Sunday, August 28, 2022
Our connection with the cosmos: regarding untimely death; the "malice of things"; seeing the Sun at midnight
The Mysteries of Initiation. Lecture 2 of 4
Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, February 4, 1913:
From what has been said we can well see that the ascent into the spiritual worlds depends upon the strengthening of the inner forces of the soul-life, so that through the exercises which a person undertakes for the purpose of penetrating into the higher worlds, he develops forces in his soul which far surpass those needed in ordinary life. This requirement is shown by the fact that when the soul becomes independent of the physical body in ordinary life, i.e. in sleep, it falls at once into unconsciousness. This means that in normal life the individual lacks sufficient force to unfold inner activity and maintain consciousness when, as in sleep, the physical and etheric bodies are not helping him to do so. The other members of the human organism, the ego and the astral body, must be worked upon and illuminated through the exercises of meditation, concentration, and contemplation, so that they become capable of conscious experience when they are separated from the physical and etheric bodies, as in ordinary sleep. The stronger-than-ordinary soul-forces that a man develops are what enable him to reach the stage we spoke of yesterday. They give him the power, after he has confronted the Void, to enter a new world which he can experience through the fact that — as the spider spins its web out of itself — he pours out into space the spiritually substantial content of his soul, and receives into it the spiritual worlds which then present themselves to him.
So now, after having left behind him the physical sense-world in this way, and gone through the stage of having stood over the abyss — for that is how it feels when one confronts the Void — the aspirant is in a new world. And in this new world he not only experiences something different, but he experiences it in a quite new way. We can begin from an ordinary experience on the physical plane. There, events occur in two apparently quite separate domains. In one domain the events are subject to the laws of nature; in the other they are subject to moral laws. When in ordinary physical life we observe the events of nature, even when we ascend to the animal kingdom, we know that we are looking only for natural laws and that moral standards are inapplicable there. We do not enquire, for example, why a rock crystal has the form of a six-sided column ending in two six-sided pyramids; we do not ask why this mineral substance aggregates itself in such a way that this crystal form appears. We expect no answer except that it obeys a natural law. We do not ask what good thing the rock crystal has done that it should have become a rock crystal. We do not ask what its intentions are. We do not apply moral standards to the mineral world. Neither do we apply them to the plant world. And only in a somewhat indirect sense — and, one might say, according to the sympathies of Darwinistically inclined persons — do we apply moral concepts to the animal kingdom. What interests us in the animal kingdom, first of all, is its conformity to natural law. When we rise to the human kingdom, we feel obliged to judge men according to the standards of goodwill, love, and so forth. As already said, we regard the facts of the physical world as enmeshed in the web of natural laws, while we judge human actions and soul dispositions by the standard of moral laws; and we are indeed not doing well in our estimate of the physical plane if we mix up these two sets of facts. We are accustomed on the physical plane to judge the world in this twofold way. Hence it is not very easy, after one has sprung, as it were, over the abyss of the Void, to pass into the spiritual world, where a different kind of judgment is necessary; where, in fact, there is no separation between something that could be ascribed to natural laws, as with natural events on the physical plane, and a purely moral happening, which likewise exists on the physical plane. When, therefore, the point is reached of which we spoke yesterday, one must accustom oneself to judge events in like manner as we judge natural facts, but also as we judge moral facts in the physical world. The world of natural law and the world of moral law intermingle when one enters the spiritual world.
That shows itself at once, for example, when a man is confronted with the realm that he inhabits between death and a new birth. When the seer has in all earnestness come as far as we have already indicated, he can and will meet those souls who, having passed through the gate of death, are going through their development between death and a new birth. He then learns to know the kind of experience these souls are encountering, and if he is to form any judgment of what their experience is, he must adopt quite different habits of thought. A few examples will explain this.
