Rudolf Steiner, Helsinki, Finland, April 4, 1912:
Yesterday I tried first of all to point out the way which leads the human soul to the observation of the spiritual world hidden directly behind our material physical world; and then to draw attention to two classes or categories of spiritual beings, perceptible to occult vision when the veil of the sense-world has been drawn aside.
To-day we shall speak of two other forms or categories of nature-spirits. The one is disclosed to trained occult sight when we observe the gradual fading and dying of the plant world in the late summer or autumn, the dying of nature-beings in general. As soon as the plant begins to develop fruit in the blossom, we can allow the fruit to work upon the soul in the manner described in our last lecture; and in this way, we receive in our imagination the impression of spiritual beings concerned with the fading and dying of the beings of nature. We were able to describe yesterday, that in spring the plants are, so to speak, drawn out of the earth by certain beings which are subject to perpetual metamorphosis, and we can likewise say that when, for instance, the plants have finished this development, and the time has come for them to fade, other beings then work upon them; beings of whom we cannot even say that they too are continually changing their forms, for, strictly speaking, they have no form of their own at all. They appear flashing up like lightning, like little meteors; now flashing up, now disappearing; they really have no definite form, but flit over our earth, flashing and vanishing like little meteors or will-o'-the-wisps.
These beings are primarily connected with the ripening of everything in the kingdoms of nature; the ripening process comes about because these forces or beings exist. They are only visible to occult vision when it concentrates on the air itself, indeed, on the purest air possible. We have described the second sort of nature-beings by saying that to perceive them we must allow falling water, or water condensed into cloud-formation or something of a like character to work upon us. Now air as free from moisture as possible, played upon by the light and warmth of the sun, must work upon the soul, if we are to visualize in our imagination these meteor-like, flashing, and disappearing beings, which live in air free from moisture, and eagerly drink in the light which permeates the air and which causes them to flash and shine. These beings then sink down into the plant-world, or the animal world, and bring about their ripening and maturity. In the very way we approach these beings we see that they stand in a certain relation to what occultism has always called the elements.
What we described in the last lecture as the first class of such beings, we find when we descend into the depths of the earth and penetrate the solid substance of our planet; our imagination is then confronted with beings of a definite form, and we may call these the nature-spirits of solid substance, or the nature-spirits of Earth. The second category which we then described are to be found in water that collects and disperses; so that we may connect these spiritual beings with what in occultism has always been called the Fluid or Watery Element. In this element they undergo metamorphosis, at the same time doing the work of drawing forth from the earth everything that grows and sprouts. The beings of whom we have just spoken, stand, on the contrary, in connection with the Element of Air, air when it is as free from moisture as possible; so that we may now speak of nature-spirits of earth, of water, and of air. There is a fourth category of such spiritual beings with which occult vision can become familiar. It must wait until a blossom has brought forth fruit and seed, and then observe how the germ gradually grows into a new plant. Only on such an occasion can this be done with ease, otherwise it is difficult to observe this fourth kind of being, for they are the protectors of all the germs, of all the seeds in our kingdoms of nature. As guardians they carry the seed from one generation of plants or other nature-beings, to the next. We can observe that these beings, which are the protectors of the seeds or germs, make it possible that the same beings continually re-appear on our earth, and that these beings are brought into contact with the warmth of our planet — with what from early times had been called the Element of Fire or Heat. That is why the forces of the seed are also connected with a certain degree of heat, a certain temperature. If occult vision observes accurately enough, it describes that the necessary transmutation of the warmth of the environment into such heat as is needed by the seed or germ in order to ripen, the changing of lifeless warmth into a living heat, is provided for by these beings. Hence they can also be called the nature-spirits of Fire, or of Heat. So that, to begin with (more details will be given in the subsequent lectures), we have become acquainted with four categories of nature-spirits, having a certain relation to what are called the elements of earth, water, air, and fire.
