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Mystery Centers
GA 232

Lecture I

23 November 1923, Dornach

I will begin today with the soul-life of man, and lead on from thence to a penetration into cosmic secrets.

Let us start with something of the very simplest. Let us consider the soul-life of a human being as it is seen when he carries his inner self-reflection beyond the point I specially had in mind when I wrote the articles in the Goetheanum on the Life of the Soul. (Now published as a brochure entitled Vom Seelenleben). We shall consider the soul-life more intimately than was done in the Goetheanum articles. Those four articles on the soul-life form a kind of introduction, a preparation for that which we are now to consider.

When we practise self-reflection in a wide and comprehensive way, we see how this soul-life can be raised to a level higher. We begin by letting the external world work upon us—we do this from childhood—and then we form thoughts upon that which the outer world has brought to us. We are really human beings in that we allow the impressions of the outer world to live on further in our thoughts, realising them inwardly in our thoughts, creating a world of mental pictures, which in a certain way reflect the impressions made on us from outside. We are not doing anything specially helpful for the soul-life if we simply form a number of thoughts as to how the outer world is reflected in our soul, for in so doing we only attain what I might call a shadowy picture of the world of ideas in our inner being. We really practise better self-reflection if we focus our attention rather on the inner energy, in the attempt to enter livingly ourselves into the element of thought, without looking at the outer world, and follow further in thought what has come to us as impressions of the outer world. One man may thereby be led, according to his disposition, into mere abstract thinking. He may create world-systems, or he may make schemes about all imaginable things in the world, and so on. Another man, while reflecting upon the things that have made an impression on him, and by spinning out his thoughts further, may perhaps evolve some even more fanciful conception or other.

We will not enter further into the way in which, according to temperament or character or other influences on a man, this inner thinking, devoid of outer impressions, may develop, but we will recognize the fact that it is a matter of especial significance for us when we withdraw in regard to our senses from the outer world and live in our thoughts and ideas, spinning them out even further, often perhaps in the direction of mere possibilities only.

Many people regard it as unnecessary to develop this living in thought, in the direction of mere possibilities. Even in these difficult times one may see people occupied the whole day with their business (which of course is necessary for the outer life) afterwards meeting together in small groups, playing cards or dominoes or such like, in order, as is frequently said, to pass the time. It does not often happen, however, that people come together in such groups in order to exchange thought for instance, about all the things in which they were engaged during the day, and to consider what might have happened if this or that had been different. They would not be so much interested in this as in playing cards, but it would be a spinning out of their thoughts, and if we preserve a sufficiently sound sense of reality such a continuation of our thoughts need not become fantastic.

This life in thoughts leads finally to what you encounter if you read The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity in the right way. If you read The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity in the right way you must become acquainted with this feeling of living in thoughts. The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity is wholly drawn from reality, while at the same time it has proceeded entirely from actual thinking. You will find therefore a fundamental tone or feeling in this Philosophy of Spiritual Activity. I conceived it in the eighties, and wrote it at the beginning of 1890, and I can truly say that in all those who at that time were in a position to make acquaintance with the root-nerve of this Philosophy of Spiritual Activity, everywhere I met with lack of understanding. This lack of understanding arises from a definite reason. Human beings, even the so-called thinkers of today in reality only get so far in their thinking as to experience in it an image of the outer sense-world; and then they say: perhaps there might come into a man's thinking something of a super-physical world, but it would have, to enter in the same way as a chair or a table which is outside of us, and which is acknowledged by our thinking to be outside of us. Thus this thinking which is within us would have to be able to experience in some way or other something super-sensible, outside of man in the same way as the table or chair is outside of us and is experienced. In some such way as this, Edward von Hartmann conceived the activity of thinking.

