Monday, December 26, 2016
Initiation, Eternity, and the Passing Moment
Initiation, Eternity, and the Passing Moment. Lecture 1 of 7.
Rudolf Steiner, Munich, August 25, 1912:
As in recent years at the beginning of our Munich lecture course, may I be allowed to use this first lecture as a kind of introduction to what we are going to deal with in the coming days.
It may well be that the first thought that occurs to you at the beginning of this cycle should refer to what for several years has been the introduction to these Munich lectures, that is, our artistic dramatic productions. If I may be allowed to give expression to the thought that comes before my own soul on this occasion, it is that it gives me the deepest satisfaction to see how, this year as well as last, we have been able to open these productions with a reconstruction of the Mystery of Eleusis. Seeing that this year we have the pleasure of a still larger audience than before, perhaps it will not be superfluous to repeat a few words I have already spoken here in Munich.
All that is bound up with the Eleusinian Mystery is intimately connected with what we call our anthroposophical striving. We began with quite a small circle of which only a few have remained faithful to the movement. We began years ago in Berlin, actually connecting the representation of initiation and initiation principles of the various epochs and races to all that has been accomplished for the Anthroposophical Movement by our revered friend Edouard Schuré with regard to the reconstruction of the Eleusinian Mystery. It was with all this that we made a kind of introduction to this movement of ours. Now that for some years past we have been able to give dramatic productions of what has issued from Edouard Schuré's soul, we have been able to stamp a kind of impression of the feelings, sentiments, and thoughts that, for rather a smaller circle of us, have formed themselves around this starting point of our movement. If I am to define all this, I should say that an inner confidence, an inner faith, flowed out of the spiritual purity and chastity of the way in which these things entered our souls. So that we might say that if we allow these sentiments and feelings to flow into us, together with all that we feel in our souls with regard to our anthroposophical striving, we can at least hope for some measure of success. This is what the things themselves told us in the beginning, what they told us by the deep and serious way they penetrated into the spiritual, and what the years that have since passed have also told us.
What belief were we able to hold at the beginning, and later in the course of the recent years? It was the importance of the moment in the evolution of humanity — I mean the moment in relation to world history — that was able to arise before the soul. The idea could arise that it was quite in accordance with the laws of human evolution that in our present age new forces, and particularly forces of spiritual life, should wish to enter the souls of men if they were to hold their own in face of what the present and immediate future may demand of their inmost being. In giving voice to this thought, may I be allowed to refer to something personal, which is, nevertheless, by no means personal to me.
Years ago, before we started our movement, I often had occasion to speak about all kinds of spiritual matters with the German art historian Herman Grimm, who, as you know, has since passed into higher worlds. In our walks together from Weimar to Tiefurt, or around Berlin, a good deal was said about the demands of the spiritual life in our time relative to nature; how humanity has sought its goal during the course of European evolution and has tried to find harmony in its soul life. There was one thought that kept coming to the fore in conversation with Herman Grimm, who was so deeply interested in all the spiritual life of the West. When we go to the root of the matter, this one thought was how the European man can look back over a number of centuries, or over the last 2000 years, how the European can look back in such a way that when he probes into his own soul and examines its needs and asks himself “What can I understand, what is comprehensible to me in human affairs that transpired then that I need for my own life of soul?” he can then answer: “However many of the details of life at that time may be incomprehensible, somewhere there is a link with what I myself experience, if I let the new age pass historically before my soul.” Even the complications that arose in the Roman Empire at the time of Caesar, or in the still more remote time of Republican Rome, appear comprehensible to European consciousness today. We find our bearings when we try to understand the souls of those times, even though in many respects they may be far removed from what present-day man can feel or think. But when the soul looks back into ancient Greece it becomes quite a different matter. It is only if we do not go sufficiently deep into things with what we call our human understanding that we, as modern men, can say that the days of ancient Greece may be as easily understood as Roman times or as the times that followed. When in going back we come to ancient Greece and let the historical records of it work on our souls, we begin to meet with what is incomprehensible. I should like to repeat, as something clear and easily understood, what Herman Grimm often used to say: “A man like Alcibiades is a mere prince in a fairy story compared with Caesar or with those who lived in Caesar's day.” Greek life appears in quite a different light, and human and divine bear a different relation to each other. Everyday life and all that might be called the divine enlightenment of everyday life seems quite different. The whole life of soul existing on the soil of ancient Greece seems entirely different. These things become particularly striking when we let those personalities work on our souls who can in truth become far more living in the modern soul than the people of whom history relates — those personalities we find in the works of Homer, Aeschylus, or Sophocles.
