|"The wisdom of all egos is a harmonious unity."
The East in the Light of the West. Lecture 3 of 9
Rudolf Steiner, Munich, August 25, 1909:
Our attention has been called to the fact that to human beings at a certain stage of evolution, the external phenomena of warmth, air, water, etc., become living and permeated with spirit, and it has been said that this stage may be designated as that of ‘penetration into the world of the Spirits of the Elements.’ I would ask those who have been students of Spiritual Science for some time to note the words carefully, and to realize that they are used not in an approximate but in an exact sense. ‘Spirits of the Elements’ was the expression I used, and not ‘Elementary Spirits.’
It must be pointed out that when we ascend into supersensible realms other worlds, two of which shall be named, are added to the ordinary world experienced by means of the sense organs; they are to be found behind what is perceptible by the senses and comprehensible to the intellect. There are certain striking characteristics which give an idea of the difference between our world and the two higher ones adjoining it. The first region hidden behind our ordinary world is named, as everyone knows, the Astral or Soul world; the Spiritual world is still more deeply hidden.
In the physical world one of the most comprehensive laws is that of growth and decay, of coming into being and passing away. Look where we will in the physical world we find that a characteristic of its highest beings is that they are born and that they die within it; the inanimate kingdom of the minerals, belonging to the lower realms of nature, may arouse an illusion of permanence within the physical world, but if the mineral kingdom be observed over long periods of time, the law of growth and decay is found there.
Observation of the astral world, however, reveals the fact that here the capacity of transformation or metamorphosis is as predominant as is the law of birth and decay in the physical world. In the astral world we have to do with moving images changing one into the other, in a state of perpetual metamorphosis. Even the astral body of man, which is of all astral phenomena the most intimately bound up with us, visible to the seer as a kind of aura or cloud-like formation around the physical body, shares this characteristic of continual transformation. That which envelopes and penetrates the human being in the form of an astral auric cloud changes practically every moment as higher or lower impulses develop in him, as he experiences wilder or calmer passions, or cultivates thoughts of different nature according to the character of the will impulses. Images and shapes arise in the astral auric cloud, and as different thoughts rise and fade away, its color and form may continually change. There is, however, a certain fundamental character and color in the astral aura of every individual, corresponding to his more or less permanent type of character. Self-metamorphosis, then, is of the very nature of the human astral body. We have seen that the beings visible to a man in the astral world after he has reached the stage of illumination meet him as good or as evil beings according to his own preparation. So strong is the capacity of metamorphosis in those beings which are invisible upon the physical plane and only perceptible in the astral and higher worlds that they may change from good into evil, from light into dark.
In the real spiritual world there is permanence, even if it is relative. For this reason the inner being of man, if it is to exist without a break from one incarnation to another, must pass through the spiritual worlds, because only there is to be found a certain — not external, but relative — permanence or continuity.
The rhythm of growth and decay is the predominant characteristic of the physical world; of the astral world: metamorphosis from one form to another; of the spiritual world: permanence or continuity. First we must realize that the materials for the building up of the human being have been obtained from these worlds; man has been constructed out of them. The physical world lies before him; the other worlds open up to him through initiation — through preparation and development of supersensible faculties of perception. Man then first learns to know what is hidden from him in the ordinary world, but what has just as real an existence. When in ordinary life an outer sheath or expression of some being is found, as for example, fire or air, the being itself is to be sought in a higher world. In order to meet the beings whose expression is physical fire, man must ascend to a region higher than the physical world. That which is the cause and origin of fire, for instance, can be discovered only by rising from the physical plane to the world above it, because the beings in question send down an expression of themselves into the lower world, but remain as to their essential nature in the higher region.
This holds good not only for external phenomena such as fire, air, water, or earth, but also for everything living within us in the physical world. Our feelings, perceptions, and thoughts exist in the physical world along with phenomena of color, sound, tastes, scent, etc. It must be clear to us that everything which constitutes man in an incarnation, every feeling experienced between birth and death, every thought, every idea, is a phenomenon of the physical world. And spiritual beings live behind our feelings and the whole of our soul life just as they do behind the external phenomena of color, sound, scent, or as we say in Spiritual Science, behind fire, air, water, and so on.
In the same way the ego, the self within the physical world, is not our real being, is not what is called our Higher Self, for that is to be found in a supersensible world behind our feelings and sensations. This Higher Self is experienced in a true sense only by attaining to supersensible worlds, where it manifests itself in quite another form.