It is as though these spiritual beings had their jurisdiction, their territory, in these elements; just as man himself has his in the whole planet. Just as that is his home in the universe, so have these beings their territory in one or other of the elements mentioned. We have already drawn attention to the fact that for our earthly physical world, for the earth as a whole with its various kingdoms of nature, these different beings signify what the etheric body or life-body, signifies for individual man. Only we have said that in man this life-body is a unity, whereas the etheric body of the earth consists of many, many such nature-spirits, which are, moreover, divided into four classes. The living cooperation of these nature-spirits is the etheric or life-body of the earth. Thus it is no unity, but multiplicity, plurality.
If we wish with occult vision to discern this etheric body of the earth, then — as was previously described — we must allow the physical world to influence us morally, thereby drawing aside the veil of the physical world. Then the etheric body of the earth which lies directly behind this veil becomes visible. Now, how is it, when one also draws aside this further veil, described as the etheric body of the earth? We know that behind the etheric body is the astral body, as the third principle of man — that body which is the bearer of our desires, wishes and passions. Thus, if we disregard the higher principles of man's nature, we may say that we have first of all in the human being the physical body, behind this the etheric body, and behind that the astral body. It is just the same in external nature; if we draw aside the physical, we come certainly to a plurality, but this represents the etheric body of the whole earth, with all its kingdoms of nature. Now can we also speak of a sort of astral body of the earth, something which, in relation to the whole earth and to all its kingdoms, corresponds to the astral body of the human being? It is certainly not so easy to penetrate to this astral body of the earth as to the etheric body. We have seen that the etheric body can be reached if we allow the phenomena of the world to work upon us not merely through the sense impressions but morally. If we wish, however, to penetrate further, deeper occult exercises are necessary, such as you will find described in part — in so far as they can be in an open publication — in my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and How to Attain It. At a definite point of esoteric or occult development — as you may read there — a man begins to be conscious, even at a time when he is usually unconscious, namely during the time between his falling asleep and waking.
We know that the ordinary unconscious condition, the ordinary sleep-condition of man, is caused by the fact that he leaves his physical and etheric bodies lying in the bed, and draws out the astral body and the rest of what belongs to it; but the normal man is then unconscious. When, however, he devotes himself more and more to those exercises which consist of meditation, concentration, and so on, and further strengthens the slumbering hidden forces of his soul, then he can establish a conscious condition of sleep. Thus when he has drawn his astral body out of his physical and etheric bodies, he is no longer unconscious, but has then around him — not the physical world, not even the world just described, the world of the nature-spirits — but another and still more spiritual world. When the time comes that a man, after he has freed himself from his physical and etheric bodies, feels his consciousness flash up, he then perceives quite a new order of spiritual beings. The next thing which strikes the occult vision thus far trained, is that the new spirits man now perceives have as it were command over the nature-spirits. Let us be quite clear as to how far this is the case. I have told you that those beings which we call the nature-spirits of the water, work especially in the budding and sprouting plant-world. Those which we may call the nature-spirits of the air, play their part in late summer and autumn, when the plants prepare to fade and die. Then these meteor-like air-spirits sink down over the plant-world and saturate themselves, as it were, with the plants, helping them to fade away in their spring and summer forms. The disposition that at one time the spirits of the water, and at another the spirits of the air should work in this or that region of the earth, changes according to the different regions of the earth — in the northern part of the earth it is naturally quite different from what it is in the south. The office of directing, as it were, the suitable nature-spirits to their activities at the right time, is carried out by those spiritual beings which we learn to know when the occult vision is so far trained that, when we have freed ourselves from our physical and etheric bodies, we can still be conscious of our environment. There are spiritual beings, for instance, working in connection with our earth, with our earth-planet, who allot the work of the nature-spirits to the seasons of the year, and thus bring about the alternations of the seasons for the different regions of the earth, by distributing the work of the nature-spirits. These spiritual beings represent what we may call the astral body of the earth, into which man plunges with his own astral body at night when he falls asleep. This astral body, consisting of higher spirits which hover round the earth-planet and permeate it as a spiritual atmosphere, is united with the earth; and into this spirit-atmosphere man's astral body plunges during the night-time.