This book, The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity then came to his notice. In this book thinking is so experienced that within the experience of thinking we come to this realisation, viz. that if a man really experiences thinking, he is living, even if at first somewhat indefinitely, in the cosmos, This union of man in his innermost thinking experience with the cosmic secrets is the root-nerve of The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity. Therefore in this book you find the sentence, “In thinking, man lifts an edge of the veil of the cosmic secret.” This is perhaps simply expressed, but it is meant to imply that when a man really experiences thinking, he no longer feels himself to be outside the cosmic secret, but within it, no longer outside the divine Essence but within It. When a man attains to the reality of thinking within himself he attains to the Divine within himself.

It was this fact which could not be understood. For if a man really understands it, if he has really taken the trouble to acquire this experience of thinking, he rests no longer within the world in which he was previously, but he is living in the etheric world. He is living in a world of which he knows: it is not conditioned from any part of physical earthly space, but by the whole cosmic sphere.

He can no longer doubt the order and reality of the cosmic etheric sphere if he has grasped thinking as it is portrayed in the Philosophy of Spiritual Activity. Thus he reaches what may be called etheric experience. When a man enters into this experience he really makes a noteworthy step forward in his whole life.

I may characterise this step forward thus: If we think in ordinary consciousness, we think: in this room are tables, chairs, human beings and so on. We may perhaps think of much more also; but we think of these things outside us. Thus we comprehend these things in our thinking—and there are various things outside—from the central point of our being. Every man is aware of this; he wants to grasp the things of the world with his thinking.

If however we have acquired the experience of thinking just characterised, it is no longer the world we should grasp. Man is not so much riveted, as I might say, in his own ego; something entirely different happens. He has the feeling, quite a right feeling, that with his thinking, which is not confined to any one place, he can grasp everything inwardly. He feels that he is contracting the inner man. Just as in his ordinary thinking he extends spiritual feelers outwards, as I might say, so with this thinking which experiences itself within him he extends himself continually into his own being. Man himself becomes the object.

This is a very important experience which a man may have when he realises: formerly you always comprehend the world; now that you have this experience in thinking you must comprehend yourself. The result of this process of strong self-comprehension is that he breaks through the skin.

And just as he inwardly grasps his own self he also grasps from within the entire cosmic ether, not in its details, naturally, but he gains the conviction that this ether is spread out over the cosmic sphere within which he exists together with the stars, sun and moon, etc.

A second thing which man can develop in the inner life of his soul is the power not to be stimulated immediately in his thoughts from outside, not to spin these thoughts out and weave them further, but to give himself up to his memories. If he does this, and really makes his memories an inner experience, then again a quite definite experience results. The experiencing of thinking already described leads a man to himself, he grasps himself; and he has a certain satisfaction in this grasping of his own inner being.

When, however, he passes on to the experience in memory, then, if undergone inwardly in the right way, it finally seems to be no longer the most important thing to approach oneself. This is the case in the experience of thinking. That is why one finds in thinking that freedom which depends entirely on the personal element in man. Therefore, a philosophy of spiritual activity must start from the experience of thinking, because man thereby arrives at his own being; he finds himself as a free personality. This is not the case with the experience of memory. In the experience of memory, if a man follows it up seriously and immerses himself entirely in his memory, he will finally acquire the feeling of becoming free from himself, of getting away from himself. Therefore those memories which enable one to forget the present are the most satisfactory. (I will not say that they are always the best, but they are, in many cases the most satisfactory).

We can get an idea of the value of memory if we can have memories which carry us out into the world, in spite of the fact that we may be completely dissatisfied with the present and would like to get away from it. If we can develop memories of such a nature that our feeling of life is intensified while giving ourselves up to our memories this furnishes what I might call a kind of preparation for what memories may become when they are much more real.