I will show you by a definite example the relation of the self of man living in the physical world to the Higher Self; this example holds good for present conditions of life only, since anyone who has spiritual sight knows that the nature of these things changes in the course of time. Let us suppose that a man has done an injustice to another and experiences the pang of conscience. I refer here to those special psychic experiences usually expressed by the word conscience. In ordinary life conscience is a term used of certain inner voices demanding that we should set right any wrong we may have committed. Most people hardly ever come to the point of thinking about the nature of conscience; they recognize as a kind of vague feeling that an injustice should be righted; the soul is uneasy when this has not been done. For men in the physical world conscience is an inner experience of the soul.
The spiritual seer, however, observing from the astral world the man who has done the act of injustice, sees the pang of conscience surrounding him in remarkable astral shapes — shapes which are absent if no pang of conscience has been felt. The origin of these forms may be explained as follows: Suppose somebody has done an injustice: from thoughts which have led to the unjust act other thought-forms develop as the metamorphosis of the first. Everything that a man thinks and feels exists in his astral aura as a form or shape of the nature of thought or of feeling. A thought which is, let us say, distinct, definite, can be seen in sharp outline hovering round a man, and wild thoughts or passions in confused outlines. At the time when a man is doing an injustice he has certain thoughts and feelings; these forms detach themselves from him and live in his environment, but the essential point is that they do not remain in this condition but draw nourishment from certain worlds. Just as the wind rushes into empty spaces, beings from definite regions (of which more later) rush into the forms created by the pang of conscience and fill them with living substance. Thus in his own thought-forms a man offers opportunity for other beings to live in his environment, and these beings are really the cause of the sting of conscience. If the beings were not present the conscience would not sting. When a man begins to feel these beings unconsciously, the first gnawing of an uneasy conscience is experienced.
This example shows us that spiritual sight reveals a reality very different from that presented to physical sight. If a man is to contact the spirits of conscience, who live upon the astral plane, he must look through his conscience into the higher worlds in the same way as would be necessary in order to perceive the spiritual beings who animate physical life.
From different lectures we know that the human soul has changed in the course of long periods of time — human consciousness of today is different from the consciousness, let us say, of the ancient Indian people in the first post-Atlantean epoch, and it in its turn was very different from the consciousness of the Atlantean age. The clear waking consciousness of the physical world has developed from a dim, primitive clairvoyance. The further we go back in evolution the more traces do we find of this primitive clairvoyance.
We need not go further than some thousands of years, and we shall find that many people were then able not merely to perceive physical fire, but to look through it to the spirits of the element of fire. Gradually it came about that the higher world withdrew from human consciousness and the latter came to be limited to the physical world. This holds good not merely for the external sense world but for the whole of the life of the soul in the physical world. So it is stated that in a phenomenon like conscience a modern spiritual seer perceives astral forms around human beings, and the ancestors of this modern man, being endowed with clairvoyance, must have been able to see these astral forms. Just as fire conceals the spirits of the fire, so does human conscience — the inner voice — conceal the world of the spirits of conscience. The astral phenomena must have been perceptible to men of ancient times; but they could at that time have had no inner conscience, since it had not yet developed. What we of today call the psychic phenomenon of conscience was not present in our forefathers, but on the other hand they could see in the astral aura what is now only perceptible to the eye of the seer; modern men feel the inner voice of conscience, and the spirits of conscience are hidden behind it.
I have brought forward this example deliberately, because it affords concrete evidence of these matters. It is possible to indicate precisely the epoch in external history when the transition took place from perception of the outer spirits of conscience to the awakening of conscience as an inner voice. Compare the Orestes of Aeschylus with the same theme as treated by Euripides, who lived a short while later. Between the age of Aeschylus and that of Euripides — a few years only — occurred the transition which confirms what I have just said. In the story of Orestes as related by Aeschylus, Agamemnon returns home after the war and is murdered by his unfaithful wife. His son, Orestes, who is absent, returns and takes vengeance upon his mother for the death of his father, because one of the gods demands that he shall do so; his act is in harmony with the national feeling of those times that declares that his act is righteous and that he has done his duty. But as the result of the murder of his mother, Orestes sees the Erinyes, the avenging goddesses, approaching. These avenging goddesses of Greek mythology are simply a pictorial image of what has just been described as a reality for spiritual perception. And now let us see whether in this old drama there is any phenomenon which could be described by the modern word conscience. There is not even a word for it in any ancient language, as research would testify. In the poem of Euripides, who used the same story a few decades later, we find no Furies, no avenging goddesses; there men hear instead the inner voice of conscience. Concretely perceptible, in the interval between the lives of these two poets, conscience arose.
