Monday, August 1, 2022

Regarding the etheric heart


Etheric Heart

Rudolf Steiner, Dornach, Switzerland, May 1, 1915:

[nota bene: I have made more than a few silent emendations.  —℄ ]

Through all that we have recently been discussing here there runs a basic theme. This basic theme is an expression of how at the present time, within the whole cultural development of mankind, the necessity may be seen for a new impulse — that is, a spiritual impulse, an impulse towards spiritual knowledge.

In these recent lectures it was intended to show from the most varied points of view that we have been passing through an age with a quite distinct character, and that now a new age must begin. The age that has been running its course is the time when thinking and perceiving have reached their most pronounced form of materialism, the time when throughout the centuries materialistic thinking and perceiving have increasingly taken hold of the inner life of the human soul. But just as a pendulum that has swung to one side has then to swing in the opposite direction, we are now faced by an age when the human soul must once more come to the perception that in everything having to do with the senses — in everything material — spiritual impulses, spiritual forces are at work. We must once more come to an experience of the spiritual forces behind material sense phenomena — spiritual forces to which for centuries mankind has been able to give but little attention and but little interest.

Now, we all know how in our day the assertion that it is possible for the human soul to enter spiritual worlds is decried and considered heretical. We know how a multiplicity of factors in life — either conscious or unconscious — are directed against the coming of such a stream in world-conception as that of spiritual science. It is easy to see how at the present time what spiritual science must offer, for the ordering of life and the facts of life, would appear absolutely absurd, foolish, and fantastic. When, however, we enter into what is maintained even now by men of insight, out of a deeper impulse in life, all that has just been described takes on a different aspect.

I should like first to point out to you that among men of deeper insight today there does not always exist antagonism against what spiritual science maintains — antagonism to spiritual science itself  is certainly there, but not so much against what it stands for. Many, very many, examples of this might be quoted; today I will give you a characteristic one connected with a recent philosopher of repute: Otto Liebmann, who died a short while ago.

Most of you will not even know his name; that will not matter. But I should like to say that Otto Liebmann was one of the most clear-sighted of those who have recently analysed Man’s life of thought — that he thoroughly ploughed the ground of epistemology, always putting the question: How much reality is human thought capable of grasping?

I should like to read you a short passage from Otto Liebmann’s philosophical writings because it is characteristic of a man who throughout his life made great efforts to fathom the nature of human thought and what at the present time can be said about it in the light of the results of modern science. This is what Otto Liebmann said: “Someone might hit on the idea that there is not just albumen and yolk in a hen’s egg, but besides these something of a ghostly nature — an invisible spirit. This spirit materializes itself and when it has completed this materialisation it bursts open the egg-shell with the sharp beak, darts upon the grain and pecks it up.”

It might occur to one, he says, that a spirit was in the egg and that when the eggshell was broken this spirit came out and pecked up the grain. .. What will those people say who are building up a world-conception founded on present-day science? They will tell you:  If anyone says that a spirit is working in a hen's egg, he is a fool. — That is how the clever people of today will speak, and their remark will apply to those who call themselves theosophists or anthroposophists. But what says the philosopher who has been at such infinite pains to analyse man’s present thinking? He says: The only thing to be said against this assertion is that the preposition "in" is nonsense when used in a physical sense, but in a metaphysical is quite right. It is true that we get nowhere by conceiving the spirit to be within the egg spatially; when, however, this is taken metaphysically no objection can be made; it is only that the preposition "in" cannot be used in its ordinary sense.

We are therefore faced with the fact that a philosopher who has written an intelligent book, "The Analysis of Reality", and another on "Thoughts and Facts” (what is said about the "invisible spirit" comes in the second part of the 1899 "Naturerkenntnis") — that this philosopher owns that, in reality, it is possible to stand at the pinnacle of modern philosophy and yet be unable to do other than admit that an invisible spirit lies hidden in the egg of a hen.

