Before this time a complete change is taking place in the spiritual life of mankind. It is evident on looking back, that Imaginations still play a large part in human perception. Single individuals, it is true, have already associated themselves in their soul-life with pure ‘concepts’; but the soul-life of the greater number of people consists in a struggle between Imaginations on the one hand, and ideas born from the purely physical world on the other. This is true, not only as regards ideas concerning events in the world of Nature, but also those concerning the developments of history.
What spiritual observation is able to discover in this direction is confirmed throughout by external evidence. Let us now look at some instances of this.
The way in which people in previous centuries had thought and spoken about historical events had found its way into writing just before the age of the Spiritual Soul set in. Thus we have preserved to us out of this time ‘sagas’ and the like, in which a true picture is given of how ‘history’ was represented in past times.
A fine example is the story of ‘Gerhard the Good,’ contained in a poem by Rudolf of Ems, who lived in the first half of the thirteenth century. ‘Gerhard the Good’ is a rich merchant of Cologne. He undertakes a journey to Russia, Livonia and Prussia, to buy sables, and then travels farther to Damascus and Nineveh to get silk-stuffs and similar merchandise.
On the homeward journey he is driven out of his course by a storm. In the strange country in which he finds himself he becomes acquainted with a man, who is keeping a number of English knights, and the betrothed of the King of England, in captivity. Gerhard sacrifices all that he has acquired on his journey by trading, and receives the prisoners in exchange. When the ships arrive at the point where the ways of the travellers part, Gerhard sends the knights home, but the King's betrothed he detains, in the hope that the bridegroom, King William, will come to fetch her himself, as soon as he receives news of her release, and of the place of her abode. The King's bride and the maidens who accompany her are entertained by Gerhard in the best way imaginable. She lives, like a much loved daughter, in the house of her deliverer from captivity. A long time passes without the King coming to take her away. Then, in order to ensure his foster daughter's future, Gerhard decides to marry her to his son. For the supposition is possible that William is dead. The wedding of Gerhard's son is being celebrated, when an unknown pilgrim arrives. It is William. He has wandered about for a long time, searching for his betrothed. Gerhard's son unselfishly resigns her and she is given back to William. Both remain for a time with Gerhard; then the latter fits out a ship to convey them to England. When Gerhard's prisoners — who have been restored to honour — are first able to greet him in England they wish to make him king. But he is able to reply that he is bringing to them their lawful king and queen. They, too, had thought William dead and wished to choose another king to rule their country, which during William's wanderings had fallen into a chaotic state. The Cologne merchant renounces all the honours and riches offered to him and returns to Cologne, there to be again the simple merchant he had been before. The story goes on to relate how Otto I, King of Saxony, journeys to Cologne to make the acquaintance of Gerhard the Good. For the powerful king has succumbed to the temptation to count upon ‘earthly recompense’ for much that he has done. Through becoming acquainted with Gerhard he learns from his example how a simple man does an unspeakable amount of good — sacrificing all the goods he had acquired in order to liberate captives; restoring to William his son's affianced bride; then taking the trouble to convey William to England again, etc. — without desiring any earthly reward whatever for it, but leaving all reward to the ruling of Divine Providence. The man is universally known as ‘Gerhard the Good’; the king feels that he himself receives a strong moral and religious impulse through becoming acquainted with Gerhard's mind and character.
The story which I have briefly outlined above — in order not merely to indicate by name something that is little known — shows quite clearly from one aspect the mental attitude of the age before the coming of the Spiritual Soul in the evolution of humanity.
Those who enter into the spirit of the story, as told by Rudolf of Ems, will be able to feel how the experience of the earthly world has changed since the time of King Otto (the tenth century).
Notice how, during the age of the Spiritual Soul, the world has in a certain way become ‘clear’ to the mental eye of man, as regards the comprehension of physical existence and its development. Gerhard travels with his ships as if in a mist. He only knows the small portion of the world with which he wishes to come in contact. In Cologne you hear nothing of what is taking place in England, and you have to search for years for a person who is in Cologne. You get to know about the life and property of another man such as the one on whose shore Gerhard is cast on his homeward journey, only when you have been brought directly by destiny to the place. The present-day grasp of circumstances in the world is related to that of those earlier times as the looking into a broad, sunlit landscape is to the groping about in a dense fog.
