4. The Human Organism Through the Incarnations
27 June 1916, Berlin
I will begin today by adding a few things to what we have said over the years about spiritual science. One of the most elementary facts we know is that human beings as they have developed through what we have called Saturn, Sun, Moon, and Earth phases of evolution are composed of four principal parts, namely physical body, etheric body, astral body, and I. We have often emphasized that merely naming the four parts of human beings and listing them is saying and doing very little. What is important is that we connect increasingly definite and concrete ideas and concepts with what arises in our soul when we speak of these four parts of the human being.
Let us first look at the physical body. We think we know it really well, or at least the physical sciences must know this body very well since they study it so much. Well, we know our physical body has to be a highly complicated creation for the simple reason that its first rudimentary form can be found as far back as the Saturn phase of evolution. That early physical form was then transformed during the Sun phase of evolution and changed further during the Moon phase of evolution, and by now it has undergone long ages of earth evolution, which have also left their imprint on our physical body. Thus, our physical body has been shaped in the course of four very long periods of time. We have to assume then a fourfold structure for this physical body.
When we ask what has come into our physical body during Earth evolution, we will only get a false idea if we rely on what ordinary life and conventional science tell us. For during earth evolution our physical body has only been remodeled, transformed, and metamorphosed. Much of it already existed, not merely in rudimentary form, but in a process of development, of unfolding, during the old Moon phase of evolution. We cannot really see much of what has been added during earth evolution if we take “see” in the true sense of the word. Actually, it is only our posture that has been changed during earth evolution; we have become upright beings, walking around with our spine perpendicular to the earth's surface. Our posture and everything connected with it has changed. Our upright physiognomy on the surface of the earth has been imprinted upon us during our evolution on earth.
When we think of a centaur, a very well-known mythological figure, we can say, based on spiritual science, that this figure of human being and horse, or generally of a human being and any animal form, is actually an imaginative representation of our physical body as it would be if we envisioned our present upright position combined with what human beings had been during the Moon phase of evolution before they became upright. Such figures or imaginations, which are preserved in mythology, conceal infinitely profound wisdom.
I wanted to mention this only as an example of the profound wisdom in such imaginations. Let us recapitulate briefly: If we really want to do justice to our physical body, we have to think of it as much more complicated than any of the physical sciences nowadays finds it convenient to do. We must realize that really only the position of the individual organs and the posture of our whole organism have been impressed upon us in the long course of earth evolution. Essentially, human development reaches very far back into the past to a time long before the earth existed.
Naturally, we must think in similar terms of the development of our higher, spiritual elements, namely, the etheric body, the astral body, and the I. Now we have to contemplate the interrelations, the interconnections, between these parts. At first glance, the physical body seems to be built out of physical substances, and as we grow, we see it constantly becoming bigger, adding on matter or inserting matter in the spaces between its limbs and its cells. Later, when we become fat — if we do — we see how more substance or matter is added on to our physical body. When we now study the etheric body in the same way, we find something similar going on. Only in this case it is not substances but movements that are added. These movements get more complicated in the course of life. In the etheric body of a newborn child we find comparatively simple and primitive movements. But gradually they become more complicated. Clearly, there is a process of multiplying, of growth an development, at work in both the physical and the etheric bodies.
Things are different in the astral body and I. In our life in the physical world, we are at first active only in our I, for it alone possesses full consciousness. When you look at a colored surface, your I is active; when you think, your I is active; when you feel, your I is active. In all your activities, even when you walk or move your hands, the I is active. Everything you do while you are awake on the physical plane is ego activity. The ego is present in all activity.
How does ego activity express itself in relation to our other parts? How do all the things we do between waking up and falling asleep, that is, in full consciousness, manifest themselves? They manifest not in building up and growth, but in breaking down, in a depletion of the substances of the physical body and of the movements and forces of the etheric body.
