Rudolf Steiner, Helsinki, Finland, April 3, 1912:
When our friends here gave me a warm invitation to come to them, they requested me to speak about the spiritual beings we find in the realms of nature and in the heavenly bodies.
Our theme will compel us to touch upon a realm that is very far removed from all the knowledge given to man today by the external world, the intellectual world. From the very beginning we shall have to allude to a domain, the reality of which is denied by the external world of today. I shall only take for granted one thing, namely, that as a result of the studies you have hitherto made in spiritual science, you meet me with a feeling and perception for the spiritual world; in respect to the manner in which we shall name things, we shall come to a mutual understanding in the course of the lectures. All the rest will, in certain respects, come of itself when, as time goes on, we acquire an understanding born of feeling and of perception for the fact that behind our sense world, behind the world which we as men experience, there lies a world of spirit — a spiritual world; and that just as we penetrate into the physical world through regarding it not only as a great unity, but as specified into individual plants, animals, minerals, peoples, persons — so can we specify the spiritual world into different classes of individual spiritual beings. So that in spiritual science we do not merely speak of a spiritual world, but of quite definite beings and forces standing behind our physical world.
What then do we include in the physical world? First let us be clear about that. As belonging to the physical world we reckon all that we can perceive with our senses, see with our eyes, hear with our ears, all that our hands can grasp. Further, we reckon as belonging to the physical world all that we can encompass with our thoughts in so far as these thoughts refer to external perception, to that which the physical world can say to us. In the physical world we must also include all that we, as human beings, do within it. It might easily make us pause and reflect when it is said that all that we, as human beings do in the physical world forms part of that world, for we must admit that when we act in the physical world, we bring down the spiritual into that world. People do not act merely according to the suggestions of physical impulses and passions, but also according to moral principles; our conduct, our actions, are influenced by morals. Certainly when we act morally, spiritual impulses play a part in our actions; but the field of action in which we act morally is, nevertheless, the physical world. Just as in our moral actions there is an interplay of spiritual impulses, even so do spiritual impulses permeate us through colors, sounds, warmth, and cold and through all sense impressions. The spiritual is in a sense always hidden from external perception, from that which external man knows and can do. It is the characteristic of the spiritual, that man can only recognize it when he takes the trouble, at least to a small extent, to become other than he has been hitherto.
We work together in our groups and gatherings; not only do we hear there certain truths which tell us that there are various worlds — that man consists of various principles or bodies, or whatever we like to call them, but by allowing all this to influence us, although we may not always notice it, our soul will gradually change to something different, even without our going through an esoteric development. What we learn through spiritual science makes our soul different from what it was before. Compare your feelings after you have taken part in the spiritual life of a working group for a few years, the way in which you feel and think, with the thoughts and feelings you had before, or with the way in which people think and feel who are not interested in spiritual science. Spiritual science does not merely signify the acquisition of knowledge; it signifies most pre-eminently an education, a self-education of our souls. We make ourselves different; we have other interests. When a man imbues himself with spiritual science, the habits of attention for this or for that subject which he developed during previous years, alter. What interested him before, interests him no longer; that which had no interest for him previously, now begins to interest him in the highest degree. One ought not simply to say that only a person who has gone through esoteric development can attain to a connection with the spiritual world; esotericism does not begin with occult development. The moment we make any link with spiritual science with our whole heart, esotericism has already begun; our souls begin at once to be transformed. There then begins in us something resembling what would arise, let us say, in a being who had previously only been able to see light and darkness, and who then through a special and different organisation of the eyes, begins to see colors. The whole world would appear different to such a being. We need only observe it, we need only realise it, and we shall soon see that the whole world begins to have a different aspect when we have for a time gone through the self-education we can get in a spiritual science circle. This self-education to a quite definite feeling with regard to the spiritual world, this self-education to a perception of what lies behind the physical facts is a fruit of the spiritual scientific movement in the world, and is the most important part of spiritual understanding. We should not believe that we can acquire a spiritual understanding by mere sentimentality, by simply repeating continually that we wish to permeate all our feelings with love. Other people, if they are good, wish to do that too; this would only be giving way to a sort of pride. Rather should we make it clear to ourselves how we can educate our feelings by letting the knowledge of the facts of a higher world influence us, and transforming our souls by means of this knowledge. This special manner of training the soul to a feeling for a higher world is what makes the spiritual scientist. Above all we need this understanding if we intend to speak about the things which are to be spoken about in this course of lectures.