It goes without saying that Otto Liebmann would have scorned to recognise the reasonable nature of spiritual science. We might ask why this is. Why would he — or anyone who thinks in the way he does — not pursue the matter further and perceive in spiritual science what would make him say: Strictly speaking, this spiritual science is merely wanting to confirm that in the hen’s egg there is actually an invisible spirit! — The name is not of importance; with us it would be called the etheric body, which for its part is permeated by the astral body. The spiritual scientist indeed says what it is that is hidden within as invisible spirit; thus the spiritual scientist says nothing but what others are saying —  yet there is this difficulty in turning to spiritual science. It is said to be foolish and fantastic in spite of being urgently needed for the science and the thinking of the day.

Now, how far is it from the assertion that an invisible spirit is concealed in the hen’s egg to the other statement that in the human physical body too — anatomy and physiology examine only the physical — something invisible is hidden? If we could clear up the difficulty about the use of the preposition "in” (dwelt upon by the philosopher), we should come to the point of indicating what spiritual science says, namely, that what is "within" consists of etheric body, astral body, and ego. Thus, spiritual science does nothing for which there is no ample proof, that it is really demanded by all that has to do with present-day thought and culture. Spiritual science, however, obviously has to go farther, for it cannot stop short at the vague idea that an invisible spirit is concealed in a hen's egg — especially when this same idea is applied to man. There we have to be clear that what is thus hidden in man is possessed of certain qualities, certain inner factors of reality. Whereas in the case of the hen's egg our conception can be what we might almost call of a ghostly nature — "an unknown spirit is concealed there" — if we go on to man we have to recognise that, when living in the physical body, he develops consciousness, and does so for the very reason that the physical body is such a complicated apparatus. Thereby we sense that what has here been called invisible spirit must be recognised as underlying the visible. Now, if what is external has consciousness, we have to take for granted that there is consciousness also in what is within, and that what is within cannot be deemed unconscious.

Science will lead to the perception of something like what spiritual science assumes, namely, that in the physical body there lives a spiritual man.  It is the nature of this spiritual man’s consciousness to which our attention is directed by spiritual science.

Today we know — have known for some time — how to give an answer about the precise qualities of the invisible spirit underlying man. If we take, to begin with, what today is offered us by philosophy, we shall admit that at the basis of man, too, there lies an invisible spirit. We now ask: Is it possible to know anything about this spirit? Most certainly it is. Just as man can acquire knowledge about the world outside through sense perception and the thoughts connected with the brain, this knowledge can go further; for in the spirit there lives Imagination — what has been described as Imaginative knowledge. We should then be able to see that it is not only in the hen’s egg that there lies an invisible spirit, but that in man is hidden an etheric body which, given the possibility (this is also mentioned in our writings), frees itself from the physical body and develops Imaginative knowledge — knowledge that works in the world in Imaginations, standing before the soul in fluctuating Imaginations.

We must here ask: What is the reason for spiritual science meeting with so much opposition today, despite the fact that people who do not understand it arrived at, and give indications of, what is said by spiritual science?

My dear friends, here something must be said that it is dangerous to put into words — or in any case not without danger. Why would Otto Liebmann, had he picked up a book on spiritual science, have certainly said: I find this really foolish, ridiculous — while standing himself at the very gates of the spiritual world? Why was he living in such strange self-deception — standing before the gates but, the door being opened to him, saying: No, I am not entering. — Why? It is certainly not very reasonable!

Sometimes comparisons throw light; therefore it is with a comparison that I should like to answer the question: Why among the finest men today are there those who shy away from spiritual science?

I should like at the same time to draw your attention to something of which we have already spoken, namely, what I said about sleep and fatigue. There is much talk today about the reason for people having to sleep, and it is said to be because they are tired — so that tiredness is considered the essential cause of sleep. This is what is said today. Now, from the most ordinary experience in life everyone knows that any leisured person who comes to a lecture, out of politeness shall we say, will often fall asleep when the lecture has hardly begun even if he isn’t tired — so that we may all come to the conclusion that fatigue is not entirely the cause of sleep. On the contrary, we should be nearer the truth in saying not that we go to sleep because we are tired, but that we feel tired because we want to sleep. This would be more correct.

