Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Bonus lecture for the September 30 meeting of the Rudolf Steiner Study Circle
Michaelmas and the Soul Forces of the Human Being
A lecture given by Rudolf Steiner in Vienna on September 28, 1923
You will have sensed, my dear friends, in what I was able to tell you at the close of yesterday's lecture, concerning the old conception of Michael's conflict with the Dragon, an indication that for our time a revitalization is called for of the elements of a Weltanschauung once contained for mankind in this gigantic picture — and not even so long ago. I repeatedly drew attention to the fact that in many 18th Century souls this conception was still fully alive. But before I can tell you — as I shall in the next lectures — what a genuine, up-to-date spiritual viewpoint can and must do to revivify it, I must present to you — episodically, as it were — a more general anthroposophical train of thought. This will disclose the way in which the conception under discussion can be revitalized and once more become a force in mankind's thinking, feeling, and acting.
If we observe our present relation to nature and to the whole world, and if we compare this with sufficient open-mindedness with that of former times, we find that at bottom man has become a veritable hermit in his attitude toward the cosmic powers, a hermit in so far as he is introduced through his birth into physical existence and has lost the memory of his prenatal life — a memory that at one time was common to all mankind. During that period of our life in which nowadays we merely grow into the use of our forces of mind and memory, and to which we can remember back in this earth life, there occurred in former epochs of human evolution the lighting up of real memory, of an actual retrospect of prenatal experiences man had passed through as a psycho-spiritual being before his earth life. — That is one factor that makes present-day man a world-hermit: he is not conscious of the nature of the connection between his earthly existence and his spiritual existence.
The other factor is this: when now he gazes into the vast cosmos he observes the outer forms of the stars and constellations, but he no longer has any inner spiritual relation to what is spiritual in the cosmos. We can go further: the man of today observes the kingdoms of nature that surround him on earth — the manifold beauty of plants, the gigantic proportions of mountains, the fleeting clouds, and so on. Yet here again he is limited to sense impressions; and often he is even afraid, when he feels a deeper, more intimate contact with the great spaces of nature, lest he might lose his ingenuous attitude toward them. This phase of human evolution was indispensable for the development of what we experience in the consciousness of freedom, the feeling of freedom, in order to arrive at full self-consciousness, at the inner strength that permits the ego to rise to its full height; but necessary as was this hermit life of man in relation to the cosmos, it must be but a transition to another epoch in which the human being may find the way back to spirit, which after all underlies all things and beings. And precisely this finding the way back to spirit must be achieved by means of the strength that can come to him who is able to grasp the Michael idea in its right sense and in its true form, the form it must assume in our time.
Our mentality, the life of our Gemüt, and our life of action all need to be permeated with the Michael impulse. But when we hear it stated that a Michael Festival must be resuscitated among men and that the time is ripe for assigning it its place among the other annual festivals, it is naturally not enough that a few people should say, Well let us start — let us have a Michael Festival! My dear friends, if anthroposophy is to achieve its aim, the superficiality so prevalent today must obviously play no part in any anthroposophical undertakings; but rather, whatever may grow out of anthroposophy must do so with the most profound seriousness. And in order to familiarize ourselves with what this seriousness should be we must consider in what manner the festivals — once vital, today so anaemic — took their place in human evolution. Did the Christmas or Easter Festival come into being because a few people had the idea of instituting a festival at a certain time of the year and said, Let us make the necessary arrangements? Naturally that is not the case. For something like the Christmas Festival to find its way into the life of mankind, Christ Jesus had to be born; this event had to enter the world-historical evolution of the earth; a transcendent event had to occur. And the Easter Festival? It could never have had any meaning in the world had it not commemorated what took place through the Mystery of Golgotha, had not this event intervened incisively for the history of the earth in the evolution of humanity. If nowadays these festivals have faded, if the whole seriousness of the Christmas and Easter Festivals is no longer felt, this fact in itself should lead to a revived intensification of them through a more profound comprehension of the birth of Christ Jesus and the Mystery of Golgotha. Under no conditions, however, must it be imagined that one should add to these festivals simply by establishing a Michael Festival with equal superficiality at the beginning of autumn. Something must be present that can be incisive in human evolution in the same way — though possibly to a lesser degree — as were all events that led to the institution of festivals.
