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The Evolution of Consciousness
GA 227

6. The Ruling of Spirit in Nature

24 August 1923, Penmaenmawr

Yesterday I tried to show how the confusion in dreams arises from the fact that during sleep a man crosses the so-called Threshold unconsciously or half-consciously. Leaving the physical world of the senses, he enters the spiritual world and there encounters three worlds—a memory of the ordinary physical world, the soul world, and the real world of spirit. Events both inward and outward, experienced in our ordinary earthly life, are gathered together from what these three worlds reveal. But they are split apart when in sleep we enter the super-sensible world, and what we experience is not then related to the world where it belongs. That is why, for the usual memory-consciousness, deceptions and illusions arise in dreams. Imaginative consciousness does not see the dream merely in this way, but makes it an object of observation, just as we look towards a distant point in physical space—though now, with Imagination, we look towards something distant in time. We do not simply remember what is dreamt; we look at it, and so for the first time we arrive at a true conception of what a dream is. Thus we find how a dream is interpreted rightly only when we do not relate it to the physical, naturalistic world, but to the spiritual—above all, in most cases, to the moral world. The dream will never tell what it is expressing if its content is given a physical interpretation, but only when the interpretation is in accordance with the spiritually moral.

To illustrate this, let us turn to the confusion of the dream I told you about yesterday—the dream in which someone going for a walk is suddenly overcome with shame at finding himself without clothes in a crowded street. I remarked how the whole mood of soul in dream-consciousness is due to our confronting three different worlds. Looking at a dream of this kind in the right way, however, we see that although its content appears to belong to the realm of the senses, yet through this medium the spiritual-moral is seeking to reveal itself. Hence, anyone having such a dream ought not to look at the immediate, symbolical course it takes, but should ask himself: Haven't I sometimes had a tendency in daytime consciousness not to be completely truthful about myself with others? Haven't I perhaps been too fond of following the fashion in what I wear—altogether too apt to take refuge in convention? Is it not a characteristic of mine to give people a false impression of what I really am?

When anyone lets his thoughts take this course, he gradually arrives at the moral, spiritual interpretation of the dream. He says to himself: When during sleep I was in the super-sensible world, I met with spiritual beings there—they told me that I should not be present in a cloak of falsehood, but as I really am inwardly, in soul and spirit.

When we interpret dreams in this way, we come to their moral, spiritual truth. A whole host of dreams can be interpreted thus.

People of an older chapter in history, who even in the dreamy symbolism of sleep were conscious of the Guardian of the Threshold, took to heart his warning not to carry with them what belongs to the physical world of the senses when they enter the spiritual world. Had these men dreamt they had no clothes on in the street, it would never have occurred to them that they ought to have been ashamed; this is something that holds good for the physical world, for a man's physical body. They would have given heed to the warning that what holds good for the physical does not hold good in the spiritual world, and that what appears in the spiritual world is being said to human beings by the Gods. A dream, therefore, had to be interpreted as an utterance of the Gods. Only during the course of human evolution have dreams come to be interpreted in a naturalistic sense.

Or let us take another common dream. The dreamer is going along a path that leads him into a wood. After a while he realises that he has lost his way and cannot go any further. He tries to do so, but the path comes to an end and trees block the way. He begins to feel uneasy.

Now in ordinary consciousness this dream is easily taken at its face value. But if on thinking over it we forget all naturalistic associations, the spiritual world will say to us: This confusion you have met with is in your own thoughts. In waking consciousness, however, people are often loath to admit how confused their thinking is and how easily they reach a point where they can make no progress but only go round in a circle. This inclination is particularly characteristic of our present civilisation. People consider themselves enlightened thinkers, but in reality they dance around in a circle with their thoughts—either about conventional trivialities or about atoms, which are intellectual constructions of their own. In ordinary consciousness, naturally, they are not disposed to admit this.

In a series of symbolical pictures the dream brings out a man's true nature, and it is spiritual beings who are speaking through it. When anyone takes his dream experience in the right way, his self-knowledge will be greatly enhanced.

