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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Cosmosophy II
GA 208

Lecture II

22 October 1921, Dornach

The information given in the 1914 course of lectures on life between death and rebirth1Rudolf Steiner, The Inner Nature of Man and the Life between Death and a New Birth. Eight lectures given in Vienna in April 1914. English by A. Meuss. Bristol, Rudolf Steiner Press 1994. rounds out what I have been saying in preparation in the last few days and weeks. Today I particularly want to draw your attention to alternating states of life between death and rebirth, which are rather like the alternation between waking and sleeping we know during life between birth and death. Between birth and death we have the normal conscious awareness that makes us human beings only when awake. In sleep, conscious awareness is toned down; it is below the threshold of the waking state. It is at its dimmest level when we are fully asleep; we may perceive dream images which arise out of sleep and represent things remembered from life, or processes that take place in the organism. A similar change occurs during life between death and rebirth, except that everything is the other way round. Yesterday I spoke of the radically different way in which we experience life between death and rebirth. And this also applies to our states of conscious awareness.

Between death and rebirth we have experiences which show us the activities and will impulses of the I. This awareness of the I is essentially the norm when we are in the other world, just as the waking state is the norm here. We have seen that here on earth we have a physical body, ether body, astral body and I, whilst in the other world we have an I, a spirit self, life spirit and spirit human being, or at least the first beginnings of these. Between death and rebirth, therefore, the I is the lowest principle. Here, we are inwardly aware of our I when we are awake; there, the comparable level of consciousness gives awareness of the I in the activities and will impulses on which we look back, so they are like outside experiences; it is as if our actions shone back towards us from the earth.

This state changes into another. Here on earth we are able to speak of waking consciousness and sleep consciousness, with a subconscious state added on to our waking consciousness, as it were. Between death and rebirth we have the kind of consciousness I have just described and a kind of super consciousness, in which higher entities are conscious in us, or, we may say, higher entities fill our conscious mind.

When we are asleep on earth we go down to a kind of plant level of existence. Between death and rebirth we rise to a kind of Archangel consciousness, which is above our own level of consciousness. As I said, in the normal state we have the hierarchies behind us, as it were. In the state of super consciousness we literally move back towards them and live in them. We learn things from them that we would not otherwise know. If we were limited to the experiences of the I which shine out after us and at the same time are part of us, we would not gain experience of all the processes we shall need to build a new organism in our next life on earth. As it is, our normal state of consciousness alternates with a state where the knowledge of the Archangels and even the Archai enters into us; this then also comes to normal consciousness as a kind of memories, just as here on earth dreams come from the subconscious to the conscious mind. Between death and rebirth we thus have the form of consciousness I described yesterday and in between come super conscious states in which we gain knowledge from higher entities. This knowledge enables us to build exactly the kind of existence we shall need in our next life on earth.

You can see analogies between the life we have here between birth and death and the other life we live between death and rebirth. But we must also take note of the radical differences that exist between the two kinds of life. We shall gain a clearer picture if we also consider the element that mediates between the two, a higher principle that extends both to life on earth and to life between death and rebirth. As we go through life on earth we have, in the first place, the impressions we gain through the senses, and we have seen how impulses of will and activity become interwoven with them. For the moment, however, we need to consider the impressions of the outside world that are gained through the senses.

Try to visualize for a moment the sum total of sensory impressions you gain all the time you are awake in life on earth, with all the human senses involved in weaving a whole tapestry. We usually consider sensory impressions to be attached to objects. Thus objects and creatures present themselves in colours that impress the eye. Others produce sounds that impress the ear. Let us call to mind the whole world of sensory impressions and ask ourselves what they truly represent.

I have made it clear to you on more than one occasion that the fantastic world of moving atoms that physicists dream of is definitely not to be found behind our sensory impressions. No, behind the world we perceive with the senses lies something which is of the spirit. It is present in the world of the senses, though we are not directly aware of it when we have the tapestry before us in ordinary consciousness. In reality the tapestry presented to the senses contains the totality of all the spirits which in my Occult Science are collectively called the Spirits of Form. Anything which presents itself in space has form, and the coloured surface also gives objects form. In everything which we experience in space through the senses live the Spirits of Form, which in the Old Testament are called the Elohim.

