Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, October 20, 1917:
It cannot be said that our present age has no ideals. On the contrary, it has a great many ideals — which, however, are not viable. Why is this so? Well, imagine — please forgive the somewhat bizarre image, but it does meet the case — a hen is about to hatch a chick and we take the egg away and hatch it out in a warm place, letting the chick emerge from the egg. So far so good; but if we were to do the same thing under the receiving part of an air pump and therefore in a vacuum, do you think the chick emerging from the egg would thrive? We would have all the developmental factors which evolution has given except for one thing: somewhere to put the chick for it to have the necessary conditions for life.
This is more or less how it is with the beautiful ideals people talk about so much today. Not only do they sound beautiful, but they are indeed ideals of great value. But the people of today are not inclined to face the realities of evolution, though the present age demands this. And so it happens that the oddest kinds of societies may evolve, representing and demanding all kinds of ideals, and yet nothing comes of it. There were certainly plenty of societies with ideals at the beginning of the twentieth century, but it cannot be said that the last three years have brought those ideals to realization. People should learn something from this, however — as I have said a number of times in these lectures.
Last Sunday (14 October) I sketched a diagram to show the spiritual development of the last decades. I asked you to take into account that anything which happens in the physical world has been in preparation for some time in the spiritual world. I was speaking of something quite concrete, namely the battle which began in the 1840s in the spiritual world lying immediately above our own. This was a metamorphosis of the battles which are always given the ancient symbol of the battle fought by St Michael against the dragon. I told you that this battle continued until November 1879, and after this Michael gained the victory — and the dragon, that is the ahrimanic powers, were cast down into the human sphere. Where are they now?
Now consider this carefully — the powers from the school of Ahriman which fought a decisive battle in the spiritual world between 1841 and 1879 were cast down into the human realm in 1879. Since then their fortress, their field of activity, is in the thinking, the inner responses, and the will impulses of human beings, and this is specifically the case in the epoch in which we now are.
You must realize that infinitely many of the thoughts in human minds today are full of ahrimanic powers, as are their will impulses and inner responses. Events like these which play between the spiritual and the physical worlds are part of the great scheme of things; they are concrete facts which have to be reckoned with. What good is it to get bogged down in abstractions over and over again and to say something as abstract as: ‘Human beings must fight Ahriman.’ Such an abstract formula will get us nowhere. At the present time some people have not the least idea of the fact that they are in an atmosphere full of spirits. This is something which has to be considered in all its significance.
If you consider just this — that as a member of the Anthroposophical Society you are in a position to hear of these things and to occupy your thoughts and feelings with them — you will be aware of the full seriousness of the matter and that you have a task today, depending on your particular place in this present time, which is so full of riddles, so much open to question and so confused. You have to bring to this the best kinds of feelings and inner responses of which you are capable. Let us take the following example. Suppose a handful of people who have naturally come together and become friends, know of the spiritual situation I have described and of other, similar ones, while many other people do not know of them. You can be sure that if this hypothetical group of people were to decide to use the power they are able to gain from such knowledge for a particular purpose, the group — and its followers, though these would tend to be unaware of this — would be extremely powerful compared to people who have no idea of this and do not want to know of such things.
Precisely such a group existed in the eighteenth century and still continues today. A certain group of people knew of the facts of which I have spoken; they knew that the events I have described as happening in the nineteenth and on into the twentieth century would happen. In the eighteenth century this group decided to pursue certain aims which were in their own interests and to work toward certain impulses. This was done quite systematically.
The masses of humanity go through life as if asleep, without thought; they are completely unaware of what is going on in groups, some of them quite large, which may be right next door. Today, more than ever, people are much given up to illusion. Just consider the way in which many people keep saying today: ‘lt is amazing how effective modern communications are and how this brings people together! Everybody hears about everybody else! This is totally different from the way it was in earlier times.’ You will recall all the things people tend to say on the subject. But we only need to take a cool, rational view of some specific instances to find some very odd things going on in modern times. Who would believe, for example — I am merely giving an illustration — that the press, which understands everything and goes into everything, would ever fail to make new literary works widely known? You would not think, would you, that profound, significant, epochmaking literary works would remain unknown? Surely we must hear of them in some way or other? Well, in the second half of the nineteenth century, ‘the press’, as we call it today — with due respect — was in the early stages of becoming what it is today. A new literary work appeared at that time which was more epoch-making and of more radical importance than all the well-known authors taken together, people like Spielhagen, [ Note 1 ] Gustav Freytag, [ Note 2 ] Paul Heyse, [ Note 3 ] and many others whose works went through numerous editions. The work in question was Dreizehnlinden by Wilhelm Weber, [ Note 4 ] and it really was more widely read in the last third of the nineteenth century than any other work. But I ask you, how many people in this room do not know of the existence of Wilhelm Weber's Dreizehnlinden? You see how people live alongside each other, in spite of the press. Profoundly radical ideas are presented in beautiful, poetic language in Dreizehnlinden, and these are alive today in the hearts and minds of thousands of people.