Another common human characteristic is that people allow themselves to be led by their instincts and impulses to do what is most congenial to them. For example, they find pleasure in doing something or other, but they are not ready to admit that they are doing it for their own satisfaction. They invent some way of interpreting it differently for their ordinary consciousness—they say perhaps that they are doing it for anthroposophical or occult or esoteric reasons, connected with a high mission or something of that sort. With this kind of self-justification they cover up—and this occurs with extraordinary frequency—an endless amount of all that rules and rages in the depths of our animal life. A dream—which wishes to reveal through symbolical pictures the forces which really hold sway even in the soul and spirit of the dreamer—may present a picture of the man pursued by wild beasts and trying vainly to escape. We shall interpret truly the moral significance of such a dream, not by looking at its outward events, but by accepting the self-knowledge it offers us. We have to recognise it as a warning to search for the inner truth about our own nature and to consider whether this does not resemble—if only slightly—animal instinct rather than what we ideally conjure up.

Hence it is possible for dreams to warn people in countless ways and to set them right. When a dream is related in the true way to the higher world, it can have a guiding influence on a man's life, and then, when the stage of conscious Imagination is reached, one can see how the dream, which at first naturally offers even to Imaginative knowledge pictures drawn from the sense-world, is metamorphosed entirely into moral-spiritual happenings.

Thus we see how the dream can be said to lead ordinary consciousness into the spiritual world, if only it is taken in the right way. But I have said also that on raising ourselves through Imagination to the spiritual world, we are not in the same state of soul as during our life here on Earth. In this life, I stand here, the table is there outside me; there is a physical gap between me and the table. The moment I enter the spiritual world, this separation ceases. I no longer stand here with the table over there; it is as if my whole being were spreading out over the table and the table were taking me into itself. In the spiritual world we sink right into whatever we perceive. Hence our experience, either in dreams or consciously in Imagination, should not be related merely to our inner life, but we can speak in a spiritual-scientific sense if we say with the poet that the whole world is woven out of dreams. It is certainly not woven out of the play of atoms, which is a dream of the scientists, but out of what I have described as the “chaos” of the Greeks, out of the weaving of our dreams and of our conscious Imagination. I have called it both subjective and objective, for the world is not woven purely subjectively; but we have to explain certain aspects of the world as being woven out of dreams.

For example, if we are looking at a seed, we should not be content to explain it by the laws of physics and chemistry. A scientist who sees nothing more than those laws in a seed, or in an embryo, cannot possibly explain them; for nature is dreaming in seed and embryo—their very essence is the weaving life of a dream. Take the seed of a plant—in it a dream is living and weaving. You can never enter into this with the intellect, for that is limited to nature's laws; you must approach it with the human faculty which lives otherwise in a dream or in conscious Imagination.

The same kind of dreaming that lives thus in the seed is active also in our whole organism throughout our life on Earth. Hence we should not look in our organism merely for the working of chemical and physical forces. When a man is there before us physically, we have to look upon him in his external physical form as a being who is living just for a time in the physical world of the senses. Behind him lives something else, invisible to the eye, inaudible to the ear, in so far as these are physical. But it can be perceived in Imagination, and also in what can be experienced in the unconscious Imagination of a dream. In the whole of a man's body nature is dreaming. Nature's way of thinking is not like man's intellectual thinking—it is a dreaming. Out of this dreaming the forces of our digestion and of our growth are guided, and everything is given form.

When we look back in earthly existence we generally start from this age—what shall we call this age of ours? We could take one of its symptoms and call it the age of the typewriter. Thus we go back from this age of the typewriter to the time when printing was first introduced; and going still further back we come perhaps to the time of the Romans, to the time of the Greeks, and then we arrive at the age in the East from which the Vedic records come. We are then left with no external documents. Many treasures have been excavated from the tombs of the Egyptian kings, but we still come at last to a time with no records, where we have to rely on Imaginative and Inspired spiritual knowledge. There we meet with a frontier beyond which, for ordinary consciousness, the past is vague, very much as sleep lies beyond the dream. By going back in this way through the temporal evolution of the world, we come in fact to that dream-veil we can experience every night.

If we reach that point with conscious Imagination, the further past lights up in a spiritual way. But it appears different from the world we learn about intellectually and from ancient records. This remote past in world-evolution, lying behind a veil of dreams, reveals man in direct connection with divine Spirits. He is himself still a divine soul-being; and the divine-spiritual Beings, whose destiny does not include entering an earthly body, meet together with him while he awaits his incarnation on earth.

When, therefore, we look back through history to this veil of chaos, to the dream-veil of which we have been speaking during the last few days, we see the divine Spirits foregathering with the still spiritual souls of men destined to dwell on Earth.