Now to occult observation there is a great difference of nature-spirits, the spirits of Earth, Water, etc., and those beings which on the other hand, direct these nature-spirits. The nature-spirits are occupied in causing the beings of nature to ripen and fade, in bringing life into the whole planetary earth-sphere. It is different with those spiritual beings which in their totality can be called the astral body of the earth.
These beings are such that when man can become acquainted with them by means of his occult vision, he perceives them as beings connected with his own soul — with his own astral body. They exert such an influence upon the astral body of man — (as also upon the astral bodies of animals), that we cannot speak of a mere life-giving activity; their activity resembles the action of feeling and thought upon our own souls. The nature-spirits of water and air can be observed; we may say they are in the environment; but we cannot say of these spiritual beings of which we are now speaking, that they are in our environment; we are in fact always actually united with them, as if poured into them, when we perceive them. We are merged into them, and they speak to us in spirit. It is as though we perceived thoughts and feelings from the environment; impulses of will, sympathy and antipathy come to expression in what these beings cause to flow into us as thoughts, feelings, and impulses of will. Thus in this category of spirits we see beings already resembling the human soul. If we turn back again to what has been stated, we may say that all sorts of regulations in time, of divisions in the relations of time and space, are also connected with these beings. An old expression has therefore been preserved in occultism for these beings, which in their totality we recognize as the astral body of the earth, and this in English would be, “Spirits of the Rotation of Time.” Thus, not only the seasons of the year, and the growing and the fading of the plants, but also the regular alternation which, in relation to the earth-planet, expresses itself in day and night, is brought about by these spirits, which are to be classed as belonging to the astral body of the earth. In other words, everything connected with rhythmic return, with rhythmic alternation, with the repetitions of happenings in time, is organized by spiritual beings which collectively belong to the astral body of the earth and to which the name “Spirits of the Rotation of Time,” of our planet, is applicable. What the astronomer ascertains through calculation about the rotation of the earth on its axis, is perceptible to occult vision, because the occultist knows that these spirits are distributed over the whole earth, and are actually the bearers of the forces which rotate the earth on its axis. It is extremely important that one should be aware that in the astral body of the earth is to be found everything connected with the ordinary alternations between the blossoming and withering of plants and also all that is connected with the alternations between day and night, — between the various seasons of the year, and the various times of the day, etc. Everything that happens in this way calls up in the observer who has progressed so far that he can, with his astral body, go out of his physical and etheric bodies and still remain conscious — an impression of the spiritual beings belonging to the Spirits of the Rotation of Time.
