This lecture by Rudolf Steiner was given in Stuttgart a few weeks before the first Goetheanum, the building to which he had given loving work as architect, sculptor, and painter, was completely destroyed by fire. In this lecture he speaks of the heritage brought over from the life before birth, and of the quality in the human soul which is a seed for the life after death, the quality of love; and of the power of the arts to make a bridge between the two worlds.
Also known as, Art in its Spiritual Nature, it is number fourteen of sixteen in the lecture series entitled, Spiritual Relationships in the Human Organism. It is contained in Volume No. 218 of the Complete Centenary Edition of Rudolf Steiner's works.
4 December 1922, Stuttgart
It gives me great satisfaction to be able to speak to you today on passing through Stuttgart, and I should like to make this an opportunity for discussing several things connected with the last two lectures I have been permitted to give here. I spoke then about man's relation to the spiritual world in so far as knowledge of it can be advanced by bringing to light the processes that go on during sleep without our being conscious of them, and by the illumination that spiritual science can throw on the experiences undergone by man in the spiritual world between death and a new birth.
Today I would like to speak of how man's life on earth is in a certain sense a reverse image of those experiences. Human life on earth is understood only when particular expressions of it can be related to their counterparts in the spiritual world, where man spends the major part of his existence.
I would like first to speak of some of the ways in which the human soul expresses itself during earthly life, in so far as they can be related to experiences in the spiritual world. From my last two lectures here you will have gathered that the experiences of the human soul between death and rebirth differ essentially from those between birth and death. Here on earth a man's experiences are all mediated through his body, be it the physical body or the etheric body. Nothing of what he experiences on earth can be experienced without the support of the bodily nature. We might easily imagine, for example, that thinking is a purely spiritual act, and that in the way it comes about on earth in the human soul it has nothing to do with existence in a body. In one sense this is so. But spiritually independent as human thinking is, it could not take its course here in earth existence were it unable to have the support of the body and its processes. I may avail myself of a comparison which I have often used here on similar occasions. When a man is walking, the ground he walks on is certainly not the essential part of his activity; the essential part is inside his skin; but without the support of the ground he could not get along.
It is the same with thinking. In essence, thinking is certainly not a brain-process, but without the support of the brain it could not take its earthly course. In the light of this comparison one gets a right conception of the spirituality as well as of the physical limitations of human thinking In short, my dear friends, here in earthly life there is nothing in man that does not depend on the body for support. Within the body we carry our organs — lung, heart, brain, and so on. In normal health we have no conscious perception of our internal organs. We perceive them only when they are ill, and then in a very imperfect way. We can never say that we have knowledge of an organ by looking directly at it, unless we are studying anatomy, and then we are not studying a living organ. We can never say that we have the same view of an internal organ that we have of an external object. It is characteristic of earthly life that we do not know the interior of our body by means of ordinary consciousness. Least of all does a man know what he generally considers of most value for his bodily existence — the interior of his head. For when he begins to know anything of it, as a rule the knowledge proves most unpleasant — headache and all that goes with it.
In spiritual life between death and a new birth the exact opposite prevails. There we do really know what is within us. It is as if here on earth we were not to see trees and clouds outside, but were to look in the main inside ourselves, saying: Here is the lung, here the heart, here the stomach. In the spiritual world we contemplate our own interior. But what we see is the world of spiritual beings, the world we come to know in our anthroposophical literature as the world of the higher Hierarchies. That is our inner world. And between death and rebirth we feel ourselves actually to be the whole world — when I speak of the whole it is only figuratively, but it is entirely true — at times we each of us feel ourselves to be the whole world. And at the most important moments of our spiritual existence between death and a new birth we feel within us and experience the world of spiritual beings and are conscious of them. It is just as true that we are conscious there of spirits of the higher world within us as it is true that here on earth we have no consciousness of our interior, of liver, lungs, and so on. What is most characteristic is that in spiritual experience all our physical experience is reversed. Gradually, through initiation-knowledge, we learn how this is to be understood.
