The Anthroposophic Movement
IV. Spiritual Truths and the Physical World
13 June 1923, Dornach
If we look at a phenomenon such as H.P. Blavatsky from the perspective which will have become clear to you, we need to be concerned first with her personality as such. The other aspect is the impact she had on a large number of people. Now it is true, of course, that this impact was in part quite negative. Those who had a philosophical, psychological, literary, scientific — let us say a well-educated — bent were glad to be rid of this phenomenon in one way or another. They could achieve this simply by saying that she had engaged in dishonest practices and that there was no need to spend time on something where there was evidence of that sort of thing.
Then there were those who were in possession of ancient, traditional wisdom, members of one or another secret society. One must never forget that numerous events in the world are linked to actions from such secret societies. They were concerned above all to find a way to prevent such a depiction of the spiritual world having a wider impact. Because, as we saw, these things could be read and promulgated, and in this way the secret societies had been deprived of a good deal of the power which they wanted to preserve for themselves. That is why it is members of such societies who are behind the accusations that Blavatsky engaged in dishonest practices.
More important for our present purpose, however, is that Blavatsky's writings and everything else connected with her personality made a certain impression on a large number of people. That led to the establishment of movements which describe themselves in one way or another as theosophical.
I would like you to remember that in these discussions I always try to present my material in such a way that it should correspond to the facts. This becomes impossible nowadays in many circles, simply because of the terminology one has to use. What happens today is that when a person encounters a word it is very tempting for him to seek a dictionary definition in order to avoid having to look at the issue itself. When such literary people hear of theosophy they open a dictionary — which may well be a dictionary in their minds — and look up the word. Or they might go as far as to study all kinds of literature in which a word like theosophy occurs, and then use that as the basis for their judgement. You have to be aware how much actually depends on this kind of procedure.
This must always be juxtaposed with the question: How did the societies which base themselves on Blavatsky come to use the name Theosophical Society? One thing which did not happen, when it was founded at the end of the nineteenth century, was to found a Theosophical Society with the aim of propagating theosophy as defined in the dictionary. But a body of knowledge about the spiritual world existed through Blavatsky, which initially was simply there. Then it was found necessary to cultivate this knowledge through a society and a society requires a name. It is pure coincidence that the societies which are based on that called themselves the Theosophical Society. No one could think of a better name — it's as simple as that. This has to be clearly remembered. People who have learnt about the historical development of their given area of study are likely to have come across the term theosophy. But the term they have come across has nothing to do with what called itself the Theosophical Society.
Within the Anthroposophical Society, at any rate, such things ought to be taken very seriously. There should be a certain drive for accuracy, so that a proper feeling can develop for the unobjective scribblings to which these things have gradually given rise.
But there is one question which should particularly concern us: Why is it that a large number of our contemporaries have felt the urge to follow up these revelations? Because that will provide us with the bridge to something of a quite different nature: to the Anthroposophical Society.
In considering Blavatsky, it is important that her attitude was what might well be called an anti-christian one. In her Secret Doctrine she revealed in one large sweep the differing impulses and development of the many ancient religions. But everything which might have been expected as an objective depiction is clouded by her subjective judgement, the judgement of her feelings. It becomes abundantly clear that she had a deep sympathy for all religions in the world other than Judaism and Christianity, and that she had a deep antipathy towards Judaism and Christianity. Blavatsky depicts everything which comes from the latter as inferior to the great revelations of the various pagan religions: in other words, an expressly anti-christian perspective, but an expressly spiritual one.
She was able to speak of spiritual beings and spiritual processes in the same way that one normally speaks of the beings and processes of the physical world; she was able to discuss aspects of this spiritual world because she had the capacity to move among spiritual forces in the same way that contemporary people normally move among physical-sensory forces.
On that basis she was able to bring to the surface and clarify characteristic impulses of the various pantheistic religions.
Now we might be surprised by two things. First, that it is possible at all today for someone to appear who perceives the salvation of mankind in this anti-christian perspective. And second, we might be surprised about the decisive and profound influence exerted by such an anti-christian perspective specifically on people with a Christian outlook — less so perhaps on those with a Jewish background. These are two questions we must ponder when we speak about conditions governing the existence of the contemporary life of the spirit among the broader masses in general.