What is related in connection with Gerhard the Good has nothing to do with what we call ‘historical’ now-a-days, but it is all the more concerned with the character and mood of soul and with the whole spiritual situation of the time. It is these, and not the single events in the physical world, which are depicted in Imaginations.
In the picture before us, we see a reflection of how man not only feels himself as a being who lives and is active as a member in the chain of events in the physical world, but also feels spiritual, supersensible Beings working into his earthly existence and having connection with his will.
The tale of Gerhard the Good shows how the twilight dimness, which, in respect of the penetration of the physical world, preceded the period of the Spiritual Soul, turned man's gaze to the vision of the spiritual world. Man did not see the breadth of the physical world, but he saw all the more into the depth of the spiritual.
Yet in the period that we describe, it was no longer the same as it once had been when a twilight clairvoyance showed to mankind the spiritual world. The Imaginations were there; but when they appeared within the human soul, it was already in its apprehension of things strongly disposed in the direction of thought. The result of this was that men no longer knew how the world that revealed itself in Imaginations was related to the world of physical existence. Hence, to people who were already holding more strongly to the thought element, these Imaginations seemed to be fictions, invented at will and having no reality.
Men no longer knew that through the Imaginations they saw into a world in which man stands with a quite different part of his being than in the physical world. Thus in the picture before us, two worlds stand side by side; and in the way the story is told, both worlds bear a character that would make one believe the spiritual events to have taken place in among the physical events, and just as perceptibly as these.
In addition to this, the physical events in many of these tales are in utter confusion. People whose lives are centuries apart appear as contemporaries; events are transferred to another place or period.
Facts of the physical world are viewed by the human soul in such a way as one can really only view what is spiritual, for which Time and Space have a different significance. The physical world is depicted in Imaginations instead of in thoughts. On the other hand, the spiritual world is woven into the narrative as if one were dealing, not with a different form of existence, but with something that was a continuation of physical facts.
A historical conception that keeps to the physical only, thinks that the old Imaginations of the East, of Greece, etc., have been taken over and interwoven poetically with the historical subjects that were occupying men's minds at the time. The writings of Isidor of Seville of the seventh century are said to contain a regular collection of old legendary ‘motifs.’
Yet this is merely an external point of view, and has significance only for those who have no understanding of that condition of soul which still knows itself to be in direct connection with the spiritual world, and which feels itself impelled to express this knowledge in Imaginations. Whether a writer makes use of his own Imagination, or whether he applies, in an understanding and living way, one that has been handed down through history, is not the essential point. The essential point is that the soul is orientated towards the spiritual world and sees both its own actions and the events in the course of Nature as forming a part of that world.
It is however true that in the way stories and legends were told in the time before the dawn of the epoch of the Spiritual Soul, a certain tendency to error is noticeable.
Spiritual observation sees in this tendency the working of the Luciferic powers.
That which urges the soul to receive the Imaginations into its experience is the result not so much of faculties possessed by the soul in ancient times — through a dreamlike clairvoyance — but rather of faculties present in the periods between the eighth and the fourteenth centuries AD. These faculties were already pressing more strongly towards an understanding, in terms of thought, of what was perceived by the senses. Both kinds of faculties were present simultaneously during the transition period. The soul was placed between the old orientation, which penetrates to the spiritual world and sees the physical only as in a mist, and the new orientation, which is centred on physical happenings and in which the spiritual vision fades.
The Luciferic power works into this wavering balance of the human soul. It wants to prevent man from attaining to complete orientation in the physical world. It wants to keep him, with his consciousness, in spiritual realms that were adapted for him in ancient times. It wants to prevent pure thinking, directed towards the understanding of physical existence, from flowing into Ms dreamlike, imaginative conception of the world. It is able to hold back, in a wrong way, man's power of perception from the physical world. It is not however, able to maintain in the right way the experience of the old Imaginations, and so it makes man reflect imaginatively, and yet at the same time he is not able to transplant his soul completely into the world in which the Imaginations have their full value.
At the dawn of the Spiritual Soul epoch, Lucifer is active in such a manner that, through him, man is transplanted to the supersensible region immediately bordering on the physical in a way not in keeping with his nature.
We can see this quite clearly in the legend of Duke Ernst (Herzog Ernst), which was one of the favourite legends of the Middle Ages and was related in wide circles.
