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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Etheric Being in the Physical Human Being
GA 157

20 April 1915, Berlin

To begin with, let me remind you of something which most of you already know from previous lectures. When the human soul unfolds in the way which I have so often described even in public lectures, we arrive at a different picture of the world. The essential thing is that our soul follows, as it were, the path leading from the physical into the spiritual world. When the soul progresses in its development, the physical world gradually transforms itself and assumes the aspect of a spiritual world. We might say: Little by little, the characteristics of the physical-sensory world vanish and on the horizon of our consciousness appear forms, beings, and events pertaining to the spiritual world.

An important thing which now rises up in our consciousness with everything that appears before us, might be described as follows: We ourselves undergo a change—in our own sight, of course, we ourselves change, and even the surrounding world which exists in our physical-sensory perception undergoes a change. Let us first consider what lies nearest to us, the earthly plane.

Man really knows very little of the world which transcends the earth, if during his earthly existence he does not abandon his habitual attitude, if he remains within this whole way of looking at the world, which makes him grow together with his earthly life. When we penetrate into the spiritual world (we are then outside the physical body) and look back upon our body, upon our whole physical life, or in general upon our whole being, it is evident that we grow richer and richer; our content grows, our whole being expands and becomes a world. Man himself actually grows to the size of a whole world, when we thus look back upon him.

This is the true significance of something which we have often emphasized: Through spiritual development we identify ourselves with the world. We perceive a new world which seems to come out of our own being. We expand into a world. The earth instead loses is solid substance, or what we are accustomed to see physically—mountains, rivers, etc. This vanishes and we gradually begin to experience ourselves within the earth—I purposely say within the earth—we feel as if we lived within a great organism. We are outside our own world, and our inner world, this inner reality, now becomes an immense world, whereas the physical world which surrounded us becomes a Being and we live within it. This is what we should be able to conceive. When we transcend our own self, the human world expands into an immense world, and we ourselves grow into the organism of the earth; within it we experience ourselves in the same way in which our finger would, for example, feel that it belongs to our organism—if the finger were endowed with consciousness.

Man passes through this experience and this has often been expressed by more poetical natures, by people with a deeper capacity of feeling. The moment of waking up in the morning has often been compared with the awakening of Nature outside; the daily course of human life, with the sun's ascent to the zenith, and sunset with the need to sleep which appears in the form of fatigue.

These similes are born out of the feeling that man stands within the life of Nature. Nevertheless they are not worth much, for they do not touch the essential. I have therefore told you many times that a comparison really in keeping with the facts must differ from the one in which Nature's course of events is compared with the processes of sleeping and waking. The course of human life during the space of 24 hours should instead be compared with the course of events upon the earth during a whole year. The simile will agree if we take the whole year and compare its events with the processes of waking up and falling asleep which take place within us in the course of 24 hours. It is quite wrong to compare man's waking life from the moment of waking up to the moment of falling asleep with the summer season, for man's waking condition corresponds to winter, when Nature outside is awake, and summer should be compared with man's sleeping condition. If comparisons are drawn in, we should therefore say: Man falls asleep; i.e., he passes over into the summer season of his personal existence; whereas his waking condition would more or less correspond to autumn, winter, and early spring.

Why is this in keeping with the actual facts? Because when we develop in the manner described and become part of the whole earthly organism, we should indeed consider that in the summer the Spirit of the Earth is asleep; summer is the earth's real sleeping condition and the great consciousness of the Spirit of the Earth then withdraws. In the spring the Spirit of the Earth begins to slumber and it wakes up again in the autumn, when the first frost falls; it then begins to think and lives through its thinking, waking condition. This is daytime for the Spirit of the Earth, in the course of the year.

When we look back upon the sleeping human being, we see that when he falls asleep and goes out with his Ego and astral body, there arises a kind of vegetable activity in the organism abandoned by the astral body and Ego. There is activity in man's inner being and we feel that the first moments of sleep are like the beginning of a vegetative process; to the clairvoyant, sleep appears as if the body were pervaded by the growing life of plants. Imaginative knowledge enables us to perceive this. This vegetation, however, does not grow in the same way as that upon the earth. It is possible to describe this, to meditate over such things, for then we progress further and further.

