Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, May 8, 1917 [99 years ago today]:
It might seem at first sight that in the centuries immediately following the Mystery of Golgotha mankind had not been touched by the light of spiritual illumination; that this was the normal condition of mankind and increasingly so up to the present day. This is not so, however. If we wish to see these things in perspective we must distinguish between the prevailing spirit of mankind and that which occurs here and there in the life of mankind and may play a decisive part in the different spheres of life. It would be most discouraging for many today to be told of the existence of a spiritual world, but that the doors to this world were closed to them. And there are many at the present time who have come to this depressing conclusion. The reason for this is not far to seek. Where there is a clear possibility of gaining insight into the spiritual world they refuse to commit themselves unreservedly. Nor have they the courage to pass an objective judgement on this issue. It may seem therefore — but in reality it is only apparently so — that today we are far removed from those early times when the spiritual world was revealed to the whole of mankind through atavistic clairvoyance, or from the later times when the few could find access to the spirit through initiation into the Mysteries. We must draw together certain strands which link early periods of human evolution with the present if we wish to arrive at a full understanding of the mystery of man's destiny and especially of those phenomena we have discussed in these lectures in connection with the nature of the Mysteries. I should like to select an example from recent times which is accessible to all and which will lend encouragement to those who are faced with the decision of choosing paths leading to the spiritual world. From the many examples at our disposal I would like to take an example which demonstrates at the same time how these phenomena are none the less misjudged from the materialistic point of view of the present day — and will also be misjudged in the immediate future.
No doubt you have all heard of Otto Ludwig (note 1) who was born in 1813, in the same year as Hebbel and Richard Wagner. Otto Ludwig was not only a poet — some may feel perhaps that he was not in the front rank of poets, but that does not concern us at the moment — but he was a man given to introspection, who sought self-knowledge and who succeeded in penetrating into the inner life which is veiled from the majority today. Otto Ludwig describes very beautifully what he experiences in the process of poetic composition or when he reads the poetry of others and surrenders to its appeal. He then realizes that he does not read or compose like other men, but that an extraordinary ferment is set up within him. And Otto Ludwig gives a beautiful description of this in a passage I will now read to you because it reveals a piece of self-knowledge of a typically modern man who, in the course of this self-revelation, speaks of things which our present materialistic age regards as the wildest fantasy. But Otto Ludwig was no visionary or idle dreamer. By nature he was perhaps introspective, but if we take into consideration the information we have about his life, we shall find that alongside this introspective tendency there was something eminently sane and balanced in his make-up. He describes his own creative experience and his response to the poetry of others in these words:
“I experience first of all a musical impression which is transformed into colour (note 2). Then I see one or more figures in various postures executing formalized gestures, singly or facing each other, the whole resembling a copper engraving on parchment, coloured paper or, more precisely, like a marble statue or sculptural group on which the sun falls through a veil of that colour. I experience this colour phenomenon after reading poetry which has stirred me deeply. If I put myself in the mood which Goethe's poetry evokes I see a deep golden yellow passing over into golden brown. When I read Schiller I experience a brilliant crimson; with Shakespeare every scene is a particular nuance of the particular colour I associate with the whole drama. Strangely enough the image or the group evoked is not usually a representation of the denouement, sometimes it is only a characteristic figure in some moving posture which is immediately joined by a succession of other figures. At first I know nothing of the plot or content of the drama, but ever fresh miming figures, seemingly three-dimensional, are rapidly added, now from the beginning, now from the end of the initial dramatic situation until I experience the whole drama complete with all its scenes. The whole passes before me in rapid succession; meanwhile I remain passive and a kind of physical anxiety grips me. I can then reproduce at will the content of the individual scenes as they unfold; but I find it impossible to condense the narrative content into a brief account. Next the gestures are accompanied by speech. I write down what I can recall, but, once the mood forsakes me, what I have noted down becomes a dead letter. Then I proceed to fill in the gaps in the dialogue, but for this purpose I must cast a critical eye over what I have written.”
Here then we have the remarkable case of a man who experiences crimson-red on reading Schiller, or golden yellow passing over into golden brown on reading the dramas or poems of Goethe, who experiences a colour sensation with every drama of Shakespeare; who, when he composes or reads a poem sees figures like those of a copper engraving printed on a parchment-coloured background, or three-dimensional miming figures on which the sun falls through a veil which diffuses the light that evokes the total mood.
