Monday, November 24, 2014
Hidden Powers of the Soul
Rudolf Steiner, Munich, February 27, 1912:
We have spoken recently of many things concerning the existence of hidden soul depths, and it will be well in any case to continue to occupy ourselves with various details of this subject which it may be useful for an anthroposophist to know. Generally speaking, it must be said that a complete clarification of these things is possible only if it can be worked out on the basis of anthroposophical knowledge.
We have considered what may be called the human organization from the most diverse viewpoints. Therefore, when we wish to point out something in hidden soul depths, it will be easy for each one to relate it correctly to what was shown regarding the human structure as we know it from the more or less elementary presentations of the anthroposophical world-conception.
It has been repeated that everything included in our visualizations and percepts, our impulses of will, our feelings — in short, all that goes on in our souls under normal conditions between awaking in the morning and falling asleep at night — may be called the activities, peculiarities, and powers of the ordinary consciousness. Now we shall indicate by a diagram all that falls within this ordinary human consciousness, all that is known and felt and willed between waking and sleeping, within these two parallel lines (a–b).
In this section (a–b) belong, in addition to our visualizations, every sort of percept. Thus, if we put ourselves into correspondence with the outer world through our senses, and procure thereby in every possible sense-impression a picture of this world, remaining in connection with it, in touch with it, then that belongs also to our ordinary consciousness. But since all our feelings and impulses of will belong to it as well, one might say that in the area indicated by the parallel lines (a–b) everything belongs of which our normal soul activities give us information in everyday life.
The point is for us to know with certainty that to this so-called soul life the physical body is assigned as an instrument, including the senses and the nervous system. If we add two more to these parallel lines we may indicate the physical sense organs and the nervous system, which we may call the tools of this consciousness — the sense organs chiefly, but also to a certain extent the nervous system.
Below the threshold of this ordinary consciousness lies everything which we may describe as the hidden aspects of soul-life, or the subconscious. (See diagram, b–c.) We shall get a good idea of all that is, so to speak, embedded in this subconsciousness if we remember having heard that the human being, through spiritual training, attains to imagination, inspiration, and intuition; [These three terms as used by Rudolf Steiner denote three supersensible faculties. (Tr.)] so we must substitute for the thoughts, feelings, and impulses of will belonging to the surface consciousness the imagination, inspiration, and intuition of the subconsciousness. We know, however, also that the subconscious activity is not aroused by spiritual training alone, but that it may exist as inheritance of an old, primitive, atavistic state of the human mind. Under these conditions there arise what we define as visions, and visions of this naive consciousness would correspond to imaginations gained through training. Premonitions arise; and these might be primitive inspirations. We can show at once the difference between an inspiration and a premonition by a significant example.
We have already mentioned that in the course of the twentieth century there will occur in human evolution what may be called a sort of spiritual return of Christ, and that there will be a number of persons who experience this working of Christ from the astral plane into our world in an etheric form. We may acquire knowledge of this event by authentic training, recognizing the trend of evolution, and also that this must come about in the twentieth century. It may, however, happen, as it often does at the present time, that individuals here and there are gifted with a natural, primitive, clairvoyance which is, so to speak, a kind of obscure inspiration which we may call a premonition of the approach of Christ. Perhaps such people might not have accurate knowledge of the matter involved, but even such an important inspiration may arise as a premonition, though in the case of a primitive consciousness it may not retain its premonitory or visionary character. The vision constitutes some sort of picture of a spiritual event. Let us say, for example, that someone has lost a friend whose ego has passed through the gate of death. This friend now dwells in the spiritual world, and a kind of bond establishes itself between this person and the one still living in this world. It may be that the person in this world cannot rightly understand what the deceased desires and has a false idea of what is being experienced by the departed. The fact that such a condition exists presents itself in a vision which, as a picture, may be false, although founded upon the fact that the dead is really trying to establish a bond with the living, and this gives weight to the presentiment so that the living person who experiences it knows certain things, either about the past or future, which are inaccessible to normal consciousness. If the human soul acquires, however, a definite perception — not a vision which may, under the circumstances, be false, but a factual perception — an occurrence, let us say, of the sense world, but in this case in a sphere invisible to the physical senses, or an incident in the supersensible world — it is called in occultism deuteroscopy, or second sight. With all this I have described to you only what takes place, although subconsciously, within the human soul, whether developed by correct training or appearing as a natural clairvoyance.
