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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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

Part II

I. Man and the Surrounding World

1 December 1907, Nuremberg

Today, let me speak to you about many different things that can be easily linked together and in which you will readily discover some kind of relationship.

Let me speak to you above all of man's connection with the surrounding world, of man's feelings towards this world, and how these feelings can be deepened through a theosophical world-conception. Above all, I wish to awaken in you the feeling that a man with an average modern education and an average world-view does not contemplate the world in the same way as a theosophist.

If Theosophy is to be raised from the level at which it is known by so many, from the level of a theory, or number of teachings, to something that has soul, that fills our soul, purifying and ennobling all our feelings and emotions—if it is to be raised to a life content, we must be able, as it were, to experience and really apply to our daily life what we realise through Theosophy. We have only received Theosophy in the right way, when, for instance, we understand how to regard a plant, a field, a mountain, or an animal in a different way from how we were able to look at and perceive these before we became theosophists. We shall be able to enter more deeply into the meaning of these words, if we immerse ourselves into the nature of what is called self-consciousness.

You are all familiar with the self-consciousness of man. You know that we distinguish four members of the human being: physical body, etheric body, astral body and Ego. What we call self-consciousness arises from the fact that man grows conscious of his Ego. Self-consciousness does not only enable us to gain knowledge of the surrounding world, but also of ourselves; it enables us to know that each one of us is an independent being. When we really follow this thought to the end, we will grasp how this self-consciousness in man is to be understood.

The question now arises: How do matters stand with the animal, the plant and the mineral?—Can we speak in a certain sense of self-consciousness in the case of animal, plant and mineral? People who simply say: “Why should not every stone also have an Ego, like man, only that man does not perceive it,” such people speak without any knowledge of the matter. For on the plane which we call the physical, only man is endowed with self-consciousness, with an Ego—and the animal, the plant and the mineral have no Ego on the physical plane. Man is distinguished from animal, plant and mineral by the fact that he has an Ego here, on the physical plane, in the ordinary world.

Don’t take my words to imply that there has to be a definite alternative. You must realise clearly that certain higher animals, particularly animals that live much in the company of man, such as domestic animals, have a kind of self-consciousness, resembling that of the lower savages of today. There are differences in degree everywhere. We shall not speak about transitions, but how things are mainly, in average states. From this standpoint, we may therefore say that, generally speaking, we do not come across self-consciousness in animals, here on the physical plane.

What kind of self-consciousness do animals possess? You easily rise to an understanding if you ask yourself, “Where is the self-consciousness of each of my fingers?” There you must tell yourself, “My own consciousness is the self-consciousness of my finger.” It cannot be thought of apart from your common consciousness. Your ten fingers have their common consciousness, in your Ego; there, they have their common Ego. The same applies to the other members of your body. This constitutes your self-consciousness.

Now transfer this concept to the concept of an animal species. There you must say to yourself: Everything in the animal kingdom which has the same form, all the lions, bears, frogs, fish—all of those that are similarly shaped, these lions belonging together, and so on, really behave in the same way as my ten fingers. Distance does not count. If we were to ask each finger as to its Ego, it would have to answer: It is the Ego of the man to whom we belong. In the same way, if you were to ask a lion in a menagerie, or a lion in Africa, each would point to the common Ego of the species, to the group-Ego.

All animals of the same form have a common ego. Man differs from the animal through the fact that each human being has his own Ego, whereas the animal has an Ego common to his species, a group-Ego. You cannot find the Egos of the animals in the physical world, for they exist in a world which we call the astral plane. There, you will find one being comprising all the lions. Just as here, upon the physical plane, you may encounter an individual human being self-contained within his skin, so—if you were clairvoyant—you would encounter on the astral plane the lion-Ego, the bear-Ego, as self-contained beings like the human beings here on Earth. On the astral plane they are quite intelligent beings, it’s not that they are lagging behind man. The single lion may be inferior to man, but his Ego is a very sublime being, who must understand and accomplish with penetrating wisdom the whole task connected with the lions here on Earth. These animal-Egos are therefore highly intelligent beings.

If you were now to follow clairvoyantly all these beings who constitute the collective Egos of the animals, you would see that they exercise a very strange activity. The animals’ tasks are ruled and governed by the beings whom we call the animal-Egos. These animal-Egos constantly surround the Earth.