Now we must understand this experience in the correct way. It is not yet a clairvoyant perception, but it is a step towards spiritual vision. In order to have a right understanding of this mood from the standpoint of Spiritual Science we must realize that Otto Ludwig was no stranger to spiritual vision. For if he were to advance further along this path he would not only experience these visions, but, just as physical objects are visible to the physical eye, spiritual beings would be visible to his spiritual eye and he would know them as an inner experience. Just as we see scattered light when we gently rub our eyes in the dark, light that seemingly radiates from the eye and fills the room, so from his inner life Ludwig radiates impressions of colour and tone. As he rightly says, he experiences them first as musical impressions. He does not exploit them in order to gain spiritual insight; but we perceive that he is mature enough spiritually to embark on the path leading to the spiritual world.
It is no longer possible to deny that there exist people who are aware that “spiritual vision” is a reality, the vision that the neophytes learned to develop in the Mysteries in the way described in earlier lectures. For the real purpose of these ceremonies was primarily to call attention to the eye of the soul, to awaken man to the fact of its existence. That the phenomena which I have just described to you are not rightly understood today is evident from the observations of Gustav Freytag (note 3). When speaking of Otto Ludwig, he says:
“The work of this writer and indeed his whole makeup, was akin to that of an epic poet of the time when, in the early dawn of nations, the poetic figures were visioned by the poet as living Imaginations imbued with colour and sound.”
This statement is perfectly correct, but has nothing to do with poetic composition. For the experiences of Otto Ludwig were not only shared by poets in ancient times, but by all men, and were shared in later times by those who had been initiated into the Mysteries irrespective of whether they were poets or not. These experiences have therefore no connection with poetic invention. Behind the barrier which the materialist of today has erected in his own soul there is to be found that which Otto Ludwig describes. It is found not only in the poet, but in every man today. The fact that he was a poet has nothing to do with the phenomenon of poetic vision, but is something that accompanies it. One may be a far greater poet than Otto Ludwig and that which one is able to describe may remain entirely in the subconscious. It is present in the substratum of the subconscious, but need not manifest itself. For poetry, indeed art as a whole today, is something other than the conscious fashioning of clairvoyant impressions.
I quote the case of Otto Ludwig as an example of a man — and men of his type are by no means rare today — who stands on the threshold of the spiritual world. If one practises the exercises given in my book, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, that which already exists in the soul is raised into consciousness, so that one learns to use it or to apply it consciously. It is important to bear this in mind. The problem is not so much that it is difficult to reach the hidden depths of the soul, but that people today lack the courage to embark upon a spiritual training; and that for the most part those who would willingly do so from a heartfelt need to know and to understand, none the less feel constrained to admit this need, albeit somewhat shamefacedly in their own intimate circle, but conceal it when they later find themselves in the company of contemporary intellectuals. What we should characterize today as the right path, perhaps because we live in the Michael Age since 1879, need not of necessity be regarded as the only right path. Looking back over the recent past it is possible that many may have attained a high degree of clairvoyance, genuine clairvoyance; there is no need for us therefore either to recognize fully or to accept this clairvoyance unreservedly, nor to regard it as something dangerous and to be rejected.
There are certainly many factors which for some time have undermined our courage to accept the validity of clairvoyance, and for this reason the assessment of Swedenborg (who has often been mentioned in your circle) has been so strange. He could act as a stimulus to many, in that people might see in him an individuality who had lifted to some extent the veils that concealed the spiritual world. Swedenborg had developed a high degree of Imaginative cognition which is a necessity for all who would penetrate to the spiritual world. It was indispensable to him; it was simply a kind of transition to higher stages of knowledge. And it was especially his clairvoyant sense for Imaginative cognition that he had developed. But precisely because this Imaginative cognition was stirring and pulsating in him he was able to make observations about the relations between the spiritual world and the phenomenal world, observations which are highly significant for those who seek to clarify their ideas about clairvoyance by studying the development of particular personalities. I should like to take Swedenborg as an example in order to illustrate how he came to self-understanding, how he thought and felt in order to keep his inner life attuned to the spiritual world. He was not motivated by egoism in his search for the spirit. He was already fifty-five years old when the doors of the spiritual world were opened to him (note 4). He was therefore a man of ripe experience; he had received a sound scientific training and had long been active in this field. The most important scientific works of Swedenborg have just been published in many volumes by the Stockholm Academy of Sciences and they contain material that may well determine the course of science for many years to come. But people today have learned the trick of recognizing a man such as Swedenborg (who was the leading scientist of his day) only in so far as they agree with him; otherwise they label him a fool. And they perform this trick with consummate skill. They attach no importance to the fact that from the age of fifty-five Swedenborg bears witness to the reality of the spiritual world — a man whose scientific achievement not only compares favourably with that of others — in itself no mean feat — but who, as a scientist, stood head and shoulders above his contemporaries.
