Saturday, January 8, 2011
Survivals of the ancient wisdom
Rudolf Steiner, January 12, 1924 [Rosicrucianism and Modern Initiation, lecture 5 of 6]:
We have seen how the old knowledge that was once acquired by means of instinctive clairvoyance gradually faded into a kind of evening twilight. It is difficult to find any trace of that old wisdom in modern times, particularly after the eighteenth century, for what I have told you is really true, namely that in recent times what has persisted — or rather, to put it more correctly, what has only recently made its appearance — is the external observation of Nature, Logic, the sequence of abstract thoughts. But neither with external observation of Nature nor with the mere sequence of abstract logical thoughts can a bridge be built for man whereby he may attain to reality. Much of the ancient wisdom has nevertheless maintained a sort of existence in traditional form and may be found even as late as the middle of the nineteenth century. And in order that we may orientate ourselves rightly to the important subjects with which we shall have to deal, I should like today to speak further about some of the ideas that were still to be found in the first half of the nineteenth century and are really survivals of the ancient wisdom.
I relate these things to you in order that you may see how in a time that does not lie so very far back the whole manner of thinking was nevertheless entirely different from what it is today. As I said before, it is exceedingly difficult to arrive at these things, for it is single individuals — living all alone, or having around them at the most a small circle of pupils — who carried on the ancient wisdom, preserving it in secret, often without themselves understanding its wonderfully deep foundation. A similar picture has really to be made of the conditions as they were in still earlier times, for it is quite certain that the two characters who are familiar to you under the names of Faust and Paracelsus encountered in the course of their wanderings such lonely individuals — cave-dwellers of the soul, we may call them — and learned a great deal from them; learned from them what they themselves afterwards developed and elaborated through an inner faculty of their own, a faculty that was in their cases, too, of a rather instinctive nature.
What I am now going to relate to you was however much later: it was in the early decades of the nineteenth century. Once more we find a small group — call it a school if you will — a lonely school of Central Europe. There, in this little circle, was to be found a deep and penetrating teaching concerning Man. A long time ago, on a spiritual path, I became aware that at a certain place in Central Europe there existed such a small company of men who had knowledge. As I have said, I learned to know of it on a spiritual path; I was not able at that time to make observations in the physical world, since I was not then in the physical world, but in a spiritual way it became known to me that a little company of this kind existed.
I should, however, not speak of what was taught within this little company, had not the essence of what was hidden in it subsequently again disclosed itself to research made independently through Spiritual Science; I should not speak of it had I not myself, so to speak, found the things anew. For it is just in the refinding that one obtains the right orientation to the wisdom that has survived from olden times, and that is truly overpowering in its greatness.
From this little company of which I speak, a tradition goes right back in history, back through the whole of the Middle Ages into the times of antiquity that I described to you in the lectures given at the Christmas Meeting, the times, that is to say, of Aristotle. The tradition does not, however, come directly from Greece; it comes from Asia, by way of what was brought over to Asia from Macedonia by Alexander.
Within this little company is known and taught in all exactness a deep and penetrating teaching concerning Man, in respect especially of two human faculties. We may see there a spiritual scientist — he may truly be so called — who is a fully developed Master, instructing his pupils. The symbols by which he teaches them consist in certain geometrical forms — let us say for example a form such as this — [two intersecting triangles] — and at the points are generally to be found some words in Hebrew. It was impossible to find any direct connection with such symbols; one could do nothing with them directly. And the pupils of this master knew through the instructions they received that what, for example, Eliphas Levi gives later on, is in reality nothing more than a talking around the subject, for the pupils were at that time still able to learn how the true meaning of such symbols is only arrived at when these symbols are rediscovered in the nature and being of the human organization itself.
We find in particular one symbol that played a great part for this little company of men. You get the symbol when you draw apart this “Solomon's Key,” so that the one triangle comes down and the other is raised up. The symbol thus obtained played, as I said, a significant part even as late as the nineteenth century within this little community or school.
The Master then made the members of his little circle of pupils take up a certain attitude with their bodies. They had to assume such a position that the body itself as it were inscribed this symbol. He made them stand with their legs far apart, and their arms stretched out above. Then by lengthening the lines of the arms downwards, and the lines of the legs upwards, these four lines came to view in the human organism itself. A line was then drawn to unite the feet, and another line to unite the hands above. These two joining lines were felt as lines of force; the pupil became conscious that they do really exist. It became clear to him that currents pass, like electro-magnetic currents, from the left fingertips to the right fingertips, and again from the left foot to the right foot. So that in actual fact the human organism itself writes into space these two intersecting triangles.
The next step was for the pupil to learn to feel what lies in the words: “Light streams upwards, Weight bears downwards.” The pupil had to experience this in deep meditation, standing in the attitude I have described. Thereby he gradually came to the point where the teacher was able to say to him: “Now you are about to experience something that was practised over and over again in the ancient Mysteries.” And the pupil attained then in very truth to this further experience, namely that he experienced and felt the very marrow within his bones.
