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Cosmic Forces in Man
GA 209

1. Cosmic Forces in Man

24 November 1921, Oslo

Only if it is regarded as a time of trial and testing can anything propitious emerge from the period of grave difficulty through which humanity has been passing. I cannot help thinking to-day of the lectures given in this very town many years ago, before the war, and those of you who have studied what was then said, will have realised that certain definite indications were given of the terrible times ahead. The lectures dealt with the Folk-Souls of the European peoples (The Mission of Folk-Souls. Eleven lectures, Christiania 7th—17th June, 1910), and as a reminder of them—in order, too, that you may realise their purport more clearly—I would like, by way of introduction, to speak of a certain interesting episode.

In the year 1918 I had a conversation in Middle Europe with someone who in the autumn of that year played a brief but significant part in the catastrophic events which were then assuming a particularly menacing form. Those who were able to follow the course of events, however, realised already in the early months of that year that this particular man would be in a key position when matters came to a point of decision. As I say, I had a talk with him in the month of January, 1918, and in the course of our conversation he spoke of the need for a psychology, for teaching on the subject of the Folk-Souls of the European peoples. The chaos into which humanity was falling would make it essential—so he said—for those who desired to take the lead in public affairs to understand the forces at work in the souls of the peoples of Europe. And he expressed deep regret that there was really no possibility of basing the management of public affairs upon any knowledge of this kind. I answered that I had given lectures on this very subject and I afterwards sent the volume to him, having added a foreword dealing with the situation as it then was—in January, 1918. I tell you this merely in order to indicate the real purport of the lectures. Their aim was to give true guiding lines for counteracting the forces which were leading straight into confusion and chaos. And it was for the same reason that I again made use of them in the year 1918, in the way I have indicated. But it was all quite useless, in spite of the preface dealing with the necessities of the situation that had later arisen, because ripeness of insight was required to understand the strength of the forces leading to decay, and although this ripeness of insight would have been within the reach of many leading men, they were not willing to strive for it.

And it is the same to-day. People are still terribly afraid to envisage, in their true form, the forces that are leading straight into chaos. Instead of facing these forces of decay, they prefer to spin all kinds of fantastic notions, believing that if they take refuge in them, life will go on quite peacefully. But those who will have nothing to do with this kind of thinking and who face the realities of the situation, hold no such belief. Far from it.

Precisely here in Norway destiny made it necessary to speak of the relations between the European Folk-Souls, and indeed I have been speaking of the same theme, with its different ramifications, more or less in detail for many years. I have said more than once that a time will come in European affairs when much will depend upon whether Norway can count among its people, men who will range themselves on the side of true progress and devote their powers to furthering it. The geographical position of Norway renders this imperative and indeed possible. Up here there is a certain detachment from European conditions and this can help many things to ripen. But this ripeness must unfold, gradually, into fruit—into a true and quickened spiritual life.

In the years that have passed since we were last together, you yourselves have had many experiences in connection with the great European War, but only those who lived in the very midst of things were able to realise their full significance. It is difficult to find words of human language that can give any adequate idea of the awful catastrophes. One is tempted to use the word ‘senseless’ about it all, because nearly everything, in the domain of the public affairs of Europe up to the beginning of the twentieth century resulted in some form of senselessness. What went on between the years 1914 and 1918 was a kind of madness, and since then matters have not greatly improved although it may perhaps be said that the senseless actions of the materialistic world are not so outwardly patent as they were during the actual years of the war.

To-day it ought to be realised much more fully than it is, that Europe is bound to come to grief if attention is not turned to the spiritual foundations of human life, if merely for purposes of convenience men brush aside all that is said with the intention of helping humanity to emerge from the chaos of anti-spirituality. The fact that my lectures on Folk-Psychology were ignored by one who held a leading position during this period of senseless action, seemed to me to be deeply symptomatic. And it is still the same to-day. Everything is brushed aside by those who have any influence in public life.

