The Astral World
I. The Astral World
19 October 1908, Berlin
We have come together for the study of anthroposophical truths for many winters, and for a little group of you, it is now quite a good number of winter seasons that have found us united for such studies. For reasons which we will perhaps discuss in our next General Meeting, we may look back just at this time at our common anthroposophical life of the past. There are still among you a few who, in a certain respect, form a kind of nucleus for this gathering together here. They have brought over from earlier times their fundamental spiritual conviction, have united with us six or seven years ago, and have formed the nucleus around which those others who were seeking have gradually, so to speak, crystallized. We may say that in the course of these years, not only the increased number of these meetings may tell us something, but that in another direction, and with the help of those spiritual Powers, who are always present when the work of spiritual science is carried out in the right sense, we have succeeded in following a certain inner system in our work.
Remember how six or seven years ago, we began as a small circle and how quite slowly and gradually, as well as in inner contents, we have created the ground on which we stand today. We began, with the aid of the simplest basic concepts of spiritual science, to seek first to create a fundamental feeling, and we have gradually reached the point that last winter — at least in our Group-meetings — we could speak of things of the various regions of the higher worlds as one speaks of events and experiences of the ordinary physical world. We have been able to learn about the various spiritual beings and those worlds, which are, in fact, supersensible in regard to our sense-world. And not only could we introduce an inner system into our Group-work, but we could also hold two Courses last winter and enable those who had gradually joined the nucleus to find the definite link with our studies.
It has already been said here, and often emphasized, that we have now come to the point of speaking about the higher worlds as about something — one might say — self-evident, and those who have joined inwardly in our Group meetings have in this way reached a certain anthroposophical maturity. This maturity does not lie in theories or in some conceptual grasp, but in an inner attitude of mind, which one acquires in the course of time. One who has really absorbed inwardly for a length of time what spiritual science has to give, will feel that he can listen to things as actual facts, as self-evident facts that would have affected him earlier quite differently.
And so in this introductory lecture today, we will begin straight-away and without hesitation to speak on a certain chapter of the higher worlds that will lead us to a deeper understanding of man's character and personality. For after all, what purpose is served by all our studies of the higher worlds? We talk about the astral world, about the devachanic world. In what sense do we members of the physical world talk about them in the first place? We talk of these higher worlds not at all with the consciousness that they are quite foreign to us and stand in no kind of connection with the physical world. Rather are we conscious that the higher worlds, as we call them, lie all around us, that we live in them, that they project into our physical world, and that in these higher worlds lie the causes and grounds for facts that take place before our physical eyes and senses. And so we learn to know this life around us with its human beings and nature-events, only when we look at what is invisible but reveals itself in the visible; that is, when we look at what belongs to other worlds in order to be able to form a judgment as to where it plays into our physical world. Normal and abnormal phenomena of ordinary physical life first become clear to us when we learn to know the spiritual life lying behind it — the spiritual life that is far richer and more extensive than the physical life, which forms only a small section of it. The human being stands, and must stand for all our studies, is the central point. Understanding human nature means, really, to understand a great part of the world. But human nature is difficult to understand, and we shall gain a small piece of this understanding of the human being, if we speak today of a few facts, only a few facts of the astral world. The contents of the human soul are very manifold. We will learn about a part of this soul-content today. To begin with, we will set before us certain characteristics of the soul.
We live in our soul-life in the most manifold feelings, perceptions, ideas, concepts, and impulses of will. These all take their course in our soul-life from morning to evening. If we observe man superficially, this soul-life appears to us to be something self-contained, enclosed in itself, and this view is justifiable. Observe how your life flows along with the first thoughts formed in the morning, the first feelings moving through you, the first will-impulses arising. Observe how feeling is linked to feeling, will-impulse to will-impulse, until the evening when the consciousness sinks in sleep. That all looks like a progressing stream. Observed in a deeper sense, however, it is by no means just a progressing stream, for through our thoughts, feelings and perceptions, we stand in a continual relation — to most people quite unconsciously — to higher worlds. Today let us consider this relation as regards the astral world.
