Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, October 23, 1905:
Today may I say a few things relevant to some of the questions which have been coming before your souls recently. Today may I amplify something which may have been provoked [in your minds] by remarks made in the last few days. Much has been said about the relationship of occultism to theosophy, of esotericism to theosophy, and so on; but nothing has been said yet about the relationship of theosophy to everyday life. I already indicated a week ago that I wished to say a few words precisely on this subject; (Note 1) and that I might direct your attention rather less to higher vantage points but rather speak about how occult perception directly influences everyday living. Not only is our perspective directed into distant time and space by the theosophical world outlook, but in addition we can gain a quite different explanation of everyday questions through occult concepts which would not be possible through other concepts. We shall then see how erroneous is the opinion which we so often encounter, namely that occultism is something impractical, uncommonly far removed from ordinary everyday life.
And we will mention another question as well. This question is: How can anyone who has not yet developed the faculty — which, however, every human being is destined to have in the future — of seeing into supersensible worlds, how can such a person — given the standpoint that everyone absorbs in their ordinary education — gain a conviction that theosophical teachings are true, and that the endeavors of theosophy are valid in practice? The evidence need not be obtained only by occult observations; indeed, they cannot be so obtained until they have first been drawn out of another realm, that of everyday life, which [in fact] prepares us to acquire conviction about the higher realms of existence. Whatever may have happened in the past is still happening today in our daily life.
If we trace humanity back to the earliest periods of its development, we find that man originated from a much finer, more spiritual substance than that of which he is composed today. Present-day man displays a form consisting of three main bodies — the physical body, the etheric body, and the astral body. The etheric body is a kind of archetypal image of the physical body. The astral body, the auric sheath that envelops and permeates the human being, is the structure in which the soul life, the life of the instincts and passions, and every thought as well, all find expression. Basically it was from the still undifferentiated astral body that the whole human being evolved in the course of time. If we go back far enough, to the early primeval epochs of humanity, we find that the physical and etheric substance that distinguishes modern man used to be dissolved in the original astral body, like a seed [buried] in the earth.
Present-day man is, so to speak, condensed out of the astral basic substance. This process is still taking place every day. When two people confront each other, then it is above all the astral bodies which confront each other in love or hate, in kindness or displeasure, anger or good nature, antipathy or attraction. These are all phenomena which manifest themselves between astral bodies. Interaction between people consists of continual exchange of astral body conditions and relationships. When I confront another person, my physical body experiences no great change, nor does my etheric body, but my astral body certainly does. If a person says something filled with hate to me, then the waves of hatred enter my astral body and change it. I have to accept what streams out of him into my own astral body, which is then imbued with very different attributes depending on whether it is love and patience or anger and impatience which stream toward me from the other person.
Something very similar takes place between teacher and pupil. It makes a great difference whether a teacher has a loving disposition or is a narrow-minded egoist. In the astral body of a child we have something which differs in appearance from the astral body of an adult. The astral body of a child is bright and clear, and reveals itself to us as something virginal compared with an astral body which has developed itself during the course of life. What is the astral body of a child? It seems like an undifferentiated cloud of light which only gradually acquires form. Whatever [will] gradually make the astral body fixed has as yet scarcely begun to be engraved in it, so that everything possible can still be born to it. It will be formed by the concepts which the child acquires from its surroundings. These enter it, color it, and make it different.
Different structures flow into the child's astral body and form it, according to whether what the child absorbs by way of concepts derives from a materialist or an idealist standpoint. For a process of progressively filling the soul with concepts begins. If a child is treated lovelessly, the echo of this lovelessness manifests itself in the child's astral body. It then seals itself in, as if with a hide, against the outer world. All this shows us that a continual remodeling of the astral body is actually taking place, and that interaction with people has a major influence in this reshaping.
The child thus has an astral body which is still undifferentiated in form, but which contains a limitless abundance of possibilities. Take the astral body of a child which has met with an idealistic teacher, who himself has a harmonious soul, who views the world with devotion and is susceptible to its beauty and sublimity, a teacher who is in a position to create within himself an image of the beauty of the world; such a teacher will also develop the ability to enter into the disposition of the child's soul. He will thus encourage tender and sensitive structures in the child, into which he can direct currents which become absorbed in the child's own astral substance. A teacher who is so harmoniously formed within himself continually directs harmonious currents toward the child. The characteristics of the teacher flow quite naturally into the child, and together with them all that world harmony which the teacher has gleaned from his surroundings in the form of beauty. As teacher he directs into the child's nature all the greatness he as a fine person and good observer has received, thereby bringing about harmonious development in the child.
