Monday, June 14, 2021
The battle between the archangel Michael and the Dragon
Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, October 14, 1917:
It is necessary to let certain fundamental truths of spiritual development come to mind whenever you have gained some material, as we may call it, by way of knowledge and the like, for this will allow you to penetrate those fundamental truths more deeply. In the last days we have considered all kinds of ideas which may explain the events of our time, at least to some extent. We have therefore acquired a number of ideas concerning present developments. We can put these together with fundamental truths which we already know from certain points of view, but which can be penetrated more deeply if we approach them again following further preparation.
I have frequently spoken of the significant break which occurred in the spiritual development of the peoples of Europe and America in the middle of the nineteenth century, and especially in the 1840s. I have pointed out that this was the time when the materialistic point of view came to its peak; a peak was reached in what we may call a way of grasping dead, outer facts with the intellect, refusing to enter into living reality.
The deeper sources of such events — and today we are very much involved in their after-effects, which will continue to have an influence for a long time to come — must be sought in the world of the spirit. And if we investigate the processes in that world which have come to outer expression in the event of which I have just spoken, we have to point to a struggle, a real war in that world, which began then and came to a certain conclusion for the world of the spirit by the autumn of 1879. To have the right idea about these things, you must visualize a battle which continued for decades in the spiritual worlds, from the 1840s until the autumn of 1879.
This may be called a battle which the spirits who are followers of the spirit belonging to the hierarchy of archangels whom we may call Michael fought with certain ahrimanic powers. Please consider this battle to have been in the first place a battle in the spiritual world. Everything I am referring to at the moment relates to this battle fought by Michael and his followers against certain ahrimanic powers. A good way of strengthening this idea, especially if you want to make it fruitful for your life in the present time, is to have it in your mind's eye that the human souls who were born exactly in the fifth decade of the nineteenth century actually took part in this battle between Michael's followers and the ahrimanic powers when they were in the spiritual world. If you think on this, it will give you a great deal of understanding of the outer and inner destiny experienced by these individuals, and above all of their inner constitution. The battle thus took place in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s and came to a conclusion in the autumn of 1879, when Michael and his followers won a victory over certain ahrimanic powers.
What does this signify? To see something like this in the right way, we can always call on an image which humanity has known throughout its evolution — the fight between Michael and the dragon. This image has come up again and again in the course of evolution. We may characterize it by saying that every battle between Michael and the dragon is similar to the one in the 1840s, but it is about different things — harmful and damaging things. We may say that a particular crowd of ahrimanic spirits seek over and over again to bring something into world evolution, but they are always overcome. And so they also lost the battle in the autumn of 1879, and, as I said, this was in the spiritual world.
But what does it signify that the powers of the dragon, this crowd of ahrimanic spirits, are driven down into the human realms, banished from heaven to Earth, as it were? Losing the battle means they are no longer to be found in the heavens, to use the biblical term. Instead they are to be found in the human realms, which means that the late 1870s were a particular time when human souls became subject to ahrimanic powers with regard to certain powers of perception. Before this, these powers were active in the spiritual realms and therefore left human beings more in peace; when they were driven out of the spiritual realms they came upon human beings. And if we enquire into the nature of the ahrimanic powers which entered into human beings when they had to leave the realms of the spirit, the answer is: the ahrimanic materialistic view with its personal — mark this well — its personal bias.
Materialism had, of course, reached its peak in the 1840s, but in those days its impulses were more instinctive in humans, for the crowd of ahrimanic spirits still sent their impulses from the spiritual world into human instincts. From the autumn of 1879 onward, these ahrimanic impulses — powers of perception and of will — became the personal property of human beings. Before this they were more of a general property, now they were transplanted to become personal property. We are thus able to say that due to the presence of these ahrimanic powers from 1879 onward, personal ambitions and inclinations to interpret the world in materialistic terms came to exist in the human realm. You only have to trace some of the events which have arisen because of personal inclinations since then to understand that they resulted when the archangel Michael drove the dragon, that is the crowd of ahrimanic spirits, from the realms of the spirit, from the heavens, down to Earth.