In that realm we find souls which for a certain period between death and a new birth have to undergo very hard conditions. The seer has at first the impression that in the spiritual world these souls — of a certain category — have become the servants of very terrible beings, and that it was through their own lives before death that they condemned themselves to this labor for the terrible spirits. As seer he gradually learns to understand their hard fate, and he does so in the following manner. He cultivates the thought of how a man lives in his physical body from birth to death and how — as has often been described in the course of our lectures on spiritual science — so-called natural death is brought about through an inner conformity to law, when a man has in old age expended his life-forces. We will not speak of this death at present. But there are other deaths. There are those deaths by which a man is snatched away, through accident or illness, in the very flower of his life. We do not all die after having fulfilled our measure of life. Men die at all ages, and we must ask ourselves: Whence come the forces which are responsible for these deaths at different ages? We understand that a man must die when his measure of life is fulfilled. We have often seen how that is brought about by the spiritual worlds. But everything that happens in the physical world comes about through influences from the spiritual worlds. Those deaths which are to a certain extent untimely also happen through influences from the spiritual worlds; that is, they are caused by forces and beings of the spiritual world.
There is something else in the physical world to which we must pay attention if we want to understand the life between death and the next birth. We see the physical world permeated by illnesses and diseases, and in earlier times afflicted by well-known pestilences. One need but recall those devastating visitations among earlier European peoples when the plague, cholera, etc., swept through the land. In this present age we are comparatively fortunate in regard to such things. But already — as indicated in the course of our lectures — certain epidemics are preparing. So we see what appears to be untimely death pass over the Earth; we see disease and pestilence. And. the seer sees souls living between death and a new birth who are helping those spirits who bear from the supersensible worlds into the sense-world the forces which bring epidemics and illnesses, and so-called untimely death.
It makes a terrifying impression to perceive how during certain periods of their lives between death and a new birth human souls have become servants of the evil spirits of illness and death, and have condemned themselves to this servitude. If one tries to trace back the lives of such persons to the time before they went through the gate of death, one always finds that during their life on the physical plane they were lacking in conscience, lacking in feelings of responsibility. A fixed law is evident here. The seer perceives how souls who were morally irresponsible in their dispositions in their lives on Earth have to cooperate, for a period after death, in bringing epidemics, illnesses, and untimely deaths into the physical sense-world. Here we see a natural ordinance to which these souls are subject, but we cannot say of it that, like a crystallization, or like the concussion between two elastic balls, it has no connection with morality. These souls show us how in the higher worlds there is an interweaving of natural law with the moral world-order. The manner in which things come about in the higher worlds is dependent on beings whose fate is conditioned by their moral behavior in the world.
To take another example, we can look at what the seer learns when he turns his attention to a characteristic, the desire for ease and comfort, that is very widespread among men — more widespread than is generally supposed. People indulge far more in indolence than one realizes. They are indolent in their thinking, indolent in their manners and behavior, and particularly so when they are required to alter their thinking or their habits. If men were not so ease-loving in their innermost souls, they would not have so often resisted a necessary change in their ideas. They struggled against it because to have to unlearn anything is uncomfortable. After having thought so long that the Earth stood still and that the Sun and Stars went around it, it was tiresome to have to learn something different when they suddenly heard through Copernicus about the movement of the Earth! It was an uncomfortable thing when — theoretically, at least — the ground was taken from under their feet. All the resistance of those times against this new idea sprang from indolence of thought, from the love of ease, for to unlearn anything is tiresome. But one need merely consider the most ordinary everyday life and one will find how widespread is the quality — really a vice — of indolence. In recent times we have gained some idea of the enormous extent of indolence, love of ease, among humanity. This will be seen from the following example.
There are many theories of political economy. I need not speak about them now. But there is one theory of political economy which is somewhat out of date today but once played a great role. It was based upon the idea that all men should be free to compete in the exchange of commodities, etc.; and that the best social structure would be obtained if completely free competition were allowed. Then other, more socialistic theories took root. But latterly some political economists have drawn attention to the fact that all these theories were in the highest degree one-sided. For what takes place in the world of commerce and in social life is much more dependent on the love of ease than on the law of competition or the law of getting on in the world — yes, even more than on the laws of conscious egoism. Thus even into political economy a knowledge of the law of slothfulness finds entry — which means that even in this realm one can discern good sense, and a readiness to recognize facts that cannot be overlooked, unless one adopts an ostrich policy towards life.