Let me select one example out of many, in connection with the task of these animal-Egos. If you study a well-known phenomenon, about which men have thought a great deal—the flight of the birds, you will find that the birds that live in northern regions begin to gather in the autumn; they fly from north-eastern to south-western regions, and then southwards. They gather again in the spring and return north. At the foundation of these bird migrations lies the breeding and hatching of the young, and so on. The spring migration is a kind of wedding flight. The regularity of these flights is guided by the group-Souls; they command everything. You might observe the lines of flight: One species flies in this way, another in that way, some birds fly low over the ground, others high in the sky. Everywhere, you will find a deep wisdom in all these details. We may say: Everything that constitutes the souls of the animals encircles our planet, encircles our Earth. This example shows us how the wisdom of the group-Soul rules the flight of the birds.

How do matters stand with plants? They only have a physical and an etheric body. Individually, they have no independent astral body and no independent Ego on the physical plane. If you could observe yourself during your night's sleep, you would see your physical and etheric body lying on the bed. What lies on the bed has the value of a plant; the plant always consists of this. What lives in you during the day, when you are awake, what is contained in your physical body, is outside your physical and etheric body during the night.

In the case of the plant, the astral body and the Ego, which you lift out of your physical and etheric body during the night, are always outside. But this going out is also connected with something else.

Let us suppose that you were all to go to sleep here—which would, of course, not be very desirable; in that case, all your Egos and your astral bodies would be outside. They would not be so separated, as they are now separated from one another, while they live in the physical body. They would intermingle more, they would form a more uniform mass, as if they were swaying into one another. They would dissolve, as it were, in the common astral body of the Earth, and out of this astral body of the Earth, which is mingled with that of the Sun, they would draw the strength that eliminates fatigue. This is continually the case with the plants.

In the plant you see before you a physical and an etheric body. But the plant's astral body is outside. The whole Earth has an astral body in common, and that is the astral body of the plants. And the Earth also has a common Ego, and that is the Ego of the plants. Therefore you must look for the Ego of the plants in the common Ego of the whole Earth.

And now all the plants on Earth appear to you like your own fingers. You are an organism and your fingers are growing out of it. The whole Earth is an organism, and the plants are literally its members, which share in the common consciousness. What ensues from this, is literally true. You feel pain, when someone hurts you, or cuts into your flesh. Similarly, the whole Earth may feel pain under certain conditions. But the Earth does not feel pain when you pick a flower or cut a plant; this would not cause it pain. What causes pain to the Earth can be understood if we bear in mind the following:

The whole Earth must be imagined as a unified organism and all the plants as members of this common organism. The plants growing on the Earth are related to it more or less in the same way as the milk is related to the human being, or to the animal. When the calf sucks the milk of the cow, the cow experiences a certain feeling of well-being. The whole Earth has this same feeling when you pick a flower or cut a plant. Because what the Earth sends up to the Sun, what it sends out of itself, is in a different form that which lives in the milk. But if you tear out a plant with its root, it is the same as if you were to tear away a part of your body, or cut into your flesh. The Earth experiences something quite different when we cut a plant which is firmly rooted in the ground—then the Earth experiences well-being—but when we tear it out with its root it experiences something completely different. This should not be judged morally, but in accordance with the facts, and these are the facts.

Now try to feel, and not merely to think such a truth. We can feel it in the following way: When we go out in the autumn, and see a farmer mowing down the corn with the scythe, those who know how matters stand in the astral body of the Earth, can feel the feelings of desire, of joy, of pleasure which pass over the surface of the Earth, while the corn is being cut. When the reaper cuts down the corn at harvest time, the whole Earth really experiences joy. These kinds of feelings are experienced, when we know how matters stand with the group-soul of animals, the Earth-soul of plants, the group-Ego, and the Ego of the Earth. In the migrating flock of birds we can feel the wisdom; the wise arrangements of the astral beings who make these. We can even feel the wind of wisdom, like a current of air. And if we know that in the plants we encounter the soul of the Earth, we experience feelings and sensations in everything that happens to the plants. We perceive the cosmic Spirit surrounding the Earth, when we observe the Ego of the animals; and we perceive the cosmic Soul, the feelings of nature, when we pay attention to the Ego of the plants.

This is indeed so. If we look at the teachings of Theosophy not merely theoretically, if they fill our whole soul, we can feel the presence of the God who always passes through nature. And, if this is the case, then when one man faces another, he knows—does he not?—that a feeling heart beats in the other’s breast, that he has feelings similar to his own, that he does not merely think about the other, but also empathises with him. In this way, we gradually learn to experience something resembling the beat of the pulse, the warm feeling of nature. Nature becomes for us a living knowledge of spirit and soul.