I have spoken of this to show that it is entirely possible today for the mass of people to know nothing of radically new developments which are right on their doorstep. You may be sure, if there is anyone here who has not read Dreizehnlinden — and I assume there must be some among our friends — that these individuals must nevertheless know three or four people who have read it. The barriers separating people are such that some of the most important things simply are not discussed among friends. People do not talk to each other. The instance I have given concerns only a minor matter in terms of world history, but the same applies to major matters. Things are going on in the world which many people fail to see clearly.
Thus it also happened that in the eighteenth century a society spread certain views and ideas which were taking root in people's minds and became effective in achieving the aims of such societies. The ideas entered into the social sphere and determined people's attitudes to others. People do not know the sources of many things that live in their emotions, inner responses, and will impulses. Those who understand the processes of evolution do know, however, how impulses and emotions are produced. This was the case with a book published by such a society in the eighteenth century — perhaps not the book itself, but the ideas on which it was based; the book shows the way in which Ahriman is involved in different animals. The ahrimanic spirit was, of course, called the devil then, and it was shown how the devil principle comes to expression in different ways in individual animal species. The Age of Enlightenment was at its height in the eighteenth century, and, of course, enlightenment still flourishes today. Really clever people, many of them to be found as members of the press, managed to turn it into a joke and say ‘Once again, some ... — I'm putting dot dot dot here — has written a book to say that animals are devils!’ Ah, but to spread ideas like these in such a way in the eighteenth century that they would take root in the minds of many people, and in doing so take account of the true laws of human evolution — that really had an effect. For it was important that the idea that animals were devils should exist in many minds by the time Darwinism came along and the idea would then arise in many nineteenth-century minds that people had gradually evolved from animals. At the same time, large numbers of other people had the idea that animals were devils. A strange accord was thus produced. As this really happened, it was perfectly real. People write histories about all kinds of things, but the forces which are really at work are not to be found in them.
We need to consider the following: animals can only thrive if they have air — not in the vacuum to be found under the receiver of an air pump. In the same way, ideas and ideals can only thrive if human beings enter into the real atmosphere of spiritual life. This means, however, that spiritual life must be encountered as a reality. Today, people like generalities better than most other things. And they easily fail to notice that since 1879 ahrimanic powers have been forced to descend from the spiritual world into the human realm — this is a fact. They had to penetrate human intellectuality, human thinking, responses, and perceptions. And we will not find the right attitude to those powers by simply using the abstract formula: ‘Those powers must be fought.’ Well, what are people doing to fight them? What they are doing is no different from asking the stove to be nice and warm, yet failing to put in wood and light the fire. The first thing we must know is that, seeing that these powers have come down to Earth, we must live with them; they exist and we cannot close our eyes to them, for they will be more powerful than ever if we do this. This is indeed the point: The ahrimanic powers which have taken hold of the human intellect become extremely powerful if we do not want to know them or learn about them.
The ideal of many people is to study science and then apply the laws of science to the social sphere. They only want to consider anything which is ‘real’, meaning anything which can be perceived by the senses, and never give a thought to the things of the spirit. If this ideal were to be achieved by a large section of humanity the ahrimanic powers would have gained their purpose, for people would then not know they existed. A monistic religion similar to Haeckel's materialistic monism [ Note 5 ] would be established and prove to be the perfect field for the work of these powers. It would suit them very well if people did not know they existed, for they could then work in the subconscious.
One way to help the ahrimanic powers, therefore, is to establish an entirely naturalistic religion. If David Friedrich Strauss [ Note 6 ] had fully achieved his ideal, which was to establish the narrow-minded religion which prompted Nietzsche to write an essay about him, [ Note 7 ] the ahrimanic powers would feel even more at ease today than they do already. This is only one way, however. The ahrimanic powers will also thrive if people nurture the elements which they desire to spread among people today: prejudice, ignorance, and fear of the life of the spirit. There is no better way of encouraging them.
