Rudolf Steiner: The Threshold of the Spiritual World
Tuesday, February 4, 2020
The Astral Body and Luciferic Beings; the Nature of the Etheric Body
Rudolf Steiner: The Threshold of the Spiritual World
There is another group of spiritual beings, who from the world of the spirit are seen to be active in the physical world (and also in the elemental world), as in an adopted field of action. These are the spirits who desire to liberate the feeling soul entirely from the physical world, and therefore in a certain way to spiritualize it. Life in the physical world is part of the cosmic order of things. While the human soul is living in the physical world, it is passing through a development which is part of the conditions of its existence. Its being woven into the physical world is a result of the activity of beings whom one learns to know in the higher world. That activity is opposed by the beings who desire to wrench the feeling soul free from physical conditions. These latter beings may be called the Luciferic beings.
The Luciferic beings stand in the physical world searching, as it were, for everything of a psychic nature (feeling) which is to be found there, in order that they may draw it out of the physical world and incorporate it in a cosmic sphere of their own, adapted to their nature. Seen from the higher world, the activity of these Luciferic beings is also observable in the elemental world. Within this they strive to obtain a certain sphere of power which they want to disconnect from the grossness of the physical world, although that sphere has been preordained by the beings of the higher world to be connected with the lower world. Just as the Ahrimanic beings would be keeping to their own sphere if they were only to bring about the temporary annihilation of existence which is based on the order of the cosmos, so the Luciferic beings would not be crossing the boundary of their own kingdom if they imbued the feeling soul with powers which would continually stimulate it to rise above the urgent necessities of the physical world, and feel itself, with regard to those necessities, a free and independent being. But the Luciferic beings go beyond the limits of their domain when they desire, in the face of the universal order of the higher world, to create a special spiritual kingdom for which they wish to remold the psychic beings in the physical world.
We can see how the influence of Luciferic beings in the physical world expands in two directions. On the one hand it is owing to them that man is able to rise above the bare experience of what is physically real. He is able to derive his joy, his uplifting, not only from the physical world, but can also take pleasure in and feel elated by that which exists merely in semblance, that which, as beauty, transcends the physical. From this point of view the Luciferic beings have cooperated in bringing about the most important, and especially the artistic, features of civilization. Moreover, man is able to enjoy unfettered thought; he need not merely describe physical things and portray them slavishly in his thoughts. He is able to develop creative thought beyond the physical world, and to philosophize about things. On the other hand, the exaggeration of the Luciferic forces in the soul is the source of much extravagance and confusion, for they try to develop the activities of the soul without adhering to the conditions of the higher cosmic order. Philosophizing which is not based upon a thorough adherence to the cosmic order, headstrong indulgence in arbitrary ideas, excessive forcing of one's own personal predilections: all these things are the dark side of the Luciferic activity.
The human soul belongs, through its other self, to the higher world. But it also belongs to existence in the lower world. Clairvoyant consciousness, if it has passed through adequate preparation, feels itself as a conscious being in the higher world. The facts of the case are not altered, but to those facts which hold good for every human soul there is added, in clairvoyant consciousness, the knowledge of the facts. Every human soul belongs to the higher world, and when man is living in the physical world he is associated with a physical body which is subject to the processes of the physical world. The soul is also associated with a subtle, etheric body, which lives subject to the processes of the elemental world. The Ahrimanic and Luciferic forces which are spiritual and supersensible work in both these bodies.
Insofar as the human soul lives in the higher or spiritual world, it is what may be called an astral being. One of the many reasons which justify this expression is that the astral being of man as such is not subject to the conditions which prevail within the sphere of Earth. Spiritual science recognizes that within man's astral being are working not the “natural” laws of Earth, but those laws which have to be taken into account in considering the processes of the world of the stars (astra). On this account the term may appear justified. Thus the recognition of a third or astral body is added to that of the physical body and the subtle, etheric body of man. But it is necessary that the following should be borne in mind. As regards its original essence, man's astral body has its origin in the higher world, in the spiritual world proper. Within that sphere it is a being of the same nature as other beings whose activity is exercised in that world. Inasmuch then as the elemental and physical worlds are reflections of the spiritual world, the etheric and physical bodies of man must also be looked upon as reflections of his astral being. But in those bodies forces are working which originate from the Luciferic and Ahrimanic beings. Now, since those beings have a spiritual origin, it is natural that within the region of the etheric and physical bodies themselves there should be found a kind of human astral essence. And a degree of clairvoyance which merely accepts the pictures of clairvoyant consciousness, without being able rightly to understand their meaning, may easily take the astral admixture in the physical and etheric bodies for the astral body proper. Yet that human astral essence is just that principle of human nature which opposes man's conforming to the laws really suitable for him in the order of the cosmos. Mistakes and confusions are more easily made in this domain because a knowledge of the soul's astral being is at the outset quite impossible for ordinary human consciousness. Even during the first stages of clairvoyant consciousness such knowledge is not yet attainable. The consciousness is attained when man experiences himself in his etheric body. But in this body he beholds the reflected images of his other self, and the higher world to which he belongs. In this way also he beholds the reflected etheric image of his astral body, and at the same time the Luciferic and Ahrimanic beings which that body contains.
It will be shown later in this work that the ego too, which man in ordinary life looks upon as his entity, is not the real ego, but only the reflection of the real ego in the physical world. In the same way the etheric reflection of the astral body may, in etheric clairvoyance, become an illusory image mistaken for the real astral body.
When one penetrates further into the higher world, clairvoyant consciousness also succeeds in gaining a true insight as regards human beings into the nature of the reflection of the higher world in the lower. It then becomes supremely evident that the subtle, etheric body, which man bears about him in his present earthly existence, is not really the reflected image of that which corresponds to this body in the higher world. It is a reflected image altered by the activity of the Lucerific and Ahrimanic beings. The spiritual archetype of the etheric body is not able to reflect itself fully in us on Earth because of the Luciferic and Ahrimanic powers in terrestrial naturre. If clairvoyant consciousness betakes itself beyond the Earth to a region in which a perfect reflection of the archetype of the etheric body is possible, it finds itself carried back to a remote past, previous to the present condition of the Earth, before even the “Moon condition” which preceded it. It arrives at an insight into the manner in which the present Earth was evolved out of a “Moon condition,” and the latter again out of a “Sun condition.” Further particulars as to why the terms “Sun” and “Moon” condition are justified will be found in my Occult Science.
The Earth, then, was once in a Sun condition, out of which it evolved to a Moon condition, and afterwards became Earth. During the Sun condition the etheric body of man was an absolute reflection of the spiritual events and beings of the world from which it originates. Clairvoyant consciousness discovers that those Sun beings were made up of pure wisdom. Thus we may say that during the Earth's Sun condition, in a remote past, man received his etheric body as a pure reflection of cosmic beings of Wisdom. Later, during the Moon and Earth conditions, the etheric body has become changed into that which it now is as part of the human being.