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GA 9

Chapter III: The Three Worlds: 5. The Physical World and Its Connection with the Soul and Spiritland

The formations in the soul world and in spiritland cannot be the objects of external sense perception. The objects of this sense perception are to be added as a third world to the two already described. Man lives during his bodily existence simultaneously in the three worlds. He perceives the things of the sensory world and acts upon them. The formations of the soul world act upon him through their forces of sympathy and antipathy, and his own soul excites waves in the soul world by its likes and dislikes, desires and wishes. The spiritual being of things, on the other hand, mirrors itself in his thought world and he himself, as thinking spirit-being, is a citizen of spiritland and a companion of all that lives in that region of the world. This makes it evident that the sensory world is only a part of what surrounds us. This part stands out from our general surrounding with a certain independence because it can be perceived by senses that disregard the soul and spiritual parts. These, however, belong just as much to this surrounding world as does the material part. Just as a piece of floating ice is substance of the surrounding water although it stands out prominently owing to particular qualities, so are the things perceptible to the senses substance of the surrounding soul and spirit worlds. They stand out from these worlds owing to particular qualities that make them perceptible to the senses. They are, speaking somewhat metaphorically, condensed spirit and soul formations, and the condensation makes it possible for the senses to acquire knowledge of them. In fact, just as ice is only a form in which water exists, so are the objects of the senses only a form in which soul and spirit beings exist. If this has been grasped, it can also be understood that as water can pass over into ice, so the spirit world can pass over into the soul world, and the soul world into that of the senses.

Looked at from this point of view it can be seen why we can form thoughts about the things of the senses. Thus, there is a question that everyone who thinks must ask himself, “In what relation does the thought that we have about a stone stand to the stone itself?” This question rises in full clearness in the minds of those persons who look with especial penetration into external nature. They feel the consonance of the human thought world with the structure and order of nature. The great astronomer, Kepler, for example, speaks in a beautiful way about this harmony. He says, “True it is that the divine call that bids man study astronomy stands written in the world, not indeed in words and syllables, but factually by virtue of the adaptability of the human senses and concepts to the concatenations of the heavenly bodies and conditions.” Only because the things of the sensible world are nothing but condensed spirit beings is the man who lifts himself by means of his thoughts to these spirit beings able by thinking to understand the things. Sense objects originate in the spirit world. They are only another form of the spirit beings, and when a man forms thoughts about things, his inner nature is merely directed away from the sensible form and out towards the spiritual archetypes of these things.

To understand an object by means of thought is a process that may be likened to the liquefaction of a solid body by fire in order that the chemist may examine it in its liquid form.

The spiritual archetypes of the sense world are to be found in the various regions of the spiritland. In the fifth, sixth and seventh regions these archetypes are still found as living germ-points. In the four lower regions they shape themselves into spiritual structures. The human spirit perceives a shadowy reflection of these spiritual formations when by thinking it tries to gain understanding of the things of the senses. How these formations have condensed until they form the sense world is a problem for the seeker who strives towards a spiritual understanding of the world around him.

For human sense perception this surrounding world is divided primarily into four distinctly separate stages—the mineral, plant, animal and human. The mineral kingdom is perceived by the senses and comprehended by thought. Thus, when we form a thought about a mineral body, we have to do with two things—the sense object and the thought. Accordingly, we must imagine that this sense object is a condensed thought being. Now, one mineral being acts on another in an external way. It impinges on it and moves it. It warms it, lights it up, dissolves it, and so forth. This external kind of action can be expressed in thoughts. We form thoughts about the way mineral things act on each other externally in accordance with law. By this means our separate thoughts expand into a thought picture of the whole mineral world, and this thought picture is a reflection of the archetype of the whole mineral world of the senses. It is to be found as a complete whole in the spirit world.

In the plant kingdom the phenomena of growth and propagation are added to the phenomenon of external action of one thing or another. The plant grows and brings forth from itself beings like itself. Life is here added to what confronts us in the mineral kingdom. The simple recollection of this fact leads to a view that is enlightening in this connection. The plant has the power to create its living shape and to reproduce it in a being of its own kind. In between the shapeless character of mineral matter as we meet it in gases, liquids, etc. and the living shape of the plant world, stand the forms of the crystals. In the crystals we have to seek the transition from the shapeless mineral world to the plant kingdom that has the capacity for forming living shapes. In this externally sensory formative process in both kingdoms, mineral and plant, we must see the sensory condensation of the purely spiritual process that takes place when the spiritual germs of the three higher regions of the spiritland form themselves into the spirit shapes of the lower regions. The transition from the formless spiritual germ to the formed structure corresponds in the spiritual world to the process of crystallization. This transition is the spiritual archetype of the process of crystallization. If this transition condenses so that the senses can perceive it in its outcome, it then exhibits itself in the world of senses as the process of mineral crystallization.

