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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Nature and Spirit Beings
Their Effects in Our Visible World
GA 98

Part II

III. The Relation of the Human Being to Nature

7 December 1907, Munich

Today, we will talk about how a person who adopts the theosophical worldview not only learns something and is able to recognise something about the world and its beings, but how the theosophical teachings, perspectives, thoughts and ideas are able to affect human feelings and emotions. Rightfully, it is often emphasized that theosophy shouldn't be something that only theoretically introduces us to higher worlds, but that it should be something that deeply penetrates our life. Normally, the opinion connected with this saying is deemed something trivial and inferior, so today we must form a view about the importance of such an opinion. In the most intimate way thoughts and ideas, which we absorb through theosophy, are flowing steadily into our whole feelings and emotions, so that we can become, literally through theosophy, different human beings. Of course, this trivial opinion is often based on a preconceived notion about how a theosophist must be. And if he is not like that, one says: I understand a theosophist to be someone completely different. I am thinking what a theosophist should be, only a theosophist can be the judge of. And if others who are not yet theosophists always say that they imagine a theosophist to be different, then their opinion cannot be very theosophical since they are not really experts. Today, we do not want to talk about such a trivial opinion, but about the intimate transformation of our emotions and feelings once we really absorb theosophy into ourselves. We want to deal with this question: Are such thoughts that are revealed to us able to penetrate into all the forces of our soul and, in relation to everything we experience within us, able to turn us into a new human being? They can do this.

The world around us, the ordinary world through which we walk, could look different for us at every turn if we understood theosophy. Therefore, today we must try to dive deeper into a theosophical understanding of the world.

Around us are lifeless beings that we call minerals, plants and animals, and other human beings. We know that behind these beings are spiritual beings, that there exists behind our physical world a spiritual world. We know that even of a human being who stands in front of us, we can only perceive a small part with our senses, the physical body. We know that this human being has apart from this physical body, his etheric body, his astral body, his Ego—these latter three members we are unable to perceive with ordinary senses. When looking at a stone, we tell ourselves it is different from a human being because as a mineral, as a stone, it has no etheric body, no astral body, no Ego in the physical world, but only a physical body. About the plant, we know it has a physical body and an etheric body. About the animal, we know that it has those and also has an astral body. But only the human being has the fourth member—the Ego. Thus, by having a fourth member, the Ego, above all other beings, the human being is the crown of our physical world. If we say it like that, then it is correct. But if we say it a little bit differently, then it is already wrong. If someone says, here in the physical world the stone or the mineral only has a physical body, then that is correct. But if one leaves out the words ‘here in the physical world’ then this is already wrong, and indeed utterly wrong. If someone says 'the stone has only a physical body' ... then this is utterly wrong.

What looks quite pedantic has to be said at least once, so that people get a feeling for the way how precisely one must talk about these subtle things. The stone too has its etheric body, its astral body and its Ego, albeit not in the physical world. This applies to the plant and the animal too. It is important to place in front of your soul precisely the idea that we should look at the stone from a higher point of view: as a being, that also belongs to something other than that which faces us. Have a look at your fingernails. Imagine that some sort of tiny being would look at these nails and could not see anything of the fingers, because it didn’t have any sense organs. It would believe that the nails are something separate that stands alone, and yet this is not true. The nails only make sense when they are attached to the fingers. So it is with all of our minerals. Human beings look at the minerals and they see of these only their physical body. But just like the nails belong to the fingers, the physical body of the mineral belongs to an etheric body which can no longer be found in the physical world. The physical body of the minerals is in the physical world, and the etheric body of the mineral is in the astral world. For a being that looks into the astral world, it just appears as if they follow the nails to the fingers because this etheric body in the astral world belongs to the mineral. In the same way, the mineral has an astral body, but this astral body of the mineral is in what we call ‘Devachan’. And finally, the mineral also has an Ego and this Ego is in the higher Devachan world, in the Arupic world.