He who, with trained occult sight, is able to see behind the physical facts, finds at once behind all that is spread out as color, sound, as warmth, cold, all that is embodied in the laws of nature — beings, which are not revealed to the external senses, to the external intellect, but which lie behind the physical world. Then, as he penetrates further and further, he discovers, so to say, worlds with beings of an ever higher order. If we wish to acquire an understanding of all that lies behind our sense-world, then, in accordance with the special task that has been ascribed to me here, we must take as our real starting-point what we encounter first of all behind our sense-world, as soon as we raise the very first veil which our sense perception spreads over spiritual happenings. As a matter of fact, the world which reveals itself to the trained occult vision as the one lying next to us, presents the greatest surprise to the present-day understanding, to the present power of comprehension. I am speaking to those who have to some extent accepted spiritual science, consequently I may take it for granted that you know that behind that which meets us externally as the human being, behind what we see with our eyes, touch with our hands, and grasp with our understanding in ordinary anatomy or physiology concerning man — behind what we call the physical human body, we recognize a super-sensible human principle coming immediately next to it. This first super-sensible principle of man we call the etheric, or life-body.
We will not today speak of still higher principles of human nature, but will only be clear that occult sight is able to look behind the physical body and to find there the etheric or life-body. Now occult sight can do something similar with regard to Nature around us. Just as we can investigate man occultly to see if there is not something more than his physical body, and then find the etheric body — so we can look with occult vision at external nature in her colors, forms, sounds, and kingdoms — in the mineral, the plant, the animal and the human kingdoms, in so far as they meet us physically. We then find that just as behind the physical body of man there is a life-body, so we can also find a sort of etheric or life-body behind the whole of physical nature. Only there is an immense difference between the etheric body of all physical nature and that of man. When occult vision is directed to the etheric or life-body of man, it is seen as unity, as a connected structure, as one connected form or figure. When the occult vision penetrates all that external nature presents as color, form, mineral, plant, or animal structures, it is discovered that in physical nature the etheric body is a plurality — something infinitely multiform. That is the great difference; there is a single unitary being as etheric or life-body in man — while there are many varied and differentiated beings behind physical nature.
Now I must show you in what way we arrive at such an assumption as that just made, namely that there is an etheric or life-body — strictly speaking an etheric or life-world — a plurality, a multiplicity of differentiated beings, behind our physical nature. To express how we can arrive at this, I can clothe it in simple words:, we are more and more able to recognize the etheric or life-world behind physical nature when we begin to have a moral perception of the world lying around us. What is meant by perceiving the whole world morally? What does this imply? First of all, looking away from the earth, if we direct our gaze into the ranges of cosmic space, we are met by the blue sky. Suppose we do this on a day in which no cloud, not even the faintest silver-white cloudlet breaks the azure space of heaven. We look upwards into this blue heaven spread out above us — whether we recognize it in the physical sense as something real or not, does not signify; the point is the impression that this wide stretch of the blue heavens makes upon us. Suppose that we can yield ourselves up to this blue of the sky, and that we do this with intensity and for a long, long time; that we can so do it that we forget all else that we know in life and all that is around us in life. Suppose that we are able for one moment to forget all the external impressions, all our memories, all the cares and troubles of life, and can yield ourselves completely to the single impression of the blue heavens. What I am now saying to you, can be experienced by every human soul if only it will fulfil these necessary conditions; what I am telling you can be a common human experience. Suppose a human soul gazes in this way at nothing but the blue of the sky. A certain moment then comes, a moment in which the blue sky ceases to be blue — in which we no longer see anything which can in human language be called blue. If at that moment when the blue to us ceases to be blue, we turn our attention to our own soul, we shall notice quite a special mood in it. The blue disappears, and as it were, an infinity arises before us, and in this infinity a quite definite mood in our soul; a quite definite feeling, a quite definite perception pours itself into the emptiness which arises where the blue had been before. If we would give a name to this soul perception, to that which would soar out there into infinite distances, there is only one word for it; it is a devout feeling in our soul, a feeling of pious devotion to infinity. All the religious feelings in the evolution of humanity have fundamentally a nuance which contains within it what I have here called a pious devotion; the impression of the blue vault of the heavens which stretches above us has called up a religious feeling, a moral perception. When within our souls the blue has disappeared, a moral perception of the external world springs to life.
Let us now reflect upon another feeling by means of which we can in another way attune ourselves in moral harmony with external nature. When the trees are bursting into leaf and the meadows are filled with green, let us fix our gaze upon the green which in the most varied manner covers the earth or meets us in the trees; and again we will do this in such a way as to forget all the external impressions which can affect our souls, and simply devote ourselves to that which in external nature meets us as green. If once more we are so circumstanced that we can yield ourselves to that which springs forth as the reality of green, we can carry this so far that the green disappears for us, in the same way as previously the blue as blue disappeared. Here again we cannot say, “a color is spread out before our sight,” but (and I remark expressly that I am telling you of things that everyone can experience for himself if he fulfils the requisite conditions) the soul has instead a peculiar feeling, which can be thus expressed: “I now understand what I experience when I think creatively, when a thought springs up in me, when an idea strikes me: I understand this now for the first time, I can only learn this from the bursting forth of the green all around me. I begin to understand the inmost parts of my soul through external nature when the outer natural impression has disappeared and in its place a moral impression is left. The green of the plant tells me how I ought to feel within myself, when my soul is blessed with the power to think thoughts, to cherish ideas.” Here again an external impression of nature is transmuted into a moral feeling.
