Printed in the Fall 2019 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Sender, Pablo ,"The Dawn of Civilization: An Esoteric Account of the First Three Root Races" Quest 107:4, pg 12-13
By Pablo Sender
The model for the evolution of humanity presented by the esoteric philosophy is far more complex than the modern scientific views on the subject. In The Secret Doctrine, H.P. Blavatsky states that humanity develops through seven great evolutionary cycles, called “Root Races,” which give rise to seven consecutive human civilizations.
Each of these humanities developed on different continents. At the end of each Root Race, there was a global geological upheaval that changed the face of the earth. Because of these continental changes, the vast majority of the remains from previous Root Races are currently under the oceans.
According to The Secret Doctrine, the First Root Race, nonphysical beings lacking in consciousness, began to develop over 1.5 billion years ago. The first self-conscious humanity resembling what we know today was the Third Root Race, which started over 18 million years ago. The anthropological records, historic and even prehistoric, belong to our current Root Race, which is the fifth (out of seven).
The esoteric story of human civilization is too vast to be covered in one article. Here we will limit ourselves to exploring the genesis of humanity and the beginning of civilization, according to The Secret Doctrine.
Modern science explains the emergence of humankind as a result of chance chemical events and random mutations. The odds of this occurrence are so slim that scientists regard the evolution of humanity as nothing short of a miracle. Theosophical teachings, by contrast, say that this “miracle” is really the orderly work of natural forces with the assistance of intelligent beings. These intelligences guiding the process of evolution have been recognized in all religious traditions of the past. They were conceived of as gods, angels, devas, and so forth.
Unfortunately, these celestial beings have frequently been anthropomorphized in such a way that makes them appear as fanciful inventions. Perhaps this is inevitable, because we cannot really understand the nature of nonhuman intelligences. Even the Stanzas of The Secret Doctrine use mythological imagery and allegorical language to explain the origins and evolution of human beings.
Although accepting the participation of celestial beings, esoteric philosophy does not support a creationist view. It agrees with the evolutionary theory, extending it beyond the physical world into the intellectual and spiritual realms. This evolution, however, is not blind, random, or purposeless. It has clear aims, and the intelligent beings who guide it are not perfect, but are themselves evolving.
The First Root Race
According to The Secret Doctrine, once the earth was ready to hold human life, two groups of celestial beings were called upon to assist in the “creation” of man—the Lords of the Moon and the Lords of the Flame: “Bring forth men of your nature. Give their spirits a subtle form. Mother Earth will build a material covering” (Secret Doctrine, 2.75).
Their task was to provide the “spirits” (human monads) with an astral body that nature could use as a model to slowly start building a physical human form. The seven Lords of the Moon (seven hierarchies or groups, not seven individual celestial beings) responded to the call, but the Lords of the Flame remained behind, refusing to engage in the work of creation. They claimed that they were too spiritual and pure and furthermore did not have creative powers to build material forms. The Lords of the Moon, devas of a less spiritual nature, went to their allotted lands on seven different portions of the earth, ready to create the seven primordial groups of human beings. They emanated astral forms out of their own nonphysical bodies, which became the First Root Race of humanity—ethereal and gigantic. The rudimentary form (not yet a body proper) of the early humans was a mere shadow, and these beings were regarded as a “phantom race.” The astral forms were sexless—they were not born from parents but reproduced themselves by fission. For this reason, the First Root Race was called “the self-born.” The Lords of the Moon were capable of producing astral forms, but they were not able to give minds to the members of this race. The protohumanity of this Root Race was essentially an embryonic stage, devoid of understanding.
Being nonphysical, the forms could not be affected by fire, water, or other natural elements. This rendered them impervious to the harsh conditions of the planet at the time. In fact, the phantom race could not die—they lasted for the whole duration of their evolutionary cycle, being finally assimilated to the bodies of the next Root Race.
