This lecture is from the lecture series entitled, Answers to Universal Questions and Life Questions through Anthroposophy. It is lecture 9 of 19 lectures given by Rudolf Steiner at various cities throughout Austria and Germany in the years 1908–1909.
21 November 1908, Vienna
Translated by Hanna von Maltitz
As a result of a wish from your chairperson we shall speak today about a theme which sets certain presuppositions to the audience, and is, in a certain sense, aimed at advanced Anthroposophists. We will have the opportunity in the following open lectures to work from the basics of the anthroposophical world view with something which formerly has not been taken into account much, something which perhaps in internal lectures had dared give a solution, and which will at least be partly experienced in an open lecture like this. When we speak about advanced Anthroposophists, don't suppose, my dear friends, it means to have advanced in the spiritual scientific fields, that you have become learned in theory. It doesn't really come to that. What it involves is less of a theoretic world created in the soul, but rather a certain development of our world of impressions, our feeling-world, a certain inclination, we could say, which we gradually acquire when we repeatedly work within anthroposophic circles.
Whoever has worked for many years within these circles, or are inwardly active in such circles, will think back to a time when they had, for the first time, heard something about the anthroposophic occult science of man, and they will remember that some of the first communications not only appeared improbable, but perhaps confused and fantastic — perhaps even worse could be said about them. However, with the passing time you may get used to certain impressions as the anthroposophic world view comes ever closer, and the world of feeling makes it possible to share things which are revealed from Higher Worlds. These revelations become absorbed just like facts on the physical place, taking place in the physical world, they too are taken in. Whatever one can call proof of spiritual statements is not to be sought in the same fields as are the proofs for scientific certainties. With such a line of argument one can't do much. The line of argument which is available for experiences in the anthroposophic world view lies in the complete intimate transformation as experienced within the soul life. Long before we can happily penetrate to perceiving the spiritual worlds through the application of spiritual scientific or occult methods, we can build in ourselves a presentiment, a premonition out of the correctness, from deep legitimacy, that which is shared regarding Higher Worlds. Much of what we can, from an imagination regarding the way we can penetrate the Higher Worlds, how we can with our own spiritual sense organs perceive the Higher Worlds will be brought out in our next lecture: “What is self knowledge?” Today we want to reveal single observations about these Higher Worlds and cultivate the connection between these worlds and our physical world.
You all know by now through anthroposophical work that two other worlds exist beside our own; the so-called astral and devachanic worlds, called, as far as they are known in religion, as the heavenly world, the actual spiritual world. You are familiar with these worlds as areas through which we journey between death and a new birth. You know that after the astral world has been passed through during Kamaloka, you enter the pure spiritual world, Devachan, where you are called again to a new birth, in order to descend again after a certain time into a new earthly life, a life in the physical world.
It's not enough to only imagine the astral and devachanic worlds as distinct areas through which we move between death and a new birth, because these worlds continuously surround us. We live continuously not only in the physical world but also in the astral or soul-world, surrounding us with their beings and truth. We can describe this astral or soul-world as penetrating our physical world just like a sponge is penetrated by water. The only difference between both these worlds as opposed to our physical world is this: our physical world is perceived through the tools of our body, and for us this perception of the Higher Worlds is withdrawn because we haven't developed the organs needed for their perception. As real as they are within our world, just so real their activities play continuously into our world. Much taking place in the physical world can be more easily explained if the spiritual astral and devachanic worlds, behind it all, are made aware regarding beings and realities existing in our surroundings, beings which can't be grasped and understood by our senses. The astral world contains not only realities which play supersensibly into our environment; it contains beings who, if we dare say so, are incorporated in the substance of their world just as we, humans, self conscious beings, are here in the physical world bound to flesh and blood. The distinction of these described beings is namely that they don't possess solid physical bodies which may be seen by our physical eyes. Their major mass is the astral body.
Now we need to immediately make a note when we speak about these beings who have as their lowest member of their organism the astral body, that they are perceptible to whoever has opened their clairvoyant awareness and can also see these beings. They are differentiated substantially from those existing beings on our physical plane which belong to the various kingdoms of nature. We are surrounded by minerals, plants, animals and people. When we determine a single characteristic of all these different kingdoms we conclude that their form is firm, established. When you see a person today, you may well recognize them tomorrow, or even after a year, because their outer form has remained constant. Similarly with the animal, the plant or mineral. This is not at all the situation with the beings which are incorporated on the astral plane. These possess a continuously changing form, a shape which in many of them, from one moment to the next become another, because the form which can be observed in the astral plane is the exact expression of the inner soul experiences and soul activity of these beings.
