29 September 1917, Dornach
It is a matter of deep satisfaction to me, as I think you know, to be with you again for a while, for this is the place where we are able to create a visible sign of our intentions and of the will to come closer and closer to a true knowledge of the spirit in our studies and in our work in spiritual science.
The quest for knowledge is intimately bound up with the most inward aspect of the human being, and every now and then we must therefore enquire into the essential nature of our will and intent. In the light of the present situation, woeful as it is, it seems the answer to this question must be a negative one. For more than three years we have seen something spread across the world that I need not discuss in detail, at least to begin with, for we are all aware of it and feel it deeply. The events now taking place are the opposite of our own intentions, which have come to expression in this very building. 1The ‘visible sign’ was the First Goetheanum, built from 1913 onwards and destroyed by fire on New Year's Eve 1922/23. See H. Biesantz, A. Klingborg, et al., The Goetheanum: Rudolf Steiner's Architectural Impulse. Rudolf Steiner Press, London 1979.
Again and again we must try to see clearly which stream of spiritual development we wish to see taken up by humanity, and today we have to say it is the opposite of the stream which has led to the terrible tragedy of these last years. This is something we may call to mind again and again when we give deep and full consideration to the events now raging all over the world. We may say to ourselves that it appears as if time were drawn out and had become elastic, as if the things we remember from before this madness took hold of the world happened not just years but centuries ago.
There will, of course, be many today — as there always have been — who may be said to sleep through the events of the day, people who are not fully awake to what is going on today. But when those who are awake look back on what went through their minds four or five years ago and left an impression, they will feel more or the less the way one does when one lets the mind dwell on an old book or a work of art that was created hundreds of years ago. Events which meant something to us before this madness came on the world now seem to have happened an infinitely long time ago.
Anyone who was awake — through the science of the spirit — was, of course, able to appreciate what was coming even before these events developed. Many of our friends will remember the almost routine answer I gave to questions asked over and over again after my public lectures from the beginning of this century. The question, you may remember, was: “According to the statistics, the world population is increasing; how does this relate to the idea of repeated earth lives? The increase in population is rapid. How can one reconcile this with the spiritual scientific finding that these are always the same souls?” My answer always had to be: It does look as if the statisticians are right and the world population is increasing; but we have to take a longer view and consider much longer time-spans if we are to do justice to the question. And I would always go on to say that a time may well come, sooner than we may expect, when people discover to their horror that the population can also decrease.
I t is not always possible to give plain and simple answers in anthroposophy. People have not yet reached the point where they are able to take truths in the right way and some things can only be hinted at. Read through the lectures given in Vienna not long before this catastrophe came on our world and you will find the passage where I spoke of the social cancer that is gnawing away at the evolution of humanity. 2Rudolf Steiner, The Inner Nature of Man and Life Between Death and a New Birth. Trans. by A. Meuss. Rudolf Steiner Press, Bristol 1993 (GA 153). The passage referred to is in the lecture given on 14 April 1914. This and other things were said in order to indicate what was going to happen in human evolution and to challenge people to reflect. For we need to reflect on these things if we are really and truly to wake up. We need to be awake and alive for the sake of humanity. If anthroposophy is to fulfil its purpose, its prime task must be to rouse people and make them really wake up. Merely knowing what is going on in the physical world, and knowing the laws that human minds are able to perceive as operative in this world, is no more than being asleep in a higher sense. Humanity is only fully awake when people are able to develop notions and ideas of the world of the spirit. This is all around us, just as air and water, the stars, the sun and the moon are all around us. When we are physically asleep we are wholly given up to the internal processes that go on in the body during the night and have no idea of anything in the physical world around us. We are asleep in exactly the same way when we are wholly given up to the physical environment, and to the world and the laws of the intellect, and have no idea of the world of the spirit that is all around us.
Humanity has made great play of its intellectual progress and scientific achievements in the last few centuries and has been particularly insistent on this at the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century. Yet, strangely enough, the unconscious and instinctive life was never more to the fore than it is at this time. Up to the present time this instinctive and unconscious element has increasingly taken hold of the human race. Failure to see the spiritual reality and take account of the element of the spirit is ultimately the cause of this terrible world war. Nor can it be said that through these years — years which have turned into centuries for anyone who is awake in them, as I have said — humanity has learned an adequate lesson from the terrible events around us. Sadly, it has to be said that the opposite is the case.
