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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Nature and Spirit Beings
Their Effects in Our Visible World
GA 98

Part I

V. Whitsuntide: Collective Spiritual Striving and Working toward Spiritualisation of the World I

7 June 1908, Cologne

On various occasions it has been emphasised that the spiritual development, as aspired to by Spiritual Science, must bring the human being into a living relationship with the whole environment. Much in our environment that filled our ancestors with veneration has become dead and mundane for man. For example, a large number of people are alienated from and cold towards our annual festivals. The urban population in particular has only a scant memory of what Christmas, Easter and Whitsun (Pentecost) mean.

Today, mankind does no longer possess this enormous emotional content that our ancestors connected with the festive seasons because they were aware of the great facts of the spiritual world. Cold and sober people look at Christmas and Easter today, and especially also at Whitsun. The pouring out of the Spirit has become an abstract event for many people. But this will change—it will only become life and reality when mankind will come to a truly spiritual realisation of the whole world.

Today, there is a lot of talk about the forces of nature, but not a lot is said about the beings behind these nature forces. Modern man regards talk about the “beings of nature” as a rehashing of an old superstitious belief. It is considered an old superstition if someone believes that the words used for gnomes, undines, sylphs and salamanders, as our ancestors called them, are based on reality and mean something real. First, in a certain way it doesn’t matter what kind of theories or ideas people have, but if people are tempted by these theories to ignore certain things and to apply their theories in their daily life in practice, then the issue becomes fully relevant.

Let’s take a grotesque example: Who believes in beings whose existence is bound to the air or who are embodied in water? For example, if someone says, “Our ancestors believed in certain beings like gnomes, undines, sylphs and salamanders, but this is all imaginary stuff!”, then one would like to respond by saying, “Ask the bees.” And, if the bees could talk, they would answer, “Sylphs are not a superstition for us—we know quite well what they are to us!” Someone who is clairvoyant can trace (with his eyes) which force it is that draws the little bee to the flower. “Instinct, natural drive,” is man’s answer, but these are empty words. It is those beings, that our ancestors called sylphs, that guide the bees to the bloom’s calyx to search for food—and those beings are active in the whole bee swarm in search for nourishment.

Wherever different nature kingdoms touch, there is an opportunity for certain (elemental) beings to reveal themselves. For example, inside the Earth, where the stone touches on a metal vein, special beings will settle down. At a spring, where moss covers the stone and thus the plant kingdom touches the mineral kingdom such beings will settle in. Where animals and plants touch, in the bloom’s calyx when the bee touches the blossom, particular beings will embody themselves, and likewise where the human being touches onto the animal kingdom. This is not happening in the normal course of contact. For example, not when the butcher slaughters cattle, or when someone eats the flesh of animals—nothing like this will happen in the normal course of life. But where in the extraordinary course of events, as it happens with bees and flowers, the kingdoms touch each other in an exuberance of life, beings will embody themselves. And especially where man’s mind, his intellect, is particularly engaged in interacting with animals, such beings embody themselves. An example would be the emotional relationship a shepherd has with his sheep.

When we go back to the ancient times, we find such close relationships between humans and animals more often. In times of lower cultures, it was common to have relationships such as an Arab has to his horse, but not as the owner of a racing stable has to his horses. There we find those powers of mind that interplay between kingdoms–like between the shepherd and the lambs. Or where the senses of smell and taste will be developed and radiate across, like between bees and flowers, an opportunity is created for certain beings to embody themselves. When a bee sucks at a flower, a clairvoyant can perceive how at the rim of the flower a small aura is created. This is the effect of the taste: The sting of the bee into the bloom’s calyx has produced a certain flavouring agent – the bee perceives the taste and radiates it out like a bloom’s aura – this is the nourishment for sylph-like beings. Likewise, the element of feeling between the shepherd and the sheep is food for salamanders.

The following question is not for one who understands the spiritual world, “Then why are these beings there and not otherwise?” We should not ask about their origin, because their origin lies in the cosmos. But if one creates an opportunity for them to feed then they appear. For example, bad thoughts emanating from a person will attract bad entities to settle into his aura because they find food there. Then certain beings embody themselves in his aura.

Wherever different nature kingdoms touch, the opportunity presents itself for embodiment of certain spiritual beings. When a miner hacks away the soil—where metal nestles against the stone in the interior of the Earth—the clairvoyant can observe at various spots strange beings crouching, huddling together in a very small place. They scatter, they sputter apart when the earth is removed. They are strange beings but, in a way, not at all unlike humans. Although they have no physical body, they have reason. But the difference between them and human beings is that they possess intelligence without responsibility. Therefore, they do not feel anything is wrong about sometimes playing a prank on human beings. They are called gnomes, and numerous species of them are housed in the earth. They are at home where stone and metal touch. In the past they served mankind very well with mining—not with coal mining but with metal mining. The way how mines were constructed in ancient times, the knowledge about how the strata are layered, was learnt from these beings. They knew the most productive seams and how the layers ran inside the earth. Therefore, they were able to provide the best instruction on how to proceed with work. If one doesn’t want to work with spiritual beings and only relies on the senses, then one will end up in a dead-end road. From these spiritual entities one has to learn a certain method to explore the Earth.