Just think about yourself, how you may observe your soul in the morning just after you have received a cheerful letter and how the joyful message filled your soul with delight and pleasure and how this feeling lived in the soul. Then think how your soul will express itself in the direct contrary situation, how different the image will be when you receive news of a death in the afternoon, or you are shaken in rage and fear. Consider how your outer expression changes each time as a result of what took place in the soul, then you have an image of what happens on the astral plane. Hence the bewildering scurrying and continuously changing forms of the astral beings. Thus you have to imagine that the clairvoyant awareness, when it is turned away from perceiving the physical plane, is surrounded by the astral image world. Naturally everything that enfolds there can't be depicted; only single sketches can be given.
Life on the astral plane is far richer than on the physical plane. You can imagine light images in the astral world which don't cling to outer objects but flash with a definite form, one moment either light or less luminous, less radiant or misty, changing in every blink of the eye. They are nothing other than expressions for souls, we may call them, which live there on the astral plane. However these light bodies show not mere light and different colour images but also all other physically similar sense impressions, only these are not perceived with outer but with inner spiritual organs of the soul.
There exists a differentiation between the observation of a bright body on the astral plane and a colour or a bright body on the physical plane. In contrast, what meets light there, has an awareness — not a feeling, as if it is beyond that- yet has a sense: “You live in this”. — This is really quite difficult to imagine, because you have to think, that the very moment this clairvoyant awareness rises up in you, you feel something different, as if not only is the space filled with astral truths and beings, but it feels as if it is all growing larger and larger. It stretches your awareness with “This is me” — right over your skin. That is the essential part of clairvoyant consciousness. It senses, as when it spreads itself out into that which is perceived, creeping in, so that it lives within these light bodies and experiences warmth and cold, sensing taste as well.
All these experiences which you know firstly from the sense world and which are integrated in the outer limited body, stream and flash through the realm — and then something else appears. Here in the physical world we have naturally the feeling that all that belongs to a physical being is actually spatially linked to that being. It comes as an extraordinary surprise when some physical being walks into a space and behind him follows another and someone insists the two belong together although no link exists between them. You would insist they are separate beings, because we never consider spatially separate beings as a single being. We would take them as separate beings; because we will never consider separate bodies in the physical world as one being. In the astral world it is throughout applicable that things which in no way connect spatially, comprise one being, and so you have no tool which can help you pin-point a single being when you are within, and has the consciousness, that two quite outstanding members belong to a single being. Confusing it is also, that clairvoyant consciousness is not always the same and that which belong together, can't always be glimpsed again. Yes, it can go further: you could see a single being, which appears to you as a row of separate spheres, here a shining sphere, and far from this a second, then a third, fourth and so on. In conclusion, the astral place basically looks different from here.
Yet there is something which is linked to us and this connection expresses simultaneously all the similarities of the astral world working in us; this is our own astral body. This is the third member of our being, which you experience as having a definite self-contained shape. During our life between birth and death we can definitely see the essential astral body resembling a kind of oval cloud, within which the physical and astral bodies are embedded. A kind of egg shape is this body, the outer boundary existing in a constant surging movement, so that some kind of regularity of form is out of the question. The astral body only appears in a kind of firm, steady form as long as it is contained within the physical body. As long as this is the case, it retains this form. Already at night, when the astral body withdraws, it begins to adapt itself to the soul body. Then you can see how a human being, who lives with evil feelings during the day, appear in quite another form compared with someone who has lived with noble feelings during the day. In general the form of the astral body is steady at night, while the forces of the physical and etheric bodies work very strongly through the night, and the astral body retains its form essentially, but only essentially.
However, when we die, after the end of our physical life, we relinquish our physical body, as well as push away that part of our etheric body which is to be given up, then the astral body takes on a variable form right through the Kamaloka time. This body completely matches its form and image to the soul life, hence a person who has lost a body which had been filled with hateful feelings shows a withered form while a person who died with beautiful feelings, show a sympathetic form as an astral body. It can go so far that people who are totally taken with sensory desires and who can't lift themselves into an exchange towards noble feelings and impulses, after their death for a while really take on the forms of all kinds of grotesque animals — not those living on the physical plane but those who only remind us of animals.