When we have some kind of feeling, when joy or terror flashes through our soul, that, to begin with, is an event in our soul-life, but it is not merely that. If someone can test that clairvoyantly, it will be seen that something goes out of the soul like a current, like a shining current, which goes into the astral world. It does not go in casually, however, and without direction, but it takes its way to a being of the astral world. Let us suppose a thought arises in our soul; let us say we ponder on the nature of a table. Inasmuch as the thought shimmers through our soul, the clairvoyant can observe how a current proceeds from this thought to a being of the astral world. And so it is for every thought, every concept, every feeling. From the whole stream that flows away before the soul, currents continually go towards the most diverse beings of the astral world. It would be quite an erroneous idea if you thought that all these currents went to one single being of the astral world. That is not the case. From all these different thoughts, feelings and sensations proceed the most diverse currents, and they go to the most diverse beings of the astral world. That is the peculiarity of this fact: as individuals, we stand in connection, not with one such being, but we spin the most diverse threads towards the most diverse beings of the astral world. The astral world is peopled by a great number of beings just as the physical world, and they stand in connection with us. If, however, we want to realize the whole complexity, we must take something else into consideration.
Let us suppose that two individuals see a flash of lightning and have a quite similar sensation. Then a current goes out from each, and now both currents go to one and the same being of the astral world. We can say, therefore, that there is a being, an inhabitant of the astral world, with whom both beings of the physical world put themselves in connection. And it can happen that not only one person, but 50, 100, 1000 human beings, having a similar sensation, send out currents to one single being of the astral world. In so far as these 1000 beings people agree on one point, they stand in connection with the same being of the astral world. But think what other and differing sensations, feelings, thoughts are possessed by the individuals who, in the one case, have the same sensation! Through these, they stand in connection with other beings of the astral world, and in this way the most diverse connecting threads pass from the astral world into the physical world.
Now, it is possible to distinguish certain classes of beings in the astral world, and it will be easier to form an idea of these classes if we take an example. Imagine a large number of people of the European world, and let us take from the soul-contents of these people the concept of justice. These people may otherwise have the most varied experiences and thereby stand in connection in the most complex way with the most differing beings of the astral world. But since these people think similarly about the idea of justice, have acquired this idea in the same way, they therefore all stand in connection with the same being of the astral world. We can look on this being exactly like a center, a middle point, from which rays go out to all the people concerned. As often as they bring to mind the concept of justice, they stand in connection with this one being. Just as human beings have flesh and blood and are composed of them, so does this being consist of the concept of justice: it lives in it. In the same way there is an astral being for the concept of courage, of goodwill, of bravery, of revenge, etc. Thus beings exist in the astral world for our human qualities, the contents of our souls. And in this way a sort of astral net is spread out over a considerable number of persons. All of us who have the same idea of justice, for example, are embedded in a body of an astral being, whom we can actually call the “Justice-being”. If we have a concept of courage, valor, we stand in connection with another being. Thus in everyone, there is a kind of conglomeration, for we can regard everyone as receiving currents from astral beings on all sides. We are all a confluence of currents that come out of the astral world.
Now we shall be able to show more particularly how human beings, who are individually in this way a confluence of these currents, concentrate them in themselves round their ego-centers. For that is the most important thing for our soul-life; we must collect all these currents round a center that lies in our self-consciousness. This self-consciousness is so important, because the self must act as a controller in our individual inner being, collecting the different currents flowing into us from all sides and uniting them in itself. For the moment the self-consciousness would slacken and give up, it could come about that a person would cease to feel its self to be a unity, and that all the different concepts of courage, valor, etc, would fall apart. People would then no longer be conscious of the self as a unity; they would feel as if they were distributed in all the different currents. There is a possibility — and there it shows us how we can penetrate into the understanding of the spiritual world through knowledge of the true, the right — there is a possibility that we can lose the directing control over what streams into us. As an individual person, you have a certain life behind you, have experienced many things, have had a number of ideals from youth on that have gradually evolved. Each ideal can differ from the others, you have had the ideal of courage, valor, etc. In this way you have come into the currents of most diverse astral beings. One can also come in another way into such a varied succession of astral beings.
