Manifestations of the Unconscious
Dreams, Hallucinations, Visions, Somnambulism, Mediumship
This is the 7th of 10 lectures given by Rudolf Steiner in Berlin between 24 January and 20 April, 1918. (No. 67 in the Bibliographical Survey, 1961). The title of this series of lectures is: The Eternal in the Human Soul, Immortality and Freedom. They were published in German as: Das Ewig in der Menschenseele. Unsterblichkeit und Freheit.
21 March 1918, Berlin
Translated by D. S. Osmond
Everyone who is to some extent eager for knowledge and has realised how useful a true understanding of reality can be to human life desires to familiarise himself with the content of Spiritual Science as presented here. On the other hand, its methods for the attainment of knowledge are often irksome, because Spiritual Science is bound to show that the ordinary faculties of cognition — including those applied in orthodox science — cannot lead deeply into the spiritual life; and to be obliged to turn to different sources of knowledge is not an easy matter. True, if the study of Spiritual Science is free from preconceived notions and ideas, it will become more and more evident that ordinary, healthy human reason — provided it really gets to grips with life — is capable of grasping what Spiritual Science has to offer. But people are not willing, above all in the case of Spiritual Science, to apply this healthy human reason and ordinary knowledge of life, because they do not want to turn to something that can be achieved only through actual development of the soul. Although the facts presented by Spiritual Science can be investigated only by the methods to be described here, once the facts have been investigated they can be grasped by healthy human reason and ordinary experience. But because a certain mental laziness makes people hesitate to penetrate into Spiritual Science, even those who at the present time have an urge to know something about it prefer to turn to sources more in line with the methods applied in the laboratories, dissection-rooms and other institutions of modern science. And so in order to acquire a certain insight into the spiritual life, people who cannot bring themselves to approach Spiritual Science itself often prefer to concern themselves with abnormal phenomena of human life to be observed in the outer world of the senses. These people believe that the study of certain abnormal phenomena will elucidate certain riddles of existence. That is why Spiritual Science is so repeatedly and so mistakenly associated with endeavours to gain knowledge of spiritual reality by investigating all kinds of abnormal, borderline regions of human life.1See True and False Paths in Spiritual Investigations. Eleven lectures given by Rudolf Steiner in Torquay, August, 1924. See also references below.
For this reason I must also speak of borderline regions which through their very abnormality point to certain secrets of existence but can only really be understood through Spiritual Science and without it are bound to lead to countless fallacies about the true nature of spiritual life. The vast range, the interest and enigmatic character of the borderline region of which I shall speak is to some extent known to everyone, for it points to certain connections between external life and its hidden foundations. I am referring to man's life of dream. Starting from this life of dream it will be necessary also to consider other borderline regions of existence whose phenomena, if experienced in an abnormal way, might induce the belief that they lead a man to the foundations of life. I shall therefore also speak of the phenomena of hallucination, of visionary life and of somnambulism and mediumship, as far as this is possible in the framework of a single lecture.
Anyone who would have these borderline regions of human life explained in the light of Spiritual Science must bear in mind those essentials of genuine spiritual investigation through which they can be elucidated. From the range of what has been described in previous lectures I want therefore to select certain matters which will provide a basis for study of the phenomena in question. Spiritual Science must depend upon development of forces of the human soul which lie hidden in the everyday consciousness and also in the consciousness with which ordinary science works. As I have indicated, through certain exercises, certain procedures carried out purely in the life of soul and having nothing whatever to do with anything of a bodily nature, the human soul is able to evoke powers otherwise slumbering within it and so to gain insight into the true spiritual life. I must now briefly describe the essential preliminaries which enable the soul to make itself independent of the bodily element in acts of super-sensible cognition.
I have said in previous lectures that the attitude to be adopted to spiritual reality must differ from that adopted to external physical reality. Above all it must be remembered that what is experienced in the spiritual world by the soul when free from the body, cannot, like an ordinary mental picture, pass over into the memory in the actual form in which it is experienced. Whatever is experienced in the spiritual world must be experienced each time anew, just as an outer, physical reality must be confronted anew when it is actually in front of us and not merely remembered. Anyone who believes he can have genuine spiritual experience in the form of mental pictures which he can remember just as he remembers those arising in everyday life, does not know the spiritual in its reality. When, as is possible, a man subsequently recollects spiritual experiences, this is due to the capacity to bring such experiences into his ordinary consciousness, just as in,the case of perceptions of some outer, physical reality. Then the pictures can be recollected. But he must learn to distinguish between this recollection of mental pictures formed by himself and a direct experience of a spiritual happening, a direct encounter with a spiritual being. A special characteristic of body-free experience, therefore, is that it does not immediately penetrate into the memory.
Another characteristic is that when, in other circumstances, a man practises in order to be able to achieve something, the exercises enable him to do this more easily and with greater skill. In the domain of spiritual knowledge, strangely enough, the opposite is the case. The oftener a man has a certain spiritual experience, the more difficult it is for the soul to induce in itself the condition where this same spiritual experience is again possible. It is therefore also necessary to know the methods by which a spiritual experience can again become accessible, because it does not allow itself to be repeated in the same way.
The third characteristic is that genuine spiritual experiences pass so rapidly before the soul that alert presence of mind is required to capture them. Otherwise a happening passes so quickly that it has already gone by the time attention is directed to it. A man must learn to be master of situations in life where it is impossible to procrastinate and reflect upon what decision to take, but where decision must be rapid and sure. This alert presence of mind is essential if spiritual experiences are to be held in the field of attention. I mention these characteristics of spiritual experience because they at once show the great difference between an experience in the spiritual world and an experience in the outer, physical world of the senses and how little justification there is for people who know nothing to insist that the spiritual investigator simply brings ideas and concepts acquired from the outer world of the senses as reminiscences into some kind of imaginary spiritual world. Anyone who really knows something about the characteristics of the spiritual world, knows too that it differs so entirely from the world of the senses that nothing can be imported into it from the latter, but that the development of special faculties is essential before the spirit can confront spiritual reality.