Whoever has had experiences on the astral plane and is able to follow which forms are offered to the clairvoyant consciousness, knows which image speaks nobly and which doesn't contain noble content; they can experience and observe everything from these images. I have already mentioned that these human astral bodies cannot appear in absolute definite inner and outer shape, only within certain boundaries is this the case. Also already in physical life, actually in every part of the body which appear after falling asleep, the astral body matches that which the soul experiences. From here certain images and forms taken up by the astral body can be seen according to what is happening to a person and what he or she is living through.
With regard to some things which the soul may experience, I would like to indicate something to you, namely, how the astral body may be observed. Take for example a person who is a gossip, inquisitive or tend towards temper outbursts or, let's say, similar bad habits. These bad habits will express themselves in a distinct manner through the astral body. If someone is for instance plagued by fury, annoyance and especially if the person is irascible, then we see tuberous formations, thickenings expressed in the astral body. The person becomes polluted. From these thickenings exude evil looking snakelike protuberances, distinguishable in colouring and other substances. Particularly with irascible people this can easily be seen. When a person is talkative, tend to gossip, it appears in the astral body as all kinds of thickenings, which can be characterized by saying the thickenings will exercise pressure in all directions in the astral body. When a person is inquisitive then it shows in the astral body in such a way that folds are created, sections become slack and hang as it were against one another in parts; it shows a general slackness, it seems as if these astral bodies in a certain way participate in the general characteristics of the astral world, matching in form its inner soul experiences.
We discover, on researching the astral world in general, certain beings of which we, who only know the physical, actually can have no inkling. In the physical world these beings appear in quite a different way, than what we have perceived about them before. For example, we find quite extraordinary beings in the group souls of animals. The human being, as he approaches us here, has an individual soul which comes to meet us — a soul for each person, an Ego-Being. The animals don't have the same kind of I or Ego-Being. They have similarly shaped forms, all lions, tigers, all tortoises, which we call a mutual group soul. Just imagine that on the astral plane there is a single I-Being, simultaneously living in the physical animal. All the animals are imbedded in the I-Being, who has a definite personality on the astral plane, and there we can meet this personality, this group soul, just like meeting a person.
An example: take a migration of birds when they all start to move from the northern hemisphere towards the equator. Whoever doesn't consider this extraordinary wise migration superficially, will be amazed how many have what we note as intelligence in such a flight of birds. Various birds come from different regions, one from this, one from another: the danger exists that they land where they need to land. Ordinary physical awareness only sees the massive swarms. The clairvoyant consciousness however, sees the group soul, the action of the personalities who lead and link what is happening. Actually these are such astral personalities who direct and lead. These group souls are the ones we meet as inhabitants of the astral world. The diversity which rules in the group souls of the astral plane, this variegation is endlessly larger. Just to mention aside, the astral plane has space for everything, because there beings interpenetrate; because the law of the impenetrable is only valid on the physical plane. However, there we feel influences, good or bad, when we are penetrated and experience this in our inner life. They could thus go through one another; they can exist in one and the same place. There the law of interpenetration rules.