Likewise at a spring beings embody themselves. Where the stone touches the spring, beings bound to the element of water embody themselves: the undines. Where animal and plant touch, the sylphs are working. The sylphs are bound to the element of the air, they lead the bees to the blossoms. Therefore, we owe almost all useful knowledge about beekeeping to old traditions. Especially about beekeeping1compare Rudolf Steiner - Cosmic Working in Earth and Man, Beekeeping. GA 351 we can learn a lot from them, because the science that exists about this today is completely erroneous. The old wisdom that has spread through tradition will only be confused by this. Science proves to be useless in this context. Useful are only the old beekeeping flicks of hand whose origin is unknown, because man at that time used the spiritual world for guidance. Nowadays people also know about salamanders because if one says, “Something is flowing to me, I do not know where it comes from...”, then this is usually the effect of the salamanders.

When a human being enters into such close contact to animals as a shepherd to his sheep, then the beings who live in his surroundings will whisper insights to him. A shepherd would have received the knowledge he had about his flock from the salamanders in his surroundings. These old insights have dwindled and now must be regained through proven occult knowledge.

If we follow these thoughts further, then we will have to say to ourselves, “We are completely surrounded by spiritual beings! We walk through the air, and it is not only a chemical substance, but every breath of wind, every air movement is the revelation of spiritual entities.” We are surrounded and completely permeated by these spiritual entities. And, in the future man must have knowledge of what lives around him, if he doesn’t want to experience a completely sad and life draining fate. Without this knowledge he will no longer be able to progress. Man must ask himself, “Where do these beings come from? Where do these beings stem from?”

This question will lead us to an important realisation. To form a view about this, we have to become clear about how in the higher worlds certain facts play out, where what is detrimental and evil is transformed through certain things by wise guidance into something good. For example, the waste, the manure—this is what has been chucked out and through wise usage it is later effective in the economy as the foundation for plant germination. Higher powers pick up and transform things that have seemingly dropped off from higher development. This we encounter to a great extent in the beings we have spoken about, when we follow up on their origin. How do these “salamandrian” entities come into being? Let’s look at this in detail. Salamanders depend on the existence of a specific relation between human and animal. Animals do not have an “I/ego” such as human beings have. Such an ego exists only in modern man on Earth. These human egos are so that every human being has an ego enclosed in himself. This is different with animals. The animals have a “group-ego,” a “group-soul”. What does that mean? A group of animals of the same species, animals of similar shape, have a common ego. For example, all separate lions share a common ego, all tigers, all pikes do.

The animals have their ego in the astral world. This is as if a human being would stand behind a wall with ten holes in it and would put his ten fingers through the holes. Then the human being could not be seen, but every rational person would conclude, “there is a central power behind it that belongs to the ten fingers.” This is how it is with the group-ego. The separate animals are merely the limbs. What they belong to is in the astral world. These animal-egos are not similar to humans, although, from a spiritual perspective they could well be compared with each other, because an animal group-ego is a very, very wise being. The human being as an individual soul is not nearly as wise. For example, think of certain bird species: how wise is it that they are migrating at particular heights and in specific directions to escape winter, and return again by different routes in spring. Here we can recognise in the bird migration the truly wise powers of the group-egos. They can be found everywhere in the animal kingdom.

People are very narrow minded when they are listing human progress. Let us remember our school days, where we learnt how in the Middle Ages slowly the stream of the modern times emerged. The Middle Ages surely have something important to put on record, such as the discovery of America, the invention of gunpowder, the art of book printing and finally also of linen paper. It was probably an important progress to use this product instead of parchment, but thousands of years ago the wasp group-soul had done the same, because wasps’ nests are made from the same material as the paper produced by man; it is made of paper.

Human beings will only slowly find out how certain conjectures of his spirit are connected with what the group-souls have worked into the world.

The group-souls are in constant movement. The clairvoyant perceives a persistent flicker across the backbone of the animals. The spine seems to be enclosed by flickering light. The animals are pervaded by an infinite number of streams that are encircling the Earth in all directions, such as the trade winds, which affect the animals by streaming around the spinal cord. These animal group-souls are perpetually going around the Earth in a circular motion at every height and in every direction. These group-souls are very wise, but they are missing one thing which they do not yet have—they do not know that which on Earth is called “love.” Only in a human being is love connected to wisdom in an individual.

