Where and How Does One Find the Spirit?
VI. Superstition from the Standpoint of Spiritual Science
10 December 1908, Berlin
Before some time when I stayed in a little town in Germany, I made the acquaintance of a poet, a dramatist, and in the time of our acquaintance, he was just occupied to complete a drama. On an afternoon, he worked on the completion of his drama almost like with steam power, as I could notice in a visit which I had to do. One could not speak at all with him, because he had to further the matter as quickly as possible. In the evening shortly before eight o'clock, I did a walk. I met my good dramatist, when he speeded on a bicycle to the post office and could not be impeded. Nevertheless, it interested me — you will soon see why — why the person concerned speeded so exceptionally fast to the post office just that day. It was shortly before eight o'clock when it was closed. When he came back, he said to me on my question, why he had to go in such haste to the post office just even today, this would be a peculiar matter.
Now you understand this matter best of all, if I say first that after a just beginning, then prevailing fashion the dramatist concerned belonged to the freest spirits of the present and that he represented his worldview in the freest phrases. He was a very advanced person. Telling the following, I would like to show that I commit no indiscretion. If he were here, he would completely be pleased to hear that I tell this matter. Now we are able to form an opinion about what he said when he came from the post office: “I have gone so quickly to the post office because I wanted to bring my drama to the post office today. Today is the last auspicious day. If I had waited till tomorrow, I would have exposed myself to the danger that the theatre management rejects the drama.” — I asked, “Have you finished it, actually?” For it seemed impossible to me. “No,” he said, “however, I have written a letter, so that one sends the drama back again to alter the last scenes.” This was the free spirit! I had to remember a lady who had worked on a dress many years ago and wanted to have it ready and put on at Thursday. If she had put it on for the first time on Friday, she would certainly experience a misfortune. One normally does not take into consideration sufficiently, what it means for our feeling and thinking in the present if a free spirit makes a post, like the poet speeding to the post office to send off the drama incomplete and then to let it send back again, so that he can finish it. You see that superstition can be something rather strange.
It may be something that a person has banished completely from his worldview and it may be that he protests strongly against it in a boasting way to be concerned with such superstition. However, if it depends on it, there are loopholes through which this superstition can slip in. We live in a time in which in the most scornful sense one speaks about all possible forms of superstition. However, at the same time it happens in this present that those who speak about superstition have no idea of it now and again through which loophole slips in just with them. For it does not need to be an old form of, like with this dramatist speeding on his bicycle. New forms of superstition can also appear. Just somebody who speaks scornfully about the old forms of superstition may be exposed worst to some new form of superstition. It is maybe difficult to realise these concepts of superstition anyhow in our time, because in our time the tendency prevails so much to regard everything that one himself believes as the only reasonable and to deny everything that one himself does not believe. Just this way of feeling in our time opens the doors to various new forms of superstition. Hence, it is not sufficient to continue the common talking about superstition, if we want to get involved thoroughly in superstition from the spiritual-scientific viewpoint.
Various old traditions have come into our time, various things that our ancestors have believed various things that our ancestors and the scholars of ancient time believed to be strictly scientific and what is expelled to the region of superstition today. We ask ourselves, should not the idea light up in those who face the old traditions with a shrug who seem to be scientifically advanced, that that could be erroneous which is believed today? Could it not be that our descendants may regard this as the biggest superstition some centuries later? Indeed, someone who believes to stand on the firm ground of natural sciences is easily inclined, for example, to cast everything that is pronounced from a viewpoint that assumes a spiritual world beside the physical one, generally in the field of superstition. On the other side, one can easily understand that theosophy — admittedly maybe also unfounded — combats and characterises the superstition of natural sciences. The fact that the one or the other party regards this or that as superstition can never become a characteristic feature of the real nature of superstition. Various things which project from old times just show us if it is real superstition that it depends with such matters much less on the human logic, on human reason than rather on the human ways of thinking, on that which people are used to think today.
How many things appear in our popular literature, in our daily press today, which are apparently contrary to the enlightened thinking! For example, there is a city in Germany — it is not far away from Berlin — where you would look for a cab with the number 13 in vain. He who had it once got no passenger. It was ignored, the number 13. Also at hotels you can often experience that the number 13 is absent in the room numbers. You can also find in baths where nothing but enlightened doctors are that the number 13 is ignored with bathing cubicles because nobody wants it. That right in the middle and beside the way of thinking of modern literature and daily press! However, someone who is a soul expert to some degree already finds that superstition is, nevertheless, something that slips into the human thinking and feeling completely quietly.