Starting from such a thought, the results of our modern culture will certainly enable us to say that the further back we go in human evolution, the more does man appear to be directly connected with the supersensible and all that radiates into and works within his soul. For we can already perceive the beginning of a quite new humanity when, not superficially but fundamentally, we get near the soul of the Greek. Something quite special appears, too, when we allow the historical works of literature that have arisen in the course of European civilization to work upon us. The historians write about the various ages back into Roman times as of something they have grasped and mastered. When you open a history book you will find that the writer, when desiring to give life and form to the personalities he is representing, is able to apply the feelings and sentiments of his own age as far back as ancient Rome. In purely historical writings, even among the best historians, Greek figures, even those of the later Greek period, are like silhouettes, shadow-pictures that cannot come to life. How could anyone with genuine feeling for what it means for a man to have his feet firmly on the ground maintain that any historian has really succeeded in thus planting Lycurgus or Alcibiades on their feet, as can be done in the case of Caesar. The Greek soul appears full of mystery when we look back into Grecian times, or so it appears to the man who merely tries to grasp it with his ordinary consciousness. Those who feel this mystery have the right feeling.
In this connection we may well ask how a Greek soul would have felt with respect to many things that are fully comprehensible to the modern soul. Let us consider an early Greek soul. Let us try by means of much that spiritual science gives us to feel our way into this soul. What would the Greek souls have said to the image, the old traditional story, that is so easily comprehended by the later European soul: the story of the Fall, the old story of Paradise, and all that later ages received as the Old Testament. This would have been absolutely foreign to the Greek soul, as foreign as the Greek soul itself is to modern man. You cannot think the story of the temptation in Paradise, the story of Adam and Eve, into the Greek soul, so that it would be fully understood there as it lived for instance in the Middle Ages and on even into modern times. Therefore it is first necessary even for us to prepare our own souls before we can understand that age, so different from our own.
It is when we cherish thoughts like these that we first begin to have a real sense of what it is that our present moment has brought us. Last Sunday when the curtain went down after the last scene of the Eleusinian Mystery, I could not help thinking how thankful we may be that we are able today to turn our eyes and minds to the course of events that show us the Greek soul in its life of feeling and experience. Moreover, that we are able to fill the auditorium with those who can imagine how, in the course of man's evolution on Earth from epoch to epoch, the human soul has assumed different forms, and how it has learned to experience in different ways its environment and its own life. For many years we have been striving to understand the life that human souls had to live in the beginning of earthly evolution when the external body, and with it the inner soul life, were quite different from what they afterward became. We have been striving to understand how the human soul lived in Atlantean times, how it lived in post-Atlantean times, and we have grown to realize in what manifold ways the soul has lived and experienced itself within us. The soul that is in each one of us, the soul that has passed through one incarnation after another, not in order to experience the same things over again but to keep on having fresh experiences — in what various ways its life has been lived! So it is possible for us to sit in this auditorium, and to forget the things directly affecting us in this age in order to absorb objectively and dispassionately what was peculiar to souls of a different age. We need not set our understanding to work; we need only give ourselves up to immediate feeling to see that the events enacted in the reconstructed Eleusinian Mystery contain within them all that man's soul lived through from the darkest depths of life up to the light of the spirit, from deep sorrow to heights of bliss, experienced, however, in various ways in the course of time. Then we may get a simple and unprejudiced, but perhaps all the more certain, feeling of what the Greeks felt when such names were spoken, such images awakened, as those of Demeter, Persephone, and Dionysos. It may be possible for whole worlds to arise before us from within the soul when these images are awakened.
As human beings we find ourselves in the external physical world. We learn to know it through our physical senses, through the experiences of our soul, and through what we experience with our understanding and with our reason. We feel today, in quite a distinct way, that our soul is in a measure independent of the external life of surrounding nature, and of all that is concealed in it. The Greeks could never have felt this in the way man feels it today. At that time they never could have understood this estrangement from nature, this emphasis on the need of forsaking the world of the senses in order to press on into spiritual worlds. But in his own way the Greek felt a significant difference, a significant cleft, between what may be called the spirit in man and what may be called the soul. For the things of the soul and the things of the spirit are the expressions we use for human experience, and are two spheres closely impinging on one another.
