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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Evolution of Consciousness
GA 227

5. The Relation of Man to the Three Worlds

23 August 1923, Penmaenmawr

Dreams, of which I have already said something, pointing out that they should not be given too much importance in ordinary life on earth, are nevertheless of immeasurable significance to those wishing to gain knowledge of man's relation to the super-sensible world. They do indeed lead to that realm of experience where a man comes in contact with the super-sensible world, and the laws of nature cease to hold good. Thus the world of dream-pictures is really like a veil concealing the spiritual world, and we can say: Here we have a man, and there a dream-veil behind which lies the spiritual world. It makes a great difference, however, whether we enter the spiritual world unconsciously, as we do in dreams, or consciously through Imagination and Inspiration. For if we enter it consciously, everything there appears different from the physical world of nature. Behind the veil of the dream, behind what the Greeks called “chaos”, the moral world is found to be just as real as is the world of nature here in the sense-world, where the laws of nature rule. But the chaotic quality of the dream, its whirling confusion, show that its connection with the world lying behind the veil of chaos is a very special one.

It is really possible to speak of this world only when one's studies have reached the point to which these lectures have brought us. All that in his ordinary state of consciousness a man sees of the external world is merely its outward manifestation; in reality this is a great illusion. For behind it all is that spiritual reality which is active in it. When a man dreams, he actually sinks down into this spiritual reality, though without being properly prepared, so that what he meets appears to him in this whirling confusion. Thus, to begin with, our chief task is to learn why in dreams a man enters a world which, compared with that of nature, is so disorganised, so chaotic.

To help us on, therefore, in our study of dreams, I must now tell you something of what Imagination and Inspiration can perceive in the spiritual world.

We find above all that when through Imagination and Inspiration we enter the spiritual world in full consciousness, it immediately appears to us to be threefold. Hence we can speak of the world, and of our theme, the evolution of the world and of man, only when we have come to the point we have now reached. Only now can I speak of how a man, confronted by the external world, by all that manifests itself to the senses, is really facing the spiritual world in its threefold nature—facing actually three worlds. Once the veil has been lifted which creates the chaos, we no longer have one world only before us, but three worlds, and each of the three has its definite connection with the human being.

When we succeed in penetrating this veil of chaos—later I shall be showing how we can also describe this as crossing the threshold of the spiritual world—we perceive the three worlds. The first of the three is really the world we have just left, somewhat transformed but still there for spiritual existence. When the veil of chaos has been thrust aside, this world appears as though it were a memory. We have passed over into the spiritual world; and just as here we remember certain things, so in the spiritual world we remember what constitutes the physical world of the senses. Here, then, is the first of the three worlds.

The second world we encounter is the one I have called in my book, Theosophy, the soul-world.

And the third world, the highest of the three, is the true spiritual world, the world of the spirit.

To begin with, I shall give you only a schematic account of all this, but from the way these three worlds are related to man you will gather many things about them. To these three worlds as they appear in three ascending stages—the lowest, the middle one, and the highest—I will then relate man's three members—the head; then the breast-organisation embracing all that is rhythmical, the breathing system and blood circulation; thirdly, the metabolic-limb system, which includes nutrition, digestion and the distribution throughout the body of the products of digestion, all of which engender movement. All this has to do with the metabolic-limb system. If this scheme were drawn, there would have to be a closed circle for the breast; for the head a circle left open, and open also for the limb system. When perceived physically, man's head appears to be closed above and would have to be drawn so, but perceived spiritually, it is open. The part of a man which does not belong at all to the realm of the spirit is the bony system, which is entirely of a physical nature; and when spiritually you study the human head, its thick skull is not seen. Only the skin is visible where the hair grows.

When this is looked at spiritually, however, something else appears. Ordinary hair is not there at all, but purely spiritual hair; in other words, rays which penetrate into the human organism and are held back, to some extent, only by the physical hair. But it is just where there is bone in the organism that the spirit can enter most easily, and this it does in the form of rays. So, on first looking at a man with your physical eyes, you see his physical form with the head above, and on his head—if he is not already bald—there is hair. But then, where the dome of the skull comes, spiritually you see nothing of the physical man; you see rays, sun-like rays, pouring into him from the spiritual worlds.

Thus the reason for the circle not being closed for the head is that the surrounding bony vault of the skull enables the spirit to have continual access there.