The phenomena enumerated when contrasting the subconscious with the ordinary consciousness differ considerably from those confined to the conscious mind. The relation of this ordinary consciousness to the underlying causes of its activities has already been described in one aspect by this phrase: the impotence of ordinary consciousness. The eye sees a rose, but this eye, which is so constituted that in our consciousness the image of the rose arises has, like the consciousness itself, no power over the blooming, growth, and fading of the rose in spite of its perception and the resultant image. The rose blooms and fades through the activity of the forces of nature, and neither the eye nor the consciousness has any control beyond the sphere which is accessible to their perception.
This is not the case regarding subconscious happenings. We must hold fast to this fact, for it is extraordinarily important. When we perceive something through the use of our eyes in normal sight, pictures in color or anything else, we can alter nothing in the objective facts by mere perception. If nothing happens to harm our eyes, they remain unchanged by the mere act of seeing; only by crossing the boundary between normal and blinding light do we injure our eyes. Thus it may be said that if we confine ourselves to the facts of the normal consciousness, we do not react upon ourselves. Our organism is so constituted that changes are not ordinarily induced in us by this consciousness.
It is quite otherwise with that which appears in the subconscious. Let us assume that we are forming an imagination, or that we have a vision which may be the response of a good being. This good being is not in the physical world, but in the supersensible world, and let us imagine this world where such beings exist and which we perceive, perchance, through an imagination or a vision, to be between these lines (b–c). In that world we have to seek all objects of subconscious perception. But if we identify anything in that other world as an evil or demonic being, either through an imaginary image or a vision, we are not, in regard to this being, as powerless as we are with the eye in regard to the rose. If in a supersensible imagination or vision of an evil being we develop a strong feeling that it must depart, it is bound to feel as if it were powerfully thrust from us. It is the same when we form an imagination or vision of a good being. If in this case we develop a sympathetic feeling, the being feels impelled to approach and to connect itself with us. All beings who in one way or another inhabit that world feel, when we form visions of them, our attracting or repelling forces. With our subconsciousness we are in a position resembling somewhat that of the eye if with it we were able not only to see a rose, but by means of simple sight could arouse a desire that the rose approach and could draw it toward us or, if the eye, seeing something disgusting, could not only form such a judgment but could remove this object by mere antipathy. The subconscious is in touch with a world in which the sympathy and antipathy which are present in the human soul can take effect. It is necessary for us to impress this upon our minds.
Sympathy and antipathy, and in general all subconscious impulses, act in the manner described not only upon their own world, but above all upon what is within ourselves; and not only upon a part of the etheric body, but upon certain forces of the physical body. We must consider here as enclosed between these lines (b–c) that living force within the human being which, pulsing in his blood, can be called the blood-warming power and, also, the force residing in our healthy or unhealthy breathing power, conditioned more or less by our whole organism. (See diagram b–c.) To all this, upon which the subconscious works within us, there belongs in addition a large part of what is called the human etheric body. The subconscious or hidden soul powers work within us so as to affect our blood heat, upon which depend the pulsation, the liveliness or sluggishness of our circulation. It may thus be comprehended that our subconsciousness is directly connected with the circulation of our blood. A slower or a more rapid circulation depends primarily upon the subconscious powers of the individual.