The possibility of celebrating a Michael Festival in all seriousness must inevitably be brought about, and it is the anthroposophical movement out of which an understanding for such a Michael Festival must be able to arise. But just as the Christmas and Easter Festivals were led up to by outer events, in evolutionary objectivity, so a radical transformation must take place in the inner being of mankind before such a step is taken. Anthroposophy must become a profound experience, an experience men can think of in a way similar to that which they feel when imbued with the whole power dwelling in the birth of Christ Jesus, in the Mystery of Golgotha. As was said, this may be so to a lesser degree in the case of the Michael Festival; but something of this soul-transmuting force must proceed from the anthroposophical movement. That is indeed what we long for: that anthroposophy might be imbued with this power to transmute souls: and this can only come about if the substance of its teaching — if I may call it that — becomes actual experience.
Let us now turn our attention to such experiences as can enter our inner being through anthroposophy. In our soul life we distinguish, as you know, thinking, feeling, and willing from one another; and especially in connection with feeling we speak of the human Gemüt. Our thinking appears to us cold, dry, colorless — as though spirituality emaciating us — when our thoughts take an abstract form, when we are unable to imbue them with the warmth and enthusiasm of feeling. We can call a man gemütvoll only when something of the inner warmth of his Gemüt streams forth to us when he utters his thoughts. And we can really make close contact with a man only if his behavior toward ourself and the world is not merely correct and in line with duty, but if his actions manifest enthusiasm, a warm heart, a love of nature, love for every being. This human Gemüt, then, dwells in the very center of the soul life, as it were.
But while thinking and willing have assumed a certain character by reason of man's having become cosmically a hermit, this is even more true of the human Gemüt. Thinking may contemplate the perfection of its cosmic calculations and perhaps gloat over their subtlety, but it simply fails to sense how basically remote it is from the warm heartbeat of life. And in correct actions, carried out by a mere sense of duty, many a man may find satisfaction, without really feeling that a life of such matter-of-fact behavior is but half a life. Neither the one nor the other touches the human soul very closely. But what lies between thinking and willing, all that is comprised in the human Gemüt, is indeed intimately linked with the whole being of man. And while it may sometimes seem — in view of the peculiar tendencies of many people at the present time — as though the factors that should warm and elevate the Gemüt and fill it with enthusiasm might become chilled as well, this is a delusion. For it can be said that a man's inner, conscious experiences might at a pinch occur lacking the element of Gemüt; but through such a lack his being will inevitably suffer in some way. And if such a man's soul can endure this — if perhaps through soullessness he forces himself to Gemütlessness — the process will gnaw at his whole being in some other form: it will eat right down into his physical organization, affecting his health. Much of what appears in our time as symptoms of decline is basically connected with the lack of Gemüt into which many people have settled. — The full import of these rather general statements will become clear when we delve deeper into them.
One who simply grows up into our modern civilization observes the things of the outer world: he perceives them, forms abstract thoughts about them, possibly derives real pleasure from a lovely blossom or a majestic plant; and if he is at all imaginative he may even achieve an inner picture of these. Yet he remains completely unaware of his deeper relation to that world of which the plant, for example, is a part. To talk incessantly about spirit, spirit, and again spirit is utterly inadequate for spiritual perception. Instead, what is needed is that we should become conscious of our true spiritual relations to the things around us. When we observe a plant in the usual way we do not in the least sense the presence of an elemental being dwelling in it, of something spiritual; we do not dream that every such plant harbors something which is not satisfied by having us look at it and form such abstract mental pictures as we commonly do of plants today. For in every plant there is concealed — under a spell, as it were — an elemental spiritual being; and really only he observes a plant in the right way who realizes that this loveliness is a sheath of a spiritual being enchanted in it — a relatively insignificant being, to be sure, in the great scale of cosmic interrelationship, but still a being intimately related to man.
