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The Michael Mystery
GA 26

X. First Contemplation: How Michael prepares his earthly mission supersensibly, by the conquest of Lucifer.

Michael's intervention in the evolution of the world and of mankind, at the end of the nineteenth century, appears in a remarkable illumination, if we consider the history of spiritual life in the centuries that went before.

In the early fifteenth century lies the moment from which the epoch of the spiritual Soul first begins.

Previous to this moment, a great change may be seen taking place in the spiritual life of mankind. One can trace how everywhere, previously, Imaginations played through all men's outlook on the world. Particular persons, it is true, have, before this, already arrived in their soul's life so far as bare ‘concepts.’ But the general soul-life of the majority of mankind goes on in a mutual intermingling of Imaginations and of mental conceptions drawn from the purely physical world. It is so with their conceptions about processes of nature, and also with their conceptions of events in history.

What spiritual observation can discover in this direction is in every way confirmed by external testimony. A few instances may be mentioned here.

The tales of historical events, which had lived in the minds and mouths of men during the preceding centuries, began to be written down just before the Age of Consciousness. {Footnote by translator. In this and in several of the following Letters, the phrase ‘Age of Consciousness’ (Bewusstseins-Zeitalter) is often used synonymously with ‘Age of the Consciousness-Soul or spiritual Soul’ (Zeitalter der Bewusstseins-Seele) — compare what is said of this in the Preface.} And thus we have preserved from that period ‘legends’ and such things, which give a faithful portrayal of the manner in which men pictured ‘history’ to themselves in the times before.

A beautiful example is the Tale of the Good Gerard, preserved in a poem by Rudolf of Ems, who lived in the first half of the thirteenth century. ‘Good Gerard’ is a rich merchant of Cologne. He sets out on a trading expedition to Russia, Livonia and Prussia, to buy sables. Thence he goes on to Damascus and Nineveh, to procure silks and similar merchandise.

On the homeward journey he is driven out of his course by a tempest. He is thrown upon a strange shore, where he makes acquaintance with a man who is keeping prisoner certain English knights and also the bride of the English king. Gerard offers him everything that he has gained by trade upon his journey, and receives the prisoners in return. He takes them on board his ship and sets out on his journey home. When the ships come to where the ways part, one way to Gerard's country and the other to England, Gerard dismisses the men-prisoners and sends them on their way to their own country. The king's bride he keeps with him, in the hope that her betrothed, King William, will come and fetch her, as soon as he hears that she is free and where she is dwelling. The bride-queen and the ladies of her company are treated by Gerard with all conceivable kindness. She lives as a well-loved daughter in the house of him who has redeemed her from captivity. A long, long time goes by, without the king's appearing to fetch her. At last, in order to secure the future of his foster daughter, Gerard resolves to marry her to his own son; for it seem reasonable to believe that William is dead. The wedding feast is already in full train, when an unknown pilgrim appears amongst them. It is William. He had been long wandering about, seeking for his betrothed bride. She is restored to him, after Gerard's son has unselfishly resigned her. Both remain for a while still with Gerard; and then he fits out a ship to take them to England. Gerard is the first to be seen and welcomed in England by his former prisoners — all now attained to high dignities, and they at once want to choose him for their king. But he can tell them in reply that he is bringing them their own rightful king and queen. For they too had believed William to be dead, and were about to choose another king to rule the country, where everything had fallen to into confusion during the long time that William had been on his wanderings. The merchant of Cologne rejects everything they offer him in the way of honours and riches; and returns to Cologne, to live again as the simple merchant that he was before.

The story is couched in the form that the Saxon Emperor, Otto the First, journeys to Cologne to make the acquaintance of Good Gerard. For the powerful emperor in much that he has done, has not escaped the temptation of looking for an ‘earthly reward.’ Through acquaintance with Gerard, there is brought keenly home to him, by example, the untold good done by a plain man: The sacrifice of all the merchandise he had acquired, in order to set prisoners free; the restoration of his son's bride to William; and then all that he performs in order to bring William back to England, and so on — without coveting any earthly reward whatever in return, but looking for his reward from the hand of God alone. In the mouths of the people the man goes by the name of ‘the good Gerard.’ The Emperor feels that he has received a powerful spur, religiously and morally, through acquaintance with a man so minded as Gerard.

This story — of which I have here given the bare outline, so as not merely to allude by name to something little known — shows from one aspect very distinctly what was the constitution of men's souls in the age that preceded the dawning of the Spiritual Soul in human evolution. Anyone who lets the story, as told by Rudolf of Ems, work within him, can feel what a change has taken place in men's realization of the earthly world since the days when Emperor Otto lives (in the tenth century.)

