Thursday, July 30, 2020
The Four Elements and the Elemental Beings: The Lowest Realm of the Hierarchies
The Spiritual Hierarchies and the Physical World. Lecture 2 of 10.
Rudolf Steiner, Düsseldorf, April 12, 1909:
The teaching which came from the holy rishis during the first post-Atlantean period of civilization was a knowledge that sprang from purely spiritual sources of existence. What is so important in that teaching and in the investigations of those times is that it entered so deeply into the processes of nature and realized so well the activity of the spirit in those processes. In reality we are always surrounded by spiritual activities and by spiritual entities. When during the time of that ancient holy teaching mention was made of the phenomena of the world surrounding us, one was always referred to as being the most significant, the most important of all these: this was considered (by that ancient spiritual science) to be the phenomenon of fire. In all explanations of what exists and happens upon the Earth, the central point of importance was always given to the spiritual investigation of fire. If we want to understand what we may call the Eastern teaching about fire, which was of such far-reaching importance in those ancient times for the acquisition of the knowledge and understanding of all life, then we must look around us at the other phenomena and occurrences of nature and see how these were considered by that very ancient teaching, which can still be useful nowadays for the purposes of spiritual science. All that surrounds man in the world was then referred back to the so-called four elements. These four elements are respected no longer by the materialistic science of today. You all know that these four elements are called Earth, Water, Air, Fire. But where spiritual science flourished the word ‘earth’ had not the same meaning as it has nowadays. It stood for a certain state in the material realm: the state or condition of solidity. All that is solid was called ‘earthy’ by the spiritual science of those times. So whether we take the solid earth of a field, or a piece of crystal, or lead, or gold, anything that is solid was then called earth. Everything liquid, not only the water of today, was characterized as watery, or as water. If for instance you take iron, pass it through heat to the point of melting so that it can flow, then that liquid iron would have been called water by spiritual science. All metals when liquid were described as water. Everything that has the character of air for us today, no matter whether it was the condition we call gas, or oxygen, or hydrogen, or other gases, was called air. Fire was considered the fourth element. Those of you who remember elementary physics will know that modern science does not see in fire anything that could be compared with either earth, water, or air: the physical science of today sees in it only a certain condition of movement. Spiritual science sees in warmth or fire something which has in it a still finer substance than air. Just as earth or solidity changes into liquid, so does all air-substance change gradually into the condition of fire — according to spiritual science — and fire is so fine an element that it interpenetrates all other elements. Fire interpenetrates the air and makes it warm, the same with water and earth. The other three elements are, so to speak, separated from each other, but we see the element of fire interpenetrating them all.
Both ancient and modern spiritual science agree that there is yet another still more remarkable difference between what we call earth, water, air, and what we call fire or warmth. How do we come to the cognizance of earth or solidity? Through touching it. We realize the solid through touching it and feeling its resistance. It is the same with watery substance. This gives way, it is not so resistant, still we realize it as something external that offers resistance. And it is the same with the element of air. We recognize it also as something external. With warmth it is different. Here we find something which modern science does not consider important, but which must become important for us if we want to study the real problems of existence.
We can realize warmth without coming in contact with it externally. What is essential is that we can realize warmth by touching a body which has a certain degree of warmth: we can perceive it externally in the same way as we realize the three other elements, but we also feel it in our inward conditions. Therefore ancient science says (and did so already at the time of the old Indians) that earth, water, air can be realized only in the outer world, but warmth is the first element which can also be felt within oneself. Thus fire or warmth has, so to speak, two sides to it: an outer, which it shows when we take cognizance of it in the outer world; and an inner, when we feel that we ourselves are in a certain state of warmth. Man feels his own condition of warmth; he is hot, or he freezes; but consciously he is not much concerned with the gaseous or liquid or solid substances — the air, water, or earth — which are in him. He begins to ‘feel’ himself in the element of warmth. The element of warmth has an inner and an outward side. Therefore both ancient and modern spiritual science agree that warmth or fire is that wherein matter begins to become soul. And so in the true sense of the word we may speak of an outer fire which we realize in the other elements, and of an inner psychic fire within our soul.