Upon the earth, the plants grow out of the soil. But it is otherwise when we observe the “vegetable growth” in man. There the plants grow in such a way that their roots are outside and grow into man; their flowers should therefore be sought in man. Sleeping man is indeed a beautiful sight—I mean, to the clairvoyant. He is like the earth with its budding, greening life, but with a whole vegetation growing into it. What disturbs the view is that at the same time we have the impression that the astral body is gnawing at the roots. This appears in the course of sleep. The animals consume, eat up what summer produces upon the surface of the earth, and we perceive that our astral body behaves like the animal world, except that it gnaws at the roots. If this were not so, we could not unfold the nucleus, the kernel, which we take with us through the portal of death. What the astral body thus appropriates, is what we really take with us through the portal of death, as harvest of our life.

I am describing to you facts which rise up before the clairvoyant consciousness. And even as winter comes over the fruits of the earth and covers them with frost, I might say, so the astral body and the Ego, when diving down into the etheric and physical body cover with frost, freeze up the vegetation or spiritual plant growth which arises in our organism during the night.

What I described to you as the Spirit of the Earth, is really a personality, like man—except that the Spirit of the Earth leads a different kind of life. One year is one of his days, and in the Spirit of the Earth we gradually learn to recognize the Impulse which I described to you when speaking of the Impulse of Golgotha. We find in it that vivifying power which did not live in the earth before the Mystery of Golgotha, and within it we feel in the safekeeping of the Spirit who passed through the Mystery of Golgotha. We grow aware of this when we really penetrate into that condition in which the earth becomes for us a Being to whom we belong in the same way in which a finger belongs to our organism. In the present time, occult immersion in the world cannot help taking on the character of religious immersion in the divine essence that streams through the world and spiritualizes it. Real knowledge of the spiritual world cannot therefore take away religious feeling; on the contrary, it deepens it.

I wished to speak of the true aspect of things when one enters the image world of spiritual reality; for what we appear to our own sight, in our ordinary physical consciousness, is merely a reflexion, only an inner kernel—but I must immediately add that this expression is not quite appropriate, for it is difficult to coin words for such significant facts; what we appear to be in our own sight always remains connected with us when we are outside the body with our soul being. It is therefore not correct to say that this is a kernel, for a fruit has its peel outside and its best substance inside—in man, on the other hand (in the spiritual, things are frequently reversed) his best part is outside and his peel inside; what exists inside is only his peel, whereas the spiritual is something which may spatially be described as peel.

When we follow the path leading into the spiritual world we learn that man is not a simple, but a very complicated being. We gathered that man and everything that lives in him participates in all the worlds which are accessible to him. With his physical body he belongs to the physical world; with his soul he belongs to the soul world; with his spirit he belongs to the spiritual world. We reach into these three worlds.

We know that when we enter the spiritual world we really experience ourselves in a multiplied form. What is so alarming is that the oneness, the unity is then split up, so that we feel as if we belonged to many worlds. It is possible to bring forward different points of view, but I will now draw attention to one aspect and refer to explanations repeatedly given in recent lectures.

When studying human life from the inner aspect, we should look upon it as a structured life; but when we leave the body, the human being immediately appears structured, subdivided into four parts. We have, to begin with, the force which lies at the foundation of memory. Through memory, things experienced in the past rise up in our consciousness. Memory brings a connected sequence into life, so that our existence from birth to death becomes a whole, a unity.—A second element is what we call thinking, our representing power—I cannot go into further details, this is not the essential point just now, but our thinking activity is something that lives in the present. And if we proceed further, we come to feeling, and still further to the will. When we look into ourselves, our own inner being takes on the aspect of memory, thinking, feeling and will.

