Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts
3. The Way of Michael, and What Preceded It
It is not possible to perceive in the right light how the Michael Impulse breaks into human evolution, if one shares the conception which is universally accepted today, as to the relation of the new world of ideas to Nature.
It is thought: There outside us is Nature with all that she accomplishes and is; within us are the ideas. These ideas are thoughts about the things of Nature, or about the so-called Laws of Nature. The thinkers of today are concerned first of all to show how to form such ideas as shall stand in a true relation to Nature, or in which the true Natural Laws shall be contained.
It is of little importance to them how these ideas are related to the man himself, who has them. But in truth there can be no real insight until this question is raised: What does Man experience through the natural-scientific ideas of modern times?
The answer can be arrived at in the following way.
Man feels today that the ideas are formed within him through the activity of his soul. He has the feeling that he himself forms his ideas, while only the sense-perceptions come to him from without.
Man did not always feel in this way. In times past he did not realise the content of his ideas as something he had made himself, but as something received through inspiration from the supersensible world.
There were various stages of this feeling. And these stages depended on that part of a man's being in which he experienced what today he calls his ideas. Today, in the period of the development of the Spiritual Soul or Consciousness Soul, what is contained in the ‘Leading Thoughts’ of the last number is wholly true: — Thoughts have their true seat in the human etheric body. There, however, they are real, living forces. They imprint themselves in the physical body, as such “imprinted thoughts” they possess the shadowy character known to ordinary consciousness.
Now one can go back to times in which the thoughts were directly experienced in the ‘Ego.’ But in those times they were not shadowy as they are today, nor were they merely living; they were full of soul and spirit. But this means that the man did not only think his thoughts; he had as an experience the perception of concrete spiritual beings.
Everywhere amongst the peoples of antiquity one finds the consciousness that looked up to a world of spiritual beings. The historical remains of this are described today as a consciousness that expressed itself in myths and mythologies, which are not considered of much importance for an understanding of the real world. And yet with this consciousness man stands in his own world — in the world of his true origin — whereas with his present consciousness he is lifted out of his own world. Man is a spirit; and his world is the world of spiritual beings.
The next stage was one in which the element of thought was no longer experienced by the Ego but by the astral body. The soul here loses the direct vision of the Spiritual. Thought appears as an element which is ensouled and alive.
At the first stage, that of the vision of concrete spiritual beings, man does not feel at all strongly the necessity of connecting what he sees with that which he perceives through his senses. The phenomena perceptible to the senses are seen to be the deeds of what he observes supersensibly, but he does not feel impelled to develop a special science of that which is directly seen by spiritual vision. Moreover, the world of spirit-beings which he sees is so rich that his attention is directed to it above all things.
It is different at the second stage of consciousness. Here the concrete spiritual beings are hidden; their reflection appears in the form of an ensouled life. Man begins to relate the ‘life of Nature’ to this ‘life of souls.’ In the beings and processes of Nature he seeks the active spirit-beings and their deeds. The result of this stage of consciousness may be seen historically in that which appeared later as the quest of the alchemists.
When at the first stage of consciousness man ‘thought’ the spirit-beings, he lived entirely in his own being; and at the second stage, too, he is still quite near to his origin. But at both stages it is quite impossible for man to develop, in the true sense of the word, his own inner impulses of action.
A spirituality which is of like nature with himself acts in him. What he seems to do is the manifestation of processes which come about through spirit-beings. What man does is the sensibly physical manifestation of a real spiritual and divine event which stands behind.
A third epoch in the development of consciousness brings thought to consciousness in the etheric body, but as living thought.
The Greeks lived in this consciousness when Greek civilisation was at its prime. The ancient Greek did not form thoughts for himself and then look out upon the world with them as with his own creations, but when he thought he felt that a life was being kindled within him — a life which also pulsated in the objects and events outside him.
Then for the first time there arose in man the longing for the freedom of his own actions — not yet true freedom, but the longing for it.
Man, who felt the life and activity of Nature asserting itself in him, could develop the longing to detach his own activity from the activity which he perceived outside him and around him. But after all, this outer activity was still perceived as the final result of the active spirit-world, which is of like nature with man himself.
Only when the thoughts were imprinted in the physical body and when the consciousness extended only to this imprint — then only did the possibility of freedom arise. This condition came with the fifteenth century AD.
For the evolution of the world the important point is not, ‘What is the significance of the ideas of modern natural science with regard to Nature?’ For in effect these ideas have assumed their forms, not in order to provide man with a certain picture of Nature, but in order to bring him forward to a certain stage in his evolution.
When thoughts laid hold of the physical body, spirit, soul and life had been excluded from their immediate contents, and the abstract shadow attaching to the physical body alone remained. Thoughts such as these can make only what is physical and material into the object of their knowledge, for they themselves are only real in the physical and material body of man. Materialism did not originate because material beings and processes alone can be perceived in external Nature, but because man had to pass through a stage in his development which led him to a consciousness at first only capable of seeing material manifestations. The one-sided development of this necessity in human evolution resulted in the modern view of Nature.
It is Michael's mission to bring into human etheric bodies the forces through which the thought-shadows may regain life; then the souls and spirits in the supersensible worlds will incline towards the enlivened thoughts, and the liberated human being will be able to live with them, just as formerly the human being who was only the physical image of their activity lived with them.
Further Leading Thoughts issued from the Goetheanum for the Anthroposophical Society
103. In the evolution of mankind consciousness descends on the ladder of unfolding Thought. There was an earliest stage in consciousness when man experienced the Thoughts in the Ego — experienced them as real Beings, imbued with Spirit, soul and life. At a second stage he experienced the Thoughts in the astral body; henceforth they appeared only as the images of Spirit-beings — images, however, still imbued with soul and life. At a third stage he experienced the Thoughts in the etheric body; here they manifest only an inner stirring, like an echo of the quality of soul. At the fourth, which is the present stage, man experiences the Thoughts in the physical body, where they appear as the dead shadows of the Spiritual.
104. In like measure as the quality of Spirit, soul and life in human Thought recedes, man's own Will comes to life. True freedom becomes possible.
105. It is the task of Michael to lead man back again, on paths of Will, whence he came down when with his earthly consciousness he descended on the paths of Thought from the living experience of the Supersensible to the experience of the world of sense.