What is the characteristic element to be found day by day, hour by hour, when we take note of what people think, or rather pretend to think and pretend to want? It is that, fundamentally speaking, no one in the world knows what they want, and no one realizes that people's perfectly justifiable aims, whichever form they may take in the minds of individual nations, would be achieved so much better if they did away with these terrible wars in which so much blood is shed. People do not realize that these terrible events with their bloodshed are really not necessary as a means of helping them to achieve their aims.
These events have a mysterious background, but if you consider some of the things said in our anthroposophical lectures over the years, even if they have only been touched on lightly, you will find perfectly clear statements, also with reference to the most significant of recent events. Consider also what has been said in these very rooms, especially in the last few years, on the character of the Russian people and the difference between the Russians and the peoples of Western and Central Europe. 3Lectures given by Rudolf Steiner on 7, 14 and 15 October 1916, also on 24 September 1916, published in Inner Impulses of Human Evolution (GA 171), trans. revised by G. Church, F. Kozlik and S.C. Easton, Antroposophic Press, Hudson, NY, 1984. You will find that you need the things which have been said here to gain understanding of an event that appears to have come in with such vehemence. It has burst forth as though it were a karmic vengeance, the inner meaning of which is quite clear, though the word ‘vengeance’ must be taken as a technical term and not at all in a moral sense.
Not only the Russian people, but those of Europe and the whole world, will have to reflect for a long time to come on the events in Eastern Europe, events much more mysterious than we are inclined to think. Something has come to the surface which has been preparing for centuries. The new element wanting to take shape is something completely different from what is actually taking shape. Later generations will be able to use the events which will be taking shape in Eastern Europe over the next decades to demonstrate the difference between maya and reality. For you see, the generations of today are taking what is happening now for the real thing, when this is in fact still waiting in the wings, and they are wrong in taking it for real, for something quite different wants to make its appearance.
The people in the West are ill-equipped to understand what wants to come to the surface. Why are they so ill-equipped? Strange as it may seem to people today — not to you but to the ordinary, average individual; being anthroposophists, you are not ordinary, average people of today — the present age is more than any other age demanding the one thing people least want to have: understanding based on the science of the spirit. Strange as it may sound to the ordinary, average people of today — order will not be created from the chaos of the present time until a sufficiently large number of people are prepared to recognize the truths of that science. Such will be the karma of world history.
If people insist that this war is just like the wars of the past and that we'll be making peace just as peace has been made before — let them talk. They are the people who love maya and do not distinguish between truth and deception. Let them make what may seem like ‘peace’ — order will only arise from the chaos that fills the world today when insight based on the science of the spirit dawns in human minds. You may feel in your hearts that it will be a long time before such order comes; you may think it will be a long time before people are prepared to let the dawn of such a science arise, and you will be right. You have to accept that it will be a long time before order arises from the chaos. For it will not come until human hearts understand the realm of the spirit. Order can only come when it is understood how this chaos has arisen.
Chaos has arisen because the reality is considered in an unspiritual
way and the world of the spirit cannot be ignored with impunity. You may
think it is enough to live with thoughts and ideas that are wholly
derived from the physical world. It is what people generally think
today, though this does not make it true. The most completely and
utterly wrong idea humanity has ever had is — to put it simply
— that the spirits will put up with being ignored. You may
consider it egotistical and selfish on their part, but the terminology
is different in their world. Egotism or not, the spirits take their
revenge if they are ignored here on earth. This is a law, an iron
necessity. One way to characterize the present time is to say that the
present human chaos is the revenge of the spirits who have been ignored
I have often said, both here and elsewhere: A mysterious connection exists between human consciousness and the destructive powers of decline and fall in the universe. Each can, or indeed must, take the place of the other in the following way.