Let us take by contrast a teacher who confronts the child as an egoistical and pedantic person with narrow and opinionated concepts and ideas. These qualities conjure up structures in his own astral body which give it the appearance of being covered with a hard crust, which make it thoroughly rigid and ponderous in structure. It then emits darts which are rigidly enclosed within themselves, so that it is impossible for the child's astral body to absorb them. At the most they wound the child's astral body like a dart, but they cannot be absorbed [by it] and they simply go right through.
Or take something still more everyday. Two people are talking to each other. One can very well observe in two such people the interaction of their astral bodies which results from reciprocal communication with each other.
Something new is always coming into being in the astral, in the astral substance. I will make this intelligible to you in the following way. Through his concepts a person is continually creating structures in his astral body. These show themselves in the most various forms. The astral substance that lies unused between the individual structures is called ‘intermediary’ astral substance, to distinguish it from that which has been shaped into structures. This intermediary astral substance is continually supplementing itself out of the astral substance in our surroundings, is continually flowing in and out, is continually renewing itself. But the structures that man has cultivated by the way he feels and thinks and decides remain fixed.
Let us then assume we have two people engaging in an ordinary conversation with each other. One of them has cultivated rigid, fixed concepts, which have correspondingly engendered very fixed structures in the astral substance. The other talks to him and tries to explain something to him. What must happen if one person is to make something clear to another? He must inject his own concept into the other person's astral substance. This concept, this thought, thus flows into the other person's astral substance. Once there, it must first of all be absorbed in the intermediary substance and [then] remake itself and become transformed [in a manner] corresponding to the forms already developed there.
Now, let us assume that the one is trying to explain to the other something to do with, say, reincarnation. The other has however already formed a fixed idea about reincarnation. Let us assume him to be a prejudiced person who has formed for himself the idea that reincarnation is something silly and absurd. This thought has hovered in his astral substance. The new thought of the first person now arrives and dissolves itself in the intermediary astral substance of the other, and would then have to be transformed by the thought forms already existing there. This will not work, however, because his [the second person's] concepts are too rigid, too fixed. He cannot adapt the newly transmitted thought to his [own] thought forms and therefore does not understand it.
The more a person keeps his concepts flexible, so that these can always be dissolved in the surrounding intermediary substance, the more he will understand the other people he encounters. This is why it is so difficult to convey theosophical life to academically trained people. The concepts acquired at university engender structures which are rigid, fixed, and enclosed within themselves, which are not easily dissolvable. The academic usually comes to a theosophical lecture full of such structures and is then unable to comprehend theosophical life. It would be quite different if he were educated to say about any concept: Yes, it could possibly be different, too, for indeed we have only a limited amount of experience, and much of what we hold to be correct will still have to be modified in the future. — If he were to do that then his soul would still be capable of improvement.
Let us take yet another situation: that of a person who encounters someone else for whom he feels reverence. How does this reverence reveal itself to anyone endowed with astral perception? Reverence means emitting the kind of thoughts which sink into the substance of the strange astral body, which that substance sucks up, as it were. If, for instance, you harbor a reverent thought, this is expressed by you yourself conveying this reverence to the other person as radiating warmth. This radiating warmth of yours has its reflection in the astral world, which shows itself as the thought form of reverence and devotion with a bluish color. The warm, reverent feeling engenders a thought form which is blue in character.
But what is it which appears blueish? You can perceive this if you gaze into the infinity of the dark universe. It appears blue to you because of the light in the atmosphere. Similarly, [the reverent thought makes the astral] that was previously dark appear to you as having this blueish shade as well; because it is now lit by the bright, warm feeling of reverence. If a dark place is surrounded by a feeling of reverence, then the dark center appears to be blueish; just as a flame appears to you to have a blue core that is surrounded by light. So is it with the reverent thought as well. It is an empty space permeated by warmth. If one transmits a reverential thought to another person, one thereby offers him the opportunity of allowing his own being to stream into this empty space. This is how the interaction between the person revered and the person showing reverence works itself out.