We have now, as it were drawn aside the second veil, the veil woven of the nature-spirits. We might say that when we draw aside the first veil, woven of material physical impressions, we come to the etheric body of the earth, to the nature-spirits, and we can then draw aside a second veil and come to the Spirits of the Rotation of Time, who regulate everything subject to rhythmic rotation. Now we know that in our own astral body is embedded what may be called the higher principles of man's nature, which at first we understand as the ego embedded in our astral body. We have already said that our astral body is plunged into the region of the Spirits of the Rotation of Time; that it is immersed in the surging sea, as it were, of these spirits; but as regards the normal consciousness our ego is still more asleep than the astral body. A man who is developing occultly and progressing esoterically becomes aware of this, because in the spiritual world into which he plunges and which consists of the Spirits of the Rotation of Time, he first learns to penetrate into the perceptions of the astral body. In a certain respect this perception is really a dangerous reef in esoteric development, for the astral body of man is, in itself, unity; but everything in the realm of the Spirits of the Rotation of Time is, fundamentally, multiplicity, plurality. And since, in the way described, man is united with and immersed in this plurality, if he is still asleep in his ego and awake in his astral body, he feels as if he were dismembered in the world of the Spirits of the Rotation of Time. That must be avoided in a properly ordered esoteric development. Hence those who are able to give instruction for such development, see that the necessary precautions are taken that the man should not if possible allow his ego to sleep when his astral body is already awake, for he would then lose inner cohesion and would, like Dionysos, be split up into the whole astral world of the earth, consisting of the Spirits of the Rotation of Time. In a regular esoteric development precautions are taken that this should not occur. These consist in care being taken that the student, who through meditation, concentration, or other esoteric exercises is to be stimulated to clairvoyance, should retain two things in the whole sphere of clairvoyant, occult observation. In every esoteric development it is specially important that everything should be so adjusted that two things that man has in ordinary life should not be lost — which he might however very easily lose in esoteric development if not rightly guided. If rightly guided he will not lose them. First, he should not lose the recollection of any of the events of his present incarnation, as ordinarily retained in his memory. The connection with memory must not be destroyed. This connection with memory means very much more in the sphere of occultism than it does in the sphere of ordinary life. In ordinary life we only understand by memory, the power of looking back and not losing consciousness of the important events of one's life. In occultism a right memory means that a man only values with his perceptions and feelings what he has already accomplished in the past, so that he applies no other value to himself or to his deeds than the past deeds themselves entitle. Let us understand this quite correctly, for this is extremely important. If a man in the course of his occult development were suddenly driven to say to himself “I am the reincarnation of this or the other spirit,” — without there being any justification for it through any action of his — then his memory in an occult sense would be interrupted. An important principle in occult development is that of attributing no other merit to oneself, than what comes from one's actions in the physical world in the present incarnation. That is extremely important. Any other merit must only come on the basis of a higher development, which can only be attained if one first of all stands firmly on the ground that one esteems oneself for nothing but what one has accomplished in this incarnation. This is quite natural if we look at the matter objectively; for what we have accomplished in the present incarnation is also the result of earlier incarnations; it is that which Karma has, so far, made out of us. What Karma is still making of us we must first bring about; we must not add that to our value. In short, if we would set a right value on ourselves, we can only do so, at the beginning of esoteric development, if we ascribe merit only to what is inscribed in our memory as our past. That is the one element which we must preserve, if our ego is not to sleep while our astral body is awake.
The second thing which we as men of the present day must not lose is the degree of conscience we possess in the external world. Here again is something which it is extremely important to observe. You must have often experienced that someone you know has gone through an occult development, and if it is not guided and conducted in the right way, you find that, in relation to conscience, your friend takes things much more lightly than he did before his occult training. His education, his social connection guided him before, so that he did this thing or that, or dared not do it. After beginning an occult development, many people begin to tell lies who never did so before, and as regards questions of conscience, they take things more lightly. We ought not to lose an iota of the conscience we possess. As regards memory, we must only value ourselves according to what we have already become; not according to any reliance on the future, or on what we are still going to do. As regards conscience, we must retain the same degree as we acquired in the ordinary physical world. If we retain these two elements in our consciousness: a healthy memory which does not deceive us into believing ourselves to be other than our actions prove us to be, and a conscience which does not allow us morally to take things more lightly than before, — indeed if possible we should take them more seriously — if we retain these two qualities, our ego will never be asleep when our astral body is awake.