Now, however, there is an essential process — or group of processes — related to this inward living together with the beings of the higher Hierarchies. Were we in the spiritual world to perceive inwardly only the world of the higher Hierarchies, we would never find ourselves. We would indeed know that various beings were living in us, but we would never become fully aware of ourselves. Hence in our experience between death and a new birth there is a rhythm. It consists in an alternation between our inward contemplation and experience of the world of spiritual beings described in anthroposophical literature, and a damping down of this consciousness. We do the same with the spiritual within us when in physical life we close our eyes and ears and go to sleep. If I may put it like this, we turn our attention from the world of spiritual beings within us and begin to perceive ourselves. Certainly it is as if we were outside ourselves, but we know that this being outside ourselves is what we are. Thus in the spiritual world we alternately perceive ourselves and the world of spiritual beings.
This constantly repeated rhythmical process can be compared with two different things here in physical existence on earth. It can be compared with in-breathing and out-breathing, and also with sleeping and waking. In physical existence on earth both these are rhythmical processes; both may be compared with what I have been describing. But with the processes that take place in the spiritual world between death and rebirth, it is not a question of knowing something in a purely abstract way, or — I might add — for the satisfaction of spiritual curiosity; it is a matter of recognising life on earth as an image of the super-earthly. And the question necessarily arises: What takes place in earthly life that is like a faculty of memory such as man does not have in ordinary consciousness, a faculty that might be possessed by beings of the Hierarchies, Archangels? What is there in physical life that is like a memory of living oneself into the world of spiritual beings, or like a memory of experiencing oneself there?
Now, my dear friends, had we no experience between death and a new birth of looking within ourselves and finding there the world of the spirit, down here on earth there would be no such thing as morals. What we retain of this experience of beings in the spiritual world when we enter life on earth is an inclination towards the moral life. This inclination is strong in proportion to the clearness with which between death and a new birth a man has experienced his living together with the spirits of the higher world. And anyone who in a spiritually right sense sees into these things, knows that immoral men, as a result of their preceding life on earth, had too dull an experience of this spiritual existence. But if between death and a new birth we were able to experience only what makes us one with the beings of the higher world, and were never able to experience ourselves, then on earth it would be impossible for us ever to achieve freedom, consciousness of freedom, consciousness of our personality, which is fundamentally identical with the consciousness of freedom. Thus when on earth we develop morality and freedom, they are memories of the rhythm we experience in the spiritual world between death and a new birth. But by directing our gaze to the soul we can speak more exactly of what echoes on in the soul — the becoming one with spiritual beings on the one hand, and on the other our experience of spiritual consciousness of the self. What during earthly life remains in our soul as an echo of the becoming one with the beings of the spiritual world is the capacity for love. This capacity for love is more deeply connected than people think with the moral life. For without the capacity for love there would be no moral life here on earth; it all arises from the understanding with which we meet the soul of another, and from striving to accomplish what we do out of this understanding. How we behave to others with selflessness, or how in love we can act morally, are essentially echoes from our life between death and rebirth in common with spiritual beings; and this remains with us after our experience of what one might call loneliness — for so it is felt to be — the lonely experience of our self in the spiritual world. For we do then feel lonely when we, as it were, breathe out. In-breathing is like an experience of spiritual beings; out-breathing like an experience of our self. But feeling lonely — well, this feeling lonely has its echo here on earth as our capacity for remembering — our memory. As human beings we should have no memory were it not an echo of what we have described as a feeling of loneliness. We are real individuals in the spiritual world because — I cannot say because we withdraw into ourselves — but because we can liberate ourselves from the higher spirits within us. That makes us independent in the spiritual world. Here on earth we are independent because we are able to remember our experiences. Just think what would become of your independence if in your thoughts you had always to live in the present. Your remembered thoughts are what make it possible for you to have anything of an inner life. Remembering makes us into personalities here on earth. And remembering is the echo of what I have described as the experience of loneliness in the spiritual world.