We may now ask: What is the essential difference between these four soul activities? Ordinary psychology enumerates, but does not differentiate them. Truth can only be reached if we are able to penetrate into the essence of these four soul activities, and there we discover that the will is, as it were, the infant among them; feeling is older, thinking still older, and the activity that lives in memory is the oldest, the old man among our soul activities. You will grasp this more clearly from the following standpoint:

We have often explained that man did not begin his development upon the earth, for the evolution of the earth was preceded by the old Moon evolution, the old Sun evolution, and the old Saturn evolution. Man did not first come into being upon the earth, but in order to become man he had to pass through the evolutions of Saturn, Sun and Moon.

You see, what we unfold in our will, the will as it exists today, arose upon the earth; its development is not complete and it is altogether a product of the evolution of the earth. During the Moon evolution man was not an independent volitional being; the Angels willed for him. The will rayed in, as it were, when the evolution of the earth began. During the Moon evolution, man was already endowed with feeling; he was endowed with thinking during the Sun evolution, and with memory during the Saturn evolution. If you now connect these things with other facts described in my “Akasha Chronicle” and in “Occult Science” you will discover an important connection. The first foundation of man's physical body arose during the Saturn stage of evolution; the first basis of man's etheric body arose during the Sun stage of evolution; during the Moon stage of development arose the first foundation of the astral body, and the Ego began to unfold during the earthly stage of development.

Let us now consider separately the activity which we designate as memory. What is memory? The picture of an event which we experienced remains behind in the soul, in the same way in which something of the thoughts of a book's author remain in the book we read. When you read a book, you may think through (not always, but this does not count now) everything thought out by the author of the book. Memory is a subconscious reading activity. In memory remain the signs which the etheric body engraved upon the physical body. You may have lived through something years ago and gathered from it the necessary experience; what remains behind is the impression which the etheric body engraved upon the physical body, and when you remember this past experience your memory process is a subconscious act of reading.

The mysterious processes which take place in the human organism, in order that the etheric body may engrave upon it the signs which lie at the foundation of memory, began to form part of man's structure during the ancient Saturn evolution. We have in fact within us this secret Saturn-organism and its existence reveals a life and being of its own. Upon it the etheric body writes down the signs connected with man's experiences in the external world, so that these signs may be drawn up again from memory. That man carries out this subconscious writing activity is essentially dependent on the fact that during his first seven years of life, the body, or that part of his physical body which receives these impressions or signs, is still elastic. Consequently we should not—as explained in my book “The Education of the Child”—maltreat a child by developing its power of memory. During the first seven years, the essential thing is to leave the child's elastic organism to its own elemental forces, without maltreating it. We should therefore tell a child as much as possible, but without stressing the point that it should unfold its memory power artificially. In regard to the unfolding of memory, the child should instead be left to its own resources. Spiritual science may thus be of immense importance in pedagogical life.

Even as the power of memory is one of human nature's oldest components, so the activity which lies at the foundation of thinking is part of something which we may designate as having been formed upon the Sun. This too is relatively old. The Sun forces organized man's etheric body so as to enable it to exercise this peculiar activity of thought, or representation. This will show you that we must go far back into cosmic evolution in order to give an answer to the question: Why is man able to remember things, and why is he able to think?—We must go back to the evolutions of Saturn and of the Sun.

If we consider man's feeling life, we only have to go back as far as the Moon evolution, and for his volitional life as far as the evolution of the Earth. This will enable you to understand many things. In the case of people who were strongly moulded by their preceding incarnation, who are not elastic, but have a sharply moulded form, many things will be pressed into their organism; they will be people endowed with an almost automatic memory, but with their thinking power they will not be able to unfold much in a productive way. Whereas the power of memory should be connected chiefly with the etheric body, and man's feeling life with the astral body, his volitional life should be connected chiefly with the Ego. Man says “I” to himself only because he is a being endowed with will. If he had merely the power of thinking, his life would only be like a dream.

