Our bookstore is now open. Shop today →

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

The Destiny of Individuals and of Nations
GA 157

11. Etheric Man within Physical Man

Berlin, April 20, 1915

Dear friends, once again let us first of all remember those who are out there at the front, in the great arena of present-day events:

Spirits of your souls, guardian guides,
On your wings let there be borne
The prayer of love from our souls
To those whom you guard here on earth.
Thus, united with your might,
A ray of help our prayer shall be
For the souls it seeks out there in love.

And for those who because of those events have already gone through the gate of death:

Spirits of your souls, guardian guides,
On your wings let there be borne
The prayer of love from our souls
To those whom you guard in the spheres.
Thus, united with your might,
A ray of help our prayer shall be
For the souls it seeks out there in love.

May the spirit we are seeking as we work towards spiritual knowledge, the spirit who has gone through the Mystery of Golgatha for the good of the earth, for the freedom and progress of man, be with you and the hard duties you have to perform.

Dear friends, I want to begin today by reminding you of something I have told most of you, I think, on previous occasions. If the soul of man develops in the way I have clearly enough described in my public and other lectures, we arrive at a different image of the world. The essential point is that the soul takes the path, as it were, from the sense-perceptible into the spiritual world.

As the development of the soul progresses the physical world will gradually change in our eyes into the spiritual world. We might say that the peculiar features of the physical, sense-perceptible, world gradually disappear and the forms, entities and realities of the spiritual world makes their appearance within the horizons of our conscious awareness. Something important comes to conscious awareness in this way, something I might describe as follows: We ourselves become different — as far as our vision is concerned, of course — we ourselves become different, and the world which is around us to be beheld With our senses then also becomes different. Let us stay with what is nearest to us to begin with: the world that is our earth. Basically spealung, people know really very little of the world beyond this earth during their life on this planet, at least if we persist in the way in which W have grown together with our earthly life. As we advance into the spiritual world—in which case we are outside our bodies — we shall find, as we look back on the body, or the whole of our physical life, or the whole human being, that basically it is growing richer and richer. This human being is all the time gaining in content, is expanding into a world. Man is actually growing and becoming a whole world as we look back on him. That is the reality of words we often hear stressed — in that through spiritual development man grows identical with the world. He sees a new world, a world he normally Is within, and sees it as though arising out of himself. He expands into a world. As far as the earth is concerned, on the other hand, all that is solid in it, all we are used to seeing as its mountains, rivers and so on, disappears. It vanishes and we gradually come to feel ourselves within the earth — please note I am saying within the earth — as though within a great organism. We have left our own world and this inner world, this inner reality, becomes a wide world, whilst the earthly world that was spread out around us now becomes an entity, a being, we must imagine ourselves to be within. As we grow out of ourselves our human world expands into a wide world; at the same time we grow into the earth organism and feel ourselves to be within it just as our finger, say, would feel itself to be part of the organism if it were to have conscious awareness.

That is the experience human beings will have, an experience quite frequently brought to expression by more poetic natures. It is very common for instance for people to compare their awakening in the morning with the awakening of nature around them, their life in the course of the day with the ascent of the sun, and dusk with the need for sleep that develops as we get tired. Such comparisons arise with the feeling men have of being part of earthly nature. They are not worth much, however, for they do not touch on what really matters. As I have said on a number of previous occasions, if we want to choose a comparison that is really in accord with the facts we cannot compare what goes on when we go to sleep and wake up with the processes occurring in nature outside. Instead, we must compare 24 hours in our life with the seasonal cycle of the year. We must take the whole cycle of the seasons to make a fair comparison with what happens in us in a single waking-and-sleeping cycle of 24 hours. 57See, for example, the lectures Rudolf Steiner gave (a) in Augsburg on 14 March 1913 and (b) in Stockholm on 8 June 1913, both in Die Welt des Geistes and ihr Hereinragen in das physische Dasein (GA 150). In English as (a) ‘The Interactivity of the Good Progressive Powers and of the Retarding Forces — The Significance of These Truths for Teachers’ in Anthroposophical News Sheet 16:45-8 (NSL 398) (tr. not mentioned); and (b) ‘Nature and Spirit in the Light of Spiritual Scientific Knowledge’ in Anthroposophical News Sheet 3:42-4 (NSL 147) (tr. not mentioned). It is quite wrong to compare the period during which a person is awake—between waking up and going to sleep — to summer for instance. This waking state has to be compared to winter in ouside nature whilst summer has to be compared to the sleeping state in man. Making the comparison we would therefore say: The human being goes to sleep and this means he enters into the summer of his personal existence, and in waking up he progresses into the winter of his personal existence. The waking state would approximately correspond to late autumn, winter and early spring. Why would this be in accord with the facts? Because, in evolving into part of the whole earth organism in the way I have indicated, we would indeed have to note that the spirit of the earth is asleep in summer. The earth is then truly asleep; the great conscious awareness of the earth's spirit is dimming. As spring comes the earth's spirit begins to go to sleep. It wakes up again in autumn when the first frosts come. Then it is thinking, it is awake and thinking. That is how a day for the earth's spirit corresponds to the cycle of a year.