The First Root Race developed on the “primordial land,” which is said to be a region destined to last from the beginning to the end of the evolution on this Earth, surviving all cataclysms and continental changes that will take place in this evolutionary Round. The first continent is called the “Imperishable Sacred Land.” Blavatsky wrote:
Of this mysterious and sacred land very little can be said, except, perhaps, according to a poetical expression in one of the Commentaries, that the “pole-star has its watchful eye upon it, from the dawn to the close of the twilight of “a day” of the great breath. (Secret Doctrine, 2.6)
This primordial land was located at what was the North Pole of 1.5 billion years ago. This was not our current North Pole, under which there is no land. As The Secret Doctrine explains, the inclination of the earth’s axis has shifted since then, so this imperishable sacred land would be today somewhere in the northern hemisphere.
The Second Root Race
As the astral forms of the First Root Race floated around, the “spirit of the Earth” (referring to the elemental and nature spirits) was busy at work developing the bodies of the next Root Race. Using the astral forms as a template, nature built a denser, though still ethereal, covering around them. The original astral forms became now a subtler counterpart of the newly developed ethereal bodies of the Second Root Race. This humanity was called “the boneless,” indicating that it was not yet a physical race. They were “the most heterogeneous gigantic semi-human monsters—the first attempts of material nature at building human bodies” (Secret Doctrine, 2.138). These “semi-humans” showed an instinctive intelligence, but they were still devoid of mind and self-consciousness. They too reproduced asexually, using a method of “budding and expansion.” (Today there are some simple animals, such as flatworms, which reproduce by budding, although this process is mostly associated with bacteria and yeast.)
The egg-shaped aura surrounding the ethereal body extruded a small germ from itself, which would feed from its parent and expand until it gradually detached itself from its originator. In the later part of this Root Race, the “buds” began to look like drops of sweat—“a kind of exudation of moisture or vital fluid.” (Secret Doctrine, 2.132). For this reason, the late second Race was called “the sweat-born.”
The land on which this Root Race developed was called by Blavatsky “Hyperborea,” in reference to the mythical perfect land of the Greeks:
The “Hyperborean” will be the name chosen for the Second Continent, the land which stretched out its promontories southward and westward from the North Pole to receive the Second Race, and comprised the whole of what is now known as Northern Asia. . . . It was a real Continent, a bona fide land which knew no winter in those early days. (Secret Doctrine, 2.7)
During this Root Race, the Earth too became more “solid,” producing more dry lands. This caused a great displacement of the waters of oceans, which changed their beds. The ethereal bodies of this Root Race were still impervious to the weather, although not completely to the physical elements. In fact, the majority of this race was eventually destroyed by the water displaced in this first universal flood (of which there were several).
The Third Root Race
At the beginning of the next Root Race, the small “sweat drops” started to change. They grew, becoming hard and round, eventually turning into eggs, out of which individuals hatched. The Third Root Race, now known as the “egg-born,” was approaching a fully physical form—a race “with bones.” During the transition from the sweat-born to the egg-born, the asexual progeny became hermaphroditic, each body able to produce eggs on its own. By the middle of the Third Root Race, the eggs “began to give birth, gradually and almost imperceptibly in their evolutionary development, first, to Beings in which one sex predominated over the other, and, finally, to distinct men and women” (Secret Doctrine, 2.132). At this stage, reproduction began to take sexual form. This change, of course, took millions of years, but by the end, human beings were fully physical, born from the wombs of their mothers as male or female. They were again gigantic, adapted to the general conditions and surroundings of the earth at the time. Legends of giant races are present in most ancient mythologies. Still, this middle Third Root Race was the first one that resembled what we call “human,” and was now ready for the crucial step.
The Advent of Self-Consciousness
About 18 million years ago, after humanity developed a physical body, the time came for the “completion” of the human being—the awakening of mind and self-consciousness. According to the esoteric philosophy, this milestone could not be reached by the efforts of nature alone. It required the assistance of those celestial beings who had previously refused to involve themselves in the creation of the early human forms—the Lords of the Flame. While these celestial beings could not help with physical evolution, they were able to do what the Lords of the Moon could not—stimulate the intellectual evolution of humanity by ensouling the bodies.
The terminology about these celestial beings in The Secret Doctrine is confusing. For the purpose of this article, we will simplify and state that there were two groups of beings under the “Lords of the Flame.” One is the “Lords of Wisdom”—celestial beings that had finished their human evolution in previous cycles and could now be regarded as “gods.” The other group, the “Sons of Wisdom,” are celestial beings of various degrees of evolution who are in the process of going through the human experience. These Sons of Wisdom are our souls.