Just think how many people there are today who actually make it their business to foster prejudice, ignorance, and fear of the spiritual powers. As I said in yesterday's public lecture, [ Note 8 ] the decrees against Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and others were not lifted until 1835. This means that until then Catholics were forbidden to study anything relating to the Copernican view, and so on. Ignorance in this respect was actively promoted, and gave an enormous boost to the ahrimanic powers. This was a real service given to those powers, for it gave them the opportunity to make thorough preparations for the campaign they would start in 1841.
A second statement should really follow the one I have just made to render it complete. However, this second statement cannot yet be made public by anyone who is truly initiated into these things. But if you get a feeling of what lies behind the words I have spoken, you may perhaps gain an idea of what is implied.
The scientific view is entirely ahrimanic. We do not fight it by refusing to know about it, however, but by being as conscious of it as possible and really getting to know it. You can do no better service for Ahriman than to ignore the scientific view or to fight it out of ignorance. Uninformed criticism of scientific views does not go against Ahriman, but helps him to spread illusion and confusion in a field which should really be shown in a clear light.
People must gradually come to the realization that everything has two sides. Modern people are so clever, are they not? — infinitely clever; and these clever modern people say the following: In the fourth post-Atlantean age, in the time of ancient Greece and Rome, people superstitiously believed that the future could be told from the way birds would be flying, from the entrails of animals, and all kinds of other things. They were silly old fools, of course. The fact is that none of these scornful modern people actually know how the predictions were made. And everybody still talks just like the individual whom I gave as an example the other day, [ Note 9 ] who had to admit that the prophesy given in a dream had come true, but went on to say: Well, it was as chance would have it.
Yet conditions were such in the fourth post-Atlantean age that there really was a science which considered the future. Then, people would not have been able to think that the kind of principles which are applied today would achieve anything in a developing social life. They could not have gained the great perspectives of a social nature, which went far beyond their own time, if they had not had a ‘science’, as it were, of the future. Believe me, everything people achieve today in the field of social life and politics is actually still based on the fruits of that old science of the future. This, however, cannot be gained by observing the things that present themselves to the senses. It can never be gained by using the modern scientific approach; for anything we observe in the outside world with the senses makes a science of the past. Let me tell you a most important law of the universe: If you merely consider the world as it presents itself to the senses, which is the modern scientific approach, you observe past laws which are still continuing. You are really only observing the corpse of a past world. Science is looking at life that has died.
Imagine this is our field of observation (Fig. 10a, white circle), shown in diagrammatic form; this is what we have before our eyes, our ears and our other senses. Imagine this (yellow circle) to be all the scientific laws capable of being discovered. These laws do not relate to what is in there now, but to what has been there, what has been and gone and remains only in a hardened form. You need to find the things that are outside those laws, things which eyes cannot see and physical ears cannot hear: a second world with different laws (mauve circle). This is present inside reality, but it points to the future.
The situation with the world is just like the situation you get with a plant. The true plant is not the plant we see today; something is mysteriously inside it which cannot yet be seen and will only be visible to the eyes in the following year — the primitive germ. It is present in the plant, but it is invisible. In the same way the world which presents itself to our eyes holds the whole future in it, though this is not visible. It also holds the past, but this has withered and dried up and is now a corpse. Everything naturalists look at is merely the image of a corpse, of something past and gone. It is also true, of course, that this past aspect would be missing if we considered the spiritual aspect only. However, the invisible element must be included if we are to have the complete reality. How can it be that people on the one hand set up Laplace's theory and on the other hand talk about the end of the world in the way Professor Dewar [ Note 10 ] does — I spoke of this in yesterday's public lecture. He construes that when the world comes to an end, people will read their newspapers at several hundred degrees below zero in the light of luminous protein painted on the walls; milk will be solid. I would love to know how people are going to milk such solid milk! Those are completely untenable ideas, as is the whole of Laplace's theory. All these theories come to nothing as soon as one goes beyond the field of immediate observation, and this is because they are theories of corpses, of things which are dead.
Clever people will say today that the priests of ancient Greece and Rome were either scoundrels and swindlers or that they were superstitious, for no one in their right mind can believe it is possible to discover anything about the future from the flight of birds and the entrails of animals. In time to come, people will be able to look down on the ideas of which people are so proud today; they will feel just as clever then as the present generation does now in looking down on the Roman priests conducting their sacrifices. Speaking of Laplace's theory and of Dewar they will say: Those were strange superstitions. People in the past observed a few millennia in Earth evolution and drew conclusions from this as to the initial and final states of the Earth. How foolish those superstitions were! Imagine the way in which those peculiar, superstitious people spoke of the Sun and the planets separating out from a nebula and everything beginning to rotate. The things they will be saying about Laplace's theory and Dewar's ideas concerning the end of the world will be much worse than anything people are saying today about finding out about the future from sacrificial animals, the flight of birds, and so on.