For example, when you look at something red, or at anything colored, you are in a process of breakdown or depletion through the mere fact that you received an impression of the colored object. What takes place in your physical body, albeit in a very subtle sense, is a kind of killing or destruction of living substance, of living matter. To use a rather crude example, suppose you had a crystal that could still be changed and undergo transformations and imagine you exposed it to some kind of influence, for instance, the influence of light, so that the crystal would change and turn cloudy. In the same way something in your physical body becomes cloudy, and matter is being destroyed in your constitution, every time light reaches your eyes.
From the moment of waking up to the moment of falling asleep, we are destroying, albeit only in a very subtle way, our physical substance with our ego activity. Therefore, we must compensate for this by sleeping. During sleep, physical matter is restored for our use. There is a perpetual building up and breaking down going on in us. Activity when we sleep means building up of physical matter, especially its constitution; activity when we are awake, that is, ego activity, means a breaking down. Thus you have a continual, cyclical alternation: building up and breaking down, building up and breaking down. We are actually constantly being depleted, being consumed, by the activity of our I, and when we sleep, we have to regenerate ourselves.
That is why we often notice that something ascends, as it were, from our physical organism when we wake up. These are the regenerating forces, the restoring forces. When we have something pathological or diseased in our organism, even if only very slightly so, that also ascends. As long as our organism is healthy, it regenerates itself in a healthy way by the time we wake up. However, if it is sick, it works to expel the sickness upward. That is why many people and even children are in a bad mood and not cheerful when they wake up. The aftereffect of what is coming up out of the organism is still there. What spiritual science tells us about the human being and human life agrees with the phenomena of life in a wonderful way. It is only about an hour and a half after waking up that we are completely free of the forces of sickness that can rise up. This is how our I and physical body interact. This interaction plays itself out in the rhythm of sleeping and waking: building up, breaking down, building up, breaking down.
There is still another relationship that is very important although we don't notice it much in our everyday life. Our I and physical body interact in building up and depletion, and a similar relationship exists between our astral body and etheric body. The only difference is that the building up, insofar as it comes from the astral body, is completed earlier in life, and the breaking down thus begins earlier. What our astral body breaks down in our etheric body is connected essentially with the fact that we become weaker in the course of life and die when we have become totally decrepit. The relationship between our astral body and etheric body is fundamentally connected with our death. It is only because our astral body gradually consumes the forces of our etheric body; which in turn depletes, consumes, our physical body, that we can die. In a sense, then, we can observe a building up and breaking down in the interaction between our etheric and our astral body in the course of life — although this is not as rapid a succession as the alternation between sleeping and waking, it nevertheless has a certain rhythm.
We know that exerting ourselves with too much ego activity harms us. This is easy to understand because ego activity is after all a breaking-down process. If there is too much breaking down, we clearly and visibly weaken our organism. We can notice this visible weakening at first glance. But there can also be a weakening of our etheric body through the astral body since the latter can, so to speak, deplete our etheric body excessively. The most common symptom of this kind occurs when we live in a way that demands too much of our astral body, the vehicle of our passions and emotions. As you know, such a life-style can lead to permanent weakening. This impairment results from the astral body depleting the etheric body.
However, things may happen quite differently. How we gradually build up our astral body in the course of our life — beginning at birth or, let's say, at conception — is connected with our karma. Whether we have a tendency to develop strong emotions and passions in our astral body is of course connected with our karma. These passions, however, can in a way be humanly significant and meaningful. For example, let's take a quality that plays a role throughout human life and that is nevertheless a passion, albeit the noblest passion, the one that in its noblest form can develop into freedom from selfishness: love. Love is a passion, but it can become entirely free of egoism. It is the only passion that can become free of egoism. It is located in the astral body; the astral body is its vehicle.