Nothing in a man is without purpose. By deliberate intent of the ruling powers—one might say—he has been given a head thus closed above, for here the spirit has the easiest access to his inner being because of the very thickness of the bone.

When we are in a position to observe man spiritually, we are astonished to discover how empty his head is of anything drawn from his own inner being. As regards the spiritual, he has almost nothing in him to fill the hollow globe sitting on his shoulders. Everything spiritual has to enter it from outside.

It is not thus with the other members of the human organism; as we shall soon hear, these are by their very nature spiritual. We can distinguish in man three members—head, or nerves and senses system, rhythmic system, metabolic-limb system, and they have a quite definite relation to the three worlds: the physical world, the soul-world, and the spiritual world. I will now go further into this.

First of all, it will be well to distinguish, in each of the three worlds, substance from activity. In reality, substance and activity are one, but they work in different ways in the world. You gain a clear idea of this from the substance of your own being. You have substance in your arm, and when this substance is out of order you will feel pain of some kind; it is obvious that something within the substance of the arm has gone wrong. If the activity of the arm is not properly controlled, you may perhaps hit your neighbour and he feels pain. This shows that the activity is out of gear. Nevertheless, though manifesting outwardly in different ways, the substance and activity in your arm are one.

If now we turn to the human head, we find its substance derived entirely from the physical world. During the formation of the human embryo the substance of the head comes from the parents; and the subsequent development of the head, and of the whole head and nerve-senses system, depends for its substance entirely on the earthly-material world. On the other hand, all the activity that has to do with the plastic forming of a man's head, the activity by means of which its substance is given shape, comes entirely from the spiritual world. So that in respect of activity, the head is entirely a spiritual formation. Therefore the head has to be left open—in a spiritual sense—so that activity can play into it.

At any time of life you can thus say: The substance of my head comes entirely from the Earth, but it is put together and plastically formed in such a way that it cannot be the work of earthly forces. The forms of this human head are shaped entirely from the spiritual world; they might be called a heavenly creation. Anyone who contemplates spiritually the human head, in relation to the world, has to go far and deep.

Now in the same way he turns his gaze to a plant. He says to himself: The plant has a definite form. Its substance is drawn from the earth, but its form comes from the etheric world—hence still from the spatial world.

Then he looks at an animal. The animal—he will say to himself—derives the substance of its head entirely from the world of space, but something spiritual certainly flows into its activity.

When we come to the human head, however, we find for the first time that something of the highest spirituality, something that can be called heavenly, is playing in. We see that the human head could never arise from earthly forces, though its substance is taken from earthly materials. So in the human head, which is itself a kind of miniature Cosmos, the spiritual world builds up a form out of earthly substance.

It is precisely the reverse with the metabolic-limb system, which embraces the organs for external movement—legs, arms—and the extension of these within the body—the digestive system.

For the present I am leaving out the middle system—the rhythmical system which embraces breathing and the circulation of the blood. I will deal now with the system which brings together the processes of digestion and nourishment, and the inner combustion which enables a man to move.

Now the substance of this metabolic-limb system is not derived from the Earth. Improbable as it may sound, you bear within your metabolic-limb man something which is not of earthly origin but consists wholly of substance from the third world, the world of the spirit. You may say: But I can see my legs; they are physically perceptible, which they would not be if they consisted of spiritual substance. This objection is quite justified, but there is something more to be considered.

Your real legs are indeed spiritual throughout; your real arms too; but the material for them is provided by your head. The head is the organ which fills spirit arms, spirit hands, spirit legs, spirit feet, with substance; and this substance penetrates into the spirituality of the limbs and of the digestive organs. So that something which in reality belongs entirely to the spiritual world is permeated, flooded, with physical matter by the head. That is why it is so difficult to grasp with the ideas of physical science that a man consists of head-breast-limbs-digestive organs. People think of the head as being there at the top, and they assume that when a man is decapitated he has no head left. It is not so, however; a man is substantially head all over. Even right to the end of his big toe he is head, for his head sends down its substance there. It is only the substance of the head that is earthly in origin, and the head gives its earthly-material character to the other substances; while the substance of the metabolic-limb organs comes from the spiritual world.