We do, quite rightly, call the world that presents itself to the senses the world of phenomena.2“Phenomenon”, defined as “an immediate object of perception; something of which the senses or the mind take note directly”, derives from the Greek verb for “to shine, to appear”, which is also reflected in the German word for it—Erscheinung. Translator. This is only correct, however, in so far as at our ordinary level of consciousness we human beings perceive no more than these outer phenomena of the world. It is the “maya” of the Orient. But the moment our conscious mind wakes up and is able to perceive in images, this whole world of the senses is filled with, or, even better, transformed into, a world of flowing, moving images which also reveals the world of the Angels that is woven into it. This is also the world which inspires us when we are capable of Inspiration. It is then transformed into the world of Inspiration in which the Archangels are active. Later we also experience the world of Intuitions, when we advance from the world of the senses to the world of the Archai.

When we come to have the world of the Archai all around us, it will be possible to look back, with the help of this world, to the things we have gathered from higher hierarchies in earlier lives between death and rebirth. We then become aware of the spirits who are behind the Archai in this world. In the Bible they are called the Elohim, and in my Occult Science you’ll find them called “Spirits of Form”. Thus we are able to say that when we look out into the world through the senses, we are really looking into the world of the Spirits of Form (see table—world of the senses).

Having entered with heart and mind into the world of the senses, where we’d have to say that we move in the world of the Spirits of Form, let us now enter yet more deeply into the inner life, into a part of the inner world that is still closely bound up with the outside world, however, its function being to create an inner image of the outside world that we can bear in us as memory. In other words, we move on to the world of thought (see table).

In the first place this world of thoughts has image character. You’ll not feel the least temptation to consider the thoughts that are ordinarily alive in your conscious mind to be real. But there are hidden realities in that world, just as the realities of the Spirits of Form lie hidden in the world of the senses. In ordinary consciousness we have in the first place the fleeting inner thought forms we know so well. Again it is possible to find spiritual entities at work if we advance to higher knowledge through Imagination and Inspiration. These spiritual entities live in the phenomena that accompany the thoughts as they evolve in us.

You’ll remember what goes on in us when we are thinking; it has been described in earlier lectures. Processes are continually occurring that may be compared to the way salt dissolving in a glass of water disappears completely so that we can look right through the glass. If we let the water cool down a little it becomes cloudy and the salt slowly precipitates out. This kind of condensation process occurs when we think; it is a kind of mineralization. And the spiritual entities which are active in the element of thought are involved in this process of mineralization. We have always called them the Archai, powers of origin. We are therefore able to know that when we live in our thoughts, the Archai are with us, just as the Elohim, the Spirits of Form, are active in the processes of sensory perception.

The Spirits of Form can only be found in the outside world if we use imaginative perception. If we study that world in the normal state of consciousness we have today, we discover the “laws of nature”, which are abstractions. When we advance to imaginative perception we find not the abstract laws of nature which can be formulated as statements, but images, a life in images. These are not the kind of images of which I have spoken before, but images that cloud the images we gain when we behold the Elohim, condensing into them, as it were. There you have the Archai at work in the outside world. It is something we can observe in the outside world and also in the inner world.

At this point it may help to turn our attention not so much to the inner life but to one way in which life comes to outward expression. In our thoughts we relate to the outside world, with the secrets of that world revealed in our thoughts. Our thoughts are, however, part of the inner life. Yet they can be uttered and conveyed to others. Speech is one element in human life by which our thoughts are given outward expression.