Therefore, when we are looking at the minerals around us, we see entities pushed in front, that just like our nails stick out of the organism, they stick out of the beings to whom they belong and who in regard to their Ego exist in higher worlds. Just like you have nails, these beings have limbs which they extend, first into the lower Devachan world, then into the astral world and then they grow nails downwards: the minerals of the Earth. So when you look at a mineral, don’t believe that this one mineral has an Ego, but many related minerals belong to a common Ego. There are few such mineral personalities on the Devachan plane. The plant is different from the mineral in that on the physical plane it has its physical and also its etheric body. In the astral world, it has its astral body and on the Devachan plane, it has its Ego. The plant Ego is therefore one level lower than the mineral Ego so that on the lower Devachan plane one can encounter beings, who in turn have as their lowest limb a plant. The animal has its physical body, its etheric body and its astral body all on the physical plane, here in the physical world, and its Ego in the astral world. All animals belonging to one species and, for example, all lions, do not each have a separate Ego, but share a common one. This Ego is also called animal group-Ego. The human being differs from the animals because he also has his Ego on the physical plane.

When looking at an animal with the eyes of a theosophist, these feelings must arise: You will find in every human being an Ego—in every single human being. In an animal you cannot find an Ego on the physical plane. For this you must climb up to the astral plane, which is populated by animal group-Egos. The lion-Ego on the astral plane is an entirely different being than a single lion, just like your fingers appear to be a different ‘being’ from yourself. There are animal group-Egos, which are far more intelligent than the smartest human beings on the physical plane. These group-Egos are the drivers, catalysers and arrangers of what an animal experiences here on the physical plane. Never will anyone come to a true understanding of animal life, who doesn’t know that what the animals do here is only an expression of the measures that have been taken by the animal group-Egos. Look at the strange phenomenon that in a particular season, the bird life of the Northeast begins to migrate Southwest in one line, to return again in spring. Each bird species flies at a particular height and you can imagine that these bird migrations are connected to important instincts in the animal world. The spring migration is a wedding flight. If you enquire about the underlying wise arrangements of this, you will not understand these without making it clear to yourself that these are made by the group-Egos who conduct and direct everything. All that happens in the animal world will appear different to us, once we are aware of the presence of group-Egos. Imagine you had a wall with different holes in it through which someone would put his hands. What a mistake would one make if one would believe these hands are beings themselves. Someone who believes that an animal is a being by itself makes such a mistake. Those who conduct the bird migration are wise beings. In this way the animal world becomes an expression of a world of wise beings standing behind it. We learn to know a wonderful world of beings and no longer pass thoughtlessly over what we encounter directly. In fact, those animal group-Egos are always present in the periphery of our Earth. They are spiritually constantly encircling our Earth, just like the trade winds or the migrating birds or the electrical and magnetic currents that flow around the Earth. In this way spiritual currents and movements exist that do not represent anything but those deeds of the animal group-Egos.

When we now observe the plant world, it represents something similar. We see the outer plant. What we perceive as a plant in front of us, is a physical and an etheric body. But if we rise up to the astral plane, we find the astral bodies of the plants, and in Devachan the plant-Egos. For our earthly flora there is a greater number of such plant-Egos, which all have one common place where they are together—that is the centre of the Earth. All plants strive with the essence of their being towards the centre of the Earth.

Watch what happens to the Earth itself if we look at it from this perspective. It will no longer be the body as portrayed by geology, but the Earth will thereby become a living being with an Ego. A single plant does not possess an astral body, but all plants are immersed in and enclosed by an astral body, so that we can imagine the plant world of the Earth vaguely like this: All plants belong to the astral body of the Earth and in the centre of the Earth is the Ego of the plants. In this way, the Earth becomes a conscious being to us. Just as your Ego, which is located within your body, sends its rays towards your fingers, the Ego of the Earth, which is located in its centre, sends its rays towards the individual plants. Like our hair, the plants are organs of the Earth organism. Each plant strives towards the centre of the Earth as towards its Ego. In the spiritual world countless beings can be tucked in together at one single location. The spatial relationships in the spiritual world are different from those in the physical world. All plant Egos are able to meet each other in the centre of the Earth. The weeds have a different Ego than the wheat. Both Egos don't get on well with each other, but both their Egos are within the centre of the Earth. Such a truth must not only be grasped by the intellect, but must also be felt with every step you take through life. The plant cover of the Earth will become something different for us, when we stride along with the feeling that these plants are the outer physical expression of a spiritual content connected with the Earth. Earth has its Ego, which is realised through all the plants.