In this way spiritual science always considered fire as the link between the outer material world on the one side and the realm of the soul on the other, which can be known by man within his inner being. Fire or warmth was placed in the center of all observations of nature, because fire is, so to speak, the portal through which we may pass from the outer into the inner. In all truth, fire is like a door in front of which one stands. One sees it from outside; one opens it and can observe it from within. Such is fire among the objects of nature. One touches some object and becomes acquainted with fire, which streams toward us from outside like the three other elements: one realizes one's own inner warmth and feels it as something belonging to oneself; one stands inside the portal, one has entered into the realm of the soul. Thus was the science of fire described. In fire was seen the interplay of soul and matter. We have now placed before our souls an elementary lesson of primeval human wisdom.
The ancient teachers may have spoken thus: ‘Look at that burning object. See how the fire destroys it. Thou seest two things in that burning object.’ In those ancient times one was called smoke, and it may still be so called nowadays, and the other was called light, and the spiritual scientist saw the fire in the middle between light and smoke. The teacher said: ‘Out of the flame are born simultaneously light on the one side, smoke on the other.’ Now we must for once put very clearly before us a very simple but very far-reaching fact, which has to do with the light, which is born of fire. It is most probable that many people when asked whether they see the light would answer: ‘Yes, of course.’ And yet this answer is as false as possible; for, in truth, no physical eye can see light. Through light one sees objects which are solid, liquid, or gaseous, but the light itself one does not see. Imagine the whole of universal space illuminated by a light the source of which was somewhere behind you, where you could not see it and you were to look into the world spaces illuminated through and through by that light. Would you see the light? You would see absolutely nothing. You would first see something when some object was placed within that illuminated space. One does not see the light; one sees the solid, the watery, the gaseous, by means of the light. One does not see physical light with the physical eye. This is something which comes before the spiritual eye with particular clearness. Spiritual science says therefore: light makes everything visible, but is itself invisible. This sentence is important: light is imperceptible. It cannot be perceived by the outer senses: one can perceive what is solid, liquid, or gaseous, finally one can perceive warmth or fireoutwardly. This one can also begin to feel inwardly; but light itself one can no longer perceive outwardly. If you believe that when you see the Sun you see light, you are mistaken: you see a flaming body, a burning substance out of which the light streams. It could be proved to you that you have there gaseous, liquid, and earthy substances. You do not see light, you see that which is burning. But spiritual science says we pass in ascending order from earth to water, from air to fire, and then to light; we pass thus from the outwardly recognizable world, from the visible world, into the invisible, into the etheric-spiritual world. Fire stands on the border between the outwardly visible, material world, and that which is etheric and spiritual, which is no more outwardly visible or recognizable. What happens to a body that is destroyed through fire? What happens when something burns? When something burns, we see on one side light appear, which is outwardly imperceptible and which is operative in the spiritual world. Something that is not merely outer material gives forth the warmth, and when it is strong enough to become a source of light it yields something invisible, something which cannot be recognized any more through the outer senses — but it must pay for this in smoke. From what was formerly translucent and transparent it has to bring forth something not transparent — something of the nature of smoke. Thus you see how warmth or fire becomes differentiated, how it divides. On one side it divides itself into light, with which it opens a way into the supersensible world; and in payment for that which it sends up as light into the supersensible world, it must send something down into the material world, into the world of non-transparent, visible things. Nothing one-sided comes forth in the world. Everything that exists has two sides to it. When light is produced through warmth, then turbid, dark matter appears on the other side. That is the teaching of primeval spiritual science.