This occurrence has profound significance. The people of the nineteenth century and of our own time are not inclined to pay attention to such occurrences in the spiritual world and to the way in which they relate to the physical world. Yet the ultimate reasons and final impulses for events on Earth can only be found if one knows the spiritual background. It has to be said that it takes a fair amount of materialism, even if dressed up as idealism, to say: ‘In terms of eternity, what does it matter if so and so many more tons of organic matter will perish as the war is allowed to continue?’ One has to feel the extent to which such a view has its roots in ahrimanism, for its roots truly are in the realms of inner response. The philosopher Henri Lichtenberger's [ Note 1 ] philosophy of ‘tons of organic matter’ is one of many examples which may be quoted to show the specific forms taken by the ahrimanic way of thinking.
The deepest impulse which has been living in many human souls since 1879 is therefore one which was cast down into the human realms; before that, it lived as ahrimanic power in the world of the spirit. It is helpful to look for other ways of strengthening the idea in our minds by using concepts from the material world, using them essentially as symbolic images. What happens today more at the level of soul and spirit had more of a material bias in very early times. The world of matter is also spiritual; it is merely a different form of spirituality.
If you were to go back to very early times in evolution, you would find a battle similar to the one I have just described. As already mentioned, these battles have recurred over and over again, but always on different issues. In the distant past, the crowd of ahrimanic spirits were also cast down from the spiritual worlds into the earthly realm when they had lost such a battle. You see, they would return to the attack again and again. After one of these battles, for example, the crowd of ahrimanic spirits populated the Earth with the earthly life-forms which the medical profession now calls bacilli. Everything which has the power to act as a bacillus, everything in which bacilli are involved, is the result of crowds of ahrimanic spirits being cast down from heaven to Earth at a time when the dragon had been overcome. In the same way the ahrimanic, mephistophelean way of thinking has spread since the late 1870s as the result of such a victory. Thus we are able to say that tubercular and bacillary diseases come from a similar source as the materialism which has taken hold of human minds.
We can also compare the occurrences of the last century with something else. We can point to something which you know already from Occult Science: [ Note 2 ] the withdrawal of the Moon from the sphere of Earth evolution. The Moon was once part of the Earth; it was cast out from the Earth. As a result, certain Moon influences took effect on Earth, and this, too, followed a victory won by Michael over the dragon. We are therefore also able to say that everything connected with certain effects relating to the phases of the Moon, and all impulses which reach the Earth from the Moon, have their origin in a similar battle between Michael and the dragon.
These things really do belong together, in a way, and it is extremely useful to consider this, for it has profound significance. Some individuals develop an irresistible hankering for intellectual materialism which arises from being in league with the fallen Ahriman. They gradually come to love the impulses which Ahriman raises in their souls and, indeed, consider them to be a particularly noble and sublime way of thinking. Once again, it is necessary to be fully and clearly aware of these things. Unless they are in our conscious awareness and we have clear insight, we cannot make head or tail of events. The danger inherent in all this must be looked at with a cool eye, as it were, and a calm heart. We have to face them calmly. We shall only do so, however, if we are quite clear about the fact that a certain danger threatens human beings from this direction. This is the danger of preserving what should not be preserved. Everything which happens within the great scheme of things does also have its good side. It is because the ahrimanic powers entered into us when Michael won his victory that we are gaining in human freedom. Everything is connected with this, for the crowd of ahrimanic spirits has entered into all of us. We gain in human freedom, but we must be aware of this. We should not allow the ahrimanic powers to gain the upper hand, as it were, and we should not fall in love with them.