If on the other hand it is with a feeling of jealousy that you encounter someone, then a different thought form exists in you, and you bring this up against him. You then emit the red thought form of egoism or self-love. This, for its part, encloses yet another thought form, that is full of the concept of [the thinker's] own self, perhaps as a result of ambition. This expresses itself not in empty space or in a hollow structure, but by a form which is completely full, which nothing else can enter. It is ringed around by a feeling of coldness and has the directly opposite thought form of an outer ring of blue around an inner core of red. The coldness of the blue color pushes away everything that wants to enter, and the worthless red thought form stays as it is. It accepts nothing. This is how a jealous person, that cannot revere anything, stands in relation to others.
You see, what takes place in our astral body is nothing else than the product of daily life. Only someone who is trained to do so can see what is happening in the astral body. However, the effects of these processes in the astral body are continually present in the physical [plane], and anyone can satisfy himself about them in [ordinary] life. Anyone can make the following test if he says to himself: I will leave it undecided, whether the message of occultism is true or false; but I will test it without prejudice. I can live as if this message were based on truth. For I can behave accordingly toward my fellow men; and if I do this warily, I will indeed see whether life confirms for me what the occultist says in every individual case. And life will [indeed] confirm it to you in every instance. You will realize a tremendous gain from that.
Whoever reflects on that for himself; whoever, say as a teacher, devotes himself not only to his own pedagogical concepts and ideas, and works not only through what he says but also through what he feels, perceives, and thinks; whoever makes himself thoroughly aware that two astral bodies are interacting, and knows what happens in this confrontation; whoever does all this will also know he has a duty to be continually making himself better. To the extent that he becomes better, the better his influence on the child's dispositions. He does not destroy these dispositions — on the contrary, he cultivates them.
It means something quite different from merely knowing the truth, the reality, of what we receive in return through revering another person who is worthy of it — it means something quite different to experience this: if we transmit to other people countless such thought forms enveloped in warmth, we ourselves grow thereby, through the greatness of that other person. That is something totally different again from merely grasping such things with our intellect, from simply knowing what they represent. In occultism, we learn to grasp life more earnestly, we learn to perceive that the things which are not palpable, which cannot be observed by the senses, are still a reality. We learn to understand and value the whole scope and significance of our soul world.
Perhaps someone or other may say that these are rather theoretical transformations. No, that they are not! We must become quite differently convinced about the importance of our actions and the responsibilities which life lays on our shoulders. It is the most down to earth aspects of life which can be influenced in this way by occultism. He who knows what results in the invisible world as a consequence of thoughts and feelings will surely grasp that it is just as important for him not to direct evil thoughts toward a person as it is to refrain from firing bullets at him. He knows that throwing the thought of hate at astral man is just as harmful for him as throwing a roofing slate is for physical man.
Understanding this is easy enough; those who meet together in groups such as the theosophical groups will feel and experience it. For they find a new source of life there. You could say to yourselves that there is [only] a simplified reality for other people, a threefold one for us.
Other people experience reality only through the sense world, and do not think it wicked to say that ‘thinking is duty-free!’ However, anyone who has studied the world outlook of theosophy can no longer say that thinking incurs no cost, but is convinced that he is instead responsible for what he thinks and feels about other people. You take this feeling of responsibility out into the world as the finest fruit of the theosophical conception of the world. Even if we are only beginners in rehearsal, we are still influencing the visible world through the hidden, occult world. We are refining and correcting the world through the hidden realms of existence.
That is one aspect: how we understand life. There are, however, others as well. Man does not live alone in the world as an individual; he also belongs to a family, to a tribe, to a people, that is, to a [larger] whole. Only in his physical and etheric body is he actually separate from others; the astral body, as I have already mentioned, has a porous exterior. The intermediary substance is continually disposed to receive currents from outside, and to renew itself. If we consider, however, that we belong to a nation, a tribe, a family, then the matter acquires a further dimension.
If we observe the astral bodies of individual people, we find that almost everyone differs from others in the basic coloring of the astral body. Each has a particular shade that manifests itself outwardly as temperament. Temperament expresses itself, then, through a particular basic coloring. A person relates to his entire surroundings in this way; the character of the family, the tribe, or the nation to which he belongs expresses itself in the basic coloring.
As an occultist one can make interesting observations if, for instance, one revisits a town which one has not seen for, say, ten years. If one observes the unsullied astral bodies of the children, one will find that they possess, in addition to their personal basic coloring, another basic coloring, too. If one had carefully observed these virginal astral bodies on one's first visit and now compares them with what one finds in the astral bodies of the children ten years later, one will see that their appearance has altered. There is something in the human individual which moves with the evolution of the town or tribe or nation. This is because the currents in a collective astral body that is all around me are in continual interchange with my own [astral body] which lives within the collective astral body. Hence we have a national temperament, expressing itself in the group astral body of the nation.