Let us turn to the scene at the very beginning. Demeter stands in her proud spiritual chastity before Persephone, warning her not to taste the fruits that Eros can give. We turn our gaze to Demeter and see in her all that man calls spiritual, everything as he says in which “he as spirit has part.” But man also sees that in the realm of the Earth all that is spiritual is bound up with all that has most to do with the senses and is the most material. Demeter, the Goddess, who brings forth the fruits of the Earth and presides over the external and moral ordering of mankind — Demeter, human spirit, chaste and proud in face of much that generally lives in men, but inwardly bound up with and permeating the external world of the senses — it is thus that Demeter stands before us. Persephone appears before our inward vision as something that awakens an image of the human soul principle in our soul. It is connected with all that concerns man's individual existence as he stands there with his soul in the midst of earthly joys and sorrows. If it would picture what lives in Persephone, the soul must feel its connection with all that pulsates through earthly joys and sorrows. Persephone is all soul, Demeter all human spirit. If we then allow the course of the Eleusinian Mystery to work upon us, if the basic tones struck in the very first dialogue between Demeter and Persephone go on resounding in us, become intermingled and then clear, finally leading up to the figure of Dionysos — then, how the whole human being is to be found in Dionysos! How all that becomes living in us when we confront Demeter and Persephone lives again in Dionysos! Then, in the last scene, we see man's soul striving toward harmony of soul and spirit. The whole Dionysian play becomes a striving out of the darkness of life into the light of the spirit.
I have no wish to be a commentator nor to pull to pieces a work of art. I only wish to put into words the feelings that can arise in man with regard to the most intimate secrets of his soul when confronted with the Eleusinian Mystery. I should never think of saying that Demeter was the personification or symbol of a primal form of the human spirit, or that Persephone symbolised the human soul. That would be an insult to the plastic, living nature of a work of art. That would mean applying rigid concepts of the intellect to all that lives in a work of art that is just as living as man or any other living being. But what we may and can feel about the secrets of the soul — of that we may speak.
Now let us set two pictures before ourselves. Let us picture the later European consciousness that is now beginning to free itself and that henceforth will thirst after the forms revealed by the truths of spiritual science. Let us picture this European consciousness as it has been working through the centuries, this European soul that felt the riddle of life on being told how the first human being was there (man and woman), so far removed from the God he had come to fear, and upon hearing the alluring voice of a being strange to him, to his own human soul. Whence did this being come? What is it? How is it related to man's own soul being? The European soul, the European consciousness, hardly attempts any explanation. It accepts the strangeness of Lucifer, and it suffices it to know that from Lucifer came knowledge, but also the voice of temptation. And the words decreeing the divine judgment after the temptation — how they resound as from infinite cosmic space! How little they are suited by their very setting to draw this question from the soul: “Where can I find in the most intimate life of my own soul what is resounding through the wide spaces of the macrocosm?” Try to imagine the drama of Paradise as a living picture. Try to feel inwardly how unnatural it would be to represent the figures in the drama in purely human form. On the other hand, now try to imagine how, in speaking of the deepest and most intimate concerns of the Greek soul, it is a foregone conclusion that you should have before you the human figure of Demeter, the human figure of Persephone, even that of Dionysos or of Zeus! Try from this to experience how infinitely near to the Greek soul came all that permeated the macrocosm! We can characterize this in a few words. All that we need say is that before the Eleusinian Mystery was reconstructed by Edouard Schuré it simply did not exist in the form in which we can now see it. But now we have it! We need only feel what is contained in these two statements to grasp the whole significance of the matter. This to my mind transcends all mere trivial expressions of gratitude because we have also pointed to the whole significance that this reconstruction of the Eleusinian Mystery has for modern spiritual life. All that is connected with the Mystery of Eleusis, and all that has been achieved by the author in the historical re-awakening of the principles of initiation in the various epochs, corresponds to what is deepest and most intimate in the European soul. Everyone who takes spiritual life in a sincere and earnest way is under an obligation of a sacred, serious kind to carry precisely this kind of attitude into the present life of the soul.
My dear friends, you may talk a great deal with people outside in the world about all manner of things concerning anthroposophy, and some may even seem to find satisfaction in such conversation. But when one is able to look into the depths of the soul, one knows that the soul needs to be given, though perhaps unconsciously, what it truly desires in the innermost recesses of the heart.
It was feelings such as these that filled my soul last Sunday when we saw the curtain fall on the last scene of the Mystery of Eleusis, and the weeks preceding our Munich performance showed me that I was not alone in these feelings. All of us sitting here may feel the warmest gratitude toward those who for weeks past have been sacrificing themselves to the work of studying and entering into the personalities they had to represent. The consciousness lives in all those whom you have actually seen on the stage that they are servants of the spiritual world, and that it is necessary in our age that every effort be made to introduce spiritual values into the general culture of mankind. Reverence for spiritual things enabled the players gladly to bear much that preparations for the performances demands. We must also remember with special thanks those who have for years been working behind the scenes, though perhaps even more visibly than the individual players. They have devoted their efforts, and especially their ability, which is more than their efforts, to the service of this particular task. We may regard it as a kind of inner karma of our movement that we are able to have among us one who provides all that the scenes require in the way of drapery and clothing for the players, and who does it all in such a manner that it is not only in keeping with the intentions that I have at heart but is also accompanied by true spirituality. We may take it as a favourable karma of our movement in Central Europe that we have such a personality among us. That this karma has a yet deeper foundation, we can see from the fact that the same person was able to cooperate so successfully in all that has been done, for instance, for our Calendar during the past months. Like all our undertakings it is to serve the great purpose. So that first among those who were able to collaborate in such an outstanding manner, not only as players but in the whole of our work, we may mention Fraulein von Eckardstein. Then I think with deepest gratitude, and I should like to evoke this gratitude in your hearts, too, of our self-sacrificing painters, Volkert, Linde, Hass, and this year Steglich of Copenhagen, as well. And many must remain unnamed for they are too numerous.