Love of ease is a general and widespread attribute of mankind. And if one follows up after death the souls who were subject to it, one sees how this love of ease persists, and how for a certain time after death these souls have to live in a region where — as a result of indolence — they become servants of the god or gods of Opposition, those gods who place particular obstacles in the path of evolution. And these again are spirits under the rule of Ahriman. Ahriman has various things to do; one of his tasks is to conduct out of the spiritual worlds into the physical world the forces which call forth opposition in physical life. Thus men are on the one hand ease-loving, but on the other hand the fate of lovers of ease is such that when they want to do anything they run up against a general cosmic law. Obstacles are everywhere, and even if they are not in the grotesque form once pictured by a German poet, they are there in the most tragic guise. He called them the “malice of things”. This “malice of things” is especially apparent when, for instance, a preacher in the pulpit is in the midst of a tremendously long tirade and a fly alights on his nose, causing him to sneeze violently. That is the “malice of things”. But it appears first in full force when persons who in this sense are the children of misfortune are exposed to it at every step. Friedrich Theodor Vischer once wrote a novel in which someone was continually exposed to this “malice of things”.
In truth, these things rise from the grotesque to the tragic. All such obstacles are directed from the spiritual worlds, and the Lord of Opposition is Ahriman. And souls that are lovers of ease make themselves into servants of Ahriman for a certain time between death and a new birth. On the whole it is not so terrible to see the punishment of the devotees of ease as it is to see the souls who are living in servitude to the spirits of illness and death. But it shows again how moral and natural law intermingle as soon as we come into the higher worlds.
Such are the experiences that are gone through when one has come to the point described yesterday; and a man has to go through these experiences in order that he may also experience other necessary conditions (we shall see later why “necessary”) and so may advance still further in regard to higher experiences. This matter of ascending into the higher worlds is not such that one can say: Today you are beginning your ascent into the higher worlds, and then you will mount upwards stage by stage. For him who wants to become an initiate, things go forward unnoticed in relation to external happenings amid the affairs and events of ordinary life. He does indeed come stage by stage into the higher worlds, but from this sojourn in the higher worlds he must again come forth and live in the ordinary world. From the experiences in the spiritual worlds, however, he brings with him something into the physical world. He realizes, after he has become an initiate, that while moving around in the physical world he is endowed with feelings and perceptions other than those pertaining to anyone who is not a seer. He need only train himself (and a correct schooling will see to this) not to be misled in ordinary life through the alteration of his perceptions and feelings. He must learn to be a seer only for the higher worlds, and not to bring into the ordinary world the characteristics and attitude of soul needed for the higher worlds. This must be strictly avoided. He should be able to be a seer, while remaining as rational as anyone else in the ordinary physical world.
Hence the least suitable persons for the development of seership are those who from the outset are predisposed to be visionaries. Enthusiasts and intellectual idealists, those who already experience in the physical world that which has its justification in the spiritual world; people who in the physical world “hear the grass grow”, who see everywhere the visions of the dreamer, not the realities perceived by a sober disposition; people who indulge their imagination — there are many more such than is generally supposed — such people are of no use for training in seership. Persons who stand with both feet on solid ground, who understand something of actuality and judge things as they are — these are the people best fitted for developing seership.
This will have indicated how a person should not let feelings and perceptions necessary for the physical world be misled through what he acquires for the ascent into the higher worlds. Quite definite feelings and perceptions remain with him, once he has become a seer; in the physical world he will be too, a different person. But in order that this may do him no harm he must also apply these new feelings and perceptions to things in the external physical world to which he had previously paid no attention or had not noticed. Then he will find — not in a bad sense but emphatically in a good one — that his relations with nature are somewhat altered. For instance, he will feel differently towards the plant world which spreads itself like a carpet over the Earth. Formerly he looked at the plants and was delighted with their greenery, with the wealth of flowers and their colors, with everything that the plant world offered to him as it grows out of the Earth and delights the eyes and perhaps the other senses. Let us not think in this connection of some dull, prosaic person, but of someone who can really enjoy to the full the effect which the beauty of the Earth's plant-cover can evoke in the soul. And do not let us imagine that anyone who has become a seer must forfeit in the very least any part of his feeling for the plant-vesture of the Earth. Something else, however, arises within him. When he looks at the plant world he feels that a certain inner relationship links it with Sun, Moon, and Stars. In his feeling and perception the green carpet of plants grows together with the out-there in the Cosmos.
