“Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.” ~Mark Twain
The Influence of Spiritual Beings Upon Man. Lecture 9
Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, June 1, 1908:
We ventured on rather unusual ground in our last lecture when we turned our attention to certain beings who definitely exist among us. They are spiritual beings who in a certain way fall out of the regular course of evolution, and it is just this fact that gives them their significance. We were considering the elemental beings whose existence is naturally viewed by the enlightened mind of today as the utmost superstition, but who will play a significant rôle in a not very far distant time of our spiritual evolution, precisely through the position they occupy in the cosmos. We have seen how such elemental beings come into existence as a sort of irregularly severed parts of group souls. We need only remember what was said at the end of the lecture and we shall have placed the nature of such elemental creatures before our spiritual eyes. We were considering one of the last-formed species of these elementary beings. We pointed to the fact that each animal form — or, to put it differently, a totality of similarly formed animals — is represented by a group soul. We have said that these group souls play the same rôle in the astral world as our human soul — in so far as it is I-endowed — in the physical world. The human ego is really a group ego which has descended from the astral plane to the physical plane, and thus becomes an individual ego. The animal egos are still normally on the astral plane, and what is here on the physical plane as the separate animal possesses only physical body, etheric body, and astral body. The ego is in the astral world, similarly formed animals being members of their group ego. We can realize from this fact how birth and death in human life have not the same significance in the life of the animal. For when an individual animal dies, the group soul or group ego remains alive. It is just the same as if — assuming that it were possible — a man lost a hand and was capable of replacing it. His ego would not say: ‘I have died through the loss of my hand’; it would feel that it had renewed a limb. So the group ego of the lions renews a limb when a lion dies and is replaced by another. Thus we can understand that birth and death have not at all the significance for the animal group souls as they have for the human being of the present cycle of evolution. The group soul of the animals knows changes, metamorphoses; knows, so to speak, the severing of the members which then extend into the physical world, the loss of these members and their renewal.
We have said, however, that there are certain animal forms which go too far in the process of severing, which are no longer in a position to send back to the astral plane what they bring down to the physical plane. When an animal dies what falls away must be entirely exhausted in the surrounding world, while the soul and spirit nature of the animal must stream back into the group soul, to be extended afresh and grow to a new individual entity. There are in fact certain animal forms which cannot send everything back into the group soul; and these parts which remain over, which are cut loose, torn loose, from the group soul, then lead an isolated life as elemental beings. Our evolution has gone through the most varied stages and at each stage such elemental beings have been separated off, so you can well imagine that we have a fairly large number of such elementals around us in what we call the supersensible world.
When, for instance, the enlightened person says that people talk of elemental beings and call them Sylphs, Lemures, but that such things do not exist — then you must reply that he does not see these things because he has not troubled to develop the organs of cognition which would enable him to recognize them. But just ask the bees, or rather, the soul of the beehive. They could not close themselves to the existence of Sylphs or Lemures! For the elemental beings which are denoted by these names are to be found at quite definite places, namely, where there is a certain contact of the animal kingdom with the plant kingdom. This has not a general application, however; they are to be found only at spots where the contact takes place under certain circumstances. When the ox eats grass there is a contact between the animal kingdom and the plant kingdom, but that is a commonplace, normal proceeding; it lies in the regular course of evolution. The contact that occurs between the bee and the blossom stands on quite a different page of cosmic evolution. Bees and blossoms are much farther apart in organization and they come together again in a special way — moreover a quite remarkable force is unfolded in their contact. The peculiar auric sheath which always arises when a bee or similar insect sucks at a flower belongs to the “interesting” observations of the spiritual-supersensible worlds — if one may use the expression, but we have so few appropriate expressions for these subtle things. The peculiar, unique experience which the little bee has when it sucks at the flower is present not only in the masticators or in the bee's body, but the exchange of taste between bee and blossom spreads out a sort of tiny etheric aura. Every time that the bee sucks there is this aura, and always when something like this arises in the supersensible world the beings which need it arrive at the spot. They are attracted by it, for there they find their food — to express it crudely again.
