Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, December 23, 1923:
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Human Soul-Strivings During the Middle Ages: The Rosicrucian Mysteries
Mystery Knowledge and Mystery Centers. Lecture 14 of 14.
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, December 23, 1923:
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, December 23, 1923:
We will utilize the last lecture of this course by bringing together, to some extent, the Mysteries as I have outlined them as belonging to this or the other region of the Earth; and I shall attempt to show you the nature of the Mysteries — at any rate from one point of view — in the form they took in the Middle Ages, approximately from the 10th to the 15th centuries.
I do not speak of this epoch of time because it is particularly complete in itself, but because it can to a certain extent be useful in showing what form the human soul-strivings took in the most civilized parts of the Earth at that time. The spiritual striving of that period is often described as the Mysteries of the Rosicrucians. This designation is in a certain sense quite justifiable, but one must search behind it, not for the charlatan element which is so often met with in literature, without one's being aware of this fact — one does not always realize what an element of charlatanism is at work in these things — but we must look behind, and direct our attention to that deeply earnest striving for knowledge which existed during these centuries in almost every region of Europe, in Central Europe, Western and Southern Europe. We must realize clearly that the figure of Faust as described by Goethe, with all his deep soul-striving, with all his earnest efforts, is really simply a later figure, no longer anything like as deep in soul as many an investigator to be found in the medieval laboratories, figures of whom nothing reaches us by way of history, but who labored between the 14th and 15th centuries. I mentioned in the last lecture that in the investigators of this epoch a tragic note predominates. The peculiar trait is the feeling which existed in those investigators that they must strive after the highest, the highest which is creatively active in man — yet not only could they not reach this highest, but from a certain point of view their striving after the highest is even doubtful.
I have said that we do not find theoretical, easily obtained knowledge among these scientists in their alchemical laboratories between the 14th and 15th centuries, but something which is deeply connected with the whole man, with the longing for knowledge which came from their inner feeling, a cognition acquired with heart and feeling.
Now, what was the origin of this? This can be best explained to you if I try to make you understand the tragic skepticism of the medieval investigators, by once again turning our attention to the form taken by human cognition on Earth in very ancient days.
The most ancient form of human knowledge, which was so closely connected with the life of the individual human being, was not of such a nature that man looked up to the planets and saw the mathematical grandeur and mathematical movements, which can be calculated and observed today; at that time each planet, as all else spread out in the heavens, was a living being, and not only a living being but it possessed a soul. Indeed it was not only an ensouled being but a being permeated by spirit. Man constantly spoke then of the families of the planets, of the families of the heavenly bodies, for he knew that just as there exists a blood relationship between the members of a human family, similarly there exists an inner relationship between the members of a planetary system. There was a parallelism between the human element and what revealed itself outside in the cosmos.
I should like to depict one aspect of what was perceived and known by man in the very oldest Mysteries, when he looked up to the Sun. At that time there still existed Mystery-sanctuaries which were so arranged that there was a specially prepared kind of skylight, so that at certain definite times of the day the Sun could be seen through a diminished light. Thus you must imagine that the most important chamber in many an ancient Sun Temple was that in the roof, in which a skylight was inserted and the window filled with some kind of material — not glass in our modern sense — but a material through which one saw the orb of the Sun in a dim twilight at a certain definite time of the day. The pupil had been prepared in his soul to observe the solar orb with the right feeling, the right mood of soul. He had to make his feeling so receptive, so inwardly perceptive, that when, so to speak, he exposed his soul through his eye to the Sun orb it made an impression on him which he could really bring to his consciousness.
Now, of course, many people today look up at the Sun through smoked glass, but they are not prepared in their feeling to receive this impression which the Sun makes as a special impression. But the pupil in these ancient Mysteries received this impression of the darkened solar orb after long exercises had been undergone, and this impression was then a quite definite one. A man who, as a pupil of the initiates of the Mysteries, was able to have this impression could truly never forget it.
With this impression the pupil also gained something which, from that time on, gave him more understanding for certain things around him than he formerly had. The attempt was made, after the pupil had been prepared through the majestic and magnificent impression of the Sun, to permit the especial quality of the substance gold to work upon him; and through this preparation, through this Sun-preparation, the pupil was led to a deep understanding of the quality of gold.