Moreover, we shall see how these things, connected as they are with human evolution, are at the same time connected with cosmic evolution. Where in a remote past this veil appears to Inspired Imagination, we see, too, how within cosmic evolution—of which we shall have to speak more precisely—the Moon, previously united with the Earth, detaches itself and goes out into cosmic space, there to circle the Earth. Thus we gaze back on a dream-veil, a veil of Imagination, and looking through it we find the Earth united with the Moon, and human beings in direct contact with divine-spiritual Beings. When this dream-veil appears to the retrospective gaze of Imagination, we perceive the momentous cosmic event of the Moon, in a quite different form, sliding out of the Earth and going forth into cosmic space as a separate body. So we look further back to the evolution of the Earth, of mankind, and of the world, when these were all united with the Moon. Man was already there, but as a being of soul and spirit only.

As we gaze further and further back, we find no epoch in cosmic evolution when man was not there, at least in some primal form. So that, from the standpoint of Spiritual Science, we cannot say that for millions of years the Earth was evolving merely inorganically or with creatures of a lower order, with man emerging only after that. We find man in a different form connected at every stage with that cosmic evolution to which we look back when, behind the veil of chaos and the dream, we can rise through conscious Imagination to that which appears to us as the divine-spiritual essence of the world.

As I have said, when we look at a seed or anything in an embryonic state, Imaginative cognition reveals in it the weaving of a dream. We see how something real, though expressed in dream-pictures, holds sway over the material part of the seed. Anyone able to perceive the spiritual in the world will find it everywhere, though in a great variety of forms. It is precisely the spiritual that goes through the most varied metamorphoses. And when we have thoroughly grasped how in the seed of a plant, in the embryo of an animal, this real dream-weaving prevails, we are justified in asking: How is it, then, with the apparently dead world of the minerals? If here we look out of the window or go along the street, we see the bare hills, a world that seems entirely lifeless, and the question at once arises: If in any plant seed we pick up there is a dream-picture ruling, how is it with these rocky mountainous masses, and with all the lifeless substance that forms the ground we tread on in the physical world? If in the plants we see the ruling of spirit, which in the weaving of a dream seizes with comparative ease upon the material element, so in the same way through Imaginative cognition we find the spiritual in these rocky masses, but here the spiritual consists of individual spiritual beings.

These spiritual beings, however, are in a state not of dreaming but of deep sleep. When you look at these rocks and hills you must not think of them as permeated by a slumbering amorphous mist; you should think of individual spiritual beings sleeping there. Presently we shall see how these spiritual beings have come into existence through having been split off from higher beings with a higher consciousness. We shall see how they themselves, having in their present state only a sleep-consciousness, are the result of that separation, and how these elemental beings are asleep everywhere out there in the inanimate world. When we walk over this mountainous mass of rock, we should be aware that all around us there slumbers the creative weaving of the spirit in concrete form. And when we enter further into the sleeping of the spirit-weaving forms in the lifeless world, we become aware in these elemental beings of a certain mood. Imagination shows us these beings, but it is Inspiration that teaches us about their mood. In these elementals of the mountains, the rocks, and the soil, there lives what we can discover in ourselves when we are waiting for something with justified expectation. The weaving and creating of soul and spirit in the seemingly lifeless rocks is permeated by this same expectant mood.

In fact, these beings are waiting to awake from deep sleep into a state of dreaming. We learn this through Inspiration, and more particularly when we enter right into these beings through Intuition. All that confronts us out there, in those hills, is expecting that one day it will be able to dream, and so with dream-consciousness to take hold of earthly substance that is ground down into lifeless matter, and from these rocks and hills to conjure forth once more as embryos, as seeds, living plants. It is indeed these beings who bring before our souls a wonderful magic of nature, a creating from out of the spirit.

And so, as we go about here among these rocks and look at them in the physical light they reflect, they can reveal to us, not in any symbolical sense but as real knowledge, how they are now sleeping, how in the future they will be dreaming, and how, later still, they will come to the fully awake life of elemental nature-beings, who will one day become beings of pure spirit.

The physical material in a plant is still in a condition accessible to the dream-weaving of the spirit. In the rocks, matter is crumbling away. Looking back with Imagination and Inspiration, we realise how everything lifeless has arisen from the living. It is when the living becomes lifeless that the sleeping spirituality can sink into it. This sleeping spirit waits in the lifeless until it can wake into dreams and lead over the lifeless into cosmic embryonic life.