Swedenborg was particularly interested in the question of the interaction of soul and body. After his spiritual enlightenment he wrote a superb treatise on this subject. The content was approximately as follows: In considering the interrelation of body and soul there are three possibilities. First, the body is the decisive factor; sense-impressions are mediated by the body and react upon the soul. The soul therefore is to some extent dependent upon the body. The second possibility is that the body is dependent upon the soul which is the source of the spiritual impulses. The soul fashions the body and makes use of the body during its lifetime. In this case one must speak not of a physical influence, but of a psychic influence. The third possibility is as follows: body and soul are contiguous, but do not interact; a higher power brings about a harmony or agreement between them just as two clocks which are independent of each other agree when they show the time. When therefore an external impression is made upon the senses, a thought process is set up within the soul, but both are unrelated; a corresponding impression is made upon the soul from within by a higher power, just as an impression is made upon the soul through the senses from without. Swedenborg points out that the first and third possibilities are impossible for those who are able to see into the spiritual world, that it is evident to the spiritually enlightened that the soul by virtue of its inner forces is related to a spiritual sun in the same way as the (physical) body is related to the physical sun. And he also shows that everything of a physical nature is dependent upon soul and spirit. He throws fresh light upon what we called the Sun mystery (when speaking of the Mysteries), that mystery of which Julian the Apostate had a dim recollection when he spoke of the sun as a spiritual being. It was this which was the cause of his hostility to Christianity because the Christianity of his day sought to deny Christ's relation to the sun. Through Imaginative cognition Swedenborg restored the Sun mystery as far as was possible for his time.
I have placed these facts before you in order to show what Swedenborg experienced inwardly in the course of developing his spiritual knowledge. His reflections upon the question I have just touched upon were embodied in a kind of philosophical treatise — the kind of treatise written by one who has insight into the spiritual world, not the kind of treatise written by the academic philosopher who is devoid of spiritual vision. At the conclusion of his treatise Swedenborg speaks of what he calls a “vision”. And by this vision he does not imply something he has conjured up, but something he has actually perceived with the eye of the spirit. Swedenborg is not afraid to speak of his spiritual visions. Furthermore he recounts what a particular angel said to him because he is certain of the fact. He no more doubts it than another doubts what a fellow human being has told him. He said: “I was once ‘in the spirit’; three Schoolmen appeared to me, disciples of Aristotle, advocates of his doctrine that attributes a physical influence to all that streams into the soul from without. They appeared on the one side. On the other side appeared three disciples of Descartes who spoke of spiritual influences upon the soul, albeit somewhat inadequately. And behind them appeared three disciples of Leibnitz who spoke of the pre-established harmony, i.e. of the independence of body and soul, of dissimilar monads existing and moving together in a state of absolute harmony pre-established by God. And I perceived nine figures who surrounded me. And the leaders of each group of the three figures were Leibnitz, Descartes and Aristotle, suffused in light”. Swedenborg spoke of this vision as one speaks of an event in everyday life. Then, he said, from out of the abyss there rose up a spirit with a torch in his right hand and as he swung the torch in front of the figures they immediately began to dispute amongst themselves. The Aristotelians defended, from their standpoint, the primacy of physical influences, the Cartesians defended spiritual impulses, and likewise the Leibnitzians defended, with the support of Leibnitz himself, the idea of preestablished harmony. Such visions may describe even the smallest details. Swedenborg tells us that Leibnitz appeared dressed in a kind of toga and the lappets were held by his disciple Wolf. Such details always accompany these visions in which such peculiarities are very characteristic. These figures, then, began to dispute amongst themselves. They all had a good case — and any and every case can be defended. Thereupon, after prolonged conflict, the spirit appeared a second time. He carried the torch in his left hand and lit up their heads from behind. Then the battle of words was really joined. They said: “We cannot distinguish which is our body and which is our soul.” And so they agreed to cast three slips of paper into a box. On the one slip was written “physical influence”, on the second, “spiritual influence” and on the third, “pre-established harmony”. Then they drew lots and drew out “spiritual influence” and said: “Let us agree to recognize spiritual influence.” At that moment an angel descended from the upper world and said: “It is not fortuitous that you drew out the slip of paper labelled ‘spiritual influence’; that choice had already been anticipated by the powers who in their wisdom guide the world because it accords with the truth.”