Let us assume there was a time, say during the last twenty or thirty years of the nineteenth century, when people put the same effort into their quest for the things of the spirit as they have put into achieving material knowledge and material actions during those twenty or thirty years. What would have happened if they had endeavoured to recognize the world of the spirit and used this to give a character, a foundation, to the physical world, rather than follow mere instinct and chase after more and more knowledge of a kind that has seen its ultimate triumph in the creation of instruments of murder and found its be-all and end-all in people enriching themselves with nothing but material goods? What would have happened if people had sought to gain spiritual knowledge and spiritual impulses for their activities in the social sphere? It would have meant that the powers of destruction were paid off! If people had been more awake and not asleep in the last decades of the nineteenth century there would have been greater awareness and therefore no need for destruction in the first decades of the twentieth century. Spiritual awareness simply has to be greater than purely sensual and material awareness. If this had been the case during the last decades of the nineteenth century, the powers of destruction would not have had to intervene in the early decades of the twentieth century.
This is brought to realization most insistently, and perhaps most cruelly, to the perceptive mind when you meet many of the dead who have entered the world of the spirit either during the last decades of the nineteenth or the first decades of the twentieth century. Many of them have been caught up in the hustle and bustle and search for material values here on earth and never had the opportunity to let spiritual impulses arouse awareness. Many have gone through the gate of death without even a notion of the thoughts and ideas that point to spiritual impulses. If they had had the opportunity to take in spiritual thoughts and ideas before they went through the gate of death they could have taken these with them. It would have been something they needed after death, but they were not in a position to have it.
Anyone who knows the history of ideas of the last decades of the nineteenth and the first decades of the twentieth century also knows that people actually no longer knew how to use the term ‘spirit’. It has been used to describe all kinds of things, but not the true spirit. Those souls therefore had no opportunity of knowing the spirit whilst here on earth and they have to take the consequences. Having gone through the gate of death and entered the world of the spirit, they are thirsting for — well, what are they thirsting for, these souls who lived in materialism here? They are thirsting for destructive powers in the physical world! Those are the dues and they must be paid.
There is no easy way of dealing with these things. If we want to know the realities in this sphere, we must acquire a feeling for what the ancient Egyptians called ‘iron necessity’. Terrible as it may be, it was necessary that destruction should spread, for those who had gone through the gate of death were longing for the destructive powers in which they are able to live, seeing they did not receive what was due to them and had been deprived of spiritual impulses while on earth.
Order cannot arise from the chaos until people are ready to give room to such grave truths in their souls and also let these truths enter into the ideas that apply in the world of politics today. And if these truths sound pessimistic to you and make you think that humanity is still a long way from achieving all that is demanded, as I have indicated, you are indeed right. But let this justifiable pessimism become a challenge to be awake and to try, whatever your place in life may be, to awaken souls so that the science of the spirit can send out its impulses. It cannot yet be done to any great extent, but we must have the real, honest desire to make people consciously aware in such a way that they are able to understand this concrete fact: Longings have arisen in the dead in recent times, and those longings are being met with events which are truly horrifying for those of us who are alive here on the physical plane.
Just think how easy it is for some people to present their friends with an image of the region into which human beings enter when they have gone through the gate of death. Consider the unctuous sermons preached in the churches — with politicians now actually following the example of these sermonizers — and the facile notions people have of the world of the spirit, and you simply cannot help realizing how far removed from reality is the facile vanity of many of today's leading figures. Compare the speeches of such leading figures — their lives show that they do anything but lead and that they are guided by all kinds of forces of which they are completely unconscious and which are not the right forces — compare this with what is really needed at the present time, and you will realize the immense gravity of the present situation.
Right next to our physical world lies another, non-physical or spiritual world, and this has never before influenced our world as intensely as it is doing at the present time. People are not aware of this, however; they do not even notice when things get heart-stoppingly fearsome and terrible. Intensely illuminating words are heard in the world today; they should set vast numbers of people thinking. But people never notice, or at least they do not show it if they do.