They are so high and mighty, these people who have entered fully into the spirit and attitudes of scientific thinking and look down on the old myths and tales. ‘Humanity was childish then, with people taking dreams seriously! Just think how far we have come since then: today we know that everything is governed by a law of causality; we've certainly come a long way.’ Everyone who thinks like this fails to realize one thing: The whole of modern science would not exist, especially where it has its justification, if people had not earlier thought in myths. You cannot have modern science unless it is preceded by myth; it has grown out of the myths of old and you could no more have it today than you could have a plant with only stems, leaves, and flowers and no root down below. People who talk of modern science as an absolute, complete in itself, might as well talk of a plant which is alive only in its upper part. Everything connected with modern science has grown from myth; myth is its root. There are elemental spirits which observe these things from the other worlds and they howl with hell's own derision when today's mighty clever professors look down on the mythologies of old, and on all the media of ancient superstition, having not the least idea that they and all their cleverness have grown from those myths and that not a single justifiable idea they hold today would be tenable if it were not for those myths. Something else, too, causes those elemental spirits to howl with hell's own derision — and we can say hell's own, for it suits the ahrimanic powers very well to have occasion for such derision — and this is to see scientists believe that they now have the theories of Copernicus, they have Galileo's ideas, they have this splendiferous law of the conservation of energy and this will never change and will be the same for ever and ever. A shortsighted view! Myth relates to our ideas just as the scientific ideas of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries relate to what will be a few centuries later. They will be overcome just as myth has been overcome. Do you think people will think about the solar system in 2900 in the way people think about it today? It may be the academics' superstition, but it should never be a superstition held among anthroposophists.
The justifiable ideas people have today, ideas which do indeed have some degree of greatness in the present time, arose from the mythology which evolved in the time of ancient Greece. Of course, nothing could possibly delight modern people more than to think: Ah, if only the ancient Greeks had been so fortunate as to have our modern science! But if the Greeks had had our modern science, then there could have been no knowledge of the Greek gods, no world of Homer, Sophocles, Aeschylus, Plato, or Aristotle. Dr Faust's servant Wagner would be a veritable Dr Faust himself compared to the Wagners we would have today! [ Note 11 ] Human thinking would be dry as dust, empty and corrupt, for the vitality in our thinking has its roots in Greek and altogether fourth post-Atlantean mythology. Anyone who considers mythology to have been wrong and modern thinking to be right is like someone who cannot see the need for roses to grow on bushes, making it necessary for us to cut them if we want to have a bouquet. Why should they not come into existence entirely on their own?
So you see, the people who consider themselves to be the most enlightened today are living with entirely unrealistic ideas. The ideas evolved in the fourth post-Atlantean age seem like dreams rather than clearly defined ideas to the people of our present age; yet that particular way of thinking has provided the basis for what we are today. The thoughts we are able to evolve today will in turn provide the basis for the next age. They can only do so, however, if they evolve not only in the one direction, where they wither and dry up, but also in the direction of life. The breath of life comes into our thinking when we try and bring the things which exist to consciousness and also when we perceive the element which gives us a wideawake mind and makes us into people who are awake.
Since 1879 the situation is like this: people go to school and acquire scientific attitudes and thinking; their philosophy of life is then based on this scientific approach and they believe only the things which can be perceived in the world around us to be real, while everything else is purely imaginary. When people think like this, and infinitely many people do so today, Ahriman has the upper hand in the game and the ahrimanic powers are doing well. Who are these ahrimanic powers which have established their fortresses in human minds since 1879? They are certainly not human. They are angels, but they are backward angels, angels who are not following their proper course of evolution and therefore no longer know how to perform their proper function in the spiritual world that is next to our own. If they still knew how to do it, they would not have been cast down in 1879. They now want to perform their function with the aid of human brains. They are one level lower in human brains than they should be. ‘Monistic’ thinking, as it is called today, is not really done by humans. People often speak of the science of economics today, a science in which it was said at the time when the war started that it would be over in four months — I mentioned this again yesterday. When these things are said by scientists — it does not matter so much if people merely repeat them — they are the thoughts of angels who have made themselves at home in human heads. Yes, the human intellect is to be taken over more and more by such powers; they want to use it to bring their own lives to fruition. We cannot stand up to this by putting our heads in the sand like ostriches, but only by consciously entering into the experience. We cannot deal with this by not knowing what monists think, for example, but only by knowing it; we must also know that it is Ahriman science, the science of backward angels who infest human heads, and we must know about the truth and the reality.