This is the vision described by Swedenborg. It is open to anyone to regard this vision as of no importance, perhaps even as naive. The salient question however is not whether it is naive or not, but that he experienced it. And that which at first sight seems perhaps extremely naive has profound implications. For that which in the phenomenal world appears to be arbitrary, the vagary of chance, is something totally different when seen symbolically from the spiritual angle. It is difficult to come to an understanding of chance, because chance is only a shadow-image of higher necessities. Swedenborg wishes to indicate something of special importance, namely that it is not he who wills it, but “it” is willed in him. This vision arises because “it” is willed in him. And this is an accurate description of the way in which he arrived at his truths, an accurate description of the spirit in which the treatise was written. How did the Cartesians react? They sought to demonstrate the idea of spiritual influence on purely human and rational grounds. It is possible to arrive at the spirit in this way but that seldom happens. The Aristotelians were no better than the Cartesians; they defended the idea of the spiritual influence, again on human grounds. The Leibnitzians were certainly no better than the other two for they defended the idea of “pre-established harmony”. Swedenborg rejected these paths to the spirit; he did everything possible to prepare himself to receive the truth. And this waiting upon truth, not the determination of truth, this passive acceptance of truth was his aim and was symbolized by the drawing of the slips of paper from the box. This is of vital importance.
We do not appreciate these things at their true worth when we approach them intellectually. We only appreciate them in the right way when they are presented symbolically, even though intelligent people may regard the symbol as naive. Our response to symbols is different from our response to abstract ideas. The symbol prepares our soul to receive the truth from the spiritual world. That is the essential. And if we give serious attention to these things we shall gradually understand and develop ideas and concepts which are necessary for mankind today, ideas which they must acquire by effort and which appear to be inaccessible today simply because people are antipathetic towards them — and for no other reason — an antipathy that springs from materialism.
The whole purpose of our investigations was to study the course of human evolution, first of all up to a decisive turning-point — and this turning-point was the Mystery of Golgotha. Then evolution continues and takes on a new course. These two courses are radically different from each other. I have already described in what respects they differed from each other. In order fully to understand this difference let us recall once again the following: in ancient times it was always possible for man without special training of his psychic life (in the Mysteries this was connected with external ceremonies and cult acts) to be convinced of the reality of the spiritual world through the performance of these rites and ceremonies and thereby of his own immortality, because this certainty of immortality was still latent in his corporeal nature. After the Mystery of Golgotha it was no longer possible for the physical body to “distil” out of itself the conviction of immortality; it could no longer “press” out of itself, so to speak, the perception of immortality. This had been prepared in the centuries before the Mystery of Golgotha. It is most interesting to see how Aristotle, this giant among philosophers, made every effort a few centuries before the Mystery of Golgotha to grasp the idea of the immortality of the soul; but the idea of immortality he arrived at was a most remarkable conception. Man, in Aristotle's opinion, is only a complete man when he possesses a physical body. And Franz Brentano, one of the best Aristotelians of recent time, says in his study of Aristotle that man is no longer a complete man if some member is lacking; how can he be a complete man when he lacks the whole body? Therefore, to Aristotle, when the soul passes through the gates of death it is of less significance than it was when in the body here on Earth. This shows that he had lost the capacity still to perceive the soul, whilst on the other hand the original capacity to accept the immortality of the soul still persisted. Now, strange to relate, Aristotle was the leading philosopher throughout the Middle Ages. All that can be known, said the Schoolmen, is known to Aristotle and as philosophers we have no choice but to rely upon him and follow in his footsteps. They had no intention of developing spiritual powers or capacities beyond the limits set by Aristotelianism. And this is very significant, for it explains clearly why Julian the Apostate rejected the Christianity that was practised by the Church during the age of Constantine. One must really see these things from a higher perspective. Apart from Franz Brentano, one of the leading Aristotelians of our time, I was personally acquainted with Vincenz Knauer, a Benedictine monk, whose relationship to Aristotle as a Roman Catholic was identical with that of the Schoolmen. In speaking of Aristotle he sought to discover at the same time what could be known of the immortality of the soul by purely human knowledge. And Knauer gave the following interesting summary of his opinion:
“The soul, that is, in this connection, the departed spirit — i.e. the soul of man that has passed through the gates of death — finds itself, according to Aristotle, not in a more perfect state, but in a highly imperfect state, inappropriate to its destiny. The image of the soul is by no means that which is often employed, namely, the image of a butterfly which after shedding its chrysalis takes wing. Rather does the soul resemble a butterfly whose wings have been torn off by a cruel hand and now crawls helplessly in the dust in the form of a miserable worm.”
It is very significant that those who are well versed in Aristotle admit that human knowledge could arrive at no other conclusion. And a certain effort therefore is demanded of us to resist the consequences of this attitude of mind. The materialism of the present time is unwittingly influenced by the Conciliar decree of 869 which abolished the spirit and declared that man consisted of body and soul only.