Certain other conditions must also be fulfilled by one who wishes to be capable of genuine spiritual investigation. The first condition is that the soul must be immune as far as possible from inner passivity. A man who likes to give himself up dreamily to life, to make himself ‘passive’, as the saying goes, in order that in a dreamlike, mystical state the revelations of spiritual reality may flow into him — such a man is ill-adapted to penetrate into the spiritual world. For it must be emphasised that in the realm of true spiritual life the Lord does not give to his own in sleep! On the contrary, what makes a man fit to penetrate into the spiritual world is vigour and activity of mind, zeal in following trains of thoughts, in establishing connections between thoughts seemingly remote from each other, quickness in grasping chains of ideas, a certain love of inner, spiritual activity. This quality is indispensable for genuine spiritual investigation. Mediumistic tendencies and a talent for genuine spiritual knowledge are as different as night from day.
Another condition is that in his life of soul a genuine spiritual investigator must to the greatest possible extent be proof against suggestion, against allowing himself to be influenced by suggestion; he must confront the things of external life too with a discriminating, sceptical attitude of mind. A person who prefers to be told by others what he ought to do, who is glad not to have to arrange his life according to his own independent judgment and decisions, is not very suitable for spiritual investigation. Anyone who knows how great a role is played by suggestion in normal everyday life, also realises how difficult it is to combat the general tendency to succumb to it. Think only to what extent, in public life particularly, people allow things to be suggested to them, how few efforts they make to create in their own souls the conditions for independence of judgment and for governing their affairs by their own will. Those who study the findings of spiritual research because their healthy intelligence makes them desire relationship with the spiritual world are very often accused of blind belief in the investigator. But the fact is that blindly credulous adherents are anything but welcome to an investigator who tries to penetrate with conscious vision into the spiritual world. A society composed of credulous followers would be the caricature of a society suitable for the cultivation of spiritual knowledge. The genuine spiritual investigator will find, to his joy, that sooner or later those who come close to him develop independence of judgment and a certain inner freedom also in regard to himself, that they do not adhere to him blindly, under the influence of suggestion, but because of common interest in the spiritual world.
I shall speak now of yet another characteristic which can elucidate the relation of spiritual reality to physical reality and the attitude to be adopted by the human soul to the spiritual world. It is very often said that the spiritual investigator takes with him from the physical world of sense preconceived ideas which he then uses to describe some imagined spiritual world. But as I have already said, genuine experience of the spiritual world takes a different form each time. We may be quite sure that what we experience in the spiritual world always proves to be different from anything we previously believed. For this reason it is clear that the spiritual world can be reached only when the soul has been made fit for the experience of it. There is no question of carrying reminiscences of the physical world into an imaginary world. But there is something else which — paradoxical as it seems — will be confirmed by decades of experience of the things of the spiritual world. It is that however highly trained a person may be in body-free cognition, however well practised in seeing into the spiritual world, when he contemplates a particular being or happening — especially a happening which indicates a relationship between the spiritual world and outer, physical reality — he will very often find that his first experience is false. Hence the spiritual investigator acquires the caution which leads him to anticipate that the first experience will be misleading. Then, as he perseveres, it becomes evident to him why he was on the false track, and by comparing what is subsequently correct with what was formerly fallacy, he finally recognises the truth of the matter in question. As a rule, therefore, a genuine spiritual investigator will not communicate his findings to his fellow-men until a long time has elapsed since particular researches were made, because he knows that above all in the realm of the spiritual life, delusion and error have to be encountered and overcome in order finally to recognise the truth. This delusion and error are due to the fact that in investigating the spiritual life we take our start from the material world; we bring our powers of judgment, our mode of perception, from the material world into the spiritual world. At first we are always inclined to apply what we have thus carried into the spiritual world — hence the erroneous conclusions. But the very fact of having to realise each time anew how different the attitude adopted to spiritual things must be from that adopted to physical things, enables us for the first time to perceive the intimate characteristics of spiritual experience. It certainly seems paradoxical as compared with ordinary, everyday experience. But one who is able to look into the spiritual world knows, firstly, that the eternal, immortal essence of the human soul cannot come to conscious expression in the ordinary experiences connected with the body; the immortal essence of the soul is concealed, because here, in physical life, through his bodily constitution, a man can acquire knowledge of the physical only. That is why it is so necessary for the spiritual investigator to emphasise unambiguously that knowledge of the spiritual is acquired outside the body. The moment the body is in any way involved in the acquisition of such knowledge, this knowledge is falsified, even when remembrance — which is preserved in the body — plays a part.
Another outcome of a real grasp of the spiritual life is the knowledge that a man expels himself from the spiritual world to which the eternal core of the human soul belongs, when he surrenders his free will in any way and under the sway of coercion or suggestion allows what is in his soul to come to expression through his body in actions or even only through speech — that is to say, when anything that comes to expression through his body has not been mediated through the will. One fundamental condition for experiencing the spiritual world, therefore, is to recognise that the bodily functions must play no part in this knowledge. The other fundamental condition is that a man must make every effort to ensure that whatever he accomplishes through his body is the outcome of his own power of judgment, of the free resolve of his own will.
I was obliged to speak first of these conditions because they provide the basis for studying the abnormal provinces of the life of soul which we shall be considering. In true spirit-knowledge, what otherwise remains unconscious is revealed and this revelation sheds light upon the eternal, essentially free, core of being in the human soul. It is therefore possible to compare what is thus revealed with abnormal manifestations of the life of soul. The upsurging and ebbing world of dream which beats against human consciousness rather than actually passing into it, cannot really be counted among these abnormal manifestations. The world of dream has become the subject of much scientific and philosophical research, although it cannot be said that the methods applied with such brilliance in natural science are particularly suited to penetrate into the real nature of this borderline province of human life. The same may be said of the contention that thinking must be in strict keeping with that of natural science and surrender completely to the conceptions arising from it. Although, understandably enough, modern people claim to be free from any tendency to believe in authority, they are very inclined, under certain conditions, to do so. Whenever somebody who is publicly reputed to be a great thinker produces a bulky volume dealing with the investigation of abnormal psychic phenomena, numbers of people who really do not understand much about the subject, praise the book to the skies, and then, as a matter of course, our contemporaries, while disclaiming belief in authority, accept it as a reliable basis.