Let us consider the world of speech. As I have said on a number of occasions, we do, of course, experience more of our world of speech than we do of the world of thought which flows into our speech. Will also enters into the element of thought, but this is something of which we have little awareness in ordinary consciousness. The human will does, however, flow strongly into our speaking, and this is something which can be realized in ordinary conscious awareness. Nevertheless, we know extraordinarily little about what really lives in our speech. In our present intellectual age, people perceive little more of what lives in speech sounds than some kind of signals referring to something else. The inner life of speech sounds has gone very much into the background in modern minds. All we can do is show the people of today that they can reflect on something which lives in the speech sounds and may be perceived to be a distinct, separate element in life.

Take a phrase like “wending our way”. The vowel sound in “wend” conveys a calmness as we proceed, with nothing to excite us. Compare this to “run” and you can feel the increased demand on your breathing in the vowel sound of this word, for your breathing goes faster when you run.3The two German words Rudolf Steiner was comparing were gehen and laufen. He went into considerable detail and this has been shortened. Translator. There is a spiritual aspect to language, which has a genius of its own. Modern people are not much aware of the life in their language, but in earlier times, when people still had a real inner experience of sounds, the spirit was very much active and alive in language for them, and they were more conscious of this inner experience than of anything perceived with the senses or any part of the world of thought.

The Archangels live in the element of speech and language, just as the Archai live in our thoughts. This makes them the spirits who guide nations and who come into their own in the element of speech.

People are much more the product of their language than we think, just as they are also the product of their thoughts. Our human form comes entirely from the world around us, and we in turn pour form into the world around us through the will. Our life comes from the same region as our thoughts, which is the region of the Archai. The language we speak as members of a nation gives expression to physical qualities that limit us as human beings to a much greater degree than is the case with our thoughts. Thoughts are common to all humanity; languages differ. People are different when it comes to language; but as they belong to a large or small nation they nevertheless have their language in common with quite a number of other people.

When we go down to the level of the Angels—and this is something I have told you before—people relate to their Angels on an individual, one-to-one basis. This shows itself in two ways. Inwardly it does so when we give ourselves up to the inner life in such a way that we transcend it. In ordinary life a luciferic element may immediately come in, but still, we can transcend ourselves and have an objective inner experience by using our imagination. In many respects our imagination is as creative as language is, but it is individual; language is essentially based on an active imagination. People normally experience language only in an abstract way and are not aware of the genius of language spreading its wings. They also fail to notice that in their imagination—which becomes sheer fantasy if the luciferic element comes into it—an Angel passes through the life they have as individuals.

True poets or artists who have not grown cynical or superficial will know, of course, that a higher spiritual principle enters into them when they do creative work. This higher spiritual principle also takes us from one life to the next as our personal guardian spirit; it is our Angel. And it is certainly the thinking of our Angel which enters into our imagination when it is active in the regular way. Goethe made certain statements to indicate, without making much of it, that he was aware of an unconscious element coming in which was very real when he used his imagination.

If we do not go out of ourselves inwardly when awake but do so in sleep, entering the region where the imagination we use when awake has its roots, the principle which shows itself in our imagination when we are fully awake comes to expression at a more subconscious level in our dreams. Imagination can become sheer fantasy if a luciferic element enters into it, and in the same way our dreams may degenerate into all kinds of strange things, which we may even take for real, if influenced by ahrimanic elements. Dreams are essentially luciferic, but an ahrimanic element may enter into them. Yet when our dreams are “innocent”, as we may put it, and purely human, the Angel lives in them, the same Angel which is in us when we use our imagination and inwardly go beyond ourselves, as it were.

The world of language which is governed by the Archangel now dims down inwardly into a world that is halfway between feeling and thought: the world of ideas, or ideas with feeling quality (see table below). Imagination and dreaming dim down to become the world of feelings, and of the will element that lives in our feelings, so that we may also speak of feelings with will quality. Going further down from the Angel we come to the human I. Here we need to go out of ourselves much more intensely than we do when the Angel lives in us. This happens when we let our will impulses become actions in the outside world, as I said yesterday.