But the process we have just described is only the outer side, the physical, material process. At the foundation of this physically material process there lies something essentially different. When you have only warmth in some object which as yet does not shine, then this warmth which you perceive is itself the outer physical part, but within it is something spiritual. When this warmth grows so strong that it begins to shine and smoke is formed, then some of the spirit which was in the warmth must go into the smoke. That spiritual part which was in the warmth and has passed into the smoke, which being gaseous and belonging to air is a lower element than warmth, that spiritual part is transmuted, bewitched, as it were, into smoke. Thus with everything which like a turbid extract or a materialization is deposited by the warmth, there is also associated what might be called the bewitching of some spiritual being. We can explain it still more simply. Let us imagine that we reduce air to a watery condition. Air itself is nothing but solidified warmth, densified warmth, in which smoke has been formed. The spiritual part which really wanted to be in the fire has been bewitched into smoke. Spiritual beings, which are also called elementals, are bewitched in all air, and will even be bewitched, banished, so to speak, to a lower existence, when air is changed into water. Hence spiritual science sees in everything that is outwardly perceptible something that has proceeded from an original condition of fire or warmth and which has turned into air, smoke, or gas, when the warmth began to condense into gas, gas into liquid, liquid into solid. ‘Look backwards,’ says the spiritual scientist, look at any solid substance. That solidity was once liquid; it is only in the course of evolution that it has become solid; and the liquid was once upon a time gaseous and the gaseous formed itself as smoke, out of the fire. But a transmutation, a bewitching, of spiritual being is always connected with these processes of condensation and with the formation of gases and solids.
Let us now look around at our world: we see solid rocks, flowing streams of water, we see the water changing into rising mist: we see the air, we see all the solid, liquid, gaseous things, and we see fire, so that at the foundation of all things we have nothing but fire. All is fire — solidified fire: gold, silver, copper are solidified fire. All things were once upon a time fire; everything has been born out of fire. But in all that solidified realm, some bewitched spirits are dwelling.
How are those spiritual, divine beings who surround us able to produce solid matter as it is on our planet — to produce liquids, and air substances? They send down their elemental spirits, those which live in the fire: they imprison them in air, in water, and in earth. These are the emissaries, the elemental emissaries of the spiritual, creative, building beings. The elemental spirits first enter into fire. In fire they still feel comfortable — if we care to express it by images — and then they are condemned to a life of bewitchment. We can say looking around us: These beings, whom we have to thank for all the things that surround us, had to come down out of the fire element; they are bewitched in those things.
Can we as human beings do anything to help those elemental spirits? This is the great question which was put by the holy rishis. Can we do anything to release, to redeem, all that is here, bewitched? Yes! We can help them. Because what we humans do here in the physical world is nothing else than an outward expression of spiritual processes. All we do is also of importance for the spiritual world. Let us consider the following. A man stands in front of a crystal, or a lump of gold, or anything of that kind. He looks at it. What happens when a man simply gazes, simply stares with his physical eyes, upon some outer object? A continual interplay occurs between the man and the bewitched elemental spirits. The man and that which is bewitched in the substance have something to do with each other. Let us suppose that the man only stares at the object and takes in only what is impressed on his physical eyes. Something is always passing from the elemental being into the man. Something from those bewitched elementals passes continually into the man, from morning till night. While you are thus regarding objects, hosts of these elemental beings, who were and are being continually bewitched through the world-processes of condensation, are continually entering from your surroundings into you. Let us take it that the man staring at the objects has no inclination whatever to think about those objects, no inclination to let the spirit of things live in his soul. He lives comfortably, merely passes through the world, but he does not work on it spiritually with his ideas or feelings or in any such way. He remains simply a spectator of the material things he meets with in the world. Then these elemental spirits pass into him and remain there, having gained nothing from the world's process but the fact of having passed from the outer world into man. Let us take another kind of man, one who works spiritually on the impressions he receives from the outer world, who with his understanding and ideas forms conceptions regarding the spiritual foundations of the world, one who does not simply stare at a metal but ponders over its nature and feels the beauty which inspires and spiritualizes his impressions. What does such a man do? Through his own spiritual process he releases the elemental being which has streamed into him from the outer world; he raises it to what it was before, he frees the elemental from its state of enchantment. Thus, through our own spiritual life we can, without changing them, either imprison within us those spirits which are bewitched in air, water, and earth, or else through our own increasing spirituality free them and lead them back to their own element. During the whole of his earthly life, man lets those elemental spirits stream into him from the outer world. In the same measure in which he only stares at things, in the same measure in which he simply lets the spirit dwell in him without transforming them, so, in like measure as he tries with his ideas, conceptions, and feeling for beauty to work out spiritually what he sees in the outer world, does he release and redeem those spiritual elemental beings.