Modern materialism goes even further; it proposes to abolish the soul as well. That of course is the logical sequel. We need therefore both courage and determination in order to find our way back again to the spirit in the right way. Now Julian the Apostate who had been initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries was aware that a specific spiritual training could lead to the realization that the soul is immortal. This Sun mystery was known to him. And he now became aware of something that filled him with alarm. He was unable to grasp the fact that what he feared so much was a necessity. When he looked back to ancient times he realized that directly or indirectly through the Mysteries man was guided by Cosmic Powers, Beings and Forces. He realized that this may happen on the physical plane, that it is ordained from spiritual spheres because men have insight into these spiritual spheres. In Constantinism he saw a form of Christianity emerge which modelled Christian society and the organization of Christianity on the original principles of the Roman empire. He saw that Christianity had infiltrated into that which the Roman empire had intended for the external social order only. And he saw that the divine-spiritual had been harnessed to the Imperium Romanum. And this appalled him; he was unable to bring himself to admit that this was a necessity for a brief period. He realized that there was wide disparity between the mighty impulses of human evolution and what happened historically. I have often called attention to the need to bear in mind the golden age of the rise of Christianity before the era of Constantine. For at that time powerful spiritual impulses were at work which had been obscured solely because man's independent search for knowledge which he owed to the Christ Impulse had been harnessed to the Conciliar decrees.
If we look back to Origen and to Clement of Alexandria we find men who were open-minded, men still imbued with the Greek spirit: yet they were also conscious of the significance of what had been accomplished through the Mystery of Golgotha. Their conception of this Mystery and of the crucified Christ is considered to be pure heresy in the eyes of all denominations today. In reality the great Church Fathers of the pre-Constantine age who are recognized by the Church are the worst heretics of all. Though they were aware of the significance of the Mystery of Golgotha for the evolution of the Earth, they gave no indication of wishing to suppress the path to the Mystery of Golgotha, the gate to the Mysteries or the path of the old clairvoyance, which had been the aim of the Christianity of Constantine. In Clement of Alexandria especially we see that his works are shot through with great mysteries, mysteries which are so veiled that it is even difficult for contemporary man to make head or tail of them. Clement speaks of the Logos for example, of the wisdom that streams through and permeates the Universe. He pictures the Logos as music of the spheres fraught with meaning, and the visible world as the expression of the music of the spheres, just as the visible vibration of the strings of a musical instrument is the expression of the sound waves. Thus, in the eyes of Clement, the human form is made in the image of the Logos; that is, to Clement the Logos is a reality and he sees the human form as a fusion of tones from the music of the spheres. Man, he says, is made in the image of the Logos. And in many of Clement's utterances we find traces of that supernal wisdom that dwelt in him, a wisdom illuminated by the Christ Impulse. If you compare these utterances of Clement of Alexandria with the prevailing attitude today then the claim to recognize a man such as Clement of Alexandria without understanding him will appear as more than passing strange.
When it is said that the aim of Spiritual Science is to follow in the main stream of Christianity, to be a new flowering of Christianity to meet the needs of our time, then the cry is raised — the ancient Gnosis is being revived! And at the mention of Gnosis many professing Christians today begin to cross themselves as if faced by the devil incarnate. Gnosis for today is Spiritual Science; but the more developed gnosis of the present time is different from the gnosis known to Clement of Alexandria. What were the views of Clement of Alexandria who lived in the latter half of the second century? Faith, he says, is our starting-point — the orthodox Christian of today is satisfied with faith alone and asks no more. Faith, according to Clement, is already knowledge, but concise knowledge of what is needed; gnosis however confirms and reinforces what we believe, is founded on faith through the teaching of Our Lord and so leads to a faith that is scientifically acceptable and irrefutable. In these words Clement of Alexandria expresses for his time what we must realize today. Christianity therefore demands that gnosis, the Spiritual Science of today, must actively participate in the development of Christianity. But the modern philistine protests: “We must distinguish between science (which he would limit to sense experience) and faith. Faith must have no part in science.” Clement of Alexandria however says: To faith is added gnosis, to gnosis love, and to love the “Kingdom”. This is one of the most profound utterances of the human spirit because it bears witness to an intimate union with the life of the spirit. First we are nourished in faith; but to faith is added gnosis, that is, knowledge or understanding. Out of this living knowledge, i.e. when we penetrate deeply into things, there is first born genuine love through which our Divine inheritance operates. Mankind can only be the vehicle of the influx of the Divine as it was in the “beginning” if to faith is added gnosis, to gnosis love and to love the “Kingdom”. We must look upon these utterances as bearing witness to the deep spirituality of Clement.