Among philosophical treatises on the life of dream, I want to refer particularly to a book on dream-phantasy by Johannes Volkelt, a German scholar of brilliant intelligence and at present Professor of Philosophy and Education at Leipzig University. He wrote the book in 1875, before he had reached professorial status. Even today this really valuable book is still held against him and is doubtless responsible for the fact that he is still only an Assistant Professor. Friedrich Theodor Vischer, the very significant Swabian aestheticist, wrote a fine treatise about Volkelt's book. But academic prejudices, which during recent decades have led to a definite view of what is or is not ‘scientific’, are to blame for the fact that what might have been inaugurated, even if only meagrely, by that book, lies fallow and is obscured by current prejudices which prevent any real penetration into the life of dream.
In the framework of one short lecture I can give little more than a sketch, but I want for all that to speak of particular points in such a way that they can be illumined by Spiritual Science.
Everyone is familiar with the external characteristics of the upsurging and ebbing life of pictures arising in dreams. I shall speak of a few of these characteristics only. The dream arises as the result of some definite instigation. Firstly, there are dreams which have been instigated by the senses. A dream may arise because a clock is ticking away beside us. In certain circumstances the pendulum-beats become the trampling of horses, or perhaps something else. Certain sense-images, therefore, are found in the dream. I lay particular stress on this, for dream-experience bases itself upon numerous impressions received by the outer senses. But what works upon the outer senses never works in the dream in the same form as in the ordinary waking life of day. The sense-impression is always transformed into symbolism — a transformation that is actually brought about by the life of soul.
Such dreams occur very frequently. Johannes Volkelt narrates the following in his book. A schoolmaster dreams that he is giving a lesson; he expects a pupil to answer ‘ja’ to a question. But instead of answering ‘ja.’ the pupil answers, ‘jo’— which may well be a source of irritation to the teacher. He repeats the question and now the pupil does not answer ‘jo’, but ‘j-o’, whereupon the whole class begins to shout ‘fire-jo!’ The teacher wakes up as the fire-engine is racing past and the people are shouting, ‘fire-jo!’ The impression made upon the senses has been symbolised into the complicated action of the dream.
Here is another example given by Volkelt — wherever possible I shall only quote examples actually recorded in literature. A Swabian woman dreams that she is visiting her sister in a large town. The sister is the wife of a clergyman. The two sisters are in church listening to the sermon. The clergyman starts in a perfectly decorous way but suddenly seems to get wings and begins to crow like a cock. One sister says to the other: ‘What a very peculiar way to preach!’ And the sister replies: ‘The Consistory Court has decreed that this is how sermons are to be preached.’ Then the woman wakes up and hears a cock crowing outside. The crowing of the cock which would otherwise have been heard simply as such, has been transformed in this way in the soul; everything else has grouped itself around the crowing. These are examples of dreams instigated by the senses.
But dreams can also be due to inner stimuli, and again it is not the stimuli as such which appear, but the sense-image which has been transformed, cast into symbolism, by the soul. For example, someone dreams of a very hot stove; he wakes up with his heart thumping. Dreams of flying which occur very frequently, are due, as a rule, to some kind of abnormal process taking place in the lungs during sleep. Hundreds of such examples could be quoted and the different categories of dreams enumerated at great length. Although we cannot enter exhaustively into the deeper aspects of sleep, I want still to speak of certain points.
Literature offers no evidence of particular success in discovering elements in the human soul capable of showing what is actually going on in the soul when bringing about such transformations of the outer stimuli of dreams. But the question of paramount interest is this. What, in reality, is it in the soul that causes such different imagery to be connected with an outer stimulus, or also with a memory-picture emerging from the darkness of sleep? Here it must be said that what is actually working in the dream is not the faculty which in ordinary waking life enables man to link one mental picture to another. I could give you hundreds of examples which would prove what I can illustrate now only by one, for the sake of comparison. Think of the following. A woman dreams that she has to cook for her husband — sometimes an arduous duty for a housewife. She dreams that she has made one suggestion after another to him. To the first suggestion he answers: ‘I don't want that!’ To the second suggestion ‘I don't want that either!’ To the third suggestion: ‘Don't for heaven's sake inflict that upon me!’ And so it goes on. In the dream the woman is very miserable about all this and then an idea occurs to her. ‘There is a pickled grandmother on the floor; she is rather tough, but what about cooking her for you tomorrow?’ That too is a dream actually recorded in literature! Nobody who knows anything about the subject will doubt that the dream took such a form. You will at once say to yourselves : Anxiety is at the bottom of it. Something has happened to make the woman anxious. The mood of anxiety — which need not have anything whatever to do with the idea of the cooking and the rest — is transformed into a dream-picture of this kind. The picture is merely a clothing for the mood of anxiety. But during sleep the soul needs this picture in order to throw off the mood of anxiety. Just as you laughed about the pickled grandmother, so does the soul devise this grotesquely comic image as an adjunct to the other content of the dream, in order to overcome the anxiety and to induce an ironic, humorous mood. An oscillation, an alternation of moods can always be perceived in dreams and — like the pendulum of a clock — a swing between tension and relaxation, between anxiety and cheerfulness, and so on. What is of paramount importance in man's life of feeling is always the decisive factor in the structure assumed by the pictures of dream. From this point of view, therefore, the dream takes shape in order that certain tensions in the soul may be overcome. The picture which, as such, has no special significance, is born from this need to lead tension over to relaxation, relaxation over to tension. The soul conjures before itself something that can be an imaginative indication of the real gist of the matter.