It is a pity that the significance of certain words spoken by an Anglo-South African statesman has not been grasped in Europe. The words were not spoken from any great depth, but none the less they indicated a certain feeling for the way in which affairs are shaping at the present time. This statesman said that the focus of world-history has shifted from the North Sea to the Pacific Ocean—that is to say from Europe in general, to the Pacific Ocean. And this too may be added:—That for which, up till now, Europe was a kind of centre, has ceased to exist. We are living in its remains. It has been superseded by great world-affairs as between the East and the West. What is going on now, all unsuspectingly in Washington, is nothing but a feeble stammering, surging up from depths where mighty, unobserved impulses are stirring.

There will be no peace on the Earth until a certain harmony is established between the affairs of East and West, and it must be realised that this harmony has first to be achieved in the realm of the Spirit. However glibly people may talk in these difficult times about disarmament and other ‘luxuries’ of the kind—for luxuries they are, and nothing more—it will amount to no more than conversation, as long as the Western world fails to discover and bring to light the spirituality that is indeed contained, but allowed to lie fallow in the culture which has been developing since the middle of the fifteenth century. There is a store of spiritual treasure in this culture, but it lies fallow.

Science has acquired a magnificent knowledge of the world and we are surrounded on all hands by really marvellous technical achievements. It is all splendid in its way, but it is dead—dead as compared with the great currents of human evolution. And yet in this very death there lies a living spirituality which can shine into the world even more brilliantly than all that was given to man by oriental wisdom—although that must never be belittled. Such a feeling does in truth exist in all unprejudiced observers of life.

We do right to turn to the great wisdom-treasures of the East—of which the Vedas, the wonderful Vedanta philosophy and the like are but mere reflections; and we are rightly filled with wonder by all that was there revealed from heavenly heights. It has gradually fallen into a certain decadence, but even in the form in which it still lives in the East, it arouses the wonder and admiration of anyone who has a feeling for such things.

In vivid contrast to this there is the purely materialistic culture of the West, of Europe and America. This materialistic culture and its equally materialistic mode of thinking must not be disparaged, yet it is, after all, rather like a hard nutshell—a dying nutshell. But the kernel is still alive and if it can be discovered its radiance will outshine all the glory of oriental wisdom that once poured down to man. Let there be no mistake about it—as long as the dealings of Europeans and Americans with Asia are confined to purely economic and industrial interests, so long will there be distrust in the hearts of Asiatics. People may talk as much as they like about disarmament, about the desirability of ending wars... a great war will break out between the East and the West, in spite of all disarmament conferences, if the people of Asia cannot perceive something that flows over to them from the Spirit of the West. Western spirituality can shine over to Asia and if it does, Asia will be able to trust it, because with their own inherent, though somewhat decadent spirituality, the Asiatic peoples will be able to understand what it means. The peace of the world depends upon this, not upon the conversations and discussions now going on among the leaders of outer civilisation.

Everything depends upon insight into the Spirit that is lying hidden in European and American culture—the Spirit from which men flee, which for the sake of ease they would fain avoid, but which alone can set the feet of humanity on the path of ascent. People like to put their heads in the sand, saying that things will improve of themselves. No, they will not. The hour of a great decision has struck. Either men will resolve to bring forth the spirituality of which I have spoken, or the decline of the West is inevitable. Hopes and fatalistic longings for things to right themselves are of no avail. Once and forever, man has passed into the epoch when he must manipulate his powers out of his own freewill. In other words: it is for men themselves to decide for or against spirituality. If the decision is positive, progress will be possible; if not, the doom of the West is sealed and in the wake of dire catastrophes the further evolution of humanity will take a course undreamed of to-day. Those who would strive for true insight into these matters should not, nay dare not, neglect the study of the life of soul in mankind at large and in the different peoples, especially of East and West.