An influence upon the demonic or beneficent beings inhabiting the outer world can only be exerted if the human being has visions, imaginations, or some other sort of subconscious perception of a certain clarity — that is to say, if they really stand before him; only then can his sympathy or antipathy set in motion subconscious powers that act like magic in this outer world. This distinct standing-before-the-soul in the subconsciousness is not necessary for the effect upon our own inner organism as described above. (See diagram b–c) Whether the person in question knows or does not know which imaginations correspond to a certain sympathy, this sympathy nevertheless affects the circulation of his blood, his breathing system, and his etheric body.
Let us assume that during a certain period of his life someone has a tendency to have feelings of nausea. If he were subject to visions or had imaginative sight, he would recognize these visions and imaginations as perceptions of his own being; they would appear projected into space, but would, nevertheless, belong to his own inner world. They would represent the sort of inner forces that produced the feelings of nausea. But even if he could not practice this kind of self-knowledge and were simply nauseated, these inner forces would act upon him nevertheless. They would influence the warmth of his blood and his forces of breathing. It is actually the case that a human being possesses more or less healthy breathing and circulation, according to the character of his subconscious feelings. The activity of his etheric body and, indeed, all his functions, are dependent upon the world of feelings existing within him.
When, however, the facts of the subconscious mind are really experienced by the soul, it is shown not only that this connection exists, but that because of it a continuous effect is produced upon the general human organism. There are certain feelings, certain states of mind, that work down into the subconscious and, because they call forth definite conditions of blood, of the breathing power, and of the etheric body, affect the organism beneficially, or obstruct the entire life. Thus as a result of what works down into the subconscious, something is always arising or subsiding. The human being either deprives himself of his life forces, or adds to them through what he sends over from his state of consciousness into the subconscious conditions. If he takes pleasure in a lie he has told, if he is not horrified at it — this being the normal feeling about lies — if instead he feels indulgence, or even satisfaction, then what he feels about it is sent down into his subconscious. This injures the circulation, breathing, and the forces of the etheric body. The result is that when this human being goes through the gate of death he will have become stunted, poorer in forces — something will have died in him which would have lived had he felt the normal horror and disgust at his lie. In the latter case, his disgust would have worked against the lie, transformed itself into the forces here indicated (see diagram), and he would have succeeded in sending something enlivening, creative, into his organism.
We see from the fact that forces are continually transferred from the conscious to the subconscious that the human being contributes from this subconscious to his own invigoration or deterioration. True, he is not yet strong enough in his present state to spoil out of his soul, so to speak, any other parts of his organism except the circulation of his blood, his breathing system, and etheric body. He cannot injure the coarser and more solid portions, but is able to affect detrimentally one part only of his organism. What he has injured is most distinctly visible when what remains of the etheric body has been influenced in this way; for the etheric body is in constant connection with the warmth of the blood and the constitution of the breath. It is impaired by evil feelings. Through good, normal, and sincere feelings it gains, however, fertilizing, strengthening, and maturing powers. We may say, therefore, that a human being through his subconscious activities works directly, creating or depleting, upon the factual reality of his organism by descending from the level of his powerless surface-consciousness into the region where something arises or perishes within his own soul, and thereby in his entire organism.
We have seen that because the subconscious may be experienced more or less consciously by the soul, and something may be known about it, that it achieves an influence in a sphere which we may describe by an expression used throughout the Middle Ages as the elemental world. A human being cannot enter directly into any kind of connection with this elemental world; he can do so only indirectly through those experiences within himself which are effects of the subconsciousness upon the organism. But when he has for a time learned to know himself so as to be able to say: If you feel this, and send down this or that emanation from your conduct into your subconsciousness, you destroy certain things or cripple them; if you have other experiences and send down a different sort of reaction, you improve yourself — if a human being for a time observes within himself this ebb and flow of destructive and beneficent forces, he will become ever riper in self-knowledge. This is the genuine form of self-knowledge.