We shall carry the connection with our ego into the world in which we awaken with our astral body, if we can, as it were, remain awake in our sleep, preserve our consciousness and carry it with us into the condition in which with our astral body we are freed from the physical and etheric bodies. Then, if we awake with our ego, not only do we feel our astral body to be connected with all the spiritual beings we have to-day described as the Spirits of the Rotation of Time belonging to our planet, but we feel in a quite peculiar way, that we actually no longer have a direct relation to the individual who is the bearer of the physical body and etheric body in which we usually live. We feel, so to speak, as if all the qualities of our physical and etheric bodies were taken from us. Then too we feel everything taken from us which can only live externally in any one country of our planet. For that which lives on a particular territory of our planet is connected with the Spirits of the Rotation of Time. Now, however, when we waken with our ego, we feel ourselves not only poured out into the whole world of the Spirits of the Rotation of Time, but we feel ourselves one with the whole undivided spirit of the planet itself; we awaken in the undivided spirit of the planet itself. It is extremely important that we should feel ourselves as belonging to the whole of our planet. For example, when our occult vision is sufficiently awakened, and we are so far advanced that we can awaken our ego and astral body simultaneously, then our common life with the planet so expresses itself that, just as during the waking hours in the sense-world, we can follow the sun as it passes over the heavens from morning till night, so it no longer now disappears when we fall asleep. When we sleep the sun remains connected with us; it does not cease to shine but takes on a special character, so that whilst we are actually asleep during the night, we can still follow the sun. Man is of such a nature that he is connected with the changing conditions of the planet only in so far as he lives in his astral body. When however, he becomes conscious of his ego, he has nothing to do with them. He then becomes conscious of all the conditions which his planet can go through. He then pours himself into the whole substance of the planetary spirit. When I say that a man becomes one with the planetary spirit, that he lives in union with this planetary spirit, you must not suppose that this implies an advanced degree of clairvoyance; this is but a beginning. For when a man awakens in the manner described, he really only experiences the planetary spirit as a whole; whereas it consists of many, many differentiations — of wonderful, separate, spiritual beings — as we shall hear in the following lectures. The different parts of the planetary spirit, the special multiplicities of this spirit, of these he is not yet aware. What he realizes first of all, is the knowledge: “I live in the planetary spirit as though in a sea, which spiritually laves the whole earth planet and itself is the spirit of the whole earth.” One may go through immensely long development in order further and further to experience this unification with the planetary spirit; but to begin with, the experience is as has been described. Just as we say with regard to man: “behind his astral body is his ego ” — so do we say that behind all that we call the totality of the Spirits of the Rotation of Time is hidden the Spirit of the Planet itself, the Planetary Spirit. Whereas the Spirits of the Rotation of Time guide the nature-spirits of the elements in order to call forth the rhythmic change and repetitions in time — the alterations in space of the earth-planet — the Spirit of the Earth has a different task. It has the task of bringing the earth itself into mutual relation with the other heavenly bodies in the environment, to direct it and guide it, so that in the course of time it may come into the right relations to the other heavenly bodies. The Spirit of the Earth is, as it were, the great sense-apparatus of the earth, through which the earth-planet enters into the right relationship with the Cosmos. If I were to sum up the succession of those spiritual beings with whom we on our earth are first of all concerned, and to whom we can find the way through a gradual occult development, I must say: — As the first external veil we have the sense-world, with all its multiplicity, with all we see spread out before our senses and which we can understand with our human mind. Then, behind this sense-world, we have the world of nature-spirits. Behind this world of nature-spirits we have the Spirits of the Rotation of Time, and behind these the Planetary Spirit.
If you wish to compare what is known to the normal consciousness concerning the structure of the cosmos, with the structure of the cosmos itself, you may make that clear in the following way. We will take it that the most external veil is this world of the senses, behind that is the world of the nature-spirits, and behind that the Spirits of the Rotation of Time and behind that the Planetary Spirit. Now we must say that the Planetary Spirit in its activity, in a certain respect penetrates through to the sense-world; so that in a certain way we can perceive its image in the sense-world; this also applies to the Spirits of the Rotation of Time, as well as to the nature-spirits. So that if we observe the sense-world itself with normal consciousness, we can see in the background as it were, the impression, the traces, of those worlds which lie behind; as if we drew aside the sense-world as the outermost skin, and behind this we had different degrees of active spiritual beings. The normal consciousness realizes the sense-world by means of its perceptions; the world of nature-spirits expresses itself from behind these perceptions as what we call the Forces of Nature. When science speaks of the forces of nature, we have there nothing actually real; to the occultist the forces of nature are not realities but Maya, they are the imprints of the nature-spirits working behind the world of sense.