There is a popular booklet about superstition in which something reasonable and something absurd can be found. Then, after the author slaughters what astrology and astronomy and other forms of superstition are, he states that astrologers once existed who cast horoscopes to the human beings and derived their destinies from the moment of birth. Such astrologers would no longer exist as far as he would know; the midwives would do this now. Indeed, it would not take place in Berlin but in remaining Germany. You can really read this sentence in this booklet about superstition. I do not believe that anybody can call it other than superstition, because, otherwise, he would have to say that many astrologers cast horoscopes today. What the man says does not correspond at all to the facts; it is the purest superstition. Every investigation could show him the opposite of his assertion. Similar things slip in the consciousness of the human beings every day if these are also less palpable things and one would regard it as a paradox if I spoke of superstition.
The opinion has arisen in certain circles of scientific consideration since some time that one has to look for physical causes of human memory, in particular in the field of sexuality. Not only this, but also the writings and brochures are numerous which examine the mental conditions of great spirits. A Leipzig scholar took great pains till recently to examine a whole group of great spirits, among them Goethe, Schopenhauer, Scheffel (Joseph Victor von Sch., 1826–1886, German poet), and Conrad Ferdinand Meyer (1825–1898, Swiss poet), to what extent they had, actually, this or that insanity and whether their geniuses would be connected with this or that insanity. On the other side, the tendency of physical illness relates to inheritance, and no current event escapes from such an interpretation today. Here we are concerned with a superstition that rises just now, which penetrates, however, our education like a scourge. Future times will not understand that it was possible that science could worship such a superstition for a while. If our descendants repaid this in the same sense, judged in the same sense what science believes and teaches today as one teaches and judges today what our ancestors believed in former times, then those who are active in these fields today would come off the worst. Thus, we already see, while we survey the facts impartially, that the old forms of superstition are rightly thrown to the window and, on the other side, new forms slip in that are not just simply recognised as those.
Who looks around a little in science knows how many demons of superstition slip in here and there which only have a short existence fortunately, but can be not less detrimental. Sometimes trends are not far from that which one may call superstition. I would like to give an example. During my activity as educator, I could make some observation that was possible only because I could go into a large field concerning the human development. More than twenty years ago, it was standard to give little children red wine, generally wine to drink — possibly in the second, third, fourth years. One could realise how by a certain trend of medicine just children got their glass of red wine at this age every time during dinner. He, who observes such a thing, maybe observes too short periods in relation to the effect of these matters. If one compares those persons who are 20-year-old today and were children of two to five years at that time to others who got no wine at that time for their strengthening, the difference of the present nervous manifests itself to a hair's breadth between those who got wine and those who got no wine.
There was in those days the superstition that wine contains a strength in itself. This was a trend of superstition. One offered this opinion like any other superstitious opinion. Now we can refrain from all that and go over to some other fields where one does not speak at all of superstition, although the mental fact of the matter is completely the same one in the human being. If speak of the weird idols, fetishes or catchwords people have in social life which they run after like others run after certain idols in other fields, and we realize how much superstition is contained in it, then you would recognise: if the quantity of superstition does not live it up in one field, it changes over to another field. If the human being towers above superstition on one side, it is swiftly expressed in another field where one does not notice it so much.
After we have characterised the situation a little, we may be allowed to try to come to the real origin of superstition, to the peculiar state of mind in which a superstitious person is. Above all one is allowed to say that with the emergence of this state of mind the bias of a human being plays the conceivably biggest role in this or that school of thought. Someone understands the same fact — depending on his school of thought — in the one or other way. Let us try to bring a concrete case home to us. The French physiologist Richet (Charles R., 1850–1935, Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, 1913) had the following experience: he walked in the street once, and on the other side of the street a person was walking. At this moment, he had the thought: nevertheless, it is strange that professor Lacassagne is in Paris today. However, it is not so strange. Fourteen days ago, professor Lacassagne sent me an article and wrote that he would be here in fourteen days. Richet wanted already to go to the other side and greet him when he said to himself that he wants to go to the editorial office, and the other would probably also come there. At the same moment, he realised that the professor resembled an ophthalmologist known to him. Richet goes to the editorial office, and there appears professor Lacassagne after one hour. Richet says to him, I saw you in the street before one hour. The professor answers: this is impossible. I was not there an hour ago, but somewhere else. — It is no doubt; Richet could not have seen him. It is peculiar how two persons often behave to each other if they have two different lines of thought. Richet saw a person and had the certain impression to see professor L. However, when he faced the professor L., it seemed to him brainless to have taken another person who was big and blond for professor L., who was of medium height and had a dark moustache. However, Richet is a man who believes in occult effects, in telepathy. He said to himself, professor L. is in Paris and thought to go to the editorial office — and at this moment, I saw this thought by telepathy!