Clairvoyance was so vivid and real in human evolution before this age that the feeling experienced by man as the result of an unrighteous act was entirely different from what it became later. Man's clairvoyant vision was still open; he saw in his environment what I have described in Greece as the Erinyes. The inner feeling which he experienced in presence of this vision was one in accordance with the character of the astral world he wanted to change, to transform the images surrounding him. As soon as an unrighteous or unjust deed has been wiped out by turning it into a good one, the Erinyes change into the beneficent Eumenides. Man felt that an evil deed brought about a terrible result in the astral world, that it must be transformed, and that he must by a positive act bring about the metamorphosis. His actions then were in accordance with what he saw in his environment. The inner voice of conscience was non-existent.
Everything in the world and in the inner life of the soul as well has developed or evolved, conscience among the rest. If anyone were to go back some thousands of years in search of an instance of our modern soul life, he would make a great mistake. For transitions such as this take place with considerable suddenness. Just as in the plant there is a sudden metamorphosis from leaf to flower, so does one occur in spiritual evolution. The phrase ‘Nature makes no jumps’ is untrue; Nature continually makes jumps at decisive moments. And such sudden transitions are perceptible in spiritual life. For centuries and millennia there is slow and gradual development; but then there is a sudden change, as in the case of conscience in the fifth century B.C., where an earlier tragic poet makes no mention of conscience in his dramas and only a few decades afterwards it is introduced for the first time. With this is connected the fact that clairvoyant perception of the spirits of conscience, the Erinyes, has disappeared. The spiritual beings are of such a nature that our inner experience of conscience comes between us and them in the same way as the outer expression of fire hides the spirits of the element of fire.
This points to the fact that so far as the physical world is concerned, limits of experience are set in two directions. The external phenomena of external color, form, and so on, form the boundary line at which the external spirits are to be found. But behind the inner phenomena of conscience, memory, feeling, will, and thought a spiritual element exists as it does behind fire, air, water, or earth. The spirit is hidden behind them. When conscience came to be a voice speaking in the human soul, it interposed itself in front of the world of the Furies and hid that from human sight. The historical life of humanity becomes intelligible only when considered from this inner point of view. Mankind can understand nothing of what has come to pass in the world if it leaves spiritual facts out of sight in considering evolution, or becoming.
We may now ask: What is the relation of the inner and the outer spiritual realms to each other? We know that man as a fourfold being is composed of physical body, etheric body, astral body, and ego, and that this fourfold constitution is to be traced back to the very source and origin of humanity. Man did not originate on the Earth, for the Earth itself has passed through other incarnations, that of Saturn, of Old Sun, and Old Moon. The first germ of the physical body of man arose on Old Saturn; on Old Sun the etheric body was added; and on Old Moon, the astral body. The ego was first incorporated into this threefold constitution on Earth. Evolution is by no means such a simple matter as to involve merely a transition from the Saturn period into the Sun period, thence to Old Moon, and thence again to Earth; the process is much more complicated than that.
Even if we speak of the transition from Saturn to Old Sun and of this to Old Moon, we could not speak thus simply of the Old Moon evolution itself. I have said that during the Old Moon evolution there was a separation of Earth and Sun (the Earth was then Old Moon) or properly speaking, of Moon and Sun. Saturn and Sun may perhaps be spoken of as single bodies, but during the Old Moon period two bodies emerged from the one; the Old Moon existed at the same time as the Old Sun. These two bodies united again after a time, passed through an intermediate condition, and arose later as Earth. During the earliest period of Earth evolution the substances and beings now to be found in the present Sun and Moon were united with the Earth; the present Sun beings separated from Earth, which remained in connection with what later separated off as our Moon; after the separation of Moon, Earth remained alone, between the Moon and the Sun. These three bodies were one in the beginning; only later did the Sun and the Moon develop out of the Earth.