I said on another occasion that we should not be concerned with the question: Whence come all the beings of which we have spoken? Wherever the opportunity is given for definite beings, then they are always there. If a person sends out wrong, evil feelings, these live around him and attract beings which are there waiting, just as some physical being waits for food. I once compared this with the fact that there are no flies in a clean room; if there are all sorts of food-remains in the room, then there are flies. So it is with the supersensible beings: one need only provide them with the means of nourishment. The bee which sucks at the blossom spreads a little etheric aura and then such beings approach, especially when a whole swarm of bees settles on a tree and then moves away with the sensation of taste in the body. Then the whole swarm is ensheathed in this etheric aura and also entirely interpenetrated by the spiritual beings which one calls Sylphs or Lemures. In border regions where different kingdoms come in touch with one another these beings are present and they really play a role. In fact they are not only to be found where this fine etheric aura arises, they not only approach to satisfy themselves, but they are hungry and they bring the hunger to expression by guiding the particular creatures to the particular places. In a certain way they are little guides.
So we see that beings who, we may say, have severed their connection with other worlds to which they were formerly united, have taken in exchange a strange role. They are beings which can well be used in other worlds. At any rate, when they are so used a kind of organization is established; they come under higher beings.
It was said at the beginning of today's lecture that at a by no means very distant time it will be fully necessary for humanity to know of these things. In a not very distant future, science will take an extraordinary course. Science will become increasingly materialistic, will confine itself simply to a description of external facts of the physical senses. Science will confine itself to the crudely material, although a strange transitional state still prevails today. A time of sheer undiluted materialism in science lies not very far behind us. This crude materialism is at the most still seen as a possibility by people of a purely amateur outlook, though few thinkers trouble to set something else in its place. We see a whole number of abstract theories appear in which a timid reference is made to the supersensible, the superbodily. The course of events, however, and the power of external physical facts will utterly overthrow these strange, fantastic theories which are set up by those who are dissatisfied today with physical science. And one day the learned will find themselves in a peculiar situation as regards these theories. All that they have spun out about All-Being and All-Ensouledness of this or that world, all their speculations, will be overthrown and men will have nothing more in the hand than sheer sense-perceptible facts in the fields of geology, biology, astronomy, and so forth. The theories set up today will be very short-lived, and to the one who is able to look into the special course of science, an absolute desolation of the purely physical horizon is presented.
Then, however, the time will also have come when a fairly great number of representatives of humanity will be ripe to acknowledge the supersensible worlds of which the spiritual-science world-conception speaks today. Such a phenomenon as that of the bee-life in connection with what can be known of the supersensible worlds offers a wonderful answer to the great riddle of existence. These things are of great importance from yet another side. It will become increasingly indispensable to grasp the nature of the group souls, and such knowledge will play a great role even in the purely external evolution of humanity. If we go back thousands and thousands of years we find man himself as a being still belonging to a group soul. Human evolution on our Earth is from the group soul nature to the individual soul. Man advances through the gradual descent of his ego-endowed soul into physical conditions, there having the opportunity of becoming individual. We can observe different stages in the evolution of mankind and see how the group soul gradually becomes individual.
Let us go back to the time of the first third of the Atlantean culture epoch. There the life of man was quite different; in the bodies in which we were incorporated at that time our souls had quite different experiences. There is one experience which plays a role in man's life today — whether as individual or member of social group — that has undergone a great change since that time, namely, the alternation of waking and sleeping.
In ancient Atlantean times you would not have experienced the same alternation of waking and sleeping as exists today. What is then the characteristic difference in comparison with present humanity?
When the physical and etheric bodies lie in bed, the astral body with the ego lifts itself out and what one calls the modern consciousness sinks into an indefinite darkness. In the morning when the astral body and the ego draw again into the other members they make use of the physical organs, and consciousness lights up. This condition of daily waking in consciousness, nightly sleeping in unconsciousness, did not exist formerly. When it was daytime and man dipped down into his physical body, as far as was the case then, he by no means saw physical beings and objects in definite boundaries as he does today. He saw everything with vague outlines just as you do when you go along the streets on a foggy evening and see the lamps surrounded with a misty aura. That was the way the human being of that time saw everything.