Looking back upon a sleeping person we can indeed see how his going to sleep means that ego and astral body are leaving the body. A kind of plant-type activity does actually develop in the organism when astral body and ego have departed from it. Their departure initiates a particular activity in the inner man. We really experience the first stages of sleep as the onset of a vegetative process, and sleep progresses in such a way that to the clairvoyant eye the body is pervaded with vegetative growth processes that are genuinely apparent to imaginative perception. This vegetation has a different way of growing from that of the earth's vegetation, however. These things can be told and they can be much meditated on and in this way we continue to make progress.

The plants of the earth grow upwards from the soil. It is different when we observe this ‘plant growth’ in man. The plants have their roots outside and grow into the human being. This means that we have to look for the flowers inside the human being. The human betng is very beautiful when seen asleep by someone who has grown Clairvoyant. He is like a whole earth shooting and sprouting, with vegetation growing into it. The picture is to some extent marred, however, for we get the impression at the same time that the astral body is gnawing away at the roots. That is how the progress of sleep presents itself. The animal world consumes, eats up, the plants that grow in summer. And we find that our astral body acts like the animal world except that it gnaws at the roots. If this did not happen we would not able to develop that core which we take through the gate of death. what the astral body makes its own in this way is the harvest of life which we do, in truth, take with us through the gate of death. I am describing things the way they appear to clairvoyant awareness. And just as winter comes upon the fruits of the earth and its frosts kill those fruits of the earth, so the entry of our astral body and ego into the etheric and physical body is like a frost coming to kill the vegetation, the spiritual plant growth, that has come up in the organism during the night.

The entity I have called the earth's spirit is indeed an individual entity, just as we are, except that it has a different form of existences with a year being a day for it. Within the earth's spirit we are able to perceive everything I have said of the impulse of Golgotha, 58This is a subject frequently referred to, e.g. in the following lectures: (a) Nuremberg, 23 June 1908, in Die Apokalypse des Johannes (GA 104); in English as The Apocalypse of St. John (tr. Johanna Collis) (London) Rudolf Steiner Press 1977; (b) Kassel 6 and 7 July 1909 in Das Johannes¬Evangelium im Verhaltnis zum den drei anderen Evangelien, besonders zu dem Lukas-Evangelium (GA 112); in English as The Gospel of St. John in Relation to the Other Three Gospels, Particularly to the Gospel of St. Luke (tr. S. and L. Lockwood) Anthroposophic Press, New York and Rudolf Steiner Press, London 1948. for within it we find the life-giving energy that was not in the earth prior to Golgotha. In it we find ourselves secure, accepted by the spirit which has gone through the Mystery of Golgotha. We become aware of this when we are able to enter fully into the state where the earth has become a being, an entity, of which we are part of the way a finger is part of our organism. It is inevitable therefore that when modern man enters deeply into the world in an occult way there is also a touch to this of religious immersion in the divine element that streams through the world, filling it with spirit. It is a fact that genuine perception of the spiritual world will never deprive man of religious feeling but rather make such feeling more profound.

I wanted to give an indication of what it really looks like when we enter into the world of images of spiritual reality. What we seem to be to ourselves in our ordinary everyday physical awareness is mere semblance, is only an inner core. Yet at the same time it has to be said that this is not correct, for it is not easy to find the words for these significant truths. What we seem to be to ourselves is always at our periphery when we are outside the body with our soul element. It is therefore not correct to say it is a core, for a fruit has its shell or peel on the outside and its valuable part inside. But many things are the other way round when it comes to the spirit, and the valuable Part of man is outside and the shell or peel equivalent is inside. The inner part is shell-like by nature and the spiritual part is what may be called the shell-like part in terms of space. We come to see when we take the path into the spiritual world that the human being is far from simple and indeed very complex. Something we have already made our own to quite an extent is the knowledge that man bears within him something through which he takes part in all the worlds that are accessible to him. Through our physical body we are part of the physical world, through the soul element within us we are part of the soul world, and, through our spirit, of the spiritual world. We extend into these three worlds. We know that when a human being takes the path into the spiritual world he will in fact experience himself in a kind of multiple reproduction. This is what causes enxiety. Our comfortable feeling of being of one piece is broken up and one does indeed get the feeling of belonging to several worlds. This may be presented from many different points of view. Today I shall take one particular point of view, drawing your attention again to what has been the basis of my recent lectures.

