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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Evolution of Consciousness
GA 227

7. The Interplay of various Worlds

25 August 1923, Penmaenmawr

In human life there is a perpetual interplay between the super-sensible world and the world of the senses; and I have also referred to extreme cases where the two worlds—or really all three—play into one another without a man contributing anything to it through his own development. To-day we shall be speaking about human examples of interplay between the various worlds. I will first describe the ordinary sleep-walking type, then the Jacob Boehme type, and finally the type represented by Swedenborg.

The relation of these three types to one another is such that each may be said to indicate, as if by a universally valid experiment, how human evolution is connected with the evolution of the world as a whole. This too I would bring to your notice in what I have to say.

In studying these three types of men, who enter and leave the spiritual world without fully recognising the presence of the Guardian at the Threshold, we find indeed that all three—the sleep walker type, the Jacob Boehme type and the Swedenborg type—have a way of perceiving the super-sensible world—or, as is particularly true of the sleep-walker, are active therein which is different from the way opened by Imaginative, Inspired, and Intuitive cognition. This derives from the fact that when anyone enters the spiritual world—and everyone does so, if only unconsciously, whenever he goes to sleep—all things, as I have already pointed out, become different from what they are in the physical world.

Three features of the super-sensible world, above all, are the opposite of those in the physical world. This contrast has such a strong effect on human beings and is so disturbing to all they hold true, right, salutary and so on in the physical world that, given the present earthly condition of soul and body, people should never be transplanted suddenly into the super-sensible world without due preparation. Hence in my book, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, I have laid particular stress on the necessity for the right sort of preparation. It is described there in such a way that anyone who follows the directions will be prepared in all respects for entering the super-sensible world in the right way. All the three types I am speaking of to-day, however, enter not because of preparation but through their destiny, and their destiny, their karma, protects them from any dangers. Indeed, through their karma they are made acquainted with many things concerning mankind which can otherwise be known only through Imaginative, Inspired and Intuitive cognition.

First of all, in the spiritual-super-sensible world, all weight, all gravity ceases. When really within the spiritual world, one is never in anything that can be weighed, but in the imponderable. The first conscious experience there is like the feeling we might have in the physical world if the ground were falling away under our feet, and we had to hold firm through our own inner forces.

So you must imagine how, if we wish really to enter the spiritual world, we are bound to have this feeling of the ground being spirited away from under us, and how with no gravity to rely on, we have to maintain ourselves in free space by the strength within us.

The second thing that ceases in the super-sensible is all that we have as sense-perception in the physical world. To put it briefly: in the super-sensible world light ceases and one finds oneself in darkness. But that is not the whole story, for in reality it is not only light that ceases; light ceases in the physical world for the blind, who still possess other senses. But in the science of the spirit the word light often embraces not only light and colour, but everything audible, tangible or perceptible as warmth, and so on. In the super-sensible world, all this ceases. And one can imply this by referring simply to what for most people is their chief sense-experience, and so by saying: Where there was light, everything becomes dark.

The third thing to be met in the spiritual world—and we must strive to feel this in its full reality—is emptiness in place of fullness. Here in the physical world there is generally something to touch, and when there is nothing else you are still surrounded by the air. Everywhere is fullness. In the spiritual world it is just the opposite; everywhere is emptiness. Hence we can say: In the physical world of the senses, the prevailing experiences are of the ponderable, of light in the physical sense, which includes everything experienced by the senses; and thirdly, fullness. Whereas in the spiritual world there prevail the imponderable; darkness in which a man must provide his own light from what he has developed inwardly during his evolution; and emptiness he has to fill for higher consciousness with the reality he absorbs by entering into other spiritual beings through Intuition.