Now why do we come down at all to the physical out of the spiritual world? You may gather from what I said here last time that the forces holding us together with higher spiritual beings grow weaker. Here in physical life we become old because the forces holding us in connection with the physical earth weaken; over there the forces weaken which hold us in connection with spiritual beings. Above all, those forces weaken that enable us to grasp ourselves within spiritual beings and so to be independent. In the spiritual world, an appreciable time before descending to earth, we lose the capacity for living together with spiritual beings. With the help of spiritual beings we form the spirit-seed of our physical body: this we send down first; then we take up our etheric body and follow after. I pictured this for you in my last lecture. Our capacity for living with spirit-beings in the spiritual world fades out, and we feel how through the forces of the moon we approach ever nearer to the earth. We feel ourselves as a self, but continually become less able to comprehend, to maintain, ourselves within spiritual realms; this capacity becomes increasingly feeble. We have a growing feeling that faintness may overcome us in the spiritual world. This creates in us a need for what we can no longer carry within us, the feeling of self, to be supported by something outside, namely our body — a need to be supported by a body. I might put it thus, that we have gradually to unlearn flying and learn to walk. You understand that I am speaking figuratively, but the picture is in absolute accord with truth, with reality. Thus we find our way into our body. The feeling of loneliness finds a refuge in the body and becomes the faculty of remembering, and we have to win through to a new feeling for community on earth. This proves to be very significant when with the aid of spiritual science we study the state of sleep.
I described this state of sleep from a certain aspect last time I was here. I now want to add something about the processes mentioned then. I know that such things are easily misunderstood. Over and over again one hears that people are saying: “Last time he described man's experience between going to sleep and waking, and now he is telling us something different about it.” My dear friends, if I tell you what an official experiences in his office, it does not contradict what later I tell you about him in the bosom of his family. The two things go together. So you must be clear that when I tell you of experiences between going to sleep and waking this is not the whole story, just as an official can still have a family life outside his office.
Thus man, between going to sleep and waking, actually experiences a kind of backward repetition of what he accomplished in the course of the day. It is not simply that between going to sleep and waking — the sleep can be quite short, and then things are telescoped together — it is not simply that between going to sleep and waking man has a retrospective view of his experiences during the day, an unconscious view, for naturally it must be unconscious — no, when the soul during sleep becomes really clairvoyant, or when the clairvoyant soul looks back in memory on the experiences between going to sleep and waking, it is seen that man really experiences the going backward of what he has experienced since the last time he woke. If he sleeps through the night in an ordinary way, he goes backward through what he has done by day. The last event takes place immediately on going to sleep, and so on. The whole of his sleep works in a wonderfully regulating way. I can but tell you what can be investigated by spiritual science. When you fall asleep for a quarter of an hour, the beginning of the sleep knows when it will end, and in this quarter of an hour you experience in backward order what you have brought about since last you woke. It is all given its right proportion — marvellous as this may seem. And this backward experience may be said to lie somewhere between reality and semblance.
If one has a memory-picture of something experienced in physical life twenty years before, a healthy, thoughtful person will not take it for a present experience; it is in the nature of the memory-picture itself that we relate it to a past experience. Anyone who looks clairvoyantly into what the soul experiences during sleep in backward order does not connect this with the present; he connects it with the future after death. Just as anyone realises that his recollection of something experienced twenty years before refers to that past time, so does anyone who clairvoyantly sees into the state of sleep know that what he sees has no significance for the present but foreshadows what is to be experienced after death, when we have to go backwards through all that we have done on earth. That is why this sleep-picture is half-reality and half-semblance — it is related to the future. Thus for ordinary consciousness it is an unconscious experience of what man has to live through in what I called in my book, Theosophy, the soul world. And the intuitive and inspired consciousness described in my book, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds, gathers from the observation of sleep what man has to go through during the first stage after death. These things are not mere fabrications; they are plainly observed once the gift of observation has been acquired. Thus, from going to sleep till waking, man lives without his body through what he has done with his body when awake.
