"Significant Facts Pertaining to the Spiritual Life of the Middle of the Nineteenth Century": lecture 3 of 3
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, November 7, 1915:
As there is an opportunity for us to be together again today, I will speak of certain matters connected in one way or another with subjects we have been studying. I should like first of all to direct your minds to the fact that the attitude of which I spoke last time, the attitude which leads to a certain denial of the reality of the spiritual worlds, is fairly universal in the external world today. Fundamentally speaking — and indeed it is evident — willingness to approach the spiritual worlds in order to receive from them something that will enrich and invigorate life is to be found in only a tiny handful of men. We can see that this is so.
We shall not succeed in understanding these matters unless we realize that not many people today have experienced something that will become more and more widespread in the world: namely, the tragic wrestling with knowledge. The feeling that knowledge of the spiritual worlds is needed but only to be attained by patient surrender of the soul to the spiritual worlds — this experience, this inner wrestling with knowledge, could not have been present in those olden times when knowledge came to men through their atavistic clairvoyance.
This wrestling with knowledge in our time can only be explained in the light of facts of which I have been speaking here in recent weeks. [“The Occult Movement in the 19th Century,” Course of ten lectures.] When it is a matter of striving for knowledge today, people are all too prone to give way to delusions. On the one side they want to be free from any kind of belief in authority, and on the other side they have succumbed to it in its very worst form. This is particularly the case at the present time. For when anything that bears the mantle of science is propounded, belief in it becomes universal. Men do not want to rouse themselves into embarking upon a genuine, individual striving for knowledge. Without being aware of it, they are actually too easy-going, too lazy, to kindle those forces of the soul which become active whenever it is a matter of wrestling with knowledge. And so they like to pacify themselves with what is universally accepted as scientific and authoritative, and acts as a kind of narcotic for the soul-and-spirit. They want to take over ready-made what is universally accepted so that they need not themselves make any individual efforts to acquire knowledge. The rebellion against the world-outlook of spiritual science is to be traced back, fundamentally, to the fact that the soul is required to activate its own individual forces of thinking and feeling. But this is not to people's liking; they prefer to accept knowledge that is ready-made and authoritative.
Men who by their very nature share in the wrestling for knowledge that characterizes our age — and “our age” means the last three or four centuries — such men dimly divine and feel that they must evoke all that lies in the depths of the soul in order to approach the spiritual worlds, in order to unite their own souls with the spiritual forces weaving and surging through the world. Study of such souls will make it evident to us how they feel themselves involved in the wrestlings and strugglings of the age.
In the last lecture I spoke of significant literary works from which these wrestlings of the soul amid the impulses of the times can be perceived. But souls who want to lull themselves to sleep by inducing a kind of mental narcosis settle down in some stream of thought into which they were born or educated. This certainly applies to a large number of souls in our time, who through their karma and the circumstances connected with it incline more to materialism. They accept the view of the world presented by materialism. Other souls are more spiritually inclined and they accept what spiritism or idealism have brought into the world, stupefying their minds with what they accept, without having the will to engage in the wrestlings in which the soul is necessarily involved if it is to find its way into the spiritual worlds.
But today I want to give an example of a genuinely struggling soul — an unassuming, yet for all that a significant soul — who participated to the full in the spiritual wrestlings of the 19th century. At the time of the great wave of philosophic thinking, the man of whom I am speaking was young. He lived with all the great thoughts and ideas put forward by the idealist philosophers and nature-philosophers at the beginning of the 19th century who believed, as did Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, that it was possible by dint of intense efforts of thinking to reach the sphere where the world-riddles are unveiled. The man in question lived through that wave of philosophy which sought to show that a certain rigid, one-sided kind of thinking can explain everything in the universe. He lived on through the transition to the time when this thinking was held to be of no avail, when it was believed that the riddles of the world can never be unveiled in this way. It was the time when men were saying: thinking leads us nowhere; we must turn to the vast field of outer, sensory experience; the objects of sensory experiences must be measured, weighed, compared, traced back to their origins in an external way. — The man of whom I am speaking was one of those who still preserved their belief in the power of thinking in days in the second half of the 19th century when a certain mistrust of thinking became predominant and faith was invested in external, material observation alone. This same man made very important discoveries in the field of external observation, in a domain that is extraordinarily illuminating for the theory of knowledge.