Looking thence to the age of the Spiritual Soul, we may see how the world has grown as it were ‘clear’ to the vision of men's souls, in respect of their grasp of physical entities and physical processes. Gerard sails with his ships, so to speak, through a mist. He only knows, each time, one little bit of the world with which he has to do. In Cologne, one learns nothing of what is happening in England; and one must go for years in search of a man who is in Cologne. The life and possessions of such a person as the man on whose shore Gerard is cast on his homeward voyage, first become known to one when Fate carries one directly to the spot. Compared to the perspicuity of the world's circumstances to-day, that of those days is like the difference between gazing over a broad, sunny landscape, and groping in a dense mist.

With anything that to-day is accounted ‘historic’ the Tale of Good Gerard and the circumstances narrated in it have nothing whatever to do. But all the more do they shew the general tone of feeling and the whole state of mind of the age. And this, not the particular occurrences of the physical world, is depicted in Imaginations.

The picture so drawn reflects Man's feeling that he is not merely a being who in all his life and actions is simply a link in the chain of events in the physical world, turned men's eyes to the beholding of the spiritual world. They did not see into the length and breadth of physical existence; but all the more they saw into the depths of spiritual existence.

But as once it had been, when in their dim dreamlike clairvoyance men had looked into the spiritual world, it was now no more, in the age of which we are speaking. The Imaginations were there, but the apprehension they met with in the human soul was one already strongly tending towards the intellectual form of thought. The result was that people no longer knew how the world which reveals itself in Imaginations is related to the world of outer physical existence. And therefore, to people who adhered with more penetration to the intellectual form of thought, the Imaginations appeared to be free ‘fictions,’ with no actual reality.

People no longer knew that through Imaginations men look into a world in which they dwell with quite another part of their being than in the physical world. And so, in the descriptions, both worlds are portrayed side by side; and both, from the style of the narration wear such a character, that one might well think that the spiritual events described had taken place alongside the physical ones, as visibly as the physical events themselves.

Moreover, in many of these stories, the physical events themselves were confounded together. Persons whose lives lay hundreds of years apart appear on the scene as contemporaries. Actual events are transferred to wrong places or wrong times. Facts of the physical world are looked at by the human soul in a way in which one can only look at things of the spirit, for which time and space have another meaning than they have for physical things. The physical world is described in Imaginations, instead of in thoughts. And, in return, the spiritual world is woven into the story as though one had to do, not with a quite other form of existence, but with a continuation of the physical facts.

The history which holds solely to physical interpretations of everything, thinks that the old Imaginations from the East, from Greece, etc. were taken over, and woven poetically into the historical material which interested people at the time. In the writings of Isidore of Seville (7th century A.D.) there was indeed a regular collection of old stories and legendary ‘motifs.’

But this is a surface view of the matter. It can have a value only for one who has no sense of that other form of human soul-life, which knows itself and its own external existence to be in direct touch with the spiritual world, and feels impelled to express in Imaginations what thus it knows. And if then, instead of the narrator's own ‘Imagination,’ he uses one that has been handed down in history and which he has made his own by familiarity, this is not the essential feature; the essential feature is, that the soul's whole orientation is towards the spiritual world, so that the soul sees her own doings and all the proceedings of Nature interwoven with this spiritual world.

There is, however, a certain confusion observable in the style of narrative in the period just before the dawn of the Spiritual Soul.

In this confusion, when viewed with spiritual understandings, may be seen the actions of the Luciferic Powers. The impulse which makes the soul adopt Imaginations into her personal store of life-experience, corresponds less with the faculties that she possessed in primeval times — through dream-like clairvoyance — and more with those already in existence in the eighth to the fourteenth centuries. These later faculties were already impelling the soul more towards a thinking interpretation of what was perceived through the senses. The soul is placed betwixt the two: betwixt the old orientation — where all turns upon the spiritual world, and the physical world is only seen as in a mist — and the new orientation, where all turns upon physical proceedings, and spiritual vision has grown dim.

Into this unstable balance in the human soul is thrown the Luciferic influence. The Luciferic Powers want to prevent Man from coming to a complete orientation in the physical world. They want to keep him with his consciousness in spiritual regions that were suited to him in primeval times. They want to keep his dream-like, imaginative world-vision from the influence of that pure thinking which is trained to the understanding of physical existence. They are able indeed, in a wrong way, to keep back his powers of vision from the physical world; but they are not able, in a right way, to keep alive his power of realizing the old Imaginations. And so they leave him musing in Imaginations, without being able quite to transport him in soul into those worlds, where Imaginations have real validity. The effect of Lucifer's influence, in the first beginning of the Age of the Spiritual Soul, is to transport Man out of the physical world into the supersensible one that lies just on its borders.