Every nation, every other community, has such an astral body, and this flows into the astral bodies of the individual person. A great disharmony can develop between the individual person and the task of the whole nation, for this reason; the trends in evolution do not always all take the same course in the world. The more comprehensive often hurries ahead of the less comprehensive.
Let us consider a nation, for example. The nation, as a structure, has not been haphazardly thrown together in the world, it is not something produced by chance; each nation, on the contrary, has its prescribed task in the course of human evolution. Anyone who contemplates a nation from a higher vantage point can reflect that every nation has a specific task; that his own nation has itself to fulfill a task which is incumbent on it. He can say to himself: I belong to this nation, so I must help to serve the common national task — and I am able so to serve, because an astrality lives in me which belongs to the whole nation. This national purpose is plainly expressed on the astral plane; it is an intentional thought — something that lives on higher planes than the astral plane. In order to meditate on the thoughts of the world laws, one must rise above the astral plane to the mental plane [devachan].
For example, the fourth Sub-Race, from which our Race came, developed itself from a small group of people in Asia and made itself into the Hebraic-Graeco-Latin Race. This had the task of fulfilling the first mission of Christianity from an ethnic standpoint. The thought [inspiring] this Race was to spread Christianity in its first stage through Europe and the adjoining regions. That is an ethnic thought.
In earlier times, the idea of reincarnation and karma was universally accepted. Then came a radical change; people were educated in the belief that the single physical life was of importance. This is very apparent in Greek art, because it developed the feeling for outward form. Therein lay the ennobling of the physical plane for the outward senses. The law then came to be developed in the Roman nation; this had its effect directly on the physical plane. Finally, Christianity permeates law with a morality, so that one single earth life gains so much importance that a whole eternity comes to be made dependent on it. This is a one-sided thought, but it was correct and necessary. The Catholic peoples took upon themselves the mission of spreading Christianity, carrying it to Northern Europe, whereby the Germanic peoples received a new mission.
Thus we see that a national thought lives in the entire nation, and every individual [member] is fitted to this thought. In our time, we have turned to account in technology, for the benefit of the city-dweller, the same thing that was originally cultivated by Greek art in the beautiful forms of the sense world in the sphere of sculpture, the same thing that was cultivated as law, and later deepened into morality. Cities were founded, they grew and flourished and thus developed a culture of their own, the culture of the bourgeoisie. From this then evolved a utilitarian morality, which provided the impetus for the growth of a one-sided science, that ought to have reached its highest point in our present time.
In this we can recognize the workings of a devachanic principle. It is the universal aspect of these changes in the course of evolution which shows us in what way a national thought has its effect. How this thought comes to expression depends on the nation's group astral body, on the national temperament. Art, for instance, with any other nation than the Greeks would find expression in a quite different way,
Now, although the national thought does live in every individual [member], the individual is much more than just his national thought. In addition, he brings his own personality to expression. Something quite remarkable and special shows itself to us here. It is much easier for a person to see his way in the thought world of his nation, in his devachanic mission, than it is to bring about the [correct] balance between his own feelings and the national feelings. This is not so easy, especially for those who have acquired higher education and sophistication of a particular kind. The adjustment between the feelings of the individual and the nation is more quickly made in the lower levels of evolution, because at those levels a greater empathy develops between individual sensibilities and the national sensibility. The lower the individual level, the stronger the expression of the national sensibility within him, rather as the animal is an expression of the species.
As man develops, however, he raises his own astral body up; it becomes more differentiated, more specific. And it is then possible for his astral body to be in a position to acquire that form of mind which lies above the mind of his nation. When what shines down from this higher level is intellectually or mentally grasped, then ideals can easily be taken up. It sometimes also happens that the feelings of a person's astral body have not developed so far as his thinking. The thoughts of a nation could influence the thinking of the individual so powerfully that they take hold of him before he has developed far enough within himself.
