from Supersensible Man. Lecture 5 of 5
Saturday, January 11, 2020
"I am come to send fire on the earth"
from Supersensible Man. Lecture 5 of 5
Rudolf Steiner, The Hague, November 18, 1923:
Then we can go a step further. I have described the experiences that can be ours when we go up a mountain, and again when we go down a deep mine. It was all still and quiet; we contemplated the crystals at rest on the ridges of rock, and the veins of the metals at rest in the bosom of the Earth. Now we can go further and contemplate something else that is usually only regarded from the prosaic aspect of utilitarian considerations. Such considerations are not to be despised; we must always have our feet planted firmly on the Earth if we want to penetrate into the spiritual world healthy in soul and body. But suppose we are looking at a metal that is passing, under the influence of intense heat, from the solid into the liquid condition. Then, if we can get beyond the utilitarian point of view, wonderful revelations will be vouchsafed to us. If we walk through foundries and watch how the iron becomes glowing and fluid in the furnaces, above all if we can watch metallic ores such as antimony ore being led over from the solid into the liquid and by and by into other conditions, then if we can receive deep into our soul the impression of this destiny of metallic substance in fire, an entirely new element will be born in the spiritual knowledge that has awakened within us; we shall receive a strong and profound impression of the mysteries of our own existence.
Think of the human being in relation to the animal. (I have frequently spoken of this.) Anatomical comparisons such as are made today, comparing the bones, muscles, and even the blood of man and animal, reveal the existence of certain affinities. But the secret of what it is that places man higher than the animal cannot be discovered until we give attention to some facts that have more significance than is generally realized. The spine of the animal lies in the horizontal direction, parallel with the surface of the Earth, whereas man stands upright. The faculty of speech is denied to the animal, whereas man not only speaks, but from speech evolves thought. When we observe how the faculties of speaking and thinking begin to unfold in a little child and how its body rises into the upright position that it may have the right orientation for human life on Earth, we are then beholding the marvelous forces by means of which the child finds its bearings in the dynamics of the universe. And then we see how the forces of orientation living in the limbs of a little child express themselves also in the melody, in the articulation, of speech. We see the human being building and forming himself in the sense world. We see the formative forces working calmly and quietly within him. Wonderful it is beyond all telling to watch month by month how the little child gradually leaves off crawling and begins to stand upright, how his limbs and body orientate themselves to the dynamics of the universe! Then the faculties of speaking and thinking begin to emerge, as it were, from the bodily nature. There is no more beautiful sight than to watch a little child learning to walk, to speak, and to think. But now if on the one hand we can contemplate this process in all its wonder and calm majesty, beholding it with mind at rest, sensitive to its surpassing beauty, and if on the other hand we are able to look with a higher power of vision at the metals melting in the fire, then we can perceive there, in its spirit form, the force by means of which the child can learn to walk and to speak. The archetype of this power is revealed to us when the flames lay hold of the metal, melt it and make it fluid. The more fluid, the more volatile, the metal becomes, the more clearly are we able to perceive the inner resemblance between this process — which really constitutes the destiny of the metal — and the process which, smelted and volatilized in the fires of the cosmos, enables the little child to walk, to speak, and to think.
We know now that the activity of the beings of the First Hierarchy — the Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones — is a twofold activity. They speak to us out of that spiritual world into which we pass during the middle period of our life between death and a new birth, they reveal to us there the mysteries of planetary life; and they work down also into the visible world. Here, in the visible world, the influences of Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones are active in the little child as he learns to walk, to speak, and to think, and we behold also their working wherever fire has part in the process of the Earth, wherever metals melt and are fused in fire. Our Earth has been built up by the smelting and fusing of metals in the cosmic fire. In the smelting of the metals by the cosmic fires, we see the deeds of Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones within the earthly world. We gaze back into remote ages of the past when the metals, all aglow and incandescent through the power of fire, played an essential part in the coming-into-being of the Earth's body. The Thrones, above all, were active in this process, though with them worked always the Seraphim and Cherubim. The Cherubim it is who play the chief part in the unfolding of the child's faculties of walking, speaking, and thinking. But everywhere the beings of the First Hierarchy work and weave together in unison.
With this kind of knowledge, death in earthly life is linked on to resurrection in the life beyond the Threshold. For when such knowledge reveals the kinship of the cosmic fires by which the metals are melted with the powers that make man truly man, then the whole world becomes one and we realize that there is no difference between the earthly life that stretches from birth to death and life in the spiritual world beyond the Threshold. The life between death and a new birth is a metamorphosis of earthly life. By knowing how the one passes over into the other, we realize that the one is but a different form of the other. When the soul is deepened by this knowledge, then an understanding of still other mysteries can be added. This further understanding can also be reached on quite another path.
If you think about what I have told you of the connection of the melting and dissolving of metals in fire with the unfolding of the faculties of walking, speaking, and thinking in the little child, if you place these pictures before your imagination, meditating upon them and deepening thereby your understanding, then a power will quicken and strengthen your soul and enable you to find the solution of a great riddle — the riddle of the working of karma, or human destiny. In between what happens when a child learns to walk, to speak, and to think and what happens when metals become fluid and volatile under the influence of great heat — amid all the sulphurous and phosphoric glow and gleam of color in the burning metal, amid the working of the right and true transition from animal to man that takes place in the little child as he learns to walk, to speak, and to think, karma stands revealed. There lies the way to a true understanding of karma. Karma is a supersensible reality that works straight into the very deeds and actions of man's life.
Rising up therefore in this way in meditation, we learn to know the mysteries of destiny that weave through our life. On the one side we have the picture of the destiny of the metal in the fire, on the other side the picture of the essential and primordial destiny of man when he descends to Earth, expressed in the learning to walk, to speak, and to think. Within these pictures man can find revealed as much of the riddle of destiny as he needs for his life.
So it is, that for the riddle also of human destiny supersensible man speaks into the world in which “sensible” man is living. Of this too I wanted to speak to you, for it belongs essentially in our study of supersensible man. Such a study can never be merely a matter of assimilating theories. In order to understand the being of man we must reach out on every hand to the mysteries of the universe — mysteries of Nature and mysteries of Spirit. For man is intimately and closely bound up with all the mysteries of the Natural as well as of the Spiritual Universe. Man is in truth a universe in miniature. Only it must not be imagined that what takes place out in the great expanses of the cosmos takes place in exactly the same way in the microcosm. The majestic flames of cosmic fire that rise up from the molten metals stream out to the boundaries of cosmic space — for boundaries there are! Try, my dear friends, to picture to yourselves these cosmic fires in which the metals are being smelted and made volatile. What is thus made volatile streams out into cosmic space, to return once again in powers of light, radiations of warmth and light. And what thus returns from cosmic space enables the tiny child who cannot yet speak or walk but only crawl, to become a child who stands and walks. Upward and outward radiate the streaming forces from the molten metals, and when they have gone far enough out into the cosmos they turn and come back again and are then the forces which enable the child to stand upright. Here you have a picture of ascending and descending cosmic forces, as they work in the universe, and of their many metamorphoses and variations.
You will now also be able to understand the true meaning of something which in days of yore was connected with the science of those times, namely, the priestly sacrifice. The sacrificial flame, together with what was burning in it, was sent forth into cosmic spaces to the Gods that it might come down again thence to work in the world of men. As he stood before the fire on the altar the priest would say: “To thee, O Flame, I commit what is mine on Earth, that the Gods may receive it when the smoke rises upward. May that which is borne upward by the Flame be changed into divine blessing and pour down again to Earth as creative and fructifying power!”