Examination of the whole range of the life of dream brings to light two peculiar features which must be particularly borne in mind. The one is that what is usually called logic plays no part in dreams. The dream has a rule entirely different from that of ordinary logic for the way in which it passes from one object to the other. Naturally you will be able to insist that many dreams take a perfectly logical course. But this is only apparently the case, as everyone who can observe these things intimately, knows. If dream-pictures present themselves in logical sequence, the reason is not that you yourself produce this sequence during the dream but that you are placing side by side, mental images which you have already connected together logically at some time or which have been so connected by some agency in life. In such a case, logic in the dream is reminiscence; the logic has been imported into the dream; the action of the dream does not in itself proceed according to the rules of ordinary logic.
It can always be perceived that a deeper, more intimate element of soul underlies the action of the dream. For example — I am quoting something that actually happened. Someone dreams that he must go to see a friend and he knows that this friend will scold him for some reason. He dreams that he gets to the door of the friend's house, but at that moment the whole situation changes. On entering the house he comes into a cellar in which there are savage beasts intent upon devouring him. Then it occurs to him that he has a lot of pins at home and that they spurt fluids which will be able to kill these beasts. He finds then that he has the pins with him and he spurts the fluids at the savage animals. They suddenly change into little puppies which he feels he want to pat. — This is a typical course taken by a dream and you can see that here again it is a matter of the tension caused by the anxiety as to what the friend is going to say — the anxiety takes expression as the savage beasts — being relaxed as a result of the soul having brought about the transformation of the wild beasts into lovable puppies. Obviously, something quite other than logic is in evidence here. — And anyone who is familiar with examples of dreams knows that the following has often happened. Before going to bed, someone has made efforts to solve a problem, but has failed. Then, in a dream, as he says, he discovers the solution and can write it down in the morning when he wakes up. His story is quite correct but those who cannot rightly investigate such things will always misunderstand them. It must not be thought that the actual solution was found in the dream. What was found in the dream and is then thought to have been remembered, is something quite different. It is something that need have very little logic about it, but produces in the soul the beneficial effect of tension being led over to relaxation. Before going to sleep the man was in a state of tension because he could not solve the problem. He brooded and brooded; something was amiss with him. He was healed by the form taken by his dream and was therefore able to solve the problem when he woke up.
Moral judgment is also silent in dreams. It is well known that in dream a man may commit all kinds of misdeeds of which he would be ashamed in waking life. It can be argued that conscience begins to stir in dream, that it often makes itself felt in a very remarkable way. Think only of the dreams contained in Shakespeare's plays — poets generally have a good reason for such things — and you will find that they might appear to suggest that moral reproaches make themselves particularly conspicuous through dreams. Again this is an inexact observation. What is true is that in the dream we are snatched away from the faculty of ordinary moral judgment which in connection with human beings in outer life we must and can exercise. If the dream seems to present moral ideas and moral reproaches in concrete pictures, this is not due to the fact that as dreamers we form moral judgments, but that when we act morally the soul feels a certain inner satisfaction; we are inwardly gratified about something to which we can give moral assent. It is this state of satisfaction, not the moral judgment, that presents itself to the soul in the dream. Neither logic or moral judgment play any part at all in dreams. If the search for truth is sincere it is essential to set to work with far greater exactitude and depth than is usual in life and in science too. Such matters elude the crude methods usually applied. It is extremely significant that neither logic or moral judgment gain admittance into the world of dream.
I want to speak of still another characteristic of the dream which even when considered from the external point of view, indicates how the soul, when it dreams, is related to the world. This relation can, it is true, be fully clarified only by Spiritual Science. Anyone who studies the sleeping human being will be able to say, even from the external standpoint, that in sleep the human being is shut off alike from the experiences arising from his own life and also from the environment. Spiritual Science does of course make it clear that when man falls asleep he passes as a being of soul and spirit into the spiritual world and on waking is again united with his body. It is not necessary to take this into consideration at the moment, but simply to keep clearly in mind what can also be apparent to ordinary consciousness. The human being is shut off from his environment, and what rises out of his body into his ordinary consciousness is also stilled during sleep. Pictures do indeed surge up and fade away in dreams but their actual relation to the external world is not changed; the form assumed by the pictures is such that this relation remains as it was. The relation to the external world, that which as bald environment giving contour to the outer impressions, approaches man as he opens his senses during waking life — this does not penetrate into the dream. Impressions can indeed be made upon a man, but the characteristics of what the senses make out of those impressions are absent. The soul puts an emblem, a symbol, in the place of the ordinary, bald impression. Therefore the actual relation to the outer world does not change. This could be corroborated in countless cases. In the normal dream the human being is as shut off from the external world as he is in normal sleep; he is also shut off from his own body. What rises up from his bodily nature does not come to direct expression as is the case when he is united in the normal way with his body. If, for example, someone's feet get overheated because of a too warm covering, he would be aware in the ordinary waking state that his feet are too hot. In the dream he is not aware of it in this form, but he thinks he is walking on burning coal or something of the kind. Again it is a matter of transformation brought about by the soul.
Attempts to explain the nature of dream simply by using methods and sources available to external science will always be in vain, because there is nothing with which the dream can truly be compared. It occurs in the ordinary world as a kind of miraculous happening. That is the essential point. The spiritual investigator alone is in the position of being able to compare the dream with something else. And why? It is because he himself knows what is revealed to him when he is able to penetrate into the spiritual world. He realises that the ordinary logic holding good for explanations of the outer life of sense, no longer avails. Those who rise into the spiritual world must be capable of expressing in images what is experienced in that world. That is why I have called the first stage of knowledge of the spiritual world, ‘Imaginative Cognition’. At that stage it is realised that the images themselves are not the reality but that through the images the reality is brought to expression. These images must, of course, be shaped in accordance with the true laws revealed by the spiritual world and not be the outcome of arbitrary phantasy. The spiritual investigator learns to know — quite apart from the physical world of sense — how one idea or mental picture is related to another, how images are given shape. This first stage of knowledge of the spiritual world is then capable of being compared with the unconscious activity at work in dreams. There a comparison is possible, and moreover something else comes to light as well.