This is tremendously important. There always is the danger of people continuing in materialism, in the materialistic, ahrimanic way of thinking, and carrying this on into ages when, according to the plan of things, it should have been overcome. The people who do not turn away from the ahrimanic, materialistic way of thinking, and want to keep it, would then be in league with everything which has come about through similar victories won over the dragon by Michael. They therefore would not unite with spiritual progress in human evolution but with material progress. And a time would come in the sixth post-Atlantean age when the only thing to please them would be to live in something which will have been brought about by bacilli, those microscopically small enemies of humanity.
Something else also needs to be understood. Exactly because of its logical consistency, and indeed its greatness, the scientific way of thinking, too, is in great danger of sliding into the ahrimanic way of thinking. Consider how some scientists are thinking today in the field of geology, for instance. They study the surface formation of the Earth and the residues and so on, to determine how certain animals live, or have lived, in the different strata. Empirical data are established for certain periods. Scientists use these as a basis for their views as to what the Earth looked like thousands and millions of years ago, arriving, for instance, at the nebular hypothesis of Kant and Laplace. [ Note 3 ] They also develop ideas as to the future evolution of the Earth, and from the physical point of view these are quite correct. They are often utterly brilliant, but they are based on a method where the evolution of the Earth is observed for a time and then conclusions are drawn: millions of years before, and millions of years afterwards.
What is really being done in this case? It is the same as if we were to observe a child when it is seven, eight, or nine years old, taking note of how its organs gradually change, or partly change, and calculate how much these human organs change over a period of two or three years. We then multiply this to work out how much these organs change over a period of centuries. So we can work out what this child looked like a hundred years ago, and going in the other direction we can also work out what it will look like in a hundred and fifty years. It is a method which can be quite brilliant and is, in fact, the method used by geologists today to work out the primeval conditions of the Earth; it was also used to produce the hypothesis of Laplace. Exactly the same method is used to visualize what the world is going to be like according to the physical laws which can now be observed. But I think you will admit that such laws do not signify much when applied to a human being, for example. A hundred years ago the child did not exist as a physical human being; neither will it exist as a physical human being in a hundred and fifty years' time.
The same applies to the Earth with reference to the time-scale used by geologists. The Earth came into existence later than Tyndall, Huxley, Haeckel, [ Note 4 ] and others reckon. Before the time comes when you can simply paint the walls of a room with protein and have enough light to read by, the Earth will be nothing but a corpse. It is quite easy to work out that one day it will be possible to use physical means to put protein on a wall where it will shine like electric light, so that one can read the paper. This is bound to happen as part of the physical changes, no doubt. But in fact the time will never come, just as it will never happen that in a hundred and fifty years' time a child will show the changes calculated from successive changes seen in its stomach and liver in the course of two or three years between the ages of seven and nine.
Here you gain insight into some very strange things we have today. You can see how they clash. Think of a conventional scientist listening to what I have just been saying. He will say this is sheer foolishness. And then think of a spiritual scientist; he will consider the things the conventional scientist says to be foolish. All the many hypotheses concerning the beginning and the end of the Earth are indeed nothing but foolishness, even though people have been utterly brilliant in establishing them.
You see from this how unconsciously human beings are, in fact, being guided. But we are now in an age when such things must be perceived and understood. It is necessary to link such an idea with the other ideas we have characterized today. A time will come when we must have transformed our materialistic ideas to such an extent that we can progress to a more spiritual form of existence, but by then the Earth will have been a corpse for a long time. It will no longer support us, and incarnations in the flesh such as we seek today will no longer be sought. But the individuals who have become so tied up with the materialistic way of thinking that they cannot let go of it will still sneak down to that Earth and find ways of involving themselves in the activities of bacilli — the tubercle bacillus and others — bacillary entities which will be rummaging through every part of the Earth's corpse. Today's bacilli are merely the prophets, let us say, of what will happen to the whole Earth in future. Then a time will come when those who cling to the materialistic way of thinking will unite with the Moon powers and surround the Earth, which will be a burnt-out corpse, together with the Moon. For all they want is to hold on to the life of the Earth and remain united with it; they do not want to take the right course, which is to progress from the Earth's corpse to what will be the future soul and spirit of the Earth.