Now when a man, through instinctive destiny, is led out of the ponderable into the realm where the imponderable prevails, he is seized upon by forces from beyond the Earth. Anyone going about the physical Earth, or even when lying down, is always subject to the laws of gravity. If he were to escape from them for a few minutes, the opposing force, counter-gravity, comes into play. He then experiences within himself a force dragging him away from the Earth, instead of chaining him to it. This is the same force that comes from the Moon, besides the light it reflects.

When, therefore, anyone is going about on Earth, he is exposed in normal life to the force of gravity which draws him down and holds him fast to the Earth. If through his karma, which is then linked with the nature-forces holding sway in him, this earthly gravity is withdrawn at certain moments, so that Moon-forces can begin to act on him as counter-gravity, then, though he is still asleep, he starts to wander about. He is then exposed to the forces that govern his physical and etheric bodies forces which are related not only to forces reflected back from the Moon in light but to many other forces streaming from Moon to Earth. These forces pull on the man; they are always trying to draw him away from the Earth. In the moment when, instead of being in the grip of earthly gravity, he is seized upon by the forces of counter-gravity, coming from the Moon and working against the earthly forces, he may wander about in the moonstruck way of the somnambulist. The forces holding sway in a man at this moment are quite different from the normal earthly ones; but this applies only to the present day. These forces are now found only in the somnambulist, and are abnormal. Call to him by his earthly name when under the influence of the Moon he is wandering about on a roof—and he will fall. He thus comes immediately into the realm of Earth-forces; but in other epochs men were not given names such as they have to-day, and the temporary condition of the sleepwalker was then normal. Anyone who looks right into the matter will see that earthly man, in his so-called normal life to-day, is bound up with the forces of the Earth. The moonstruck person, however, points us away from human evolution to world-evolution, and in fact to that epoch when world-evolution was Moon-evolution.

The moment a man enters the realm of Moon-evolution, he behaves as though he did not live in the physical realm of the Earth at all, but in the astral world, though the astral enters into the physical and makes use of the physical body. And that which the astral develops physically in this way was at one time Moon-evolution. We are reminded that astral activity in the physical was once world-evolution—Moon-evolution—and will be so again. But then a man will be able in full consciousness to walk up steeply sloping surfaces, as flies can do to-day. This is an indication of what will come about in the future during the Jupiter-evolution. Thus, if we rightly understand the somnambulist, we can study the physical picture he presents, as if nature herself were giving us a demonstration of what we experienced during our Moon-existence—not, certainly, in a physical body of flesh, but in an infinitely finer substance—and of what we shall experience again when we learn to master physical substance quite consciously, during the Jupiter-evolution. So this sleep-walking state points both to the past and to the future in the evolution of the world.

In this connection we are concerned entirely with human beings whom we can call Moon-men, who in certain moments of their life become somnambulists. But this sleep-walking behaviour, this going about in the imponderable, can be accomplished spiritually, in full consciousness, if at the same time one has sufficient strength to keep perfectly still. The somnambulist follows the impulses of the Moon-forces; he gives himself over unconsciously to them and makes every movement to which they impel him. But anyone who goes through this experience with exact, conscious clairvoyance refrains from any such movements; he keeps still. The effect is that the movements undergo a metamorphosis in him and become Intuitions. Conscious Intuition, therefore, the highest development of strict clairvoyance, actually consists in arresting the actions which a sleep-walker is instinctively compelled by the Moon-forces to perform. Anyone who brings about this metamorphosis does not give himself up to the physical forces of the Moon but holds them in check within himself. Thus he is enabled to devote himself intuitively to the relevant spirituality; that is, he attains to Intuition.

Hence it is really very good to study in these Moon-men how, on the one hand, man is related to world-evolution, and on the other how the somnambulist and the exact clairvoyant are opposites. Whereas it is instinctive people who are the moonstruck sleep-walkers, exact clairvoyants are intuitive seers who, refraining from action, hold their own against the Moon. That is what we are shown at this point in the relation of man to the world.

