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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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GA 9

III-1. The Soul World

Our study of man has shown that he belongs to three worlds. From the world of physical corporality are taken the materials and forces that build up his body. He has knowledge of this world through the perceptions of his outer physical senses. Anyone trusting to these senses alone, and developing only their perceptive capacities, can gain for himself no enlightenment concerning the two other worlds, the soul-world and the spiritual. A man's ability to convince himself of the reality of a thing or a being depends on whether he has an organ of perception, a sense for it. It may, of course, easily lead to misunderstandings if one calls the higher organs of perception “spiritual senses,” as is done here: for in speaking of “senses” one involuntarily connects with them the thought of the “physical.” The physical world is in fact designated the “sensible,” in contradistinction to the “spiritual.” In order to avoid this misunderstanding, one must take into account that “higher senses” are spoken of here only in a comparative or metaphorical sense. As the physical senses perceive the physical, the soul and spiritual senses perceive the soul and spiritual worlds. The expression “sense” is used as meaning simply “organ of perception.” Man would have no knowledge of light and colour had he not an eye able to sense light; he would know nothing of sound had he not an ear able to sense sound. In this connection the German philosopher Lotze rightly says, “Without a light-sensing eye, and a sound-sensing ear, the whole world would be dark and silent. There would be in it just as little light or sound as there could be toothache without the pain-feeling nerve of the tooth.” In order to see what is said here in the right light, one need only think how entirely differently the world must reveal itself to man on the one hand, and on the other to the lower forms of animal life that have only a kind of sense of touch or sense of feeling spread over the whole surface of their bodies. Light, colour and sound certainly cannot exist for them in the same way as for beings endowed with ears and eyes. The vibrations which the firing of a gun causes, may also have an effect on them if they are struck by them. But in order that these vibrations of the air should present themselves to the soul as a report, an ear is necessary. And an eye is necessary in order that certain processes in the fine matter called ether should reveal themselves as light and colour. A man only knows something about a being or thing because through one of his organs he receives an effect from it. This relationship of man with the world of realities is excellently brought out by Goethe when he says, “It is really in vain that we try to express the nature of a thing. We are aware of activities, and a complete history of these activities would indeed embrace the nature of that thing. We endeavour in vain to describe the character of a man: if instead we put together his actions and deeds, a picture of his character will present itself to us. Colours are the deeds of fight, deeds and sufferings ... colours and fight are indeed linked in most intimate relationship, but we must think of them both as belonging to the whole of Nature; for through them the whole of Nature is engaged in revealing herself to the sense of the eye especially. In like manner Nature reveals herself to another sense ... Nature thus speaks downwards to other senses, to known, mis-known and unknown senses; she thus speaks with herself and to us through a thousand phenomena. To the attentive she is nowhere either dead or silent.” It would not be correct to interpret this saying of Goethe's as though by it the possibility of knowing the essential nature of things were denied. Goethe does not mean that one perceives only the activity of a thing, and that its nature is hidden behind this. He means rather that one should not speak at all of a “hidden being.” The being is not behind its revelation; it comes on the contrary, into view through the revelation. But this being is in many respects so rich that it can reveal itself to other senses in yet other forms. That which reveals itself does belong to the being: only—on account of the limitations of the senses—it is not the whole being. This thought of Goethe's corresponds entirely with the views of spiritual science set forth here.

As in the body eye and ear develop as organs of perception, as senses for bodily processes, so is man able to develop in himself soul and spiritual organs of perception through which the soul and spiritual worlds will be opened to him. For those who have not such higher senses, these worlds are “dark and silent,” just as for a being without eyes and ears the bodily world is “dark and silent.” It is true that the relation of man to these higher senses is rather different from his relation to the bodily senses. It is good Mother Nature who sees to it, as a rule, that these latter are fully developed in him. They come into existence without his help. But on the development of his higher senses he must work himself. If he wishes to perceive the soul- and spirit-worlds, he must develop soul and spirit, as Nature has developed his body so that he may perceive the corporeal world around him and guide himself in it. Such a development of the higher organs not yet developed for us by Nature herself is not unnatural; for in the higher sense all that man accomplishes belongs also to Nature. Only he who is ready to maintain that man should remain standing at the stage at which he left the hand of Nature could call the development of the higher senses unnatural. By him the significance of these organs is “mis-known,” in the sense of the quotation from Goethe. Such a one might just as well oppose all education, for this also develops further the work of Nature. And he would have to oppose especially operations upon those born blind. For almost the same thing happens to that man who awakens the higher senses in himself, in the way set forth in the last part of this book, as happens to the person born blind and operated upon. The world appears to him with new qualities, events, and facts, of which the physical senses reveal nothing to him. It is clear to him that through these higher organs he adds nothing arbitrarily to the reality, but that without them the essential part of this reality would have remained hidden from him. The soul- and spirit-worlds are not to be thought of alongside or outside the physical world; they are not separated in space from it. Just as for persons born blind and operated upon, the previously dark world flashes out in light and colours, so do things which previously were only corporeal phenomena, reveal their soul- and spirit-qualities to one who is, in soul and spirit, awakened. It is true, moreover, that this world then becomes filled with other occurrences and beings that remain completely unknown to one whose soul- and spirit-senses are not awakened. (The development of the soul- and spirit-senses will be spoken of in a more detailed way farther on in this book. Here these higher worlds themselves will be first described. Anyone who denies the existence of these worlds says nothing more than that he has not yet developed his higher organs. The evolution of mankind is not terminated at any one stage; it must always progress.1See also under Addenda p. 69.