Or again we may look at a wide stretch of white snow. In the same way as in the description just given of the blue of the sky and the green of earth's robe of vegetation, so this too can set free within us a moral feeling for all that we call the phenomenon of matter in the world. And if, in contemplation of the white snow mantle, we can forget everything else, and experience the whiteness, and then allow it to disappear, we obtain an understanding of that which fills the earth as substance, as matter. We then feel matter living and weaving in the world. And just as one can transform all external sight-impressions into moral perceptions, so too can one transform impressions of sound into moral perceptions. Suppose we listen to a tone and then to its octave, and so attune our souls to this dual sound of a tonic note and its octave that we forget all the rest, eliminate all the rest and completely yield ourselves to these tones, it comes about at last that, instead of hearing these dual tones, our attention is directed from these and we no longer hear them. Then again we find that in our soul a moral feeling is set free. We begin then to have a spiritual understanding of what we experience when a wish lives within us that tries to lead us to something, and then our reason influences our wish. The concord of wish and reason, of thought and desire, as they live in the human soul, is perceived in the tone and its octave.
In like manner we might let the most varied sense perceptions work upon us; we could in this way let all that we perceive in nature through our senses disappear, as it were, so that this sense-veil is removed; then moral perceptions of sympathy and antipathy would arise everywhere. If we accustom ourselves in this way to eliminate all that we see with our eyes, or hear with our ears, or that our hands grasp, or that our understanding (which is connected with the brain) comprehends — if we eliminate all that, and accustom ourselves, nevertheless, to stand before the world, then there works within us something deeper than the power of vision of our eyes, or the power of hearing with our ears, or the intellectual power of our brain-thinking; we then confront a deeper being of the external world. Then the immensity of Infinity so works upon us that we become imbued with a religious mood. Then does the green mantle of plants so work upon us that we feel and perceive in our inner being something spiritually bursting forth into bloom. Then does the white robe of snow so work upon us that by it we gain an understanding of what matter, of what substance is in the world; we grasp the world through something deeper within us than we had hitherto brought into play. And therefore in this way we come into touch with something deeper in the world itself. Then, as it were, the external veil of nature is drawn aside, and we enter a world which lies behind this external veil. Just as when we look behind the physical body of man we come to the etheric or life-body, so in this way we come into a region in which, gradually, manifold beings disclose themselves — those beings which live and work behind the mineral kingdom, the plant kingdom, and the animal kingdom. The etheric world gradually appears before us, differentiated in its details.
In Occult Science, that which thus gradually appears before man in the way described, has always been called the Elemental World; and those spiritual beings which we meet with there, and of which we have spoken, are the Elemental Spirits that lie hidden behind all that constitutes the physical-sense-perceptible. I have already said that whereas the etheric body of man is a unity, that which we perceive as the etheric world of nature is a plurality, a multiplicity. How then can we, since what we perceive is something quite new, find it possible to describe something of what gradually impresses itself upon us from behind external nature? Well, we can do so, if by way of comparison, we make a connecting link with what is known. In the whole multiplicity that lies behind the physical world, we first find beings which present self-enclosed pictures to occult vision. In order to characterize what we first of all find there I must refer to something already known. We perceive self-enclosed pictures, beings with definite outline, of which we can say that they can be described according to their form or shape. These beings are one class of those which we first of all find behind the physical-sense world. A second class of beings which we find there, we can only describe if we look away from that which shows itself in set form, with a set figure, and employ the word metamorphosis — transformation. That is the second phenomenon that presents itself to occult vision. Beings that have definite forms belong to the one class; beings which actually change their shape every moment, which, as soon as we meet them and think we have grasped them, immediately change into something else, so that we can only follow them if we make our souls mobile and receptive — belong to this second class. Occult vision actually only finds the first class of beings, which have quite a definite form, when (starting from such conditions as have already been described), it penetrates into the depths of the earth.