Let us assume an artist with a true feeling for reality had been given the task to create a human form suffused and permeated through and through with the passion of love, the noble passion of love. Clearly, this artist could not be a naturalist, for naturalists have no feeling for realities but see only abstract, “naturalist” matter, so-called actuality. Every time artists had the task to create a Venus or an Aphrodite, they had to feel that the figure had to be completely suffused by this passion of love. Love has to be abundant; it has to pour itself out. What is the only thing that could happen in such a case? Obviously, not every ordinary female figure can represent Aphrodite or Venus. Consequently, then, the astral body of Aphrodite or Venus cannot be like any other female astral body, for otherwise every woman, every girl; would be an Aphrodite or a Venus — and that is not the case, is it? Thus, it is a matter of a special development of the astral body. The artist does not have to know anything about spiritual science, but he must feel as he creates a Venus that her astral body must be more developed, more strongly developed than that of a non-Aphrodite, a non-Venus.
However, as we have said, the astral body has a depleting, consuming nature. That has to be expressed in the work of art. How will the artist who really feels this, who really has a sense for the depleting astral body, set about creating a Venus? He will have to make it visible that there is something about the physical body that gradually consumes it. And here the spiritual scientist is in a different situation than a modern physician, for example.
Suppose an artist had created a Venus. As he was creating her, he felt correctly that she had a more strongly consuming and depleting astral body than any other woman. We will see this in the slender neck and the shape of the chest. We will also see in other parts of the body that her astral body basically has a depleting nature. If the artist gives the matter physical expression, perhaps we will see in her overall shape that she will not live to a very old age. When an artist achieves such a creation, spiritual scientists will say he has a sense for the underlying reality. From this standpoint, we will say that artists, while they are creating, often feel a true spiritual reality.
However, what will a physician say, especially one who is not a spiritual scientist, when he sees such a figure created by an artist? He will say, “This is a representation of a person suffering from consumption.” For indeed people who suffer from consumption also have a more strongly consuming and depleting astral body — due to their karma in an earlier incarnation — than do other people. Now, Botticelli has painted a most beautiful and wonderful Venus, which most of you will know. 1Sandro Botticelli, 1445–1510, Italian painter. In this picture of Venus standing on a shell, we see a physical body painted in such a way that we cannot help thinking it is based on a depleting astral body. That is why art historians disagree about this painting. Some of them admire the figure of this Venus precisely for its deviation from the so-called normal human form; they admire her slender neck and the unusual shape of her upper chest, and so forth. Others say these features are the result of Botticelli having painted a model who suffered from consumption.
Well, it is certainly possible to explain everything in a materialistic way. Probably Botticelli really did paint a consumptive model, namely, Simonetta, who died at the age of twenty-three. But that is not the point. What is important is that he knew he wanted precisely this woman to sit for his Venus, a woman who made it possible for him to paint a person whose physical body was being depleted by the astral body more quickly than is usually the case. I will pass around this reproduction of the painting although it is not good, but I don't have a better one at the moment. In this picture, you will see it is really clearly noticeable that we are dealing here with an astral body of a different constitution, namely, with an astral body depleting the physical body by means of the etheric body. You see, spiritual science can guide us and show us the way to an understanding of such things.
You will find that observation not sharpened by spiritual science is never enough to elucidate life. However, all things are illuminated when we approach them with the help of spiritual science, in everyday life as well as in art. We need to become patient and realize the human being is far more complicated than conventional science cares to acknowledge. The human being is a complicated creature, and one of the most irresponsible pronouncements frequently uttered in connection with world views is that the best explanation is always the one that is simplest. Well, it is not the simplest explanation that is the best; the best explanation is the one that correctly explains the matter. That's what we have to realize.
Now let me give you another example to show that the conventional sciences cannot get very far without using the approach of spiritual science. Remember the public lecture I gave in the Architektenhaus this winter where I said we have to distinguish first of all between two parts of our physical body: our head and the rest of our body. When you look at the human skeleton, you'll see the head standing out clearly, distinct from the rest of the body. In that lecture I said that, roughly speaking, everything “hanging” from the head basically developed on earth. The condition of the human being at the end of the Moon phase of evolution, at the transition to the earth is retained only in the shape of the head. The head is a considerably older organ than the rest of our organism. The head is our oldest, most venerable part. The earth added all the rest to the head — that is, not quite all, but roughly speaking all the rest; we have to approximate these things.
