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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Esoteric Development
GA 96

IX. Imaginative Knowledge and Artistic Imagination

21 October 1906, Berlin

Translated by Diane Tatum, revised

Among the various instructions which the teacher gives the pupil, Imagination was the second named. This consists in man's not passing through life as happens everyday, but in the sense of Goethe's saying: “All that is transitory is but a likeness;” behind every animal and every plant something that lies behind should arise for him. In the meadow saffron, for example, he will discover a picture of the melancholy soul, in the violet a picture of calm piety, in the sunflower a picture of strong, vigorous life, of self-reliance, of ambition. When a man lives in this sense, he raises himself to imaginative knowledge. He then sees something like a cold flame ascend out of a plant, a color picture, which leads him into the astral plane. Thus the pupil is guided to see things which present to him spiritual beings from other worlds. It has already been said, however, that the pupil must strictly follow the occult teacher, for this alone can tell him what is subjective and what objective. And the occult teacher can give the pupil the necessary steadiness which is given of itself by the sense-world, as it continuously corrects errors. It is different, however, in the astral world; there one is easily subject to deceptions; there one must be supported by one who has experience. The teacher gives a series of instructions to a pupil who wishes to follow the Rosicrucian path. In the first place, he gives him precise instruction when he has begun to reach the stage of imaginative development. He tells him: strive first of all to love not merely a single animal, nor form a particular relationship with a single animal, or to experience this or that with one or another animal. Seek rather to have a living feeling for whole animal groups. Then you will receive through this an idea of what the group-soul is. The individual soul which with men is on the physical plane is with the animals on the astral plane. The animal cannot say “I” to itself here on the physical plane.

The question is often asked: “Has the animal no such soul as man?” It has such a soul, but the animal-soul is above on the astral plane. The single animal is to the animal-soul as the single organs are to the human soul. If a finger is painful, it is the soul that experiences it. All the sensations of the single organs pass to the soul. This is also the case with a group of animals. Everything that the single animal experiences is experienced in it by the group-soul. Let us take, for instance, all the various lions: the experiences of the lion all lead to a common soul. All lions have a common group-soul on the astral plane, and so have all animals their group-soul on the astral plane. If one inflicts a pain on a single lion or if it experiences enjoyment, this continues up to the astral plane, as the pain of a finger continues to the human soul. Man can raise himself to a comprehension of the group-soul if he is able to fashion a form that contains all individual lions, just as a general concept contains the individual images belonging to it.

The plants have their soul in the Rupa region of the Devachanic plane. By learning to survey a group of plants and gaining a definite relationship to their group-soul, a man learns to penetrate to plant group-souls on the Rupa plane. When the single lily, the single tulip is no longer something special for him, but when the individuals grow together for him into living, densified imaginations, which become pictures, then the pupil experiences something quite new. What matters is that this is a quite concrete picture individually formed in the imagination. Then man experiences that the plant-covering of the earth, that some meadow strewn with flowers, becomes something completely new to him, that the flowers become for him an actual manifestation of the spirit of the earth. That is the manifestation of these different plant group-souls. Just as the human tears become the expression of the inner sadness of the soul, as a man's physiognomy becomes an expression of the human soul, so the occultist learns to look on the green of the plant covering as the expression of inner processes, of the actual spiritual life of the earth. Thus certain plants become for him like the earth's tears, out of which wells forth the earth's inner grief. There pours a new imaginative content into the soul of the pupil just as someone may tremble and feel moved at the tears of a companion.

A person must go through these moods. If he endures such a mood vis-à-vis the animal world then he raises himself to the astral plane. When he immerses himself in the mood of the plant world he raises himself to the lower region of the Devachanic plane. Then he observes the flame-forms that ascend from the plants; the plant-covering of the earth is then veiled by a sum of images, the incarnations of the rays of light which set upon the plants.

One can also approach- the dead stone in this way. There is a fundamental experience in the mineral world. Let us take the mountain crystal, glittering with light. When one looks at this, one will say to oneself: In a certain way this represents physical material, so too is the stone physical material. But there is a future perspective to which the occult teacher leads the pupil. The man of today is still penetrated by instincts and desires, by passions. This saturates the physical nature, but an ideal stands before the occultist. He says to himself: Man's animal nature will gradually be refilled and purified to a stage where the human body can stand before us just as inwardly chaste and free of desire as the mineral that craves nothing, in which no wish is stirred by what comes near it. Chaste and pure is the inner material nature of the mineral. This chastity and purity is the experience that must permeate the pupil on gazing at the mineral world. These feelings vary as the mineral world shows itself in different forms and colors, but the fundamental experience which permeates the mineral kingdom is chastity.

Our earth today has a quite particular configuration and form. Let us go back in the evolution of the earth. It once had a completely different form. Let us immerse ourselves in Atlantis and still further back: we come there to ever higher temperatures, in which metals were able to flow all around as water runs along today. All the metals have become these veins in the earth because they first flowed along in streams. Just as lead is hard today and quicksilver is fluid, so lead was at one time fluid and quicksilver will one day become a solid metal. Thus the earth is changeable, but man has always participated in these various evolutions. In the ages of which we have spoken, physical man as yet was not in existence. But the etheric body and astral body were there; they could live in the higher temperatures of that time. The sheaths gradually began to form with the cooling process, enveloping man.