Now the second of the three types of men of whom I am speaking to-day is exemplified in Jacob Boehme. He was so fully endowed a man that at certain moments of his life, as though through his natural destiny, his karma, he was able while completely awake to conjure up before him, instead of the sunlit world, dark space. From what I have already said you will be clear that here it is a question not only of the darkness which is absence of light, but of the blotting out of everything perceived by the senses. It was possible for Jacob Boehme, under certain conditions during his life, to be faced by darkness in place of light, by silence and stillness instead of the various sounds in the world, and instead of warmth by something—equally unlike warmth or cold—we might call anti-warmth, and so on. So that, if through Inspiration one had examined these states of his, without experiencing them oneself, one would have had to say that Jacob Boehme, instead of having sunlit space around him, was at certain times faced by complete darkness.

People who have this experience without being conscious of it—who are, that is, in a light sleep though still feeling themselves to be in the ordinary sunlit world—have what is called second-sight: and this is what Jacob Boehme had in its most pronounced form. Only, in his case, it was applied less to individual particulars on the Earth and more to the constitution of the Earth as a whole. What, then, was his vision?

Now picture this to yourselves. When other people have before them the light of the Sun, Jacob Boehme had—precisely from the point where the visual rays of the eyes meet, on looking at some object far away or near, or from behind the point where a barrier arises when we fold our right hand over our left and shut ourselves off from the outer world—there Jacob Boehme was faced by darkness and silence in respect of all his senses. Imagine this complete darkness! There is a physical picture closely corresponding to it. When you stand before a mirror, you don't see what is behind it—only what is in front. Spiritually, it is the same for anyone who sees in Jacob Boehme's way. The darkness behind creates something in front like a mirror, in which one sees reflected the earthly world in its spirituality. Thus, if you were of the Jacob Boehme type, at certain moments in your life you would look into darkness, and, because this darkness rayed back to you the spiritual life of the Earth, you would behold the spiritual constitution of the Earth and the course of its existence.

It was a powerful second-sight that Jacob Boehme had. Another man may have certain moments in his life when he is faced by darkness which shuts out the physical light, enabling him to look into the spiritual. Then, if he understands how to make the right use of this spiritual mirror, which consists simply in the existence of the darkness, then, through the inner communications between all earthly things, deeds and even thoughts, he will be able when in Europe to perceive a friend in America. For what we perceive with our physical eyes and senses results, above all, from the action of the Sun. But there are also hidden workings of the Sun, active in everything—in minerals, plants, animals, and also in human beings. While you may be in Europe, yet through these hidden workings of the Sun within you, you are in communication with a friend in far-off America, in whom these same forces are active.

These communications have karmic effects. Many a person has had his destiny for marriage, love, friendship, linked with someone in America, perhaps, who was unknown to him at that time. In this working of karma on Earth the hidden forces of the Sun are active; they are made visible there, as though in a mirror.

This applies particularly to people leading isolated lives on islands, in mountain valleys, or in other places favourable in this respect, and the fact that second-sight is fairly common in such places is because persons leading secluded lives respond more readily than others to these inner communications and are able to spread a partial darkness around them in life. Hence the Scottish and the Westphalian second-sight, and the second-sight in a secluded valley of Alsace so beautifully described by Oberlin. Thus such things appear in special districts of the Earth. Where they are genuine, like those hidden effects of the Sun of which I have just spoken, they need to be judged quite differently from the way in which they usually are judged in our materialistic age.

Certain people nowadays, proud of their cleverness, discuss whether there ever was a King Arthur, whether he was a real or a legendary figure. But those who can look more deeply into the matter will speak differently. And for them, anyone who doubts whether King Arthur ever lived is himself far more legendary than King Arthur! Take a modern scholar who denies the existence of Arthur—well, he is physically present among us, but in fact he belongs far more to the realm of sagas and legends than King Arthur does, at least in the opinion of those who can see into the truth of these things.