In our time particularly, all these things are having an effect on many much admired brilliant ideas and moral impulses — people christen everything "moral impulse" nowadays — in which the ahrimanic and materialistic powers are alive. These have the capacity to develop into the impulses which act as numerous ties to hold human beings to the Earth, of their own will. It is important, therefore, to turn our attention to these things. And it is really most necessary to pay real heed to some highly respected elements which are taken as a matter of course today, such as certain laws of nature. Anyone who does not accept them is called an amateur and a fool. Certain moral and political aspirations are taken as a matter of course. Great Wilsoniades are proclaimed with regard to them. All these things have the potential to develop into something that can be characterized in the way I have just done.
I had my reasons for saying that the people who had a part in the beginning of the battle in the 1840s were in a special position. They were placed on Earth at that time. And we can understand a great deal of the inner life of these people, especially those who were active in mind and spirit, and of their doubts and their inner battles, if we consider the impulse they brought from the life of the spirit in the 1840s into the second half of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century.
Something else also relates to this, something which should not be overlooked today, but very often is. It is the belief that spiritual entities and their activities have no part in human affairs. People do not like to speak of events in human affairs having spiritual causes. Anyone who knows the real situation, however, is well aware that psychic or spiritual influences from the spiritual world on human beings here in the physical world are, in fact, particularly powerful at the present time. It is not at all uncommon to find people today who will tell you that a dream, or something like a dream — they do not normally understand what is going on, but these are always non-physical elements — drove them to a particular course of events. Psychic influences of this kind play a much greater role today than materialists are prepared to believe. Anyone who has the opportunity to go into such things will find them at every turn. If you were to take the published works of today's better poets and do a statistical analysis of how many poems have come into existence in a way for which there is a rational explanation, and how many by an inspiration — a definite spiritual influence from the other world, with the poet experiencing it in a dream or something similar — you would be surprised how great is the percentage of direct influences from the spiritual world. People are influenced by the spiritual world to a much greater extent than they are prepared to admit. And the human actions performed under the influence of the spiritual world are indeed significant ones.
Now and then the question comes up: ‘Why was a particular newspaper started?’‘ The individual who started it had a particular impulse from the spiritual world. If he trusts you enough to speak openly about his impulses, he will speak of a dream when you ask about the real origin. This is why some time ago I had to say here that when historians come to discuss the outbreak of this war in time to come and use the documents of our civilization in the same way as did Ranke[ Note 5 ] and other historians who went by the documents, they will never write about the most important event, which is something that happened under the influence of the spiritual world in 1914.
Things go in cycles or periods. Anything which happens in the physical world is really a kind of projection, or shadow, of what happens in the spiritual world, except that it would have happened earlier in the spiritual world. Let us assume this line here (Fig. 9a) was the line or plane separating the spiritual and the physical worlds. What I have just said could then be characterized as follows: Let us assume an event — for example the battle between Michael and the dragon — happens first of all in the spiritual world. It finally comes to an end when the dragon is cast down from heaven to Earth. On Earth, then, the cycle is brought to completion after a time interval which approximately equals the time between the beginning of the battle in the spiritual world and the time when the dragon was cast down. We might say: The dawn, the very beginning of this battle between Michael and the dragon, was in 1841. Things were particularly lively in 1845. It is thirty-four years from 1845 to 1879, and if we move on thirty-four years after 1879 we come to the mirroring event: You get 1913, the year preceding 1914. You see, the developments which started in the physical world in 1913 are the mirror-image of the prime reasons for the spiritual battle. And now consider 1841 — 1879 — 1917! 1841 was the crucial year in the nineteenth century. 1917 is its mirror-image. If one realizes that the exertions of the crowd of ahrimanic spirits in 1841, when the dragon started to fight Michael in the spiritual world, are mirrored right now in 1917, much of what is happening now will not really come as a surprise. Events in the physical world can really only be understood if one knows that they have been in preparation in the spiritual worlds.