A man who makes real progress in knowledge of the spiritual world gradually begins to experience that his dreams themselves are changing. They become more and more rational, and crazy images such as that of the pickled grandmother and the like gradually turn into pictures which have real meaning; the whole life of dream becomes charged with meaning. In this way the spiritual investigator comes to know the peculiar nature of the relation between the life of dream and the kind of life he must adopt in the interests of spiritual investigation. This puts him in the position of being able to say what it is in the soul that is actually doing the dreaming. For he comes to know something besides, namely, the condition of soul in which he finds himself while experiencing the pictures and ideas of genuine Imagination. He knows that with his soul he is then within the spiritual world. When this particular condition of the life of soul is experienced, it can be compared with the condition of the soul in dreams. This scrupulous comparison reveals that what is actually dreaming in the soul, what is active in the soul while the chaotic actions of dreams are in play, is the spiritual, eternal core of man's being. When he dreams, man is in the world to which he belongs as a being of spirit-and-soul.
That is what emerges as the one result of spiritual investigation. I will characterise the other by telling you about a personal experience. Not long ago, after a lecture I had given in Zürich on the subject of the life of dream and cognate matters, I was told that several listeners who, on the basis of training in what is called Analytical Psychology or Psycho-Analysis, wanted to be considered particularly clever, were saying after my lecture: ‘That man is still labouring under mistaken notions which those of us who are schooled in Psycho-Analysis have long since outgrown. He believes that dream-life should be taken as something real, whereas we know that it is merely a symbolic form of the life of the psyche.’ — I shall not go further into the subject of Psycho-Analysis today but simply remark that this ‘cleverness’ is based upon gross misunderstanding. For under no circumstances will a genuine spiritual investigator take what presents itself in dreams as reality in the actual form in which it is there presented. Unlike the psycho-analysts, he does not take even the course of the dream as being directly symbolic; he knows that the gist of the matter is something entirely different. Anyone who is familiar with dreams knows that ten or even more people may tell of dreams with utterly different contents, yet the underlying state of affairs is the same in all of them. One man will say that in his dream he was climbing a mountain and on reaching the top had a delightful surprise; another says that he was walking through a dark passage and came to a door which opened quite unexpectedly; a third will speak of something else. In the course they take the dreams have no outer resemblance whatever, yet they originate from an identical experience, namely tension and relaxation which are symbolised in different pictures at different times. What is of essential importance, therefore, is not the factual reality of the dream, not even its symbolism as the psycho-analysts maintain, but its inner dramatic action. From the sequence of the meaningless pictures we must be able to recognise this dramatic action, for that is the reality in which the soul with its spiritual core of being is living while it dreams. This is an entirely different reality from what is expressed in the pictures presented in the dream. There you have the gist of the matter. The dream therefore points to deep subconscious and unconscious grounds of the life of soul. But the pictures unfolded by the dream are only a clothing of what is actually being experienced in the course of it.
Again and again I must emphasise that as far as I am concerned there is no question whatever of wishing to revive ancient notions in any domain. The antecedents of what is said here are not derived from any medieval or so-called oriental occult science, as was the case with Blavatsky and with others who draw upon all kinds of obscure sources. Whatever is said here is based on the consciousness that it can hold its own in the face of modern scientific judgment. If an opportunity for proving this were to occur, it could certainly be used. Spiritual Science is presented with full consciousness of the fact that we are living in the scientific age, with full cognisance of what natural science is able to say about the riddles of existence, but with full cognisance, too, of what it is not able to say about the regions of the spiritual life.
Where do the pictures which form the course of the dream, originate? It is like this. A man who is really free from his body in spiritual experience has the spiritual world before him with its happenings and its beings, whereas the dreamer has not yet awakened his consciousness to the degree where this is possible for him. His soul resorts to the reminiscences of ordinary life and the dream arises when the soul impacts the body. The dream is not experienced in the body but it is caused by the impact of the soul with the body. Hence the things which constitute the course of his life present themselves to the dreamer, but grouped in such a way that they bring to expression the inner tendencies of which I have spoken. In reality, therefore, the dream is experienced by a man's own essential being of soul-and-spirit. But it is not the Eternal that is experienced; what is experienced is the Temporal. It is the Eternal that is consciously active in the dream; but this activity is mediated by the Transitory, the Transient. The essential point is that in the dream the Eternal is experiencing the Temporal, the Transitory — the content of life.
I have now briefly explained the nature of dream as viewed in the light of Spiritual Science and why it is that the content of the dream is not an expression of what is actually going on in the soul when relaxation follows tension and tension follows relaxation. In the life of dream the soul is in the world of the Eternal, free from the body. But what enters into the consciousness as the clothing of this experience arises from the connection with the ordinary circumstances of life.
I pass now to the second borderline region of the life of soul where manifestations of the unconscious may occur in the form of hallucinations, visions and the like.2See references below. Even philosophers capable of sound judgment, such as Eduard von Hartmann for example, whose powers of discrimination and discernment I rate exceedingly highly, have been led to the mistaken belief — because they could not grasp the nature of the dream from the standpoint of Spiritual Science — that what comes as a picture before the soul in dream is really identical with a picture arising as an hallucination or vision. But these phenomena are essentially different from each other. Because the genuine spiritual investigator knows what condition of soul is present when he stands within the spiritual world and can compare this with the condition of the soul prevailing in dream, he is able to assess the meaning of certain peculiarities of the life of dream, for example, the absence of logic. The spiritual investigator knows that sensory experience is not without significance but that equally with body-free experience between death and a new birth it has its meaning and purpose in the life of man. It is precisely in our intercourse with the outer, material world that we can assimilate the logic streaming into the soul from that world. The spiritual investigator knows too that moral judgment comes to direct expression in physical life, in the experiences arising from civilisation. Genuine Spiritual Science will never lead to escapism or false asceticism but rather to a full appreciation of physical life, because logic, the capacity for moral judgment and moral impulses, are inculcated into the soul through its contact with the outer world during physical life.