But because he had lived on from the time of the sovereignty of thinking into that of sense-observation, there surged within him those inner forces of the soul which wrestle with the question: How can man find the link with the actual reality, the actual truth in the universe? In such circumstances the human soul lives through strange moments, moments when it feels itself standing as it were before an abyss; when it says to itself: No matter what efforts are made to develop really creative thoughts and ideas, where is there any certainty, where is there any criterion for knowing that it has not all been brought out of the soul itself, that it is not all subjective and will lose significance at death, showing thereby that it would not have led into the realities of world-existence?
Then again there are moments when the soul asks itself: What is the use of trying to bring forth anything from the soul? There can be no certainty in it! When investigations are made in the domains of chemistry or physics where one has to depend upon the physical world, one can at least feel guided further by the thread of outer reality.
Such moods of the soul must be taken for what indeed they are — moods in which the soul is tossed to and fro between the urge to seek and the urge to abandon all seeking. A soul of this character is usually one who sincerely and genuinely strives for knowledge, but who in our age is bound to stand in a peculiar position in the world — for such a soul, observing the people around, may well realize: How easily these people persuade themselves into believing that something or other is irrefutable! The eyes of the mind need be opened only a little and the frailty of such belief will be evident.
The soul to whom I am referring was able to find from experience that those upon whom the responsibility for certain matters in the world rests, witness the appearance of some apparently important invention or discovery that is blazoned abroad as great and epoch-making and that they themselves consider highly significant — and then after a year or two say that there is nothing in it. This soul was particularly struck by the fate of different medicaments. A remedy is discovered and then triumphantly proclaimed to the world as a certain cure for some illness.
People who take life in a happy-go-lucky way accept such a discovery as epoch-making; but those who have some knowledge also know that such things appear on the scene and then disappear again. And so at the time shortly before the thirties of the 19th century, this soul found that a certain medicament — iodine — had become famous. But he could not bring himself to join without further ado in the furor created by iodine, for he was only too familiar with the levity with which people acquire knowledge — due for the most part to indolence. And so in the year 1821 he writes the first edition of a short treatise at the time when iodine was beginning to create a stir. The second edition appeared in 1832. It actually reckoned to find a temporary and partly local interest only. I will leave the brochure here in case anybody may still be interested in it. [The title of the treatise was “Beweis, dass der Mond aus Jodine besteht” (Proof that the Moon consists of Iodine), by Dr. Mises. Second edition, Leipzig, 1832, Published by Leopold Voss.]
The contents would probably quite rightly be called absurd by every “enlightened” man. But that does not prevent this “enlightened” man from making similar mistakes at any time. He does not, however, notice the mistake when it is a matter of something he has accepted as an object of belief. The man who wrote this treatise in 1821 — at that time he called himself “Dr. Mises” — is the same whom you know from scientific literature as Professor Gustav Theodor Fechner, who in the fifties of the last century tried to build a theory of aesthetics from below upwards, on the basis of actual physical experiments, and not from above downwards, that is to say, not out of material provided by the thoughts and experiences of the life of soul. He was a man of whom it can truly be said that he passed through all the throes of the wrestling for knowledge in the 19th century. He was the same man who had the controversy with Schleiden, the botanist, about the influence of the Moon upon various happenings on the Earth. I have told you how the decision as to which of the two professors was right devolved upon their wives. [See the lecture entitled: “On the Moon” — in the volume “Paths of Experience.”] He is also the same man who struggled to acquire an idealistic and spiritual conception of the world. You can see how he endeavored to do this from what I have said about Gustav Theodor Fechner in my book “Riddles of Philosophy.”