Considering the life of man in its inner aspects we must think of it as based on a number of principles, and when we step outside the body man will indeed be found to be divided into four principles. First of all there is the power on which our memory is based. Through memory we raise into consciousness the things we experienced earlier on in life. Memory creates a context for our life, making this life between birth and death a whole. A second principle is the one we call thinking, the forming of ideas. I cannot define it in detail here, for that is not the point, but the activity of forming ideas takes place in the present. And moving further ahead we come to feeling and yet further on to will activity. Looking into ourselves, our own inner life apppears in the activities of remembering, thinking, feeling and exerting our will. Now we may ask: ‘What is the essential difference between these four functions of the soul?’ Psychologists will merely list these functions as a rule, making no further distinction between them. We shall arrive at the truth only by going into the essential nature of these four functions of the soul. We shall then find that will activity is more or less the baby among our soul functions; feeling activity is older, thinking still older, and the activity performed in remembering is th‘old man’, the oldest of our soul functions. You will understand this more clearly if I present the matter to you from the following point of view.

It has been said on a number of occasions that man's development has not been on this earth only but that his present evolution was preceded by evolution on the Old Moon, the Old Sun and on Old Saturn. Man did not just come into being on this earth. To become what he is now he needed to go through evolution on Saturn, Sun and Moon. Now, you see, any will activity we develop is a product of man's earth life. Will evolution is not yet complete, in fact, and it is entirely a product of earth evolution. During Moon evolution man was not yet endowed with an independent will. Angels willed for him. Will activity may be said to have radiated in only with earth evolution. Feeling on the other hand was already acquired during Moon evolution, thinking during Sun evolution and remembering during Saturn evolution. If you now take this together with the thoughts expressed in my Cosmic Memory and Occult Science, 59Steiner, Rudolf: Aus der Akasha-Chronik, 1904 (GA 11); in English as Cosmic Memory: Atlantis and Lemuria (tr. Karl E. Zimmer) Rudolf Steiner Publications, New York 1971. Die Geheiniwissenschafi im Umriss, 1910 (GA 13); in English as Occult Science: An Outline (tr. G. and M. Adams) Rudolf Steiner Press, London 1969. you will discover an important connection. During Saturn evolution the first beginnings of man's physical body arose; during Sun evolution those of man's ether body; during Moon evolution those of man's astral body; and now, during earth evolution, the human ego is evolving.

Let us now take a separate look at the process we call remembering. What is this? The soul retains something of the image of an event we have experienced just as a book we are reading has within it something of the thoughts of the person who wrote it. When you have a book before you, you are able to read and to think—not always perhaps, but I'll ignore that — everything thought by the person who wrote the book. Remembering is a subconscious reading process; the record consists in signs the ether body has engraved into the physical body. If something happened to you years ago, you went through the experiences to be gained from that event. What remains of this are impressions made by the ether body in the physical body. When you recall the event now, the act of remembering is a subconscious reading process.

The hidden processes in the organism which enable the ether body to engrave the signs on which memory depends were in-formed into it during Old Saturn evolution. It is a fact that our organism holds within it this hidden Saturn organism. This may be perceived as a genuine entity into which the ether body is able to enter the signs which record the experiences that come from outside, to recall them again in the process of remembering. Essentially, man owes this subconscious recording faculty to the fact that his body, and specifically the element within the physical body which is to receive those imprints, is still pliable during the first seven years of life. It is therefore important not to subject children to forced memory training. I have drawn attention to this in The Education of the Child. 60Steiner, Rudolf: ‘Die Erziehung des Kindes vom Gesichtspunkte der Geisteswissenschaft’ (1907) in Lucifer-Gnosis: Grundlegende Aufsatze zur Anthroposophie aus den Jahren 1903–1908 (GA 34): in English as The Education of the Child In the Light of Anthroposophy (tr. M. and G. Adams) Rudolf Steiner Press, London 1975. During the first seven years the still pliable organism should be left to its own elementary powers and we should not use coercion. We should tell children as much as we can but not attach too much value to artificial memory development, rather leaving the child to itself where memory development is concerned. This is a point where spiritual science is of tremendous importance in educational life.