We thus have, I might say, an organic connection of inner soul activities which were impressed on our soul's being in the course of development. In regard to the will, I have already explained that it only arose during the development of the Earth. Upon the Moon, higher spiritual hierarchies, the Angeloi, still willed for man. During the Moon evolution, man's whole will was still of such a kind that when the clairvoyant consciousness tried to recall this state of existence, it perceives that although the will then existed upon a higher stage, it lived in man instinctively, in the form in which it now exists in the animals of the earth. The animal necessarily follows its hot and whirling instincts and it lives in the common will of its species.

Even as higher spiritual beings, the Angeloi, willed for us during the Moon evolution, so higher spiritual beings are now at work in determining our Karma from one incarnation to the other. The Angeloi do not work in our will, but in the uninterrupted stream of our Karma. Even as during the Moon evolution man felt that his will was not his own, but that of an Angel, so here on earth we do not think that it is we who shape our Karma; this is ruled by the spiritual beings of higher hierarchies. Only if our will can be silenced, as it were, a gleam of the course of Karma, which ordinarily remains concealed, may shine through and reveal itself even to a non-clairvoyant consciousness.

Bear clearly in mind what I have explained to you: That in man a nucleus unfolds which passes through the portal of death and enters the spiritual realm; this nucleus is the bearer of our Karma. What each one of us will do tomorrow is determined by Karma and already lives in us today. If the will had not to be unfolded here on earth, we might be able to see through our Karma. We could see through it to the extent that under certain conditions it might be possible to foresee the near future. But the will which penetrates into the stream of Karma darkens our outlook into the events which may happen to us, for example tomorrow. Only if the will is completely silenced, something of what will happen—not through us, but to us—may gleam through.

Let me give you an example, related by Erasmus Franceschi and based on truth. In his youth, Erasmus Franceschi lived with an aunt. Once he dreamed that a man whose name he also heard in his dream would fire at him, but that he would not be killed, because his aunt would save his life. This is what he dreamed. On the following day, before anything had happened, he told his aunt what he had dreamed. She was greatly alarmed and said that quite recently a man had been shot in the neighbourhood, and she entreated her nephew to remain at home, so that nothing might happen to him. She gave him the key to the apple pantry, so that he might always go up and fetch himself some apples. He went to his room and sat down at his desk to read. But at that moment the book did not interest him as much as the pantry key in his pocket which his aunt had given him. He decided to go upstairs to the apple room. No sooner had he moved, than a shot was fired, aimed in such a way that the bullet would have struck his head, if he had still been reading. If he had not got up, the bullet would have gone through his head. In the neighbour's house, the manservant, whose name was the one which Franceschi had heard in his dream and whom he did not know, was cleaning two guns and was not aware that they were loaded. A gun went off, and if Franceschi had not risen from his chair at that very moment, in order to go to the apple pantry to which his aunt had given him the key, he would unfailingly have been killed. The dream therefore faithfully rendered what would have taken place on the following day.

You see, of this event we may say that the will had nothing to do with it, for Franceschi could not influence the events with his own will; he could not protect himself, yet something entered his Karma so that he could live on. In his case, the spiritual being that moulded his Karma had already had the rescuing idea. The dream was foresight of the spirit controlling Karma, who saw what would have occurred on the following day, and because that young man's soul had, almost through natural meditation, passed through a certain deepening, something arose which may be compared with certain things in external life. In regard to external life man can prophesy only in a very limited measure. But in a certain sense we are all prophets. For example, we all know that tomorrow at a certain moment the light will dawn, or a man crossing a field will be able to foretell what it will look like tomorrow ... yet he will not be able to foresee whether rain will fall upon it tomorrow. The same applies to inner life. Man lives in accordance with his will, and Karma is contained in his will. Through feeling, we may learn to know the things which lie closest to us, and in the same way a light may be kindled in the souls of certain people who have passed through an inner deepening, so that they can see events in which the will must remain silent. In the study of spiritual science it is important to bear in mind such things, because they show us that in man's inner being lives something which he is unable to survey through his ordinary consciousness and which points to the future. Karma then penetrates through the silenced will.