There is, however, also in the plant being a fashioned spirit germ. Here the living, fashioning capacity is still retained in the shaped being. In the crystal the spirit germ has lost its constructive power during the process of fashioning. It has exhausted its life in the shape produced. The plant has shape and in addition it has the capacity to produce a shape. The characteristic belonging to the spirit germs in the higher regions of the spiritland has been preserved in the plant life. The plant has, therefore, form like the crystal, and to that is added the shaping or formative force. Besides the form that the primal beings have assumed in the plant shape, there is another form working on that shape that bears the impress of the spirit beings of the higher regions. Only what manifests itself in the completed shape of the plant, however, is sensibly perceptible. The formative beings who give life to this shape are present but imperceptible in the plant kingdom. The physical eye sees the lily small today and some time later sees it grown larger. The formative force that evolves the latter out of the former is not seen by this eye. This formative force being is the part of the plant world that acts imperceptibly to the senses. The spirit germs have descended a stage in order to work in the kingdom of shapes. In spiritual science elementary kingdoms are spoken of. If we designate the primal forms, which has as yet no shape, as the first elementary kingdom, then the force beings who work invisible to the senses as the craftsmen of plant growth may be designated as belonging to the second elementary kingdom.

In the animal world sensation and impulse are added to the capacities for growth and propagation. These are manifestations of the soul world. A being endowed with these belongs to the soul world, receives impressions from it and reacts on it. Now, every sensation and every impulse that arises in the animal is brought forth from the foundations of the animal soul. The shape is more enduring than the feeling or impulse. One may say that the life of sensation bears the same relation to the more enduring living shape that the self-changing plant shape bears to the rigid crystal. The plant exhausts itself to a certain extent in the shape-forming force; during its life it continues to add new shapes to itself. First it sends forth roots, then its leafy structure, later flowers, and finally its fruit and seeds. The animal is enclosed within a shape complete within itself and develops within this the changeful life of feeling and impulse. This life has its existence in the soul world. The plant grows and propagates itself; the animal feels and develops its impulses. They constitute for the animal the formless that is always developing into new forms. They have their archetypal processes ultimately in the highest regions of spiritland, but they carry out their activities in the soul world. There are thus in the animal world in addition to the force beings who, invisible to the senses, direct growth and propagation, others who have descended a stage deeper into the soul world. In the animal kingdom formless beings who clothe themselves in soul sheaths are present as the master builders bringing about sensations and impulses. They are the real architects of the animal forms. In spiritual science this region to which they belong may be called the third elementary kingdom.

Man, in addition to having the capacities named in plant and animal, is furnished also with the power of elaborating his sensations into ideas and thoughts and of controlling his impulses by thinking. The thought, which appears in the plant as shape and in the animal as soul force, makes its appearance in man in its own form as thought itself. The animal is soul; man is spirit. The spirit being, which in the animal is engaged in soul development, has now descended a stage deeper still. In the animal it is soul forming. In man it has entered into the world of sensory matter itself. The spirit is present within the human sensory body, and because it appears in a sensory garment, it can appear only as the shadowy reflection of the spirit being that thought represents. The spirit manifests in man conditioned by the physical brain organism, but at the same time it has become the inner being of man. Thought is the form that the formless spirit being assumes in man, just as it takes on shape in the plant and soul in the animal. Consequently, man, insofar as he is a thinking being, is subject to no elementary kingdom fashioning him from without. His elementary kingdom works in his physical body. Only to the extent that man is shape and sentient being is he worked upon by elementary beings of the same kind as those working upon plants and animals. The thought organism of man is elaborated entirely from within his physical body. In the spirit organism of man, in his nervous system that has developed into the perfect brain, we have sensibly visible before us what works on plants and animals as non-sensory force being. That is, the animal shows self-feeling, but man self-consciousness. In the animal, spirit feels itself as soul. It does not yet grasp itself as spirit. In man, the spirit recognizes itself as spirit although, owing to physical limitations, merely as a shadowy reflection of the spirit, as thought.

The threefold world, accordingly, falls into the following categories:

  1. Realm of archetypal formless beings—first elementary kingdom
  2. Realm of shape-creating beings—secondary elementary kingdom
  3. Realm of soul beings—third elementary kingdom
  4. Realm of created shapes (crystal forms)—mineral kingdom
  5. Realm whose forms are sensibly perceptible and in which the shape-creating beings are active—plant kingdom
  6. Realm whose forms are sensibly perceptible and in which the shape-creating and soul beings are active—animal kingdom
  7. Realm whose forms are sensibly perceptible and in which the shape-creating and soul beings are active, and in which the spirit fashions itself in the form of thought within the sense world—human kingdom.