Duke Ernst has a disagreement with the Emperor, who is determined to make war upon him unjustly and bring him to ruin. The Duke feels impelled to escape from this untenable relation with the head of the State by taking part in the Crusade to the East. In the experiences which he goes through before he reaches his destination, the physical and spiritual are woven together in saga form in the manner indicated. For instance, the Duke, in the course of his wanderings, encounters a people with heads shaped like those of cranes. He is driven ashore on the Magnet Mountain, which draws ships with magnetic power, so that people who come into the vicinity of the mountain cannot escape, but are doomed to a miserable end. Duke Ernst and his followers effect their escape by sewing themselves up in skins, and letting themselves be carried on to a hill by griffins, who are accustomed to capture those driven on to the Magnet Mountain; thence, after cutting the skins, they escape in the absence of the griffins. The continuation of the journey leads them to a people whose ears are so long that they can fling them round them like a cloak; and to yet another people whose feet are so large that when it rains, they can lie on the ground and spread their feet over them like umbrellas.
He comes from a race of dwarfs to a race of giants, etc. Many similar things are related in connection with the Duke Ernst's journey to the Crusades. The ‘Legend’ does not let one feel in the right way how, whenever Imaginations enter into the story, an orientation is set up towards a spiritual world, and how events are then related through pictures which are enacted in the astral world, and which are connected with the Will and Fate of earthly man.
This is also the case with the beautiful ‘Story of Roland,’ in which Charles the Great's crusade against the heathen in Spain is commemorated. It is related there (as if in confirmation of the Bible) that in order that Charles the Great could attain the end he was striving for, the sun stopped in its course, so that one day became as long as two.
In the case of the ‘Nibelung Saga,’ one can see how in, Northern lands it has kept a form that maintains more purely and directly the perception of the Spiritual, whereas in Central Europe the Imaginations are brought nearer to physical life. In the Northern form of the story the Imaginations are referred to an ‘astral world’; in the Central European form of the Lay of the Nibelungs, the Imaginations glide over into the perception of the physical world.
The Imaginations appearing in the Legend of Duke Ernst refer in reality to what is experienced between the experiences in the physical sphere, in an ‘astral world,’ to which man belongs just as much as to the physical.
If one applies spiritual vision to all this, then one sees how the entrance into the Age of Consciousness signifies outgrowing a phase of evolution in which the Luciferic powers would have prevailed over mankind, had not a new evolutionary impulse come into the human being through the Spiritual Soul with its force of intellectuality. That orientation towards the spiritual world which would lead into the paths of error is hindered through the Spiritual Soul; the gaze of man is drawn away and turned upon the physical world. Everything that happens in this direction withdraws humanity from the Luciferic powers that are misleading it.
Michael is already at this time active for humanity from the spiritual world. He is preparing his later work from out of the supersensible. He is giving humanity impulses which preserve the former relation to the Divine-Spiritual world, without this preservation adopting a Luciferic character.
Then in the last third of the nineteenth century Michael himself presses forward into the physical earthly world with the activities which he has exercised in preparation from out of the Supersensible, from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century.
Humanity had to undergo a period of spiritual evolution for the purpose of freeing itself from that relation to the spiritual world which threatened to become an impossible one. Then the evolution was guided, through the Michael Mission, into paths which brought the progress of Earth humanity once more into a good and healthy relation to the spiritual world.
Thus Michael stands in his activity between the Luciferic World-picture, and the Ahrimanic World-intellect. The World-picture becomes through him a World-revelation full of wisdom, which reveals the World-intellect as Divine World-activity. And in this World-activity lives the care of Christ for humanity — even in the World-activity which can thus reveal itself to the heart of man out of Michael's World-revelation.
124. The dawn of the age of Consciousness (the age of the Spiritual Soul) in the fifteenth century was preceded, in the twilight of the age of the Intellectual or Mind-Soul, by a heightened Luciferian activity, which continued for a certain time even into the new epoch.
125. This Luciferian influence tried to preserve ancient forms of pictorial conception of the world in a wrong way. Thus it tried to prevent man from understanding with Intellectuality and entering with fullness of life into the physical existence of the World.
126. Michael unites his being with the activity of mankind so that the independent Intellectuality may remain — not in a Luciferian, but in a righteous way — with the Divine and Spiritual from which it is inherited.