When one looks into these things, it is really painful to experience the triviality of our modern consciousness which we find in so many historical works in which we are told the reason why this or the other ancient philosopher allocated gold to the Sun or attributed the same symbol to gold and to the Sun. Man no longer knows what was known by this means in these olden times, and which really was evoked by means of these many exercises and through preparation. I mean that this direction of the vision inward into the dimmed direct light of the Sun prepared the pupil to understand the substance gold on the Earth.
How then did he understand this? After he had undergone this preparation, his attention awoke to the fact that gold is not affected by that which, for the organism, constitutes the breath of life, i.e., oxygen, and to which most of the other metals are so thoroughly receptive. Oxygen does not affect or alter gold. This non-receptivity, this obstinacy of gold in the face of that from which man really has his life, made a deep impression on the pupil of the ancient Mysteries. Thus he received the impression that gold cannot directly approach life. Now, the Sun too cannot directly approach life; and it is well that neither gold nor the Sun can directly approach life. Then the pupil was gradually led to the fact that because gold has no relationship with oxygen, with the breath of life, that therefore when in a certain dose it is introduced into the human organism, it has a quite special effect on the organism of man. Gold has a quite special relation with the human organism when, as we have said, it is introduced into it in the correct dose. It has no relation to the etheric body, no direct relation to the astral body; but gold has a direct relation to what lies in human thought, in human thinking.
Just consider how far removed thinking lies from human life, especially in our modern age. A man can sit down like a piece of wood and think quite intellectually. He can think quite livingly in an intellectual way; but on the other hand he cannot by thinking bring about any change in his organism. Man's thinking has become more and more powerless; but thinking is set in motion by the ego-organization, and gold inserted in the right dose into the human organism can bring back power into thinking. It restores to thinking the power to work down into the astral body and even into the etheric body; thus thinking can be animated by gold.
That was one of the secrets of these ancient Mysteries: the secret of the connection of gold with the Sun. The relationship between the substance gold and the cosmic working of the Sun was perceived by the pupil of these ancient Mysteries of which I have just spoken.
And in a similar way, the pupil of these ancient Mysteries was then led to experience the opposite pole of gold, the opposite effect. Gold is an impulse for the animation of human thinking, so that human thinking can work down as far as the etheric body. And what would be the opposite pole of that?
In regard to the human organism, in its several members — the ego-organization, the astral body, the etheric body, and the physical body — we may say that through gold the ego-organization becomes capable of working down into the etheric body. The etheric body can then work further on the physical body; but gold brings it about that thoughts can actually be maintained in all their power in the etheric body.
What is the opposite pole of this? We have the opposite pole, the opposite working, and this effect is what is produced when the breath of life — oxygen — is attracted by something in man or in nature; then, just as gold is obstinate in the face of oxygen and repels it, will have nothing to do with it, and therefore has no influence on the etheric body or on the astral body but simply on the thought-world of the ego-organization, in the same way what exists in man as carbon has a direct relationship with oxygen.
We breathe out carbonic acid. We produce in ourselves carbon dioxide. We unite carbon with oxygen. The plants require carbon dioxide for their life; and this carbon possesses the opposite characteristic of gold.
Now, this substance of carbon played an enormous part in the ancient Mysteries. On the one hand, gold was referred to as being a quite special substance for the study of man, while, on the other hand, carbon was referred to in the ancient Mysteries in such a way that it was called the Stone of the Wise, the Philosopher's Stone. Gold and the Philosopher's Stone were very important things in olden times. Carbon was the Stone of the Wise.
Carbon appears on the Earth in a number of different forms. A diamond is carbon, hard carbon; graphite is carbon; coke is carbon; anthracite is carbon. On the Earth carbon appears before us in many diverse forms; but through those methods which were customary in the ancient Mysteries, men learnt to understand that there existed other forms of carbon, besides those we find here on the Earth. And so another preparation was necessary for the Mystery pupils besides that of which I have spoken as the Sun preparation. In addition to that there existed the Moon preparation.