Some of you will remember that on a number of occasions in the last three years 4For example, in The Karma of Materialism. Trans. by R. Everett. Anthroposophie Press, Hudson, NY, and Rudolf Steiner Press, London 1985. I have said that when the history of this ‘world war’ will be written in the future — unfortunately present-day critics have not done so, though it could be done fairly easily — it will be impossible to use the method which has produced the legend, the fairy-tale, or call it what you will, which currently goes by the name of ‘history’. This was produced by ‘scholars’ — as the world calls them — sitting in libraries for months, years and decades and studying diplomatic records in order to write their histories. Inevitably a time will come when most of these histories will have to be pulped. In fact, no one will be able to write the history of these last years by such a method unless they are literally off their heads.
The causes of the chaos will not be apparent to the people who have been writing histories until now, but only to people who have a real feeling for what it means when a miserable individual of our time has to face a court and is forced to sum up the condition he was in at the time by flinging down before the world the lamentable statement: ‘First one thing happened, then another, and that was the moment when I went out of my mind!’ It was Suchomlinov who spoke these pitiful words. 5Vladimir Alexandrovitch Suchomlinov, 1848–1926, Minister for War at the time when the First World War broke out. Together with Janushkievitch, Chief of General Staff, and Sasonov, Foreign Minister, Suchomlinov played a key role in the fateful mobilization of the Russian army on 29 July 1914, ignoring a direct order from the Tsar to countermand the mobilization at the last minute. After the deposition of the Tsar, Suchomlinov was questioned in court. According to the paper Novoie Vremia, the words he said in court were: ‘On that day I almost went out of my mind.’ Quoted from Suchomlinov, die russische Mobilmachung im Lichte amtlicher Urkunden und der Entlillungen des Prozesses, Berne 1917.
Many people had gone out of their minds at that time, not only Suchomlinov. What kind of moments are these in world events when the only way of describing them is by confessing that one has gone out of one's mind? They are moments when Ahriman and his cohorts gain access to the human race and to human thoughts. For as long as people watch over their conscious minds and their consciousness is not in any way clouded or inactive, neither Ahriman nor Lucifer have access to it. But when it is not fully active and one needs to use the phrase ‘I have gone out of my mind’, that is the moment when Ahriman and his cohorts enter the stage. The things that happen then will not appear in diplomatic records — little of what it says in those records in recent decades makes real sense, by the way. Leaving this aside, the things that have happened in our time and have led to chaos are not merely human actions, but above all the actions of ahrimanic spirits seeking to gain access by reducing human awareness. Some of you know very well that soon after the present catastrophe broke on the world I pointed out that when we speak of the origins of this catastrophe in time to come, we must not do so on the basis of written records; instead we shall have to point to real facts through which ahrimanic spirits gained access to the stage of human events.
These things must be taken in all seriousness; they have to be seen as concrete realities and not merely as abstract formulations. People who do not know anything about it may well laugh when one says that Ahriman gained access to human evolution. They may well laugh at people who say this, but the day will come when world history laughs them to scorn for having laughed at others today.
We certainly cannot say that the judgments, ideas and notions to be found on the surface in recent years show any degree of maturity. People even failed to understand when eighteen months ago it was pointed out somewhere that something might soon happen of which due note should be taken; it should not be taken lightly. Concrete examples given as an indication of what was likely to happen were never taken in the right way; people were not sufficiently awake in their minds to do so. Now the event has come. And people fail to realize that something is taking root deeply in a certain soil. People are taking it as something which — well, because a certain number of statements take up so many lines, people accept they have a number of statements made in that particular number of lines. They are not at all interested in looking for the roots of such statements, but simply take things at their face value.
I think you know what I mean. You know I am referring to the Papal Note 1On 1 August 1917 Pope Benedict XV issued a Peace Note to the governments of the belligerent nations. as something I had seen coming for eighteen months. I have looked around a great deal to see if I might not find someone who has expressed their views on this Note, or asked the kind of question that should have come to mind.