A Danish researcher, Lehmann (Alfred Georg Ludvig L., 1858–1921, psychologist), who has written a book about Superstition and Magic (1898) thinks differently about that. He says, “Richet believes in telepathy; that is why he sees something mystic in this quite usual experience which should prove the correctness of his confidence, however, he overlooks the incidental circumstances completely which explain the matter absolutely naturally. I myself have experienced various such cases, and because I do not believe in telepathy, I have always looked for and found an obvious cause of the phenomenon.”
There you have two persons who judge the same event quite differently depending on the school of thought. I myself would like to agree with the Danish researcher Lehmann, because those who approach occult matters by inadequate means overstate the case the easiest and can explain anything in the world to themselves like in this case. However, you see from it how the bias, in which a person is with his line of thought, causes that he colours another person whom he faces in such a way.
Now think how the things are reflected in the human soul if they are not exactly figured out. There we come to the real nature of superstition in the spiritual-scientific sense. You can read countless writings and discussions about the superstition of alchemy, the hapless art to produce gold to which so many have dedicated themselves. Those who wrote about it were mostly — in the modern view — exceptionally competent, positive researchers in other respect. They occupy an important place with their writings, in which in this or that way the art of making gold is informed. However, what you read there appears to you as sheer madness, as absolute nonsense. Moreover, it appears in numerous cases as such obvious fraud that one can realise very easily how just at that time when the human being believed such a thing in this field fallacy by fallacy was spread.
Even though chemistry developed from alchemy, we must be infinitely happy that we have, finally, the true chemical science, in contrast to those figments and errors to which our ancestors have abandoned themselves in alchemy. Perhaps we can understand just the easiest what is deception if we consider some simple cases. We want to refrain from the number thirteen, but you know that for some people the number seven causes something dreadful that some regard it as a lucky number, sometimes, however, also as an unlucky number with which magic effects should be connected. I need to mention something only that can lead you to that which is connected with the number seven. I want not only to mention that the number seven is also found in the purely physical nature — seven colours, seven tones et cetera — what has often enough been mentioned here from which one can conclude that this or that is connected with the number seven. However, we want to refrain from that today. We want to turn our attention to something else.
There is an illness, pneumonia, which increases for seven days and then decreases. Only during the seventh day the crisis occurs, so that someone who has to treat such a sick person has to pay attention in particular to this physical rhythm. There we have the number seven connected to a particular process, something that can be observed in any single case. The modern materialistic science does not get involved with any explanation of this process. If we traced back medicine in ancient times in which you do not have to see a sum of mistakes only as it is shown in the history of medicine, one would understand that the ancient doctors and experts of nature knew how all life proceeds in a certain rhythm. They knew that a rhythmical coherence exists between the processes in the human being and outdoors in the big nature, in the macrocosm. Because the human being is, actually, born out of the macrocosm whose life proceeds in certain external processes, the human life also proceeds in a certain rhythm. He, who knows the rhythm of human life, knows very well that an increasing and decreasing rhythm of 28 days, of four times seven days, in an organ like the lung in which certain functional strengths and weaknesses appear. There it is no longer surprising, as soon as one recognises this basis, that the illness of the lung becomes especially dangerous where it collides, so to speak, with the general rhythm of life phenomena. Briefly, we would see if we considered the facts in the sense of spiritual research and not superstitiously, why after seven days a particular crisis of pneumonia takes place. However, one does not want to come to such things in our materialistic age, which can be pursued only by the means of spiritual science.