Now if we turn to these ancient Sun Mysteries, we find there — in addition to what I have said above — a kind of observatory wherein a man could open his soul and his physical vision to the Moon forms. At certain definite times he did not merely behold the Sun through a diminished light, but for a period of time lasting for weeks the pupil had to open his psychic vision, his soul-filled eye, to the different forms which the orb of the Moon adopted by night. Thereby the pupil received a quite definite experience in his soul, an experience which led to knowledge. Just as the soul capable of exposing itself to the Sun became endowed with the power of the Sun, by so exposing it to the phases of the Moon it became endowed with the power of the Moon. He now learnt what metamorphoses the substance of carbon could undergo. On the Earth carbon is either coal or graphite or diamond or anthracite; but on the Moon that which we find here on the Earth as diamond, or anthracite, or coal, is silver — and that was the secret possessed in these ancient Mysteries. Carbon on the Moon is silver. Carbon is the Philosopher's Stone, and on the Moon it is silver.
What in the ancient Mysteries was so profoundly impressed on the pupil was the knowledge that any substance, however it looks externally, is only this in one place on the Earth and at one definite time. None but an ignorant man was then unaware that carbon is only diamond, coal, or anthracite on the Earth; for what exists on the Earth as diamond or graphite — that, on the Moon, is silver. If we could at the present moment take a piece of our ordinary black coal and as it were carry it over into the Moon, it would there immediately become a piece of silver.
A perception of this radical metamorphosis was what the pupil obtained in these ancient times. Now that is not to be found at the basis of that fraudulent alchemy which is spoken of today, but it does lie at the basis of the true ancient alchemy. And this ancient alchemy could not be acquired as we obtain our intellectual knowledge today. Today we observe or think about things — but alchemy could not be attained in that way. Today man directs his telescope to a certain star, he gets parallelisms and such like things. He calculates and calculates; or he may study a certain substance and place the spectrum on it, and so on; yet everything which can be learnt in this way is, after all, infinitely abstract, compared with what could in olden times be learnt of the stars; and this ancient wisdom, this real astrology, could only be learnt, as I explained in the last lecture, by a real living intercourse with the Intelligences of the Cosmos. The knowledge then attained was knowledge through which man could speak in his soul, in his spirit, with the Intelligences of the Cosmos.
Now, what gold is for the human organism is connected with the secret of the Sun; and through the fact that the pupil exposed, in the manner described, his own soul to the Sun Being, he thereby entered into relation with the Intelligences of the Sun themselves, and they it was who told him of the properties of gold. In like manner he entered into relation with the Intelligences of the Moon.
Now, the pupil learnt to know these Intelligences of the Moon as those great Teachers who existed on the Earth in very ancient times, and who taught the primeval wisdom on the Earth. They were the same Teachers who today, I would say, send down their forces, their impulses, to the Earth from the Moon. They withdrew at a definite time from the Earth to the Moon, and there as it were they founded a colony on the Moon, at the time when the Moon separated from the Earth.
Thus with this second secret, the secret of carbon-silver, those Intelligences have to do who once lived on the Earth and today constitute the Moon Intelligences. Such was the knowledge, the cognition, acquired by the pupil in ancient times.
I will bring forward a further instance. Just as the pupil could receive impressions from the Sun or from the Moon, so by means of a still further preparation of his soul he could also receive impressions from the other planets; and one of the secrets thus obtained in ancient times was that which related to Venus. Venus is today studied through the telescope, and is regarded as being like other stars, like other planets. The human body is studied by investigating first part of the liver and then part of the brain, analyzing them only according to their cellular structures (for although the liver and the brain are radically different substances, they are investigated today as though they were both alike). So a student now directs his telescope toward Mercury, Venus, Mars, and so on, and thinks that they are all substances of a like nature. But in these ancient times it was known that if a man looked with his eyes at the Moon or the Sun, he saw something which still had a relation with the physical Earth, with the earthly, the watery, the fiery; while if he extended his observation to the Moon in a spiritual way, he came to the ether. If, however, he extended his observation to Venus, he came to a spiritual world, a purely astral world. What we see as the physical Venus is in a sense simply the external sign for something which lives and works in the astral light. The physical light of Venus is something quite different from the sunlight, for instance; for physical sunlight still has a relationship with what can live on the Earth as the light which belongs to the Earth, but as regards the light from Venus, it is childish to think that it is simply reflected sunlight, for the light from Venus shines out from the spiritual world. If the pupil exposed his soul nature to this light he learnt to know what Intelligences were connected with Venus.