The ability to remember is thus one of the oldest elements in human nature. The activity on which thinking is based is part of what may be said to have evolved on the Sun. It, too, is relatively ancient. The Sun-forces contain a principle which organizes man's ether body in such a way that it is able to perform this specific function of thinking, of forming ideas. So you see that it is necessary to go far, far back in the cosmos in order to answer the question: Why is man able to remember, and why is he able to think? It is necessary to go back as far as the Saturn and the Sun stages of evolution.

To consider man's ability to feel we need only go back as far as the Moon, and for will activity to earth evolution. This will make many things clear to you. Certain individuals bear a particularly strong imprint of earlier incarnations; they are not pliable but clear cut. Much will imprint itself upon their organism. These are people with an almost automatic memory who however cannot be very creative in their thinking.

The faculty of remembering thus relates predominantly to the physical body; the ability to think to the ether body; man's feelings and emotions to the astral body; and his will activity above all to the ego. Man is only able to refer to himself as T because he is a creature of will. If he were only able to think, life would proceed as in a dream. All this means that we are an organic complex of soul functions which were imprinted into our soul life in the course of evolution. I have said that our will activity only evolved during earth evolution and that spiritually higher hierarchies, the Angeloi, willed for man on the Moon. The result was that during Moon evolution all will activity in man was such that if we recall it to clairvoyant consciousness we will indeed see it to have been at a higher level, yet it was involuntary will activity in man, as we see it in animal evolution on earth today. Animals will of necessity follow whatever seethes and boils up within them for they live within the common will of the species.

During Moon evolution, therefore, spiritual entities of a higher kind, the Angeloi, did our willing for us. Now, the spiritual entities of a higher kind are active in determining our karma from one incarnation to the next. The Angeloi are no longer active in our will but in the ongoing stream of our karma. During Moon evolution man did not feel his will to be his own; in the same way we do not, living on earth, believe that we make our own karma. It is controlled by spirits from the higher hierarchies. Only at times when our will is for once able to be still, as it were, will it be possible to have a glimmer of the progress of karma even for nonclairvoyant consciousness, a progress that normally stays hidden.

Please hold on to the fact I have stated — that a core forms in man which enters into the spiritual realm through the gate of death. This core is the vehicle for our karma. Karma has today already determined what each of us will be doing tomorrow. We would be able to see through our karma if it were not our mission on earth to develop the will. We would be able to see through it to the effect that we could under certain circumstances foresee our immediate future. But the will irrupts into the karmic stream and this obscures the prospect, say, of what will happen to us tomorrow. The will has to be completely silent; only then will it be possible for something to come through of what will happen not through us but to us.

As an example, let me give you a story told of Erasmus Francisci. 61von Schubert, Gotthelf Heinrich: Die Symbolik des Traumes (Leipzig 1840) S. 10 f This is based on the truth. As a young man Erasmus Francisci lived with his aunt. On one occasion he dreamed that a man whose name was shouted out to him in his dream was going to take a shot at him, but that he would not be killed, for his aunt would save his life. That was his dream. The next day, before anything had actually happened, he told the dream to his aunt. She got rather worried, telling him that someone had been shot dead quite recently in the neighbourhood. She strongly advised her nephew to stay at home so that nothing might happen to him. She gave him the key to the apple loft so that he might go up at any time and get himself some apples. The young man went up to his room and sat at his desk to read something. Yet what he had been reading was of less interest to him at the moment than the key to the apple loft which his aunt had given and which was in his pocket. He decided to go up there. Hardly had he got up from his chair when a shot rang out and the bullet went exactly to the place where his head had been. If he had not got up the bullet would have gone straight through him. A servant in the house next door — whose name was indeed the one called out to Erasmus Francisci in his dream, a name not known to him before — this servant had not known that the two guns he was supposed to clean were loaded and the gun went off as he started to handle it. If Francisci had not got up to go the the apple loft at that very moment, his aunt having given him the key, he would without doubt have lost his life. His dream therefore had shown exactly what was to happen the following day.

An event occurred of which we are able to say that the will was in no way involved, for Francisci would not achieve anything with his will. He could in no way protect himself; something irrupted into the karma of this individual to the effect that this life was to continue. The spirit controlling his karma had already had the idea that would save his life. The dream represented the pre-vision of the spirit guiding the young man's karma, perceiving what was to happen the next day. Francisci's state of soul was such that a certain depth had already been achieved through natural meditation as it were, and as a result something occurred which I might also compare with something in external life. I think you will agree that man's gift of prophesy with regard to external life on earth is rather limited. In a certain sense we are all prophets for we all know that dawn will come at a certain time tomorrow and so on, or someone walking across a field today will be able to say what that field is going to look like tomorrow. He will not be able to foretell whether rain is going to fall on that field the next day and so on. It is the same with regard to the inner life. Man lives according to his will, and his karma lies within that will. It is possible to develop a certain sense for what is coming next, and in the same way there are certain people whose inner soul has been deepened and for whom an inner point of light may arise for events where the will has to fall silent. It is important in the pursuit of spiritual science to consider such things on occasion, for we then see that there certainly is something alive within man that points to the future, something man is not able to encompass in his ordinary state of consciousness. Karma emerges through a will that has fallen silent.