It may truly be said that such a soul is a clear illustration of the reality of the experience which comes to a man when he strives earnestly for knowledge. But when all is said and done, spiritual science alone can make clear to us the whole seriousness and significance of a matter such as this. When a man like Gustav Theodor Fechner writes as he does in this little treatise “Proof that the Moon consists of Iodine,” he is really trying to show the limitations of man's thinking, how easily it is prevented from making even an approach to reality and therefore how remote it is from reality. The fact is that people do not realize or feel the seriousness, significance, and import of human evolution. And so the aim of spiritual science is to make the horizon of our view of man's being wider than is possible by means of the recognized science of today. Spiritual science points our attention to epochs of human evolution lying in the far distant past, to what man was like in Atlantis, and in what changes he is involved in the course of his development.
Think only of the following: — Recalling what we have heard about ancient Atlantis — what is to be said about the world of the animals and the world of men 'round about us? Everything was entirely different in the times of Atlantis! We know that it was during that epoch that men came down again as souls from their sojourn in the world of the stars. It was then that they again sought for bodies which had been fashioned for them out of earthly substance. And from the descriptions given we know, too, how different these human bodies were in Atlantean times. I have repeatedly emphasized — and you can also read it in my writings — that in those times the human body was still malleable, pliant, flexible, was of such a nature that it was still possible for the souls descending from the heavenly worlds to shape and mold the bodies.
Suppose a woman — or also a man, to be strictly fair! — becomes furious with anger, thoroughly malicious, and sends evil thoughts towards another human being. This does not come so very strongly to expression in an actual change of the countenance — true, it does so a little, but not drastically — for people today can be very malicious without this being directly expressed in their physiognomy. In the times of ancient Atlantis it was different. When there was malice in a man, his countenance was entirely transformed into an expression of his inner being — so that it would not have been incorrect to say: that man or woman looks like a cat. Such a person actually looked like a cat — or if he were utterly deceitful, like a hyena. His external appearance was wholly an expression of his inner being. He was capable of metamorphosis, transformation, in the highest degree.
The animals were less mutable, but metamorphosis was possible in them too; their physical body was already far more consolidated than that of man, and metamorphosis took place only very gradually. As species, the animals were capable of metamorphosis — nor did they transmit to their offspring such stereotyped characteristics as is the case nowadays. Since the time of Atlantis everything in man's physical body has become consolidated, has taken on fixed forms. It is still possible for man today to move his hands and to have a certain play of expression on his countenance; but in a certain sense his bodily form has become fixed. The forms of the animals have become completely fixed; this explains their immobile, inflexible physiognomy. But in their case, too, this inflexibility was less marked in ancient Atlantean times.
In the general sense it can be said of man that his physical body today is fixed and inflexible in a high degree. His etheric body is still mobile; therefore the etheric body still shapes itself according to what a man is in his inner being. — So there is meaning, indeed a certain reality, in the fact that if a man is crafty and malicious his etheric body and his facial expression take on a slight resemblance to a hyena. The etheric body is still mutable, still has something about it that enables it to be metamorphosed; but equally with the physical body, the etheric body too is on the way to becoming inflexible. Just as since the Atlantean epoch onwards into our fifth post-Atlantean epoch the physical body has acquired fixed forms, so from the fifth epoch on into the sixth and from then onwards into the second main epoch after Atlantis, the etheric body too will acquire firmer forms, with the consequence — as I have indicated in several lectures — that the etheric body, as it passes with its fixed forms into the physical body, will assert itself very strongly. We are living now in the fifth epoch (of the first main epoch after Atlantis), then comes the sixth and then the seventh, and in these sixth and seventh epochs, the etheric body, with its inflexibility, will exercise a very strong influence upon the physical, will make the physical body into a faithful image of itself.