If through vigorous auto-suggestion of a negative kind we can suggest away the head of a man, so that in appearance he is headless, and if we can do this not only in thought but so that we really see the man as headless, then the rest of his organism also disappears; with the head goes the whole of the man as a being perceptible to the senses. And if the head is then to be there for us at all, the rest of the man has to be perceived spiritually. For in reality we go about under the imprint of higher worlds, with spirit legs, spirit arms, and it is only the head that fills them with physical matter.

On the other hand the forces, the activity, for all that makes up the metabolic-limb man are drawn from the physical world. If you make a step forward or lift an arm, the mechanism involved, and even the chemical processes that take place in moving an arm or leg, or the chemical processes in the digestive organs—all this activity is earthly. So that in your limbs you bear invisible substance, but forces drawn from earthly life. Hence we are built up as regards our head and its substance out of the Earth, but this same head is permeated with heavenly forces. In our limbs we are built up entirely from heavenly substance; but the forces playing into this heavenly substance during our life on Earth are earthly forces—gravitation and other physical and chemical forces all belonging to the Earth.

You see, therefore, that head and limbs are opposites. The head consists of earthly matter and is given plastic form by heavenly activity. The limbs and the digestive system are formed wholly of heavenly substance, and would not be visible were they not saturated with earthly substance by the head. But when anyone walks, or grasps something, or digests food, the heavenly substance makes use of earthly forces in order that life on Earth, from birth to death, may be carried on.

In this complicated way does a man stand in relation to the three worlds. The spiritual world participates with its activity in the head; with its substance it participates in a man's third organisation, his metabolic-limb system. The lowest world, the world most dominated by the senses, participates through its activity in the metabolism and the movement of the limbs, and through its substance in the head; whereas the substance in a man's third system is wholly spiritual.

In the middle system, which embraces the breathing and the circulation of the blood, spiritual activity and material substance work into each other. The spiritual activity, flowing through the movement of our breathing and the beating of our heart, is always accompanied to some extent by substantiality. And, in the same way, the substantiality of earthly existence, inasmuch as oxygen streams into the breathing, is to some extent accompanied by earthly activity. So you see that in the middle man, in man's second system, everything flows together—heavenly substance and activity flow in here; earthly activity and substance flow in there. By this means we are made receptive both to the activity of the middle world and to its substantiality.

So in this middle man there is a great deal of intermingling and for this reason we need our wonderfully perfect rhythmical system—the rhythm of the heart, the rhythm of the lungs in breathing. All the intermingling of activity and substance is balanced, harmonised, melodised, through these rhythms, and this can happen because man is organised for it.

In the head system and the limb system, activity and substantiality come from quite different sources, but in the middle system they come from all three worlds and in a variety of ways—at one place activity accompanied by substance, in another place substance accompanied by activity; here pure activity, there pure substance—all these variations flow through the middle man. If as a doctor you take a man's pulse, you can really feel there the balancing of the heavenly nature of the soul against earthly activity and substantiality. Again, if you observe the breathing, you can feel a man's inner striving for balance between the various agencies which relate him to the middle world.

All this is very complicated, you will say. It is true that a lecture-course is generally easy to understand up to a certain stage, but when it comes to the point where man's relation to the world has to be grasped, people often say: “This is becoming very difficult—we can't keep up with it.”

But look—with really flexible thinking, free from prejudice, you will be able to keep up. And for anyone who thinks in this way, with healthy human understanding, there is a certain consolation. As I said before, the actual thrusting aside of the veil of chaos and the entry into the threefold world, which sends its activity and substance into the physical world in so vastly complicated a way—this experience is so bewildering that full warning of it is given before the threshold is crossed. I will put it pictorially, but in full accord with the facts. The warning is: “If you are not willing to forgo what you have regarded as ordinary naturalistic logic and as the customary connections between things, if you are reluctant to leave behind this physical cloak, it is better that you should not enter the spiritual world, for there you will be obliged to make use of other associations of ideas, other orderings, and a completely different logic. If you want to take anything of your physical logic with you into the spiritual world, you will quite certainly get confused.” And among the matters that have to do with preparing ourselves for meditation and concentration, we have to remember the warning never to carry over the logic of the sense-world into the logic of the spiritual world.

This is the important warning given by that power we may call the Guardian of the Threshold—of whom we shall hear more in later lectures—to those who wish to pierce behind the veil.