There was a time in which the doctors not only knew that pneumonia goes through this crisis during the seventh day, but in which they also knew why this is so. They knew how this is connected also with the healthy rhythm. However, this spiritual-scientific knowledge is forgotten to the external life. One does no longer know the real lawfulness, it got lost to humankind. The mere number seven remained. One did not know at all, in the end, why pneumonia shows something particular after seven days. Then one takes out such a thing, of course, without being able or wanting to understand it. One applies it because one sees something particular in the number seven as such. One says to himself, something particular is connected with the number seven. One can apply it anyhow here or there. As long as one keeps to formalities, as long as one does not look into the matter, one has no reason to apply the thing here or there. So one applies it where apparently an occasion exists. Above all, a human law is involved, which is only too comprehensible: in all cases where one has arranged such a thing from abstraction where one applies it and sees that it fits the thing works; however, if it does not fit , one overlooks it.
Thus, it also applies to some country lore. Who comes from the country knows for sure that from the first thunderstorm, which appears in the spring, this and that is prophesied. If the prophesied comes true, it is accepted as a rule, if it does not come true, one forgets it. Nevertheless, deep profundities are in some country lore, and one would have to investigate it on its deep wisdom. Then again, one applies not the purely exterior of superstition, but intends to penetrate the thing independently. Indeed, I was pleased rather well if beside other country lore once again that is pronounced, if the cock crows on the dung heap, the weather changes or remains as it is. — A healthy trait appears here that must not be generalised but individualised. On these essentials, the development of our soul and spirit should depend.
In a similar way, only not so transparently, many things of alchemy are concerned. Some of you know when I spoke about the Rosicrucian initiation and the philosophers' stone that I showed what one has to understand by the philosophers' stone in the real spiritual science of all times and what can remain in force before our present most modern thinking. Among the various methods that lead up the human being to higher knowledge, in particular to the Rosicrucian initiation, you find one method that one calls “the preparation of the philosophers' stone” downright. Something is understood by this preparation of the philosophers' stone that is connected with a regulation of the respiratory process. Becoming conscious and regulating breathing according to spiritual principles belonged to the different methods, with which the human being works his way up to the higher worlds. After particular instructions, someone breathes who becomes a disciple of spiritual science in the positive sense.
This breathing has a particular result for the whole organism that the external science is no longer able to investigate because it knows nothing of the matter. The human being develops something by the instrument of his own body in himself that really appears in his body and enables him to another worldview because by the respiration an effect happens which expresses itself in the mineral composition of the physical body. Thus, we have produced something by the regulation of the respiratory rhythm in the human being that was called the philosophers' stone. It is that which is to be produced inevitably in the human organism if the human being has to grow into the higher worlds. The process can be given, but one cannot impart it to any human being just without further ado. Since only someone can apply this process by its very nature who does it in a completely unselfish way without any personal regard.
When I spoke once in a little circle how one is able to do it today already as I would suggest it also wholeheartedly in one of the talks, a person said afterwards, it would be rather useful, if one publicly announced the method to produce a particular mineral in the human being. For this mineral would be something very useful if one produced it in big masses. — I had to answer: the fact that you put this question gives the reason why it is not allowed to be announced. As long as such questions are put, it is just impossible that it is allowed to be announced. You can find it in the literature, but it is veiled there. It is only comprehensible to that who gets to know the parlance going through a pre-school. “Mercury,” “philosophers' stone,” “silver” mean something else. If one speaks of the union of mercury and its addition to any other product, “mercury” and “philosophers' stone” just mean something else than external matters.
However, these things exist in literature. Those who have no idea what the expressions and the signs in particular signify which are connected with them take the thing simply literally. If one takes them literally, it is the purest nonsense. So, for example, it has happened to a Danish researcher of superstition that he read something about strange personalities of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, about Ramon Llull (~1232–1316) and others. It is at everybody's discretion to regard him as a swindler, a charlatan or as the greatest sage of his time, depending on he can understand him. Now, however, it is told that Ramon Llull succeeded in finding the philosophers' stone after a 30-year-study — to most people an uncomfortable matter — and that he thereby became able to make gold, while he transformed a certain amount of mercury by a part of the stone into a powder which still had all qualities of the stone. If one takes a tiny amount of it, it gets the quality again to transform mercury. Then a tiny amount is taken from this again, and so on, until gold originates finally.