When we consider that the I continues from incarnation to incarnation, we have to differentiate between the forces underlying the head and those underlying the rest of the organism. Remember, as I said, the form and shape of our head are essentially the result of our previous incarnation. How we conducted our life, how we acted in our previous incarnation, has left its mark on our organism and manifests in the following incarnation in our physiognomy, particularly in the shape of our skull.
As you may remember, I once said that the existence of reincarnation, repeated earth lives, is plainly visible in your skull, for the shape of your skull is determined by what kind of person you were in your previous incarnation. The formation of the rest of our physiognomy, our posture, whether we are fidgety or not and whether we gesture much or little — all this has a bearing on the next incarnation, when it is expressed in the shape of our face and particularly in that of the skull.
You can see how disputes about quite important things can arise. There are people who, especially according to their own opinion, are very learned in craniology. They feel a person's skull with their hands and read his or her character from it. What they say may be more or less true and can sometimes even be quite correct, but it can never be the whole truth or be exhaustive, because it is a fact that every one of us has indeed a head of his or her own. No skull is exactly like any other, for our skull is the result of our previous incarnation. The rest of our organism prepares the skull we will have in the next incarnation. Craniologists and phrenologists quarrel among themselves because they insist on generalizing where they ought to individualize. Well, every one has a head of his or her own!
It is only through intuition that we can find anything about a person's deeper nature revealed in the structure of the skull. Not only phrenologists, but science as a whole does not know what to make of the shape of the human skull. I would like to point out here that this is another area where the conventional natural sciences need to be supplemented by spiritual science.
In 1887, the famous anatomist Karl Langer
gave a lecture on three truly important human heads, namely, the skulls
of Schubert, Haydn, and Beethoven.
2Karl Langer, 1819–1887, German anatomist.
Franz Peter Schubert, 1797–1828, Austrian composer. Famous for his song cycles.
Franz Joseph Haydn, 1732–1809, Austrian composer. Regarded as first great master of the symphony and the quartet.
Ludwig van Beethoven, 1770–1827, German composer. Studied with Haydn. Karl Langer examined the anatomy of these three skulls. He emphasized that in none of them had he been able to find any indication of special musical talents, least of all in the skull of Beethoven. He underscored that from the standpoint of anatomy and physiology, Beethoven's skull was so ugly one would have expected anything else but not that the soul of Beethoven could have been active in it. Now Karl Langer is an anatomist who observed carefully in this particular case and proceeded on the basis of realities, not fantastic theories. He had to admit there is nothing to be found in these skulls that would indicate musical talents.
We know that Haydn, Schubert, and Beethoven were indeed musicians in the incarnation where the anatomist found these skulls. However, they may not have been musicians in their preceding incarnation. And we can well understand that particularly in the case of Beethoven everything that was purified in the time between death and rebirth could have come from a strong, powerful fighter. What is retained from the preceding incarnation manifests in the shape of the skull.
Langer was particularly struck by the fact that all three men had been musicians, and yet their skulls had nothing in common. There were no characteristics common to all three men precisely because they probably had completely different experiences in their previous incarnations and became musicians only in the incarnation where they had the skulls Langer examined. Their musical disposition expressed itself in their soul, while the shape of their skull was an expression of their experiences during the previous incarnation.