But when we wish to return to the physical world, we receive from the Guardian another warning, clear and forcible. So long as we are men of Earth we return, or we should never get away from happenings in the spiritual world, and our deserted physical body would die. We must always return. In accordance with naturalistic logic we have to eat, drink, and adapt ourselves every day to customary activities. We are obliged to re-enter the world where things follow a naturalistic course—where, for example, we are called to meals at the usual hours. So, when we are returning from the spiritual world to the physical world, we must—to avoid an impossible situation—pay heed to the second warning given by the Guardian who stands where the veil of chaos separates the physical sense-world from the spiritual world. This, then, is the warning: “During your life on Earth, never for a moment forget that you have been in the spiritual world; then and only then, during the times you have to spend in the physical world, will you be able to guide your steps with certainty.”

Thus at the threshold of this threefold spiritual world, to which a man is related through his three members in the way described, he is warned to lay aside all naturalistic logic, to leave behind this cloak of the senses and to go forward prepared to adapt himself to a spiritual logic, spiritual thinking and the spiritual association of ideas. On his return he is given a second warning, just as stern, even sterner than the first: never for a moment to forget his experience in the spiritual world—in other words, not to confine himself in ordinary consciousness merely to the impulses of the sense-world, and so on, but always to be conscious that to his physical world he has to be a bearer of the spiritual.

You will see that the two warnings differ considerably from one another. At the entrance to the spiritual world the Guardian of the Threshold says: Forget the physical world of the senses while here you are acquiring knowledge of the spiritual. But on your return to the physical world the Guardian's warning is: Never forget, even in the physical world on Earth, your experiences in the heavenly world of the spirit; keep your memory of them alive.

With reference to what I said last time, there is another considerable difference between the men of an older evolutionary epoch and those of the present time. In the case of those I pictured coming to the Mystery centres as inspired pupils, or just as ordinary folk, the transition from sleeping to waking and from waking to sleeping was not made without their being instinctively aware of the Guardian of the Threshold. Three or four thousand years ago, as men were entering sleep, there arose in their souls like a dream a picture of the Guardian. They passed him by. And as they were returning from sleep to ordinary life, once again this picture appeared. The warnings they received on entering and leaving the spiritual world were not so clear as the warnings which I have said are given to those entering the spiritual world through Inspiration and Imagination. But as they fell asleep, and again as they awoke, they had a dreamlike experience of passing the Guardian of the Threshold, not unlike their other instinctive perceptions of the spiritual world. Further progress in the evolution of humanity—as we shall see in later lectures—required that man should gain his freedom by losing his spiritual vision, and he had to forfeit that half-sleeping, half-waking state during which he was able to behold, at least in a kind of dream, the majestic figure of the Guardian of the Threshold.

Nowadays, between going to sleep and waking, a man passes the Guardian but does not know it. He is blind and deaf to the Guardian, and that is why he finds himself in a dream-world which is so completely disorganised.

Now consider quite impartially the different way in which the people of older epochs knew how to speak of their dreams. Because of ignoring the Guardian every morning, every evening, and twice every time he takes an afternoon nap, a man to-day experiences this utter disorder and chaos in his dream-world. This can be seen in the form taken by any dream.

Only think: when we cross the Threshold—and we do so each time we go to sleep—there stands the majestic Guardian. He cannot be ignored without everything we meet in the spiritual world becoming disordered. How this happens is best seen in the metamorphosis undergone by the orderly thinking proper to the physical, naturalistic world when this passes into the imagery of dreams. Individual dreams can show this very clearly.

In the physical, naturalistic world people behave as they learn to do in accordance with its conditions. We will take a case in point. Someone goes for a walk. Now in a town to-day, you will agree, certain walks are taken particularly for the experiences they offer. For example, during a walk people meet friends; they can show off their clothes if so inclined, both to those they know and to strangers. All this can be experienced during a walk and the point of it is that it gives occasion for us to have thoughts, ideas, so that we are able—only our head-organisation is here concerned—to say: “I think.” By virtue of this “I think” it is possible to experience in the outside world the kind of thing I have just been describing. One meets other people, and it is an experience for them too. One displays one's clothes, perhaps a pretty face into the bargain. What matters is the experience. In this seeing other people, however, in this exhibiting to them our outward appearance, feeling also plays its part. One thing pleases us, another does not. Sympathies and antipathies are aroused. We like it when the people we meet say what is agreeable to us, and we don't like it when they say the opposite. Hence what is experienced on such walks is closely connected with what the head conceives by means of this “I think.” It is connected through the “I feel” of the rhythmical man—that is, with feelings of sympathy and antipathy. Because with this second member of our being we can say “I feel”, we are able to enlarge the experiences that come to us in thought during a walk.