The Secret Doctrine says that some among the Sons of Wisdom—those who had attained a higher level of evolution in previous cycles—incarnated in the human forms and became spiritual sages (Arhats) after a few rebirths. In Blavatsky’s words:
The Sons of Wisdom, or the spiritual Dhyanis, had become “intellectual” through their contact with matter, because they had already reached, during previous cycles of incarnation, that degree of intellect which enabled them to become independent and self-conscious entities, on this plane of matter. They were reborn only by reason of Karmic effects. They entered those who were “ready,” and [eventually] became the Arhats, or sages, alluded to above. (Secret Doctrine, 2.167)
Most Sons of Wisdom, however, were only able to send sparks of themselves into the bodies. Although this was enough to awaken the mind of the early humans, they remained destitute of the higher, enlightened knowledge already attained by the group mentioned above. These individuals constitute the average humanity of today, which is in the process of acquiring wisdom by passing through the different Root Races.
Lastly, a prideful group of Sons of Wisdom, on seeing the primitive and mindless bodies they had to incarnate into, delayed their action. “We can choose . . . we have wisdom,” they said (Secret Doctrine, 2.161), and decided to wait for the bodies to evolve further before getting involved with them. But this was a mistake—the forms left unawakened turned into a mindless, semianimal race, called the “narrow-brained.”
This third group of Sons of Wisdom, who decided to wait, had hoped that the bodies would keep on evolving in the meantime. However, physical evolution had done the best it could under the guidance of the Lords of the Moon, after which they retired, passing on the responsibility of evolution to the Sons of Wisdom. These deserted bodies, instead of evolving, began to degenerate. The narrow-brained beings started to reproduce with animals and gave birth to a monstrous “race of crooked, red-hair-covered monsters, going on all fours” (Secret Doctrine, 2.184). Seeing this, the Sons of Wisdom decided to incarnate before the situation got worse, but they had to do so in forms that had been desecrated, thus becoming a backward race. The karmic effects of the “sin of the mindless” fell upon those Sons of Wisdom “who failed to do by them their Karmic duty” (Secret Doctrine, 2.185).
Meanwhile, quite apart from this, a hierarchy of “gods”—the Lords of Wisdom—had created their own human forms by means of kriya-shakti (thought power) and incarnated among the Third Root Race. As we will see later, they would become the rulers and teachers of the early humanity.
In summary, esoteric philosophy postulates that there were seven groups of souls of varying degrees of evolution incarnating in early humanity—from those who had almost completed their human journey in previous cycles to those who were newly developed souls on this evolutionary Round. This is an important concept. If all souls inhabiting human bodies were created equal just before incarnating, it is difficult to explain the mysteries of evil and inequalities in social, moral, intellectual, and spiritual capacities among human beings. According to Blavatsky, the fact that there was a difference in the maturity or “age” of the human souls from the very beginning “solves the secret of the subsequent inequalities of intellectual capacity, and gives a logical explanation to the incomprehensible Karmic course” (Secret Doctrine, 2.161).
The mind of the late Third Root Race was young and innocent, and humans were more spiritual than intellectual. They developed a kind of nature-sound language to communicate with each other, but the essence of the communication between individuals was from mind to mind, by means of the spiritual “third eye” of which they were endowed. Because of this, the Third Root Race could perceive intuitively their connection with nature and the divine. In Blavatsky’s words:
No sooner had the mental eye of man been opened to understanding, than the Third Race felt itself one with the ever-present as the ever to be unknown and invisible all, the One Universal Deity. Endowed with divine powers, and feeling in himself his inner God, each felt he was a Man-God in his nature, though an animal in his physical Self. (Secret Doctrine, 2.272)
The continent of the Third Root Race was located in the area of the Pacific Ocean. Blavatsky wrote:
The third Continent, we propose to call “Lemuria” . . . extended from Madagascar to Ceylon and Sumatra. It included some portions of what is now Africa; but otherwise this gigantic Continent, which stretched from the Indian ocean to Australia, has now wholly disappeared beneath the waters of the Pacific, leaving here and there only some of its highland tops which are now islands. (Secret Doctrine, 2.7).