However, this is only a part of the astral inhabitants, surely one in which we can only fully, in the right sense, understand when we come to grips with it completely. Don't believe that someone already has a concept of a group soul with some or other animal form, how, shall we say, it is observable already in the way it is embedded in the astral world and how this group soul is led into his consciousness. This is not enough. Right here we are reproached vividly by that which is spatially separated but belongs together, so that we, for every animal group soul filled with wisdom and leading the whole, arrive at a counter image, a terrible counter image. Within this exists the animality to which we refer in the astral world, and find, on descending into that part of the astral world where ugliness and adversity rule, where every animal group has a light-form and an ugly form, that which had at one time been separated from the light-form of evil and ugliness, which had been at one time within them, part of them. From this you can see how the old pictures and artworks sprung from a higher knowledge. Today we recognise only that which lives as an individuality. Hence if we want to invoke something higher today, we can only grasp at fantasy. This was not always the case. In the past, most of mankind who worked artistically, had a clairvoyant consciousness or still a remnant of clairvoyance, and they depicted what they actually found in Higher Worlds. Thus they depicted what was known to them in Michael and the Dragon or Saint Georg with the Dragon in a wonderful representation of relationships which the clairvoyant finds as animal forms on the astral plane. The wise lifted them to a higher form, to tower far above the wisdom of people. However the wisdom is acquired through what has been thrown out of the astrality of such beings' ugly side. The ugly side you find in the adverse dragon. When the clairvoyant looks on the living form he sees everything as lively form organised by higher beings who are wise but do not know love. However these expressions of the light soul form can only be acquired through treading the evil qualities underfoot which are in the being's form. Human beings have acquired their current nature through good and bad still being mixed in their karma, while in the animal the moral distinctions of good and bad can't be applied. The concept of light filled being is with an upwards reach while connecting and lifting that which had fallen and had been conquered. Ancient art was mostly produced with meaningful symbols and created through nothing less than with a clairvoyant conscious consideration. They will only be comprehended once we have understood the astral archetypal images.
The plant world also presents something curious on the astral plane. When a clairvoyant considers a plant and how its roots worm their way in the earth and leaves and flower appear, he perceives the plant possessing a physical and ether body. The animal has the astral body in addition. Now the question may surface: do the plants not have any form of an astral body? It would be wrong to hope for this; there is nothing within the plant as there is within the animal. When the plant is looked at with clairvoyant consciousness, the upper part, where the flowers develop, appear as if dipped in an astral cloud, a bright cloud surrounding and wrapping this part of the plant where it blossoms and bears fruit. Thus astrality gradually sinks down over the plant and wraps part of it. The astral body of the plant is embedded in this astrality. What is peculiar is that when the spread of plants cover the earth, it is found that the astral bodies of the plants merge their boundaries and envelop the earth as if by a physical air of plant-astrality. If the plants only had an ether body they would only develop leaves and no flowers because the principle of the ether body is repetition. When a repetition is completed and a conclusion needs to be created, then an astral body must join in.
Likewise the human body may be considered — how the etheric and the astral co-operate. Contemplate how the vertebrae of the spine follow successively. Vertebra upon vertebra they are divided. As long as this happens it is mainly the etheric principle working. At the top, where the bony skull capsule appears, here the astral has the upper hand. The principle of repetition is the principle of the etheric, and the principle of conclusion is that of the astral. The plant would not come to a conclusion in its flower if it's etheric isn't sunk into the astral nature of the plant.
On researching the plant, how it grows through summer and bears fruit in autumn to eventually start wilting, or when the flower starts dying away, the astral withdraws upward from the plant. This is particularly beautiful to observe. While our physical consciousness may experience joy in the blossoms during spring, covering meadow after meadow, yet another joy can be experienced by the clairvoyant. In comparison, when the annual plants die down in autumn, it glows and flashes above it beings, the astral beings withdrawing from the plants, beings which had cared for the plants during summer. Here lies another fact which we discover in poetic images, which are incomprehensible when we can't research this with clairvoyant consciousness. Here we connect to the intimate fields of the astral consciousness. With folk in past times, where clairvoyants with such intimate knowledge were around, these insights existed in autumn. We find in the clairvoyant Indian folk art representations of wonderful phenomena, of a butterfly or a bird flying out of the flower's calyx. Against such an example we see how something of it arises in their art, from a basis of the clairvoyant consciousness since way back; either clairvoyant consciousness of the artist works into it, or inspiration from tradition.