In these preliminary remarks I have tried to convey that if in this particular corner of Europe, qualities to which the Scandinavian Spirit is peculiarly adapted, can be unfolded, insight can ripen and work fruitfully upon the rest of the Western world. Indeed it will only be possible for a spiritual Movement to be taken seriously when with inner understanding men are prepared to ascribe to it a mission of the kind here indicated.

Modern thought studies everything in the universe beyond the Earth in terms of mathematics and mechanics. We look at the stars through telescopes, examine their substance by means of the spectroscope and the like, reducing these observations to rules of calculation, and we have finally arrived at a great system of ‘world-machinery’ in which our Earth is placed like a wheel. Fantastic notions are evolved about the habitableness of other planets, but no great significance is attached to them because we fall back upon mathematical formulae when it is a question of speaking of extra-terrestrial space. Man has gradually come to feel himself living on Earth just as a mole might feel in his mound during the winter. There is an idea that the Earth is rather like a tiny mole-hill in the universe. There is also a tendency to look back with a certain superciliousness to ‘primitive’ periods of culture, for instance to the culture of ancient Egypt, when men did not speak of the great mechanical processes in the Universe but of divine Beings outside, in space and beyond space—Beings to whom man was known to be related just as he is related to the beings of the three kingdoms of Nature on Earth.

The ancient Egyptian traced the origin of the spirit and soul of man to the higher Hierarchies, to super-sensible worlds, just as he traced the origin of his material, bodily nature to the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms. In our age, people speak of what is beyond the Earth out of a kind of weak and ever-weakening faith that much prefers to avoid scientific scrutiny. Science speaks only of a great system of world-machinery which can be expressed in terms of mathematics. Earthly existence has finally come to be regarded as confined within the walls of a little mole-hill in the universe.

Yet there is a profound truth, namely this: When man loses the heavens, he loses himself. By far the most important elements of man's being belong to the universe beyond the Earth and if he loses sight of this universe he loses sight of his own true being. He wanders over the Earth without knowing what kind of being he really is. He knows, but even then only from tradition, that the word ‘man’ applies to him, that this name was once given to him as a being who stands upright in contrast to the quadruped animals. But his scientific view of the world and technical culture no longer help him to discover the true content of his name, for that must be sought in the universe beyond the Earth, and this universe is considered to be nothing but a great system of machinery. Man has lost himself; he has no longer any insight into his true nature.

A feeling of sadness cannot but overtake us when we realise that the heights of culture to which the West has risen since the middle of the fifteenth century have led man to wrench himself from his true nature and to live on the Earth divested of soul and spirit.

In the lecture to educationists yesterday, I said that we are prone to speak of only one aspect—and even that merely from tradition—of the eternal being of man. We speak of eternity beyond death but not of the eternity stretching beyond birth, nor of how the human being has descended from spiritual worlds into material, physical existence on the Earth. And so we really have no word which corresponds, at the other pole, to ‘deathlessness’ or immortality. We do not speak of ‘unborn-ness’ (Ungeborenheit) but until it becomes a natural matter of course to speak of deathlessness and unborn-ness, the true being of man will never be understood.

The meaning attaching to the word ‘deathlessness’ nowadays is very far from what it was in times when men also spoke of ‘unborn-ness.’ Innumerable sermons are preached to-day, and with a certain subjective honesty, on the eternal nature of the human soul. But get to the root of these sermons and see if you can discover their fundamental trend. They speculate strongly upon the egotism of human beings, upon the fact that man longs for immortality because his egotism makes the idea of annihilation at death distasteful to him. Think about all that is said along these lines and you will realise that the sermons are directed to the egotism in the members of orthodox congregations. When it comes to the question of pre-existence, of the life before birth, it is not possible to reckon with human egotism. Nothing in the egotistical souls of men arises in response to teaching about the life before birth, because no interest is taken in it. The attitude is more or less this: If indeed there was a life before birth, we are experiencing a continuation of it. One thing is certain! we are in existence now. What, then, is the object of speaking of what went before? It is, in short, only egotism that makes man hold fast to the teaching that death does not bring annihilation. And so, in speaking of the life before birth, one has to appeal to selflessness, to the quality that is the very reverse of egotism. It is, of course, quite right to speak also of the life after death, although the appeal there is to the egotism of the soul. That is the great difference.