Now, these are Intelligences who, I might say, live in continual opposition to the Intelligences of the Sun; and a great part, a great role, was played in the ancient Mysteries by this opposition between the Intelligences of Venus and the Intelligences of the Sun. It was then said, with a certain justice, that there was a continual conflict between the Venus Intelligences and the Sun Intelligences. There existed a starting-point for such a conflict when the Venus Intelligences first began to combat the Intelligences of the Sun. Then there followed intensifications; and through this conflict there came about catastrophes and crises. In that interval which lay between an opposition and a catastrophe or crisis occurred, as it were, a section of that great conflict which really takes place in the spiritual world, but which only appears in its external symbol in the astrological and astronomical relationship between Venus and the Sun. That which then took place occurred in successive phases. Now, no one can understand what lives on the Earth as inner impulses of history if he does not know of this conflict between Venus and the Sun; because what takes place here on the Earth as conflicts and battles, what occurs here in the course of the evolution of civilization, is simply an earthly picture, an earthly copy, of this Venus-solar conflict.
This was well known in the ancient Mysteries. Such knowledge existed then because there was a relation between human beings on the Earth and these spiritual beings, these Intelligences of the Cosmos.
Then came that epoch of which I have spoken to you, the epoch from the 10th to the 15th century after Christ. The medieval investigators, in their alchemical laboratories, were no longer able, as humanity evolved, to reach up to the Cosmic Intelligences. They could only get as far as the spirits of nature; and while these alchemical investigators made certain alchemical experiments — of which I gave an instance in the last lecture of the particular transformation of oxalic acid into formic acid — while these medieval investigators made numerous experiments of this kind which should reveal to them the working and weaving in the processes and things of nature, they could only do so when they had prepared themselves in the right way through that spirit of piety of which I have spoken: having done this, however, then through their experiments, the spirits of nature could speak to them. Let us realize clearly the situation in which such an investigator found himself.
Such an investigator stood in his laboratory. He said: “Here I have in my laboratory substances, retorts, kilns. I make various experiments. When I direct my questionings to Nature through my experiments, there enter my laboratory quite visibly the nature spirits with their revelations.”
This occurred as late as the 15th century, that the nature spirits appeared to the Rosicrucian investigator who was rightly prepared. This really occurred! But he knew from external knowledge that in olden times it had been possible to reach out not merely to the nature spirits, but to the higher Cosmic Intelligences, to those Intelligences who spoke of the gold-secret in connection with the Sun, of the silver-secret and the carbon-secret in connection with the Moon, of the historically important Venus-secret, etc. True, this medieval alchemist knew all this from information imparted by tradition. But that was not the important thing. He who has been under the influence of the spiritual world, to him historical documents are not so terribly important as they are to modern materialistic times. One is always so astonished to find how infinitely important it is for many people when something like the Dinosaurus is found in the Desert of Gobi as recently. That is an important find, but these are only broken fragments, whereas we may really enter into the secrets of the Cosmos in a spiritual way. Historical documents were therefore certainly not such as deeply to affect these medieval investigators; but in another way the medieval alchemist acquired the knowledge that it had formerly been possible to attain this cosmic cognition, but that now they could only reach the Spirits of Nature, the spirits behind the elements, when certain observations of nature were made, or certain experiments performed — i.e., when these investigators approached the sphere of the Spirits of Nature, then certain Spirits of Nature came around them and told the investigators that there formerly existed human beings who stood in connection with the Cosmic Intelligences. It was a deep, piercing pain to the investigators when the Spirits of Nature spoke to him of a former age in which man himself was able to come into connection with the Intelligences of the Cosmos. So these investigators had to say: “These Spirits of Nature tell of a still earlier age, now vanished into the abyss of human knowledge and experiences.” Thus this gift of the medieval alchemist of access to the Spirits of Nature was really of a dubious nature. While on the one hand they could come to the Spirits of Nature, to the spirits of the air, water, and fire, and could approach them in all their living reality, on the other hand there were some among these spirits who told the investigators — and this information crushed them — how at one time humanity not only stood in connection with the Spirits of Nature, but with the living Intelligences of the Cosmos, with whom the Spirits of Nature still stood in connection, but with whom man could no longer get into touch. That was the feeling of these medieval alchemists and it often came to expression in a much grander, much more tragic way even than we find in Goethe's Faust, beautiful and mighty though that is.