You can make memory a real experience if you recall with the utmost possible realism something which you actually experienced say ten, twenty or thirty years ago. I will merely indicate how this can be done. Suppose you go over your old treasured papers and look up, let us say, old letters which you had written or which. were written to you on some occasion or other. Place these letters before you, and by means of them you will live intensely in the past. Or perhaps a better way may be not to take the letters you have written, or which other people have written to you, because too much subjectivity comes into this; it would be still better, if you are able to do so, to take your old school books and look at them as you did long ago when you really sat in front of them as a child at school, and in this way bring back into your life something which formerly existed. That is really an extraordinary experience. If you carry out something of this kind you change the whole mood of soul which you possess at present. It is very extraordinary. But you must be a little resourceful in this connection, and all kinds of things can help you in this. Perhaps a lady may find in some comer or other a garment, or something she wore twenty years ago; she puts this on and thereby transports herself back into the position in which she was at that time; or anything of a like nature which may bring the past with utmost possible reality into the present. In this way you are able to separate yourself thoroughly from your present experience.

When we have experiences in our present consciousness we really stand too intimately in the experiences, too close for the experiences to result in anything, so to speak. We must be able to stand further away. Man is further away from himself when he sleeps than when he is awake; for he is then outside his physical and etheric bodies with his astral body and ego. When you actually invoke past experiences into the present, as I have described, you draw near to the astral body which is outside the physical body in sleep. You may not at first believe that such a vivification of past experiences by means of an old garment perhaps can have the powerful effect I have indicated, but it is really only a question of making an experiment yourself in these matters. If you do make the experiment and you really enchant into the present what has been experienced in past years so that you can live in it and entirely forget the present you will then see that you draw very near to your astral body, to your astral body of sleep.

Now if you expect that it is only necessary to look to right or left and see a cloudy form as your astral body, you will be disappointed, for it does not happen in that way; you must pay attention to what really does occur. What may really occur is, for example, that after a time, through such experiences, you may gradually see the dawn in a new way; you may have a new feeling on seeing a sunrise. Gradually, along this path you will come to experience the warmth of the dawn as something of a prophetic nature, as if it were announcing something, as if the dawn had a natural prophetic force in itself. You will begin to feel the dawn as spiritually forceful, and you will be able to connect an inner meaning with this prophetic force, so that you get a feeling, which you might at first regard as an illusion, that the dawn is related with your own being. Through such experiences as I have described you may gradually bring yourself into a condition in which you feel when you see the dawn: “The dawn does not leave me alone. It is not merely yonder while I am here; I am inwardly united with this dawn; it is a quality of my own inner feeling. I myself at this moment am the dawn.” When you feel thus united with the dawn so that you yourself experience as it were the colour, radiation, and shining, the appearing of the sun out from the colours and the light, so that in your own heart a sun arises, as it were, out of the morning glow as a living feeling,—then you will also feel as if you yourself are traveling with the sun over the vault of heaven; you will feel that the sun does not leave you alone, the sun is not there while you are here but you feel that your existence extends in a certain sense to the sun existence and that you travel with the light throughout the day.

If you develop this feeling which, as we have said, does not come from thinking—for in that way one can only reach man himself—but which we can develop out of memory in the way indicated, when you develop this experience out of your memory, or rather out of the forces of memory, then the things which you perceived formerly with your physical senses begin to wear a different aspect; they begin to be spiritually and psychically transparent. When a man has once attained this feeling of traveling with the sun, of gaining strength at dawn to go with the sun, he sees all the flowers of the meadow in a different aspect. The blossoms do not remain passive, showing the yellow or red colours which they have on the surface but they begin to speak. They speak to our hearts in a spiritual way. The blossoms become transparent. The spiritual part of the plant stirs inwardly, and the blossoming becomes a kind of speaking.

In this way man really unites his soul with the external life of nature, and he thus gains the impression that there is something behind the existence of nature, that the light with which he has united himself is borne by spiritual Beings, and in these spiritual Beings he gradually comes to recognize the features of that which has been pictured by Anthroposophy.