This has momentous consequences, namely, that in the sixth epoch of post-Atlantean evolution, men will be born with bodies quite definitely expressing their inner, moral qualities. A man's moral qualities will be recognized from his actual appearance. The moral physiognomy will then be very strongly in evidence and the physiognomy as it now is will have receded more into the background. Man's physiognomy today is largely determined through heredity: he resembles his parents, his grandparents, his people, and so forth. In the sixth epoch this will play no part at all; man will himself determine his outer appearance — as the result of his incarnations. Human beings will all be very different, but each will have a very definite stamp. It will then be known with certainty: You have before you now a well-disposed or an ill-disposed man. Just as it is known today: You now have before you an Italian or a Frenchman, it will then be known: Here is a malicious or a kindly man — with all the many gradations. More and more, therefore, the moral qualities will be expressed in the countenance.
In its external aspect, the surrounding world too will be much changed in this sixth epoch. Particularly those animals which are nowadays consumed as food will have died out. Men will sing the praises of a fleshless diet, for it will then be an ancient memory that the ancestors in olden days actually ate flesh. It is not the case that all animals will die out, but only certain species of animals — especially those which have acquired the most inflexible forms will have disappeared from the Earth. — So the outer face of the Earth itself will have changed.
To have a physiognomy which in future time will be so inevitably an expression of the moral qualities will be like a nemesis, a destiny, setting the seal on a man's whole being. He will not be able to find in himself any possibility of resisting this fate. And now imagine the tragic situation! Man will then actually be obliged to say to himself: Yes, in the fifth post-Atlantean epoch there were materialists who believed that when the occipital bone does not exactly cover the cerebellum, these men are bound to be criminals. For the materialists at that time, this was a theory, but now it has become a reality; what they regarded as still flexible (the etheric body) has now assumed a fixed form. — We are actually tending in the direction of bringing the theories of the materialistic world-conception to fulfilment. They are not reality as yet — but that is the direction towards which we are tending.
We come here to a strange secret. — Those who would indignantly repudiate being called prophets today are the true prophets; they are those who say: The reason why a man is a criminal is that the occipital bone does not cover the cerebellum. These men will prove themselves to have been true prophets. — It is indeed so! The materialists of today are wonderful prophets, without wanting to be. In our time it is still possible, through proper education, for a counterweight to be provided for a peculiar formation in the physical body such as an undersized occipital bone; in the sixth post-Atlantean epoch this will no longer be possible, for etheric bodies then will no longer be capable of mutation. When this is the case, quite different measures are required as preventatives. If this state of things is not obviated, the condition described by the materialists will become a reality. It is the condition depicted with such agonized suffering in the poems of Marie Eugenie delle Grazie which have been recited today. These poems can be related to an age already foreshadowed, an age that will actually have dawned in the sixth post-Atlantean epoch. The poems give one the impression of having been written by a soul who feels as if plunged into the void through what can be acquired by way of modern knowledge. The soul longs to progress but knows nothing as yet that can be a remedy — and then a picture arises — a picture of what will come to pass if materialism continues as at present. And if no remedial measure were created against the direction in evolution which man is induced to take by the forces that are in him, then in the sixth post-Atlantean epoch he will be subject to the very same fate already now depicted by delle Grazie.
All the systems of religion hitherto existing in the world could not prevent a terrible fate overtaking man in the sixth epoch — the fate of having his moral qualities expressed in his countenance, in his whole bodily physiognomy. Nor could he do anything to prevent this if he were to let things remain as the modern world-conception desires.
These are grave thoughts. A good means for turning the dreams of materialists into reality would be if victory were won by those who say: “Spiritual science cherishes the dream that in the future men will see etheric beings — first of all the Christ in an etheric form, and after that still other etheric forms. Spiritual science dreams all this, but those who say such things are lunatics and ought to be shut up in asylums.” — The people who maintain that the things of which spiritual science speaks are sheer delusions are clever people. Yet if this worldview were to be victorious, then what I have described will certainly come about. But this worldview must not, shall not, gain the day — that must be our unshakable conviction. We must know: If our etheric bodies are to be so strong that they are able to correct the mistakes of our physical body, this strength must come from the fact that men learn to take in an earnest and true way what will come to them from the etheric world. This will then work more and more as a factor of healing as we move towards the future. But above all we must receive spiritual science into our hearts in order to prepare ourselves to see the Christ in His etheric form, and to take this event with true earnestness.