Nowadays men build up plenty of abstract ideas on this subject. Everyone with a mere smattering of learning knows how the Earth's carpet of plants is connected with the activity of the light from the Sun; how the plants cannot grow without the specific action of the Sun's rays. And men have some inkling that not only the Sun's activity has an influence on the plant world, but that the rest of the starry world also has an influence. Certainly some people are incredulous about this, but not so long ago there lived a great and significant thinker who applied himself in a thoroughly scientific way to studying the influence of the Moon on the weather, and so on the vegetation of the Earth. I refer to Gustav Theodor Fechner. Not from the standpoint of any superstition, but from that of quite empirical observation, he tried to show that the influence of the new Moon on rainfall is different from that of the full Moon, and so on. There were many people who wanted to prove their scientific outlook by laughing at Gustav Theodor Fechner and his studies of the Moon. One of those who laughed loudest was the celebrated botanist Schleiden, who voiced his opinion that it certainly does not depend on the full Moon or the new Moon whether for fourteen days we have more rain or less. Fechner replied (conditions then were somewhat more patriarchal than they are today): “Let the matter be put to the test indirectly through the women; learned men soon begin to quarrel.” Now the two wives, Frau Professor Schleiden and Frau Professor Fechner, always put out tubs in their Leipzig backyards to catch rainwater for washing-day. Fechner proposed that Frau Professor Schleiden should put out her tubs at new Moon, while his own wife put out hers at full Moon, and they would soon see in which period. the greater quantity of rain would fall. And behold, Frau Professor Schleiden was by no means in agreement with her husband, for she caught the smaller quantity of rain-water!
Thus — ironically, one might say — a decision was reached, though we would not want to attach any value to it now. Later on, however, it will emerge that sunlight, sun-heat, and also the other stellar influences, all have effects on the plant world. At first, this is theoretical knowledge. But the seer has direct perception of how influences from the Earth interact with those from stellar space. He regards them ultimately as one, and he feels as a vital occurrence the pouring out of the sunlight upon the vegetation of the Earth, and again the withdrawal of the sunlight. He feels how it is with the plants when the sunlight is withdrawn from them. As one feels sympathy with a child that is very much attached to its mother when the mother is removed from its sight for a while, so does the seer feel sympathy when the sunlight is withdrawn from the plants. This sympathy with the plant world is an experience that comes to the seer; so that when he has reached the point spoken of in the preceding lecture, he acquires perceptions of such a kind that he becomes a participant in the relations between Earth-growth and plant-growth and the Sun and Stars.
Through the birth of this feeling he is adapted for feeling something else besides. He can feel this something when he returns into the physical world from the spiritual world and looks, for instance, at a waking or sleeping person. Also when he has, so to speak, laid aside his seer's gift and sees only the physical world and the sleeping person, then, too, comes the feeling that the sleeper has been forsaken by something. This is very similar to the feeling one has when, for example, in autumn the relation of the Sun's rays to the Earth's vegetation changes in the usual way. Quite similar are the feelings towards nature now forsaken by Sun and Stars to the feelings towards the human organism forsaken by its ego and astral body. And now one has the specific experience that in this respect man is independent of his relation to the physical heavens, whereas the plant-growth is dependent on this relationship. Concerning the plants we know that they cannot go to sleep as they like, owing to their inner constitution; they must wait until the Sun sets in the evening, or until autumn comes. Concerning man we know that in our time, and especially under our conditions of civilization, he is no longer in the least guided by the Sun. For instance, if we had to guide ourselves by the Sun, as do the plants, we could not be assembled here together. The transition which for the plants is so strictly ruled by the course of the Sun and Stars has no influence on man. Certainly if we come into primitive rural conditions and see how not only the fowls but also the village folk go to sleep at a certain time and wake at a certain time, we feel as if there were something of a plant-like connection between human beings and the course of the Sun and Stars. But we have to conclude that in the course of human evolution man has emancipated himself from the cosmic course of events. With his physical and etheric bodies he is able to come into the situation which the plant comes to through the position of the Sun and Stars — he comes to it through inner conditions, I will not say by dint of inner freewill. A man can have his afternoon nap through his own inner condition; that is he can come out of his physical and etheric bodies. The plant cannot have an afternoon sleep at will; it has to regulate itself entirely in accordance with the course of the stars. But what is man when as physical and etheric body he lies asleep, with his astral body and his ego outside? His physical and etheric bodies then have the value of the plant. A physical and an etheric body are what the plant has. Considering all this, you may say: A plant grows gradually into connection with the Sun and the starry world, becomes one with them. Hence we must direct our feeling from the plant to the world of the Stars and Sun. This same direction of feeling applies to the sleeping man, who also consists of physical body and etheric body, and has the value of a plant in relation to his ego and astral body, for these, quite independently of the Sun's position, are outside his physical and etheric bodies when he sleeps, just as the physical Sun is outside the physical body and etheric body of the plant.