From this can be seen how the basic constituents of man living in the body are connected with the spiritual world. The physical body, the ether body, the sentient soul body and the intellectual soul are to be regarded as archetypes of the spiritland condensed in the sensory world. The physical body comes into existence through condensation of the human archetype to the point of sensory appearance. For this reason one can call this physical body also a being of the first elementary kingdom condensed to sensory perceptibility. The ether body comes into existence through the fact that the shape thus engendered maintains its mobility through a being that extends its activity into the kingdom of the senses but is not itself visible to the senses. If one wishes to characterize this being fully, it must be described as having its origin in the highest regions of spiritland and thence shaping itself in the second region into an archetype of life. As such an archetype of life it works in the sensory world. In a similar way, the being that builds up the sentient soul body has its origin in the highest regions of the spiritland, forms itself in the third spirit region into the archetype of the soul world, and as such works in the sensory world. The intellectual soul, however, comes into existence when in the fourth region of the spiritland the archetype of the thinking man gives itself a thought form in which it acts directly as thinking man in the world of the senses. Thus man stands within the world of the senses. Thus the spirit works on his physical body, ether body and sentient soul body. Thus the spirit comes into manifestation in the intellectual soul. Archetypes in the form of beings who in a certain sense are external to man work upon the three lower members of his being. In his intellectual soul he himself becomes a conscious worker upon himself. The beings who work on his physical body are the same as those who form mineral nature. Beings of the kind that live in the plant kingdom work on his ether body, and those beings such as live in the animal kingdom work on his sentient soul body. Both are imperceptible to the senses but extend their activity into these kingdoms.

Thus do the different worlds combine in action. The universe man lives in is the expression of this combined activity.

When we have grasped the sensory world in this way, the understanding opens up for beings of a kind different from those having their existence in the above mentioned four kingdoms of nature. One example of such beings is what may be called the Folk or National Spirit. This being does not manifest itself directly in a sensibly perceptible way, but lives its life entirely in the sensations, feelings, tendencies and impulses observable in the common characteristics of a whole nation. This is a being who does not incarnate in the sense world, but just as man forms his body out of substances sensibly visible, so does this Folk Spirit form its body out of the substance of the soul world. This soul body of the National Spirit is like a cloud in which the members of a nation live. Its influences become evident in the souls of the men concerned, but it does not originate in these souls themselves. The National Spirit remains merely a shadowy conception of the mind without being or life, an empty abstraction, to the man who does not picture it in this way.

Something similar may be said in reference to what one calls the Spirit of the Age (Zeitgeist). Indeed, the spiritual outlook is extended in this way over a variety of other beings, both lower and higher, that live in the human environment unseen by the bodily senses. Those who have powers of spiritual sight perceive such beings and can describe them. To the lower species of such beings belongs all that is described by observers of the spiritual world as salamanders, sylphs, undines and gnomes. It should not be necessary to say that such descriptions are not to be considered reproductions of the reality that underlies them. If they were, then the world in question would be not a spiritual, but a grossly sensory one. They are attempts at making clear a spiritual reality that can only be represented in this way, this is, by similes. It is quite comprehensible that anyone who admits the validity of physical vision only, regards such beings as the offspring of confused fantasy and superstition. They can, of course, never become visible to the sensory eye because they have no sensory bodies. The superstition does not consist in regarding such beings as real, but in believing that they appear in a way perceptible to the physical senses. Beings of such forms co-operate in the construction of the world, and we come into contact with them as soon as we enter the higher regions closed to the bodily senses. Those people are not superstitious who see in such descriptions pictures of spiritual realities, but rather those who believe in the sensory existence of the pictures, as well as those who deny the spirit, because they think they must deny the sensory picture.

Mention must also be made of those beings who do not descend to the soul world, but whose vestment is composed of the formations of spiritland alone. Man perceives them and becomes their companion when he opens his spiritual eye and ear to them. Through such an opening much becomes intelligible to him that previously he could only stare at uncomprehendingly. It becomes bright around him, and he sees the primal causes of what takes place as effects in the world of the senses. He comprehends what he either denied entirely when he had no spiritual eye, or in reference to which he had to content himself with saying, “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in thy philosophy.” People with fine, spiritual feelings become uneasy when they begin to have a glimmering, when they become vaguely aware of a world different from the sensory one surrounding them, one in which they have to grope about as the blind grope among visible objects. Nothing but the clear vision of these higher regions of existence and a thorough understanding and penetration of what takes place in them can really fortify a man and lead him to his proper goal. Through insight into what lies hidden from the senses, man expands his nature in such a way that he feels his life prior to this expansion as “a mere dreaming about the world.”