The human being is really so closely linked to the world that he cannot take a step in the realm of nature without coming under the intense influence exercised upon him by his intimate relations to the world. And when we see the lily in the field, growing from the seed to the blossom, we must vividly imagine — though not personified — that this lily is awaiting something. (Again I must use men's words as I did before to express another picture: they cannot quite cover the meaning, but they do express the realities inherent in things.) While unfolding its leaves, but especially its blossom, this lily is really expecting something. It says to itself: Men will pass and look at me; and when a sufficient number of human eyes will have directed their gaze upon me — so speaks the spirit of the lily — I shall be disenchanted of my spell, and I shall be able to start on my way into spiritual worlds. — You will perhaps object that many lilies grow unseen by human eye: yes, but then the conditions are different, and such lilies find their release in a different way. For the decree that the spell of that particular lily shall be broken by human eyes comes about by the first human glance cast upon the lily. It is a relationship entered into between man and the lily when he first lets his gaze rest upon it. — All about us are these elemental spirits begging us, in effect, Do not look at the flowers so abstractly, nor form such abstract mental pictures of them: let rather your heart and your Gemüt enter into what lives, as soul and spirit, in the flowers, for it is imploring you to break the spell. — Human existence should really be a perpetual releasing of the elemental spirits lying enchanted in minerals, plants, and animals.
An idea such as this can readily be sensed in its abundant beauty; but precisely by grasping it in its right spiritual significance we can also feel it in the light of the full responsibility we thereby incur toward the whole cosmos. In the present epoch of civilization — that of the development of freedom — man's attitude toward the flowers is a mere sipping at what he should really be drinking. He sips by forming concepts and ideas, whereas he should drink by uniting, through his Gemüt, with the elemental spirits of the things and beings that surround him.
I said, we need not consider the lilies that are never seen by man but must think of those that are so seen, because they need the relationship of the Gemüt which the human being can enter into with them. Now, it is from the lily that an effect proceeds; and manifold, mighty and magnificent are indeed the spiritual effects, that continually approach man out of the things of nature when he walks in it. One who can see into these things constantly perceives the variety and grandeur of all that streams out to him from all sides through the elemental spirituality of nature. And it flows into him: it is something that constantly streams toward him as supersensible spirituality poured out over outer nature, which is a mirror of the divine-spiritual.
In the next days, we shall have occasion to speak of these matters more in detail, in the true anthroposophical sense. At the moment we will go on to say that in the human being there dwells the force I have described as the force of the Dragon whom Michael encounters, against whom he does battle. I indicated that this Dragon has an animal-like form, yet is really a supersensible being; that on account of his insubordination as a supersensible being he was expelled into the sense world, where he now has his being; and I indicated further that he exists only in man, because outer nature cannot harbor him. Outer nature, image of divine spirituality, has in its innocence nothing whatever to do with the Dragon: he is established in the being of men, as I have set forth. But by reason of being such a creature — a supersensible being in the sense of world — he instantly attracts the supersensible elemental forces that stream toward man out of nature and unites with them, with the result that man, instead of releasing the plant elementals from their spell through his soul and Gemüt, unites them with the Dragon, allows them to perish with the Dragon in his lower nature. For everything in the world moves in an evolutionary stream, taking many different directions to this end; and the elemental beings dwelling in minerals, plants, and animals must rise to a higher existence than is offered by their present abodes. This they can only accomplish by passing through man. The establishment of an external civilization is surely not man's sole purpose on earth: he has a cosmic aim within the entire world evolution; and this cosmic aim is linked with such matters as I have just described — with the further development of those elemental beings that in earthly existence are at a low stage, but destined for a higher one. When man enters into a certain relationship with them, and when everything runs as it should, they can attain to this higher stage of evolution.