We come now to an extraordinarily subtle concept. Just think how from outside we have to live through our deeds again with our ego and our astral body. The capacity to do so is acquired in proportion to the degree of love we unfold. That is the secret of life where love is concerned. If a man is able really to go out of himself in love, loving his nearest as himself, he learns what he needs in sleep for experiencing in reverse, fully and without pain, what has to be experienced in this way. For then he must be quite outside himself. If a man is a loveless being, a feeling arises when, outside himself, he has to experience the actions he performed without love. This hems him in. Loveless persons sleep as if — to use a metaphor — they were short-winded. So it is that whatever we have been able to implant in ourselves through love becomes truly fruitful while we are asleep. And in what is thus developed between going to sleep and waking, we have something that goes through the gate of death and then lives on further in the spiritual world. It is lost between death and rebirth when we are living together with the spiritual beings of the higher worlds and we recover it as a seed during earthly life through love. For love discloses its meaning when with his ego and astral body a man in sleep is outside his physical body and etheric body. Between going to sleep and waking his essential being widens if he is full of love and prepares himself well for what is to happen to him after death. If he is loveless and is poorly prepared for what is to happen to him after death, his being narrows. The seed for what happens after death lies pre-eminently in the unfolding of love.
During our life on earth between birth and death, our memories are extraordinarily fleeting; only pictures remain. Think how little these pictures retain of the events lived through. Just remind yourself of the unspeakable grief experienced at the death of someone very close to you, and imagine vividly the inner condition of soul attendant upon it, and then observe how this appears as an inner experience when after ten years you call it up. It has become a pale, almost abstract shadow. That is what our capacity for recollection is — pale and abstract compared with the full vigour of immediate life. Why is our recollection thus weak and shadowy? It is indeed the shadow of our experience of self between death and a new birth. Within it is the faculty of remembering, so that it really gives us our existence. That which gives us flesh and blood here on earth, between death and a new birth gives us the faculty of memory. Over there memory is robust and full-blooded — if I may use such expressions for what is spiritual — then it takes on flesh and becomes weak. When we die. for a few days — I have often described this — the last remnant of memory is still present in the etheric body. If when we go through the gate of death we look back over our past life on earth, memory fades out. And out of this memory there unwinds what the force of love on earth has given us as force for life after death. Thus the force of memory is the heritage we receive from our pre-earthly life, and the force of love is the seed for what we have after death. That is the relation between earthly life and the spiritual world.
Now, my dear friends, I have compared what man experiences in connection with higher beings in the spiritual world, alternating with his experience of the self, with breathing — in-breathing, out-breathing. In our breathing process, and in the processes concerned with speech and song, we can recognise an image of “breathing” in the spiritual world. As I have said, our life in the spiritual world between death and a new birth alternates between contemplation of the inner self, and becoming one with the beings of the higher Hierarchies; looking out from within, becoming one with ourself. This goes on like in-breathing and out-breathing. We breathe into ourselves and then breathe ourselves out, and this is of course a spiritual breathing. Here on earth this breathing process becomes memory and love. And in fact memory and love also work together here in physical earth-life as a kind of breathing. And if with the eyes of the soul you are able to look at this physical life rightly, you will be able to observe in an important manifestation of breathing — speaking and singing — the physiological working together of memory and love.
Study the child up to the change of teeth. You will observe how the power of recollection, of memory, gradually unfolds. At first it is quite elementary. The child has a certain memory, but it becomes an independent force only towards the time when the teeth change, and is complete in its development when the child is ripe for school. It is only then that we can begin to build upon memory. Earlier than this, by building too much on memory we make the child rigid and create a sclerotic condition of soul for its later life. When dealing with children before the change of teeth, it is a question of their receiving impressions of the present in the right way. It is between the change of teeth and puberty that we may venture to build upon memory.