Now, what happens to those elemental beings which, having come out of things, enter into man? They remain at first within him. Also those which are released at first remain; but they stay only until his death. When the man passes through death a differentiation takes place between those elemental beings which have simply passed into him and which he had not led back to their higher element, and those whom he has through his own spiritualization led back to their former condition. Those whom the man has not changed have not gained anything from their passage from the outer world into him, but others have gained the possibility of returning to their own original world with the man's death. During his life man is a place of transition for these elemental beings. When he has passed through the spiritual world and returns to Earth in his next incarnation, all the elemental beings which he has not released during his former life flock into him again when he passes through the portals of his new birth, they return with him into the physical world; but those he has released he does not bring back with him, for they have returned into their original element.
Thus we see how man has it in his power, by the way he acts and feels towards outer nature, either to release those elemental spirits which have been necessarily bewitched through the coming into existence of our Earth, or to bind them to the Earth still more strongly than they were before. What does a man do when in looking at some outer object he releases from it an elemental being by elucidating it? He spiritually does the opposite of what has been done before. Previously, smoke had been brought forth out of fire, but man spiritually forms fire again out of that smoke; only after death does he release this fire. Now think for a moment of the endless depth and spirituality of the ancient ceremonies of sacrifice, as seen in the light of primeval spiritual science! Imagine to yourselves the priest at the sacrificial altar in those times when religion was built on the real knowledge of spiritual laws; think of the priest lighting the flame, and the rising of the smoke, and as the smoke rises a real sacrifice is offered, for it is followed upward by prayers — What happens then? What happens during such a sacrifice? The priest stands at the altar where the smoke is produced. Where something solid comes out of the warmth, a spirit is being transmuted, bewitched. But because the man follows the whole procedure with prayers, he at the same time receives that spirit into himself in such a way that after death it rises again into the higher world. What did the teacher of ancient wisdom say to those who had to understand this? He said: ‘If thou lookest upon the outer world in such a way that thy spiritual process does not stop at the smoke, but rises to the element of fire, then after thy death thou dost free the spirit which is bewitched in the smoke.’ Yes! The teacher who knew the fate of the spirit, which after being bewitched in the smoke had passed into man, spoke thus: ‘If thou leavest that spirit as it was when it was in the smoke, then it must be reborn with thee and cannot rise into the spiritual world after thy death; but if thou hast released it and restored it to the fire, then after thy death it will rise again into the spiritual worlds and will not need to return to the Earth at thy rebirth.’
Now we have explained one part of that profound sentence from the Bhagavad Gita of which I spoke in my last lecture. It does not speak here at all of the human ego, it speaks of those nature spirits, of these elemental beings which enter into man from the outer world, and it says there: ‘Behold the fire, behold the smoke: that which man through his spiritual processes turns into fire are spirits which he liberates with his death.’ That which he leaves as it is, in the smoke, must remain united to him at his death and must be reborn with him when he returns to Earth. It is the destiny of the elemental spirits that is here described; through the wisdom which man develops, be continually liberates at his death these elemental spirits; through lack of wisdom, through the materialistic attachment to the mere things of the senses, he ties those elemental spirits to himself and forces them to follow him into this world, ever to be born again with him.