It is clear from this that egotism has laid hold of the very depths of the human soul. The anathema placed upon the doctrine of pre-existence is a consequence of the egotism in the soul. It behoves all who are earnest in their striving for spiritual insight to understand these things. Man must find himself again and be true to the laws of his innermost being. Interest must be awakened in the whole nature of man, instead of being confined to his outer, physical sheaths. But this end cannot be achieved until man is regarded as belonging not only to the Earth—which is conceived as a little mole-hill—but to the whole Cosmos, until it is realised that between death and a new birth he passes through the world of stars to which here on Earth he can only gaze upwards from below. And the living essence, the soul and the spirit of the world of stars must be known once again.

The first thing we observe about a human being is his outer, physical structure, but the essential principle, namely its form, is generally disregarded. Form, after all, is the most fundamental principle so far as physical man is concerned. Now when we embark upon a theme like this—which has been dealt with from so many angles in other lectures—it will be obvious at once that only brief indications can be given. Knowing something of the spiritual teachings of Anthroposophy, however, you will realise that what I shall now say is drawn from a deeper knowledge of the world and is something more than a series of unsubstantiated statements.

The human form is a most marvellous structure. Think, to begin with, of the head. In all its parts, the head is a copy of the universe. Its form is spherical, the spherical form being modified at the base in order to provide for the articulation of other organs and systems. The essential form of the head, however, is a copy of the spherical form of the universe, as you can discover if you study the basic formation of the embryo.

Linked to the head-structure is another formation which still retains something of the spherical form, although this is not so immediately apparent—I mean the chest-structure. Try to conceive this chest-structure imaginatively; it is as if a spherical form had been compressed and then released again, as if a sphere had undergone an organic metamorphosis.

Finally, in the limb-structures, we can discover hardly anything of the primal, embryonic form of man. Spiritual Science alone will make us alive to the fact that the limb-structures too, still reveal certain final traces of a spherical form although this is not very obvious in their outer shape.

When we study the threefold human form in its relation to the Cosmos, we can say that man is shaped and moulded by cosmic forces but these forces work upon him in many different ways. The changing position of the Sun in the zodiacal constellations through the various epochs has been taken as an indication of the different forces which pour down to man from the world of the fixed stars. Even our mechanistic astronomy to-day speaks of the fact that the Sun rises in a particular constellation at the vernal equinox, that in the course of the coming centuries it will pass through others, that during the day it passes through certain constellations and during the night through others. These and many other things are said, but there is no conscious knowledge of man's relationship to the universe beyond the Earth. It is little known, for example, that when the Sun is shining upon the Earth at the vernal equinox from the constellation of Aries, the solar forces streaming down into human beings in a particular part of the Earth are modified by the influences proceeding from the region in the heaven of fixed stars represented by the constellation of Aries. Neither is there any knowledge of the fact that these forces are peculiarly adapted to work upon the human head in such a way indeed, that during earthly life man can unfold a certain faculty of self-observation, self-knowledge and consciousness of his own Ego.

During the Greek epoch, as you know, the Sun stood in the constellation of Aries at the vernal equinox. In the Greek epoch, therefore, Western peoples were particularly subject to the Aries forces. The fact of being subject to the Aries forces makes it possible for the head of man to develop in such a way that Ego-conscious-ness, a faculty for self-contemplation, unfolds.