If that was the day condition, what was the night condition? When the human being passed out of the physical and etheric bodies during the night, no absolute unconsciousness came over him, it was only a different kind of consciousness. At that time man was still aware of the spiritual processes and spiritual beings around him, not clearly and exactly as in true clairvoyance, but with a last relic of ancient clairvoyant sight. Man lived by day in a world of hazy, nebulous outlines, in the night he lived among spiritual beings who were around him as we have the various objects around us today. There was thus no sharp division between day and night, and what is contained in saga and myths is not some folk-fantasy but memories of the experiences which early man had in the supersensible world in his then state of consciousness. Wotan or Zeus or other supersensible spiritual divinities who were known to various peoples are not fabrications of fantasy as is asserted at the council-board of erudition. Such assertions can only be made by someone who knows nothing of the nature of folk-fantasy. It does not in the least occur to early peoples to personify in that way. Those were experiences in ancient times. Wotan and Thor were beings with whom man went about as today he goes about with his fellow-men, and myths and sagas are memories of the ages of ancient clairvoyance.
We must be clear, however, that something else was united with this living into the spiritual supersensible worlds. In these worlds man felt himself not as an individual being but as a sort of limb of spiritual beings. He belonged to higher spiritual beings, as our hands belong to us. The faint feeling of individuality which man possessed at that time he acquired when he dipped down into his physical body and emancipated himself from the “dance” of the divine spiritual beings. That was the beginning of his feeling of individuality. At that time man was absolutely clear about his group soul; he felt himself immersed in the group soul when he left his physical body and entered the supersensible consciousness. That was an ancient time when the human being had a vivid consciousness of belonging to a group soul, a group ego.
Let us look at a second stage of human evolution — we will omit intermediate stages — the stage referred to in the history of the Patriarchs of the Old Testament. What really underlies this we have already related. We have given the reason why the Patriarchs Adam, Noah, and so on, had such a long lifetime. It was because the memory of early mankind was quite different from that of contemporary man. The memory of modern man has in fact become individual, too. He remembers what he has experienced since birth — many actually from a much later point of time. This was not the case in ancient times. At that time what the father had experienced between birth and death, what had been experienced by the grandfather, the great-grandfather, were as much an object of memory as a man's own experiences. Strange as it seems to the modern man there was a time when memory went beyond the individual and back through the whole blood relationship. The external sign for the existence of such a memory is precisely such names as Noah, Adam, and so on. These names do not denote single individuals between birth and death. Today a name is given to the one individual whose memory is enclosed between birth and death. Formerly the giving of a name went as far as the memory reached back into the generations, as far as the blood flowed through the generations.
“Adam” is merely a name that lasted as long as the memory lasted. One who does not know that the giving of names in former times was quite different from what it is today will not be able to understand the nature of these things at all. A fundamental consciousness mediating quite differently existed in ancient times. Imagine that the ancestor had had two children, each of these two again, the next generation again two, and so forth. In all of them the memory reached up to the ancestor and they felt themselves one in the memory which meets up above, so to speak, in a common point. The people of the Old Testament expressed this by saying — and this applies to each single adherent of the Old Testament — “I and Father Abraham are one.” Each individual felt himself hidden in the consciousness of the group-soul, in the “Father Abraham.”
The consciousness with which the Christ has endowed mankind surpasses that. The ego through its consciousness is connected directly with the spiritual world, and this comes to expression in: “Before Abraham was, was the I — or the I am.” Here the impulse to stimulate the “I am” comes fully into the separate individual.
So we see a second stage of the evolution of mankind: the group-soul age which finds its external expression in the blood relationship of the generations. A people which has particularly developed this lays very special value on continually emphasizing: As folk we have a folk-group soul in common. — That was particularly the case for the people of the Old Testament, and the conservatives among them strongly opposed therefore the emphasis of the “I am” of the individual ego. Whoever reads St. John's Gospel can grasp with spiritual hands, so to speak, that that is true. One need only read the story of the conversation of Jesus with the woman of Samaria at the well. Here it is expressly pointed out that Christ Jesus goes to those also who are not related by blood. Read how remarkably it is indicated: “For the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans.” One who can experience this gradually, meditatively, will see how humanity has advanced from the group soul to the individual soul.
History has become an entirely external matter, very much a “fable convenue,” for it is written from documents. Suppose that something had to be written today from documents and the most important documents are lost! Then whatever documents are accidentally available are thrown together and reports are made. For matters of spiritual reality one needs no documents; they are inscribed in the Akashic Record, which is a faithful record and effaces nothing. It is difficult, however, to read in the Akashic Record because the external documents are even a hindrance to the reader of spiritual “scripts.” But we can see how the advance from group soul to individual soul has taken place in times lying very near to our own.