The essential nature of sleep consists in a person going with his ego and his astral body out of the physical and etheric bodies, thus feeding upon his physical body and etheric body from outside —we might even say feeding upon and digesting them; whereas when he is within his physical and etheric bodies he lives with his consciousness in the external world. Note well what is actually said here. If with ego and astral body we are outside our physical and etheric bodies, we apply all our will, all our desires, to these physical and etheric bodies; we feed on and digest physical body and etheric body from outside; whereas when we are within these bodies the outside world makes its impressions upon us.

Now, everything in the world depends, like the pendulum, upon periodicity. When the pendulum has swung up to a certain point it descends again and then rises up to the same height on the opposite side through the force it acquires in its descent. In the same way that the pendulum can go not only up to here but has to return to the level it reached before it descended, are  sleeping and waking opposed to one another. Roughly it may be expressed thus.

Let us suppose that from waking to falling asleep we have been interested in the outside world and what has passed there. This absorbing of the outside world can be likened to the swing of the pendulum in one direction. When we have sufficiently absorbed the world outside then by reason of the satiety this causes there develops the satisfaction formerly provided by the outside world — and we go to sleep. When we have exhausted this enjoyment of ourselves we are able to wake up again.  It is a swinging to and fro, a periodicity, which takes its regular course in the same way as in ordinary mechanics. Lucifer and Ahriman can, however, lift a man out of the whole course of nature. Thus the man who goes to a lecture or concert from sheer courtesy and not because he wants to listen, can be lifted out of himself so that he loses all interest. He withdraws from himself, feeds on himself, finding this more interesting than what is going on around him.  

Thus we can see that whoever falls asleep in an abnormal way simply has no interest in his environment and what is going on there. We find exactly the same thing among those, of whom I have spoken, who have had their attention turned to what spiritual science offers. In the sphere of spiritual science Otto Liebmann is just like a man who goes out of courtesy to a concert or lecture and at once falls asleep. He goes, yet is not actually willing to take in what he is offered there.

On a higher level we can say the same of men who are like Otto Liebmann. They come to philosophy, to the land of the spirit, through conditions holding good in our world. Someone writes a thesis, a book, is then sent as teacher to a grammar school and, when proving himself to be a thinker, he is sent on to a university. Philosophising is world-courtesy, just world-courtesy — and there is no need for any call to the land of the spirit. One goes to the door, even goes inside, and then falls asleep; not immediately like the satiated concert-goer, who sleeps without even being tired, through lack of interested consciousness in the subject — but the philosopher cannot wake up to Imaginative consciousness. If it is impossible for people to awake to Imaginative consciousness then the moment anything is said about the spiritual world they fall asleep. In other words, it is too difficult for them to take in anything about spiritual science. It is therefore not without danger to make this assertion, for people will say: So you are the people who are making a study of what to other men, to men of consequence, is so difficult! — Since we are conscious of the difficulty, however, we shall not be too arrogant. For we shall know that the very points about which we ought to agree will be attacked by the world because people refuse to embark upon so difficult an affair — for the very reason that they find it too difficult.

Now let us examine these difficulties rather more closely. We will point the way by asking: What does ordinary human thinking consist in from the time of waking to that of failing asleep? In what does it consist? Whoever thinks in a grossly materialistic way holds the following opinion — that men have a brain that is of extraordinarily delicate construction, that in this brain processes go on, and because they do so, thinking arises. Thinking is a consequence of this brain process; so he says.

I have already pointed out that this is just as if someone were to say: I go along a street where there are footprints and the tracks of wheels. Whence come these tracks? It is the earth beneath which must have made them; the earth itself has made the traces of feet and wheels appear. Logically this is on a par with thinking that it is the brain that makes these impressions. When someone goes out, sees all kinds of tracks along the street and says: Aha — then it is the earth that is inwardly permeated by a variety of forces which make these tracks — it is the same as when the physiologist, examining the human brain, and substantiating the fact that all manner of processes are going on there, says: It is the brain that is doing all this. There is just as little reason for saying that it is the earth itself that makes the tracks — which are really made by the men and vehicles moving around upon it — as there is for saying that what the anatomists and physiologists discover is by the brain, when it is far rather the work of forces in movement in the etheric body.

