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The Destiny of Individuals and of Nations
GA 157

14. The Cosmic Significance of Our Sensory Perceptions — Our Thinking, Feeling and Will Activity

6 July 1915, Berlin

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 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.

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

There are a number of things I want to recall in this extra session today, themes spoken of in different lectures which we shall bring together and consider from a particular point of view today. The rays of light which arise will then be directed at subjects we have previously considered from one angle or another. There is a particular prejudice, a feeling people have, which stops them from accepting spiritual science in the present age. People have so little idea of how small a proportion of whatever a human being accomplishes at any hour, any moment, basically is within his ordinary awareness of being a human individual in the physical world. Just consider how little we would be able to function as human beings if we were fully conscious of everything we needed in order to live as human beings. It is often stressed, and quite rightly so, that modern man knows very little — taking first of all the purely physical functions in life — how his brain, liver, heart and so on really work in order to accomplish what man has to accomplish to enable him to live on this earth as a physical entity. All the things man has to accomplish merely to let his external physical life progress — all those things he simply has to accomplish. But consider how little man is able to follow this with his conscious mind. Just consider some quite minor thing happening in everyday life and you'll immediately see that man as an entity in this world, an entity on earth, is one thing, and what may be called ‘conscious man’ is something quite different. In relation to what man is within his whole compass, this conscious man is small, very small indeed. It should therefore not come as a surprise that man feels a natural urge to extend this small conscious man more and more into the region that opens up when we consider man as part of the cosmos. We shall do this today by returning to aspects considered in earlier lectures and considering them in a different context.

Our conscious existence as a human being starts, in a way, with sensory perception, with everything our senses perceive of the world outside us. Sensory perception — the fact that impressions are made on our senses, with those impressions arising on the basis of certain processes, is something quite different from our being aware of this. Imagine you are sleeping with your eyes open, not closed. Hares are capable of this. Unless it were pitch dark the environment would constantly leave impressions on the eye, only you would not be aware of those impressions. Our ears are of course always open, and every sound, all the things we are constantly aware of during the day when we are awake, are of course also processed in the ear when we are asleep. Our sense organs may always be engaged in the whole process of earth life; yet any significance they may hold for us depends on our following this process in the sense organs in conscious awareness' Only the things we take into conscious awareness are actually ours in this life on earth.

Do these sensory perceptions as we call them, the ability of our eyes, ears and so on to perceive, have significance only for us as human beings living on earth, or do they also hold a wider, cosmic significance?

To answer this question we need to use clairvoyant insight to fain an opinion as to what it is that we actually see of the stars in the universe. I think we may say that people taking the point of view of materialistic physics would say: ‘Well, when we see a planet, the light of the sun has fallen on it and been reflected, and that is how we see the planet.’ That is, in fact, the way objects on earth are seen. Physicists therefore concluded, on the basis of mere analogy, that planets are seen in the same way. There is no reason at all why something applicable on earth — the conclusion that light falls on objects and these objects become visible through that light being reflected — should also apply to heavenly bodies. There is absolutely no reason to say that this conclusion also applies to the universe. As to the fixed stars, well, the physicists say these give off their own light. I remember how, as quite a young fellow, I asked a former schoolmate from our village school: ‘What are they teaching you about light?’ Even in those days I had listened with a certain youthful scepticism to what was said of the 'real' origin of light, of all the tiny dancing particles of ether and of light-waves. The other boy, who had had his further education at a seminary, had heard nothing of this as yet. He told me: ‘Whenever the question came up as to the nature of light we were simply told: “Light is what makes bodies luminous”.’ Well, you see that really is saying something quite brilliant about light, to say that light is what makes bodies luminous. Yet modern materialistic physicists are not really saying much more than that when they say that we see heavenly bodies because they radiate light. It is very much the same in principle.

I did mention on another occasion that materialistic physicists might get quite a surprise if they were able to travel to the sun to look and see what the sun really is like. I said that because in fact there is nothing at all there in the place where the sun is. What we would find would be a composite of purely spiritual entities and energies. There is nothing material there at all.