Eventually, arguments about these three skulls resulted. Another anatomist tried to prove Langer wrong. But the argument wasn't leading anywhere; after all, on what does a physical anatomist depend to study such matters? Of course, he will not want to hear of a previous incarnation and will therefore seize upon heredity. And Schaaffhausen, the anatomist who wanted to refute Karl Langer, observed that the shape of our skull is inherited. 3Hermann Schaaffhausen, 1816–1893, German anthropologist. In connection with such pronouncements, people never study what really happens in the hereditary transmission of the shape of the skull. If they did and did not proceed with the usual logic people so love to use in this area, they would soon see how unfounded it is to talk of heredity in this connection. In reality, we create the form of our skull based on the result of our previous incarnation. Granted, other elements can overlap or clash with what has come about in accordance with the preceding incarnation. We grow up in a certain environment, and especially if our feelings, our heart and soul, are attached to personalities in a particular environment, a good deal will still be impressed into the finer organization of our body. However, in essence, the skull is shaped according to the preceding incarnation.
You know, of course, how brilliantly people are trying to apply the so-called theory of genetics. There is now an erudite book, diligently researched — I really don't want to say anything against erudition in such a case; on the whole, the author really worked like a beaver to present his points. This book traces Goethe's ancestors as far back as possible. And what is the purpose of all this busy work? The objective is to show that traits that have appeared in several of a person's ancestors also emerge when the line of ancestors culminates in a genius. People think this is highly logical.
However, as I have often said, it proves no more than saying if a man falls into water and is pulled out again, he will be wet.
Obviously, anyone coming from a certain line of ancestors still bears traits of this ancestry, which, after all, he or she has sought out. In order to prove that the theory of genetics really applies the way natural science assumes, one would have to start with certain traits and then show they are present in the following generations. Thus, we would have to start with the genius and then show that his or her extraordinary capacities were passed on to the offspring. But, of course, people will do nothing of the kind. After all, they could not prove that Goethe's genius was transmitted to his son or to his grandchildren, for we know all about them, don't we! Among the descendants of other people of genius this can also generally not be proved. When hereditary transmission could be proved, it was due to something quite different from physical heredity, namely to an inclination of the soul to incarnate in a particular family and to look for certain traits. Well, we have often talked about this.
You see, this is another example showing that conventional science must be complemented by spiritual science. What conventional science and everyday life have to offer us must at every turn be illuminated by the insights of spiritual science. Nowadays people have no idea how wonderfully the mysteries of cosmic evolution work on the soul when they are seen in the light of spiritual science.
I have often spoken of the fourth post-Atlantean or Greco-Latin epoch, and of our present epoch, the fifth one, and indicated how we differ from the people of the fourth post- Atlantean epoch. People of our epoch look at the art of Greek antiquity and admire the artists' keen perception, particularly in the sculptures, revealing things people in our time cannot easily perceive anymore. The crass, materialist explanation for this difference is that the ancient Greeks simply had a keener sense of sight. Besides, they could observe the human body in their games, which some people have half a mind to reinstate in this day and age. Well, those who nowadays imitate ancient Greek games certainly won't turn into Greeks, you can take my word for it; but people just love to imitate mere outer appearances.
As I have emphasized before, the ancient Greeks represented what they saw differently than we do now. This was because the Greeks still had something within them. We know the Greeks had developed their intellectual or mind soul. Our I is directed to the outside while our intellectual or mind soul is oriented to the inside and perceives our inner balance and the inner mobility of our body. The ancient Greeks lived more within themselves than we do. Consequently, the artists in ancient Greece did not work with their models as modern artists do. Instead, when the artist wanted to represent an arm, he felt within himself the shape and form of the muscle. And when he wanted to represent a movement, he felt what it is like to perform the movement himself. Yes, indeed, the ancient Greeks could do more than we because they were more within themselves.
As you know, the sentient soul developed during the Egypto-Chaldean epoch, and the intellectual or mind soul in the Greco-Latin epoch. Yet, the intellectual soul is still focused on what is inside us. It is only the I that emerges from our inner life and perceives the outer world. When the ancient Greeks watched a bird and imitated its flight with their own arms, they could feel in their arm movements how they had to sculpt the wings. In contrast, we need a model; we need to look at a real bird, and then we reproduce it in a painting or a sculpture.