Hence we can say of people who have second-sight, the gift manifest to the highest degree in Jacob Boehme, that they are in a special sense Sun-men. Just as we normally see the effects of the Sun in the external world, these Sun-men are inwardly permeated by the Sun's hidden forces. And just as our first type was seen to consist of Moon-men, the second type consists of Sun-men, like Jacob Boehme with his second-sight. They are Sun-men who through their natural karma bear within them something which is abnormal to-day, but for that very reason thoroughly in accordance with reality; for what is abnormal to-day has been, at some time, quite normal.

Thus, by realising what men with second-sight are able to perceive, by bringing home to ourselves the nature of the Sun's hidden forces, by which these Sun-men are permeated, we are able to say: This living in the hidden effects of the Sun, now abnormal, was normal at an earlier stage of the Earth's evolution, and it will be normal again. It was normal during the period which as Sun-evolution preceded Earth-evolution. It was normal then for men everywhere to look into darkness as if into a mirror, in order to have the spiritual reflected back to them. The whole Earth went through that stage of evolution which made man, in his tenuous, volatile materiality at that time, a Sun-man. Consciousness was then very dim.

This condition will come again. A man will then be able to penetrate with full consciousness the darkness around him, producing by his own efforts a reflected image of the whole world. By that time we shall have arrived at the Venus-evolution, a future stage of Earth-evolution.

Persons wishing to acquire second-sight must cast off their coarse perceptions and sensibility, and the sensations they receive from the physical in their environment; they must draw a free sensibility out of themselves. This can also be arrived at inwardly, though not without danger. It can be done by anyone who fixes his gaze—I am not advising this, simply giving you facts—on some glittering object, so to induce a state of fascination. In this way outer sensibility is weakened, inner sensibility is encouraged, and second-sight is evoked. In ancient times, under certain circumstances, second-sight was evoked quite systematically. Stories of this refer to a “magic mirror”: this was in fact an instrument designed to fascinate and so to damp down outer sensation, thereby calling up inner sensation as its polar opposite. A physical mirror was thus used for calling up a spiritual reflection. The important thing was not what was seen in the physical mirror; the physical mirror merely drove away all outer sensation and inner sensation was evoked. That is how the belief arose that in the magic mirror itself the feelings, the thoughts, and so on, of distant friends could be seen. In reality the person saw the state of soul brought about in himself by the ordinary mirror.

Anyone who elicits this kind of seeing sees actual realities. He sees the spiritual activity that goes on in the kingdoms of nature, and he is, as it were, united with everything on Earth that is Sun-like.

In order really to understand Jacob Boehme's writings, one must take their whole content as deriving from a complicated, wonderful second-sight.

Another personality, Paracelsus, was constituted in a similar yet somewhat different way. Sensation in his case was combined with greater intellectual power; hence he always interpreted the pictures revealed to him by second-sight. When we reflect intellectually about physical, sense-perceptible things, we do not change them, for the intellect is powerless in face of the physical; but it is not powerless in face of anything seen in a mirror in the way described. To perceive the inner constitution of the world so purely in terms of second-sight is possible only for someone like Jacob Boehme, who was able to surrender himself quite selflessly to external things. The unending love with which he looked upon all things, and which made itself felt in his whole way of grasping the reflected images of the spiritual in the world, speaks in almost every line he wrote. So these reflections remained for him in the utmost purity as a kind of Imaginations of the spiritual in the world.

With Paracelsus, all these things went through a change in accordance with his strong intellectual bent. Hence they are reflected images given a different form. Even from a physical mirror you can learn that what it reflects can go through a change—you have only to look at your face in a concave mirror. You would certainly be loath to have a face as you see it there! That is more or less what intellectuality does to the reflecting surface into which one looks—if one is an intellectual such as Paracelsus. By this means, however, one penetrates more deeply into the inner forces.