If we use clairvoyant awareness to investigate the stars and inquire into the reason for their luminosity we find that what is actually there, what we call their luminosity, really consists in the ability to perceive, an ability which is rather crude in man and more highly developed in other entities. If some entity were to look down on the earth from Venus or Mars and find the earth luminous, it would have to say to itself: ‘This earth is luminous not because it reflects the rays of the sun, but because there are men on earth who perceive with their eyes.’ The process of visual perception holds significance not only for our own conscious awareness but radiates out into the whole of outer space. The light of this particular heavenly body consists in what men do in order to see. We do not merely see in order to become aware of the results of visual perception, we also see in order that because of this process the earth becomes radiant to outer space. And it is a fact that every one of our sense organs has the function not only to be what it is for us but also has a function within the universe. Through sensory perception man is an entity within the cosmos. He is not merely the entity his conscious mind presents to him as a human being on earth, he is also a cosmic entity.

Considering the inner configuration of the soul at a deeper level, we come to our thinking activity. We are even more inclined to consider our thoughts our own. Not only are ‘thoughts free from toll’, as the saying goes, indicating that thoughts really hold significance only for the individual person, but it is widely thought that people merely go through an inner process when they think and that this thinking activity more or less holds only personal significance for them. The truth is very different. Thinking activity is, in fact, a process occurring in the ether body. And people know extremely little of what really goes on when they are thinking. Extremely little of what goes on when he is thinking enters into man's conscious awareness. As he thinks, he is aware of part of what he is thinking. Yet infinitely more thinking activity is associated with this even when we think in the daytime. What is more, we continue to think during the night, when we are asleep. It is not true that we stop thinking when we go to sleep and start again on waking. Thinking activity is continuous. There are many different dream processes, processes in our dream-life, and part of all this is that man's ego and astral body enter into his ether body and physical body on waking. He comes in with these two principles and finds himself in the surging billows of something very active and alive. Giving just a little consideration to this he will realize that these are weaving thoughts and that he is becoming immersed in an ocean consisting entirely of weaving thoughts. People often say to themselves on waking: ‘If only I could remember what I was thinking just now. Those were very sensible ideas, something that could help me enormously if only I could remember!’ And they are not mistaken. There really is something like a billowing ocean down there. It is the billowing, weaving, etheric world, and this is not simply a more subtle form of matter, the way English theosophists like to present it, 84Rudolf Steiner was probably referring above all to the works of Charles Webster Leadbeater (1847 –1934). but the world of weaving thoughts, something genuinely spiritual. We become immersed in a world of weaving thoughts.

As human beings we are really much more sensible and intelligent than we are just as conscious human beings. This is something that has to be admitted. It would indeed be most regrettable if we were no more sensible at the unconscious level than we are at the conscious level. For we could do nothing else in that case but repeat ourselves at the same level of intelligence life after life. In fact, we already have within us during our present life the potential for our next life; this will be the fruit. If we were always able to catch hold of this element we become immersed in, we would catch hold of much of what we will be in our next life. So there is billowing, weaving life down there. It is the germ of our next incarnation and this is what we take into ourselves. Hence the prophetic nature of our dream life.

Thinking is an immensely complicated process and man only takes a small proportion of what it involves into his consciousness. A thought involves something which is a process in time. Our sensory perceptions made in conscious awareness also make us part of the cosmos. The activity of seeing causes the earth to grow luminous and this makes us part of cosmic space. The processes involved in thinking activity make us part of cosmic time; all that happened before we were born and all that is going to happen after death plays its part in this. Through our thinking, then, we take part in the whole cosmic process of time, through our sensory perception in the whole cosmic process of space. Only the earth-based process of sensory perception is for ourselves.

Let us move on to feeling. We are even less aware of feeling activity than we are of sensory perception and of thinking activity. Feeling is a very profound process. You see, to discover the true significance of thinking, to find the real truth — that thinking has cosmic significance — it is necessary to progress to imaginative perception, as described in Knowledge of the Higher Worlds. 85Rudolf Steiner: Wie erlangt man Kenntnisse der höheren Welten? (GA 10); in English as Knowledge of the Higher Worlds: How is it Achieved? (tr. not mentioned) Rudolf Steiner Press. London 1976. Stripping our thinking of the abstract nature we consciously associate with it, and entering into that ocean of weaving thoughts, we encounter the necessity to have not only the abstract thoughts in there that we have as citizens of the earth but to conceive images in it. For everything is created from images. Images are the true or origins of things; images are behind everything around us; and it is into these images we enter when we immerse ourselves in the ocean of weaving thoughts. Those are the images Plato spoke of; they are the images all who have spoken of spiritual primary causes had in mind, the images Goethe had in mind with his archetypal plant. These images are to be found in imaginative thinking. This imaginative thinking is a reality and we become immersed in it when we enter the billowing world of thoughts that move with the stream of time.