It is with good reason that modern humanity has lost this faculty of inner experiencing. But we have to know and acknowledge the inner understanding of sculpture the ancient Greeks still had and we no longer have. We have to understand that when a Greek artist sculpted a person in movement, he knew out of inner knowledge, and not from looking at a model, how he had to position the legs, the toes, and the fingers.
Strictly speaking, people nowadays are unable to draw a bird in flight. In modern pictures, birds hover; they do not fly, and that is perfectly all right, but we have to understand it. We must not expect of our contemporaries what was expected of the ancient Greeks. This inner life of feeling had to be subdued so human beings could direct their I to the outside. We must not think of human evolution the way modern, materialistic Darwinists do and begin with imperfect human beings that develop into more perfect ones. Instead, we must see a parallel spiritual development that descends from the perfect state in the spiritual world down to human beings adapting themselves more and more to their physical organism. There are two streams of evolution, not just one. Thus, we can say our way of seeing things allows us to take in something that could not be perceived in earlier times. This earlier way of looking at things should not be carried over into later times, but, of course, it is occasionally carried over.
At this point, I would like to draw your attention to snapshots of people walking on the street you can find in any illustrated magazine. Snapshots reproduce the immediate outer reality; they show the person as he or she is — most of the time, that isn't very pretty. A snapshot of a bird will look very different from a painting. Now the strange thing is, when you look at a Japanese drawing of birds, you'll see it resembles a snapshot. That is a fact. There is a certain resemblance between Japanese drawings of birds in flight and a snapshot of birds. This resemblance applies even to Japanese drawings of people, because Japanese artists, more so than others, paint what a snapshot reveals — of course, we have to limit our observation to the representation of people walking.
This is because the Japanese have retained their way of seeing things from the fourth post-Atlantean epoch into the present. We, however, can no longer see things the way the Japanese do. Modern Japanese still see more correctly in the Greek sense — albeit not with the ancient Greeks' sense for beauty — than we Europeans do, for we have advanced to the fifth post-Atlantean cultural epoch. We can comprehend these things only when we consider them from the point of view of spiritual science. And when you compare Asian and European painting and sculpture, you will find the difference between the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, which has been preserved there, and our fifth post-Atlantean epoch.
You can see everywhere the necessity to bring spiritual science into things. However, in our culture today we are very far from understanding this need to bring spiritual science into outer knowledge. For the most part this is not because it is especially difficult to attain a spiritual scientific outlook; rather it is simply due to the fact that people resist it. What is described in my book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment is relatively easy to understand. 4Rudolf Steiner, Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, 3rd ed., (Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1986). People could quite easily learn this, but they resist it. Of course, I am not speaking about you, my dear friends, but our outer culture resists spiritual science. The main reason for this resistance is that our culture does not want to establish the basic prerequisites for the development of conscience in thinking, conscientiousness in thinking, or logical conscience. Here we come upon an actual sickness in the culture of our age, and spiritual scientists have to take it into account because it confronts them everywhere. This sickness is the lack of a logical conscience, of a conscience in thinking. You can make the most peculiar discoveries in this connection. We have already looked at examples of this, but let's look at one more example today.
There was a man — and he is still alive — who wanted to prove philosophically that ideals are nothing real, nothing vital. He simply wanted to make allowances for the modern view that will let ideals stand at a pinch but considers them as not really existing in the way physically perceptible things do. By the same token, this man was a philosopher and thus would have had very little to do if he did not let ideals stand. After all, the physical realm is already taken care of by the other sciences, and there must be something left for the philosopher to do.