If one tries this, if he takes what he finds in the book, takes certain substances, mixes them and adds them to the mercury, it is the biggest nonsense that can be done. Everybody is right to mock it. The Danish researcher also does this. He mocks it. Who knows, however, how to interpret the expressions finds that in literature the “philosophers' stone” exists just as in the writings by Ramon Llull, with which he achieved his goal. This is the wonderful of the matter that the sentence has been known for centuries and is right even today. This shows somebody who knows something about it how brilliantly right it is. Then he realises that in Ramon Llull really the soul of one of the wisest of his age lived. However, who sticks only to the external mode of expression gets up to nonsense really. Many people got up to nonsense who believed that the wise alchemist produced external gold, and they also went insane, although I believe that they already went insane a little when they started the matter. Psychiatrists, however, state that they went insane thereby. They may have lost their wealth, because they did not find gold at last. Hence, one must not disagree with the writer so much who calls alchemy nonsense, because — what he could understand of it is nonsense only. However, no nonsense is big enough not to be believed by this or that person.
This is connected with an addiction that you can experience in the field of spiritual science day by day. You experience the following: if you face this or that person with a natural phenomenon, which needs clarification, and you try to explain such a phenomenon in connection with its spiritual undergrounds and claim to lead back an everyday phenomenon to its spiritual base, then you excite no special interest with most people today. Many human beings do not search the explicable but the inexplicable. They are happy if they can find anything that remains inexplicable to them. Tell to anybody that here or there, something has taken place that cannot be explained, and then they are pleased with it. People really want to be pointed to the inexplicable. They do not want to penetrate what presents itself to them, but they want to increase the miraculous. Try to explain something about the development of plants to anybody, while he can grasp them from the undergrounds of development and look deeply at nature, so that he is led from the sensuous where one deals with the spirit at one end deeply into the spiritual — then he cannot believe in a spiritual world! However, if you tell such a person that a hand of a statue got lost, was found again in another city, and has been reinserted, he says: no one can explain this, consequently I believe in a spiritual world. — This is in such a way that the persons want to remain without an understanding of the spirit because they believe that one is not allowed to fathom this. With it, they open the doors to superstition everywhere.
If the human being does not strive for impartiality with that which is available to him in his reason and logical thinking, he is exposed to all possible forms of superstition when he does not want to rely on this, as soon as something appears that is different from the usual. Thus, one could see, for example — you forgive if I say this, although I stand completely on the ground of spiritual science and theosophy — how often just those who stand on the ground of theosophy reject what could lead to enlightenment in the spiritual-scientific sense. When the theosophical movement had begun in the world, two significant persons lived by whom this wisdom was revealed to humankind at first. Those who have this wisdom have not behaved in such a way as it... (Gap)
I have characterised this heaps of times. For: how could one have behaved compared with a truth that was received from an unknown side? The first intermediaries of the theosophical worldview said, from personalities who stay in the background we have got the wisdom we committed to this or that book. — There one could have said the following, well, these human beings who bring this wisdom are honourable, but we want to check this wisdom ourselves. — I always emphasise that only somebody can do research in the higher worlds who has attained particular abilities. However, if this wisdom is informed, so that it is verifiable, then what? This wisdom was not checked in many cases. One accepted the matter in good faith because one said to them that it has come from higher beings. The others, however, said, whether it is founded or not, this does not matter; whether the higher beings generally exist, that is the point; and if one does not know for sure whether these higher beings exist or not, we reject the whole theosophy.
However, could it not have happened that anybody said to himself, this wisdom may have come wherever from at first, I check it, whether and how it fits the phenomena of life, whether it proves true in life; above all, I check its relation to the current worldview, to the positive science? — There one could maybe come to the view: how poor is that which the worldview gives us built up on positive science compared with that, which has come from theosophical side. One must not accept it in good faith, but one can check and understand it. The result will be whether those from whom this wisdom has come are greater than those who stand on the ground of the so-called scientific facts. We have no reason to assume that H. P. Blavatsky received her worldview from a rain cloud. Such wisdom that one has found as reasonable must originate from somewhere. Whether one can call it great, this depends on what arises if one compares this worldview to that which one already recognises as great.