You will be able to obtain some feeling for these things if you will bring what I am saying into connection with something I said to you only yesterday. I told you then, in another connection, that if men continue only to think so abstractly as has become the custom in the course of time, then this living in abstract thoughts remains something external; man as it were externalizes himself. It is the exact opposite that occurs when, in this way, a consciousness of the bones from inside is attained.
But now there is something else that will help you to come to an understanding of the matter. Paradoxical as it may sound, it is yet true that such a book as my Philosophy of Spiritual Activity cannot be grasped by mere Logic, it must be understood by the whole human being. And in point of fact you will not understand what is said in that book concerning thinking, unless you know that in reality man experiences thought by means of the inner knowledge and feeling of his skeleton. A man does not really think with the brain, he thinks with his skeleton, when he thinks in sharply defined thoughts. And when thought becomes concrete, as is the case in The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, then it passes over into the whole human being.
But now the pupils of this Master went further still; they learned to feel the inside, the inner nature, of the bones. Therewith they were able to experience a last example of what was practised in manifold ways in the ancient Mystery Schools, they learned to experience symbols by making their own organism into these symbols; for only so can symbols be really and truly experienced. Explanation and interpretation of symbols is really nonsense; so too is all theorising about symbols. The true attitude to symbols is to make them and actually experience them. It is the same as with fables and legends and fairy tales. — These should never be received merely abstractly, one must identify oneself with them. There is always something in man whereby he can enter into all the figures of the fairy tale, whereby he can make himself one with the fairy tale. And so it is with these true symbols of olden times, which come originally from spiritual knowledge; I have expressed it by writing these words in your own language.
In modern times there is little sense if Hebrew words are written, words that are no longer fully understood; for then the man who reads them is not inwardly quickened to life, he has not an inward experience of the symbol, rather he is cramped by it. It is as though his bones were broken. And that is what really happens — spiritually of course — when one studies seriously such writings as those of Eliphas Levi.
Thus, then, did these pupils learn to experience the inside of their bones. But, my dear friends, when you begin to experience the inside of the bones, you are really no longer in your body. If you hold something in your finger a few inches in front of your nose, the object you are holding is not in you; just as little is what you experience within your bones really in you. You go inwards, it is true, but nevertheless you go out of yourself. And this going out of oneself, this going to the Gods, this going into the spiritual world, is what the pupils of that lonely school learned to grasp and understand. For they learned to know the lines which from the side of the Gods were drawn into the world, the lines that were drawn by the Gods to establish and found the world. They found in one direction, namely through Man, the path to the Gods.
And then the teacher put into words what the pupil was experiencing. — He expressed it in a sentence that will naturally appear ludicrous and paradoxical to many people today but that holds nevertheless, as you will be able to recognize, a deep truth: —
Behold the man of bone,
And thou beholdest Death.
Look within the bones
And thou beholdest the Awakener —
that is, the Awakener of man in the Spirit, the Being who brings man into connection with the world of the Gods.
Now in the time of which we are speaking not very much could be attained on this path; something however could be attained. Something of the teaching concerning the evolution of the Earth through different metamorphoses became clear to the pupils. Through being able to place themselves into the Spirit-being of Man, they learned to look back into Atlantean times and even farther. As a matter of fact very many things that were not in those times written down or printed but were related by word of mouth concerning the evolution of the Earth had their origin in a knowledge and insight that came about in this way.
Such was one of the teachings given in this school.
Another teaching is also very interesting. This teaching brought to light in a practical manner the higher position of Man in respect to the animals. Facts that we put to practical use in various ways and that are of great value to us were known and understood even as late as the nineteenth century by men who based their knowledge on good old traditions of knowledge and insight. We are proud today that we have police-dogs who are able to track out all kinds of wrongdoing in life. This practical use had not been thought of in olden times. But the faculty of dogs, for example, in this direction was even better known than it is today. Man had insight to perceive around the human being a very fine substance, finer than anything that can be seen or smelt or sensed in any way. And it was known that there is a fine fluid belonging also to the world as a whole. It was recognized as a special differentiation of warmth-currents, in union with all manner of other currents, which were looked upon as electro-magnetic; and the scent of the dog was connected with these currents of warmth and electro-magnetism. The pupils of that little school of which I have been telling you had their attention drawn to the same kind of faculty in other animals too. It was shown to them how this sense for a fine fluid flowing through the world was present in a very great many animals. And then it was pointed out to them how that which in the case of the animal develops downwards in the direction of the coarse and material, develops in man upwards into a quality of soul.