I have said that we must allow all that works on us in the external world to arouse a moral effect, such as has been described. We have brought forward by way of example, how one can raise the blue of the heavens, the green of the plants, the whiteness of the snow., into moral impressions. Let us now suppose that we penetrate into the inner part of the earth. When, let us say, we associate with miners, we reach the inner portion of the earth, at any rate we enter regions in which we cannot at first so school our eyes that our vision is transformed into a moral impression. But in our feeling we notice warmth, differentiated degrees of warmth. We must first feel this — that must be the physical impression of nature when we plunge into the realms of the earthly. If we keep in view these differences of warmth, these alternations of temperature, and all that otherwise works on our senses because we are underground, if we allow all this to work upon us, then thus through penetrating into the inner part of the earth, and feeling ourselves united with what is active there, we go through a definite experience. If we then leave out of count everything that produces an impression, if we exert ourselves while down there to feel nothing, not even the differences of warmth which were only for us a preparatory stage, if we try to see nothing, to hear nothing, but to let the impression so affect us that something moral issues from our soul — then there arises before our occult vision that class of creative nature-beings which, for the occultist, are really active in everything belonging to the earth, especially in everything of the nature of metal, and which now present themselves to his imagination, to his imaginative knowledge, in sharply defined forms of the most varied kind. If, having had an occult training, and having at the same time a certain love of such things — it is especially important to have this here — a man makes acquaintance with miners and goes down into the mines, and below there, can forget all external impressions, he will then feel rising up before his imagination, the first class, as it were, of beings which create and weave behind all that is earthy, and especially in all that pertains to metals. I have not yet spoken to-day of how popular fairy tales and folk-legends have made use of all that, in a sense, is actually in existence; I should like first to give you the dry facts which offer themselves to occult vision. For according to the task set me, I must first go to work empirically — that is, I must give an account, first of all, of what we find in the various kingdoms of nature. This is how I understand the subject which was put before me.
Just as with occult vision we perceive in our imagination clearly outlined nature-beings, and in this way can have before us beings with settled form, for which we see outlines that we could sketch, so it is also possible for occult vision to have an impression of other beings standing immediately behind the veil of nature. If, let us say, on a day when the weather conditions are constantly changing, when, for instance., clouds form and rain falls, and when perhaps a mist rises from the surface of the earth; if on such a day we yield to such phenomena in the way already described, so that we allow a moral feeling to take the place of a physical one — we may again have quite a distinct experience. Especially is this the case if we devote ourselves to the peculiar play of a body of water tossing in a waterfall and giving out clouds of spray; if we yield ourselves to the forming and dissolving mist and to the watery vapor filling the air and rising like smoke, or when we see the fine rain coming down, or feel a slight drizzle in the air. If we feel all this morally there appears a second class of beings, to which we can apply the word metamorphosis, transformation. This second class of beings we cannot draw, just as little as we can really paint lightning. We can only note a shape present for a moment, and the moment after everything is again changed. Thus there appear to us as the second class of beings, those which are ever changing form, for which we can find a symbol for the imagination in the changing formations of the cloud.
But as occultists we become acquainted in yet another way with these beings. When we observe the plants as they come forth from the earth in spring-time, just when they put forth the first green shoots — not later, when they are getting ready to bear fruit — the occultist perceives that those same beings which he discovered in the pulverizing, drifting, gathering vapors, are surrounding and bathing the beings of the budding plants. So that we can say that when we see the plants springing forth from the earth, we see them everywhere bathed by such ever-changing beings as these. Then occult vision feels that that which weaves and hovers unseen over the buds of the plants is in some way concerned with what makes the plants push up out of the ground, draw forth from the ground. You see, ordinary physical science recognizes only the growth of the plants, only knows that the plants have an impelling power which forces them up from below. The occultist, however, recognizes more than this in the case of the blossom. He recognizes around the young sprouting plant, changing, transforming beings which have, as it were, been released from the surrounding space and penetrate downwards; they do not, like the physical principle of growth, merely pass from below upwards, but come from above downwards, and draw forth the plants from the ground. So, in spring, when the earth is robing herself in green, to the occultist it is as though nature-forces, descending from the universe, draw forth that which is within the earth, so that the inner part of the earth may become visible to the outer surrounding world, to the heavens. Something which is in unceasing motion hovers over the plant and what is characteristic is, that occult vision acquires a feeling that that which floats round the plants is the same as is present in the rarefied water, tossing itself into vapor and rain. That, let us say, is the second class of nature-forces and nature-beings. In the next lecture we shall pass on to the description of the third and fourth classes, which are much more interesting; and all this will become clearer. When we set about making observations such as these, which lie so far from the present consciousness of man, we must keep well in mind that “All that meets us is physical, but permeated by the spiritual.”
As we have to think of the individual man as permeated by what appears to occult sight as the etheric body, so must we think of all that is living and weaving in the world as permeated by a multiplicity of spiritual living forces and beings. The course to be followed in our considerations shall be such that we shall first describe simply the facts that an occultly-trained vision can experience in the external world; facts which are evident to us when we look into the depths of the earth or the atmosphere, into that which happens in the different realms of nature, and in the heavenly spaces filled by the fixed stars. And only at the end shall we gather the whole together in a kind of theoretical knowledge, able to enlighten us as to that which lies, as spirit, at the foundations of our physical universe and its different realms and kingdoms.