In the old days of instinctive human evolution, when in the Gemüt the forces of soul and spirit shone forth and when these were as much a matter of course to him as were the forces of nature, world evolution actually progressed in such a way that the stream of existence passed through man in a normal, orderly way, as it were. But precisely during the epoch that must now terminate, that must advance to a higher form of spirituality, untold elemental substance within man has been delivered over to the Dragon; for it is his very nature to hunger and thirst for these elemental beings: to creep about, frightening plants and minerals in order to gorge himself with the elemental beings of nature. For with them he wants to unite, and with them to permeate his own being. In extrahuman nature he cannot do this, but only in the inner nature of man, for only there is existence possible for him. And if this were to continue, the earth would be doomed, for the Dragon would inevitably be victorious in earthly existence.
He would be victorious for a very definite reason: by virtue of his saturating himself, as it were, with elemental beings in human nature, something happens physically, psychically, and spiritually. Spiritually: no human being would ever arrive at the silly belief in a purely material outer world, as assumed by nature research today; he would never come to accept dead atoms and the like; he would never assume the existence of such reactionary laws as that of the conservation of force and energy, or of the permanence of matter, were not the Dragon in him to absorb the elemental beings from without. When these come to be in man, in the body of the Dragon, human observation is distracted from what things contain of spirit; man no longer sees spirit in things, which in the meantime has entered into him; he sees nothing but dead matter. — Psychically: everything a man has ever expressed in the way of what I must call cowardice of soul results from the Dragon's having absorbed the elemental powers within him. Oh, how widespread is this cowardice of the soul! We know quite well that we should do this or that, that such and such is the right thing to do in a given situation; but we cannot bring our self to do it — a certain dead weight acts in our soul: the elemental beings in the Dragon's body are at work in us. — And psychically: man would never be tormented by what are called disease germs had his body not been prepared — through the spiritual effects I have just described — as a soil for the germs. These things penetrate even into the physical organization; and we can say that if we perceive man rightly in his spirit, soul, and body as he is constituted today, we find him cut off from the spirit realm in three directions — for a good purpose, to be sure; the attainment of freedom. He no longer has in him the spiritual powers he might have; and thus you see that through this threefold debilitation of his life, through what the glutted Dragon has become in him, he is prevented from experiencing the potency of the spirit within himself.
There are two ways of experiencing anthroposophy — many variations lie between, but I am mentioning only the two extremes — and one of them is this: a man sits down in a chair, takes a book, reads it, and finds it quite interesting as well as comforting to learn that there is such a thing as spirit, as immortality. It just suits him to know that with regard to the soul as well, man is not dead when his body dies. He derives greater satisfaction from such a cosmogony than from a materialistic one. He takes it up as one might take up abstract reflections on geography, except that anthroposophy provides more of comfort. Yes, that is one way. The man gets up from his chair really no different from what he was when he sat down, except for having derived a certain satisfaction from what he read — or heard, if it was a lecture instead of a book.
But there is another way of receiving what anthroposophy has to give. It is to absorb something like the idea of Michael's Conflict with the Dragon in such a way as really to become inwardly transformed, to feel it as an important, incisive experience, and to rise from your chair fundamentally quite a different being after reading something of that sort. — And as has been said, there are all sorts of shades between these two.
The first type of reader cannot be counted upon at all when it is a question of reviving the Michaelmas Festival: only those can be depended upon whose determination it is, at least within their capacities, to take anthroposophy into themselves as something living. And that is exactly what should be experienced within the anthroposophical movement: the need to experience as life-forces those ideas that first present themselves to us merely as such, as ideas. — Now I will say something wholly paradoxical: sometimes it is much easier to understand the opponents of anthroposophy than its adherents. The opponents say, Oh, these anthroposophical ideas are fantastic — they conform with no reality; and they reject them, remain untouched by them. One can readily understand such an attitude and find a variety of reasons for it. As a rule it is caused by fear of these ideas — a real attitude, though unconscious. But frequently it happens that a man accepts the ideas; yet, though they diverge so radically from everything else in the world that can be accepted, they produce less feeling in him than would an electrifying apparatus applied to his knuckle. In the latter case he at least feels in his body a twitching produced by the spark; and the absence of a similar spark in the soul is what so often causes great anguish — this links up with the demand of our time that men be laid hold of and impressed by the spirit, not merely by what is physical. Men avoid being knocked and jerked about, but they do not avoid coming in contact with ideas dealing with other worlds, ideas presenting themselves as something very special in the present-day sense-world, and then maintaining the same indifference toward them as toward ideas of the senses.
