Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Old and New Methods of Initiation
GA 210

Lecture V

1 February 1922, Breslau

It gives me profound pleasure to be among our Breslau friends. We have been through grave times which have made it all too obvious that mankind today is in need of something which can enable further development to take place. These catastrophic times are the consequence of a loss of upward momentum in human evolution. But in the soil of Anthroposophy we are tilling forces which can serve us in building up a spiritual life. Therefore I shall not speak too much today about contemporary events, but rather about the knowledge which human beings need, knowledge which they must absorb into their moral impulses. A great deal lives in our soul of which we are hardly aware. But because it is there, and because our soul element is linked to our existence on the earth, it is very important for our life.

What weighs on human beings today is the discordance between what the soul really needs and what present-day science can supply. Scientific knowledge is very demanding, and we ought to ask ourselves what it is that it demands of human beings. One thing it demands, for instance, is that we should accept its view of the beginning and end of the earth. Take the Kant-Laplace explanation of how the world began. A glowing ball of gas was formed by chemical and mechanical forces; it cooled, and when it was cool enough the same mechanical forces brought about the further solidification of everything that later became the kingdoms of plant, animal and man. And as for the future of earthly life and existence, we are told of an end to all life brought about by a gradual re-warming of the earth. Scientists say that physical laws will lead to the death of the earth through overheating. The end of the earth stretches before us like a gigantic churchyard. Between the two extremes, of the chemical and mechanical beginning of the world and its death by warmth at the end, lie all our human aspirations and ideals, all the moral purposes we have ever had or are going to have. The question is, why do such ideals and aspirations arise by chemical and physical means in the first place, if all they are destined for is to perish in the general death by overheating? Of course we can retort that these are theoretical considerations which have little influence on ordinary life. But even if we prefer to evade such questions, they still remain as disharmonies which work right into the depths of our unconscious soul life. They lead to the anxious question: What is the point of our moral impulses, what is the point of our religious ideals, if the whole of earth evolution is doomed to destruction?

The way this question is put shows what I am getting at. For all our moral impulses and all our religious ideals would benothing but an immense fraud perpetrated on mankind, they would be a terrible illusion, if they were destined to be buried in the cemetery of the earth. Eloquent examples already exist of the terrible effect of such soul moods brought about by purely scientific knowledge, but we are often not properly conscious of them. So the anxious question lives on in human hearts. Asking it from the point of view of natural science we have to say: We human beings grew out of nature and our moral ideals rose up in us; but they will perish with the earth. These moral ideals will perish in natural science. Natural science does not allow us to concede that our ideals have an independent, actual, reality. And even though this is no more than a theory, it nevertheless weighs heavily on the human soul.

This fatalistic world view is based, in the final analysis, on faith in the imperishability of material forces. But anyone trying to topple this dogma is considered mad. If this dogma were true, there would be no escape for moral ideals; they would simply be a picture of something that human beings have thought up and figured out. There would be no escape for these ideals if spiritual research could not find the means to give back to people a super-sensible content for their consciousness. This is relevant today. And in this relevant matter we are living at an important turning-point of evolution. Those of you who know me are aware that I do not like saying such a thing, because any moment in time can be called a turning-point. We have to consider in what respect a certain moment is a turning-point.

Let us consider where the knowledge given by natural science can lead us. Look first at the human being in his external manifestation living in the physical, sense-perceptible world. If we do this in an absolute sense, we see no more than a corpse. If we leave everything aside except the physical, sense-perceptible being and if we allow only chemical and physical laws to work on this being, then, by following only the external laws of nature, the human being begins to disintegrate, to dissolve. The forces we recognize with ordinary knowledge destroy the human being.

This alone is enough to refute the materialistic world view. If we say that the external forces destroy the human being, this must mean that from birth onwards people have been gathering forces which resist this destruction. As it dissolves, the corpse is absorbed into the world which we perceive with our senses. It is amalgamated into the sense-perceptible world by the death forces of chemical and physical laws. But what takes place at death inwardly at the level of the soul cannot be perceived by external sense-perception. These inward processes of soul can only be experienced by direct vision in the realm where higher knowledge has its source. This vision shows that outside the body the inward soul element is united with the spirit, with all the spiritual forces that stream through the world, giving it strength. The soul which unites with the spirit after death is then bound up in the spirit in the super-sensible world.

This is a fact which takes its place beside the fact of the corpse. In life the physical body was filled by the soul; in death it unites with the forces of nature. Anthroposophy leads us to a fact of life which is diametrically opposed to the fact of death. The merely theoretical statement of the eternal life of man can never be satisfying. But Anthroposophy introduces the fact that the soul unites with the spirit. The knowledge of natural science, on the other hand, leads only to the fact of death.