What I have here explained to you is experienced by the seer. Now when, proceeding from such perceptions, a man deliberately brings about the independence of the ego and astral body from the etheric and physical bodies; when he has got so far as deliberately to make the physical body and the etheric body into a kind of plant by passing out of them, then he comes to know something very strange — it is as if the Sun were speaking, as if it were looking down on the plants and observing itself in relation to them, and then saying: Yes, this physical and this etheric body of the plants belong to me, for they need what I can send them! Exactly as the Sun might speak to the plant growing below, so can the ego of a person say of his physical and etheric bodies: “They belong to me as the plant does to the Sun; I am like a Sun to the physical and etheric bodies.” A Sun to the physical and etheric body — so does a man learn of necessity to speak of his ego. And just as he learns to speak of his ego with reference to his physical and etheric bodies as the Sun would speak to the plant, so does he learn to speak of his astral body as the Moon, and also the planets, would have to speak to the plant. That is a quite special and important experience in the Mysteries. It was cultivated as a real and immediate experience, first in the Mysteries of Zarathustra and then wherever the world was developing, right on to the Mysteries of the Holy Grail.
This experience was always called “Seeing the Sun at midnight”, because a man had it most clearly — especially at the time of the Egyptian Mysteries — when in sleep he saw the Sun spiritually at midnight and felt himself united with the forces of the Sun in the manner described. It was an experiencing of the Sun-element in one's own ego, as a Sun-force that shines upon the physical and etheric bodies. This, then, was a third experience common to all the different Mysteries. Common to them all were, and are, the “Pressing forward to the boundaries of Death”, the “Experiencing of the Elementary World”, and now “Seeing the Sun at midnight”. But it must be clearly understood that at the moment when the seer feels himself isolated and as though sun-like or star-like in relation to his own etheric and physical bodies, he no longer feels the Sun and Stars only in their physical substantiality but becomes acquainted with the spiritual beings and worlds belonging to them. The experiencing of the cosmos is an experience in the spiritual worlds — one must be quite clear about that.
Now, in order to grow up correctly into the higher worlds, and to have the experiences which correspond with the spiritual realities, it is important and necessary that one should first gain acquaintance with the quite different nature of the spiritual world as compared with the physical world. One learns enough of this when, as a seer, one can test and observe the consequences of indolence, or of a lack of conscience, for the experience of the soul in the time between death and a new birth, and much else besides. Through these things the seer must, so to speak, open out his soul for conditions essentially different from those on the physical plane. Only then is he ripe for gaining living experience of the spiritual cosmos, for recognizing the inner connection of the ego and the astral body with the cosmos. Directly one comes to the experience that man, in regard to the highest members of his being, belongs not only to the Earth but is at home in the whole cosmos, then all previous theorizing is seen as a mere playing with words. One knows then that every person, when on going to sleep in the evening he passes out of his physical and etheric bodies, enters into participation with cosmic forces. He seeks strength for himself out of the whole universe, and on reawaking brings back the forces he has gathered during sleep in order to use them in the physical world. The connection with the cosmos is experienced. at a quite definite stage of the Mysteries. From this stage we will go on tomorrow.