Self-knowledge gained in this manner is as definite in its effect as would be a scorpion's sting on our toe every time we felt in the physical world the impulse to lie or were tolerant of lying. We may be sure that one observing such an immediate result would cease to lie. If the direct physical effect upon us should be a more or less serious mutilation, it would resemble what actually happens, although unperceived, through what is sent down into the subconscious mind from these daily experiences. What is sent down because of our tolerant attitude toward a lie is such that it does bite off and take away from us something the loss of which injures us and which through our future karma we must regain. If we send down a right feeling into the subconscious mind — there is naturally an almost endless scale of feeling which may descend — we grow within ourselves, create new life forces in our organism. Such an observation of our own upbuilding or deterioration is an immediate result of true self-knowledge.
It has been recently reported that many do not understand how to distinguish a genuine vision or imagination [This term as used by Rudolf Steiner, denotes a supersensible faculty (Tr.)] belonging to something objective from that which appears in space but is the creation of our own subjective nature. Well, it cannot be said: write down this or that and you will then be able to make the distinction. There are no such rules. One learns gradually through development; and the ability rightly to distinguish that which belongs to ourselves alone from that which, as outer vision, belongs to a genuine entity can be attained only when we have endured the continual gnawing of deadly subconscious activities. We are then equipped with a certain assurance. Then also the condition arises in which a human being, confronting a vision or imagination, may ask himself: Can you penetrate it through the power of your spiritual sight? If the vision persists when this active force is turned upon it, then it is an objective fact, but if this concentrated gaze extinguishes the vision, it is proved to be only his own creation. Anyone who, in this respect, does not take precautions may have before him thousands of pictures from the Akashic Record; if he does not test them to see whether or not they can be extinguished by a resolutely active gaze, the akashic pictures — which may give so much information — count only as images developed by his own inner nature. It could happen, for example, that such a person sees nothing beyond himself, externalizing himself in quite dramatic images which he believes to extend throughout the entire Atlantean world, throughout generations of human evolution — but which may be, in spite of such apparent objectivity, nothing but the projection of his own inner self.
When the human being has passed through the gate of death the obstructions no longer exist by which something within himself becomes an objective vision. In ordinary life of the present day what is subconsciously experienced, sent down by the individual human being into his subconscious mind, does not always become vision and imagination. It becomes imagination through correct training, and vision in the case of atavistic clairvoyance. When the human being has passed through the gate of death his collective inner self becomes at once an objective world. It is there confronting him, Kamaloca [Region of Burning Desire, or of Cleansing Fire; also Purgatory] being in essence nothing but a world built up around us out of that which is experienced within our own soul. This condition is reversed only in Devachan. [Devachan = Heaven]
Thus we can easily comprehend what has been said regarding the effect of sympathy or antipathy present in visions, imaginations, inspirations, and premonitions: that these act in all cases upon the objective elemental world. Upon this point it has been stated that in the physically incarnate personality only that which he has developed into vision and imagination acts upon this elemental world. In the case of the dead, the forces affect the elemental world which were present in the subconscious mind, and which are always taken along when a human being passes through the gate of death, so that everything experienced after death influences in reality the elemental world. As surely as waves are aroused in a stream by whipping it, do the subconscious experiences transmit themselves after death to the elemental world; as certainly as waves that are whipped extend in flattening circles, or a current of air passes undeterred on its way, do these forces spread over the elemental world. Therefore this world is constantly filled with that which is aroused by the content of the subconscious mind which mortals take with them through the gate of death. The point concerning us here is that we gain the ability to bring about the conditions necessary for sight in the elemental world. One need not wonder at the clairvoyant when he recognizes quite correctly that occurrences in that world are activities of the dead. It is even possible, as you will see, to follow the effects of these after-death experiences into the physical world — of course under certain conditions. When the clairvoyant has gone through all that has been described, and acquired the ability to perceive the elemental world, he reaches then after a time a point where he may have strange experiences.