We only enter into the depths of feeling when we attain to what is called Inspiration. This is a higher form of perception compared to Imagination. Everything that lies at the root of feeling in us really is a surging sea of Inspirations. Just as the image reflected in the mirror is merely an image of the object which exists in the world outside, so our feelings are merely reflections mirrored in our own organism of Inspirations that come to us from the universe. They are a mirror image which relates to the flowing movement in the universe the way a dead mirror image relates to the living creature it is reflecting. Each of those images reflects the attributes of entities belonging to higher hierarchies who express themselves in the world through Inspiration. If we do not stop at feeling activity but progress to clairaudient perception we perceive the world as the united activity of a great multitude of entities within hierarchies. The world is this entity arising out of the united actions of entities from the hierarchies. The deeds of the higher hierarchies are happening in the world. And we are involved. We are in the mirror. And the deeds of the higher hierarchies are reflected in our mirror. We then perceive what has been reflected — through conscious awareness. As human beings active in feeling, we live in the womb of the attributes of the hierarchies, perceiving those attributes because we have consciousness.

When it comes to being conscious of his feelings, man is even smaller compared to what he really is in his ability to feel than he is compared to his sensory perceptions and his thinking activity. As feeling human beings we are also part of the hierarchies, are also working in the sphere where the hierarchies are at work. We are active in creating the fabric. We perform deeds that are not for ourselves alone, deeds through which we share in the great work of building the world. Through our feelings we are the servants of the higher entities that are the world builders. We may think, as we stand before the Sistine Madonna for example, that this merely meets certain emotional needs in us. The fact however is that when a human being stands before the Sistine Madonna and responds to the painting emotionally this is an entirely real process. If there were no emotional element, no element of feeling, the entities which one day are to share in the work of building Venus as a heavenly body would lack the powers they need to do this work. Our feelings are needed for the world the gods are building, the way bricks are needed in building a house. Again we have only partial knowledge of our feelings. We know the joy we experience as we stand before the Sistine Madonna, yet what is happening there is one element within the universal whole, irrespective of whether we have conscious awareness of this or not.

As to our will activity, this, too, is but a mirror, though in this case the essential nature of individual members of the hierarchies is reflected. We are also an entity within the hierarchies but at a different level. Our reality lies in our will. We give substance to the world by somehow or other letting our will live in reality. Again it holds true that, in so far as we follow our will activity in conscious awareness, this has significance only for us as human beings. But apart from this, our will activity is a reality which is the material the gods used to build the world.

So you see how our sensory perceptions, our thinking, feeling and will activity, have cosmic significance; how they are an integral part of the whole of cosmic life. It really seems that modern man should have a fair degree of understanding and should, with some good will, be able to accept these things. Occasionally we come across evidence of someone being aware that there is a small human being — the conscious human being — and a big human being who is the cosmic reality. Friedrich Nietzsche spoke of this in his Zarathustra, for he had some idea of it. The same holds true for many other people, except that they do not make the effort to follow the paths that will show how we progress from being a small human being to being the greater one. It is really necessary, however, that a fair number of people come to realize that the times have passed when it was possible to manage without such insight.

In the past, something still remained of the old clairvoyance that enabled people to see into the spiritual world. In those days they really were able to see the way man does today when he is outside his .physical and ether bodies with his astral body and ego and out there in the cosmos. Man would never have achieved complete freedom as an individual and dependence would have been his lot if the old clairvoyance had persisted. It was necessary for man to take possession, as it were, of his physical ego. The form of thinking he would develop if he perceived the surging ocean of thinking, feeling and will activity that exists below consciousness would be a heavenly form of thinking but not independent thinking. How does man achieve independent thinking?