In point of fact the dream passes only slightly into the abnormal life of soul. Spiritual Science shows that the soul is free from the body in dream, that the experiences of dream are independent of bodily experiences; they are separated from the link with the outer world that is present in waking life. In the dream, man is actually free from his body. Is this also the case in hallucinations, in visionary experiences? No, it is not! Hallucinations and visions are due precisely to abnormalities of the physical body. Visionary, hallucinatory activity in the life of soul can never occur independently of bodily experiences. Something in the body must always be disturbed or diseased, must be functioning improperly or too feebly, thus preventing a man from entering into the full connection that is present when he is using his nerves and senses in such a way that in experiencing himself, he is also experiencing the outer world. If an organ connected in any way with the faculty of cognition is diseased or too weak, a phenomenon such as an hallucination or a vision may arise: it resembles spiritual experience but is fundamentally different from it. Whereas in spiritual experience a man must be free from the body, this hallucinatory, visionary life sets in because something is either diseased or functioning too feebly in the body. Now what really lies at the bottom of hallucinations and visions? The ordinary process of ideation (Vorstellen) taking place normally in sensory life succeeds in being independent of those forces in the human organism which cause growth in childhood, bring about the inner functions of the body — metabolism, digestion, and so forth. I cannot speak in greater detail today of how that which as a bodily function underlies the normal life of ideation arises through part of the organism being lifted out of the sphere of purely animal life, of the processes of growth, digestion, metabolism and so forth. The basis of the normal life connected with the nerves is that a kind of soul-organism develops like a parasite out of the process of digestion, metabolism, etc. Now when, owing to particularly abnormal conditions, some organ of cognition is so affected that this soul-organism does not work through itself alone but that the bodily organ with its animal functions is working as well — this is due to disease or weakness of the organ concerned — the result is that the man does not devote himself to mental life independently of the forces of growth, digestion and metabolism, but that hallucinations and visions arise. What is organic activity in the vision ought really to be promoting growth, bringing about digestion and the distribution of the more delicate processes of metabolism. What happens in this condition is that animal functions are surging upwards into the soul-organism.
Life is not by any means sublimated in hallucinations and visions; on the contrary it is far rather permeated by the animal functions which do not, in other circumstances, extend into the soul-organism. What ought to be serving quite different processes is carried up into those of cognition, of mental perception. Hence hallucinations and visions are always an expression of the fact that something is not in order in the human being. True, what makes its appearance is a manifestation of the spiritual, but one of which Spiritual Science cannot make use; for Spiritual Science can make use only of what is experienced independently of the body.
You now see what an utter lack of foundation there is for the very general misconception that Spiritual Science acquires its knowledge through visions, hallucinations and the like. On the contrary, Spiritual Science shows that these states are always connected in some way with abnormalities in the body and that they must play no part whatever in its findings. Neither are hallucinations and visions ever identical in character with the pictures of dreams. The pictures of dreams arise outside the body and are only mirrored in it; hallucinations and visions arise because some bodily organ so to speak leaves a space free. If it were functioning normally the man would stand firmly in the physical world with healthy senses. But because a space is left free, the spiritual-eternal element which ought to remain invisible in the bodily organism comes to light through it. This condition is not merely a physical illness, it is a psychical abnormality, something that can only cloud and falsify the pictures from the spiritual world. Hence the fact that pictures arise when some bodily function is weakened, need cause no surprise. For how do sense-pictures come into being? They come into being because the forces which promote metabolism, digestion and the like in the normal way, are toned down and assert themselves in the soul-organism in a different form. If, then, these forces are toned down in the human being to a greater extent than is proper, abnormal consciousness is the result. The sense-pictures we have in normal consciousness are conditioned by bodily life that has been toned down to the normal extent. If the weakening is excessive, something that originates entirely from this improper condition makes its appearance. It can therefore be said that hallucinations and visions represent a striving that has been obstructed. As the human being develops from childhood to mature age, he is really striving to penetrate into his bodily organism. He endeavours so to develop his nature of spirit-and-soul that the body becomes the instrument for soul-activity. This is obstructed when something in the body is unhealthy. When the human being develops in such a way that his body becomes his servant, he grows into physical independence, into his egoity in the world of the senses, into the amount of egoism that is necessary to make him a self-based being, able to fulfil his destination as man. This egoism must of course be mingled with the necessary selflessness. The important thing is that a man shall permeate his life with the forces of his Ego. If certain obstructions make him incapable of doing so, his search for the requisite amount of egoism takes an abnormal path. This comes to expression in hallucinations and visions which are always due to the fact that through his bodily constitution a man cannot acquire the due amount of egoism necessary to his life.
To the borderline regions of the life of soul also belong the conditions produced when catalepsy or coma have led to somnambulism — which is akin to mediumship. Just as man's organism of thinking — I say expressly ‘organism of thinking’, not ‘mechanism of thinking’ — must be constituted in a certain way to prevent the disorder I have just characterised as hallucination and vision from taking effect, so too the mechanism of the will — here I say ‘mechanism’ — must be constituted in a certain way for normal life in the world of the senses. Just as the organism of thinking can bring about hallucinations and visions as manifestations of abnormal soul-life, so the will can be undermined when its mechanism is disturbed, quashed or paralysed in catalepsy, coma, or mediumship. True, if the spirit is not working upon it, the body is not able directly to evoke the will, but it is able, when certain organs are put out of action, when the mechanism of the will is brought to a standstill, to enfeeble the will, whereas the spiritual investigator, as I said at the beginning, can stand firmly in the spiritual world because his will works in full consciousness upon his body. If the body is paralysed in respect of the will, it quashes, suppresses, this will; man is then lifted away from the world to which he belongs as a being of spirit-and-soul, as a being of eternity, and is cast into the physical environment which is, of course, also permeated with spiritual forces and entities. He is then thrust out of his real world into the element of spirit which unceasingly pervades and weaves through the physical. This is the case in somnambulism, this is the case in mediumship.