Let us remember that the idea of the state as we know it today has been dawning since the sixteenth century. In some parts of the world peculiar people known as ‘historians’ are speaking of states as something which have existed for I do not know how long. But they know little about real history. The present-day idea of a state is no more than four or five hundred years old and something entirely different existed in earlier times. It is important to know this and be really clear about it. The priestly element, which is to be found in Rome, is indeed older than our modern states. It had its justification in its own day, when it brought about many things in the world. I have tried to find out if people are asking themselves the question: What does it really mean that the modern structures which have developed over four or five centuries cannot find a way of achieving order out of their own resources, and look back to the old priestly element as something to be discussed in the way people generally discuss things today?
It would interest me to know if anyone faced with the question as to whether it is a good idea to skate on ice when it is only one millimetre thick would actually answer in the affirmative. Relative to what we are really dealing with, the concepts on which people base their opinions when a priestly element brings impulses into modern life today are like a one- millimetre layer of ice covering the water. The things people write and say today are like someone skating on ice that is not more than one millimetre in thickness. No one is trying to understand what is happening, no one is prepared to see that what matters is not to take a document and look at the statements it contains, but to know that a statement can mean something totally different, depending on the source from which it comes.
Everywhere today we are faced with the need to warn people in all seriousness to look to the origins, to see how things are related, to look for realities and not to the way things look on the surface. Surely it cannot be that difficult for anyone to admit: I see the way things are, but I do not yet understand them and therefore I will not say anything to interfere. Considering the incredibly superficial level of education, it is not at all surprising when people are able to understand and have an opinion on everything. People find it really difficult to admit that they cannot judge an issue and need to get a basis for their judgement before they give an opinion. In fact, it hardly ever comes to their minds that one has to have a basis which to form an opinion.
Infinitely much depends on real insight into the driving forces, especially for the immediate future. It has to be realized that the chaos will certainly not be reduced if — speaking hypothetically — the churches were to succeed in establishing even the initial stages of apparent order. The worst error we can fall into would be to say: It does not matter where peace comes from, even if it is from the Pope. The point is, it may actually cause no harm at all to have peace initiated by the Pope; the question is how those who are involved see the issue.
Again and again we need to be really clear in our minds that the present time is literally challenging us every hour, indeed every minute, to wake up. Anthroposophy as a science of the spirit can only be understood by those who are able to grasp that humanity is being asked to make a clear decision. Either the spirit is understood or the chaos continues. A papered-over chaos would be no better than the carnage we have today. If we are unable to come up with anything better than materialism and again materialism, even a heightened materialism, in the next few years, and if it were to happen that the events of the last three years, to which humanity has failed to wake up and take notice, were to lead to a new rush for material goods — many people are longing for this as something that comes with peace — then souls would once again go through the gate of death and thirst for destruction here on earth. There would be no end to the destruction.
All it needs is to get an idea, a feeling, an inner impulse for the need to turn to the things of the spirit! Then we shall progress, depending on the extent to which this is achieved. Anyone who wants to gain a little understanding of the present position, and looks at our time in the light of the serious truths we have been considering, must develop a reasonable degree of feeling for all the terrible, hopelessly commonplace and superficial things that are now being written and said in this world.
Imagine a band of children smashing up all the pots and plates, glasses and everything in the house. The adults who see this happening are considering how to stop it, for the children keep running to the larder and all over the house to find more things to smash. Finally the adults have an idea as to how they can stop it. A number of people who are watching, people who actually consider themselves to be the teachers of these children, find a solution: They take care that everything breakable is collected and smashed to pieces — and that, they think, should put an end to it all! I do not know how many people would not consider those teachers to be fools. This is the kind of situation where people would see the truth. Yet there are people who consider themselves to be wise and who say to the whole world: Carnage must continue until peace comes; everything has to be broken, so there will be nothing left to smash in the world. This is considered wisdom. Go on murdering people for as long as you can and you will stop the murder. This is wisdom!
For anyone who has even a spark of logic it is no longer wisdom when the teacher says to a band of children: To make sure nothing else gets smashed up, I will quickly get people to collect all other breakable objects and smash them; I reckon nothing else will get smashed after that. Why do people call this foolishness and the other thing political foresight? Because people's thinking stops at the very point where it should be most intense, which is where their thoughts relate to great questions of destiny.
We shall continue with this tomorrow, and consider some serious spiritual truths.