Only by looking at the issue in this way, and not stopping at mere concepts, does it come to life. Only then we will have grasped it in the right way. Because then we know that what we do to a plant is having a similar effect as if we did the same to a human being. If we are hitting a person, then this will hurt him because he has an astral body. The etheric body is unable to experience joy or pain. The individual plant doesn’t feel hurt if we squeeze it, as not all individual plants possess an astral body. But the jointly shared astral body of the plants belongs to the Earth, and what is done to a plant hurts it. In the centre of the Earth are the plant-Egos and it is there that consciousness originates about what one does to a plant. Once we grasp this teaching with all the strength of our soul, we will walk differently upon the surface of the Earth. Thus, every step we take in life becomes a communication with the Earth as a conscious being, and we know that this Earth as a whole experiences pleasure and pain and joy and sorrow. But we have to experience this in the right way. One could believe that if we cut a plant, the Earth would feel pain. This is not the case. Detailed information can only be given by a clairvoyant able to see the way the Earth’s astral body functions. If you pick a blossom, this creates a feeling as if a calf is suckling milk from its mother, which creates a kind of well-being sensation for the cow. Plants that the Earth lets sprout up, can be compared to the milk that spurts out of an animal, so that when you pick flowers, a feeling of pleasure for the Earth is provided. But if you rip these out with the roots, the Earth experiences pain, as if you were cutting into flesh. If you take this vividly, you will notice what kind of spiritual relationship with the Earth you will gain. Once the sickle slices through the stalks, the clairvoyant sees blissful sensations move across the Earth, across the fields. By mowing a field, a flood of well-being moves across the Earth. Our relationship to the world is deepening in a wonderful way when we begin to settle into these truths, and feel how we are hurting Earth when we rip out her plants, like someone would rip out a hair from us.

It could be objected that sometimes it might be very good to not rip off all the blossoms but leave them in nature, and sometimes it is good to reposition plants elsewhere and rip them out with their roots. This doesn’t change the fact that tearing out produces pain, and picking creates feelings of pleasure. The moral side is something different from the fact itself. A moral perspective which is justifiable in a human life, must not be applied to the cosmos. Imagine someone who is getting their first white hair, so that from an aesthetic standpoint it seems desirable to pull them out. He might become more beautiful, but it will hurt him. Thus, it might be desirable to replant plants, but it will hurt the Earth. The question is, ‘Is it not necessary to cause such hurt?’ or ‘Is one allowed or should one cause such pain?’. Pain is in many ways inseparable from existence. The human being steps into the world through the pain of the mother. Whatever is born is born in pain. Even if it is necessary to rip out plants, it will always be painful for the Earth. Our concepts and ideas turn into intimate emotions and feelings. We slowly notice all the things we do not perceive in our environment because we do not know about them. In our surroundings there is always feeling, and perceiving and living; it is not only a mechanical process when the sickle is wielded through the stalks, but floods of emotions stream across the field in autumn. Thus we learn to empathise with the beings which surround us.

What about rock? Rock, as we have said, has its Ego just like a human being, but in a much higher world. This rock-Ego and this rock-astral-body feel and sense just like the Earth, when you rip out plants or pick them. It is not only a mechanical process when the stone carvers in a quarry are hammering stone by stone out of it. Those rocks that are blown up will be seen by a person, who only uses his senses, as a process of the outer world. We learn to know that something similar happens, is experienced, in a soul when we immerse ourselves into theosophy. There you should not judge according to analogies, but must proceed with something concrete. One could believe that the hammering in a stone quarry causes pain. This is not so. You cannot bestow a bigger favour upon the mineral kingdom than when you split a stone apart—this is its true bliss. An outpouring of pleasure is happening when you blow up stones in a quarry and the stones are thrown around everywhere. The stone possesses a true longing and passion to be split, blown up, ripped apart.