Well, imagine it is night-time and you are lying asleep in your bed. It is the physical body and the ether body which are lying in your bed. As you wake up the ego and the astral body enter from outside. Thinking activity continues in the ether body. And now the ego and the astral body enter, first of all taking hold of the ether body. This does not take long, however, for at that very moment the thought may flash up: ‘What have I been thinking? Those were sensible thoughts.’ However, the human being has a strong desire to take hold of the physical body as well, and the moment he does so everything vanishes. Now the human being is wholly within the sphere of earth life. It is because man immediately takes hold of his physical body that he is unable to gain awareness of the subtle swell of etheric thinking. To have the awareness 'It is I who am thinking' man simply has to take hold of his physical body and make it his instrument; otherwise he would not feel 'It is I who am thinking' but ‘It is the angel guarding me who is thinking’. The conscious thought ‘I am thinking’ is possible only if the physical body is taken hold of. Man therefore must be able to use his physical body. In the time that lies ahead he will have to make use of what the earth is giving him and take hold of his physical body more and more. His justifiable egoism will grow and grow. This will have to be counteracted by taking hold of the insights provided through spiritual science. We are now at the beginning of this era. People might say:

No need to concern ourselves with this. What do we care as to the intentions of the gods? We have no desire to enquire into the will of the gods. We'll accept whatever they offer us in the course of life on this earth; they give us the physical body to be an ever more powerful instrument for physical thinking. But to feel concerned that we should start to gain something else that is more than just power — that is too much of an effort. And we do not really have to. The gods could take another course.

That, too, is what people say, only they say it by inventing philosophies and so forth.

It has to be clearly understood that in the world it really makes no difference if we decide to put a limit on what is to happen, a limit to suit our reluctance to be personally involved. It is quite impossible for the measure meted out to man to be reduced. If man is intended to develop certain powers within a particular era and only develops part of them, the rest will nevertheless emerge. It is not true to say that they do not emerge. When you heat up an engine the excess heat supplied does not disappear; it radiates from the engine. In the same way nothing that exists in human life can disappear. It is not true, therefore, that mystical powers — so much despised by modern man — do not exist. Man is able to deny them, yet they continue to exist as part of this world. You can deny them, you can be a great materialist in your conscious mind, but you cannot be a materialist with the whole of your being. What happens is that those powers will, unknown to man, develop in such a way that he will offer to Lucifer and Ahriman what he would otherwise have offered to the legitimate gods. Everything you suppress in your conscious mind, everything you will not allow to unfold, you offer to Ahriman and Lucifer.

No culture in the present age, dear friends, can have been more intensely materialistic down to the last fibre of the soul than the Italian culture. Present-day Italian culture, the culture of the Italian nation, has developed through the influence of the folk soul on the sentient soul. It is the current mission of English culture to develop materialism. Materialism will be on the surface there, but it will be the way it ought to be. The earth does need a certain materialism and this is developing there. It is the mission of the British to bring materialism into earth evolution. With them it cannot take root in the soul as deeply as it does with the Italians. An Italian feels everything deeply and in him materialism takes root at the very deepest level. This is why present-day Italian culture goes into positive frenzies of nationalistic materialism and does so with all its soul, when in fact materialism cannot be accepted with the whole of one's soul. We may be its protagonists in the world but we cannot really develop an enthusiasm for it — unless we are part of the Italian folk soul. It is true that the present age is the most materialistic ever. It is equally true that among the people living in the south of Europe the most materialistic attitudes of all arise from the sentient soul. Fichte said: `Anyone who believes in freedom within the life of the spirit is really one of us.’ 86Fichte, Johann Gottlieb: Reden an die deutsche Nation: Nr. 7 (Addresses to the German Nation No. 7) (Berlin 1808). His conception of nationalism was one entirely determined by the spirit. There is nothing of this in the Italian concept of nationalism. In their case it is entirely a matter of blood substance — their nationalism is entirely naturalistic. One man's idea of what constitutes a nation is quite different from that of another. An utterly nationalistic materialism is alive among the Italian people. This, of course, only relates to the present day.

You must realize that when the soul is so determinedly aiming for naturalistic materialism in what a nation is intending, the sense for the mystical cannot be lost on account of this. It persists. It is merely thrust out from consciousness and comes to rest elsewhere. It is not thrust out from man's true and innermost being. It now serves the powers we refer to by the technical terms of Lucifer and Ahriman. Those human faculties are then not directed along the path of the progressive deities but into the path,. of Ahrimanic and Luciferic powers.

One would assume that something will have to emerge in those nations when powers of a mystical nature are thrust out into public life. Can we find something of this kind in the South, a stream of mystical will that has been thrust out?