Such a check would have been reasonable. However, this is the only one that brings honour to the human mind, not accepting on good faith, also not rejecting on good faith, but examining without prejudice. Indeed, not anybody can do research. Those should do it who can develop their mental powers especially. However, everybody can examine impartially, if only he did not search the inexplicable instead of the explicable and were satisfied having found the inexplicable. As long as one says to him, he should try hard to fathom the spirit; he does not want to come along. However, if one informs him of anything that is not to be understood at all, he is present because it is more comfortable. This is especially distinctive of the soul state of the human being.
There is another case, which took place (taken from Lehmann's book). I talk again not in such a way, as if anything true is behind it, but I talk about the human spiritual condition that has become obvious thereby. One told that in certain regions of Asia human beings existed who can do the following: they spread out a cloth, take a rope, throw the rope in the air, let a little child climb up, until it becomes invisible on top; then they themselves climb up, and after some time the limbs of the child fall down dismembered. Then the fakir also follows, takes a bag, packs the limbs into it, shakes the whole, then he pours out the bag and — the child is recreated completely. I do not want to decide what is behind, but only speak about the way of superstition.
The process appears to the human beings as something that is hard to believe at first. A certain S. Ellmore wrote about that in the Chicago Tribune, and a painter drew strange pictures that showed the different stadia quite correctly: the thrown rope, the climbing child and so on. Ellmore himself added photos which were shot especially cunningly, because one always saw the fakir and the spectators only who looked upwards once, then downwards. However, one did not see the remaining. Ellmore explained the whole matter, so that one could easily elucidate it. He meant namely that the person concerned who carried out the matter must be a very significant hypnotist who could suggest the process to a whole company. There people said to themselves that the process was no superstition but suggestion, and it seemed explicable that all people were hypnotised. However, this suggestive process appeared to a person even more incredible than the original process. For he thought that there could be matters in the world, which cannot be explained by our principles, and said to himself: concerning suggestion one already knows something, but concerning the soul forces one must still investigate many a matter. — This person turned to S. Ellmore to find out the place where this was present at such a performance. Now the truth became known. S. Ellmore explained that the whole story was invented, what already his pseudonym points to: S. Ellmore = sell more. He had dressed the matter in this form, because he could not believe the original process and found the form of suggestion acceptable to the modern consciousness.
You see that it really depends on the mental constitution that it depends on what takes place in our souls if one wants to elucidate the concept and the being of superstition fairly. Quite different factors must decide whether a matter is correct or is not correct in the end. However, what can protect us from any aberrations which become superstition can be solely the pursuit of real knowledge, of seeing through the matters. Someone is always addicted to superstition who does not want to penetrate really into the depth of the matters. It anyway is in such a way that this longing for a certain quantity of superstition prevails absolutely. With it, I pronounce the basic principle of superstition: as long as the human being remains only in the observation of the physical environment, as long as he does not want to penetrate to spiritual science, to the real knowledge of the spiritual primal grounds of the things, a certain need of superstition lives in him.
If you like, take a modern doctor: if he rejects any form of superstition in his thinking ever so much — that who is impartial can easily prove how he covers his requirements of superstition in another form copiously. This is the principle of compensation in the human soul. You see in it how typical the principle is.
You have a person who wants to be way beyond the old superstition in every respect, but how much superstition Haeckel (Ernst H., 1835–1919, naturalist, philosopher) registers in his Miracles of Life and in his World Riddles! Those who know me know that I recognise Haeckel in all because he is the great researcher. Who knows me also knows that I always point to the positive that Haeckel has performed. Because he has thrown out the old superstition and does not want to go back to the spiritual backgrounds of the things, he applies it to another field. He becomes the most superstitious person on the other field. In the field of energy and matter, as he imagines it, there the atoms are dancing and whirling.
He calls that his god. He attributes to the dancing and whirling atoms that they can create conditions which simple living beings show, and that these again are made up to more complex things which fit together, in the end, to the form of the human brain. Everything that the human being can feel and want, all ideals, and moral, all religions are for that who can judge the thing impartially only dance of atoms. No difference exists to him between the dance of the atoms and the big fetishes of African savages. Whether the African savage adores his wooden block and looks at it as his god, or whether Haeckel lets his little atoms dance and looks at them as little gods — there is no difference between both concerning superstition. The one and the other superstition stand at the same point of view. There was a time — it is behind us already in certain ways — there one could see how this superstition emerged bit by bit. New discoveries of natural sciences were done in the course of time, in particular in chemistry. New compounds could be explained that one noticed differences of weight of the smallest parts in space. Many a thing was explained by the principle of the atomic weights. The view appeared fertile to construct such an atomic theory. Later, one forgot that one had constructed this atomic theory in spirit. The atoms became real idols which one adored.