Now the various parts of the Earth show in different ways this sleep of spiritual beings in the mountains, in the firm crust of the Earth. It might be said: The sleep of beings awaiting their future is different in regions such as this from their sleep in other parts of the Earth. Here in Penmaenmawr we find that the particular configuration of the Earth, and the historical character of the rocks, enable these sleeping beings to rise to the aeriform, to interweave even with the light, while in other parts of the Earth this has long ceased to be so. Thus it is that here, if we look on the weaving as due not to the aerial atmosphere alone, but to the prevailing soul-atmosphere, which permeates the air just as the human soul permeates a man's body, then in Penmaenmawr we find that this soul-element in the atmosphere is different from elsewhere. I will give just one example to make this clear.

Suppose that in a certain region Imaginative cognition exerts itself to call up an Imagination of what is really going on there. This Imagination may be more or less easy or difficult to hold on to, for the possibility of retaining an Imagination in consciousness varies in different regions. Here we are in a region where Imaginations continue for a remarkably long time and so are able to become very vivid.

The wise men of the Druids, or others of that kind, sought out regions for their temples and sanctuaries where the conditions were such as to allow Imaginations to remain and not immediately to vanish away like clouds. Hence we can understand how it was that such centres for the holy places of the Druids were still sought for up to comparatively recent times. In this region it has always been felt that the difficulty of holding an Imagination is not so great as in other places. Everything, of course, has a light side and a shadow side. When an Imagination remains, Inspiration is made harder, though it gains in strength. Because of that, whatever the spiritual world has to say in this place streams down with—one might say—greater intensity, but in words which are weightier and more difficult.

Therefore, even where the spiritual is in question, differentiations are to be found throughout the Earth. A map might be drawn indicating the places where, for Imaginative consciousness, there is no difficulty in holding Imaginations. Those regions where they soon pass away could be given a different colour, and we should get an extraordinarily interesting map of the Earth. For the prevailing character of soul-atmosphere here, we should need a particularly strong colour—a sparkling, shining colour, full of life.

Hence I fully believe that those taking part in this lecture-course will be able to perceive here something of what I would call the esoteric mood of the elementals. It looks in at the windows, meets us on our walks, in fact is present everywhere in a quite special way. I am particularly grateful to the organisers of the course for having thus chosen a spot where the esoteric may be said to meet one at every turn. It does so indeed in other places, but not with the same ease and directness. So I am especially thankful for the choice of this place, out of many possible for the holding of a course such as this. From the point of view of the subjects discussed, this course may be said to take its place, in a wonderfully beautiful way, in the whole evolution of the Anthroposophical Movement.

It will be clear from the descriptions I have been giving you that between the physical world of the senses and the spiritual, super-sensible world, there is a barrier which with a certain rightness we call the Threshold of the spiritual world.

I have already pointed out in various ways how necessary it is that we should be able to cross this Threshold, and we have still to speak about it in greater detail. But you will have gathered already from my lectures that in older periods of human evolution this crossing of the Threshold was a rather different matter from what it is at the present day. In those ancient times people were able to cross in another way because even by day their consciousness was dreamlike, but for that very reason more alive to the super-sensible. Thus, in the way I have pictured, they passed the Guardian of the Threshold half-consciously, dreamily, both on going to sleep and on waking.

Here we can see a transition from men of an older type, with little freedom, to those who were becoming increasingly free. This former determinism was bound up with the fact that on going to sleep, and on awaking, men had some perception of the Guardian of the Threshold, who stood there giving warning. Now, in place of this unfree situation, we have the incapacity of present-day consciousness to see into the spiritual world, which signifies an increasing freedom: herein lies a principle of human progress.

Hence we can say that, looked at from the spiritual world, people have lost a great deal precisely because in the course of their evolution they have had to be led towards freedom. What has been lost, however, must be regained, in the way that Anthroposophy, for example, would show. And now is the historical point of time when a striving to regain what has been lost must begin.

But everywhere, among people of very various kinds, there still rises up something inherited from an earlier age, when man's relation to the spiritual world was different. So that to-day, in the consciousness of those given up to intellectualism, there is a strict frontier set up, as a rule, between what they experience in the world of the senses and what lies beyond in the spiritual world. The frontier is in fact so rigorously maintained that even enlightened spirits are unwilling to admit the possibility of crossing it.

In my brief sketch of the way into the super-sensible world, I have indicated that it is possible to cross the frontier and to enter that world in full consciousness. But as a relic from the time when a man entered the spiritual world in a more instinctive, unconscious way, and even in his day-consciousness had more in him of the spiritual world, there still rises up into his evolution to-day a certain heritage from the past. And this is something we must imperatively understand through conscious spiritual cognition. For, if not rightly understood, it manifests itself in many deceptive ways, and in these matters such errors can become very dangerous. Hence in the course of these lectures, intended to describe the evolution of man and of the world, I must speak about this question of a boundary, where what was natural and taken for granted among the people of former epochs re-appears to-day, and can lead to dangerous illusions in those who have not the requisite clear knowledge for dealing with it.