Let us suppose that a clairvoyant looks at a rose with his physical eyes, and receives a sense impression. Let us further suppose that he has trained himself so that the color red gives him a definite shade of feeling. This is necessary, for without it the process goes no further. Unless colors and tones produce definite nuances of feeling when clairvoyance is directed at an outside object, the sight progresses no further. Suppose that he gives the rose away. Then, if he is not clairvoyant, what he felt would have sunk into his subconscious mind, and would be working, either beneficially or detrimentally, upon his health, and so on. But if he is clairvoyant, he would perceive just how the image of the rose acts in his subconscious mind. That is to say, he would have a visionary picture, an imagination of the rose. He would perceive at the same time — as has been explained — how his feeling about the rose affected, either beneficially or detrimentally, his etheric or his physical body. He would observe the action of all this upon his own organism. When he has this image before himself he will be able by its means to exert an attractive force upon the being which we may call the group-soul of the rose and which underlies its existence. He will be looking into the elemental world, seeing the rose's group-soul in so far as it dwells there.
If the clairvoyant goes still further, has emerged from perception of the rose, has given it away, has followed his own inner procedure in concentrating upon the rose and its results, and has reached the point of seeing something of it in the elemental world — then there appears in place of the rose a wonderful shining image belonging to the elemental world. Then, if the procedure has been followed up to this point, something special happens. The clairvoyant can now disregard what is before him. He can then give the command to himself: Do not look with your inner sight at what seems to be a living etheric being going out into the world. Do not regard it! Then, strangely, the clairvoyant sees something which, passing through his eye, shows him how the forces act which form it, how they issue from the human etheric body and build up the eye. He sees the formative forces belonging to his own physical body. He sees his own physical eye as he ordinarily sees an external object. That is in fact something which may occur. A way may be followed from the outer object up to the point where, in absolute inner darkness — no other sense impressions being admitted — what the eye looks like is seen in a spiritual picture. The human being sees his own inner organ. He has entered the region which is really formative in the physical world: the creative physical world. It is first perceived by the clairvoyant in observing his own physical organization. Thus he follows the way back to himself. What sent such forces into our eye that we see it giving out rays of light which really express the essential nature of sight? Then we see the eye surrounded by a sort of yellow glow; we see it enclosed within us. This was brought fourth by the entire process that brought the human being finally up to this point.
The forces that may issue from a dead person follow the same course. The human being takes with him the contents of his subconscious mind into the world that he inhabits after he passes through the gate of death. Just as we enter our own physical eye, do the forces sent out by the dead from the elemental world reenter the physical world. The deceased has perhaps an especial longing for someone whom he has left behind. This longing, at the time lying in the subconscious, becomes at once a living vision, and in this way affects the elemental world. What was only a vision in the physical world becomes a power in the elemental world. This power follows the way indicated through the longing for the one who is living and, if the conditions permit, it may create some disturbance in the physical world near the living, who may notice rapping sounds or something of the kind. These are heard just like any physical sounds. Occurrences of this kind, originating in this way, would be noticed more frequently than is usually the case were people more observant of the times favorable to such activities. The times of gradual going to sleep and of similar awaking are the most favorable, but no attention is paid to them; yet there are few, if any, who have never received during such moments of transition what were really manifestations of the supersensible world, ranging all the way from disturbing noises to audible words.
All this has been pointed out today in order to show both the reality and the nature of the connection between human beings and the world. Impressions of an objective sense-world, received by the ordinary consciousness, are powerless and without any real relation — even to that world; but as soon as the human experience descends into the subconscious, the relation with realities is established. The helplessness of the former consciousness passes over into a delicate magic, and when the human being has passed through the gate of death and is released from the physical body, his experiences are such that they are effective both in the elemental world and, under favorable circumstances, even upon the physical plane, where they may be observed by the ordinary consciousness.
In describing what may take place, only the simplest example has been used, because it is best to begin with the simplest case. Of course we shall — since we have left ourselves time for it — work out also what we need to know in order to proceed to more complicated matters which may lead us into the more intimate relations between the world and humanity.