One who observes history from a spiritual aspect will have to recognize a most important period of time in the early Middle Ages. Previously man was still enclosed in various groups, if only externally. To a much greater extent than is dreamt of by modern man, people at the beginning of the Middle Ages still received their significance and value, even as regards their work, from relationship and other connections. It was a natural consequence for the son to do what the father did. Then came the time of the great inventions and discoveries. The world began to demand more from the purely personal proficiency, and man was increasingly torn out of the old connections. We can see the expression of this throughout the Middle Ages when cities of the same type were founded over the whole of Europe. We can still distinguish today the cities built on this type from those built on other foundations.
In the middle of the Middle Ages there was again an advance from the group soul to the individual soul. If we look into the future we must say: More and more man emancipates himself from the old group soul element and individualizes himself. If you could look back to earlier phases of man's evolution you would see how those cultures were cast in the same mold — as, for instance, Egypt and Rome. This is only in a very slight degree true of today. Humanity has now descended to the point where not only manners and customs are individual but even opinions and faiths as well. There are people among us already who look on it as a lofty ideal for everyone to have his own religion. The idea floats before quite a number that a time must come when there are as many religions and truths as persons.
This will not be the course of human evolution. It would take this course if men were to continue to follow the impulse coming today from materialism. That would lead to disharmony, to the splitting of humanity into separate individuals. Mankind, however, will only not take this course if such a spiritual movement as Spiritual Science is accepted. What will enter then? The great truth, the great law, will be realized that the most individual truths, those that are found in the most inward way, are at the same time those that hold good for all.
I have already commented on the fact that today there is really general agreement upon the truths of mathematics alone, for these are the most trivial of all. No one can say that he finds mathematical truths through external experience; we find them through inwardly realizing them. If one wants to show that the three angles of a triangle make 18o°, then one draws a line through the apex which is parallel to the base and lays the three angles together fan-wise; then angle a = d, b = e, c = itself, and so the three angles are equal to a straight line, that is, 18o°. Anyone who has once grasped this knows that it must be so, once and for all, just as one knows that 3 x 3 = 9 after it has once been grasped. I do not think one would expect to discover that by induction.
These most trivial of all truths, the arithmetical, geometrical, are found inwardly, and yet people do not dispute about them. They are in absolute agreement about them because man is far enough advanced to grasp them. Agreement of opinion prevails only as long as pure truth is not clouded by passions, sympathy and antipathy. A time will come, though it is still far distant, when mankind will be laid hold of increasingly by the knowledge of the inner world of truth. Then in spite of all individualism, in spite of truth being found by everyone for himself inwardly, harmony will prevail. If mathematical truths were not so simple and obvious then the passions aroused in acknowledging them would lead to many difficulties. For if covetousness entered in then perhaps many housewives would determine that 2 x 2 = 5 and not 4. These things are only so obvious and simple that they can no longer be clouded by sympathy and antipathy. Continually wider regions will be grasped by this form of truth, and more peace can come to mankind if truth is grasped in this manner. The human being has grown out of the group soul condition and emancipates himself from it increasingly. If we look at groups instead of the souls, we have family connections, connections of tribe and nation, and finally connected races. The race corresponds to a group soul. All these group connections of early humanity are what man outgrows, and the more we advance the more the race conception loses its meaning.
We stand today at a transitional point; race will gradually disappear entirely and something else will take its place. Those who will again grasp spiritual truth as it has been described will be led together of their own free will. Those will be the connections of a later age. The human beings of earlier times were born into connections, born into the tribe, the race. Later we shall live in the connections and associations which men create for themselves, uniting in groups with those of similar ideas while retaining their complete freedom and individuality. To realize this is necessary for a right understanding of something like the Anthroposophical Society. The Anthroposophical Society is intended to be a first example of such a voluntary association, although we may be well aware that it has not yet reached very far. The attempt had to be made to create a group in which men find themselves together without the differentiation of the ancient group soul's nature, and there will be many such associations in the future. Then we shall no longer have to speak of racial connections but of intellectual-ethical-moral aspects with regard to the associations that are formed. The individuals voluntarily allow their feelings to stream together and this again causes the forming of something which goes beyond the merely emancipated man. An emancipated human being possesses his individual soul which is never lost when it has once been attained. But when men find themselves together in voluntary associations they group themselves around centers. The feelings streaming in this way to a center once more give beings the opportunity of working as a kind of group soul, though in quite a different sense from the early group souls. All the earlier group souls were beings who made man unfree. These new beings, however, are compatible with man's complete freedom and individuality. Indeed, in a certain respect we may say that they support their existence on human harmony; it will lie in the souls of men themselves whether or not they give as many as possible of such higher souls the opportunity of descending to man. The more that men are divided, the fewer lofty souls will descend into the human sphere. The more that associations are formed where feelings of fellowship are developed with complete freedom, the more lofty beings will descend and the more rapidly the earthly planet will be spiritualized.