Individuals for whom this proves to be the case are passionate idealists; they are the martyrs for the progress of a nation. They are so because they themselves are hurrying ahead of what is actually in the rest of their astral body, because they direct their wholly elevated souls to an ideal in a selfless way. Then, when such people come to die, their undeveloped astrality asserts itself all the more strongly; for that part of it which does not lie within the national ideal comes into play. Henceforth it is only concerned with its own development. When such a person dies, who was a great and noble idealist, who has devoted himself to the ideals of his nation, he becomes overrun by the personal element still present in him. For the lower qualities of his astral body become totally predominant. Now suppose that such a person has become a martyr. He created something noble, but has been ill-treated by his nation, just as such advanced natures sometimes are. Despite this, he would indeed habitually follow his ideals boldly and spiritedly so long as he lived, looking neither to the left nor the right. But if he is persecuted, perhaps killed, on account of his ideals, then the thought of revenge comes into play immediately after his death. What he had suppressed as personal will still be there in Kamaloka.
A nation which treats its idealists in this fashion creates for itself bad powers in Kamaloka, which rebound against it. Russia has created bad powers of this kind. For years it has ill-treated many noble personalities with the knout. The baser forces of these personalities are now active in Kamaloka as enemies of what lives in Russia, as enemies of those for whom they made sacrifices in life. Such martyrs, who have recently died, can now be seen fighting on the side of the Japanese, against their own people. This is a fact which becomes comprehensible to us if we look into the more deeply active powers of the life of the soul. The events of the future become clear to us if we look at them from this aspect.
We live as members of the Germanic peoples, flanked by Slavonic peoples in the east, and by Anglo-American peoples in the west. Both the Americans and the Slavs are rising races who have to fulfill their purpose in the future, races who still stand at the beginning of their national thought. The basic characteristic of the Slavonic peoples is expressed in their spiritual talents. If you try to understand the Slavonic culture, you will find that it tends toward a spiritual culture, that something spiritual is growing there. These Slavonic peoples had first to confront the races lying to the east, the Chinese and Japanese. These are the remnants of earlier races from Atlantis, as indeed all Mongolians are the residues of later Atlantean culture. They have astral bodies which intrinsically tend toward spirituality. The Slavonic peoples have to confront these.
In America we have a certain parallel. There, materialism is carried to the extreme, and has been pursued radically in all national perspectives. In modern times, that has led to the spirit itself being interpreted in a materialistic way. Whereas among the Slavonic peoples individual personalities such as Tolstoy arose, who sought to stimulate development in a great and beautiful way, the American people took pains to conceive spirituality and the soul in a material way. Thus we find a strongly material spirituality and [indeed] spiritualism among them. With them, the spirit is sought for in exactly the same way as they search after physical truths. But it is precisely in the manner of seeking that the difference lies. If you seek to see the spiritual with the eyes, it becomes psychic, and this psychic aspect has developed itself very strongly in America.
The American nation has to confront another ethnic element deriving from Atlantis and endowed with psychic tendencies. This ethnic element lives in the Negro peoples. The way and manner in which these two races develop together is significant: psychic has to confront psychic, spiritual has to confront spiritual. Thus we have a spiritual national thought in the east and a psychic one in the west.
We have experienced science and art on an external level; the spirit should now be raised back up again. This can happen in a double way — either in a spiritual way or in a psychic way. The spiritual way leads to progress, the psychic way is retrogressive.
You can see how the world here becomes understandable when we contemplate it from an occult basis. Again, no one need say that we cannot convince ourselves of these things. One only has to take what actually happens. One will be led to conviction through experience, when one compares the psychic view of the world and psychic research with the occult view of the world. If we seek to understand the occult view of the world, then the world of phenomena becomes more and more comprehensible as well. Such an occult-spiritual world outlook leaves us no gaps in the comprehension of the world. From that we will then gain the belief in the world which the occultists report; and through that we educate an element in ourselves which will raise us higher. This is no blind belief, but a tried and tested belief. This belief will grow stronger and more justified, firmer and surer, with every gain in experience. And when belief has engendered this sense of sureness in itself it has also developed the basis for knowledge. Man has always had to experiment before being raised to knowledge. Anyone who wants to have knowledge before investigation is like someone wanting to have the fruit before the seed. We have to earn our knowledge. What we already know, we need not investigate. What the investigator lacks in certainty or confidence, the certainty and confidence of belief must supply. [The two] must work together, therefore, and then they will undividedly produce in the end what must come to us undivided — the fruit of experience, knowledge.
Let us listen to the occultists and let us say neither yea nor nay to them. But let us treat it as a basis for our own life and our own conduct; let us treat it as if their investigations were useful guides for our life, for we will find that they will [indeed] lead us through life and will ultimately bring us to an inner knowledge, to a life pulsating in us. Then we will find that we can indeed trust them to guide us to investigation, to satisfaction, and to a harmonious life within ourselves.