Thus Jacob Boehme, beholding all things with his truly sublime love, became a contemplative observer; whereas Paracelsus, concentrating more on the inner forces, and distorting the mirror-images he was dealing with, approached nearer to the healing forces that lie within things as hidden Sun-forces.

When anyone learns to master consciously the hidden Sun-forces, so that he does not use the outspread darkness for seeing reflected images but carries into the darkness the inner light kindled in soul and spirit through meditation and concentration; when he becomes able to fill with inner soul-forces the space otherwise lit up by the physical Sun so that he can illuminate it with the light of his own soul and spirit, then indeed conscious Imagination arises. This conscious Imagination, that can be evoked in the way we have learnt to do on the path of knowledge, is the source of what Jacob Boehme, as a Sun-man, has recorded to a certain extent unconsciously in his writings, and with less mastery of the world of ideas and so on.

And so, just as Intuition arises when the secret forces of the Moon in a man are held fast, and not expressed in somnambulistic wanderings, so the mirror-images conjured up by the Sun-forces out of spiritual darkness are changed to conscious Imagination.

While the sleep-walking type lives in the forces of the Moon, and the Jacob Boehme type in those of the Sun, so a third type lives in the conditions of warmth and cold always present in the space around the Earth. In normal life people grow accustomed to the prevailing temperature. But there is a certain delicate, intimate sensitivity that becomes independent of the external warmth or cold, and on the contrary is very susceptible to the hidden workings of heat and cold which permeate the space surrounding and penetrating the Earth. A faculty of this kind for perceiving these hidden workings was acquired at a certain time in his life by Swedenborg. Anyone wishing to make a study of the mysterious side of Swedenborg's life will gradually come to see clearly that this susceptibility appeared in him at a certain age, for up to that time he had been a distinguished representative of the official science of his day: his writings in this field are very numerous. They were not all published at the time, but now a society of Swedish scholars is preparing an edition of his scientific works in many volumes. Swedenborg will certainly give these scholars some hard nuts to crack! They are obliged to admit that his works prove him to have been one of the greatest geniuses of his age, but at a certain moment of his life he became clairvoyant—which, in the opinion of those editing his officially recognised works, is another word for half-witted.

Now we must turn our attention rather to this higher vision developed by Swedenborg after he had made himself familiar with the rest of the knowledge recognised in his day. We must examine more closely the reasons for his thus becoming “half-witted” in the eyes of official learning.

On looking deeply into Swedenborg's personality, we find that he “lost his senses” because in his fortieth year he developed an overwhelming love for all that he had learnt up to that time. There can hardly be anyone who has loved pure knowledge as much as Swedenborg came to love it. It was this love for knowledge that enabled him at a certain point in his life to look in his own way into the spiritual world, and to become susceptible to the hidden effects of warmth and cold in surrounding space.

These hidden effects of warmth and cold come neither from Moon nor from Sun, but chiefly from a heavenly body that sends very unassuming rays into interplanetary space—from Saturn. These modest rays carry the hidden forces which, at a certain time of his life, permeated Swedenborg particularly. On this account he developed a capacity for perceiving, instead of the fullness by which we are surrounded in the world of the senses, emptiness—and to this, one day, he became sensitive. He made no effort to become so; it arose instinctively. Nor did he undergo any training such as I have described in the book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds; this sensitivity dawned within him like a delicate higher instinct. And so he became able to look into the world—not a physical world—which is perceptible only when we have entered into the conditions of warmth and cold that stream as rays from Saturn through interplanetary space. Thus he developed a very individual form of vision.