Even when the history of the zodiacal symbols is discussed to-day, there is not always knowledge of the essentials. Historical traditions speak of the zodiacal symbols—Aries, Taurus, Gemini, and so forth. In old calendars we frequently find the symbol of Aries, but very few people indeed realise the point of greatest significance, which is that the Ram is depicted with his head looking backwards. This image was intended to indicate that the Aries forces influence man in the direction of inwardness—for the Ram does not look forward, nor out into the wide world—he looks backwards, upon himself; he contemplates his own being. This is full of meaning. Once again, and this time in full consciousness not with the instinctive—clairvoyance of olden times—once again we must press forward to this cosmic wisdom, to the knowledge that the forces of the human head are developed essentially through the forces of Aries, Taurus, Gemini and Cancer, whereas the forces of the chest-structure are subject to those of the four middle constellations—Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio. The human head receives its form from the in-working forces of Aries, Taurus, Gemini and Cancer—forces which must be conceived as radiating from above downwards, whereas the zodiacal forces to which the chest-organisation of man is essentially subject (Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio), work laterally.

The other four constellations lie beneath the Earth; their forces work through the Earth, not directly down upon it as those of Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, nor laterally as those of Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, but from below upwards. They work upon the limb-structures, and in such a way that the spherical form cannot remain intact. These are the constellations which in the instinctive consciousness of olden times, man envisaged as working up from beneath the Earth. When the constellations lie beneath the Earth, they work upon the limb-structures. And in days of yore there was consciousness of the fact that the forces by which the limbs are given shape are connected with these particular constellations.

The spherical form of the head—this was known to be connected with Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer; the forces working in the limbs were also conceived of as fourfold. Now it must be remembered that this knowledge was the outcome of ancient clairvoyance, hence the terms employed are concerned with conditions of life prevailing in those days. Thus, according to the wisdom of the stars, a man might be a hunter—one who shoots; the constellation which stimulated the corresponding activity in his limbs, making him a hunter, received the name of Sagittarius, the archer. Or again, a man might be a shepherd, concerned with the care of animals in general. This is implied in Capricorn, as it is called nowadays. In the true symbol, however, there is a fish-tail form. The Capricorn man is one who has charge of animals, in contrast to the hunter, the Sagittarius man.

The third constellation of this group is Aquarius, the water-carrier. But think of the ancient symbol. The true picture of this constellation is a man walking over hard soil, fertilising or watering it from a water-vessel. He represents those who are concerned with agriculture—husbandmen. This was the third calling in ancient times when there was instinctive knowledge of these things: huntsman, shepherd, husbandman.

The fourth calling was that of a mariner, In very early times, ships were built in the form of a fish, and later on we often find a dolphin's head at the prow of vessels. This is what underlies the symbol of Pisces—two fish forms intertwined—representing ships trading together. This is symbolical of the fourth calling which is bound up with activities of the limbs—the merchant or trader.

We have thus heard how the human form and figure originate from the Cosmos. The head is spherical; here man is directly exposed to the forces of the heavens of the fixed stars or their representatives the zodiacal circle. Then, working laterally, there are the forces present in the chest-organisation which only contains the human figure in an eclipsed and hidden form—Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio. And lastly there are the forces which do not work directly but by a roundabout way, via the earthly activities, through the influence upon man's calling. (For example, the archer—Sagittarius—is also portrayed as a kind of centaur, half horse, half man, and so forth).

Again in our time we must strive for a fully conscious realisation of man's place in the Cosmos. The form and shape of his physical body are given by the Cosmos. The upper part of his structure is a product of the Cosmos; the lower part a product of the Earth. The Earth covers those constellations which have a definite connection with his activities in life. Not until man's connection with the whole Cosmos is thus recognised and acknowledged will it be possible to understand the mysteries of the human form and its relation to earthly activities. And at the very outset the human form leads us to the zodiacal constellations.

This teaches us that to work as a husbandman, for instance, is by no means without significance in life. In the following lectures we shall hear how these things apply in modern times, but we shall not understand them until we realise that just as in earthly life between birth and death, man belongs to the powers of the Earth, so between death and a new birth he belongs to the Heavens; the powers of Heaven shape his head and it is left to the forces of Earth to shape and mould his limbs.