The higher sources of knowledge given by spiritual science lead us to what is revealed to the spiritual seeker in Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition. These stages of knowledge are described in my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds1 Rudolf Steiner Knowledge of the Higher Worlds. How is it achieved? and also in Occult Science. In the first instance you will find that here are descriptions of stages of knowledge. However, more is given to the spiritual seeker than mere stages of knowledge. Just as natural-scientific knowledge is not just knowledge but also possesses other sides and aspects, so it is with higher knowledge.

Today I shall consider with you something that goes beyond Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition as stages of knowledge, something that I discussed, for instance, in the Vienna lecture cycle of 19142 Rudolf Steiner, The Inner Nature of Man and Life between Death and New birth, Anthroposophical Publishing Company, London 1959. about life after death, but now from a somewhat different point of view. The part of the human being that lives here on earth is a corpse which is united with external physical nature. And just as he is united with the mineral forces below, so is he also united with the higher hierarchies above. Just as in the corpse he grows together with the mineral forces, so above he slowly grows together with, and enters into, the hierarchies. Sometimes people say that they might as well wait until they die to find out what happens then. And they might as well wait to grow together with the hierarchies. This is all very well, but it is not actually the point. It is very important for the human being to grow into the hierarchies in the right way, for we have to admit that to start with he stands in the world in a manner which allows him no inkling of his relationships with the higher hierarchies. Much depends on our becoming aware of these relationships.

The first hierarchy with whom human beings have a relationship we may call the world of the angels. But those who do not recognize the spiritual world—for whatever reason—cannot establish a relationship with the world of the angels, any more than someone who lacks physical sense organs can establish a relationship with the physical world. Angels are the beings next above man, closest to man, yet under certain circumstances we cannot approach them. Only by endeavouring to make a picture of the angel world while we are here on earth can we prepare to form relationships with it. The portal of death leads to the world of the angels if human beings can become conscious after death of what is confronting them.

The second group of higher beings is that of the folk spirits, or archangels. Angels are not folk spirits. Real folk spirits have no individual links with human beings, as is the case with angels. Folk spirits are related to communities and groups of human beings. Even natural science sometimes speaks of the national spirit, but this does not denote an actual being, let alone a spiritual one. From higher knowledge the spiritual seeker knows that folk spirits are real spiritual beings whose position is one step above that of the angels. The human being can grow into this hierarchy, too. But if our inner spiritual experience is not intense enough, our angel cannot lead us with our consciousness to the folk spirit. But since we have to be led to the folk spirit, this happens unconsciously by means of the laws of karma. Either we grow into the folk spirit consciously and with love, or we are forcibly led into the sphere of the folk spirits. When, after death, the moment is reached at which we turn to descend once more to the sense-perceptible world for a new incarnation, then it makes a great difference, as our soul is led down, whether we have consciously united in love with the folk spirit, or whether, unaware of what is going on, this takes place forcibly, under coercion.

This finds expression in a spiritual, a soul, fact. We can be born into a nation because we are related by coercion to that folk spirit, or because we are related by inner love. Those who are able to perceive such things find it outstandingly characteristic of our time that a great many people today lack a sufficiently loving relationship to their folk spirit. This statement hints at the cause for what today brings about disorder among nations. The conflict prevailing among nations today stems from the fact that many people are born with little love for their folk spirit and therefore find themselves in a forced relationship to it. The love which leads us to a particular folk spirit can never bring about a conflict with other nations. We must do everything we can to help people regain a love-filled relationship with their folk spirits. This is most urgent.

As we stand here in life, we have Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition as stages of knowledge which can lead to real vision in the spiritual and soul realm. But in the realm of spirit and soul, when our soul is to return once more to the physical world, Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition are facts governing events, they are facts of action. There our soul stands in a relationship with whatever it is that it has to achieve out of the cosmos. If we are to manage our life properly it must grant us conditions which make the achievement of its aims as nearly feasible as possible. Thus the discarnate, spiritual human being works through Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition towards his reincarnation in the physical world, while the incarnated, sense-bound human being can gain through Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition a vision of the world of soul and spirit.

Natural-scientific knowledge is not in a position to recognize the profoundest secrets of life. Such knowledge starts, for instance, with the consideration of a chemical compound. Proceeding to the consideration of a more complicated chemical compound, and so on, it arrives in the end at the living cell, which it regards as nothing more than a particularly elaborate chemical compound. Spiritual science shows that externally the cell is indeed a particularly elaborate chemical structure; but when the living cell, the germ of a new life, arises in the mother's womb in such an elaborate fashion, the chemical laws are reversed and become chaotic. In the germ of the embryo in the mother's womb, in the germ of life, the chemical laws are suspended, reversed, and in the realm of nature this means chaos. Because the germ is chaos, the cosmos can work into it.