If you read what Swedenborg has recorded as the results of this vision, it really seems almost like an etherealised, subtilised, earthly experience. The spiritual beings he sees, Angels, Archangels, and so on, certainly move with the freedom of the imponderable, but almost in the manner of earthly beings. We may ask whether the world he was looking at was real, or whether he was simply projecting into the void what he drew from his own inner resources. No—the truth is quite different. Besides the world into which we look with our physical senses, and besides the second world we can experience, the etheric world, we are surrounded by a purely spiritual world. In this spiritual world there are spiritual beings who have never descended to Earth, beings leading a life of movement and activity. These beings have to send their influence into earthly life; hence they impart to the etheric element of the Earth their activity in the purely spiritual world. We can describe it in this way. The Earth is surrounded, permeated, by its etheric element, and outside—actually outside space—there is the world of these active spiritual beings which enters into the earthly realm. The Earth is what it is only through the activity of these beings.

This activity rays into the earthly realm, but is rayed back and reflected in the ether of the Earth; and the forces of the ether are actually the etheric realisation of the spiritual above them. When we study the etheric around us on the Earth, we find it permeated with the activity of these spiritual beings in the form of etheric pictures. The actual activity takes place above it or within it. What immediately surrounds us on Earth is the activity that is projected back into the ether of the Earth. It is just as if a looking-glass were not only to reflect images but gradually to develop an activity of its own. Spiritual activity is rayed back from the Earth into the ether, and this activity is really a projection of spiritual activity.

Just as Jacob Boehme saw in a mirror the reflection of what goes on in the human body or in nature, in the way I have described, for Swedenborg the Earth itself was the mirror which threw back to him in the ether the pictures of spiritual activity in the spiritual world. We can say that what he saw is not the spiritual world, or we can equally well say that it is. It is just the realisation of an image reflected by the Earth. It is a true image, but true only as a reflection of the reality that lies behind it.

That is what Swedenborg perceived. In the ether of the Earth he saw how the super-earthly beings develop forces in the ether—forces which play a positive part in human life and also in other forms of life on Earth. These etheric forces are neither Angels nor Archangels, but forces vibrating in the ether. To-day it is abnormal for anyone to see into these hidden etheric forces, which project everywhere into the surrounding ether an etheric image of the higher spiritual archetypes. In an earlier epoch of Earth-evolution, however, this was perfectly normal—in the time which preceded the Sun-evolution and may be called the Saturn age. It was made known at that time that one day we shall experience a Venus age, after which will come the Vulcan age.

In Swedenborg there arose this special kind of vision—the mode of existence once passed through by the Earth; how the Earth revealed itself to the men of that time; and how it will reveal itself in future.

When someone has acquired the capacity for seeing consciously the pictures Swedenborg beheld in the ether; when to the emptiness of world-space he can oppose his own fullness—then, for exact clairvoyance, the beings who were reflected etherically for Swedenborg vanish from etheric vision, and begin to be audible to spiritual hearing, spiritual ears. When they are effaced as visionary pictures, they gradually become Inspirations, sounding into consciousness from out of the spiritual world.

Hence we can say: The unconscious Imagination, rising up in Swedenborg as etheric images, will—if one carefully observes the warnings of the Guardian of the Threshold, which Swedenborg could not do—go through a metamorphosis and reappear as fully conscious astral Inspiration.

Now I have shown you how the more subconscious state of the sleep-walker, the Jacob Boehme type of vision, and the Swedenborg type, are related to what can be striven for consciously as Intuition, Imagination, Inspiration. These have had to be put in a different order to-day because I have been giving a cosmic picture. If this is done in accordance not with names but with the things in themselves, then, if descriptions are given from different points of view, the sequence has to be changed, just as things may often appear in a different order when the perspective is changed. For instance, say I am between two men, with one behind me and the other in front. If I move ahead of the one in front, then I can face them both. So, too, in cosmic space things change in accordance with our point of view.

That is why in my lecture-cycles you find things appearing in a different order according to the various standpoints from which they have to be described. When this is not fully appreciated and anyone persists in an abstract approach, he will say: This does not tally. But the only people who can afford to satisfy the pure intellectualist in this matter are those whose descriptions derive from mere assumptions. Anyone who is describing realities must allow them to appear contradictory, as from different points of view they often can.