In the same way too, we may study man's stages or forms of life. For think of it—in the life of man there are also the same two poles. There is the head-life and the life that expresses itself in his activities, through the limbs more particularly. Between these two poles lies that part of his being which manifests in the rhythms of breathing and the circulation of the blood. At the one extreme we find the head-organisation; at the other, the limb-organisation.

The head represents the dying part of man's being, for the head is perpetually involved in death. Life is only possible because through the whole of earthly life, forces are continually pouring from the metabolic process to the head. If the head were to unfold merely its own natural forces, they would be the forces of death. But to this dying we owe the fact that we can think and be conscious beings. The moment the pure life-forces flow in excess to the head, consciousness is prone to be lost. Basically speaking, then, life makes for a dimming of consciousness; death pouring into life makes for a lighting-up of consciousness. (See Fundamentals of Therapy, by Rudolf Steiner and Dr. Ita Wegman, Chapter I, pages 14—15.) If only very little of what is rightly located in the stomach, for example, were to pass up to the head, the head would be without consciousness—like the stomach. Man owes the consciousness of his head merely to the circumstance that the head is not permeated with life in the same way as the stomach. Lowered consciousness means that the forces of nourishment and of growth are acting with excessive strength in the head. On the one side, man is a dying being; on the other, a being who is continually coming to birth. The dying part—which, however, determines the existence of consciousness—is subject, in the main, to the forces working down upon the Earth from the outer planets: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars. That man is an integral part of the universe is not only due to the working of the fixed stars, but also to the working of the planetary spheres.

Saturn, Jupiter, Mars—the so-called outer planets—contain the forces which work chiefly towards the pole of consciousness in man. The forces of the inner planets—Venus, Mercury, Moon—work into his metabolic system and limb-structures. The Sun itself stands in the middle and is mainly associated with the rhythmic system.

Moreover the three first-mentioned are the three stages of life which rather represent the damping-down and suppression of life which is necessary for the sake of consciousness. Through this, we, in our earthly life, are liken to heaven, related to more distant planetary realms beyond. On the other hand, through the essentially thriving principle of life itself in us—that is through the forces of metabolism, the motor forces of the limbs—we are related to the nearer planets: Mercury, Venus and Moon. The Moon, after all, is directly connected with the most thriving, with the most rampant life of all in man, namely the forces of reproduction.

When we study the human form, we are led to the spheres of the fixed stars, that is to say, to their representatives, the zodiacal constellations. When we study the life of man, to discover where it is a more thriving and where a more declining life, we are led to the planetary spheres.

In the same way we can study man's being of soul and of spirit. This shall be done in the following lectures. To-day I only wanted to indicate very briefly that it must become possible for man once again to regard himself not merely as an earthly being, connecting his form and his life simply and solely with earthly forces of heredity, digestion, the influences of autumn, spring, wind, weather and the like. He must learn to relate both his life and his form to the universe beyond the Earth. He must find what lies beyond the earthly realm—and then he will discover his true being, he will find himself.

It would augur dire misfortune for the progress of Western humanity if the conception of the Cosmos as a great system of machinery to which the scientific view of the world since the middle of last century has led, were to remain, and if man were to wander on Earth knowing nothing of his true being. His true being has its origin and home in the Universe beyond the Earth, therefore he can know nothing of himself if he sees only what is earthly and thinks that what is beyond the Earth can be explained in terms of mathematics and mechanics. In deed and truth, man can only find himself when he realises his connection with the universe beyond the Earth and incorporates its forces into his moral and social life—indeed this must be, if moral and social life are to thrive. No real wisdom can arise in moral and social life unless a link is forged with cosmic wisdom. And that is why it has been imperative to infuse something of Anthroposophy into the domain of moral and social life too, for we believe that these impulses can lead away from the forces of decline to the forces of upward progress.