But the third member of man also plays a part on this walk, if we are fully awake. Here we must turn to certain intimate details of human experience. There is a general feeling that civilised people to-day do not show themselves in public without clothes, do not go for walks without them; there is a general antipathy towards nudity and sympathy towards being properly clad. This goes right into our impulses of will. We clothe ourselves—even doing so in a specified way. Here the will comes into its own, the third member of the human organisation. Clothing ourselves is thus connected with the part of us that enables us to say “I will”.

I think

I feel

I will

So, through being able to say “I will,” we go for our walks clothed. When we are awake in the physical world, all this is regulated by the logic of this world. Either we are brought up to it, or we learn to conform to the outer conditions prescribed by the physical world and its logic. If we do not conform, but go for a walk without our clothes, then something within us is out of order. The ordering of the physical world, the logic of the physical world, go together in all this. It never occurs to us on a walk to wish to meet people without clothes. Here, our soul-experience is determined by the ordering of the world. And this shows how the three—I think, I feel, I will—are all connected with one another. It is the world that does this; the external world leads us to form this connection between thinking, feeling and willing.

When, ignoring the Guardian, we cross the Threshold, we confront three worlds, and we can make nothing of them because we partly carry over into the world of spirit the outlook we are familiar with in the waking world. The spiritual world, however, asserts its own order to a certain extent. Then the following may come about. Imagine you are asleep in bed. At first with your feeling, with the middle part of your being, you are entirely under the influence of sleep. Then the coverlet slips; part of your body gets chilled, and it enters your dream consciousness that some part of you is unclothed. Now, because you are all at sea in the spiritual world and do not connect the sensation with any particular part of yourself, this feeling spreads, and you fancy you are without any clothes at all. It may be only a bit of your body that is exposed, but that bit becoming cold makes you feel bare all over.

Now in your dream you are still concerned with an impulse of will holding good when you are awake—which is to put on clothes when bare. In your sleep, however, you feel: I cannot put them on, something is preventing me. You are unable to move your limbs and you become conscious of this in your dream.

You see how it is. These two things, I feel I've nothing on, and I cannot put on my clothes—the physical world being no longer there to combine the two, one of which belongs to world II, the other to world I—are wrongly combined in your dream. And because in that same night you had thought about going for a walk, this also enters the course of the dream. Three separate conditions arise: I am going for a walk; I am horrified to find I have nothing on; I cannot put my clothes on.

Now just think. These three things, which in our ordinary materialistic life can be logically combined, fall asunder when, in passing by, you ignore the Guardian of the Threshold.

In world I: the walk

In world II: being without clothes

In world III: the experience of not being able to put on clothes. In this situation you feel yourself in three parts, among strangers, exposed to view on all sides without clothes and without power to put them on. That is your dream experience. What is connected for you in ordinary life through natural logic is separated in your dream and connected, chaotically, in conformity with the custom you take with you across the Threshold. You connect it as if in the spiritual world, too, one has to concern oneself with garments. Because of ignoring the Guardian of the Threshold, you carry over into the spiritual world a custom suited to the physical world. You connect the three worlds chaotically, according to the laws of the physical world, and you feel yourself to be in this situation.

In countless dreams the essential thing is that when we pass the Threshold without heeding the Guardian's warning, what we perceive here in the physical, naturalistic world as a harmonious unity falls apart, and we are confronted by three different worlds. By faithfully observing the warning given by the Guardian of the Threshold, we must find the way to unite these three worlds. To-day, a man in his dreams finds himself faced by these three worlds—it was not so to the same extent for anyone in older epochs, as can be seen from the dreams recorded in the Old Testament—and he then tries to connect the three worlds in accordance with laws valid in physical life. That is the reason for the chaotic connections in the three worlds, as they are experienced by a man of to-day.

You will see, therefore, that dreams can show us this serious fact—that when we cross the Threshold to the spiritual world we are at once faced with three worlds, and that we have both to enter them and to leave them in the right way. Dreams can teach us a very great deal about the physical world of the senses, as it is to-day, and also about that other world—the world of soul and spirit.