Let us suppose that in the course of life an individual man has had a number of friendships. Under the influence of these friendships, quite definite feelings and sensations have developed, especially in youth. In this way, currents passed to a definite being of the astral world. Then the man formed a new friendship, and he was then united with another being of the astral world, and so on for the whole of life. Now let us suppose that through a sickness of the soul, it came about that the ego lost control over the different currents; it could no longer group them. Then the man would reach the state of no longer feeling himself as ego, as enclosed entity, a self-conscious unity. If he should lose his ego through a process of soul-sickness, he would then perceive these currents as if he were not aware of himself, but of the separate currents, as if he flowed into them. You will be able to understand an especially tragic case if we consider it from this point of view, from the aspect of the astral world — Friedrich Nietzsche.
Many of you will certainly know how Friedrich Nietzsche became insane in the winter of 1888/89. It is interesting to read in his last letters how he became divided, split up in different currents in the moment when he lost his ego. He writes to this or that friend — or to himself: “There lives a person in Turin who was once a professor of philosophy in Basle, but he is not egotistic enough to have remained one.” (Thus he had lost his ego and clothed the fact in such words). “And the god Dionysos strides to the River Po and looks down at all his ideals and friendships, which are wandering below him.” He appears to himself now as King Humbert, now as someone else, now even as one of the criminals about whom he had read at that time, during the last days of his life. There were two notorious cases of murder just then, and in the moments of his illness he identified himself with these women-murderers. For he did not experience his ego but, rather, a current that went into the astral world. Thus in abnormal cases, what is otherwise held together through the center of self-consciousness rises to the surface. It will become more and more necessary for people to know what is at the base of the soul. For we would be infinitely poor beings if we were not able to form many such currents into the astral world, and we would also be very limited beings if we were not able gradually to become master over all these currents through the deepening of our spiritual life. We must realize that we are not confined within our skin, but project everywhere into other worlds and that other beings project into our world. A whole web of beings is spun out over the astral world. Now we will observe a little more closely the beings standing in connection with us in this way. They are beings, who by way of comparison, present themselves to us somewhat like this:
The astral world surrounds us. Let us think that here is such a being — one, if you like, that has to do with the concept and feeling of courage. It stretches its tentacles towards all sides and they go into human souls; and inasmuch as men develop courage, the connection is established. Other men are different. All those, for instance, who develop a definite form of anxiety or a feeling of love are connected with another being of the astral world. If we make a study of these beings, we come to what we can call the constitution, the social life in the astral world. People, as they live here on the physical plane, are not merely individuals. Here, too, we are all connected in a hundred, a thousand different ways. We are connected by the law, in friendships, and so on. Our connections on the physical plane are regulated by our ideas, concepts, representations, etc. In a certain way, the social connections of those beings on the astral plane, of whom we have been speaking, must also be regulated.
Now then, do these beings live with one another? They have no such dense physical bodies of flesh and blood as we humans have; they have astral bodies, are at most of etheric substance. They stretch out their feelers into our world; but how do they live together? If these beings were not to work together, our human life, too, would be quite different. In fact, our physical world is only the external expression of what takes place on the astral plane. Now, do these beings arrange things among themselves? One could easily be tempted to think that the social life on the astral plane is similar to the life on the physical plane. But the joint life on the astral plane differs essentially from a working together on the physical plane. People who group the different planes above one another and characterize the higher worlds as if things were just the same there as here in the physical world, do not give a right description of the higher worlds. There is an immense difference between the physical world and the higher worlds, and this difference increases the higher up we come. Above all, a definite peculiarity exists in the astral world, which is not to be found at all on the physical plane. That is the penetrability of the substance of the astral plane. It is impossible here to place yourself on the spot where someone else is already standing; impenetrability is a law of the physical world. In the astral world it is not; there, the law is penetrability. And it is absolutely possible — it is even the rule — for beings to penetrate each other, and where already one being is, another presses in. Two, four, hundreds of beings can be on one and the same spot in the astral world. But that results in something else, namely, that the logic of common life on the astral plane is quite different. You will best understand how the logic of the astral plane is quite different from the logic of the physical plane — though not, perhaps, the logic of the act, of the common life — if you take the following example.