It was in May 1347, on Whitsunday, that Cola di Rienzi 87di Rienzi, Nicholas (or Cola) (c. 1313–1354), Tribune of the People at Rome. See Robert Davidssohn: ‘Vom Mittelalter zu unscren Tagcn’ in Süddeutsche Monatshefte 12: 121. 1915. walked up to the Capitol in Rome at the head of a great procession. He was wearing ancient Roman armour, which was in accord with the sentiments of that time, and had four standards. The Capitol is the place from which speeches concerning Rome civilization were traditionally addressed to the Romans. Rienzi proclaimed that he had come to speak in the name of Jesus Christ, as a man compelled to speak to the Romans in the name of freedom for the whole world. Rhetoric was very much the order of the day at the time. It did have a certain significance then — in 1347 — but no reality. The whole was something like a puff of smoke. But that is not really my point. I want to draw your attention to the fact that this happened on a Whitsunday — on 20 May 1347. It was then that the man representing this whole stream called himself an ambassador of Christ. Later, when he had further elaborated his message, he also called himself a man inspired by the Holy Spirit.

It was also a Whitsunday that war was declared against Austria. Immediately before that a man who did not call himself an ambassador of Christ but nevertheless let it appear in what he said that he was filled with the Holy Spirit, had walked at the head of a large procession and made speeches in Rome. There certainly was no vestige in the soul of this man of the mysticism out of which Rienzi had formerly spoken. Yet — and here we get an element of mysticism that has been thrust out — the words were again spoken on a Whitsunday. Yet they were spoken in the service of those other powers. The Christ impulse had been thrust out from consciousness. And that it was very much the Ahrimanic element—an element we must of course expect in the present age—is evident from just a few words that were said at the time. A 20th century orator could not, of course, arrive in Roman armour and with four standards and so he came in a car. That is the kind of sacrifice one has to make in this materialistic age. But somehow he had to bring to expression — perhaps unconsciously — that an element of mystical power thrust out by man had been ceded to another power and was now on the move in the outside world, having been turned into its opposite. This man who calls himself d'Annuncio — in reality he is called something else 89At a later date Rudolf Steiner changed the line ‘Dich. tönend von Lob and Macht’ to ‘Dich, tönend von Licht und Macht’ (‘Thee ringing with praise and power’ to ‘Thee ringing with light and power’). See Wahrspruchworte—Richtspruchworte. Dornach 1951 ( proposed GA 41). — spoke in such a way that people might have believed all the great flaming speeches of Rienzi were coming to life again — it is easy to do this in Italian — deliberately making every sentence reminiscent of him. After his oration, which to the Central European mind consists of nothing but empty words, he picked up a ceremonial sword and he kissed this sword to indicate that the power of his oratory should pass into this sword. The sword was the property of the editor of a magazine one commonly sees around when one goes to Italy. The editor of a magazine had presented the sword to the Mayor of Rome as a sacred relic on this occasion. The sword belonged to the editor of the cosmic paper Asino. In time to come a world judging these things on a different basis from that prevailing today will realize that many of the things happening at the present time have to be judged from the point of view I have presented — that much of what is present in man by way of mystical powers is thrust out, handed over to the world process, but does not get lost. It becomes the spoil of Ahrimanic and Luciferic powers. Rarely is the irony inherent in world history as obvious to the eye as in the case I have just presented.

Let us use all we have been able to absorb out of the work we have been doing these last years and try to understand clearly that there is a certain measure of spiritual power that is given to human nature. Mystical spirituality has to be thrust out of human consciousness in order that mankind can grow free in taking hold of the physical body. Yet on the other hand this mystical spirituality must be made part of our conscious life, otherwise Ahrimanic and Luciferic powers will take hold of what has been thrust out from conscious awareness. Again and again I want to remind you, dear friends, that having made such efforts for many years to absorb this into our conscious mind, we also have the feeling arise in us that something will have to emerge from the bloodshed of the present time that will lead mankind towards spirituality, towards recognition of the spirit. This means, as I have often said, that there will have to be souls who have grown able, through spiritual science, to look up into the spiritual world where all the ether bodies that have come from young people are present. These have reached the spiritual world and will continue to be present because on that plane, too, powers are not lost. We must look up towards them. They will unite with the powers shining down for us from the spiritual world and what the dead have to say will form the impulses of the future — if souls are present who understand their language. It it in this spirit that once again we say these simple 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.