Let us now enquire as to the spiritual meaning of this separation. We will leave out of consideration the first separation occurring during the Old Moon period and look at what happened in this connection during the Earth period. — Certain beings pass through their evolution on Earth, and Sun and Moon afford evolutionary opportunities to others. Beings at a different stage of development from that of man separated from the Earth with the Sun, because their evolution could not proceed otherwise. At the time, therefore, of the separation of the Sun from the Earth we are faced with the fact that man was left behind, since the nature of his evolution demanded the conditions afforded by Earth. The other beings, whose evolution could not proceed upon Earth, separated from it the substances necessary for them, and built their Sun abode. Thence they influence and work upon the Earth. In the physical sunbeams as they lighten and warm the Earth, we see streaming the activities of the Sun spirits; the sunbeams are the outer, corporal manifestation of Sun beings. That is the meaning of the separation of the Sun from the Earth.
What was the meaning of the separation of the Moon? Man could not have kept pace with the evolutionary tempo of the Sun beings if they had remained in union with the Earth. The evolutionary tempo of the Earth was slackened by the separation of the Sun, but still it was not suitable for human beings — it was too slow. Man would have become hardened or mummified if the Moon had remained in connection with the Earth. Earth would gradually have become a planetary body from which human beings would have developed with forms like dead bodies that lack inner spiritual and psychic life. The Moon had to withdraw from Earth in order that the right evolutionary tempo for the being of man might be set up. If the Sun had remained with Earth, man would have been forced into an outer life and activity which he could not have endured; if Moon had remained he would have become impervious to stimulus; he would have dried up, lacking vital force. The stimulus received by man from Sun was an external one which would have produced too rapid a tempo. In the same way as Sun stimulates the life of the flowers in the fields would man's thoughts, feelings, and will have been stimulated from without, but at such a rate that he would have been burnt up by physical and spiritual Sun fire. The source of this stimulus left Earth and in this way its influence was weakened. At first, because of the hardening tendency inherent in Earth, the Sun's influence had too little effect, and a portion of these hardening factors had to leave with the Moon. Therewith came into the evolution of Earth and of man a new vitalizing principle, the stimulating influence of which was exactly contrary to that of the Sun from without. The new stimulus came from within. The life of the soul in the physical world could develop only because man was saved from this hardening and mummification by the withdrawal of the Moon.
Ask of one whose spiritual sight is able to penetrate into the cosmos as to the origin of man's perception of the external world, and his answer will be that it is to be found in the physical or spiritual Sun elements. Ask what lies at the basis of inner experience, of thought, of feeling, of conscience, for example, and it will be found that all this is due to the Moon, to those beings who separated their substance from the Earth with the Moon. The presence of Moon substances in the Earth would have prevented the inner mobility of soul life.
We must remember that it was not merely for the sake of man that the separation of the Sun and Moon from the Earth came to pass, but also for the sake of those beings whose evolution was at first bound to that of humanity. In the Sun dwell beings who need the Sun for their evolution, just as the evolution of man needs the Earth. To remain with the Earth would have been death to their existence; but the separation resulted in their becoming able by degrees to reach a stage where their beneficent influences could flow down to the Earth from without. When the seer observes the light, when he perceives external objects, he realizes at a certain stage of his evolution that it is the Sun beings which live behind the physical phenomena of color, sound, and so on, but that these beings themselves had to develop to their present stage. These Sun spirits are the upper spiritual beings contacted through the phenomena of the sense world.
Let us now ask how the inner stimulus was given to save mankind from hardening, from ossification. Certain beings were needed which at the appropriate time,withdrew the Moon substances from the Earth. These beings realized that the act of the Sun beings was not sufficient, and that they must protect the Earth from ossification by withdrawing the Moon from the Earth. They were in a certain respect higher than the Sun spirits. These latter, when the Sun was still united with the Earth, felt themselves obliged for the sake of their development to find another dwelling place, but the other spirits were able to remain with the Earth even after the Sun spirits had gone out. And this made it possible for them to save human evolution at a certain point of time by separating the Moon from the Earth. Thus they were in a certain respect higher than the Sun beings ... they were able to separate a substance from the Earth relatively coarser than that connected with the Sun spirits and by becoming rulers of this coarse substance to prove their greater power. For those who are able to transform evil into good are more powerful than those who rule over the good and make it, possibly, a little better.