That utterance which Faust addressed to the Moon, the silver shining light of the Moon in which he seeks to bathe, this Faust utterance would have been made in a much more intense manner by the investigators of the Middle Ages when the Spirits of Nature came to them and told them about the secrets of carbon, the secrets of silver, that secret which again is closely connected with man. What was it then that man experienced in ancient times in this connection? He experienced not merely how gold is connected with the Sun, but how gold works in man, how silver and carbon work in man, and how other metals related to the other planets work in man. In olden times man experienced these things in the very circulation of the blood in his body. He experienced them in a conscious way. He felt the blood streaming and working through his head, and at the same time he felt this as allied to a picture of the whole Earth. He really experienced that when he felt the blood streaming up through his head. And there, in that sphere where the head is not enclosed by the bones, where it opens itself downward toward the breast, man felt a copy in miniature of what ascends from the Earth in the atmosphere. Thus in that which man learnt from the Cosmos outside he recognized that which he transmuted in his own organism — he could follow the planet in its passage through the various organs of the body. We find here a confirmation of Mephistopheles' lines in Goethe's Faust, which are written in such a penetrating way: “Blood is a very special fluid;” because in its various metamorphoses our blood really reflects those metamorphoses, which are so magnificent — the change from carbon to silver. All this lives in man's blood.
So the medieval investigators experienced this loss of the knowledge of the Cosmic Intelligences as a loss of his own humanity. In reality it is but a faint reflection of this which we find in Goethe's Faust, when he opens, as it were, the Book of the Macrocosmos, seeking the Cosmic Intelligences; and shuts it again because he cannot approach them. He can only get as far as the Spirit of the Earth. That is simply a faint echo of what we find in so terribly tragic a way among the best of these medieval investigators, whose names have not come down to us. The greatest of these medieval investigators underwent this experience when they heard from the Spirits of Nature, whose sphere they entered through their alchemical investigations, that there once existed a connection between man and the Cosmic Intelligences.
Now, all this is very deeply connected with what still had to develop in ancient Greece when the necessary need arose for what we have studied in these lectures as the Mysteries of Samothrace, the Mysteries of the Kabiri, to be weakened down into the philosophy of Aristotle, and which then played such an enormous part in the Middle Ages, while below the surface what we know as Aristotelianism worked so strongly right on into the 15th century, but in a tragic manner, as I tried to describe to you in a fragmentary way.
Behind the Macedonian epoch was a Mystery which extended even as far as Greece. The significant details of this will be given to you in the coming historical lectures; but with reference to this Mystery, which saw so deeply into the secrets of the cosmic substances and their connections with the Cosmic Intelligences, we have a Mystery which descended from the Cosmic Intelligences to the Spirits of Nature. Then man's vision had to be closed to these Cosmic Intelligences, and simply directed toward the Spirits of Nature. That was the crisis which was accomplished at the time of Alexander and Aristotle. We can still see in Aristotelianism how the abstractions of Aristotle are based upon the ancient Mysteries.
I must say here that anyone who knows about the carbon-silver secret, and then reads the observations of Aristotle — even those few observations which have come down to posterity, for the most important writings of Aristotle have not come down to us — anyone who reads these writings, the observations of Aristotle relating to the secret of the Moon, will realize the connection of those olden times. Now these are the things which are to be illuminated more in detail in the Christmas lectures which I want to give concerning the historical development of humanity from the standpoint of Anthroposophy.