So we see that if man is to acquire any idea of future evolution, he must have a thorough understanding of the character of the group soul element. For otherwise, if his individual soul keeps itself aloof too long on the earth, and does not find the link of companionship, it could come about that it lets the chance of union go by. It would then itself become a sort of elemental being, and the elemental beings originating from man would be of quite an evil nature. Whereas those which have arisen from the earlier kingdoms are very useful for our orderly course of nature, the human elemental beings will by no means possess this quality.
We have seen that such severed beings arise in certain border regions, and they arise also on the boundary made by the transition from the group soul nature to the independent group associations where the connections are of an aesthetic, moral, intellectual character. Wherever such connections arise, group beings are there.
If you could observe certain spots, as, for instance, springs where underneath there is stone overgrown with moss, thus forming a kind of partition between plant and stone, and then water trickles over it — that too is essential — then you would see that what are called Nymphs and Undines are very real, an actuality. Again, where metals come in contact with the rest of the earthy realm there lie whole bundles of the beings we call Gnomes. A fourth species are the Salamanders which form, so to say, the youngest generation in the ranks of elemental beings. They nevertheless exist in large numbers. To a great extent they owe their existence to a process of separating off from animal group souls. These beings too seek opportunities for finding nourishment, and they find it in particular where not quite normal relations sometimes exist between the human and the animal kingdoms. Those who know something about these things are aware that elemental beings — and definitely good beings — develop through the intimate relationship of the rider and his steed. Through the warm connection of certain men with animal groups, feelings, thoughts, and impulses arise which provide good nourishment for these elemental beings of a Salamander nature. That can be particularly observed in the united life of the shepherd and his flock, in the case of herdsmen in general who live in close connection with their animals. Certain Salamander-like elemental beings can find their nourishment in the feelings which develop through this intimacy between man and beast, and they remain where this food is to be found. They are quite shrewd too, full of a natural wisdom. Faculties develop in the shepherd through which these elemental beings can whisper to him what they know, and many of the recipes or prescriptions coming from such sources have originated in this way. A man among such conditions may well be surrounded as if by fine spiritual beings who furnish him with a knowledge of which our modern intellectuals have not the slightest idea. All these things are founded on good grounds and can definitely be observed through the methods which occult wisdom can perfect.
I should like to conclude by pointing to yet another phenomenon which can show you how certain things which are explained quite abstractly today have often sprung from a deep wisdom. I have already spoken of Atlantean times and how when men left their bodies in the night, they lived among the spiritual beings whom they called the Gods. These men were descending deeper into a physical corporeality; but the beings whom they revered as the Gods, that is, Zeus, Wotan, are on another path of evolution. They do not descend as far as the physical body, they do not touch the physical world. But even there we find certain transitional states. Man has come into existence through his whole soul and spirit being having hardened to his physical body. In the case of man the group souls in their entirety have come down to the physical plane, and man's physical body became an imprint of the group soul. Let us suppose a being like Zeus — who is a positive reality — has just slightly contacted the physical plane, just projected into it a very little. That is rather as if you dip a ball into water and it is wet underneath. In the same way certain beings in Atlantean times have only been grazed by the physical world. Physical eyes do not see what remains in the spiritual world as astral-etheric. Only the part which projects into the physical world is visible. From such projections arose symbolism in mythology. If Zeus has the eagle as symbol that is because his eagle-nature is the little projection where a being of the higher worlds touched the physical world. A great part of the bird world is severed portions of such evolving beings of the supersensible world. As with the ravens of Wotan and the eagle of Zeus so is it everywhere where symbolism goes back to occult facts. Much will become clearer to you if you take into account like this the nature and activity and evolution of the group souls in the most varied fields.