The “higher organs” are often involuntarily pictured as too similar to the physical ones. It should, however, be realised that these organs are spiritual or soul-formations. One ought not to expect, therefore, that what is perceived in the higher worlds will be only a cloudy, attenuated form of matter. As long as something of this kind is expected one can come to no clear idea as to what is really meant here by “higher worlds.” For many persons it would not be nearly as difficult as it actually is to know something about these higher worlds, the elementary part, that is to say, if they did not form the idea that what they will see is again physical matter rarefied. Because they presuppose something of this kind, they are not, as a rule, at all willing to recognise what they are really dealing with. They look upon it as unreal, refuse to acknowledge it as something that satisfies them, and so on. True, the higher stages of spiritual development are accessible only with difficulty; but those stages which suffice for the perception of the nature of the spiritual—and that is already a great deal—would not be at all difficult to reach, if people would from the first free themselves from the preconception which consists in picturing to themselves the soul and the spiritual merely as being of a finer physical nature.

Just as we do not wholly know a man when we have formed a picture of his physical exterior only, so also we do not know the world around us if we know in it only what the physical senses reveal to us. And just as a photograph becomes intelligible and living to us when we have become so intimately acquainted with the person photographed as to know his soul, so can we really only understand the corporeal world if we learn to know its soul- and spiritual-basis. For this reason it is advisable to speak, first about the higher worlds, the soul- and spirit-worlds, and only then judge of the physical from the standpoint of spiritual science.

At this present stage of civilisation certain difficulties are encountered by anyone speaking about the higher worlds. For the greatness of this age consists above all in the knowledge and conquest of the physical world. Our words have, in fact, received their stamp and significance in relation to this physical world. Nevertheless we must make use of these current words so as to link on to something known. This opens the door to many misunderstandings on the part of those who will trust only their external senses. Much can at first be expressed and indicated only by means of similes and comparisons. It must be so, for such similes are a means by which man is first directed to these higher worlds, and through which his own ascent to them is furthered. (Of this ascent we shall speak in a later chapter, when the development of the higher organs of perception will be dealt with. To begin with, knowledge of the higher worlds must be gained by means of similes. Only then is man ready to acquire for himself the power to see into them.)

As the substances and forces which compose and govern our stomach, our heart, our brain, our lungs, etc., come from the physical world, so do our qualities of soul, our impulses, desires, feelings, passions, wishes, sensations, etc., come from the soul-world. The soul of man is a member of this world, just as his body is part of the physical-corporeal world. If one wants at the outset to indicate a difference between the corporeal and soul-worlds, one could say that the latter is in all its objects and entities much finer, more mobile and plastic than the former. But it must be kept clearly in mind that on entering the soul-world one enters a world entirely different from the physical. If, therefore, “coarser” and “finer” be spoken of in this respect, readers must be fully aware that one is suggesting by means of a comparison something that is fundamentally different. It is the same with all that is said about the soul-world in words borrowed from the world of physical corporality. Taking this into account, it can be said that the formations and beings of the soul-world consist in the same way of soul-materials and are directed in the same way by soul-forces, as is the case in the physical world with physical substances and physical forces.

Just as spatial extension and spatial movement are peculiar to corporeal formations, so are susceptibility and impelling desire peculiar to the things and beings of the soul-world. For this reason the soul-world is described as the world of desires or wishes, or as the world of longing. These expressions are borrowed from the human soul-world. One must therefore hold fast to the idea that the things in those parts of the soul-world which lie outside the human soul are just as different from the soul-forces within it, as the physical substances and forces of the external corporeal world are different from those parts which compose the physical body. (Impulse, wish, longing, are names for the material of the soul-world. To this material, let us give the name of “astral.” If one pays more attention specifically to the forces of the soul-world, one can speak of “desire-reality.” But it must not be forgotten that the distinction between “matter” and “force” cannot be as sharply drawn as in the physical world. An impulse can just as well be called “force” as “matter.” )