But these elemental beings are not only associated with fire and with what is connected with fire: they are the emissaries of higher spiritual divine beings in all that takes place in the outer sense world. There never could have been that interplay of forces in the world that produce the day and the night, for instance, if numbers of such elemental being had not worked suitably at the rotation of the planet through the universe, so that precisely this interchange of day and night could come about. All that takes place is the result of the activity of hosts of lower and higher spiritual entities belonging to the spiritual hierarchies. We have been speaking of the lowest order, of the messengers. When night becomes day and day night, elemental beings live also in that process, and so it is that man stands in an intimate relationship with the beings of the elemental world which have to take part in working at the day and the night. When man is idle and lets himself go, he affect those elementals who have to do with the day and the night quite differently than when he has creative force, when he is active, diligent, and productive. When a man is lazy, for instance, he unites himself with a certain kind of elemental, and he also does so when he is active, but in a particular way. Those elementals of the second class, just named, who are active during the day, are then in their higher element. As fire elementals, those of the first class, are bound in air, water, and earth, so certain elemental being are also tied to darkness; and day could not turn into night, day could not be divided from night, if these elementals were not so to speak imprisoned in night. That man is able to enjoy daylight, he has to thank divine spiritual beings who have driven forth elemental spirits and have chained them to the night-time. When man is lazy these elementals flow into him continually, but he leaves them as they are, unchanged. Those elemental spirits which at night are chained to darkness he lets through his idleness remain in the same state; those elemental who enter into him when he is active and industrious and filled. with working power, he leads back into daylight. Thus he continually releases these elementals of the second class. Throughout the whole of our lifetime we bear within us all those elemental spirits which have entered into us either during our hours of idleness or during those of active work. When we pass through the gates of death those beings whom we have led toward daylight can now return into the spirit world; those we have left chained to the night through our idleness must return with us in our new incarnation. With this we arrive at the second point in the Bhagavad Gita. Again it is not the human self but those elemental beings which are indicated with the words: ‘Behold the day and the night. That which thou hast thyself released by turning it from a being of the night into a being of the day through thy diligence, that which comes forth out of the day, enters when thou diest, into the higher world; that which thou takest with thee as beings of the night, thou forcest to reincarnate with thee again.’
And now you will see clearly how the matter proceeds. As it is with the phenomena of which we have just spoken, so it is on a larger scale with our month of 28 days, with the changes of the waxing and waning Moon. Whole flocks of elemental beings have to come into activity to direct the motions of the Moon so that our lunar periods can come about as they do with all the influences they bring with them upon our visible Earth. For this purpose certain of the higher beings had again to be bewitched, doomed, chained. Clairvoyant vision sees how, with the waxing Moon, spiritual beings of a lower kingdom ever rise into a higher. But, so that order should exist, other spiritual elemental beings must again be transformed into those of lower realms. There are also those elementals of a third realm who stand in relationship with men. When man is serene and bright, when he is pleased with the world, when he has feelings of gladness toward all things, he continually releases those beings which are chained to the waning Moon. These beings enter into him and are continually set free, through his soul's peaceful attitude, through his inner contentment, through his harmonious feelings and ideas toward the whole world. The beings which enter into man when he is sullen, peevish, morose, discontented with anything, when everything depresses him — when he is pessimistic — these spirits remain in the condition of bewitchment they were in at the time of the waning Moon. Oh! There are men who through the harmonious condition of their soul, through the bright way they look upon the world, release and set free great numbers of these bewitched elemental beings. The man of harmonious and optimistic feelings and who feels inner satisfaction with the world is a deliverer of elemental spiritual beings. The pessimist, he who is morose, sullen, and discontented, becomes through his depression the jailer of elemental spirits which could have been released by his cheerfulness. Thus you see that the conditions of mind and soul have not only a personal importance for this man, but also that he works either at the liberation or the imprisonment of spiritual beings; either deliverance or fetters proceed from him. The conditions of soul that a man experiences go out in all directions into the spiritual world. We have here the third point of that important teaching in the Bhagavad Gita: ‘Behold what man does through the feelings and conditions of his soul, how he sets spirits free, as they are set free by the growing Moon.’ When the man dies, these released spirits can return to the spiritual world. If through his depression and hypochondriacal moods he calls to him the elemental spirits which are around him and then leaves them as they are, as they have to be in order to bring about the orderly courses of the Moon, then these spirits remain chained to him and must reincarnate with him into this world.