This ability to rise to the point at which thoughts about spirit can grip us as powerfully as can anything in the physical world, this is Michael power. It is confidence in the ideas of spirit — given the capacity for receiving them at all — leading to the conviction: I have received a spiritual impulse, I give myself up to it, I become the instrument for its execution. First failure — never mind! Second failure — never mind! A hundred failures are of no consequence, for no failure is ever a decisive factor in judging the truth of a spiritual impulse whose effect has been inwardly understood and grasped. We have full confidence in a spiritual impulse, grasped at a certain point of time, only when we can say to our self, My hundred failures can at most prove that the conditions for realizing the impulse are not given me in this incarnation; but that this impulse is right I can know from its own nature. And if I must wait a hundred incarnations for the power to realize this impulse, nothing but its own nature can convince me of the efficacy or impotence of any spiritual impulse.
If you will imagine this thought developed in the human Gemüt as great confidence in spirit, if you will consider that man can cling firm as a rock to something he has seen to be spiritually victorious, something he refuses to relinquish in spite of all outer opposition, then you will have a conception of what the Michael power, the Michael being, really demands of us; for only then will you comprehend the nature of the great confidence in spirit. We may leave in abeyance some spiritual impulse or other, even for a whole incarnation; but once we have grasped it we must never waver in cherishing it within us, for only thus can we save it up for subsequent incarnations. And when confidence in spirit will in this way have established a frame of mind to which this spiritual substance appears as real as the ground under our feet — the ground without which we could not stand — then we shall have in our Gemüt a feeling of what Michael really expects of us.
Undoubtedly you will admit that in the course of the last centuries — even the last thousand years of human history — the vastly greater part of this active confidence in spirit has been disappearing, that life does not exact from the majority of men the development of such confidence. Yet that is what had to come, because what I am really expressing when I say this is that in the last instance man has burned the bridges that formerly had communication with the Michael power.
But in the meantime much has happened in the world. Man has in a sense apostatized from the Michael power. The stark, intense materialism of the 19th Century is in effect an apostasy from the Michael power. But objectively, in the domain of outer spirit, the Michael power has been victorious, precisely in the last third of the 19th Century. What the Dragon had hoped to achieve through human evolution will not come to pass, yet on the other hand we envision today the other great fact that out of free resolution man will have to take part in Michael's victory over the Dragon. And this involves finding the way to abandon the prevalent passivity in relation to spirit and to enter into an active one. The Michael forces cannot be acquired through any form of passivity, not even through passive prayer, but only through man's making himself the instrument of divine-spiritual forces by means of his loving will. For the Michael forces do not want to be implored: they want men to unite with them. This men can do if they will receive the lessons of the spiritual world with inner energy.
This will indicate what must appear in man if the Michael conception is to come alive again. He must really be able to experience spirit, and he must be able to gather this experience wholly out of thought — not in the first instance by means of some sort of clairvoyance. We would be in a bad way if everybody had to become clairvoyant in order to have this confidence in spirit. Everyone who is at all receptive to the teachings of spiritual science can have this confidence. If a man will saturate himself more and more with confidence in spirit, something will come over him like an inspiration; and this is something that really all the good spirits of the world are awaiting. He will experience the spring, sensing the beauty and loveliness of the plant world and finding deep delight in the sprouting, burgeoning life; but at the same time he will develop a feeling for the spell-bound elemental spirituality in all this budding life. He will acquire a feeling, a Gemüt content, telling him that every blossom bears testimony to the existence of an enchanted elemental being within it; and he will learn to feel the longing in this elemental being to be released by him, instead of being delivered up to the Dragon to whom it is related through its own invisibility. And when the flowers wither in the autumn he will know that he has succeeded in contributing a bit to the progress of spirit in the world, in enabling an elemental being to slip out of its plant when the blossoms wither and fall and become seed. But only as he permeated himself with the powerful strength of Michael will he be able to lead this elemental being up into the spirit for which it yearns.