The differences between the soul-world and the physical have a bewildering effect on one who obtains a view of the soul-world for the first time. But that is also the case when a previously inactive physical sense has been opened. The man born blind, when operated upon, has first to learn to guide himself through the world which he has previously known only by means of the sense of touch. Such a man, for example, sees the objects at first in his eyes, then he sees them outside himself, but they appear to him as if painted on a flat surface. Only gradually does he grasp perspective and the spatial distance between things, and so on. In the soul-world entirely different laws prevail from those in the physical. Now it is true that there are many soul-formations bound to those of the other worlds. The soul of man, for instance, is bound to the human body and to the human spirit. The occurrences to be observed in it are therefore influenced at the same time by the bodily and the spiritual worlds. This has to be taken into account in observing the soul-world; and one must take care not to claim as a law of the soul-world occurrences due to the influence of another world. When, for example, a man sends out a wish, that wish is brought to birth by a thought, by a conception of the spirit whose laws it accordingly follows. But just as the laws of the physical world can be formulated disregarding, for example, man's influence on it, so the same thing is possible with regard to the soul-world.

An important difference between soul and physical processes can be expressed by saying that interaction in the former is much more inward than in the latter. In physical space there prevails, for example, the law of “impact.” When an ivory ball strikes another which is at rest, the latter moves in a direction which can be calculated from the motion and elasticity of the former. In soul-space, the mutual action of two forms which meet depends on their inner qualities. If they are in affinity they mutually interpenetrate each other and as it were grow together. They repel each other if their essential beings conflict. In physical space there are, for example, definite laws of vision. Distant objects diminish in perspective. When one looks down an avenue, the distant trees appear, according to the laws of perspective, to stand at shorter distances from each other than the near ones. In soul-space, on the contrary, all objects near and far appear to the clairvoyant at those distances from each other which are due to their inner nature. This is naturally a source of all manner of mistakes for those who enter the soul-world, and wish to become at home there by the help of the principles they bring with them from the physical world.

One of the first things that a man must acquire in order to make his way about the soul-world, is the power to distinguish the various kinds of forms found there in a similar manner to that in which solid, liquid, airy or gaseous bodies are distinguished in the physical world. In order to do this one must know the two basic forces which are the most important here. They may be called sympathy and antipathy. According to the way in which these basic forces work in any soul-formation, its nature is decided. The force with which one soul-formation attracts others, seeks to fuse with them, to make its affinity with them effectual, must be designated as sympathy. Antipathy, on the other hand, is the force with which soul-formations repel, exclude each other in the soul-world, with which they assert their separate identity. The part played in the soul-world by a soul-formation depends upon the proportion in which these basic forces are present in it. One has to distinguish, in the first place, between three kinds of soul-formations according to the manner in which sympathy and antipathy work in them. These kinds differ from each other in that sympathy and antipathy have in them definitely fixed mutual relationships. In all three, both basic forces are present. Let us take, to begin with, a formation of the first kind. It attracts other formations in its neighbourhood by means of the sympathy ruling in it; but besides this sympathy there is at the same time present in it antipathy, through which it repels certain things in its surroundings. From the outside such a formation appears to be endowed with the forces of antipathy only. That, however, is not the case. There is sympathy and antipathy in it, but the latter predominates. It has the upper hand over the former. Such formations play a self-seeking role in soul-space. They repel much that is around them, and lovingly attract only little to themselves. They therefore move through soul-space as unchangeable forms. The force of sympathy in them makes them appear avaricious, with a greed that seems insatiable, as though it could never be satisfied. That is because the predominating antipathy repels so much of what approaches, that no satisfaction is possible. If one wishes to compare this kind of soul-formation with something in the physical world, one can say that it corresponds with the solid physical body. This region of soul-substance may be called Burning Desire. That portion of this Burning Desire which is mingled with the souls of animals and men determines in them what one calls the lower sensual impulses, their dominating selfish instincts.

The second kind of soul-formation is that in which the two basic forces preserve a balance, in which, accordingly, antipathy and sympathy act with equal strength. They approach other formations with a certain neutrality; they act on them as if related, but without especially attracting or repelling. They erect no solid barrier, as it were, between themselves and their surroundings. They constantly allow other formations in their surroundings to act on them; one can therefore compare them with the fluids of the physical world. And there is nothing of greed in the way in which such formations attract others to themselves. The activity meant here may be recognised, for example, when the human soul receives the sensation of a certain colour. If I have the sensation of a red colour, I receive to begin with a neutral excitation from my surroundings. Only when there is added to this excitation pleasure in the red colour does another soul-activity come into play. That which produces the neutral excitation is the action of soul-formations standing in such mutual relationship that sympathy and antipathy preserve an equal balance. The soul-substance here being considered, must be described as a perfectly plastic and mobile substance. Not self-seeking like the first it moves through soul-space in such a way that its being receives impressions everywhere, and it shows itself to have affinity with much that approaches it. An expression that might be applied to it is Flowing Susceptibility.