Everything which thus rises up before our soul in spiritual-scientific research, shows us that what we call the great illusion chiefly consists therein that with his ordinary consciousness man cannot survey his own being; he belongs to the whole universe, although his ordinary consciousness only enables him to see the shell, enclosed, as it were, by the skin, etc. But what he thus sees in an enclosed state is only an extract of what he really is, for man is as great as the universe. Even in ordinary life we look back upon ourselves from outside.

When we clearly realize these things, we gradually begin to feel that within us lives something which we may designate as man's etheric body. Indeed, even in our ordinary life it is possible at least to observe this second man—the etheric being in man's physical being, but for this it is necessary to observe life in a far more delicate way than is usually the case.

Think, for example, that you are lying lazily in bed in the morning and would much rather remain in bed than get up; indeed it costs you an effort to get up. You will find it difficult to get up if you only rely on what lives in you. But imagine that you are suddenly struck by the thought that in the room next to yours there is an object which you were expecting for some days. A thought connected with something outside rises up in you, and this will work almost like a miracle. For you will see that it is even capable of driving you out of bed!

What has happened? When you awoke and dived down into your physical body, you felt what the physical body can make you feel; but this cannot inspire you with the thought of getting up. The etheric body acts independently, when you draw its attention to something which is outside. This example will show you how you may confront your physical body with the etheric body, and how the etheric body literally takes hold of you and pushes you out of bed.

A definite sensation may be reached in regard to our own being: that of looking at ourselves and distinguishing between two kinds of human activities: the things we do in the ordinary hubbub of life, and those in which we feel that an inner activity asserts itself. These are, of course, finer observations, and if we want to, we may always deny them. But our observation should be adapted to life and we should really gain insight into life as it reveals itself to us. This will push our feeling in the right direction. We should realize that the path leading into the spiritual world cannot be discovered all at once; it leads out of the world little by little, so that we ascend to what I have described before, when that which used to be our world loses its lifeless character and becomes a living being.

We thus grow together cognisantly with the spiritual world. We grow together with something of which we may say that it forms part of us when we discard what is given to us with the instrument of the physical body and what essentially constitutes our life from birth to death. When passing through the portal of death we grow into a world which very much resembles the one described just now, which reveals itself to higher knowledge. And then we notice an infinitely important thing: If we wish to penetrate in the right way into the world we enter through the portal of death, we need—in the same way in which a light is needed in a dark room—something which we unfold here on earth in the innermost depths of our soul. Life on earth should not be looked upon as a prison. In the natural course of development man must, of course, pass through the portal of death and he must pass through the life between death and a new birth, but the whole of life exists in order that each part of our being may add to us something we need, something new, and in the present cycle of evolution, life on earth should give us something that flames like a torch, so that we do not simply live through our spiritual existence, but recognize it; our life in the spiritual world will then be flooded with light. The light which illumines us is the imperishable element which we gain from birth to death for our life between death and a new birth.

In connection with these things, we should always say that particularly in the present time it is important that as many people as possible should grasp that the truths connected with the spiritual world which we learn to know in the physical world, within the physical body, become a flaming light, when we live in the spiritual realms. All the difficulties which more developed human beings must encounter in the present time, admonish us in a certain way to deepen our soul and immerse it in spiritual feelings, in spiritual vision. Consciousness of the fact that a spiritual-scientific deepening is needed in the present time and that the difficulties of our age are a warning, induce us to conclude with words which we always pronounce before parting. I hope that we shall be able to continue these lectures in a not too distant future. Let us now close with the words:

Aus dem Mut der Kämpfer,
aus dem Blut der Schlachten,
aus dem Leid Verlass'ner,
aus des Volkes Opfertaten—
wird erwachsen Geistesfrucht,
lenken Seelen geistbewußt
ihren Sinn ins Geisterreich.

(From the courage of the fighters,
From the blood of the battles,
from the sorrow of the abandoned,
from the people's sacrifices—
shall spring forth a spirit fruit,
if souls, spirit-consciously direct
their mind (thoughts) to the spirit realm).