My dear friends, anthroposophy does not consist merely in theories and prophecies. It consists in the will to sacrifice oneself for the demands of the present age. A feeling for this ought to be awakened so that by real human work the seed may be planted for the spiritual life that is so necessary for the future of mankind. If such is our feeling, we shall understand better and better how those who would call themselves anthroposophists must grow together in the concrete and immediate working together toward worthy and serious aims. First in value is what the individual does, what the individual creates and all that he is prepared to bring as his own offering. Here, perhaps, I may speak of the following.
There were free days between our performances when many of our friends were busy rehearsing from morning to night, and on those days Dr. Unger gave lectures here in Munich. It was a source of deep satisfaction to me when our good managing director, Sellin, came to me behind the scenes yesterday morning full of enthusiasm for Dr. Unger's two lectures with the remark, “A movement with such inspired representatives does not come to naught.” What is it that gives me such great pleasure in such an occurrence? Allow me to say this quite honestly and sincerely. It is the independent force, the absolutely independent way in which a human personality is here presenting the matter out of himself, quite freely, by means of his own faculties, without limiting himself to what I myself would say. To one who himself wishes to work independently, nothing can give truer joy than to find someone else who is independent, shoulder to shoulder with him, giving out according to his own ability once he has recognized that it fits into the whole.
A short while ago I received a letter practically saying that much needed to be done within the German anthroposophical movement if anyone was ever to do anything but repeat quite literally what has been said by me. The way truth is represented out in the world is often like that. I do not want to criticize this remark that objectively contains what is untrue in the strictest sense of the word. I do not mention it in order to blame or condemn. But the other side, which is for us the positive side, must be repeatedly emphasized. Let us feel bound to truthfulness, to the testing of what is. Let us feel that we must never speak of any matter until we have learned about it, until we have gone into it. Otherwise, there can be no blessing in occult development, in occult striving. Truth and truthfulness! That is the first and foremost law. What is the good of any prophet, of any description of supersensible facts, if they are not permeated by honest and sincere truthfulness. From the place from which I speak to you, it may be that you will accept many things that I have to say, but it will please me best if you accept them out of the conviction that it will always be my own deepest endeavor toward you to make no statements except those that can be made with the most candid truthfulness, since I can see no blessing for any occult movement unless one is dedicated to the truth! It may be contrary to what we desire, contrary to the demands of our ambition or our vanity, contrary to many other things in our soul; it may be against the grain to submit ourselves to any kind of authority, but all the same it may be right. For there is one authority to which we should submit ourselves willingly and of our own free will, and that is the authority of truth, so that all we can achieve, not only in what we say but also in what we do, in all our individual deeds, may be permeated by truthfulness. You must also look for that truthfulness in what is put before you in our anthroposophical artistic and dramatic efforts. Try to find it, and although you may realize that there are some things we have failed to attain, you will see that we have striven to permeate all that we do by an atmosphere of truthfulness. We have tried never to let ourselves speak of “tolerance” if tolerance is not really there and if we do not really practice it. Calling others intolerant does not constitute tolerance; to relate something of someone that is not what he represents does not constitute tolerance; to stress continually that one should “be tolerant” does not constitute tolerance. But if one is truthful one knows one's own value and how far one may go. If we are servants of the truth, it will follow as a matter of course that we shall be tolerant.
We may well speak of these things by way of introduction, although it is not generally my custom to enter into all manner of warnings and admonitions. But, on such an occasion as this, how could these words not flow forth from the heart, these words that would point out how, from an inwardly associated impulse, we were able gradually to make this reconstruction of the Mystery of Eleusis in a certain respect into something from which we may start. We wished to be open and honest with European souls, we wished to be truthful, seeking with a sense of truthfulness for what the European soul is thirsting. The deepest thoughts are often revealed in the simplest words, formulated in the simplest language. Let us learn, with an honest and sincere conviction of the needs of our age, to recognize what a deed it was to recreate the Eleusinian Mystery out of the dark spiritual depths, which begin just at the point where we go back from ancient Rome to ancient Greece. We may then leave it to each individual soul here present to rejoice in the thought — as I am sure many will, very deeply — that the creator of this reconstruction of the Mystery of Eleusis is with us during our time in Munich.