Those are the beings behind the phenomena of the life of the soul, who by separating the Moon from the Earth made thinking, feeling, willing, and conscience possible. They come from the Moon region, a spiritual kingdom which in a certain respect is higher, more powerful, than that of the Sun spirits, which are to be found behind external maya. Maya is twofold: there is the external maya of the sense world, and the inner maya of soul life. Behind the first stand those spiritual beings who have their center in the Sun; behind the maya of the inner life stand the other beings, who belong to a more powerful kingdom.
Just here we can see the truth of Greek mythology as portrayed in the story of Orestes. Orestes is told by the ruling gods that he has performed a good deed, but the Erinyes approach him, and they are felt to be older beings than those belonging to the kingdom of Zeus: they are goddesses who take vengeance even though the external goddesses of the Sun kingdom (the kingdom of Zeus) had given their consent to the act. Man is here confronted by beings of an older spiritual race, who intervene as a corrective in what he undertakes under the guidance and leadership of the beings who withdrew from the Earth with the Sun. This remarkable example clearly shows how the conceptions of ancient peoples, expressed in their mythology, confirm what spiritual investigations of today teach in another way.
At this point I ask you to bear in mind the fact that at a certain point of time during the Earth evolution a spiritual being, Whom we name the Christ, a being previously united to the Sun, descended from the Sun, and at the time of the life of Jesus of Nazareth united Himself to the Earth. The Christ being entered into the body of Jesus of Nazareth. This is an absolutely unique phenomenon and cannot be thought of in the same connection as other occurrences here mentioned. It has been said that after the separation of the Sun, the Earth would have hardened if the Moon had not also been ejected; human beings would have mummified. This is perfectly true for a very large part of Earth life, but not for the whole of it. In spite of the withdrawal of Sun and Moon, something in the Earth would have fallen a prey to death if the Christ event had not come to pass. Though the withdrawal of the Moon made an inner soul life possible, yet it was the Christ's descent from the Sun which gave this inner life a new stimulus.
When a spiritual seer looks back to the time preceding the Christ event, a striking vision comes before him. The external form of the Earth, confronting the physical senses as maya, vanishes and something comparable to the human form appears, but only a form, a figure. To spiritual vision the outer mayavic Earth (and I say the Earth deliberately) changes into the form of a human being with arms outstretched in the shape of a cross, a male-female form. This reminds us of the wonderful words of Plato, words that he drew from the Mysteries, that the world soul is crucified on the cross of the world's body. This is exactly the image which presents itself to the eye of the spiritual seer: the Christ died on the cross, and thereupon the Earth, which had been mere form and figure, became filled with life. The coming of the Christ principle into the Earth had something in common with the withdrawal of the Moon; life poured into what otherwise would have remained mere form.
To understand ancient times aright is to realize that they all lead up to the Christ event. Just as men of today look back to the Christ as a being Who at a certain point of time entered into human evolution, so pre-Christian initiates all pointed to the coming of the Christ as foreshown by events. Nothing could have been a surer herald of the Christ than the mighty phenomenon, visible under certain conditions to spiritual sight, of the disappearance of the physical form of the Earth and the vision of the world soul crucified on the world's body. In dim Indian antiquity it was said by the sages that when their spiritual vision arose they saw, deep down under the mountains of the Earth, near its central point, a cross, and upon it a male-female human being, having on its right side the symbol of the Sun and upon its left side the symbol of the Moon, and over the rest of the body the various land and sea formations of the Earth. That was the clairvoyant vision which the sages of ancient India had of the form waiting until our Earth could be brought to life by the Christ principle. And inasmuch as those ancient sages pointed to the most important prophecy of the Christ event they were justified, when they looked still more deeply into existence, in saying: the Christ will come because that which points to Him is in existence. Ancient wisdom at its highest level becomes prophetic; it looks towards that which will come to pass in the future. What the future holds is entirely the result of the present, and so present spiritual vision can receive intimations of a spiritual event which is to take place in the future. Indications of the Christ event were not given in any outwardly abstract way, but were revealed to spiritual sight by the phenomenon of the world soul crucified on the cross of the world's body, waiting to receive the life of the Christ when He should unite Himself with the Earth. The wisdom of all egos is a harmonious unity if considered in its fundamentals. Starting from this point let us look at the wisdom of different epochs in a light that will reveal it in its true aspect.