Difficult as it may seem we must make the true form of Christian life once again accessible to mankind today. It is important to see certain things for what they are today and we shall then know where to look for the real cause of our present tribulations (i.e. the War of 1914). The effect of these calamities is such that, as a rule, no attempt is made to discover what really lies behind them. When, for example, an Alpine village is buried beneath an avalanche, everyone sees the avalanche crash down; but if we want to discover the cause of the avalanche we must look for it perhaps in an ice-crystal where the snow-slip began. It is easy enough to observe the destruction of the village by the avalanche, but it is not so easy to provide tangible evidence that the disaster was caused by an ice-crystal. And so it is with the great events of history! It is evident that mankind is now caught up in a terrible catastrophe; this is the conflagration that has overwhelmed us. We have to look for the sparks — and they are many — which first set the conflagration alight. But we do not pursue our enquiries far enough in order to ascertain where the conflagration first began. Today we are afraid to see things for what they are.
Let us assume that we wish to form an opinion about a certain field of science. Usually we rely upon the opinion of the specialist in that particular field. Why is his opinion accepted as authoritative? Simply because he is an expert in this field. Generally speaking it is the specialist or university professor who determines what is accepted as scientific today. Let us take a concrete case. I am well aware that it does not make for popularity to call a spade a spade, but that is no matter. But unless an increasing number of people is prepared to get to the root of things today we shall not overcome our present tribulations. Let us assume that a leading authority says the following: people are always talking about man in terms of body and soul. This idea of the dualism of body and soul is fundamentally unsatisfactory. That we still speak of body and soul today is due to the fact that we are dependent on a language that is already outmoded, which we have inherited from an earlier epoch when people were far more stupid than today. These people were so foolish as to believe that the body and soul were separate entities. When we speak of these matters today we are compelled to make use of these terms; we are victims of a language which belongs to the past. And our authority continues: we have to accept body and soul as separate entities, but this is quite unjustified. Anyone speaking from the present standpoint and wholly uninfluenced by the views of ancient times would perhaps say: let us assume here is a flower and here is a man. I see his form and complexion, his external aspect, just as I see that of the flower. The rest must be inferred. — Now someone might come along and object: that is true, but the man in question also sees the flower in his soul. But that is pure illusion. What I really receive from the perception of a flower or a stone is a sense-impression and the same is true of the man in question. The idea that an inner image persists in the soul is pure illusion. The only things we know are external relationships.
You will say that you can make nothing of this argument! And a good thing too, because it is a farrago of nonsense, it is the acme of stupidity. This crass stupidity is supported by all kinds of careful laboratory investigations into the human brain and sundry clinical findings and so on. In short the man is a fool. He is in a position to provide good clinical results because laboratories are at his disposal; but the conclusions which he draws from these findings are pure nonsense. Men of this type are a commonplace today. To say these things does not make for popularity. The cycle of lectures which has appeared in book form by the man I am referring to — strangely enough his name is Verworn, [original note 1] I take this to be pure coincidence — is called “The Mechanism of the Spiritual Life”. It would be about as sensible to write about the “ligneousness of iron” as about “the mechanism of spiritual life”.
Now if this is typical of the intellectual acumen of our most enlightened minds it is not in the least surprising that if those disciplines which are far from being accurate at least in relation to external facts — and in this respect Verworn is capable of accurate observation because he describes what he sees, but unfortunately muddies everything with his own foolish ideas — that if those disciplines which are unsupported by external evidence such as political science, for example, are exposed to the scientific mode of thinking, then the greatest nonsense results. Political science should be supported by thoughts that are rooted in reality, but lacks these thoughts for reasons I have indicated in my last lecture. And people are forcibly reminded of this fact.
I referred earlier in this lecture to Kjellén, one of the leading Swedish thinkers. His book The State as Organism is ingenious; towards the end of the book he puts forward a remarkable idea, but neither he, nor others today, can make anything of it. He quotes a certain Fustel de Coulanges (note 5), author of La Cité antique, who showed that when we analyse pre-Christian political and social institutions we find that they are entirely founded on religious rites and observances; the entire State has a social and spiritual foundation. Thus people are willy-nilly brought face to face with the facts, for I pointed out in my last lecture that the social order stemmed from the Mysteries and had a spiritual origin. In studying the body politic or political science people are faced with these questions but are at a loss to understand them. They can make nothing of what even history reports when they can no longer rely upon documents.