In respect of Blavatsky's anti-christian perspective, I want only to recall that someone who became much better known than she in Central Europe, among certain circles at least, had as much of an anti-christian perspective. That was Nietzsche. 1Friedrich Nietzsche, 1844–1900. The Anti-Christ. Translated by R. J. Hollingdale. Penguin Classics, Harmondsworth 1988. See Rudolf Steiner, Friedrich Nietzsche (1895). Translated by M. Ingram de Ris. Rudolf Steiner Publications, New Jersey, 1960. It is difficult to be more anti-christian than the author of The Anti-Christ. It would be adopting a very superficial attitude not to enquire into the reason for the anti-christian outlook of these two personalities. But to find an answer one needs to dig a little bit deeper.
For we need to have a clear understanding that increasing numbers of people today are becoming divided in their spiritual life, something which they do not always acknowledge and which they try to paper over with a certain intellectual cowardice, but which is all the more active in the unconscious depths of their mind.
One needs to have a clear understanding of the way in which the European peoples and their American cousins have been influenced by the educational endeavours of the last three, four, five hundred years. One need only consider how great the difference really is between the content of today's secular education and the religious impulses of humanity. From the time people enter elementary school all thinking, their whole inner orientation, is directed toward this modern education. Then they are also provided with what is meant to satisfy their religious needs. A dreadful gap opens up between the two. People never really have the opportunity to deal inwardly with this chasm, preferring instead to submit to the most dreadful illusions in this respect.
This raises questions about the historical process which led to the creation of this yawning chasm. For this we have to look back to those centuries in which learning was the province of those few who were thoroughly prepared for it. You can be quite certain that a twelve-year-old schoolgirl today has a greater fund of worldly knowledge than any educated person of the eleventh, twelfth or thirteenth centuries. These things must not be overlooked. Education has come to rely on an extraordinarily intense feeling of authority, an almost invincible sense of authority. In the course of the centuries modern education has increasingly comprised only the knowledge of what can be demonstrated to the outer senses, or by calculation. By excluding everything else it became possible — because two times two equals four, and the five senses are so persuasive — for modern education to acquire its sense of authority. But that also increasingly gave rise to the feeling that everything which human beings believe, which they consider to be right, must be justified by the the knowledge of which modern learning is so certain. It was impossible to present in a corresponding fashion any truth from the realms where mathematics and the senses no longer apply.
How were these truths presented to humanity prior to the existence of modern learning? They were presented in ritual images. The essential element in the spread of religion over the centuries lay not in the sermons, for instance, but in ceremonial, in the rituals. Try to imagine for a moment what it was like in Christian countries in the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries. The important thing was for people to enter a world presented to them in mighty and grandiose images. All around, frescoes on the walls reminded them of the spiritual life. It was as if their earthly life could reach as high as the tallest mountain, but at that point, if one could climb just a little bit higher, the spiritual life began. The language of the spiritual world was depicted in images which stimulated the imagination, in the audible harmonies of music, or in the words of set forms such as mantras and prayers. These ages understood clearly that images, not concepts, were required for the spiritual world. People needed something vividly pictorial not something which could be debated. Something was required which would allow the spirit to speak through what was accessible to the senses. Christianity and its secrets, the Mystery of Golgotha and everything connected with it, were essentially spoken about in the form of images, even when words were used in story form. The dogmas were also still understood as something pictorial. And this Christian teaching remained unchallenged from any quarter prior to the existence of intellectual learning, and for as long as these things did not have to be justified by reason.
Now just look at historical processes in the thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the urgency with which human beings begin to experience the drive to understand everything intellectually. This introduced a critical attitude of world-historical significance.
Thus, the majority of human beings today are introduced to religious life through Christianity but alongside that to modern learning also. As a consequence, the two — Christianity and modern learning — co-exist in each soul. And even if people do not admit it, it transpires that the results of intellectual education cannot be used to prove Christian truths. So from childhood people are now taught the fact that two times two equals four and that the five senses must only be used in such a context, and they also begin to understand that such absolutes are incompatible with Christianity.
Modern theologians who have tried to marry the two have lost Christ, are no longer able to speak to the broad spectrum of people about Christ; at most they speak about the personality of Jesus. Thus Christianity itself has been able to be preserved only in its old forms. But modern people are simply no longer willing to accept this in their souls, and they lose some of their inner security. Why?