And now we come to something taught in this school that is of the very greatest interest. It was taught by reference to facts of external anatomy, but a deeply spiritual truth was indicated. It was said to the pupil: “Behold, Man is a Microcosm; he imitates in his organism what takes place in the great structure of the Universe.” Nor was Man regarded as a microcosm, as a little world, only in respect of the processes that go on within him. What shows itself plastically in man, in plastic forms and structures — this too was referred back to processes in the external world.
Thus, profound and solemn attention was given in this school to the passage of the Moon through First Quarter, Full Moon, Last Quarter, New Moon; they learned to watch how the Moon in this way goes through twenty-eight to thirty phases. They watched out in the Cosmos the passage of the Moon through her phases. They watched the Moon as she moves within her orbit. They saw how she describes her twenty-eight to thirty curves or turns and they understood how Man has in his spinal column these twenty-eight to thirty vertebrae and how the development of the spinal column in the embryo corresponds with the movements and forces of the Moon. They saw in the form and shape of the human spinal column the copy of the monthly movement of the Moon. And in the twenty-eight to thirty nerves that go out from the spinal column into the whole organism they saw a copy of the streams that the Moon sends down continually upon the Earth, sending them down at the various stages of her path in the heavens. Actually and literally, in these continuations of the vertebrae they saw a reflection of the inpouring of the Moon-streams. In short, in what the human being bears within him in the nerves of the spinal marrow together with the spinal marrow itself they saw something that unites him with the Cosmos, that brings him into living connection with the Cosmos.
All this that I have indicated to you was presented to the pupil. And he was then made to observe something else. It was said to him: “Look at the optic nerve: watch how it goes from the brain across into the eye. You will see that in the course of its passage into the eye it is divided into very fine threads. How many threads? The threads that go from the optic nerve into the inside of the eye are exactly as many in number as the nerves that go out from the spinal marrow; there are twenty-eight to thirty of them. So we may say that a spinal marrow system in miniature goes from the brain through the optic nerve into the eye.”
Thus has Man — so said the teacher to his pupils — thus has man received this thirty-membered system of nerves and spinal marrow from the Gods, who in primeval antiquity formed and shaped his existence; but Man himself has fashioned, in his eye, in his sense-world-beholding eye, a copy of the same; there, in the front of the head-organism, he has fashioned for himself a copy of what the Gods have made of him.
After this, the pupil's attention was directed to the following. The organization of the spinal marrow stands, as we have seen, in connection with the Moon. But on the other hand, through the special relationship that the Moon has to the Sun, we have a year of twelve months; and from the human brain twelve nerves go out to the various parts of the organism, the twelve chief nerves of the brain. In this respect Man, in his head organization, is a microcosm, in respect, namely, of the relationship between Sun and Moon. In the whole form and figure of Man is expressed an imitation of the processes out yonder in the Cosmos.
Again, the pupil was taught to observe something more. He has seen how in the optic nerve, through the way the optic nerve is split up into thirty divisions, Man imitates the Moon system of the spine. And he has seen how twelve nerves go out from the brain. But now again, when the particular part of the brain that sends the olfactory nerve into the nose is examined the fact is disclosed that there, in that little portion of the brain, the whole big brain is imitated. Just as in the eye the system of nerves and spinal marrow is imitated, so in the organ of smell the whole brain is imitated, inasmuch as the olfactory nerve enters the nose in twelve divisions, in twelve strands. So that Man has an actual, miniature human being in front, here, in his head.
And then the pupil was made to observe that anatomically this miniature human being is no more than a mere indication. Things grow different; only the most minute anatomical investigation could avail here; although on the other hand, as it were in compensation, they express themselves especially strongly in the astral body. Having however only bare indications of them, they cannot be made use of in ordinary life. Yet we can learn to do so. And even as the pupil was shown how to experience the inside of his bones, so was he shown how to experience, in a really living way, this particular part of his being.
And here we come to something that is in truth more akin to the whole Western outlook than are many other things that come over to us from the East. For the East too speaks of this concentration on the root of the nose, this concentration on the point between the eyebrows. (This is how the exact spot is defined.) But in truth this concentration is a concentration on the miniature man that is situated in this spot and can be grasped astrally. A meditation can actually be so formed as to enable one to apprehend something in the region like a miniature man in embryonic development. The pupil in that school received this guidance: he learned to apprehend, in intensely concentrated thought, a kind of embryonic development of a miniature human being.
By this means did the pupils who had the faculties for it develop the two-petaled lotus-flower. [Footnote: see Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and its Attainment by Rudolf Steiner] And then it was said to them: The animal develops this faculty downwards, to the fluid of warmth and of electro-magnetism. Man on the other hand develops into the astral what has its place here in the head and nose. At first sight it appears to be merely a sense of smell, but the faculty, the activity, of the eye plays over into it. Man develops this into the astral. He acquires the faculty whereby he is able not merely to follow that fluid, as do the animals, but to evoke continual interchange with the astral light, and to perceive by means of the two-petaled lotus-flower what he is continually writing into the astral light his whole life long. The dog scents only that which has remained, that which is there present. Man has a different experience. Inasmuch as he moves with his two-petaled lotus-flower, even when he cannot perceive with it, he is forever writing everything that is in his thoughts into the astral light; and now he acquires the faculty that enables him to follow what he has written; and to perceive at the same time something else, namely, the true difference between Good and Evil.