Now, then, ideals have no intrinsic existence, but he still wants to let them stand. Thus, he says they are just fictions, we must accept them as necessary fictions, as necessary assumptions. And this man then developed this idea into a whole philosophy, the philosophy of the As if, we have already talked about it earlier. 5Hans Vaihinger, 1852–1933, German philosopher. Developed his “As if” philosophy 1911. According to this philosophy we don't need to assume atoms exist, but we can look at the world as if atoms existed. We don't need to assume the soul exists, but we can look at the world as if it did. You see, it's a complete philosophy of the As if.
Now this man used an analogy to help his readers understand that we can hold on to ideals while at the same time denying them an intrinsic existence, and this analogy is typical of this philosopher's logical conscience. His analogy was of a child playing with a doll, which the child knows has no life of its own. In other words, why should we reject ideals when children do not reject dolls? Even though dolls are not alive, children treat them as though they were. Why shouldn't we do the same with ideals even though we know they have no intrinsic being?
Here we have the view that ideals have no real existence but can nevertheless be useful to us in life when we use them as little children use their dolls, which are not alive either and yet are treated like living beings. We are dealing here with a philosopher who compares ideals to dolls! Now, let us try to understand this analogy, this image. First, we have a little child playing with a doll, but this is based on the premise that the doll is at least a reproduction of a living being. The child would hardly play with the doll at all if it did not in some way resemble or represent a living being. This is the precondition. Clearly, then, we can hardly compare the doll to an ideal unless we also assume the ideal is after all a representation of something real and alive.
This philosopher's first nonsense is to use this analogy. The second lies in saying we should base our life on ideals as if they existed. And what will come of all this? Naturally about as much as usually comes of children playing with dolls — on which he bases his recommendation — in other words, only a mere imitation of life. We are not only dealing here with a foolish analogy but also with a second error, a second foolishness. The analogy does not hold water because the comparison to a doll does not work: dolls are at least representations of living beings; ideals, on the other hand, are not supposed to represent anything. But even if they did, they would only lead to an imitation of life, not life itself.
We are dealing here with double nonsense. Here is a philosopher who perpetrates not just one but two absurdities. We could find many more such double absurdities in the sciences as well as in modern life in general. They are particularly numerous in the so-called wisdom of the world, in philosophy. When such thinking exists, when thinking has gone so far off the track, it cannot discipline itself to develop only valid analogies or at least a feeling for valid analogies — indeed, then we have no foundation for a spiritual view at all. For a spiritual view can develop only if our thinking is sound.
Therefore I would like to ask you to pay attention to what I say about the concept of reality in my new book, Vom Menschenrätsel. 6Rudolf Steiner, Vom Menschenrätsel (“The Riddle of Man”), vol. 20 in the Collected Works, (Domach, Switzerland: Rudolf Steiner Verlag, 1984). We must develop a concept of reality, and not just a concept of the logical. A crystal is a self-contained reality, complete in itself. When I examine the crystal for what it is, it tells me the truth about itself. But look at a tree trunk without its roots and branches, does it also tell us the truth about itself? No, certainly not; it is telling lies as it is lying there, for it cannot exist as a tree trunk by itself. It could never exist if it did not grow in connection with roots, branches, and leaves; all these belong to the tree trunk. I find the truth about it only if I picture the tree as a whole. With the trunk by itself I have a piece cut out of the world of the senses, but this fragment is not a reality.
If our thinking is to be true to reality, we must develop a sense for what has to be included in our concepts. Only when we have a feeling that a leaf is not a reality because it cannot be thought of apart from a plant — you see, a crystal and a leaf are very different — only when we develop this sense for reality, are we ready to ascend in the right way to spiritual realities. Many things can be logical, but whether they are true to reality is another matter.
It is very easy to make mistakes in regard to this sense for reality. When I look at a painting of a figure taken out of the whole context, then I am not looking at reality, for I have to see the whole picture. If someone now objected that this painting is the result of earlier paintings by the same and other painters, and we would therefore have to look at the whole history of art, that would again be nonsense. We have to develop a sense for reality that tells us there are self-contained realities. Otherwise the only thing that would be “real” would be the whole universe.