And still less can they make anything of the other idea which I indicated as a new path to the Christ. This idea which we find especially in the Mysteries and in Plato's writings, that remarkable echo of the Mystery teachings must arise once again. The central figure of Plato's dialogues is Socrates surrounded by his disciples. In the debate between Socrates and his disciples Plato unfolds his teachings. In his writings Plato was in communion with Socrates after the latter's death. Now this is something more than a literary device. It is the continuation, the echo of what was practised in the Mysteries where the neophytes were gradually prepared for communion with the souls of the dead who continue to direct the sensible world from the spiritual world. Plato's philosophy is developed out of his communion with Socrates, after the death of Socrates. This idea must be revived again and I have already indicated what form it must take. We must get beyond the dry bones of history, beyond the mere recording of external events. We must be able to commune with the dead, to let the thoughts of the dead arise in us once again. It is in this sense that we must be able to take seriously the idea of resurrection. It is through personal inner experience that Christ reveals Himself to mankind. It is by following this path that the truth of the Christ can be demonstrated. But this path demands of us that we develop the will in our thinking. If we can develop only such thoughts as are suited to the observation of the external world we cannot arrive at those thoughts which are really in touch with the dead. We must acquire the capacity to draw thoughts from the well of our inmost being. Our will must be prepared to unite with reality, and then the will which is thus spiritualised by its incorporation in our thinking will encounter spiritual beings, just as the hand encounters a physical object in the external world. And the first spiritual beings we encounter will, as a rule, be the dead with whom we are in some way karmically connected. You must not expect to find guidance in these abstruse matters from a set of written instructions which can be carried about in one's waistcoat pocket. Things are not as simple as that. One encounters well-intentioned people who ask: How do I distinguish between dream and reality, between phantasy and reality? In the individual case one should not attempt to distinguish between them in accordance with a fixed rule. The whole soul must be gradually attuned so that it can pass judgement in the individual case, just as in the external world we seek to pass judgement irrespective of the individual case. We must develop a wider perspective in order to form a judgement about the particular case. The dream may be a close approximation to reality, but it is not possible in the individual case to state categorically: this is the right and proper way to distinguish a mere dream from reality. Indeed what I am saying at the moment may not apply in specific cases, because other points of view must be taken into consideration. It is important to develop in ourselves the power to discriminate in spiritual matters.
Let us take the familiar case of a person who is dreaming or who imagines he is dreaming. Now it is not easy to distinguish between dream and reality. People who study dreams today follow in the footsteps of Herr Verworn. He says that one can undertake an interesting experiment. He quotes the following example. Someone taps with a pin on the window of a house where the occupant is asleep. He is dreaming at the time, wakes up and says he had heard rifle-fire. The dream, according to Verworn, exaggerates. The tappings of the pin on the window-pane have become rifle-shots. Verworn explains this in the following way: we assume that in waking consciousness the brain is fully active. In dream consciousness the brain activity is diminished; only the peripheral consciousness is active. Normally the brain plays no part; its activity is diminished. That is why the dream is so bizarre and why, therefore, the tappings of the pin turn into rifle-fire. Now the public is highly credulous. They are first told in the relevant passage in Verworn's book that the dream exaggerates and then, later on, they are told (not precisely in the words I have used) that the brain is less active and therefore the dream appears bizarre. The reader has meanwhile already forgotten what was told in the first place. He is unable to relate the two statements and simply says: the State has appointed an expert in these matters and so we must accept his word. Now, as you know, belief in authority is taboo today. He who does not hold these views about the dream may none the less feel that the following way of thinking might well be the right approach. Let us assume you are dreaming of a friend who is dead. You dream, or believe you are dreaming that you are sharing some situation in common with him — and then you wake up. Your first thought on awakening is of course: but he died some time ago! But in the dream it never occurred to you that he was dead. Now you can find many ingenious explanations of this dream if you refer to Verworn's book, The Mechanism of the Spirit. But if this is a dream, and a dream is only a memory of everyday life, you will have difficulty in understanding why the foremost thought in your mind, namely the death of your friend, plays no part in the dream when you have just experienced a situation which you know for certain you could not have shared with him when alive. You are then justified in saying: I have now experienced with X something I could not have experienced in life, something that I have not only not experienced, but which would have been impossible in our normal relationship. Assuming that the soul of X, the real soul, which has passed through the gates of death is behind this dream-picture, is it not self-evident that you do not share his death experience? There is no reason why X's soul should appear to be dead since it still lives on. If you take these two factors into consideration — perhaps in conjunction with other factors — you will conclude: my dream-picture veils a real meeting with the soul of X. The thought of death never occurs to me because the dream is not a memory of everyday life: in the dream I receive an authentic visitation from the deceased (i.e. X). I now experience the visitation in the form of a dream-picture, a situation which could not have arisen under the normal circumstances of everyday life. Furthermore the thought of death never occurs to me because the soul of the deceased persists. And then you have every reason for saying: when I experience this apparent dream I inhabit a realm where physical memory does not operate — and what I am about to say is most important — for it is characteristic of our physical life that our physical memory remains unimpaired. This memory does not exist to the same extent, nor is it of the same nature in the world of spirit which we enter at death. The memory which we need for the world of the spirit we must first develop in ourselves. The physical memory is tied to the physical body. Therefore anyone who is familiar with the super-sensible realm knows that the physical memory cannot enter there. It is not surprising that we have no memory of the deceased; but we are aware that we are in communion with the living soul of X.