Let us now imagine what it means to spiritualise nature through this teaching. We feel as if Spiritual Science enables us to bear ourselves quite differently towards everything, as if our feelings are purified and ennobled. What an indifferent matter it is to an ordinary man when the scythe passes through the corn, and cuts it down! And what a different experience this is to a theosophist, who follows the cutting scythe with his heart, and who knows that there below, where the scythe touches, is a living being, that the astral body of the Earth experiences pleasure. Thus nature gradually becomes truly full of life for us. This means that we must allow seemingly abstract theories to transition into living feelings and sensations. Every step in daily life changes, when we thus allow theory to become feeling.

Now that we understand this, let us pass on to another subject, which we may already have considered from another aspect, but which will appear to us in a new light.

You raise your eyes to the Moon and to the Sun. You have just heard how out of the theosophical wisdom a feeling can be kindled which teaches us how to empathise with the environment. This also extends to lifeless objects, even to the stones.

It is very peculiar how we learn to judge many things in our surroundings in a different way: Man often imagines things the wrong way. We think that we go out into the world equipped with knowledge and want to see what is really taking place, when something happens in the world outside. We may, for instance, come to a quarry: There, the workmen are hammering and quarrying the stone. There we come to the Ego of the stone, which is not merely connected with our earthly planet, but with our whole planetary system. The stone has its central point in that of the planetary system. The stone also has its sensations. But you must not think that the stone feels pain when it is broken up or destroyed. No! When you break or destroy a stone, this means that a feeling of pleasure ensues. You may even notice immeasurable pleasure throbbing through the quarry, when the men are working there. But when stone is joined to stone, pain is felt. It is interesting to know this.

Once the Earth was a glowing, molten object; you could not have lived there, until it had cooled down. Everything was dissolved in this glowing mass; it had to consolidate, and this process was connected with pain, whereas the separation gives joy, pleasure. The whole inanimate nature suffers, so as to enable you to build your dwelling places. Nature sighs for those who have insight into it; it sighs!

Nature will again be dissolved into its primeval elements. Lifeless nature had to be drawn together with pain, so that man might pass through his development. But when man has become so spiritualised that he no longer needs the solid Earth as a foundation, then the Earth will be redeemed with him; lifeless nature longs for this. What the Apostle Paul said, is true: “The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain.”1In Luther’s translation it literally says, “The creatures are fearfully awaiting the revelation of the children of God”, Romans 8:19. It will be saved, when man approaches a spiritualised state.

It can be noticed that children, who have a certain feeling for the astral world, because they are still differently constituted from grown-ups, can still feel something of the sensations of a lifeless object that is being destroyed. Not always—for in many cases it is just naughtiness—but sometimes children destroy things because they feel such empathy. Indeed, we can see that they do not always destroy things out of naughtiness.

Things sometimes present an entirely different aspect from a spiritual standpoint. You can see, therefore, that the whole Earth is permeated with soul and spirit and that it is filled with feeling. The wonderful part of Theosophy is that it leads us into the living nature. Now you can easily understand that those who view things from the standpoint of occultists, must also look on the Sun and the Moon as endowed with soul and spirit, like the kingdom of nature. This is how it really is.

The part of the Sun that we can see when we look at it with our physical eyes, relates to the Sun's whole being, just as what we can see of the human body with our physical eyes relates to the whole being of man. The body of the Sun is the body of the Sun's spirit, and the body of the Moon is the body of the Moon's spirit. Sun, Moon and Earth belong together in a spiritual relationship—and this, to be sure, is a very complicated matter.

A whole range of spiritual beings are united with the Sun; their bodies, and not only their spirits, are in the Sun. When an occultist looks into the Sun and perceives the Sun's rays, this is not only a physical phenomenon for him, but it is connected with something else. You can get an idea of what he thus discerns, for instance, when a woman in the street raises her hand in a giving gesture towards a child. You see the movement of her hand and perhaps also the coin falling into the child's palm. Yet this is only the physical aspect. If you were to penetrate into the process expressed by the physical action, you would perceive the compassion as the impulse that causes the hand to move. In the child, too, you would see the external process as the expression of a spiritual process, perhaps of gratitude.

He who only receives the Sun's rays with his physical eyes, has the same relation to the spiritual seer, as he who sees only the woman's or the child's physical gesture has to one who also perceives the inner processes. He whose power of vision has been trained through occultism to see the Sun's rays coming towards us, also perceives how spiritual beings in the Sun overflow with feelings, and how these feelings become deeds. Their deeds are what they send down with the Sun's rays. If you observe the astral body of the Earth, you will find in it something like gratitude which is felt by the whole plant-world, as it receives the Sun's rays.