An astral body thus also exists in the plant. An animal has a physical, ether and astral body. The Ego of the animal we find in the group soul. The astral body of the plant we noticed in the beings withdrawing from the wilting plant. Has the plant an Ego? Yes, the same exists for the plants as we called a Group Soul in the animal, only here the extraordinary exists, that the Plant-Ego directs itself towards a single place on earth, namely the centre of the earth. It is as if the earth is being radiated from all sides by the Group Ego of the plant, and therefore the plants grow towards the earth. This Ego however we can't see on the astral plane — here we find the animal group soul. Here we also find every double-being, as we see in the symbol of Michael and the Dragon. We also find what has been depicted, but the plant-Ego will be sought in vain on the astral plane. The actual plant soul, the plant-Ego is only found in the higher, the actual spiritual world, in the greatest, under layers of Devachan, in Rupa-Devachan. Here the plant soul and plant-Ego mingle, their actual centres so intermingled, that they unite in the centre of the earth. Now the question may arise: Surely the physical plane, the astral plane and devachanic plane are within one another, so while the clairvoyant is situated where physical man finds himself, how is one distinguishable from the other? The physical plane is there as long as we can see, hear and taste it and when we develop an inner capability, we can distinguish between the physical and astral worlds. There were such beings entering into our awareness who may not be observable through physical organs, here the astral plane starts. Where then begins the devachanic plane? Now there is the possibility to provide boundaries between the astral and devachanic plane, although they blur into one another; through this is created an outer and inner possibility to recognise the astral from the devachanic plane. The outer possibility is as follows: when you develop a clairvoyant consciousness, you should experience moments in life when you leave the physical worlds to a certain extent. This is already a higher degree of human development when you can so to say simultaneously glance at the physical, then penetrate the astral world, as for example the physical of the animal and the astral body of the animal. This can only be accomplished through specific levels of development, after we have gone through something else, namely that you don't see the physical world when you see the astral world.
This participation of the human being in the development of the astral world from the beginning shows in the following. The human being exists in a certain place. He hears all kinds of things, looks at objects, touches and tastes them. When the human being gradually lives into the astral world, these sensory perceptions start to withdraw further and further away, similar to a sound which moves ever further away until it disappears. Just so it is with sensory perceptions: the human being gradually becomes that which is being touched, not through direct experience but, he or she has a distinct feeling of their body being penetrated as the sensory object senses, stirs into the human body. The same is valid for the world of colour, the world of light: the human being expands, he or she lives into this light world. In this manner the sensory world withdraws from the human being and is replaced by appearances, as mentioned earlier. Next, what has to be observed is what the human being really must go through in the astral world, so to speak the entire perception of tone, of hearing, the world of sound which dissolves tone. This is not available in the astral world for quite a while. The human being must so to speak go through this abyss and live in a soundless world. However it is excellent that through this is found an abundance of impressions in him- or herself, namely a differentiated world of images. When the human being ascends in his development, he or she will meet something which appears as quite new, a spiritual counter-image linked to the world of tone. What is first learnt within the astral world as something new and appears as spiritual hearing. This is of course difficult to describe.
Take for example the following: you see a shining form. Another one approaches, comes closer and merges with it. A third comes, crosses the way and so on. Now, what is appearing before you is not merely seen clairvoyantly, but it evokes in your soul the most diverse feelings. Thus it can happen that these inner feelings tend towards an inclination, then towards reluctance, the most varied feelings appear when you penetrate the being, when you approach or withdraw from them. Thus the acquiring-clairvoyance soul lives into the astral plane cooperation and hence becomes glowing and penetrated by existing or contradictory feelings of a pure spiritual nature. Here spiritual music can be perceived. The moment this happens, you are already in the region of Devachan. Thus Devachan begins its presence from outside, where soundlessness begins to cease, partly a horrific toneless experience on the astral plane. The human being has no idea what it means to live in an endless toneless place where no sound exists but also shows that there is none to be found within. The feeling of hardship in the physical world is trivial compared to feelings in the soul when this impossibility is experienced, that something could sound out of this endless spread out realm. The possibility arises that through cooperation with the Beings and observing their harmony and disharmony, a world of tone is begun. That is Devachan, seen externally through its forms.
The transition from the astral world to Devachan as experienced through the soul can be illustrated in another way. In the physical world we are accompanied in our soul by our character type. One person may pass a picture and experience nothing while another will feel a world filled with bliss as he stands before the image. People pass one another, the one says of the other he could be the right one and sees soul peculiarities that they belong to one another, and experience an enlightening joy. Very soon no more of this will exist in the Higher Worlds. Here the human being demands with inner urgency the experiences of the world of feeling thus not enabling the passing by to have a somewhat cold or sober experience of the astral and devachanic planes, but rather particular experiences demanding dedication, a full penetration, while other experiences are repelled.