Suppose that a town had decided to build a church on a definite site. Then, of course, the wise council of the town must first consider how the church is to be built, what arrangements must be made, and so on. Now let us suppose that two parties arise in the town. The one party wants to build a church on this site in a definite style and with a certain architect, etc. The other party wishes to build a different church with a different architect. On the physical plane, the two parties will not be able to carry out their intention. Before anything at all is begun, it will be necessary for one of the parties to be victorious and gain the upper hand, and that the style of the church is decided on. You know, of course, that actually far the greater part of mankind's social life is passed in such consultations and mutual arguments before something is carried out, before people come to an agreement about what is to be done. Nothing indeed would be done unless in most cases one or other party gains the upper hand and remains in the majority. But the party in the minority will not straightaway say: “We have been wrong,” but will go on believing they have been right. In the physical world it is a matter of discussing the proposals, which must be decided purely within the physical world, because it is impossible for two plans to be carried out on one and the same spot.
In the astral world, it is quite different. It is perfectly possible there to build — let us say — two churches on one and the same spot. Such actually happens continually in the astral world, and it is the only right thing there. One does not argue as in the physical world. One does not hold meetings and try to get a majority for this or that. In fact, it is not at all necessary there. When a city council holds a meeting here and 40 out of 45 people are of one opinion and the others of another, then the two parties may inwardly want to murder each other on account of their different opinions. That is not so bad, however, because externally the things are at once dealt with. Neither party tries without consideration of the other party to build their church immediately, because on the physical plane thought can remain a possession of the soul, it can remain in the soul.
On the astral plane, that is not so; it is like this: When the thought has been formed, it also stands in a certain respect already there. So that if such an astral being as the one I have just spoken about has a thought, it immediately stretches out the corresponding “feelers” that have the form of this thought, and another being stretches out from itself the substance. Both now mutually interpenetrate each other and are in the same space as a newly-formed being. In this way, there is a continual interpenetration of the most varying opinions, thoughts, and feelings. In the astral world, the most completely opposite ideas can interpenetrate each other. It must be said that when things are discussed in the physical world, contradiction prevails, but in the astral world what prevails at once is conflict. For, as a being of the astral world, one cannot keep back one's thoughts to oneself, they become deeds immediately; the objects are there at once. Now, to be sure, churches such as we have on the physical plane are not built there, but let us suppose that a being of the astral plane wanted to realize something and another being wanted to cross it. Discussion is not possible there, but the principle holds good that a thing must be preserved! So when the two "feelers" are really in the same space, they begin to fight each other; and the idea that is the more fruitful, which is therefore right (i.e., the one that can endure), will annihilate the other and vindicate itself. So that there we have a continual conflict of the most varying opinions, thoughts, feelings. On the astral plane each opinion must become deed. There, one does not oneself fight; one lets the opinions fight, and the one that is the most fruitful routs the other from the field. The astral world is, so to say, the much more dangerous, and a great deal of what is said about its danger is connected with what has just been stated. Thus, everything there becomes deed, and all opinions must fight with each other, not discuss and argue.
I will now touch upon a matter that is doubtless shocking to the modern materialistic age, but which nevertheless is fact. I have often emphasized that our present age grows more and more accustomed to the mere consciousness of the physical world, to the characteristics and peculiarities of the physical world. So that when discussions arise, everyone would like to annihilate the one who is not of his or her opinion, or else takes him for a fool. That is not how it is in the astral world. There a being will say, “I do not concern myself with other opinions.” The most complete tolerance obtains. If one opinion is more fruitful than the others, it will drive them out of the field. One lets other opinions stand just as one's own, because things have to right themselves through conflict. One who gradually becomes familiar with the spiritual world must learn to adjust oneself to the customs of the spiritual world. The first part of the spiritual world is the astral world, where such usages prevail as have just been described, so that in a person who becomes familiar, with the spiritual world, the customs, too, of the beings of that world in a certain respect take root. And that is also right. Our physical world should become more and more an image of the spiritual world, and we shall bring more harmony into our world if we make it our purpose that life in the physical world should resemble life in the astral world. We cannot, of course, build two churches on the same spot, but where opinions differ, one lets them mutually prevail as regards their fruitfulness in the world. The opinions that are the most fruitful will assuredly carry off the victory, as it is in the astral world.
So, the characteristic qualities of the astral world can extend into the physical world precisely within a spiritual movement. That will be a great field of education, which the spiritual-scientific movement will have to cultivate — to create on the physical plane an image of the astral world. However much it shocks the person who only knows the physical plane and accordingly believes that only one opinion can be advocated and that all who hold other opinions must be blockheads, yet it will become increasingly obvious to the adherents of a spiritual world-conception that an absolute tolerance of opinions must prevail, not a tolerance consequent on a sermon, but one which takes root in our soul.