These things are not being said to worry people or put strange notions in their heads; they are meant as a challenge to see things clearly, to resolve to make the effort to look into the spiritual world and not to sleep through events. This is why it has become necessary in the field of anthroposophical development to say over and over again that there is need to be watchful, to take note of what is happening and not let events go by unnoticed.
It is sometimes only possible to say what I mean by using an analogy. Yesterday I spoke of the way in which the people in Eastern Europe draw conclusions from such events. If we here in the West want to find out what actually lives in the East European soul, the best way is to study the works of the philosopher Soloviev, [ Note 6 ] though there are serious limits to what we can learn in this way. Real insight can only be gained from what has been said for many years in lectures and lecture courses given within the anthroposophical movement on the destiny and true nature of the Russian spirit. But by turning our attention to the philosopher Soloviev it is possible to express by means of an analogy what one really wants to say in this case. As you know, Soloviev died at the turn of the eighteenth to the nineteenth century and has therefore been dead for a long time. Western people did not bother much with his philosophy. They had little opportunity to get to know it and little effort was made to study Soloviev as a representative of Eastern Europe. At best we have the situation of the professor who some years ago had an idea that it was not exactly right for a Professor of Philosophy to know nothing about Soloviev — you know the story. So he let someone write a doctoral dissertation, saying to himself: He can study the work of Soloviev and I can read his dissertation.
I merely want to use the point at issue as an analogy, therefore. I should like to put it like this. If we were to say that, hypothetically, Soloviev were alive today and had known this war and the events taking place in Russia — what would he, a Russian, have done? The answer can, of course, only be hypothetical, but it is a reasonable assumption that Soloviev would have found a way of removing everything he had written before the war and would have written new works. He would have realized that it was necessary to revise his views completely, for his views were based on the time when they were written. He would thus have drawn the same conclusion as the whole of Eastern Europe.
It seems paradoxical to say something like this. But if one reads Soloviev today it is best to be clear in one's mind that little would have Soloviev's absolute approval today. It would be a sign of being wide awake to make a fundamental revision of ideas which carried the greatest weight at the time but have since been reduced to absurdity. 2+2=4 would still be 2+2=4, but other things must certainly be revised. And we are only awake in our time if we are aware of this need for revision.
In this year of 1917 — thirty-eight years after 1879, with 1879 thirty-eight years after 1841 — something important is being asked of humanity. What matters today is not what people did in 1914, but that they get themselves out of this situation. The problem we have to face now is how to get out of it again. And unless people realize that the old ideas will not get us out of it and that new ideas are needed, the result will be failure. Anyone who thinks we shall get out of this with the old ideas is barking up the wrong tree. The effort must be made to gain new ideas, and this is only possible with insight into the spiritual world.
It has been my intention today to give you something of a background to much of I have been saying in these last days. You see, if one deals with spiritual life in concrete terms, it is not enough to have the general twaddle which is so popular with the people who believe in pantheism and similar philosophies — that there is a spiritual world, that the spirit is behind all physical things. Talking about the spirit in vague general terms will get you nowhere. We must consider specific spiritual events and spiritual entities which are beyond the threshold. Events in this world are not merely general but quite specific, and they are concrete and specific in the other world. I do not think that there are many who, as they get up in the morning, would think: "If I step outside the front door, I shall be out in the world." They would not say this, but they will have ideas about something specific they are going to encounter. In the same way we shall only manage to deal with the deeper sources of human and world evolution if we are able to visualize the things which are beyond the threshold in a specific and concrete way and not just refer to them in general terms such as ‘universal’, ‘providence’, and the like.
Much, much can be felt when we look at the figures 1841 and 1917 in the diagram (see Fig. 9a). But our inner response to this has to be alive in us if we are to understand what is really happening.