Those who in the sense indicated at the beginning of this lecture adopt an easy-going attitude where Spiritual Science is concerned, would like to investigate the spiritual world in the same way. But such people cannot reach the true spiritual world which guarantees eternal life for the soul; they can work only with what permeates and pervades the physical environment. What is working in the somnambulist, in the medium, works in the normal human being too, but differently. This may indeed sound strange, but it is nevertheless a finding of Spiritual Science. What is really working in the medium, in the somnambulist? In ordinary life we have a certain moral link with other human beings; we act out of moral impulses. I said that these moral impulses are generated by way of the physical body. We perform acts in the field of external civilisation, we learn to write, to read, we learn what the human will inculcates as a spiritual element into the outer physical world. With the forces employed by our soul in the activity of learning to read, of assimilating other cultural endowments, of entering into moral relationships with the world — with all these forces the soul of the somnambulist or the medium is connected in an abnormal way. This activity which is otherwise exercised only in the moral domain, in the domain of the cultural life, is transferred directly into the bodily constitution of the medium or the somnambulist; this is possible because the consciousness has been lowered and the soul disconnected. Whereas in normal life the human being is in contact with the surrounding world solely through his senses, in the case of the somnambulist and the medium, the whole man comes into connection, through his will-mechanism, with the surrounding world. This makes it possible for influences from a distance to take effect; a thought can also work into the distance and distant vistas — both spatial and temporal — can arise. But in most of these cases, what penetrates into the human organism is the spiritual element which pervades the physical world to which we belong as physical men, it is the spiritual element belonging to the cultural and moral life. But it penetrates in such a way that the soul is disconnected from the organism. Hence what is made manifest through the medium or the somnambulist does not lead to the being of spirit-and-soul in man but is simply a caricature of the workings of the spiritual upon man's bodily nature. Whereas in normal life the soul itself must be the intermediary between the truly spiritual and the body, in these abnormal states the spiritual is working directly on the body — but only in the sense I have described. The result is that with his consciousness disconnected, such a man becomes a kind of automaton; only those elements which belong externally to cultural or moral life are expressing themselves in him. From this it will be clear to you that, although it is disguised and masked in the most diverse way, what is to all appearances the spiritual does come to expression through mediumship and somnambulism, but only provided certain combinatory factors and associations are present; these cannot be discussed here because it would lead us too far afield. The essentials which come to expression in this way originate from the physical environment. Men who stand firmly on the ground of natural science but do not outgrow its established notions, would like to penetrate into the spiritual world to which the eternal core of man's being belongs, by taking to their aid the phenomena of somnambulism and mediumship. But this leads to countless fallacies and errors.
I shall now speak of one recent example. It is of great interest because it is characteristic of this whole domain. Here we have a scientist very highly esteemed in his own country, a scientist well versed in all the niceties of scientific methods and who therefore does not by any means go carelessly to work when he approaches these matters. I am referring to Sir Oliver Lodge, the celebrated English scientist. It is a very remarkable case, one that is connected with the present catastrophic events. Lodge was always attracted to the question of how a link could be established between the outer, physical world and the world to which man belongs when he has passed through the gate of death. But he wanted to remain firmly on a scientific foundation. — This attitude is of course characteristic of people who are not willing to have anything to do with the methods of Spiritual Science. — Lodge had a son who was serving on the French Front during the war, and one day the father received a strange letter from America. This letter informed Lodge that his son was facing great danger, but that the spirit of Myers — who had died ten years previously — would hold a protecting hand over the young man while the danger threatened. Frederick Myers had been President of the Society for Psychical Research; he had been occupied deeply with the study of super-sensible matters and Lodge and his family knew him well. It could therefore be presumed — if it is in any way accepted that a connection is possible between some happening in the super-sensible world and human life — that Myers would certainly hold a protecting hand over young Lodge when danger was looming before him. But the letter was extremely ambiguous — as letters of such a kind are always wont to be. Obviously young Lodge might be in danger, but he might also be saved from it, and then the writer of the letter would be able to say: ‘Did I not receive through a medium a message to the effect that Myers is protecting Lodge's son? Through the help of Myers the boy has been saved from the danger of death.’ But if the boy had been killed, the writer of the letter would equally well be able to say: ‘Myers is protecting him in the other world.’ If a third eventuality were possible, the letter could have been interpreted in that sense too. — It does not do to be unsceptical if we wish to get at the real truth of these matters. — Naturally, Lodge did not attach particular weight to the communication, for he was well aware that such things are capable of many interpretations. — The son was killed. Then his father received a second message to the effect that Myers was indeed protecting his son in the other world, and that there were people in England who would provide proof of it. — Certain ways of organising such matters do exist. — There were several mediums who were received into the circle of Sir Oliver Lodge's family — most of whom were sceptics. Manifestations of all kinds took place and Lodge has described them in detail in a bulky volume which is extremely interesting for many reasons. The phenomena there described do not, for the most part, differ greatly from others that have been put on record and there was no need for any particular excitement about them — nor indeed was any shown. Lodge would not have thought it worth while to describe these manifestations if something else had not happened. Because he was familiar with all the devices used in the scientific mode of research, in this instance too he set to work like a chemist making investigations in a laboratory and used every conceivable precautionary measure in order to establish the facts without possibility of dispute. People feel therefore that this book makes it possible to form a real judgment about the case in point, for Lodge describes it as a scientist would do.
Among all kinds of other cases he describes the one that may be regarded as a veritable experimentum crucis, and it caused a tremendous stir. Even the most incredulous journalists — and journalists are usually sceptical, whether or not always from well-founded judgment I could not say — were impressed by this crucial test case. The circumstances were as follows : A medium who claimed to be in communication with the soul of Myers as well as with the soul of Lodge's son, said that a fortnight before the latter was killed at the French Front, he had been photographed together with a number of his companions, and the photograph was minutely described — the placing of the officers, how young Lodge was sitting in the front row, how he was holding his hands, and so forth. It was then said that several photographs had been taken and that the grouping had altered slightly while this was being done. The different grouping was also indicated with the same precision — the position of young Lodge's hands and arms had changed, he was inclining towards the man next him, and so forth. An exact description was given of this photograph too. Now the photographs were not in England; nobody — neither the medium, nor any of the family, nor Sir Oliver Lodge himself — had seen them. It could only be assumed that the medium was rambling in imagination when describing the photographs. But lo and behold, after fourteen days these photographs arrived and tallied exactly with what the medium had said. That this was an experimentum crucis for Lodge and those intimately concerned, cannot be wondered at; and it is here that the real interest of the book lies. A genuine spiritual investigator will not, of course, be taken in — as in a certain respect Lodge himself was taken in — because the scrupulously exact presentation enables him to form an independent, objective judgment.