Today the science of physiology has not reached the point when it can describe in detail the process just pictured. Spiritual science is capable of this and physiological science will certainly follow suit, for these things can be discovered by a close observation of human nature. One may say: When we give out a sound or a note, to begin with the head is engaged. But from the head comes the same faculty that inwardly, in the soul, gives memory, which plays into sound and tone: this comes from above. For anyone to be able to speak without having a faculty of memory is inconceivable. Were we always to forget what is contained in sound or tone, we should never be able to speak or sing. It is precisely embodied memory that lives in tone or sound, on the one hand; on the other hand, for the part played by love, even in its physiological sense, in the breathing process that gives rise to speaking and singing — for this you have clear witness in the full inner volume of tone that comes to the male with puberty, when love finds physiological expression during the second important period of life: this comes from below. There you have the two elements together — from above what lies at the physiological basis of memory — from below what lies at the physiological basis of love: together they form tone in speech and in song. There you have their reciprocal interplay. In a way it is also a breathing process running through the whole of life. Just as we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide so, united in us we have the force of memory and the force of love, meeting one another in speech, meeting one another in tone. One can say that speaking and singing in man are an alternating interchange of permeation by the force of memory and by the force of love.
Herein lies something extraordinarily significant for disclosing the real secret of tone and sound.
Thus there is real truth in what is expressed in the more ancient languages by calling the sum of world forces and world thoughts the Logos. That is the other side, the super-physical side of that which comes to physical expression in speech. We do not only breathe in and breathe out higher beings between death and rebirth, but we also speak, though this speaking is at the same time a singing. In the alternation between going out into the spiritual beings and coming back into ourselves, we speak a spiritual speaking — with the beings of the higher Hierarchies. When we are in the state of becoming one with the beings of the spiritual world, we look upon them even though they are within ourselves. When we are free from them again and come to ourselves, then we have the after-effect, then we are ourselves. Over there they express their own being in us: they tell us what they are: the Logos lives in us. On earth this is reversed; in speech and song our own being is expressed. We express our whole being in the process of out-breathing; whereas when between death and rebirth we release the spirit beings, we have received in the Logos the whole being of the world.
But, my dear friends, the fact is that when we pass over from the spiritual world into the physical we go through the great oblivion. Who with ordinary consciousness sees here in the weak, shadowy force of memory the echo of what we were as self in the spiritual world? Who still recognises in speech, in the part that comes from memory, the after-vibration of the self? Who recognises in the plastic forming of speech, in singing and speaking, an echo of beings of the higher Hierarchies? Nevertheless is it not true that whoever understands how to listen to speech without taking the meaning into consideration, whoever can give ear to what the tones express through their very nature, has a feeling — particularly if he is artistically inclined — that more is revealed in speaking and singing than what the ordinary consciousness receives? Why then do we transform ordinary speech that we have here on earth as a utilitarian faculty — why do we transform it into song by divesting it of its utilitarian function and making it express our own being in declamation, in song? Why do we transform it? What are we doing then?
Now we get the right idea of this if we say: Before descending to earth you were in the spiritual world and lived there in the way described. The great oblivion came. In what your mouth utters, in what your soul remembers, in how your soul loves, you do not recognise the echo of what you were in the spiritual world. In art, however, we retreat a few steps from life, as it were, and come a few steps nearer to what we were in our pre-natal life and what we shall be in our life after death. And if we are able to recognise how memory is an echo of what we had in pre-earthly life, and how the unfolding of love is the seed of what we shall have after death, if through spirit-knowledge we picture the past and the future of human existence, in art we call up into the present — as far as this is possible for man within his physical organisation — we call up into the present what unites us to the spirit.