Still more wonderful is the course of a whole year! When the plants open out, this is a heart-felt psychic expression of the Earth's inner processes, and at the same time it expresses the feelings of the creative, gift-bestowing Spirits of the Sun.

Now we should note a certain contrast, but not an opposition, between the spiritual beings of the Sun and those of the Moon. The Earth, the Sun and the Moon belong together. In a very remote past, they were one body. Then the Sun severed itself from the Earth, that is to say, from the union of the present Earth with the present Moon.

Why did this take place? This can be explained in many ways. But today we shall only give one of the many reasons. When the Sun separated itself out of the Earth, all the beings who were of higher nature than those which remained behind, left the Earth with the Sun. For the Sun can be the dwelling place of far higher spiritual beings than man. Beings who far surpass man left the Earth and became the Spirits of the Sun, and the Sun became their dwelling place.

Consequently, if we look into the Sun with trained occult vision, we can see the physical Sun as a body, as the field of action and the dwelling place of sublime spirits, of the Solar Spirits. For a while, they were able to continue their development on the same planet on which we now live, but they were obliged to separate themselves from it, and, in order to continue their development in an appropriate manner, they took the finest substances away from it.

One of these Spirits of the Sun left the others, for he had been given a special task. He remained still connected with the Earth. Later on, the Moon also went out from the Earth; the Earth became independent. This Spirit, this Spirit of the Sun, who first had been given another task, a task which was not to be done from the Sun, is Jahve, or Jehovah, as cosmic intelligence.

This individuality left with the Moon, so that since the Earth was severed from the Sun and from the Moon, certain exalted Solar Spirits live in the Sun, and Jehovah in the Moon. The soul forces and the spiritual forces of these beings shine down upon the Earth together with the light that comes down to us from the Sun and from the Moon.

Man could not have developed as he did, had he been subjected to the exclusive influence of one of these beings. Man's development had to follow the course which it actually did follow.

If the Earth had only had the Sun, and not the Moon, man would have been subjected to a constant and rapid metamorphosis, and would have developed very quickly. This would not have been good for him; he would have hurried too much and passed over certain stages of his development. The best forces for the development of man are assembled in the Sun: but a quick pace had to be avoided. For this reason, Jehovah separated from the others, thus retarding the whole pace of human development.

Thus, in the course of human development, the forces of the Sun and of the Moon work together and produce the right mean.

If only the forces of the Moon had been active, man would have withered; withered, lifeless natures, mere forms, would have lived on the Earth, instead of living human beings. If you go through a museum and look at statues, you see before you the image of what the Moon would have made of you: soulless forms, of great beauty, certainly, but without soul. The Sun's forces bring life and movement into these stiff and rigid forms, but under the influence of the Sun's forces only, man would have become spiritualised too soon.

The course of earthly development has been arranged in this wise way, and this is why the Sun and the Moon, with their forces and beings, had to separate from the Earth.

If a clairvoyant could have studied the evolution of the Earth from another planet, if he could have watched how the Earth unfolded, he would have seen a strange sight. Let us suppose that someone follows the development of our Earth from a distant heavenly body: He would, in that case, see not only the physical body of the Earth, but also its astral body. If he were to observe this astral body, he would perceive in it all kinds of light-phenomena. He would follow these through thousands of years. Then a moment arrives, when the astral body completely changes, revealing new colours and entirely new processes.

There is such a moment in the evolution of the Earth, if we consider the Earth as an organism. Before this, the astral body reveals particular colours; and afterwards it shows us other colours. These two time periods of the Earth’s astral body are completely different. And if the clairvoyant observer were to investigate this moment when the astral body of the Earth experienced this radical change, he would discover that it coincides with the moment of Christ's death on Golgotha. When the blood streamed out of the wounds of Christ-Jesus, the whole astral body of the Earth changed. This is the cosmic mystery of the significance of Christ's death.

This should not be considered merely with the intellect. No occult training would be high enough to allow us to penetrate by feeling the whole significance of this event. What occurred at that time in our world-system? What brought about the change in the astral body of the Earth?

The change was brought about through the fact that from this moment onwards one of the Spirits of the Sun united his astral body with that of the Earth. We have already explained that there are several Spirits of the Sun, six in all. One of these, whom we designate as the Spirit of Christ, united his astral body with that of the Earth in the very moment when the blood streamed out of the wounds of his physical body. Since that time, the Earth has undergone an essential transformation, because it has become united with the body of Christ.