Those who are acquainted with this fact maintain that what we call memory in the physical life is something totally different in the spiritual life. Anyone who has succumbed to the impact of Dante's great work, the “Divine Comedy” will never doubt, if he has spiritual discernment, that Dante experienced spiritual visions, that he had insight into the world of the spirit. He who comprehends the language of those who were familiar with the world of the spirit will find convincing proof of this in Dante's introduction to the “Divine Comedy”. Dante was well versed in spiritual knowledge; he was no dilettante in matters of the spirit; he was, so to speak, an expert in this field. He was aware that normal memory does not operate in the realm where we are in communion with the dead. He often speaks of the dead, of how the dead dwell in the “Light”. In the “Divine Comedy” you will find these beautiful lines on the theme of memory:
“O Light supreme, by mortal thought unscanned,
Grant that Thy former aspect may return,
Once more a little of Thyself relend.
Make strong my tongue that in its words may burn
One single spark of all Thy glory's light
For future generations to discern.
For if my memory but glimpse the sightWhereof these lines would now a little say,Men may the better estimate Thy might.”
(Paradiso. Canto XXXIII) [original note 2]
Thus Dante was aware that it is impossible with normal memory to grasp that which could originate in the spiritual world. There are many today who ask: why should we aspire to the spiritual world when we have enough to contend with in the physical world; the ordinary man seeks a practical answer to the problems of this life! — But have these people any reason to believe that those who were initiated into the Mysteries in ancient times were any less concerned with the physical world? The initiates knew that the spiritual world permeates the physical world, that the dead are unquestionably active amongst us even though people deny it. And they knew that this denial merely creates confusion. He who denies that those who have passed through the gates of death exercise an influence on this world resembles the man who says: “Nonsense! I don't believe a word you say” — and then proceeds to behave as if he did believe it. It is not so easy, of course, to give direct proof of the havoc that is wrought when the influx of the spiritual world into the physical world is not taken into account, when people act on the assumption that this interaction can be ignored. Our epoch shows little inclination to bridge the gap that separates us from the kingdom where the dead and the higher Beings dwell. In many respects our present epoch harbours a veritable antipathy towards the world of the spirit. And it is the duty of the spiritual scientist who is really honest and sincere to be aware of the forces that are hostile to the development of Anthroposophy. For there are deep underlying reasons for this hostility and they stem from the same sources which are responsible for all the forces which are today in active opposition to the true progress of mankind.
Original Notes:Note 1. In the German text there is a play upon the word. If pronounced with an open “0” and a rolled “R” it gives the word verworren, i.e. muddle-headed or confused.Note 2. Translation by Dorothy L. Sayers and Barbara Reynolds, Penguin Classics, 1962.
NOTES BY TRANSLATORNote 1. Otto Ludwig (1813–65). Best known for his realist novels Der Erbförster and Zwischen Himmel and Erde, genre painting with careful observation of detail. He coined the term “poetischer Realismus”. His “Shakespeare Studien” showed preoccupation with dramatic theory. During his process of poetic creation he experienced a spectrum of colours and forms, known as “synaesthesia”.Note 2. “Synaesthesia” had first been foreshadowed by E. P. A. Hoffman in Kreisleriana. The hearing of a word or sound evokes a sensation of colour varying in accordance with the quality of the sound (cf. Baudelaire's sonnet “Correspondances” — “les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se repondent” and Rimbaud's sonnet “Voyelles” in which a definite colour-value is ascribed to each of the five vowels). F. W. H. Myers described synaesthesia as follows: “When the hearing of an external sound carries with it, by some arbitrary association of ideas, the seeing of some form or colour.”Note 3. Freytag (1816–95). Author of realistic novels which extolled the virtues of the German middle class — Soll and Haben, Die Ahnen.Note 4. Swedenborg (1688–1772), engineer, scientist, philosopher and theologian. In his Arcana Caelestia he wrote: “... it has been granted me now for some years to be constantly and continuously in the company of spirits and angels, hearing them speak and speaking with them in turn. It has been given to me to hear and see the wonderful things which are in the other life ... I have been instructed there in regard to different kinds of spirits; the state of souls after death ... and especially concerning the doctrine of faith which is acknowledged in the universal Heaven.”Note 5. Fustel de Coulanges (1830–89). Originator of the scientific approach to history. His Cité antique showed that ancient institutions derived from religious beliefs common to primitive peoples. It was a study of the part played by religion in the political and social evolution of Greece and Rome.
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