And last of all we have a fourth degree of elemental spirits, those who have to work at the annual course of the Sun, so that the summer Sun may shine upon the Earth to awaken and fructify it, so that spring can appear and be succeeded by autumn. In order that this may come to pass certain spirits must be fettered to winter-time, must be bewitched during the time of the winter Sun. And man acts upon these spirits in the same way as we have described his acting on the other grades of spirits. Let us take man who at the beginning of winter says to himself: ‘The nights are getting longer, the days shorter, we come to that time of the Sun's yearly course when the Sun withdraws his fructifying forces from the Earth. The outer Earth dies; but with this deadening of the Earth I feel it my duty to be all the more spiritually awake. I must now take more and more of the spirit within me.’ Let us take a man who acquires a more and more religious mood appropriate to the season as Christmas comes on, who learns to know the significance of Christmas and to know also that when the outer world of the senses is dead the life of the spirit must now grow stronger. This man lives through winter until Easter. He remembers that with the awakening of the outer world is combined the death of the spiritual: he lives through the Easter festival comprehending its meaning. Such a man has not only an outer religion; he has religious understanding of the processes of nature, of the spirit which rules it; and through his piety, his spirituality, he releases numbers of that fourth class of elemental beings which continually stream in and out of him, which are connected with the course of the Sun. But the man who is not pious in this sense, who denies or does not understand the spirit and is always muddling through a materialistic chaos, into him these elementals of the fourth class flow, but remain unchanged. At death it happens again: these elemental spirits of the fourth degree are either set free in their own element, or else are bound to the man and have to return with him at his next incarnation. Thus the man who uniting with the winter spirits does not change them into summer spirits, does not redeem them through his spirituality, dooms them to rebirth, whereas they might have been freed and not have had to return with him. Behold the fire and the smoke! If you so unite with the outer world that the activity of your soul and spirit is like that of fire, from which smoke comes forth, so that you spiritualize things through knowledge and through right feeling, you help certain spiritual elemental beings to rise; but if you unite with the smoke, you condemn them to rebirth. If you associate yourself with the day, you then set free the corresponding spirits of day and so on. Behold the light! Behold the day! Behold the waxing of the Moon and the sunny half of the year! If you act so that you lead the elemental spirits back to the light, to the day, to the waxing Moon, to the summer-time of the year, you then at your death release these elementary spirits which are so necessary to you. They rise to the spiritual world. If you associate yourself with the smoke, if you only gaze at the solid things of the Earth, if through laziness you unite yourself with the night and with the spirits of the waning Moon, and if through your depression you unite yourself with those spirits who are chained to the winter Sun, then through your lack of spirit, your godlessness, you condemn these elementary beings to be reincarnated with you again!
Now we know for the first time what this passage in the Bhagavad Gita really means. If anyone thinks that man is here spoken of, he does not understand the Bhagavad Gita; but those who know that all human life is a continual interplay between man and the spirits who live bewitched into our surroundings and who must be released again — those know that these sentences speak of the ascension or of the reincarnation of four groups of elemental beings. The mystery of this lowest kind of hierarchy has been preserved for us in these sentences in the Bhagavad Gita. Yes! When one has to bring forth out of primeval wisdom what is presented to us in the documents of ancient religion, one sees how grand these are and how wrong it is to understand them superficially and not in all their profundity. They are only considered in the right way when one says to oneself: ‘No wisdom is exalted enough to discover the mysteries herein contained.’ Only when these ancient documents are interpenetrated by the magic of real devotional feeling do they become what in the true sense of the word they must be: self-ennobling and purifying forces for human evolution. They point frequently to fathomless abysses of human wisdom, and only when that which springs from the sources of the occult schools and the mysteries streams forth from now on to all mankind, only then will these reflections of the primeval wisdom (for they are but reflections) be seen in all their greatness. We have had to show, by means of a comparatively difficult example, how in the times of primeval wisdom the cooperation of all those spirits which are everywhere around us was well known, how it was also known that the deeds of men represent an interchanging activity between the spiritual world and the world of man's own inner being. The problem of humanity first becomes important for us when we know that in all we do, even in our moods, we influence a whole cosmos, and that this small world of ours is of infinitely far-reaching importance for all that comes to pass in the macrocosm. An increase in our feeling of responsibility is the finest and most important of all the things we gain from spiritual science. It teaches us to grasp the true meaning of life and to realize its importance, so that this life which we cast on the stream of evolution may not enter that stream void of meaning.