By this you will be able to see in what the deceptive nature of materialism consists.  There is nothing in everyday life that does not make an impression on the brain.  Just as every step makes an impression on the earth, and you can prove that each of your steps has made its impression, you can also prove that all that is willed and thought makes its impression, has its influence, on the brain. But that is only the trace, it is only what is left behind of the thinking. Thinking takes place indeed in the etheric body; in reality everything you perceive as thinking is nothing but the etheric body's inner activity. So long as we remain in the physical body we need this physical body for thinking. It is very easy to see why the materialist does not arrive at the truth. The materialist says: For heaven's sake, can’t you see that you must have a brain if you are to think?  And if you see this, you can also see that it is your brain which actually does the thinking. This conclusion is about as clever as to say: I can prove that this track on the road has been made by the ground itself.  I shall remove part of the ground and you will see that without it you are unable to walk. The ground is indeed a necessity — it is also necessary to have a brain to be able, when in the physical body, to think.

It is necessary for us to be clear about these things, for it is only then that we learn under what illusion present-day thinking labours, with what a host of illusions this thinking fools itself, and how the only cure for this must be effected through that knowledge so difficult to acquire — which, we trust, does not fail to take the physical body into consideration. For when going about in the physical body we must have solid earth beneath our feet: When thinking in the physical world we must have support for our thinking; we must have a nervous system. When, however, we change the place of our thinking activity to our astral body, the etheric body will become for us what the physical body is when we think with the etheric body.

If we progress to Imaginative thinking we then think in the astral, and the etheric body retains the traces (as formerly, when thinking took place in the etheric body, the traces were retained by the physical body). When after death we are outside the physical body and have also laid aside the etheric body — in the way often described — then our support is the outer life-ether, and what is developed by the astral body and later by the ego we write into the whole cosmic ether.

This, therefore, is the process we go through during what is called the first stage of initiation.  The process consists in our removing our thinking (it is no longer thinking, only the activity of thinking) from the etheric body to the astral body, getting over to the more volatile etheric body the retention of the traces which formerly the physical body held.  This is the essential feature of the first stage in initiation.  It is essential that the activity formerly carried on by the etheric body should be handed over to the astral body.

Thus we see that while living in Imaginative knowledge we, as it were, withdraw from the physical body to the etheric body, imprinting no further traces into the physical body. Through this it comes about that, for anyone who makes this first step in initiation, the physical body from which he withdraws becomes objective and is then outside his astral body and ego. Formerly it was within, now it is outside. He thinks, feels, and wills in the astral body. He has an influence on the etheric body, leaves traces in it, but he no longer influences the physical body and looks upon it as something external.

This is approximately the normal course when it is a question of the first step in initiation — the normal course. It finds expression in a quite definite way in subjective experience.

By means of a diagram I will now make clear in what this first stage of initiation consists. Let us assume that this is the human physical head — and all around the human physical head we have the etheric body. When a man begins to develop what I have been speaking about, when he begins to develop Imaginative knowledge, then the etheric body grows in this way larger, and what is characteristic of this is that parallel with it goes on naturally what has been described as the cultivation of the lotus flowers. The man grows etherically out of himself, and the strange thing is that while he is doing so, something develops out of his body which I would call a kind of etheric heart.

Etheric Heart
Diagram I

As a physical human being we have our physical heart, and we all know how to appreciate the difference between a dry, abstract man who develops his thoughts in a machine-like way and a man who goes with his heart into everything that he experiences — with his physical heart, that is; we can all appreciate this distinction. From the man who slouches around without any interest in life and whose heart plays no part in the experiences of his soul, we do not expect much on the physical plane in the way of real cosmic knowledge.  A kind of spiritual heart develops outside our physical body, parallel to the phenomena I have described in “Knowledge of the Higher Worlds”,  just as the blood system develops and has its center in the heart. The blood system goes outside the body, and outside the body we feel ourselves in our heart bound up with what we know in the way of spiritual science. Only we must not look to enter into the knowledge of spiritual science with the heart that is in our body, but with the heart outside it, for it is with this heart that we enter into what we know of spiritual science.