The third degree of soul-formation is that in which sympathy has the upper hand over antipathy. Antipathy produces the self-seeking self-assertion; this, however, retires into the background when inclination towards the things around takes its place. Let us picture such a formation within soul-space. It appears as a centre of an attracting sphere which spreads over the objects around it. Such formations must be specially designated as Wish-Substance. This designation appears to be the right one, for although antipathy, relatively weaker than the sympathy, is there, the attraction works in such a way as to bring the attracted objects within the soul-formation's own sphere. The sympathy thus receives an underlying tone of selfishness. This wish-substance may be likened to the airy or gaseous bodies of the physical world. As a gas strives to expand on all sides, so does the wish-substance spread itself out in all directions.

Higher grades of soul-substance render themselves distinguishable by the fact that in them one of the basic forces, namely antipathy, retires completely into the background, and sympathy alone shows itself as the one really effective factor, which is able to express itself primarily within the various parts of the soul-formation itself. These parts act upon each other in mutual attraction. This force of sympathy within a soul-formation comes to expression in what one calls liking. And each lessening of this sympathy is disliking. Disliking is only lessened liking, as cold is only a lessened warmth. Liking and disliking compose what fives in man as the world of feeling in the strict sense of the word. Feeling is the activity of the soul within itself. What one calls soul-comfort depends on the way in which the feelings of liking and disliking interact within the soul.

A still higher grade is occupied by those soul-formations whose sympathy does not remain shut up within the region of their own life. They differ from the three lower grades, as does in fact the fourth also, in that in them the force of sympathy has no opposing antipathy to overcome. It is only through these higher orders of soul-substance that the manifold variety of soul-formations can unite and form a common soul-world. In so far as there is any appearance of antipathy, it is when the soul-entity approaches some other object for the benefit of its own life, in order that it may itself be strengthened and enriched by the other. Where antipathy is stilled, the other object is received as a revelation, a source of discovery. This higher form of soul-substance plays in soul-space a similar role to that played by light in physical space. It causes a soul-entity to absorb into itself, as it were, the being or essence of others for their sake, or, in other words, to let itself be shone upon by them. It is only by drawing upon these higher regions that the soul-entities are awakened to their true soul-life. Their dull, darkened life opens outwards, and begins to shine and ray out into soul-space; the sluggish, dull weaving within itself which seeks to shut itself off through antipathy when only the substances of the lower regions are present, becomes force and mobility, which goes forth from within and pours itself outwards in streams.

The Flowing Susceptibility of the second region is only effective when formations meet each other. Then, indeed, the one streams over into the other. But contact is essential. In the higher regions there prevails a free out-raying and outpouring. Rightly does one describe the essential nature of this region as an “out-raying,” for the sympathy which is developed acts in such a way that one can use as symbol for it the expression taken from the action of light. As a plant languishes in a dark cellar, so do the soul-formations without the soul-substances of the higher regions which give them life. Soul-Light, Active Soul-Force and the true Soul-Life, in the strict sense, belong to these higher regions, and thence pour themselves into the soul-beings.

Thus we have to distinguish between three lower and three higher regions of the soul-world; and these two are linked together by a fourth, so that there results the following division of the soul-world:

  1. Region of Burning Desires.
  2. Region of Flowing Susceptibility.
  3. Region of Wishes.
  4. Region of Attraction and Repulsion.
  5. Region of Soul-Light.
  6. Region of Active Soul-Force.
  7. Region of Soul-Life.

Throughout the first three regions, the soul-formations receive their qualities from the relative proportions of sympathy and antipathy; throughout the fourth region sympathy weaves its web within the soul-formations themselves; throughout the three highest, the power of sympathy becomes ever more and more free; illumining and quickening, the soul-substances of this region waft through soul-space, awakening that which, if left to itself, must lose itself in its own separate existence.

For the sake of clarity it is here emphasised, though it should be superfluous, that these seven divisions of the soul-world do not represent regions separated one from another. Just as in the physical world, solid, liquid and airy or gaseous substances interpenetrate, so do Burning Desire, Flowing Susceptibility, and the forces of the World of Wishes in the soul-world. And as in the physical world, warmth penetrates bodies and light illumines them, so is it the case in the soul-world with attraction and repulsion, and with the Soul-Light. And something similar takes place with regard to the Active Soul-Force and the true Soul-Life.