And men will experience the cycle of the seasons. They will experience spring as the birth of elemental beings longing for the spirit, and autumn as their liberation from the dying plants and withering blossoms. They will no longer stand alone as cosmic hermits who have merely grown half a year older by fall than they were in the spring: together with evolving nature they will have pressed onward by one of life's milestones. They will not merely have inhaled the physical oxygen so and so many times, but will have participated in the evolution of nature, in the enchanting and disenchanting of spiritual beings in nature. Men will no longer only feel themselves growing older; they will sense the transformation of nature as part of their own destiny: they will coalesce with all that grows there, will expand in their being because their free individuality can pour itself out in sacrifice into the cosmos. — That is what man will be able to contribute to a favorable outcome of Michael's Conflict with the Dragon.
Thus, we see that what can lead to a Michaelmas Festival must be an event of the human Gemüt, a Gemüt event that can once more experience the cycle of the seasons as a living reality, in the manner described. But do not imagine that you are experiencing it by merely setting up this abstract concept in your mind! You will achieve this only after you have actually absorbed anthroposophy in such a way that it makes you regard every plant, every stone, in a new way; and also only after anthroposophy has taught you to contemplate all human life in a new way.
I have tried to give you a sort of picture of what must be prepared specifically in the human Gemüt, if the latter is to learn to feel surrounding nature as its very own being. The most that men have retained of this sort of thing is the ability to experience in their blood circulation a certain psychic element in addition to the material factor: unless they are rank materialists they have preserved that much. But to experience the pulse-beat of outer existence as we do our own innermost being, to take part once more in the cycle of the seasons as we experience the life inside our own skin — that is the preparation needed for the Michael Festival.
Inasmuch as these lectures are intended to present for your contemplation the relation between anthroposophy and the human Gemüt, it is my wish that they may really be grasped not merely by the head but especially by the Gemüt; for at bottom, all anthroposophy is largely futile in the world and among men if it is not absorbed by the Gemüt, if it carries no warmth into this human Gemüt. Recent centuries have heaped cleverness in abundance upon men: in the matter of thinking, men have come to the point where they no longer even know how clever they are. That is a fact. True, many people believe present-day men to be stupid; but granting that there are stupid people in the world, this is really only because their cleverness has reached such proportions that they debility of their Gemüt prevents them from knowing what to do with all their cleverness. Whenever someone is called stupid, I always maintain that it is merely a case of his not knowing what use to make of his cleverness. I have listened to many discussions in which some speaker or other was ridiculed because he was considered stupid, but occasionally just one of these would seem to me the cleverest.
Cleverness, then, has been furnished us in abundance by the last few centuries; but what we need today is warmth of Gemüt, and this anthroposophy can provide. When someone studying anthroposophy says it leaves him cold, he reminds me of one who keeps piling wood in the stove and then complains that the room doesn't get warm. Yet all he needs to do is to kindle the wood, then it will get warm. Anthroposophy can be presented, and it is the good wood of the soul; but it can be enkindled only by each within himself. What everyone must find in his Gemüt is the match wherewith to light anthroposophy. Anthroposophy is in truth warm and ardent: it is the very soul of the Gemüt; and he who finds this anthroposophy cold and intellectual and matter-of-fact just lacks the means of kindling it so it may pervade him with its fire. And just as only a little match is needed to light ordinary wood, so anthroposophy, too, needs only a little match. But this will enkindle the force of Michael in man.