Book Reviews main page Anthroposophy and Rudolph Steiner

A New Zoology

Dr Hermann Poppelbaum
A New Zoology
Philosophic-Anthroposphic Press
(out of print)

Like Kees Zoeteman, Hermann Poppelbaum seeks to integrate the life sciences with Anthroposopohy. Zoetemann looks at ecology, Poppelbaum at zoology. Both, interestingly, are from continental Europe, and hence present an alternative (esoteric) paradigm to the reductionisticDarwinism of the Anglo-American world.

But the approach each offers is quite different, reflecting the age in which it was written. Dr Poppelbaum (writing in the 1950s and early 60s) comes from the old school of fundamentalist Anthroposphy. Rudolph Steiner's writings are considered some sort of holy script, a literal account of metaphysical planes and of the earlier stages of the Earth's evolution. There is the sort of inflexibility that one finds in Creation Science, a slavish allegiance to dogma.  Kees Zoeteman's late 80s work is much freer and more open, although still strongly rooted in the Anthroposophical paradigm (in fact he refers to Poppelbaum a number of times).

Poppelbaum's approach (reflecting strict Anthropsophy) is that the animal kingdom represents those aspects of human evolution that have either incarnated too soon, or overshot the mark, and in either instance therefore lack the balance and harmony that is found only in man. Hence the various phyla of animals are related to different parts of the human organsims, of which they express particular characteristics.

Poppelbaum's thesis, following Steiner, is that all the characteristics of the animal kingdom developed origianlly from man (or rather from the original ethereal prototypes - what the Theosophists call former "root races"]. In man physical development has been held back, but in the animal kingdom it has been allowed to develop, so that the human hand has metamorphosised into the bird's wing, the mole's digging claws, the horses hoof, or the fish's fin. And the same for other parts of the body, the human head becoming the bird's beak, etc. In other words, the human entity is, according to the anthroposophical paradigm, the ancestor of all other forms of life. This is the reverse of the Darwinian perspective, according to which man evolved from earlier forms (and not vice-versa).

Personally, I find this all a bit silly (and not a little unlike the all to familiar tendency to make God in man's image). I am not denying the astonishing parallels and associations Poppelbaum describes. But it is not hard to take any life-form, any animal, say, and find associations and derive every other species from that one life form. Dr Poppelbaum would disagree with me; his thesis is that it is the very fact that man is such an unspecialised creature that it is possible to derive other animals by a process of specialisation. Well, agreed that the human body is unspecialised (apart from the huge and highly organised brain) vis-a-vis mammals in general. If one looks at other vertebrates even, reptiles say, let alone various invertebrate taxa, we find that man is indeed highly specialised, and the whole thesis falls down.

Yet conversely the esoteric and occult insights contained in this book, and Poppelbaum's genius in understanding the hidden workings of nature, is absoluetly fascinating and inspiring. More than any other book I have read, this slim volume contains the potential to unify two of my great loves, zoology and esotericism.

For this reason I am including long passages as extracts in this web site.  What I am seeking to do, is to retain the very real insights this book contains, but go beyond the straightjacket anthroposophical chauvanism and specieism to a true biocentric biosophy and zoosophy - a wisdom of life to complement the material science of life.

Contents excerpts:
Preface p.6
1.All Living Beings have a Body of Formative Forces  p.7 The Etheric (Formative) Body
2.The Moulder of the Characteristic Animal Shape p.12 The Astral (Sensitive) Body
3. The Realm of Man p.18
4. Man's Origin and the Animal Shapes p.22 The Polarian Age (=Early Paleozoic/Cambrian)
The Hyperborean Age  (=Mid Paleozoic/Ordovician-Devonian)
The Lemurian Age (=Late Paleozoic and Mesozoic)
The Atlantean Age (=Cenozoic)
5. Man as a Compendium of the Animal Kingdom p.31 Archetypes and Morphotypes through Geological Time
Summing up
6. Paradoxical Forms and Forerunners p.37 Prophetic Forms
7. The Plant as a Measure for all Metamorphoses (The Insects) p.42  
8. Displaced Metamorphoses as Mediators between Insects and Worms p.48  
9. The Insect Metamorphosis as Mirrored in Man p.53  
10. A Key to the Vertebrates p.58  
11. Warm-Bloded Animals: Mammals and Birds p.64  
12. Metamorphosis of Mammals p.76  
13. Birds and Reptiles p.84  
14. Amphibians and Fishes p.96  
15. Birds and Fishes (A Contrast) p.104  
16. The Molluscs p.107  
17. The Arthropods p.119  
18. The Worms p.133  
19. The Echinoderms p.140  
20. The Ceolentrates p.145  
21. The Protozoa p.156  
22. The Principle of Enoblement p.160  
23. Bees, Ants and Termites p.167  
24. Nature's Wisdom and Man's Ingenuity p.175  
25. Rituals and Dances of Birds p.182  
26. Training the Inner Eye p.188  

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page uploaded page uploaded 12 December 1999, relocated, last modified 23 December 2001