Among these phenomena, situated for ordinary consciousness at the frontier between the sense-world and the super-sensible, are visions. I mean the visions where, in a state of hallucination more or less controlled by the person concerned, pictures arise which have quite definite forms and colours—they may even seem to speak—but correspond to nothing external. For normal perception, the object is outside; the image, in a shadowy way within; and a person is perfectly conscious of how the shadowy, conceptual image is related to the external world. The vision arises of itself, claiming to be a reality on its own account. A person subject to such visions becomes incapable of estimating rightly what reality there is in the pictures which appear before him without his initiative.

How, then do visions come about? They come about because the human being still possesses the capacity for carrying over into his waking world what he experiences during sleep, and of bringing it into conceptual form just as he does with his sense-perceptions. Whether, after perceiving a clock that exists physically for the senses, I make an inner picture of it, or whether, after experiencing in a dream the form and inner reality of an external object, I wake up and make a picture of my experience, the only difference between the two processes is that I am in control of one of them—hence the image of it is more shadowy and flat—while the other process is outside my control. In the latter case I carry nothing of the real present into my conceptual life, but something experienced when the soul was outside in a past—perhaps long past—sleep, and out of this dream-experience I build up a vision.

In an earlier age of human evolution, when the relation of people both to the physical world and to the spiritual world was ruled by instinct, such visions were perfectly natural; it is human progress that has made them the uncontrolled, illusory things they are to-day. We must therefore be quite clear that modern man lacks something: when he has some experience in the spiritual world during sleep and is returning to the physical world, he no longer hears the warning of the Guardian of the Threshold: “All that you have experienced in the spiritual world you should note well and carry back to the physical world.” If he does carry it back, he will know what is contained in the vision. But if the vision appears to him only in the physical world, without his realising that he has brought it back from the spiritual world, so that he fails to understand what it really is, then he is without guidance, and at the mercy of illusion where his visionary experience is concerned. So we can say: Visions come about because a man carries over unawares his sleep-experience into his waking life, and in his waking life he then forms conceptions of the experiences—conceptions which are much richer in content than the ordinary shadowy ones, and these he builds up into vivid visions complete with colour and sound.

Another thing that comes about is this. A man carries over into his life of sleep the feelings and perceptions of the kind he has in physical life. Then, when he is in the act of carrying this over into the open sea of sleep-life, he is warned to be careful not to do anything foolish. If the sleep is very light—a far more common condition in ordinary life than is realised, for we are often just a little asleep when walking about quite normally, and we ought to be more aware of this—we may then, without noticing it, carry over the Threshold our everyday faculty of perception. Then arise those obscure feelings, as if one were inwardly watching something happening in the future, either to oneself or to someone else, and we have a premonition. Thus, whereas a vision comes about when experience during sleep is carried down into waking life and the threshold is crossed unconsciously, premonition comes about when we are in a light sleep without realising it and, thinking we are awake, carry over the Threshold, again ignoring the Guardian, our daytime experience. This, however, lies so deep down in the subconscious that it is not noticed. We are, of course, at all times connected with the whole world; and if we could draw this knowledge up out of the subconscious, we should be able to draw up much else also.

You will now see how, because these legacies from the evolutionary past can still be experienced, visions arise on one side of the Threshold, premonitions on the other. But a man may also halt at the Threshold and still not notice the Guardian. There may then be moments when inwardly, in his soul, he is as if he were enchanted. But the word “enchanted” does not quite meet the case, for he is not enchanted in the sense we generally associate with the term—it is rather that his attitude of soul undergoes a change. When he comes to the Threshold in such a way that he still perceives what is in the physical world while already perceiving what is in the super-sensible, he experiences something which is widespread in certain regions of the Earth—second sight, a half-conscious experience at the Threshold. Hence to sum up these legacies from the past, these phenomena in a man's life when his consciousness is dimmed, we have those appearing on this side of the Threshold as visions; those appearing beyond the Threshold as premonitions; those actually at the Threshold as second sight.

To-morrow I shall have to speak in greater detail of the characteristics of these three regions, going on from these to describe the worlds dimly indicated by vision, premonition and second sight—worlds which new knowledge will have to bring into the full clarity of enhanced consciousness.