The group-soul is wise, but the individual animal experiences love as sexual love and parental love. In an animal love is individual, but the wise arrangement, the wisdom of the group-ego is still void of love. The human being has united love and wisdom—the animal has love in the physical life, and it has wisdom on the astral plane. Such realisations will be immensely enlightening for people.

The human being arrived at his current “I” only gradually. Previously man also had a group-soul, and the individual soul has crystallised itself only gradually. Let us follow backwards the evolution of mankind up to ancient Atlantis. In former times man lived in the old Atlantis, a continent that is now covered by the Atlantic Ocean. At that time the wide Siberian plains were covered with large oceans. The Mediterranean Sea was quite differently distributed then. Also in our European regions were wide expanses of sea. The further we go backwards into the old Atlantean time, the more all circumstances of life are changing, the more the human being’s waking and sleeping state changes.

Now when man sleeps the physical body with the etheric body remains in bed, and the astral body and the ego lift themselves out. The consciousness darkens, everything becomes dark, sombre, silent. In the Atlantean time the difference between sleeping and waking was not yet so pronounced. At that time, during the waking state, the human being did not see such firm boundaries, such sharp contours, such strong colours attached to objects. When he woke up in the morning, he dived into something like a nebulous substance. For example, there was no greater clarity than when we would look through fog at lights with an aura. Instead, his consciousness did not exactly cease when he was asleep—he then saw the spiritual things.

As man progressed, the physical world gained more and more its contours, but in exchange for this the human being lost his clairvoyance. Then the difference became more and more pronounced: in the spiritual world above, it became increasingly darker and in the physical world below increasingly brighter. All myths and sagas originated during the time when the human being still perceived the astral world up there. When he ascended into the spiritual world, he learnt to know Wotan, Baldur, Thor and Loki and beings, who had not yet descended onto the physical plane. This could be experienced in former times, and all myths are memories of living realities.

All mythologies are such memories. These spiritual realities have simply disappeared from human beings. In the past, when man dived into his physical body in the morning, he got the feeling: “You are an individual, a single one.” But when he dived back into the spiritual world at night he felt: “You are not at all an individual, you are just a link in a great whole, you belong to a great community.”

Tacitus2Cornelius Tacitus, 55 to about 120 AD, Roman historian, in his work Germania still told that the ancient peoples, the Herules and the Cheruscans, felt themselves to be more like a tribe than as individual human beings. From an individual’s sense of belonging to a tribe—that one would count oneself as belonging to a tribal community—certain customs such as the blood feuds have originated. Everything that belonged to the whole tribal group-soul was one body. All happens gradually in evolution. Only gradually did individual consciousness evolve out of this absolute tribal group consciousness.

Also, in the descriptions from the time period of the Patriarchs, we find traces of the transition from the group-soul to an individual soul. In the time prior to Noah, memory was quite different: it reached back to what the father, the grandfather, the great-grandfather had experienced. The boundary of birth was not a boundary. In the same blood the same memory flowed on into generations far removed. Today authorities are interested in knowing an individual’s name. In the time when the human being still had a memory of what his father and grandfather had done, this was called by a common name. Then what was connected by the same blood and the same memory was given the same name. This was called “Adam” or “Noah”. Names like Adam or Noah do not describe the life between birth and death of an individual, but the stream of memories as far as it reached. The old names cover whole human communities that were alive in those times.

How would it be if we would compare certain beings: the human-like apes with the human being. The immense difference is that the apes have a group-soul and the human being an individual soul, or at least the aptitude to develop one. The ape group-soul exists in a very special situation (see drawing). Imagine the Earth (refers to sketch) as the horizontal line. Above this, the group-souls of the animals are floating in the astral world like in a cloud that extends over our physical world. Let us now focus on the lion group-ego and the ape group-ego. Each lion is a separate limb into which the group-soul pours part of its substance. When a lion dies, its physical part drops away from the group-soul, like a fingernail from a human being. Then the group-soul retracts what it had sent into the lion and gives it to a different lion, which is newly born. The group-soul stays above. It sort of stretches out tentacles that are hardening in the physical world, then drop off and are being replaced again.

Therefore, the animal group-soul does not know birth and death. The individual animal is something that “falls off” and “grows on”—the group-soul remains untouched by life and death. For the lions it applies entirely, that each time a lion dies, all that has been sent from the group-soul returns to it again.

However, this is not so with the apes. There are individual animals that tear off a piece of the group-soul, which then cannot return to it. When the ape dies the essential part returns, but another part of it excises itself from the group-soul. What the group-soul stretches out, the ape makes it too tight, and when the ape dies part of the group-soul is excised, so that, in a sense, a part of it breaks out, rips away from the soul and does not return to it. In this way excisions from the group-soul arise. In all ape species excisions from the group-soul occur.