Let us now consider the two stages of feeling which I have described. Let us take the first feeling which can be brought about through thinking as an inner experience; this inner experience of thinking carries him far, and the feeling of being in a confined space entirely ceases. Man's experience widens out; he feels quite distinctly that in his inner being there is a portion which extends right out into the entire cosmos, and which is of the same substance as the cosmos. He feels himself one with the whole world, with the etheric substance of the world; but he feels too that standing on the earth, his feet and legs are drawn down by the gravity of the earth. He feels that he is bound with his entire human nature to this earth. But in the moment man has this thinking-experience he no longer feels bound to the earth, but he feels himself dependent on the wide spaces of the cosmic sphere. Everything comes from the universe, no longer from below, up from the centre of the earth, but everything comes in from the expanses of space. One feels that if one is to understand man, this feeling of streaming in from space must be there.

This extends even to the understanding of the human form. If I wish to grasp the human form either in sculpture or in painting I can really only do so as regards the lower part of the form by thinking of something proceeding out of the inner bodily nature of man. I shall not be bringing the right spirit into this unless I can draw the upper part in such a manner that I think of it as borne in from outside. Our brow, the upper part of our head is from without and is really placed on the rest of the body. He who has looked with artistic understanding at the paintings in the small cupola in the Goetheanum (now destroyed) will have seen that the lower part of the countenance was always so represented as having grown out from within man, and the upper portion of the head as something given to him from the cosmos. In the ages when men had a feeling for such things this was especially felt. You will never understand the form of a true Grecian sculptured head unless you have this feeling for it, for the Greeks created under the inspiration of such feelings.

Thus man feels himself united with the environment in his experience of thinking.

Now one might imagine that this process was simply carried further, and that one would go still further out when one passes on from the experience of thinking to the experience of memory; but this is not the case. If you really develop this experience of thinking in yourself you will ultimately gain an impression of the third Hierarchy, of the angels, archangels and the Archai.

Just as you may picture man's bodily experience here on earth in the forces of gravity and in the transmutation of nourishment in digestion, so you may also form an idea of the conditions under which these beings of the third Hierarchy live, if, through this experience of thinking, instead of wandering about on the earth you feel yourself carried by forces which stream towards you from the furthest expanses of the cosmos.

Now when man passes from the experiences of thinking to that of memory it is not as if this were the end of the cosmic sphere, the limit to which man can attain. We can reach such a cosmic boundary if we really enter into the reality of this thinking-experience; but we do not then go further out; the matter presents itself differently. Here, for instance, we may have an object of some kind, a crystal, a flower or an animal; and if we pass from the experience of thinking to all that the experience of memory can bring us, then we look right into this object. The gaze which has extended to the universe can, if carried further through the memory-experience, look into things. It is not that you press forward into indefinite abstract distances; the gaze that is carried further looks into things and sees the spiritual in everything. It sees, for example, in the light the active spiritual beings of light, and so on. It sees in the darkness the spiritual beings active therein. So that we can say: the experience of memory leads us into the second Hierarchy.

There still exists something in the human soul-life which goes out beyond memory. Let us make clear to ourselves what this is. Memory gives our soul its colouring. We can know quite exactly, when we approach a man who judges everything in a disapproving way, one who emanates his sour atmosphere over everything, a man who, if one tells him something beautiful immediately replies with something unpleasant, and so on, we can know with certainty that all this is connected with his memory. Memory gives the soul its colouring.