Now that I have more or less covered the topic of today's talk and am not subtracting anything from its essence, I would like to add the following — not to say anything derogatory or disparaging, but only to throw light on the way our whole movement should be taken. We can introduce spiritual science into modern culture only if there are many people with the good will to stand by this spiritual science with the right feeling and sensitivity. I do not like to say such things, but they have to be said. You see, I try in every way possible to show that there is in our time a tendency, an impulse, toward spiritual science. That is why I quoted from Hermann Bahr's two books Expressionismus and Himmelfahrt. Here we have a man who is over fifty years old and is now beginning, after having written many plays and novels, to develop a longing for spiritual science and also for Goethe, who is so closely connected with its impulses. I tried to show that at the age of fifty Hermann Bahr had the good will to finally begin — according to his own admission — to read Goethe's works and that he slowly began to find his way — “groping” as I put it — into spiritual science and so has reached the very first elementary stages of it.
Books such as Hermann Bahr's Expressionismus and Himmelfahrt are really extraordinarily revealing because they show us that spiritual science is also — pardon the trivial expression — a matter of time. We will advance in this area only if we take things really seriously, if we have the right kind of reverence for spiritual science, and know that spiritual science is a basic impulse people seek in the current stage of our cultural development. It will always be detrimental to our cause if things are taken only superficially. It will be harmful if what we are trying to do here, and — it may be said in all modesty — what we are trying to do thoroughly, is mistaken for charlatanism, foolishness, fantasy, or other things like that. Nothing is as damaging to our cause as being mistaken for some sort of fantastic nonsense.
Now we have been working together for a long time, and gradually a seriousness toward our cause has developed as well as the ability to distinguish between it and other things that resemble it to some extent. After all, even a mongrel dog has some resemblance to a lion: they both have four legs! Ultimately, everything resembles everything else! What has to be taken into consideration above all is the seriousness of our striving, the seriousness of our work. Now, let me put it this way: in the case I'm talking about, I certainly appreciate the underlying good will and am grateful for it; yet I must discuss the symptomatic features of this case.
In my last two lectures, I explained that Hermann Bahr in a sense presented a self-portrait in the character of his protagonist Franz, who went through various experiences in life, and then came to a kind of mysticism. In other words, this is a serious book that portrays a person's whole life. Well, someone who had heard all this sent me a book, the book Apostel Dodenscheidt by Margarethe Böhme. It arrived with a note saying Apostel Dodenscheidt, like Hermann Bahr's Franz, had gone through all kinds of developments and had finally found his way to accepting reincarnation and karma. Well, that book by Böhme is a roman à clef of the worst kind. You only need to remember certain events that happened here in and around Berlin at one time and names such as Josua Klein and others. In this novel there is a man named Gottfried Gross, and so on. There is nothing worse than for the things I meant here to be mentioned in one breath with the events behind that roman à clef, a novel that in terms of literature and art is a very poor and inferior one to boot.
Indeed, there is a tendency to name things in the same breath whenever there is any chance to connect and confuse them. Granted, it was no sin that this has happened in this particular case — after all, the book was sent to me. Nevertheless, this shows what kinds of associations between ideas are formed and what kinds of things people will mistake for what we are seeking here out of the wellsprings of life. I do not want to reprimand but only to discuss a symptomatic occurrence. The things discussed here are not meant as those people understand them who take the absurdities in the book Apostel Dodenscheidt seriously. It is precisely this connecting of our cause with one or another striving that does it the most damage, and it is important that this truth stirs our souls; for those who find any resemblance here to the Apostel Dodenscheidt do not really understand what we are saying here.
I do not intend to deliver a philippic here, but I want to point out again that I certainly recognize and appreciate the good will in this case. Nevertheless, I have to talk about symptomatic occurrences, for what came to light here is the same thing that comes up in the world outside again and again: what is discussed and represented here is not really taken with the necessary seriousness and insight.