Well, just look at the way Christianity has developed historically. It is extremely dishonest to use rationalism to put meaning into Christianity, the Mystery of Golgotha and everything connected with it. One has to talk about a spiritual world if one wants to speak about Christ. Modern human beings did not have the means in their innermost being to understand Christ on the basis of what they had been taught at school, for rationalism and intellectualism have robbed them of the spiritual world. Christ is still present in name and tradition, but the feeling for what that means is gone; the understanding of Christ as a spiritual being among spiritual beings in a spiritual world has disappeared. The world created by modern astronomy, biology and science is a world devoid of spirit.
Thus numerous souls grew up who, for these reasons, had quite specific needs. Time really does progress, and the people of today are not the same as people in earlier ages. You must have said to yourselves: Here I meet with a certain number of others in a society to cultivate spiritual truths. Why do you, each single one of you, do that? What drives you? Well, the thing which drives people to do this is usually so deeply embedded in the unconscious depths of their soul life that there is little clarity about it. But here, where we want to reflect on our position as anthroposophists, the question has to be asked.
If you look back to earlier times, it was self-evident that material things and processes were not the totality, but that spirits were everywhere. People perceived a spiritual world which surrounded them in their environment. And because they found a spiritual world they were able to understand Christ.
Modern intellectualism makes it impossible to discover a spiritual world, if one is honest, and as a consequence it is impossible to understand Christ properly. The people who try so hard to rediscover a spiritual life are very specific souls driven by two things. First, most souls who come together in the kind of societies we have been talking about start to experience a vague feeling within themselves which they cannot describe. And if this feeling is investigated with the means available in the spiritual world it turns out to be a feeling which stems from earlier lives on earth in which a spiritual environment still existed. Today, people are appearing in whose souls something from their previous lives on earth remains active. There would be neither theosophists nor anthroposophists if such people did not exist. They are to be found in all sections of society. They do not know that their feeling is the result of earlier lives on earth, but it is. And it makes them search for a very specific path, for very specific knowledge. Indeed, what continues to have an effect is the spiritual content of earlier lives on earth.
Human beings today are affected in two ways. They can have the feeling that there is something within them which affects them, which is simply there. But even though they might know a great deal about the physical world they cannot describe this feeling because nothing which was not of a spiritual nature has been carried over. If, however, in the present I am deprived of everything spiritual, then what has come over from a previous life remains dissatisfied. That is the one aspect.
The other effect which lives in human beings is a vague feeling that their dreams should really reveal more than the physical world. It is of course an error, an illusion. But what is the origin of this illusion, which has arisen in parallel with the development of modern learning? When people who have had the benefit of a modern education gather together in learned circles they have to show their cultural breeding. If someone starts to talk about spiritual effects in the world people adopt an air of ridicule, because that is what being cultured demands. It is not acceptable within our school education to talk about spiritual effects in the world. To do so implies superstition, lack of education.
Two groups will then often form in such circles. Frequently someone plucks up a little courage to talk about spiritual things. People then adopt an air of ridicule. The majority leave to play cards or indulge in some other worthy pursuit. But a few are intrigued. They go into a side-room and begin to talk about these things, they listen with open mouths and cannot get enough of it; but it has to be in a side-room because anything else shows a lack of education. The things which a modern person can learn there are mostly as incoherent and chaotic as dreaming, but people love it all the same. Those who have gone to play cards would also love it, except that their passion for cards is even stronger. At least that is what they tell themselves.
Why do human beings in our modern age feel the urge to investigate their dreams? Because they feel quite instinctively, without any clear understanding, that the content of their thoughts and what they see depicted in the physical world is all very nice, but it does not give them anything for their soul life. A secret thinking, feeling and willing lives in me when I am awake, they feel, which is as free as my dream life is free when I am sleeping. There is something in the depths of the soul which is dreamt even when I am awake. Modern people feel that, precisely because the spiritual element is missing from the physical world. They can only catch a glimpse of it when they are dreaming. In earlier lives on earth they saw it in everything around them.
And now those souls are being born who can feel working within themselves not only impulses from their previous lives on earth, but what took place in the spiritual world in their pre-earthly existence. This is related to their internal dreaming. It is an echo of life before birth.
But not only do the historical processes deny them the spirit; an educational system has been constructed which is hostile to the spirit, which proves the spirit out of existence.
If we ask how people found a common interest in such societies as we are describing here, it is through these two features of the soul; namely, that something is active both from their previous earth lives and from their pre-earthly existence. This is the case for most of you. You would not be sitting here if these two things were not active in you.