On reading what is written in the sphere of spiritual science it is possible to say: But this too is scientifically dry — this is science — here we have to go back to school again! We must in any case do enough learning in life, and now we are supposed to learn what spiritual science has to say. There is no heart in that. — One will discover the heart in it when going into things deeply enough.

It is true that many people say:  Theosophy must consist above all in a man in his ego becoming one with the whole world. — This “becoming one", this “development in man of the divine man", this "discovery of the divine ego”, and so on — these are the pet phrases of those who want to be theosophists without having any knowledge of theosophy.  This all springs from lack of desire to develop warmth of heart even when no longer sustained by the living warmth of the physical heart.  Just as Lichtenberg said: “When a head and a book collide and there is a hollow sound, the book is not to be blamed”, we might say: If a man comes up against spiritual science and finds no warmth of heart in it, it is not spiritual science that is to blame. All that I have just been describing as the normal path to clairvoyance consists in man lifting out from his physical body his etheric body (and also the higher members of his organization), and providing himself with a heart outside the limits of his physical body.

What then do ordinary thoughts rest upon? A thought of this kind is actually only developed in the etheric body; it then comes up against the physical body and there makes impressions all over the brain. If we call up before our souls the essential feature of everyday thinking we can say: It rests on our thinking in the etheric body, and on what is thus thought sinking into the nervous system of the brain; there it makes impressions, which do not, however, go very deep but rebound. In this way the thinking is reflected and thus enters our consciousness. A thought therefore consists above all in our having it in our soul as far as the etheric body; it then makes an impression on the physical brain, but cannot enter it and has to rebound. These reflected thoughts we perceive.  Then physiology comes along and points to the traces which have appeared in the physical brain.

Now, how would it be were the thought not reflected back, were it to enter the brain and there merely to cause processes? Were the thought not reflected back we should not be able to perceive it; then it would go into the brain and be the cause simply of processes. It would be conceivable that the thought, instead of being thrown back, might enter the brain; then we should not be conscious of it, for it is only by the thought being reflected that consciousness arises.

There is, however, an activity of the soul which does enter the body, and that is the will. Willing differs from thinking because thinking is thrown back from the bodily organization and perceived as a mirrored image — whereas willing is not. The willing enters into the bodily organization; thereby a physical bodily process is called into being. This brings it about that we walk, move our hands, and so on. Actual willing arises in quite a different way from thinking, which does so by being thrown back. But willing enters into the bodily organization, is not thrown back, but within the bodily organization brings about definite processes. 

Nevertheless, in one part of our bodily organization there is the possibility for what thus sinks down being thrown back.

Follow carefully what I am about to say. The procedure in brain-thinking is this — thought activity develops in the etheric brain and rebounds against the physical nervous system, thus bringing our thoughts into consciousness.  In the case of clairvoyance we, as it were, thrust the brain back: we think with the astral body, and the thinking is thrown back to us by the etheric body.

Here (1 in diagram) is the outer world, here the physical body (when brain thinking is in question). Here (2 in diagram) for clairvoyance, is the outer world, what we work upon with our astral body; we let the etheric body throw this back and we altogether exclude the physical body.

Here (I), however, when we will, the activity of the soul goes down into the physical body. Hence when we walk, when we move a hand, this is done by the soul; but the activity of the soul has to bring about inner organic, material processes, upon which the activity of the soul expends itself. It might be put thus: that the will consists in the activity of the soul being exhausted by its material work in the body.

Brain thinking versus Clairvoyance
Diagram II

Let us now ask in what way we actually live when living in our thinking. My answer would be that in our thinking we are living close to the boundary of eternity. The moment we exclude the physical body and let our thoughts be rayed back from the etheric body, we live in what we carry through the gate of death. As long as we let the physical body ray back the thoughts, we are living in all that is between birth and death; when we will, our will belongs entirely to our physical body. Our physical body is there to promote activity.  Whereas our thinking stands at the very gate of eternity, our willing is organized for the physical body.

