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Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts
GA 26

22. The Freedom of Man and the Age of Michael

In the human faculty of memory there lives the personal image of a cosmic force—a cosmic force that worked upon the human being in the past, in the way revealed by our last studies. This cosmic force is still working at the present time. It works as the force of growth, as the life-giving impulse in the background of human life. The major portion of it works in this way, and only a small part is separated off as an activity that enters into the conscious Spiritual Soul, where it shows itself as the force of memory.

We must learn to see this force of memory in its true light. When in the present epoch of cosmic evolution a man perceives with his senses, his perception is a momentary lighting-up of world-pictures in consciousness. This lighting-up takes place when the senses are directed to the outer world. It illumines the consciousness and vanishes when the senses are no longer directed outward. That which lights up in the human soul in this way must not have duration. For if man did not eliminate it from his consciousness quickly enough, he would lose himself in this content of consciousness. He would no longer be himself. For a short time only—in the so-called ‘after-images’ in which Goethe was so interested—the inner illumination of a sense-perception may live on in consciousness. Nor must this content of consciousness crystallise into real being. It must remain a picture. It must on no account become real, any more than the picture in a looking-glass can become real.

Man would lose himself in anything that lived and worked itself out as a reality in his consciousness, just as he would lose himself in something which of its own nature possessed duration there. In this case, too, he could no longer be himself.

Thus our sense-perception of the outer world is an inward picture-painting by the human soul; a painting without materials; a painting in the ebb and flow—in the coming into-being and the vanishing of Spirit. As in Nature a rainbow comes forth and passes away, leaving no trace behind, so does a perception arise and pass away, without of its own inherent nature leaving any memory behind.

But simultaneously with each perception another process takes its course between the soul of man and the outer world—a process lying in the more hidden portions of the soul-life, where the forces of growth, the life-impulses are at work. In this part of the soul's life, not only a fleeting image but a permanent and real image is impressed in every act of perception. Man can suffer this, for this is a part of the contents of the world, connected with his being. He cannot lose himself while this process is taking place, any more than he loses himself through the fact that he grows and is nourished without his own full consciousness.

This second process takes place in every act of outward perception. And when a man draws forth his memories from within him, it is an inward perception of that which has remained permanent through the second process.

Once again the soul paints a picture, but now it paints the past that is living in the man's own inner being. And once again, while he is thus painting, no lasting reality may form itself in consciousness, but only a picture that arises and vanishes again.

Such is the connection in the human soul between the forming of an idea in the act of perception and the remembering of it.

But the forces of memory are perpetually striving to be more than they can be if man is not to lose himself as a self-conscious being.

For the forces of memory are relics of the past in human evolution, and as such they come within the realm of Lucifer's power. Lucifer strives so to condense the impressions of the outer world in the human being that they may continuously shine as ideation in his consciousness.

This Luciferic striving would be crowned with success if it were not for the force of Michael which counteracts it. Michael's force does not allow that which is painted in the inner light to crystallise into real being, but keeps it in the state of a fleeting picture.

But the excess of force, which presses upward from within the human being through Lucifer's activity, will be transformed in this Age of Michael into the force of Spiritual Imagination. For gradually into the common intellectual consciousness of mankind there will enter the force of Imagination. But this does not mean that man will burden his present consciousness with lasting realities. His present consciousness will still be working in the fleeting pictures that arise and vanish. With his Imaginations, however, he reaches up into a higher Spirit-world, just as with his memories he reaches down into his own human nature. Man does not keep the Imaginations within him. They are drawn as cosmic pictures into cosmic existence and thence he is able to copy them, painting them again and again in his own life of picture-ideation.

Thus what Michael preserves from crystallisation in the inner being of man is received by the spiritual world. What man experiences of the force of conscious Imagination becomes at once a part of the World-contents. That this can be so, is an outcome of the Mystery of Golgotha. The Christ force impresses the spiritual Imagination of man into the Cosmos. It is the Christ-force, united with the Earth. So long as it was not united with the Earth but worked upon the Earth as the Sun-force from without, all the impulses of life and growth went into the inner nature of man. He was formed and maintained by them, out of the Cosmos. Since the Christ-Impulse has been living with the Earth, man in his self-conscious being is given back again to the Cosmos.

From a cosmic being, man has become an earthly being. He has the potentiality to become a cosmic being once again, when as an earthly being he has become himself.

Thus in his momentary ideation or forming of ideas man lives not in an element of real being, but only in a mirroring of being—in a picture-being. In this fact the possibility of development of Freedom lies inherent. All that is being in consciousness has power to compel. But a picture cannot compel. If anything is to be brought about through the impression that the picture makes, it must happen quite independently of the picture. Man becomes free through the fact that with his Spiritual Soul he rises out of the ocean of being and emerges in the picture-existence which has no being.

Here the weighty question arises: Does not man lose hold of being altogether, inasmuch as he leaves it and plunges into non-being with a portion of his nature? This is another point where in our contemplation of the world we find ourselves face to face with one of the greatest riddles.

That which is experienced in consciousness as ideation, originated from the Cosmos. In relation to the Cosmos, man plunges into non-being. He frees himself in ideation from all the forces of the Cosmos. He paints the Cosmos while he himself is outside it.

If this were all, freedom would light up in the human being for a single cosmic moment, but in the very same moment the human being would dissolve away. But while in ideation man becomes free from the Cosmos, in his unconscious life of soul he is still organically connected with his former earthly lives, and his lives between death and a new birth. As a conscious man he is in the sphere of picture-being, while with his unconscious life he maintains himself within the spiritual reality. He experiences freedom in the present ego, while his past ego preserves him in the element of real being.

With respect to real being, man in his life of ideation is completely given to what he has become through the whole course of the cosmic and earthly past.

We are here pointing to the abyss of nothingness in human evolution which man must cross when he becomes a free being. It is the working of Michael and the Christ-Impulse which makes it possible for him to leap across the gulf.

Further Leading Thoughts issued from the Goetheanum for the Anthroposophical Society (with respect to the foregoing study: The Freedom of Man and the Age of Michael)

162. In ideation man lives not in Being, but in Picture-being—in a realm of Non-being — with his conscious Spiritual Soul. Thus is he freed from living and experiencing with the Cosmos. Pictures do not compel; Being alone has power to compel. And if man does direct himself according to the pictures, his doing so is independent of them, that is to say in freedom from the Universe.

163. In the moment of such ideation man is joined to the Being of the Universe by that alone which he has become through his own past: through his former lives on Earth, and lives between death and new birth.

164. Only through Michael's activity and the Christ Impulse, can man achieve this leap across the gulf of Nonbeing in relation to the Cosmos.