The Christ-principle descended from heavenly heights; until the death of Christ Jesus upon the Cross it lived in the body of the Sun. Through Christ's death it became united with the body of the Earth. Since then, the Earth, as a planetary body, is the body of Christ. Since then, He became one with the Earth.

Now we can understand in a deeper sense the meaning of the words: “He that eateth my bread, treadeth me underfoot.”2John 13:18. Imagine that the Earth is the body of Christ, and take this expression literally. The human beings walk on the body of the Earth, and eat the bread of the body of the Earth. And when the Spirit of the Earth speaks, it cannot describe this process in any other way than with the following words, “He that eateth my bread, treadeth me underfoot.”—and certainly without a grudge.

And the Lord’s Supper itself! How infinitely deeper is its meaning, if we know that the body of the Earth is the body of Christ! What is the bread that is baked from the grains of corn? How must the Spirit of the Earth address this bread?—“This is my body,”3“This is my body.....This is my blood”, Matthew 26: 26, 28.—words that should be taken literally. And how must the Spirit of the Earth address the sap-forces of the plants? How must he, after having united himself with the Earth-Ego, talk to the saps that stream through the plants?—“This is my blood.” Just as the blood flows through the veins of your body, so literally the blood of Christ flows in the sap of the plants through the body of Christ, through the body of the Earth!

Who would not own that this gives an infinitely deeper meaning to the Holy Supper? What do we experience when we feel how the astral body of Christ unites itself with the Earth, and when we in this moment realise the meaning of the words which have just been quoted? What does the human being experience when he penetrates into all this? How profound the meaning of a sacrament like the Mystery of the Lord's Supper will become for him!

Thus we learn to consider all life around us in a different way, particularly through an occult study of these processes. We learn to understand the religious scriptures by taking them literally. And when we learn to grasp them in the way that is explained above, we begin to realise that all external interpretations of religious scriptures must disappear. For religious scriptures are drawn out of the deepest facts and express these. Genuine religious scriptures contain nothing that does not correspond with the great truths, such as the union of Christ's Spirit with the Earth, when His blood streamed out on Golgotha. How immensely our emotional life deepens, when we gain an insight into this mystery!

The task of Theosophy is to work in such a way that man once more learns to awaken in his soul the deep emotions and feelings which once lived in his forefathers—really lived there! Through the theosophical teachings we have now tried to conjure up before our souls what the soul is able to experience through this—it was the same in the past, where the early Christians also felt in this way. They could feel it deeply! These deep feelings continued to live in them until materialism came, with its intellectual judgments. Then the spirits withdrew, as it were, for nothing exerts such an estranging influence on spiritual beings as the intellect. When the intellect dissects things and encompasses them in its caustic criticism, it also drives away the spiritual beings from the human soul.

The myth of the good goblins has a deep meaning; they really existed, when as yet the light of the intellect had not been in man. This light of reason drove away the goblins. Such feelings existed, when the critical intellect had not as yet permeated the human soul.

Theosophy is there to give man again warm empathy with the whole of nature—in spite of the intellectual forces. The development of the intellect could not be held at bay; the spiritual nature had to withdraw for a time. But the spirit will return. We shall keep our intellectual powers, and in addition gain warm and glowing feelings, enthusiasm and compassion. Knowledge and feeling are united when we penetrate to the sources of life, and a new life will spring out of religious scriptures when that for which Goethe longed comes about. For, many centuries ago, the majority of mankind could not read the Bible, although they heard something of its contents. It was not until the art of printing was invented, that they were able to read the Bible. But today, they no longer read the deep, mysterious scriptures themselves; they only read the opinions expressed about the Bible by critical spirits. Goethe longed for an age in which men would once more learn to read the Bible, and not books about it. For today, they read books about the Bible! For a few pence, one can buy books that show that the Bible is supposedly a patchwork of separate documents, like the Old Testament has come about piece by piece. A book has even been written, where every sentence, printed in different colours, shows what was written at an earlier and at a later date, the additions, and so on, the so-called “Rainbow-Bible”!

These things are the outcome of the critical intellect, which can only perceive that something was written by one or the other author on the material plane. It cannot see that the authors of the Biblical writings were all of them disciples of great initiates, who possessed a direct insight into the spiritual world. The essential thing is to recognise the true spirit in the words, to penetrate into that which lies behind them, to understand that the religious scriptures were written from the depths of the true spiritual realisation.

Thus, we have seen the way in which we must understand these things. Through this, man learns what is important. Then he will rise up to the right feeling, which means to the right life.