Between death and a new birth the human being has an inkling of this. In the first step on the way to a new incarnation Imagination is realized and leads towards reincarnation. In the second stage Inspiration is realized, and this is a far clearer consciousness than our brain consciousness, for Inspiration is a cosmic force. A part of this cosmic force is breathed in, as it were, and streams towards the bodily nature without coming fully to consciousness, rather as is the case with the will. We are unaware of how our will moves our hand, yet our hand moves in the manner required. The spiritual human being approaching incarnation through realized Inspiration stands in relation to this realized Inspiration as does the incarnated human being to the air. When we think about our physical body in the ordinary way, we imagine it to consist of muscles, nerves, vessels, bones. We imagine the same of a corpse. The airy part of our organism we assume to be outside it rather than within. Although we know that we cannot live without air, we still do not consider it as so intimately a part of ourselves as, say, our skeleton. Yet it is a part of our organism. The air as it is outside us, and at the next moment within, only to be outside again at the next, is a part of our organism. It lives rhythmically in us. In a far more extended rhythm we live with the element of soul and spirit. Just as we breathe air in and out, so we also breathe the element of soul and spirit in and out, though for the most part this takes place unconsciously. Physically, too, part of what happens through breathing takes place unconsciously. When the human being consisting of soul and spirit breathes in realized Inspiration, he takes a picture into his soul. He takes it into the dampened down part of his consciousness. And what he takes in is the world of moral and religious impulses. He takes this in as his conscience.

The third stage in the descent to a new incarnation is when the human being makes the transition to what his parents give him. In doing this he is enacting a realized Intuition. So you see that what can be achieved, while incarnated, by way of three higher stages of knowledge, is something that is accomplished as a real occurrence in the realm of soul and spirit on the way to incarnation. Here on earth we ascend to the spiritual world through Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition. And on our return from the spiritual world to incarnation we descend from the spiritual world through Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition. This is the counter-image, in the spiritual world, of the three higher stages of knowledge.

What does this show us? It shows us that Anthroposophy is not merely knowledge but something which is alive. Through Anthroposophy we strive for higher knowledge in order to grasp the reality of the higher realms of life and in order to fill our souls with the content of what lives in the spiritual worlds. Those whose common sense has helped them to understand what the spiritual seeker has to say, experience something else as well. They can say to themselves that human beings in the state of incarnation between birth and death are constantly counteracting the death forces at work in their body. The forces of death are forever present in the human body, but so are those forces which counteract the forces of death. They are there. If we did not bear the forces of death within us we should never have developed our understanding for our physical environment.

One of the most important facts given to us by higher knowledge is that our forces of intellect are bound up with our forces of dying. Death is in a way nothing but a summary of all the forces of dying which are forever at work in us. But a moral ideal, which can intensify until it becomes a religious ideal, lives in us in quite a different way. It is said that certain natural forces exist which bring it about that plants grow upwards; and these forces are taken to be quite real. But when, on looking into the human being, people find there the driving forces of moral and religious ideals, they are not inclined to accept these as having any reality. Yet there they are, working not only in every human being but also in the cultures of all mankind. Higher knowledge teaches us that moral ideals live in man through the burning up of matter. Matter is destroyed when a person makes moral resolves. The breaking down of matter is the precondition for the building up of moral ideals. What is crucial is the manner in which a human being breaks down matter and the manner in which he can build it up again. External research is still caught up in the prejudice about the indestructibility of matter. But spiritual science shows that man can break through external natural forces. Once we are in possession of an anthroposophical world view we can comfort ourselves in face of the idea of the death of the earth through overheating. For it is this very destruction of matter which ensures for the human being the possibility of building up his moral personality.

If you look deeply into your soul you will find something which consumes and gnaws at the soul of modern man. This something, which consumes and gnaws at the soul, is the fact that modern natural science excludes the moral element from the realm of what is real. Anthroposophy shows how human beings break through natural laws; how the moral element destroys matter, which is then built up again as matter which can be the bearer of a moral world order. All that is contained within the confines of our skin is connected with the dying forces of matter. But what the world builds up again—this has been forgotten by the natural sciences.

In order to discover new moral worlds we must proceed to the question of where matter can be built up. Death is in us at every moment, but so is resurrection. This is where we should look. This, out of the anthroposophical world view, is the perspective we must place before human souls, since the natural sciences have turned their attention for far too long and far too one-sidedly to the forces of dying. It is important to develop the courage to attend to what must be done in order to build up new worlds.

I am assuming that these suggestions will give encouragement and lead to meditations on how to see more clearly what is felt and talked about a great deal, but what ought also to be strongly willed.