In contrast, something else causes pain and suffering to the being at the foundation of our rock world. If you have dissolved cooking salt in a glass and this begins to separate, so that it separates itself as hard salt, settles, and then, when what had been dissolved forms once again a solid body, the affected being experiences pain. If you again dissolve what has been joined together, then it experiences pleasure. If you would reassemble the blown-up stone fragments and return them to the original rock, this would hurt the rock-soul tremendously. Consider that essentially our Earth was created as a liquid fire body. So that you can have solid ground under your feet, many different solutions and forms of water had to group together to form solid bodies.

Once our Earth consisted wholly of molten metals. Then the first island formations occurred. This was accompanied by massive pain. For the Earth it was painful to become our dwelling place, and the incremental solidification of the Earth, as described by natural science, meant spiritual processes happened simultaneously. If someone, who understands these things, experiences a volcanic eruption where the dissolved materials are flooding out and solidify, then he sees streams of pain of the lava-soul flowing down the mountain. In this way the whole of nature is ensouled for us, if we are conscious of these things. But this is also what the initiates have always held out to mankind. The sayings of the initiates have normally a deep meaning and deep value and sometimes not only one meaning. Understand that the Earth was once a liquid fire body, and that this stone kingdom has solidified and agglomerated itself. Under suffering, the Earth was transformed into our dwelling place. Only through the suffering of the rock kingdom were we able to reach a certain level of development. This pain of the rock will only cease, when the final state of the Earth will be reached, when the Earth will become softer again, when it will become spiritual again. Put yourself into this phase of the Earth: liquid-fire Earth, humans still spiritually immersed in it. The stone masses solidify. Ongoing pain and suffering in the seemingly lifeless rock kingdom for the sake of progressing the human race. How could one express this better than this: “For all creatures are sighing in pain, awaiting to be adopted as children”.1Luther’s translation reads literally: “The creatures are fearfully awaiting the revelation of the children of God”, Letter to the Romans, 8:19 One cannot go down deep enough, if one truly wants to grasp the sayings of initiates.

This all shows that understanding the world is something completely different from an abstraction. When the concepts are being deepened, emotional experiences appear through which we can look into the soul entities that stream through the world. Everything becomes for us an expression of the soul in some form. Every step in our life becomes something different, because not only do we connect to the beings in front of our senses, but also with those unknown beings on ever higher planes of the world. We only must find within ourselves the thoroughly different way to live.

In this way, we also learn to find the soul in a plant, in an animal, in a mineral. We learn to know the soul of a whole people. An entire people has a common soul and what one calls the Folk-soul is not a dead term; it is something real. When a people arise, let’s say the Goths, and perish again, this is like the birth and death of a single human being. But in the whole people lives some soul essence and the individual beings are the limbs of this Folk-soul, embedded into the Folk-soul’s substance, which in turn has its fates, sufferings and joys. First, we gain an idea, then increasingly more knowledge of how the world around us is suffused everywhere with pleasure and pain, old and young—as it is within ourselves. This is what through the theosophical teachings turns us into different human beings. This means acquiring theosophical understanding, implementing theosophy intimately in your life, as if the theosophical concept was a seed, which we plant into suitable Earth. Then it starts to sprout and becomes blossom and fruit when it becomes an emotion and a feeling and when we immerse ourselves through our emotions and feelings deeply, deeply into our environment. When through theosophy plants and stones become not only objects of observation, but our friends and fellow beings, who warm up to us through theosophical observation, whom we learn to love, like we love human beings, then by and by we will gain understanding, a perspective will open up about the enormous educational value of theosophy for the whole future. Imagine human beings in two, three, four, five centuries who will not only have concepts about karma and reincarnation but will walk through the world with such emotions as we have indicated here. All of human life and all education will be different when the human being will be able to perceive everywhere the pulse of other beings. If he places his hand on a tree and feels the pulse of the Earth, if he smashes a stone and shares the emotions of bliss that the stone soul experiences, and if he becomes conscious that the Earth had to suffer pain, then the human being will walk across this Earth differently. Life then will be different, and the right empathy, through the human beings themselves, will prevail and be alive.