In very ancient times social institutions were determined by the Mysteries, and were in harmony with the content of their spiritual teaching. Take an Athenian for example. He revered the goddess Athene. He was part of a social community which he knew to be constituted according to Athene's intentions. The olive trees around Athens were planted by her. The laws of the state had been dictated by her. Human beings were part of a social community which was in total accord with their inner beliefs. Nothing the gods had given them had, as it were, been taken away.
Compare that with modern human beings. They are placed in a social context in which there is a huge gap between their inner experiences and the way they are integrated into society. It feels to them as if their souls are divorced from their bodies by social circumstances, only they are not aware of it; it is embedded in the subconscious. Through these impulses from earlier lives on earth and pre-earthly existence, people feel connected with a spiritual world. Their bodies have to behave in a way that will satisfy social institutions. It provokes a persistent subconscious fear that their physical bodies no longer really belong to them. Well, there are modern states in which one feels that your clothes no longer belong to you because the tax man is after them! But in a larger context ones physical body is no longer ones property either. It is claimed by society.
This is the fear which lives in modern human beings, the fear that every day they have to give up their bodies to something which is not connected with their souls. And thus they become seekers after something which does not belong to the earth, which belongs to the spiritual world of their pre-earthly existence.
All this takes its effect unconsciously, instinctively. And it has to be said that the Anthroposophical Society as it has developed had its origins in small beginnings. To begin with, it had to work in the most basic way with very small groups, and there is much to be said about the ways and means in which work took place in such small groups.
For example, in the first years in Berlin I had to lecture in a room in which beer glasses were clinking in the background. And once we were shown into something not unlike a stable. I lectured in a hall, parts of which had no floor, where one had to be careful not to tumble into a hole and break a leg. But that is where people gathered who felt these impulses. Indeed, this movement aimed to make itself accessible to everyone right from the beginning. Thus the satisfaction was just as great when the simplest mind turned up in such a location. At the same time it was no great worry when people came together in order to launch the anthroposophical movement in more aristocratic fashion, as happened in Munich, because that, too, was part of humanity. No aspect of humanity was excluded.
But the important point was that the souls who met in this way always had the qualities I have described. If such people had not existed, then someone like Blavatsky would not have engendered any interest, because it was among such people that she made her mark. What was most important to them and what corresponded to their feelings?
Well, the concept of reincarnation corresponded to the one thing which was active in their souls. Now they could see themselves straddling the ages as human beings, making them stronger than the forces which daily tried to rob them of their bodies. This deep-seated, almost will-like, inner feeling of human beings had to be met by the teaching of reincarnation.
And the dreamlike, out-of-body experience of the soul, which even the simplest country person can experience, could never be satisfied with knowledge which was based only on matter and its processes. That could only be met by making it clear to them that the most profound aspect of human nature exists as if it is woven out of dreams, if I may put it in this radical way. This element has a stronger reality, a stronger existence than dreams. We are like fish out of water if we are forced to live our soul life in the world which has been conjured up for people by modern education. In the same way that fish cannot exist in air and begin to gasp, so our souls live in the contemporary environment, gasping for what they need. They fail to find it, because it is spiritual in nature; because it is the echo of their experiences in life before birth in the spiritual world. They want to hear about the spirit, that the spirit exists, that the spirit is actually present among us.
You have to understand that the two most important concerns for a certain section of mankind were to learn that human beings live more than a single life on earth, and that among the natural things and processes there are beings in the world like themselves, spiritual beings. It was Blavatsky who initially presented this to the world. It was necessary to possess that knowledge before it was possible to understand Christ once again.
As far as Blavatsky was concerned, however — and in saying this we should emphasize her compassion for mankind — she realized that these people were gasping for knowledge of the spiritual world, and she thought that she would meet their spiritual needs by revealing the ancient pagan religions to them. That was her initial aim. It is quite clear that this had to result in a tremendously partisan anti-christian standpoint, just as it is clear that Nietzsche's observation of Christianity in its present form, which he had outgrown, led him to adopt such a strong anti-christian attitude.
This anti-christian outlook, and how it might be healed, is the topic I want to address in the next lectures. It remains only to emphasize that what appeared with Blavatsky as an anti-christian standpoint was absent right from the beginning in the anthroposophical movement, because the first lecture cycle which I gave was “From Buddha to Christ”. Thus the anthroposophical movement takes an independent position within all these spiritual movements in that, from the start, it pursued a path from the heathen religions to Christianity. But it is equally necessary to understand why others did not follow this path.