Before the awakening of the mind, weather had not been an issue, since “an eternal spring reigned over the whole globe” (Secret Doctrine, 2.135). Toward the end of this Root Race, however, there was a shift in the earth’s axis, and the world began to experience a change of seasons. Humanity found itself expelled from “paradise” and had to learn to survive in the new and hostile conditions. However, according to Theosophical teachings, this child humanity did not have to learn how to survive by the slow method of trial and error, as modern science proposes.
After (the separation [of sexes]) . . . the eternal spring became constant change and seasons succeeded. Cold forced men to build shelters and devise clothing. Then man appealed to the superior Fathers (the higher gods or angels) . . . Divine Kings descended and taught men sciences and arts, for man could live no longer in the first land (Adi-Varsha, the Eden of the first Races), which had turned into a white frozen corpse. (Secret Doctrine, 2.201)
At this juncture, the Lords of Wisdom stepped in and became the leaders and teachers of humankind. They are remembered in many traditions as the gods who were the “Divine Rulers” during the golden age of humanity. As mentioned before, the Third Root Race did not have a formal religion; but they had a natural childlike devotion for their Divine Kings, who guided and taught them:
At the dawn of consciousness, the man of the Third Root-Race had no beliefs that could be called religion. . . . But if the term is to be defined as the binding together of the masses in one form of reverence paid to those we feel higher than ourselves, of piety—as a feeling expressed by a child toward a loved parent—then even the earliest Lemurians had a religion—and a most beautiful one. (Secret Doctrine, 2.272)
It was the Golden Age, when
the gods walked the earth, and mixed freely with the mortals . . .
These gods incarnate taught humanity the rudiments of sciences and arts, and helped them build their first cities:
Under the guidance of their divine Rulers [they] built large cities, cultivated arts and sciences, and knew astronomy, architecture and mathematics to perfection. (Secret Doctrine, 2.273, 317)
But all this happened gradually. Many hundreds of thousands of years after the separation of sexes elapsed before the primeval civilization started. The Lemurians built their first cities out of stone and lava. Eventually, they were able to build huge cities using rare earths, metals, lava, marble, and black stones. According to Blavatsky, the first large cities appeared on that region of the Lemurian continent which is now known as the island of Madagascar (Secret Doctrine, 2.317).
How are we to take this narrative? Is it supposed to describe real facts, or is it allegorical? Blavatsky admitted that, “to some extent . . . even the esoteric teaching is allegorical,” because the endeavor to present processes taking place on nonphysical planes “requires the use of symbols cast in an intelligible form” (Secret Doctrine, 2.81). That being said, Blavatsky claims that the story offered in The Secret Doctrine describes what actually happened.
If so, how far does this account agree with the findings of modern science? No remains could be found of the first two Root Races, which were nonphysical. But when we come to statements about the physical races (third and fourth), one of the difficulties in judging their veracity is that these races inhabited areas that are not easily accessible to modern anthropological research. Blavatsky and her teachers pointed out that the lack of remains belonging to the giant races can be explained by the fact that the greater part of the continents of Lemuria and Atlantis are now under the oceans. In the words of Mahatma Koot Hoomi:
No doubt your geologists are very learned; but why not bear in mind that . . . there may be, hidden deep in the fathomless, or rather unfathomed ocean beds, other, and far older continents whose stratums have never been geologically explored; and that they may some day upset entirely their present theories. (Chin and Barker, 310)
Anthropological studies do not yet present a reliable picture of human evolution. We learn every year of new findings that modify previously held theories, a number of them pointing in the direction of claims made in The Secret Doctrine. The time may come when clear evidence surfaces but until then, the esoteric and scientific views walk on different paths.
Emphasis in quotes is from the original.
Blavatsky, H.P. The Secret Doctrine. Two volumes. Wheaton: Quest, 1993.
Chin, Vicente Hao, Jr., and A.T. Barker. The Mahatma Letters in Chronological Sequence. Adyar, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1998.
Pablo Sender PhD, has been a member of the Theosophical Society since 1996 and has presented Theosophical lectures, seminars, and classes around the world. He lives at the Krotona Institute of Theosophy in Ojai, California. He is the author of Evolution of the Higher Consciousness, and his articles have been published in Theosophical journals in several languages. Learn more at his website: www.pablosender.com.