Elohim, Spirits of form world of the senses
Archai world of thought
Archangels world of speech feeling-related idea
Angels imagination: dreaming will quality, feelings
Human I acts of will will

We are definitely out of ourselves when we dream, but only in mind and spirit. Nor do we go out of ourselves physically in our acts of will, but we set the physical body in motion, and the I actually has its basis in such will impulses. We are thus able to say: The will that lives in our actions leaves its mark on the outside world.

We have now gone all the way down to the physical world, where independent development comes only in acts of will. The I lives in the sum of all our actions, a sum that remains after death and on which we look back, as I have shown yesterday. Higher spiritual entities live in everything else in us—in our imagination and our dreams, in the world of speech and language, the world of thought and the contents of the senses. These higher entities are always in us. Thus we are able to look at everyday life and see how the human being relates to the cosmos.

Another way of coming close to the truths spiritual scientists are able to discover by using more highly developed faculties is the following. Take your own life in the physical world. You gain all kinds of impressions in this world and may even be able to remember them the next day. I am not saying that everybody remembers; for instance I am not sure if everybody who is sitting here tonight will be able to let the things heard in this lecture come alive in their minds tomorrow. Generally speaking, however, it is fair to say that the things we perceive around us with the senses live on in us as memories. To take us a step further, let me show this in a drawing.

human being surrounded by the world
Fig. 7

The light-coloured lines are the world around us and the red line represents the human being. The world around us and anything we experience in it lives on in us as an inner world. In a sense this is quite an abstract experience to begin with, at least in so far as the outside world, which we experience merely in the way it presents itself on the outside, lives on in abstract inner experiences, thoughts and feelings which then give rise to will impulses. But we can certainly say—let us bring this to mind very exactly—that our inner life represents experiences gained between birth and death, or rather birth and the present moment.

mixture of human being and the world in our inner world
Fig. 8

Let us now turn our attention from those inner abstractions and images to our internal organs, which are physical and tangible—lung, heart, liver, and so on. We have these inside us as well. Out-and-out mystics will say that they are only interested in things of the soul and spirit, in the inner impressions they have of the world that surrounds them. Physical objects like those organs are far too lowly and unimportant to them. In saying so, they merely show how much they are caught up in materialism and fail to realize that seemingly material objects are in reality deeply spiritual. Our lungs and livers are just as spiritual as the inner experiences we have as a reflection of experiences gained in the outside world between birth and death. They may appear to be present as physical, material objects to our ordinary consciousness, but they are very much the fruits of the spirit.

As you sit quietly at home, the thought may come to mind: The human being has a physical body, ether body, astral body and I. This thought is something you have inside you. At one time it was something outside you.

You first came across it in a book, maybe, or in a lecture, that is, in the outside world—as in the drawing. You also have your lung, heart, liver, brain, and so on inside you, and they are in physical form. They, too, are the fruit of experiences. If we make a simple sketch of the human being and the various organs, the things inside are the outcome of everything we have lived through between death and rebirth—not their physical substance, of course, for that only comes with conception, birth, and so on, but their form and internal organization. You hear me talk, and this becomes an inner experience; in the same way your heart, lungs and liver are the outcome of experiences you had between death and rebirth. We are able to say: I have physical matter inside me that is organized in a particular way; this is the outcome of experiences I had between death and rebirth.

The soul qualities in me
are the fruit of experiences gained between birth and death.
The physical organization in me
is the fruit of my life between death and rebirth.

A materialist will of course say that all the organs in our bodies have been physically inherited from our ancestors, but he’d be utterly wrong. Physical substance is inherited, that is true, but the germ cell is not seen in its true light if it is considered in purely material terms. Fertilization is not a matter of the human individual being physically derived from the generations that went before, but of an empty space arising, with matter broken down in the human being and the whole universe built into the human being. Matter then pushes its way into the spiritual form; for lung, heart and liver are essentially spiritual forms. The organizing powers are, however, entirely shaped out of the whole universe, out of experience gained between death and rebirth. This is what we experience when our consciousness rises above the waking state and we come to the region of Archangels and Angels in the way I have described. Between death and rebirth human beings experience consciously, or rather in a state of super consciousness, the things which they then build into their organs.