That is the essential glory of art: it takes us by simple means into the spiritual world in the immediate present. Anyone who is able to look into the inner life of man will say: Generally a man remembers only the things he has experienced in the course of his present earthly life. But the force through which he remembers these earthly experiences is the weakened force of his existence as a self in pre-earthly life. And the love that he is able to unfold here as a universal love of humanity is the weakened force of the seed which will come to fruition after death. And as in song and in declamatory speech there must be united what a man is, through memory, with what he can give the world, through love, so it is in all art. A man may experience a harmony of the self with what is outside, but unless he is capable of showing outwardly what is within him — be it in tone, painting or any other branch of art — of showing on the surface what he is, what life has made of him, what is the essential content of his memory, he can be no artist. Neither is he a true artist who in a pronounced way is impelled to be an egotist in his art. Only those who are disposed to open out to the world, who become one with their fellows, who unfold love, can unite this unfolding of love closely with their own being. Altruism and egotism unite in one stream. They flow together naturally and most intimately in the sounding arts, but they flow together also in the plastic arts. And when through a certain deepening of our forces of knowledge there is revealed to us how man is connected with a super-sensible world where past and future are concerned, we can also say that man has a present foretaste of this connection in his creation and enjoyment of art. Actually art never acquires its full value if it is not to some extent in accord with religion. Not that it has to be sanctimonious — even art in a jovial mood can have this accord.
Ample proof of this lies in the way art has developed. Originally it was one with religious life. In primitive ages of mankind it was woven into religious cults. The images men formed of their gods was the source of plastic art. As an instance of this let us recall the Samothracean Mysteries alluded to by Goethe in the second part of his Faust, where he speaks of the Kabiri.1See the lecture-cycle, “Goetheanism as an impulse for man's transformation” Dornach, January 1919. In my studio in Dornach I tried to make a picture of these Kabiri. And what came of it? It was something very interesting. I simply set myself the task of puzzling out intuitively how the Kabiri must have appeared in the Samothracean Mysteries. And just imagine this: I arrived at three pitchers, but pitchers, it is true, shaped plastically and in accordance with art. At first I astonished myself, although Goethe actually spoke of pitchers. The matter became clear to me only when I found that these pitchers stood on an altar: then something in the nature of incense was put into them, the sacrificial words were sung, and from the power of the sacrificial words — which in the more ancient times of mankind had a force of vibratory stimulus quite different from anything possible today the smoke of the incense was formed into the desired image of the divinity. Thus in the ritual you had the accompanying chant immediately expressing itself plastically in the smoke of the incense.
Mankind had truly drawn art from the religious life. And Schiller is right in saying: “Only through the dawn of beauty do you press on into the land of knowledge,” which you generally find quoted in books as “Only through the door of beauty do you press on into the land of knowledge.” If an artist makes a slip of the pen, it gets handed down to posterity. The right reading, of course, is: “Only through the dawn of beauty do you press on into the land of knowledge.” In other words — all knowledge comes through art. Fundamentally, there is no knowledge that is not intimately related to art. It is only the knowledge connected with externals, with usefulness, which appears to have no connection with art. But this knowledge can extend only to what in the world a mere colour-grinder would know of painting. As soon as in chemistry or physics one goes beyond — I am speaking figuratively but you will know what I mean — what mere colour-grinding implies, science becomes art. And when the artistic is grasped in its spiritual nature in the right way, it gradually passes over into the religious. Art, religion and science were formerly one, and we should still have a sense of their common origin. This we can have only when there is a return to the spirit in human civilisation and human development; when we take seriously the relation existing between man here in his physical existence on earth and the spiritual world. This knowledge we ought to make our own from the most varied points of view.
Today I wished to deal with one of these points of view, my dear friends, so that from a certain aspect you may have a picture of how man is connected with the spiritual world. I hope that we shall be able to go on enlarging these studies in a not too distant future.
As published in Golden Blade 1983