We may meet a man who always has an ironic twist of the mouth, especially if we say something to him; or he may wrinkle up his brow or pull a tragic face. Another man may look at us in a friendly way, so that we are cheered not only by what he says but by the way he looks at us. Indeed it is interesting, at some special statement in a lecture to glance at the countenances in the audience, to see the expression of the mouth, or to look at the foreheads or the blank expression on many of the countenances, or the nobility of many others and so on. In what you see there is expressed not merely what has remained as memory in the soul and has given the soul a certain colouring, but something is expressed which has passed over from the memory into the physiognomy, into the gesture, into the whole attitude of a man. If a man has taken nothing in, if he shows by his countenance that he has not learnt anything by what he has experienced of sorrow, pain or joy in his life, that too is characteristic. If his countenance has remained quite smooth, that is as characteristic as if it expresses in deep wrinkles the tragedy or the earnestness of life, or even perhaps its many satisfactions. That which remains in the soul as the result of the power of memory passes over into and moulds the physical body; and so markedly does this take place that man later actually has from it outwardly his physiognomy and his gestures, and inwardly his temperament, for we have not always the same temperament in old age as we had in childhood. The temperament in old age is often the result of what we have undergone in life, and which has inwardly become memory in the soul.

That which passes inwardly into man in this way can also be carried into reality, though this is more difficult. It is still fairly easy to bring before our soul-vision things which we experienced in childhood or, many years ago, in order to realize memory to a certain extent, but it is more difficult to transpose oneself into the temperament of one's childhood, into one's earlier temperament. But the practice of such an exercise may be of infinite significance for us; and more is really attained when we can do this inwardly in the depths of the soul than if we do something externally.

Something is already attained in a man if, say at the age of forty or fifty, he plays a child's game, or jumps as he did when a child or if he tries to make a face such as he made when an aunt gave him a bonbon when he was eight years of age; and things of that kind.

To transpose oneself back to the very gesture, to the very attitude, brings something into our life which leads convincingly to the feeling that the outer world is the inner world, and the inner world is the outer world.

We then enter with our whole being, e.g., into the flower, and we have in addition to the thought-experience and the memory-experience what I may call the experience of gesture, in the truest sense of the words. From this we gain an idea of how the spiritual everywhere works unimpeded in the physical world.

You cannot apprehend inwardly with full consciousness your behaviour of say twenty years ago as regards your gesture on any occasion without realizing the union of the spiritual and the physical in all things; that is, if you penetrate into the depths of this matter with all earnestness and energy. Then you have arrived at the experience of the first Hierarchy.

 Thought-experience: third Hierarchy. 
Memory-experience: second Hierarchy. Gesture-experience: first 

The memory-experience leads us to identify ourselves with the dawn when we stand face to face with the morning glow. It enables us to feel inwardly, to experience inwardly all the warmth of the dawn; but when we rise to the experience of gesture, then that which approaches us in the dawn unites with everything that can be experienced objectively as colour or tone.

When we regard the objects around us illuminated by the sun and simply look at them as they appear to us, we see them in the light. But we do not see the dawn in this way, especially when we pass over gradually from the memory-experience to the experience of gesture; then everything which is experienced as colour gradually separates itself off from all material existence. The experience of colour becomes living, it becomes psychic, spiritual. It forsakes the space in which the external dawn appears to us. The dawn begins then to speak to us of the secret of the connection of the sun with the earth; and we learn how the Beings of the first Hierarchy work. When we again turn our gaze to the dawn and it appears to us almost as it did formerly in the mere experience of memory we learn to recognize the Thrones. Then the dawn dissolves away. The colour becomes living, becomes psychic, becomes spiritual, becomes a Being, and speaks to us of the relation of the sun to the earth as it once existed in the old Sun-period; it speaks to us in such a manner that we learn what the Cherubim are. And then, when full of enthusiasm and veneration we are carried away by this two-fold revelation of the dawn, the revelation of the Thrones and of the Cherubim, and we live on further within the soul, there presses into our own inner being, from out of the living Being which the dawn has now become, that which constitutes the nature of the Seraphim.

Everything which I have described to you today, I have done simply to point out how, from the simple following on in the soul from thinking to the gesture that is full of thought and permeated by soul, man can acquire for himself a feeling (for, to begin with he has only feelings) about the spiritual foundations of the cosmos, right up to the sphere of the Seraphim.

I wanted to give you this as a kind of introduction to the studies which are to lead us on from the soul-life out into the expanses of the spiritual cosmos.