Of course, it can be said like this here, using the appropriate terms — ahrimanic powers — because we take these things seriously. You know that you cannot speak like this to people outside, for they are totally unprepared. This is one of the barriers which divide us from others; but it is, of course, possible to find ways and means of speaking to them in such a way that the truth comes into what we say. If there were not a place where the truth can be said, this would also deprive us of the possibility of letting it enter into the profane science outside these walls. There must be at least some places where the truth can be presented in an honest, straightforward way. Yet we must never forget that even people who have made a connection with the science of the spirit often have almost insuperable difficulties in building the bridge to the realm of ahrimanic science. I have met a number of people who were extremely well informed in a particular field of ahrimanic science, being good scientists, orientalists, etc., and had also made the connection with our spiritual research. I have gone to a great deal of trouble to encourage them to build bridges. Think of what could have been achieved if a physiologist or a biologist who had all the specialized knowledge which it is possible to gain in such fields today had reconsidered physiology or biology in the light of the spirit, not exactly using our terminology, but considering those individual sciences in our spirit! I have tried it with orientalists. You see, people may be good followers of Anthroposophy, and on the other hand they are orientalists and work in the way orientalists do. They are not prepared, however, to build the bridge from one to the other. This, however, is the urgent need in our time. For, as I said, the ahrimanic powers are doing well if people believe that science gives a true image of the world around us. If, on the other hand, we use spiritual science and the inner attitude which arises from it, the ahrimanic powers do not do so well. This spiritual science takes hold of the whole human being. It makes you into another person; you come to feel differently, to have different will impulses, and to relate to the world in a different way.
It is indeed true, and initiates have always said so: ‘When human beings are filled with spiritual wisdom, these are great horrors of darkness for the ahrimanic powers and a consuming fire. It feels good to the ahrimanic angels to dwell in heads filled with ahrimanic science; but heads filled with spiritual wisdom are like a consuming fire and the horrors of darkness to them.’ If we consider this in all seriousness we can feel: filled with spiritual wisdom we go through the world in a way which allows us to establish the right relationship with the ahrimanic powers; doing the things we do in the light of this, we build a place for the consuming fire of sacrifice for the salvation of the world, the place where the terror of darkness radiates out over the harmful ahrimanic element.
Let those ideas and feelings enter into you! You will then be awake and see the things that go on in the world. The eighteenth century really saw the last remnants of the old atavistic science die. The adherents of Saint-Martin, the ‘unknown philosopher,’ who was a student of Jacob Boehme, had some of the old atavistic wisdom and also considerable foreknowledge of what then was to come, and in our day has come. In those circles it was often said that from the last third of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century a kind of knowledge would radiate out which had its roots in the same sources, the same soil, where certain human diseases have their roots — I spoke of this last Sunday (14 October); people's views would then be rooted in falsehood, and their inner feelings would come from selfishness.
Let your eyes become seeing eyes in the light of the inner feelings of which we have spoken today and let them see what is alive and active in the present time! It may well be that your hearts grow sore with some of the things you find. This does no harm, however, for clear perception, even if painful, will bear good fruit today, fruit which is needed if we are to get out of the chaos into which humanity has entered.
The first thing, or one of the first things, will have to be a science of education. And one of the first principles to be applied in this field is one which is much sinned against today. More important than anything you can teach and consciously give to boys and girls, or to young men and women, are the things that enter unconsciously into their souls while they are being educated. In a recent public lecture I spoke of the way in which our memory develops as though in the subconscious, and parallel to our conscious inner life. This is something especially to be taken into account in education. Educators must provide the soul not only with what children understand but also with ideas they do not yet understand, which enter mysteriously into their souls and — this is important — are brought out again later in life. We are coming closer and closer to a time when people will need more and more memories of their youth throughout the whole of their lives, memories they like, memories which make them happy. Education must learn to provide systematically for this. It will be poison in the education of the future if later on in life people look back on the toil and trouble of their schooldays, on the years of education, and do not like to think back to those days. It will be poison if the years of education have not provided a source to which they can return again and again to learn new things. On the other hand, if one has learned everything there is to be learned on a subject, nothing will be left for later on.
If you think on this, you will see that principles of great consequence will have to be the future guidelines for life, and this in a very different way from what is considered to be right today. It would be good for humanity if the hard lessons to be learned in the present time were not slept through by so many, and people would use them instead to become really familiar with the thought that a great many things will have to change. People have grown much too complacent in recent times and this prevents them from comprehending this thought in its full depth and, above all, also in its full intensity.
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