Again the imprint of the Spirits of the Rotation of Time is what is usually known to ordinary consciousness as the Laws of Nature. Fundamentally all the laws of nature are in existence because the Spirits of the Rotation of Time work as the directing powers. To the occultist the laws of nature are not realities. When the ordinary natural scientist speaks of the laws of nature and combines them externally, the occultist knows that these laws are revealed in their reality when, in his awakened astral body, he listens to what the Spirits of the Rotation of Time say, and hears how they order and direct the nature-spirits. That is expressed in Maya, in external semblance, as the laws of nature, and the normal consciousness, as a rule, does not go beyond this. (See Figure 1) It does not usually reach the imprint of the Planetary Spirit in the external world. The normal consciousness of present-day humanity speaks of the external world of perception, of the facts that can be perceived; speaks of the forces of nature, light, warmth, magnetism, electricity, and so on; of the forces of attraction and repulsion, of gravity, etc. These are the beings of Maya, behind which, in reality, lies the world of the nature-spirits — the etheric body of the earth. External science also speaks of the Laws of Nature; that again is a Maya. Underlying these laws is what we have to-day described as the world of the Spirits of the Rotation of Time. Only when we penetrate still further do we come to the stamp or imprint of the Planetary Spirit itself in the external sense-world. Science to-day does not do this. Those who still do so are no longer quite believed. The poets, the artists do; they seek for a meaning behind things. Why does the plant-world blossom? Why do the different species of animals arise and disappear? Why does man inhabit the earth? If we thus inquire into the phenomena of nature, and wish to analyze the meaning, and to combine the external facts as even a deeper philosophy still sometimes tries to do, we then approach the imprint of the Planetary Spirit itself in the external world. To-day, however, nobody really believes any longer in this seeking after the meaning of existence. Through feeling, one still believes a little, but science no longer wishes to know of what could be discovered about the laws of nature by studying the passage of the phenomena.
If we still seek a meaning as to the laws of nature in the things of the world perceptible to our senses, we should be able to interpret this meaning as the imprint of the Planetary Spirit in the sense-world. That would be the external Maya. In the first place the sense-world itself is an external Maya, for it is what the etheric body the earth, the substance of the nature-spirits, drives out of itself. A second Maya is what appears to man of the nature-spirits in the forces of nature. A third Maya is that which appears as the laws of nature, coming from the Spirits of the Rotation of Time. A fourth Maya is something which, in spite of its Maya-nature, speaks to the soul of man because, in the perception of the purpose of nature, man at any rate feels himself united with the Spirit of the whole planet, with the Spirit which leads the planet through cosmic space, and gives meaning in fact to the whole planet. In this Maya lies the direct imprint of the Planetary Spirit itself.
Thus we may say that we have to-day ascended to the undivided Spirit of the Planet. If again we wish to compare what we have now discovered for the planet, with man, we may say: “The sense-world corresponds to the physical body of man; the world of nature-spirits to the etheric body, the world of the Spirits of the Rotation of Time to the astral body, and the Planetary Spirit to the ego of man.” Just as the ego of man perceives the physical environment of earth, so does the Planetary Spirit perceive everything in the periphery, and in cosmic space as a whole outside the planet; it adjusts the acts of the planet and also the feelings of the planet, of which we shall speak tomorrow, according to these perceptions of cosmic space. For what a planet does outside in space when it passes on its way in cosmic distances, and what it effects its own body, in the elements of which it consists, that again is the result of the observations of the Planetary with regard to the external world. Just as the individual human soul lives in the world of the earth side by side with other men, and adjusts himself to them, so does the Planetary Spirit live in its planetary body, which is the ground on which we stand; but this Planetary Spirit lives in fellowship with other planetary Spirits, other Spirits of the heavenly bodies.