A great stroke can be drawn across the evolution of humanity. Before it, the etheric forces in man were at work, still shaping and molding the physical; but a time will come when the physical and the etheric have become fixed. Man will have to accustom himself to seeing the etheric forces outside him in all manner of forms and figures, and it will be the etheric realities in accordance with which we must act, just as now his actions are influenced by sense perceptions. We must go forward to a time when we find, first of all, Christ as an etheric being, and in His train, more and more etheric realities. These etheric realities will then have the strength still to make true individuals out of us.
Many are the secrets lying behind the process of world-evolution, and many of those secrets are shattering. — Once upon a time there was a Homer. Read carefully what I have said in different lectures and also in the little book “The Spiritual Guidance of Man and of Mankind” and you will find yourselves asking: How did Homer become what he was? — It was because he was guided by a still higher Spirit. Homer well knew that it was so. Hence his poems do not begin with the words “I sing,” but with the words “Sing, O Muse”. This must be taken with all seriousness. Homer knew that a higher Spirit was inspiring him. It is only in the present age that this is regarded as a phrase, just as is the case with Goethe's lines:
“The Sun, with many a sister-sphere,
Still sings the rival psalm of wonder,
And still his fore-ordained career
Accomplishes, with tread of thunder ...”
In so far as Homer incarnates again, the “man” will incarnate — not, however, the Spirit who guided him in those days. But the Being by whom Homer was inspired will be encountered in the etheric world — or again, the Spirit who inspired Socrates or Plato, in so far as they were inspired. — We must begin to understand the spiritual world, the world of spiritual science. Vision will then come of itself. But if we do not make a beginning with understanding spiritual science, we move towards the time which brings a terrible nemesis upon mankind.
The materialistic world-conception may not be true, but for all that it contains an inner truth. Of this inner truth it can be said: What the materialistic world-conception describes regarding man would become actual fact if this world-conception were to gain the day. And it lies with men, by means of a different world-conception, to prevent this materialism from being victorious. The matter is not so simple as to enable it to be said that the materialistic world-conception is false; the point is that it lies in the hands of men to gain the victory over it through deeds, not through feeble thoughts of refutation. The more men there are who open their eyes to the spiritual world, the more there will be who realize that the fulfilment of materialism can be frustrated, and the greater will be the possibility of frustrating it.
A man who is perhaps a poet or an artist today still has inklings which make him say: I feel my inspiration within myself! Such experiences will continue for some time yet. But this mood will vanish, will vanish altogether! For men will have an experience which makes them say: An etheric being appeared to me, telling me this or that. I am the instrument through which this spiritual being works into this age! —
The spiritual world is present in all truth; but men can alienate themselves from it. The materialistic world-conception may be called: the conspiracy against the Spirit. This materialistic world-conception is not a fallacy only — it is conspiracy against the Spirit.
In spite of these very sketchy indications, I hope your souls will grasp these thoughts and work upon them. It is essential that those who hold the spiritual-scientific view of the world should know something about the impulses operating in the life of humanity. Many people will come and say: This is not so, that is not so; this is not Christian, that is not Christian — and so forth. If these people come, then, if we have worthily understood through Spiritual Science by what impulses the world is moved, in our meditative life we shall be able to glimpse eternal principles. Let people call us fantastic dreamers, or whatever it may be — we know how mankind and the world evolve. And He Who for the sake of this evolution fulfilled the Mystery of Golgotha, He is seeing, too, what is born in our souls as the expression of world-evolution. “Christ is seeing us” — by this we shall be sustained.