How comes it that a man who is not willing to penetrate into the spiritual world by means of true spiritual investigation does nevertheless find on such a path something that convinces him of the influx of a spiritual world? The genuine spiritual investigator would not be brought to a like conviction, because he knows what has actually happened in this case. Moreover he will be astonished that such a man as Lodge, in spite of his experience in scientific research, is an out and out amateur in these matters.
Anyone who has only a superficial acquaintance with these phenomena, perhaps by no means through independent vision but simply from literature, knows that in somnambulists and mediums there is a connection with the environment in the sense I have described, that the whole man is as it were transformed into sense-organs — with the result that automatic pre-visions in time arise. These pre-visions are always due to a sick or enfeebled life of soul. They have nothing to do with the world to which man belongs with the immortal part of his being; they have to do with what is spiritual in the physical sense-environment, especially with what the will of man brings to pass there. Just because Lodge describes conscientiously it becomes quite evident that the medium simply had a pre-vision, that he ‘saw’ the photographs a fortnight before they arrived in England. This may seem miraculous enough but these are quite ordinary phenomena. At all events this is not, as Lodge thinks, a proof that Myers was protecting his son. It may have been so, of course, but it would have to be investigated in research carried out in a body-free condition.
When there is unwillingness to take the path of Spiritual Science the temptations and allurements even for those who are conscientious researchers and confront such phenomena cautiously and critically, are very great. What can be learnt through these abnormal manifestations, whereby man is made into an automaton, must never become the content of a true science of the super-sensible world to which the eternal part of man's being belongs.
A great deal that might still be added would show in the same way how these borderline regions of man's life of soul point to something which, although it too rests in the realm of the Unconscious, can never reveal to man that which, in that same realm, is of the greatest significance of all — namely the spiritual world to which man belongs with the free, immortal part of his being. Among all these manifestations the life of dream alone remains within the sphere of the normal, because in dream the human being is not experiencing through the bodily constitution but through the spirit-and-soul; as a being of spirit-and-soul he strikes up against the body and the physical experiences. Hence in respect of the life of dream too, man is able to exercise correctives and to give it its right place in the rest of life; whereas in the case of what he experiences through his body in the way of hallucinations, visions, manifestations of somnambulism and mediumship he is not able to do this with his normal powers of discrimination.
In the next lecture we will go more deeply into something which in the course of cultural development brings constant blessing and upliftment to human life, namely ART. In dream, man experiences the spiritual world in such a way that as the result of impact with the bodily constitution, sense-images take shape. The experiences which arise in a true artist and in one who finds delight and inspiration in Art, also lie in regions beyond those of merely physical experience. True Art is brought from the super-sensible into the sense-regions of life, but in this case the process of clothing the experiences in pictures is not an unconscious one. Just as in the dreamer the soul's actual experience remains in the unconscious but reveals itself through what the soul — again unconsciously — adds as clothing to the experience itself, so the super-sensible experience of the artist and of the one who finds delight in a work of art, is brought into the sense-world. But in this case the clothing with the picture, with the Imagination which, arising from external life, gives the super-sensible experience a place in the sense-world, is consciously achieved. The gist of the next lecture will be that Art is in very truth a messenger from a super-sensible world, that delight in Art is a power which lifts the soul to the super-sensible world by way of sensory form, through sense-imagery.
And now to sum up what has been said today. It is true that man is led towards the region of spirit when he confronts these abnormal manifestations; for it is the spiritual world that shines into the life of man even if he is experiencing it in an abnormal way. But these abnormal manifestations may never be induced artificially, any more than pathological states may be induced for the purpose of acquiring knowledge.
What is it that remains from all these manifestations and phenomena as a vital admonition? It is that man shall find the way to true experience of the spiritual. We have heard that in the light of Spiritual Science the realm of dream is saved from the suspicion of being one of pathological experience — although naturally there may now and again be slight tendencies towards it. But when it is realised that through the seemingly chaotic life of dream man is admonished to find the path into the true spiritual world, the significance of such study becomes evident. A great world-riddle is knocking here at the door of human life. This world-riddle is the dream with its strange pictures in which logic and moral judgment are lacking but which are a definite signpost to the spiritual world itself. Hence we can find ourselves in agreement with what is said by the clear-sighted aestheticist and philosopher Vischer in his critique of Volkelt's book:
dream with all its rich meagreness, its meagre richness, with
its ingenious stupidity and stupid ingeniousness, is
contemplated in its unconscious creative activity, it will be
recognised that it does nevertheless point to what is
spiritual in the human being and can be sought
And Vischer is also right when he says:
‘A man who believes that this spirit-realm of dream is not worthy to be a matter for genuine investigation, merely shows that he has not much spirit in him.’
The realm of dream is an admonition to man to seek for the spiritual world, and the aim of Spiritual Science is to fulfil this admonition. Whereas in the life of dream there can be pictures of the transitory only, for all that the soul's eternal core of being is active there, through spiritual-scientific knowledge it is possible for the soul also to be filled with pictures that give expression to the spiritual reality corresponding to its own inherent nature, thereby pointing to its allotted place in the world of spiritual reality as the senses point to its allotted place in the physical world.
REFERENCES (among many others):
Lecture-Courses by Rudolf Steiner.
True and False Paths in Spiritual Investigations. New edition, 1969.
Cosmic and Human Metamorphoses. Lecture One.
The Occult Movement in the 19th Century (typescript).
History of Spiritism, Hypnotism and Somnambulism.