Our organs are built in accord with our karma, which comes from our earlier lives on earth. It may seem that purely physical processes occur as generation succeeds generation, but in fact these are processes brought about by the whole universe.

The following is an analogy I tend to use when small-minded materialists come and say: “Do not speak to us of the whole universe being involved as a human being develops in the womb, and whatever you do, don’t take us out into the universe; kindly speak of the germ plasma continuing on through the generations.” We can deal with this by saying: Someone has a magnetic needle which points north and south. Someone else will come and say: “There are crazy physicists who say the whole earth is a magnet and the magnetic south pole of the earth is attracting this pole of the needle. But in fact the reasons for the magnetic needle pointing north and south lie in the needle itself. The earth has nothing to do with it!” This is more or less the kind of thing modern biologists are saying about the germ cell. They look only at the germ cell. But just as the whole earth is active in a magnetic needle, so the whole universe is active in the creation of the embryo. The part which the human being plays in this is, of course, at an unconscious level.

Seen in this light, the human individual is with the whole of his being connected with a material and a spiritual universe. We say: We make the outside world our inner world when we perceive it in ordinary conscious experience. Yesterday I said, from a certain point of view: When a human being goes through the gate of death, inner becomes outer, and outer becomes inner. Today I presented a different point of view to show that the way we have to approach anything that comes before birth, or conception, is to look for our inner physical life and the processes that prepare it in the outside world during life between death and rebirth: The outer becomes inner. Something we experience as spread out through the whole universe becomes deeply unconscious experience in our organs.

The nature of our internal organs is truly such that a whole cosmos is alive in them. If we merely consider those organs the way they are presented in ordinary anatomy and physiology, this is maya to a much higher degree than the maya we face in the world around us.

Looking into the world of the senses, I said, we can see as far as the Elohim. Looking down into the inner physical body, we have to go higher to find the reality that lives in us and creates our organs. You’ll remember that in my Occult Science higher entities are mentioned who are above the Spirits of Form. These do not only exist outside human beings but are also active inside them. We learn about them from the Archai when between death and rebirth we raise our level of consciousness to theirs and learn things from them which we then pour into our organization. We truly carry the world of the hierarchies through life in the way we are made inside. Today these things can be investigated. In older times people knew about them out of an instinctive clairvoyant consciousness. Those were the times when it was said that the human organism is a temple of the gods, and people sought to gain insight into the whole world by interpreting the inner human microcosm.

Isn’t it true that we know about the world which has been our own for as long as we have had conscious awareness here on earth from memory? We are able to reflect on everything we are able to recall from memory. We look inwards and find that the world we have known outside is inside ourselves, and we realize that the outside life has entered into the images we have inside us. Looking back in memory we understand again what we experienced before. Now if we look at our physical organization and understand it, we also understand the cosmic process. Our memories let us understand life’s experiences. Our whole human organization lets us understand the cosmic process, if we know how to look at it. And this is what anthroposophy is all about—to understand the human being in every way.

It means that anthroposophy is also cosmosophy, for just as we bring our life back to mind when we remember, so we bring the whole cosmic process, cosmosophy, to mind when we gain insight through anthroposophy. The two cannot be seen apart. Cosmosophy and anthroposophy belong together. The human being is to be found in the world, and the world in the human being.

This is also why it is not anthropomorphism to speak of human evolution in the same breath as evolution through Saturn, Sun, Moon and so on in my Occult Science. Cosmic evolution is something that is given, and human evolution is something that is given, for the further we penetrate the secrets of existence, the more do cosmos and human being come together; the more does it become apparent that the separation between cosmos and human being that exists for us on earth is mere maya. The human being belongs to the cosmos, and the cosmos to the human being, and each is to be found in the other.