When I was a pupil, a headmaster (Heinrich Schramm, see Steiner's autobiography, chapter II) made me realise what atomic superstition is. The headmaster calculated all phenomena of physics and chemistry as movements in those days — a long time ago. However, he did not yet calculate the thinking. However, he made calculations up to the chemical phenomena. The booklet, which contained these things, is called The General Movement of Matter as a Basic Cause of All Natural Phenomena. This was something that could fascinate somebody who defers to this issue. I would just give everybody this booklet with pleasure. However, it is no longer available in the book trade for a long time. Perhaps in libraries it may be still to be found. There we see superstition appearing in the omnipotence of the atomic whirl.
We saw all possible forms of superstition appearing one by one in natural sciences. Consider once that we really have a certain direction in natural sciences that speaks of the omnipotence of natural breeding.
Everywhere you can see that everything is gathered that is or is not indicative of the one or the other theory, if once the researcher concerned is fascinated by a catchword that has an effect on him like an idol. We would just see similar cases in our time if we only wanted to have an eye for them. Already at the beginning of the talk, I mentioned how the matters slip in that will become obvious as the dreadful superstition of time in a time not too far away.
Where is the cause of superstition now? Always the possibility occurs that superstition replaces what can prevail only as a fertile thought, as a fertile opinion. If we forget the original thought, the original opinion and take the formality presenting itself for it, we forget the essentials like the crisis of pneumonia appearing after seven days. If we pull the number seven out and retain it, the possibility exists that this changes into superstition. There you have the reason why ancient sages could show great natural phenomena.
Spiritual science wants to bring to the human being: that he does not search the inexplicable, but that he wants to search the explanation. Otherwise, if he stops in the area of the environment and does not want to rise to the higher point of view from which he can see what is justified or not justified in the one or the other field, then he replaces superstition by superstition. Who stops in the physical world leaves the one superstition and comes into the other. Not before he rises above himself and above superstition, he sees the right in the one and in the other. Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778, philosopher) already ascertained that it does not make a difference whether one is more or less clever. He said, the clever ones and the prudent ones have their prejudices just as the silly ones, even if the clever and prudent ones know something more and have more prejudices than the silly ones. The silly ones retain to few prejudices the more tenaciously in return. — This is absolute a principle which someone who observes human life can find confirmed in many cases. Thus, we see that a basic healing of superstition can be if one rises to the higher point of view from which the spiritual undergrounds of the world are readily comprehensible.
Various sorts of superstition will still emerge, and something slips into our view today. We are developing in such a way that the human beings have no right sense, actually, to eliminate superstition from the public life if it does not just come from old times. Oh, it absolutely applies to our time in various fields what an old story tells us. Call it an anecdote, but it applies, and it shows truth better than something else does. In a certain region of Spain, on the border between two provinces, an epidemic had broken out once. It was close to two universities. One university had a medical faculty in which one swarmed for bloodletting in particular. At the other university, one swarmed against bloodletting. In this region were two doctors. The one doctor was instructed in the one university, the other one at the other university. The one prescribed medicines, and the other venesected. It turned out that the one doctor kept all patients alive, while all patients of the other doctor died. Even if all patients stayed alive and all patients of the other died, nevertheless, both operated correctly according to their theory; one, indeed, wrong in practice, but correctly according to his theory.
If one tells such a thing, it may seem stupid. If one sees the things, however, day by day, one finds that the anecdote says nothing wrong, and one finds it even necessary. Therefore, it can only concern — if about superstition is spoken — that spiritual science has really no reason to propagate this or that superstition. It stands on the ground that the spiritual is explorable and that there are means and ways to penetrate into the spiritual world by which one is able to overlook the world from a higher viewpoint. Thereby the human being is led beyond superstition, and beyond that, which superstition can cause as damage in the human life. One can express that with a Goethean word which reveals truth comprehensively even if simply: “Wisdom is eternal, and it will be victorious, and it will raise the human being in us to humaneness in the most manifold tumults.”