Thus if you are not thoroughly prepared it can become dangerous because you experience continuous changes under inwardly disturbing circumstances, inward tearing and as a result undermining your health. Step by step you will realize in which world you find yourself. While you are in the astral world, you will recognise principally two nuances of feeling expressed in a varied manner. The one, which appears most strongly when you enter the astral world directly after death, is the one we call Kamaloka. Here you have, so to speak, not yet freed your feelings from life in the physical and you desire and long for it. Take for example a gourmet, who longs for delicious food. After death and his transition to the astral world he still has desires but no longer the physical organs to satisfy them. Thus he greedily craves for that which only the tongue and palate can provide. As a result he experiences in his soul the most painful sensation, the feeling of deprivation. Deprivation is one of the principal sensations we have when we are in the astral world. Here you become aware, when you have developed your consciousness, not only particular painful feelings of deprivation like in those who have died, but also the feeling of a search for something. The feeling of deprivation will also overtake the clairvoyant when there is no other to balance out the weight. If you enter unprepared or not prepared in the right way for the astral plane, then this applies. Neither rest nor peace will the soul have; anxiety and restlessness shoves the soul from one side to another. To avoid this there is only one possibility: the formation of the opposing nuance of feeling, and in all secret schools this nuance is unanimous: it is renunciation. To prepare yourself for the right existence in the astral world, you need to know that everything, in some way or another, refers to renunciation. When you abstain from the slightest insignificance here, it is totally valid that you are, so to speak, laying a stepping stone in the astral world. The calm observation of the astral world is achieved through your own preparation regarding the feeling world of abstinence. While the feeling of the desire turns the astral world into one of pain and reluctance, the opposite happens through working with renunciation, because the images and beings of the astral world become ever clearer and more distinct to observation and thus you no longer sway between desire and denial. These are the nuances of feelings in the astral plane as long as the foregoing is active in the soul, while you are in the astral plane.
Now new experiences of feeling enter the soul. First of all, at the boundary where the soul crosses into the devachanic world, feelings of bliss and happiness ensue. Even when you enter Devachan in an unworthy manner, through some or other spell or through black magic before death allows this entry, you will soon swim in a sea of happiness in some higher or lower degree. Now you may say it is peculiar that even an unworthy entry of Devachan spoils you with blessedness. Indeed this is the case, but it has certain disadvantages, is the answer. This feeling of outer and inner blissfulness is in the devachanic planes inseparable from something else, namely the loss of self, the power of self consciousness, the inner Ego-force. We will dissolve into it if no other feeling nuance comes to the fore. This feeling is called, in occult science, the feeling of self sacrificing dedication, called the ability to sacrifice.
In the astral plane we find deprivation and renunciation; on the devachanic plane, blessedness and self-sacrifice. It is strange, yet true, that when someone on the devachanic plane doesn't have the feeling: — ‘you must dedicate yourself to what surrounds you’ — but only wants to enjoy the bliss with the Ego, then he or she will be dissolved by devachanic beings. When he or she however allows the penetrating feeling: ‘I want to offer myself, I will not dissolve into what I've acquired,’ — then he or she will be shielded in Devachan from dissolving, passing away. The noblest feeling of love, creative love, must be the second feeling nuance in Devachan. This is something which can be understood in the manner it works in Devachan between death and a new birth. Through the fact that a person coming out of Kamaloka, who lived with deprivation and thus shortened the duration of his sojourn through learning renunciation, upon arrival in Devachan, must immediately begin to work towards his next incarnation. Slowly he builds up the archetypes of his next earthly life. How much better would he create these while experiencing a feeling of blessedness, really entering this bliss, having learnt to add the self sacrificing dedication of his own being to that which surrounds him. In the degree to which he offers himself through his soul, to this degree is the archetype created for his future personality. Should he be unable to do this, then he would either totally pass away or need an enormous length of time until he returns again to an earthly existence. So we see, so to speak, how the soul is formed externally — through transitions from the dumb, radiant astral world into the sounding devachanic world — by finding the boundary; more importantly though is how one lives in this other world within one's soul. Thus we have some indications of the relationships in the Higher Worlds, which one enters through the observation of the ancient Greek words of wisdom: “Know thyself!” Much can still be added, however only a portion of it can be given which is characteristically valid of the Higher Worlds. So we gradually live into that and through the experience, we also start to recognise the working of it into the physical world and hence this world becomes ever more transparent.