This may be seen clearly illustrated in the Legend of Duke Earnest, which was one of the favourite stories of the Middle Ages, and circulated far and wide:

Duke Earnest comes into conflict with the Emperor; and the emperor makes war unjustly upon him, to destroy him. To escape these impossible relations with the head of the empire, Duke Earnest sees himself obliged to join the crusade which is on its way to the East. In the various adventures that now befall him before his journey reaches its end, physical things and spiritual things are interwoven in the ‘legendary’ style above described. The duke, for instance, comes on his journey to a race of men with heads like cranes. He is cast with his vessels upon the ‘Magnetic Mountain,’ which attracts all ships by its magnetic power, so that people who come into the neighbourhood of the mountain cannot get away again, but are bound to perish miserably. Duke Earnest and his followers manage to escape by sewing themselves into skins and letting themselves be carried off by griffins, who are used to come down and prey upon the people who have been cast on the Magnetic Mountain. They are carried to a mountain top; and there, whilst the griffins are away, they cut themselves out of the skins and so escape. After further wanderings, they come to a people whose ears are so long that they can wrap them round their whole body like a coat; and then to another race of people with such big feet that when it rains they lie down on the ground and spread their feet over them like umbrellas. They come to a race of dwarfs, a race of giants, and so on. A great deal of this kind comes into the tale, as part of Duke Earnest's adventures upon his crusade. This ‘legend’ does not let one feel — in the way one should, wherever ‘Imaginations’ come in — that here the story is passing into a spiritual sphere, telling in pictures of things that are going on in the astral world and have a connection with the wills and the fate of the people upon earth.

It is the same with the fine ‘Story of Roland,’ which celebrates Charlemagne's expedition against the heathens of Spain. Here it is even narrated, in analogy with the bible, that in order to enable Charlemagne to reach a desired place the sun stays its course, so that this one day is as long as an ordinary two.

And, in the Saga of the Niebelung, one can see how the form of the story preserved in Northern countries has maintained the vision of the Spiritual in much greater purity; whereas in Middle Europe the Imaginations have been brought very close to physical life. The form of the Northern legends expresses clearly that the Imaginations have reference to an ‘astral world.’ In its Mid-European form, the ‘Niebelungen Lied,’ the Imaginations glide over into the views of the physical one.

All this, examined with the eye of the spirit, shows that the entrance into the Age of Consciousness means growing out of a phase of evolution in which the Luciferic Powers would be victorious over mankind, if the Spiritual Soul with its intellectual power did not bring a new strain of evolution into Mans being. That tendency to take their whole orientation from the spiritual world, by which men are confused and led astray, finds its check in the Spiritual Soul; men's gaze is drawn out into the physical world. All that takes place in this direction helps to withdraw mankind from the bewildering influence of Lucifer.

In all this, Michael is already working from out of the spiritual world on Man's behalf. From the region above the senses he is preparing his work for later. He gives to mankind impulses which conserve the primeval relation to the divine-spiritual world, without this conservation assuming a Luciferic character.

Then, in the last third of the nineteenth century, Michael pushes forward, and carries his action — which from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century has gone on preparatorily from the supersensible region — into the physical earth-world itself.

It was necessary, for a while, that mankind should pursue their spiritual evolution in the direction of freeing themselves from a relation to the spiritual world which was threatening to become impossible. Subsequently, this evolution turned again, through Michael's mission, into paths which bring human progress upon earth once more into a relation with the spiritual world in which Man can find health and wholeness.

So Michael stands, in his working, between the World-Picture of Lucifer, and the World-Understanding of Ahriman. The World-Picture turns, with Michael, to wisdom of itself as divine World-Working. And in this World-Working lives the care of Christ for mankind, which can thus disclose itself through Michael's World-Revelation to the human heart.

Leading Thoughts

The dawn of the Age of Consciousness (age of the Spiritual Soul) in the 15th century is preceded, in the evening of the age of the Intellectual or Mind-Soul, by an enhancement of Luciferic activity, which lasts on for a while into the new period.

The aim of this Luciferic activity is unrightfully to preserve old forms of mentally picturing the world, and to keep Man back from using the intellect to comprehend the physical life of the world and make himself familiar with it.

Michael unites himself with Man's activity, in order that the emancipated power of the intellect may abide by its divine, spiritual parentage, not in a Luciferic but in a rightful way.