Remember how I said in one of the lectures that our willing is the baby, and when it is older it will become thinking. This is absolutely in accordance with what from another point of view we can develop today. Willing is under the ban of the temporal, and only because a man develops, becomes wiser and wiser and permeates his willing by thought, does he raise what is inherent in willing out of time into the sphere of eternity, and free his willing from his body.

But in a certain part of our body there is something inserted, namely, the secondary nervous system, the glandular system, the nervous system of the abdomen — part of which is often called the solar plexus. As developed in a man at present this nervous system is an unfinished organ; it exists only in an embryonic state. It will develop itself later. But just as of a child we know that he has qualities which can still go on developing as he grows up, we can know that this nervous system, today in the service of organic activity, will also develop further. This nervous system which works side by side with the systems of brain and spine and with the nerves that branch out into the limbs, this abdominal nervous system is not so far developed today that it would be able to do what it will do when man has once reached Jupiter. By that time brain and spine will have lost ground and the abdominal nervous system will have progressed to something quite different from what it is today. It will then be placed on the surface of a man; for all that to begin with was within a man will later have its place on his surface.

For this reason for ordinary life between birth and death we make no direct use of this nervous system, letting it remain in the subconscious. Through abnormal conditions, however, it may happen that what a man has in his will and his capacity for desire enters his organism, and through these abnormal conditions — about which we shall speak presently — is thrown back by the abdominal nervous system in the same way as the thought is thrown back by the brain. The will goes into the glandular system but instead of becoming active it is thrown back by the glandular system and something arises in man that usually takes place in his brain — a process which may be characterized as follows.

When we bear in mind the transition from the ordinary waking state to clairvoyance, you can see how within us thinking, feeling, and willing reflect themselves in the ordinary nervous system — feeling and willing, that is, to the extent that they are thoughts —  and we let what is our willing sink down into our organization. In clairvoyance we form by these means — outside the space occupied by the body — a higher organ over against the brain. As the ordinary brain is connected with our physical heart, what develops as thought outside (in the astral body) is connected with the etheric heart. This is the higher clairvoyance — clairvoyance of the head.

A man can, however, take the reverse path. He can go into the organization with the baby-willing in such a way that willing becomes thinking, whereas otherwise he made thinking into will. This is the deeper distinction between what a little time ago I described here as head-clairvoyance and abdominal clairvoyance {See lecture 1}. In the case of head-clairvoyance we form a new etheric organ in which we are independent of the bodily organization we have in ordinary life. Where abdominal clairvoyance is concerned appeal is made to the glandular system, to what otherwise remains unnoticed. Hence the results of abdominal clairvoyance are more fleeting than ordinary waking experience; they have no significance for the soul when passing through the gate of death; whereas even for those souls who have gone through the gate of death, everything gained by head-clairvoyance has spiritual, lasting significance — greater significance than waking day-experience. What is acquired through abdominal clairvoyance has even less significance for life after death than ordinary waking day-knowledge.  All somnambulistic clairvoyance is below waking day-consciousness — not above.

This is certainly not to say that all manner of positional and other qualities cannot be developed through abdominal clairvoyance; because the moment abdominal clairvoyance arises it is really the glands which always send the willing particularly, there arises one of the main forces of opposition against spiritual science, which strives in all directions after clearness.

Spiritual science must everywhere have real sympathy and love for consistent, complete thoughts, not for those that are incomplete. It must not be content with the vague and obscure, but on all sides press on towards what does not narrowly shed the mere semblance of light but spreads true light throughout the wide spaces of the world. In this connection, we still have much, very much, to overcome.

These are the things I wanted to make objects of our study, in order to show how through Ahriman, in the course of the centuries, thoughts have given rise to the denial of the spiritual world, but how the spiritual world itself has worked in the thoughts of those who deny it because: the time has come.

“The time has come.”  Appropriate here are these words from Goethe’s “Fairy Tale”.

This must very soon receive confirmation.

Source: May 1, 1915. GA 161

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