In this manner echoes of ancient primeval treasures of wisdom were still present, of which the rudiments were still taught in later days, even practically. And we can see how very much has been lost under the influence of the materialistic streams that began to work so forcibly about the middle of the nineteenth century. For such things as I have been indicating to you were still, to a certain degree at least, experienced and known in certain circles, isolated and hermit-like though they were. And in the most varied domains of life knowledge was still derived from such hidden sources, knowledge that was later entirely disregarded, and that many today long to find again. But on account of the crude methods that prevail in our time, external cognition cannot regain it.
Now together with all else that was taught to the pupils of that little circle, there was one special and definite teaching. It was shown to the pupil how when he makes use of the organ that is really an organ of smell raised up into the astral light, then he learns to know the true substance of all things, he learns to know Matter. And when he comes to a knowledge of the inside of his bony system, and thereby learns to know the true and authentic World Geometry, to know the way in which the forces have been inscribed into the world by the Gods, then he learns to understand the Forms that work in the things of the world. Thus if you would learn to know Quartz in its substance — so it was said to the pupil — then look at it in the two-petaled lotus-flower. If you would learn to know its crystal form, how the substance is given shape and form, then you must apprehend this form out of the Cosmos with the power of apprehension that you can gain by living experience of the inside of the bony system.
Or again, the pupil was taught as follows. — If you use your head-organ, then you learn to know how a plant is fashioned in respect of Substance. If you learn to experience the inside of your bony system, then you learn to know how a certain plant grows, why it has this or that form of leaf, this or that arrangement of its leaves, why it unfolds its blossoms in this or that manner.
Everything that is Form had to be understood in the one way, everything that is Substance in the other way. And it is really interesting to find, when we go back to Aristotle, how he makes this distinction in respect of everything that exists, the distinction between Form and Substance. In later times, of course, it was taught in a merely abstract way.
In the stream that came from Greece to Europe the abstractness with which these things were set forth in books was enough to drive one to despair; this went on throughout the Middle Ages, and in still more recent times has gone from bad to worse. But if you go back to Aristotle you find that, with him, Forms really lead back to the experience I described, you find with him the true insight into things that is able to see in every head that which he calls the Matter or Substance in the things. This insight possessed by Aristotle was the aspect of his teaching that was carried into Asia.
But now the inner knowledge — that is to say, the knowledge that is in accord with the Akashic Records — the inner knowledge of the philosophy taught in Greece points us to something of which I could naturally only give quite an external indication in my Riddles of Philosophy, where I showed how Aristotle held the view that in Man, Form and Matter flow into one another; in Man, Matter is Form and Form Matter. You will find this where I am speaking of Spirit in Riddles of Philosophy.
Aristotle himself, however, taught it in quite a different way. Aristotle taught that when you approach the minerals, you experience in the first place their Form by means of the inside of the bones of the lower leg, and you experience their Substance in the organ of the head. The two are far apart. Man holds them apart, Form and Substance; in the mineral kingdom itself they come together in crystallization. When man comes to an understanding of the plant, then he experiences its Form by means of his experience of the inside of the thigh-bone, its Substance once more by means of the organ of the head, the two-petaled lotus-flower. The two experiences have already come a little nearer. And when man experiences the animal, then he feels the animal in its Form through the experience he has of the inside of the bones of the lower arm, and again he feels its Substance through the organ of the head — this time the two are very near together. And if now man experiences Man himself, then he experiences the Form of Man through the inside of the upper arm that is connected with the brain by way of the speech formation. I have often spoken of this in my introductory words on Eurythmy. There the two-petaled lotus-flower unites with what goes from the inside of the upper arm to the brain. And particularly in speech we experience our fellow human being no longer divided as to Form and Content, but as one in Form and Content.
This teaching still survived in all its concreteness in the time of Aristotle. And as we have said, a trace of it can still be found as late as the nineteenth century. But there we come to an abyss. In the forties of the nineteenth century these things were utterly and completely lost. And the abyss lasted until the end of the nineteenth century when the coming of the Michael Age gives the possibility for these truths to be found again. When, however, men step over this abyss, they are really stepping over a threshold. And at the threshold stands a Guardian. Men were not able to see this Guardian when they went past him between the years 1842 and 1879. But now they must, for their own good, look back and take note of him. For to continue not heeding him and to live on into the following centuries without heeding him would bring terrible trouble upon mankind.