This penetrability that has been described is a very important and essential quality of the astral world. And no being of the astral world will develop such a concept of truth as we know in the physical world. The beings of the astral world look upon discussion, etc., in the physical world as quite unfruitful. Goethe's words, “What fruitful is, alone is true!” hold good for them, too. We must learn to know truth not through theories, but through its fruitfulness, through the way in which it vindicates itself. Thus, a being of the astral world will never contend with another as human beings do. It will say to the other, “Fine; you do as you think, I will do as I think!” It will soon be shown which idea is the more fruitful, which idea will drive the other from the field.
If we transpose ourselves into such a way of thinking, we have also gained something of practical knowledge. One must not imagine that the growth of human beings into the spiritual world occurs in some tumultuous way; it happens inwardly, intimately. If we can pay attention to it and make our own what has just been described as the peculiarity of the astral world, then we shall increasingly come to regard such feelings as the astral beings possess as model feelings for ourselves. And if we take as our guide the character of the astral world, we shall have a hope of gradually living into the spiritual world. The spiritual worlds gradually dawn for us in this way. This is what proves to be the more fruitful for mankind in the matter.
What has been said today is in many respects to be considered a kind of preparation for what we shall deal with in the next lectures. If we have now spoken of the beings of the astral world and their particular character, yet we must already point out that the astral world differs much more sharply from the higher worlds — let us say from the devachanic world — than one would be inclined to believe. It is true that the astral world is there where our physical world is, too; it interpenetrates our physical world, and all that we have often spoken about is always around us in the same space as physical facts and physical beings are. But there is also the devachanic world. It differs through the fact that we experience it in a different state of consciousness from that in which we experience the astral.
Now you could easily think: Here is the physical world and it is penetrated by the astral world, the devachanic, etc., but it is not quite so simple. In order to describe the higher worlds more exactly than we have done earlier, we must realize that there is yet another difference between the astral and devachanic worlds. Our astral world, in fact, as we live in it and as it permeates our physical space, is in a certain respect a double world, whereas in a certain way the devachanic is a single one. That is something we will mention today as a preparation.
There are, as it were, two astral worlds and their difference lies in the fact that one is, so to say, the astral world of the good, the other the astral world of evil. It would be incorrect to make such an abrupt difference in the devachanic world. If we consider the worlds from above downwards, we must say: devachanic world, astral world, physical world. Even so, we do not consider the totality of our worlds; we must consider worlds still deeper than the physical. There is a lower astral world lying below our physical world. In practice, these two interpenetrate, the good astral above, the evil below. Now the most diverse currents pass over to the beings of the astral world, and amongst them are currents from the good and evil qualities of humanity. Those that are good pass to a good being and the evil currents to a corresponding evil being of the astral world. If we take the totality of all the good and the bad beings of the astral world, we have, in a certain way, two astral worlds. When we consider the devachanic world, we shall see that there, that is not the case in the same degree. Thus, there are two worlds in the astral world, mutually interpenetrating and having in the same way a relation to humanity. Above all, these two worlds are to be distinguished from each other in regard to their origin.
If we look back in the earth's evolution, we come to a time when the earth was still connected with the sun and moon. In a still earlier time, the earth was itself moon and was a body that was outside the sun in the Moon-evolution. At that time, before the earth had become our present earth, there was already an astral world. This astral world would have become the good astral world if it could simply have developed further without hindrance. Through the fact, however, that the moon had separated itself from the earth, the evil astral world has been incorporated into the general astral world, and today we are still at this stage. In the future, an evil part will be incorporated into the devachanic world, as well.
Provisionally, we must clearly keep in mind that there is not one astral world but two, one into which pass all the currents fruitful for human progress and further evolution, and one into which pass all the currents that hinder man's evolution—to which, at the same time, Kamaloca belongs. In both these worlds are beings whom we have learnt to know today in a more abstract way, how they exercise an influence on us, how they live with one another. In our next lecture, we will gain more exact knowledge of the inhabitants of the higher worlds, of their condition and constitution.