,' the name of their regent. The Luciferic gods...give man the predisposition to freedom, to the discrimination between ‘good’ and ‘evil.’ While it is true that the human organ of understanding has been formed entirely under the leadership of the moon gods, these gods would have left it to slumber; they were not interested in making use of it. They possessed their own powers of understanding. In their own interest, the Luciferic beings were concerned with developing the human understanding and directing it toward the things of earth. Thereby for men they became the teachers of all that can be accomplished by the human understanding.” — Rudolf Steiner, COSMIC MEMORY (Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1959), chapter 10, “Extrusian of the Moon”, GA 11. (In an earlier edition, this chapter was titled "The Hyperborean Race".)
Some portions of our early history are, perhaps, a bit surprising.
"[I]n the most ancient epochs of mankind, Beings lived on Earth who have since withdrawn, entrenching themselves, as it were, in the cosmic stronghold of the Moon. They are the Beings with whom a man, after death, first enters into a relationship. But these Beings have had successors who, in the epochs after the ancient Hyperborean period, appeared on Earth from time to time. In the East they have been called Bodhisattvas. Although they have always made their appearance embodied as men, yet they are the successors of the Beings now entrenched on the Moon, and their life is passed in community with these Beings. There lie the springs of their strength, the sources of their thoughts. And they were the Beings who once acted as the guides of mankind. Through the teaching they gave on Earth, men were enabled to have the strength, on coming to the end of their journey through the Moon-sphere, to pass over into the realm of the Sun." — Rudolf Steiner, THE EVOLUTION OF CONSCIOUSNESS (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1966), lecture 10, GA 227.
“The development of the Earth had three preliminary stages: (Old Saturn, Sun and Moon). In the first three Earth Rounds these stages had a short recapitulation. In the First Earth Epoch the Saturn existence was repeated, in the Second Epoch the Sun existence and in the Third Epoch the Moon existence. It was only in the Fourth Round that the actual Earth existence emerged and then man had reached a somewhat higher stage than on the Old Moon. There he had not yet reached separate development, he had not yet become sufficiently purified to receive the Monad. On the Moon the astral body was still wild and passionate. On the Earth he had still to purify himself in order to be able to receive the higher principles. This purification was completed in the middle of the Lemurian Age.
“The last human beings during the Old Moon existence are our physical forefathers. On the Earth they now developed somewhat further. The Earth-men of the pre-Lemurian Age are the actual descendants of the inhabitants of the Moon. This is why we call the inhabitants of the Moon the Fathers or Pitris of Earth-Men. These Earth-Men were as yet unable to use their front limbs for work. They were of animal-like form having a certain great beauty. Their substance was much softer than the physical matter of today: it was very much softer than what we now find with the lower animals. They were irradiated and an inner fire shone through them. When human beings were going through an earlier stage of evolution, they were still more beautiful and nobler in their form.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE FOUNDATIONS OF ESOTERICISM, lecture 23.
“Before the Lemurian age [i.e., the age when humans lived on the lost continent of Lemuria] the sun, moon, and earth, united in one body, moved forward in terms of the zodiac. Time was measured following this movement. For this reason, the twelve signs of the zodiac are characterized as the heavenly clock and drawn as such.
“A planet alternates between pralaya, a cosmic night, and manvantara, a cosmic day, just as we alternately pass through day and night. The planet passes through the signs of the zodiac during both pralaya and manvantara; for that reason the twelve signs of the zodiac are counted twice, just as we also count two times twelve to equal twenty-four hours. The hours symbolize the signs of the zodiac. The united sun, moon, and earth also moved through the cosmic days and nights according to the heavenly clock. Then their separation occurred. But at that time human beings were not the same as we are now. The soul only gradually descended, and only gradually did the human being develop from the generic into a specific individual being. If one had taken together the generic souls of human beings during the Lemurian and Atlantean times [i.e., the age when humans lived on the lost continent of Atlantis], then one would have perceived something very strange. The aura of the human being is constantly changing; like all astral beings it is in constant motion. The generic souls were reflected in the forms of animals, for example, in sphinxes and so forth.” — Rudolf Steiner, READING THE SIGNS OF THE APOCALYPSE (SteinerBooks, 1993), pp. 21-22. [R.R. sketch, 2010, based on the one in the book. I have filled in astrological signs, numbers, and clock hands — Steiner's sketch is awfully empty.] For once I agree with Steiner — what he describes is indeed strange.
— Compiled by Roger Rawlings