We find something similar in certain amphibians, in certain bird species, and especially pronounced in the kangaroo. Through these excisions something is kept back from the group-soul. What remains in this way from the warm-blooded animals will become an elemental being, a nature spirit—the salamander. These elemental beings, these nature spirits are, so to speak, waste, waste products of the higher worlds, that will be put into service by higher beings. They would, if left to their own devices, create interferences in the cosmos. Instead, the higher wisdom uses the sylphs to send the bees to the flowers. Thus, the large forces of elemental beings are placed under higher, wise leadership and the harm that they could cause is transformed into something useful.

This is how it is in the realms that lie below the human being. Now, it could also happen that a human being excises himself off from his group-soul, and as an individual does not find a possibility to develop himself further. Because, whilst being a “limb” of his group-soul, he was guided and led by higher beings, but now he is left to his own guidance. If the human being does not acquire appropriate spiritual knowledge, then he is in danger to excise himself. This is the question that arises.

What is it now, that prevents human beings from excision, from wandering around without direction and aim, whilst earlier the spiritual group-soul has provided directions? We have to become clear that man more and more individualises himself and that in the future he has to voluntarily seek to unite with other humans. In the past, a link existed based on blood relations, tribes and races. But this type of “union” comes more and more to an end. Everything in a human being leads more and more to him becoming an individual being. The only avenue possible is a reversal. Imagine there are a number of people on Earth who say to themselves, “We are going our own way. We want to find inside of us the direction and the goal of the path ourselves. We are all on the way to becoming more and more individualised human beings.” There is a danger of fragmentation. Already people are no longer able to endure spiritual unions. Today we are going as far as everyone having their own religion and presenting their own opinion as the highest ideal. But when human beings internalise ideals, then this leads to agreement, to a common opinion. For example, we recognise internally that 3 x 3 = 9, or that the sum of the three angles in a triangle is 180 degrees. This is an inner knowledge. One doesn’t need to cast a vote about such inner knowledge. No misunderstandings will arise about such inner recognitions, they lead to agreement. All spiritual truths are of this kind. What is taught by the Science of the Spirit, the human being finds through his inner forces. These lead him to an absolute unity, to peace and harmony. There are no two different opinions about a truth without one of them being wrong. The ideal is maximum possible internalisation—it leads to unity, to peace.

First there existed a human group-soul. Then mankind was released from this group-soul in the past. But in the future of evolution people must set themselves a sure goal to strive towards. When they unite themselves in a higher wisdom, then from the higher worlds a group-soul will descend again—when free communities arise out of the bound natural communities. What the leaders of the Science of the Spirit movement hope is that we will find in it a community where the hearts stream towards wisdom, as the plants stream towards sunlight. Where a common truth binds together the different egos, there we create an opportunity for a higher group-soul to descend. By turning our hearts together towards a higher wisdom, we embed the group-soul. We are building, so to speak, the bed, the environment, in which the group-soul is able to incarnate. Humans will enrich life on Earth by developing something that allows spiritual beings to descend from the higher worlds. This is the aim of the Science of the Spirit movement.

This was now once presented in a grand, magnificent form to mankind to show that the human being without such living spiritual ideal would transition into a different situation. This is a “symbol” that can illustrate to man with overwhelming power how humanity can find the way through a spiritual union, to provide a site to incarnate for the common spirit. This symbol is put in front of us in the Whitsun community in which a number of people, glowing from a common feeling of fervent love and devotion, had assembled for common action. There were a number of people whose souls were still reverberating after the shattering event, so that in all of them the same was alive. In the convergence of this one same feeling they provided that in which a higher, a common soul could incarnate. This is expressed by the words that say the Holy Spirit—the group-soul—descended and separated itself into fiery tongues. This is the great symbol for the humanity of the future. If the human being would not have found this connection, then man would transition into an elemental being. Now humanity must search for a site for the Beings from the higher worlds that bend downwards. With the Easter festival man was given the power to absorb into themselves such mighty imaginations and to strive towards oneness of the spirit. The Whitsun Festival is the fruit of the unfolding of this power.

Through the souls’ striving together towards the common wisdom, a lively relationship must be established forever with the forces and beings of the higher worlds, and with something that currently has as little meaning for humanity as the Whitsun Festival. Through the Science of the Spirit, it will once again become meaningful to man. Once people understand the significance of the descent of the Holy Spirit for them in the future, then the Whitsun Festival will come to life again. It will then not only be a memory of that event in Jerusalem, but the everlasting Whitsun Festival of the united soul endeavour will manifest for humanity. It will become a symbol for the great future Whitsun community when mankind will unite in a common truth to allow higher beings the possibility to incarnate. It will depend on human beings themselves, how valuable this will make the Earth for the future and how effective such ideals can be for mankind. Once humanity will strive towards wisdom in this right way, then higher spirits will join mankind.