All the things brought before our soul in this way through spiritual research are able to show us that what we call the great illusion consists predominantly in man being unable to perceive the full picture, in his ordinary consciousness, of what he is — that man is part of the whole world whilst his ordinary consciousness really only shows him the shell, as though he were enclosed within his skin, and so on. Yet what he is shown within this enclosedness is merely a fraction of what man really is, for he is as big as the whole world. We really only look back on man from the outside in ordinary life. In becoming fully aware of these things we can gradually develop a feeling for the presence in man of what is known as his ether body. It is indeed possible to make observations in ordinary life that show at least this second human being, the etheric man, within the physical human being. Imagine you are having a nice lazy lie-in one morning, not feeling inclined to get up as yet; you'd like to stay in bed and it is difficult to find the resolution to get up. If you depend entirely on what is within you it will be difficult to reach the point of getting up. But now imagine there is something in the next room which you have been waiting for during the last few days. The thought occurs of something out there and you will find that this thought can bring about a minor miracle. You will find that once you enter into this thought for a bit you will actually leap from your bed! What has happened? As you woke up, entering again into the physical body, you felt whatever the physical body made you feel and this was not likely to give rise to the thought of getting up. Your ether body then came to act independently, because you engaged it in something outside yourself. There you can see how you have been opposing your ether body to the physical body and how the ether body took hold of you and lifted you out of bed. You arrive at a very specific feeling regarding yourself, the feeling of being an onlooker and making distinction between two kinds of human actions which we perform. There are the actions we perform in the ordinary run of life and those where one is aware of inner activity coming to the fore. These are rather subtle observations and it is, of course, always possible to deny them. We have to attune our observations to life and really see through life and the way it presents itself. Then man's whole inner perception will move in the right direction. It has to be clearly understood that the path to the spiritual world cannot be achieved all at once. It gradually leads out of the world so that we ascend to the point I have just referred to, where what used to be the world for us loses its deadness and itself becomes a living entity.

Gaining in insight, man thus grows together with the spiritual world. He grows together with what we may call his portion which remains when he has put away from him everything gained through the instrument of the physical body, everything which essentially made up his life between birth and death. In going through the gate of death we grow into a world very similar to the one I have just spoken of as the one revealed to higher perception. And then we shall discover something that is very important. In the world we enter on passing through the gate of death, if we want to make ourselves at home in it in the right way, we shall just as we need a light to illumine a dark room — need whatever we have been able to develop within our innermost souls whilst here on earth. Earth life is not something to be regarded merely as a dungeon, a prison cell. It is certainly Part of the natural progress of evolution that man has to go through the gate of death. And he can of course live the life between death and rebirth. But life as a whole exists in order that every part of us adds something that is necessary, something new. As we go through the present cycle, life here is to give us something that ignites like a torch, so that we are not merely alive in this life of the spirit but gain insight and live so as to illumine the whole of this life. The light which illumines us is the one thing we gain between birth and and death that shall remain for our life between death and rebirth.

This is the one thing of which we must say again and again that as many people as possible must come to understand it, particularlY in the present time. All we come to understand of the spiritual world whilst here in the physical world in our physical bodies shall be as a flame to illumine the life of the spirit. In a certain sense all the difficult things the most developed part of mankind has to go through in the present time serve as a reminder that we need to deepen the life of the soul, and it will have to come about that from the depths of the human soul a longing is brought forth for the worlds of which man is part because of his soul. Let us hope that the present time will cause a longing to arise in which every soul says to itself: Man is something quite different again from what he appears to be in so far as he wears the garment of a body. May the events we are experiencing serve to remind us of the need to deepen our soul life, to let the soul become immersed in spiritual perceptiveness, spiritual vision.

Out of our awareness for this need to enter deeply into spiritual science in the present time, and the awareness that the difficulties of the present time are intended as a warning, let us again conclude the way we have always concluded these meetings. I hope it will be possible to continue in the not too distant future. For today let us conclude with the words:

Out of courage shown in battle,
Out of the blood shed in war,
Out of the grief of those who are left,
Out of the people's deeds of sacrifice
Spirit fruits will come to grow
If souls with knowledge of the spirit
Turn their mind to spirit realms.