While something new was always being formed in man during the earth's evolution, something correspondingly new had also been formed outside in nature. The rudiments of the human eye had first arisen in the Sun evolution. First the etheric body formed itself and this again formed the human physical eye. As a piece of ice freezes out of water, so are the physical organs formed out of the finer etheric body. The physical organs were formed within man while outside the earth became solid. In every age the formation of a human organ took place parallel with the formation of a particular configuration outside in nature. While in the human being the eye was called for, in the mineral kingdom the chrysolite was formed. One can therefore think that the same forces which outside articulated the nature of the chrysolite in man formed the eye.

We cannot be satisfied in the particular case with the general saying that man is the microcosm and the world is the macrocosm; occultism has demonstrated the actual relationship between man and the world. When the physical organ for the reasoning faculties was formed in the Atlantean age, outside lead solidified; it passed from the fluid to the solid state. It is the same forces which hold sway in the solidifying of lead and in the organ of intelligence. One only understands man when one can recognize the connections between the human being and the forces of nature. There is a particular group within the socialist movement, a group that has distinguished itself by its moderation from the socialists. It is the temperate ones who have always retained a good deal of the reasoning faculties. This special group in the socialist movement consists of the printers, and this is so because printers have to do with lead. The tariff-union between workers and employer was first worked out among the printers. Lead brings about this frame of mind if it is taken in small quantities.

Another case can be cited from the experience where, in a similar way, one could observe the influence of the nature of a metal upon a man. It had become noticeable to a man how easily he discovered analogies in every possible thing. One could conclude that he had much to do with copper, and that was the case. He blew the bugle in an orchestra and therefore had to with an instrument that contains much copper.

When someday the relationship of the external lifeless world to the human organism is studied, it will be found that a relationship exists between man and the surrounding world in the most varied ways: for instance, the relationship of the senses to the precious stones. There exist certain relationships of the senses to precious stones based on the evolution of the senses. We have already found a relationship between the eye and the chrysolite. There is also a relationship between the onyx and the organ of hearing. The onyx stands in a remarkable relation to the oscillations of man's ego-life, and occultists have always recognized this. It represents, for instance, the life that goes forth from death. Thus in Goethe's “Fairy-tale,” the dead dog is changed into onyx through the old man's lamp. In this intuition of Goethe's lies the outcome of an occult knowledge. Therein lies the relationship of the onyx to the organ of hearing. An occult relationship exists further between the organ of taste and the topaz, the sense of smell and jasper, the skin-sense as man's sense of warmth and the cornelian, the productive power of imagination and the carbuncle. This was used as the symbol for a productive power of imagination, which arose in man at the same time as the carbuncle in nature.

Occult symbols are drawn deep out of real wisdom and if one only penetrates into occult symbolism one finds genuine knowledge there. He who knows the significance of a mineral finds entry to the upper region of the Devachanic plane. When one sees a precious stone and is permeated by the feeling of what the precious stone has to say to us, then one finds entry to the Arupa regions of Devachan. Thus the gaze of the student widens and more and more worlds dawn for him. He must not be satisfied with the general indication, but little by little he must find entry into the whole world.

One finds also in German literature how an instinctive intuition regarding the mineral forces is shown by poets who were miners, for example by Novalis, who had studied mining engineering. Kerning has chosen many miners as types for his occult personalities. There is also the poet, Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffman, that remarkable spirit who from time to time immersed himself artistically in the secrets of nature, particularly in his tale, “The Mines of Falun.” One will feel many echoes here of the occult relationships between the mineral kingdom and man, and much too that indicates how occult powers take hold in a remarkable way of artistic imagination.

The mystery-center is the essential birthplace of art. In the astral realm the mysteries were actual and living. There one had a synthesis of truth, beauty, and goodness. This was so to a high degree in the Egyptian mysteries and those in Asia, as well as in the Greek mysteries, especially the Eleusinian. The pupils there actually beheld how the spiritual powers submerged themselves in the various forms of existence. At that time there was no other science than what one thus beheld. There was no other goodness than that which arose in the soul as one gazed into the mysteries. Nor was there any other beauty than that which one beheld as the gods descended.

We live in a barbaric age, in a chaotic age, in an age devoid of style. All great epochs of art were working out of the deepest life of spirit. If one observes the images of the Greek gods one plainly sees three distinct types: first there is the Zeus type, to which Pallas Athena and Apollo also belong. In this type the Greeks characterized their own race. There was a definite modeling of the oval of the eye, the nose, the mouth. Secondly, one can observe the circle that may be called the Mercury type. There the ears are completely different, the nose is completely different, the hair is woolly and curly. And thirdly there is the Satyr type, in which we find a completely different form of the mouth, a different nose, eyes, and so on. These three types are clearly formed in the Greek sculpture. The Satyr type is to represent an ancient race, the Mercury type the race following, and the Zeus type the fifth race.

In the earlier times, the spiritual world view permeated and saturated everything. In the Middle Ages it was still a time when this came to expression in handicraft, when every door-lock was a kind of work of art. In external culture we were still met by what the soul had created. The modern age is entirely different; it has brought forward only one style, namely, the warehouse. The warehouse will be as characteristic for our time as the Gothic buildings—for instance, Cologne Cathedral—were for the Middle Ages of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The cultural history of the future will have to reckon with the warehouse as we have to with the Gothic buildings of the Middle Ages. New life comes to its expression in these forms. The world will be filled again with a spiritual content through the diffusion of the teachings of spiritual science. Then later, when spiritual life comes to expression in external forms, we shall have a style which expresses this spiritual life. What lives in spiritual science must stamp itself later in external forms. Thus we must look on the mission of spiritual science as a cultural mission.