Memory and Habit
26 August 1916, Dornach
When we study the human soul in its development within the physical body between birth and death, we are struck by the fact that in order to have a full and complete earthly existence, the soul must make two attributes or faculties its own.
On the one hand: memory. Just imagine what it would be like if memory were not one of our faculties in earthly existence! And think how different our life of soul would be if we could neither look back over the course of the past day nor recall from unfathomed depths what we have experienced since a certain moment of time after our birth. The cohesion of experience is necessary if there is to be true Ego-consciousness. I have called attention to this fact on many occasions. You all know that memory begins to function at a certain point of time during our earthly life and that experiences occurring before this point of time are sunk in oblivion. We can therefore say that from a certain point of time in our physical earthly life, our life of soul enters into relationship with our bodily life and this enables us, in the present, to remember the experiences through which we have passed.
One of the tasks of earthly life is to unfold the faculty of memory. During our long evolution as beings of the Old Moon incarnation of the Earth, we did not possess memory in the form in which we know it to-day. Memory has only been able to develop since the Earth-organism with its mineral forces has been incorporated in our being. Memory is essentially an outcome of the interaction between the human soul and the physical body. In the spiritual world, memory, as developed in the physical life, has only been needed since the beginning of the Earth-period. Until the time of the Earth-period it was not needed, for the reason that in the power of the dreamy clairvoyance possessed by man during the Old Moon period, he possessed a different faculty — a faculty which was able to take the place of our memory to-day. Suppose that every time you experienced something, the experience was inscribed somewhere in a place remaining accessible to you, and that it was so with every subsequent experience. Under such conditions you would merely have to look at the spot where the experience was inscribed. You would be able to look outwards, because the experiences would be preserved in the outer world. So indeed it was in the time of the Old Moon. All that was experienced in that old dreamlike, clairvoyant consciousness, was engraved, as it were, in a certain delicate ether-substance. All that the Moon-humanity experienced through this dreamy, clairvoyant consciousness was written into the cosmic substance; and the activity of the human soul which might be compared with memory to-day was that the dreamy clairvoyant gaze was directed to the ‘engraving’ in the delicate ether-substance. The Moon-man saw his own experiences in the traces left by them, just as we now see the objects of the outer world. He only needed to look round upon what he had experienced in his dreamlike imaginative life and he found it inscribed in the cosmic substance. This was quite a different mode of ‘living-together’ with the world from that of to-day. Suppose everything that now becomes a thought in your minds were to flash after you like a comet's tail so that you could re-think it. If this were so, you would have transferred into your present life of thought conditions that actually obtained during the period of the old dreamlike consciousness. This condition had necessarily to come to an end because man was to become individual, an individuality. But this is only possible when the experiences through which his soul passes remain his own inner possession, are not immediately inscribed into the cosmic substance but only into his own, delicate ether-substantiality. So long as man lives on the Earth, his etheric body lives and moves within him in his hours of waking consciousness. To this movement, the form of the physical body sets the boundary. It cannot pass beyond the boundary set by the skin. And so through the whole of the life between birth and death, the fine ether-substantiality — within which thoughts, ideas, experiences of feeling and of will circulate — remains rolled up as it were within the confines of the physical body. When the physical body is laid aside at death, the scroll unrolls and is now given over to the cosmic substance. So that after death we begin to look back upon what was engraved in our individual ether-substance which now, after death, is given over to the cosmic ether.
As with memory, which evolves because a force of resistance is offered by the physical body, so too is it with regard to something else of importance for our earthly existence.
Habits are something else which we have to acquire during earthly existence. Neither memory in its present form, nor the capacity to acquire habits were ours during the Old Moon period of existence. 1See An Outline Of Occult Science. Rudolf Steiner. If we observe the development of the human being from childhood onwards, we can see how habits are acquired by the constant repetition of actions. Through instructions given during our upbringing, actions steadily repeated become habitual. We are first led to do something which by constant repetition becomes a habit and the habit, once formed, becomes more and more an automatic action of the soul.
The development of habits in the right way during earthly existence is necessary to the unfolding of Ego-consciousness. For what had we in the place of habits during the Old Moon period of evolution? At that time, whenever anything had to be carried out by us or through us, we came under the direct influence of the higher Beings of the spiritual world. We were impelled to action by impulses sent into us from the Beings of the spiritual world. We needed no ‘habits,’ for what we had to do, the Beings of the higher world did, in a certain sense, through us. We were more intimately part of the whole ‘organism’ of the Hierarchies than is the case now, in the Earth period.
But it would never have been possible for us to develop the force of freedom had we remained in this condition where our every action involved an impulse from higher spiritual Beings. The foundations of freedom (free spiritual activity) could only be laid within us by our having been emancipated from the sphere of the Beings of the spiritual worlds and thus — having arrived at the stage of being able to form a habit by the steady repetition of some act — it finally comes from our own being. It is so indeed: the attainment of the possibility of freedom for man is intimately connected with the acquisition of habits.
When we enter physical existence through birth, we come from a world in which, during the Earth period itself, we are living in conditions somewhat similar to those obtaining during the Old Moon period. In the spiritual world, before entering through birth into earthly existence, we live under the strong influence of higher spiritual impulses. In that world there are exalted spiritual Beings who guide us to what we have to do in order so to prepare our earthly existence that it may take its course in accordance with karma. With the entrance into the physical body we are reft away from that world in which there are no habits but only the continuous and unceasing impulses of lofty spiritual Beings. Having entered physical existence, an echo still remains within us of this life in the spiritual world. This echo is expressed in the fact that as children, up to the time of our seventh year, we are governed less by habit than by the power of imitation. We imitate what is done, what goes on around us. This is an echo of our life in the spiritual world. In the spiritual world we had to receive the impulse for every single activity. Therefore it is that as children we react to our immediate impulses, and imitate. Independent activity of the life of soul begins only in the course of time, just as we gradually unfold the capacity to live according to habit. Memory and habit are important constituents of our life of soul, being metamorphoses, transformations of forces of quite a different nature in the spiritual world. Memory is a metamorphosis of the enduring traces of imaginative, dreamlike experiences. Habits arise because we are torn away from the impulses of the higher spiritual Beings.
When we study these things and meditate upon them, we arrive at a concept that is necessary for understanding the very different nature of the world lying beyond the Threshold. Again and again it must be emphasised that the world beyond the Threshold is altogether different from the world this side of the Threshold. Even when we employ words used in connection with the physical world to characterise the spiritual world from any particular point of view, we must constantly remind ourselves that true and adequate ideas of the spiritual world can only be acquired by gradually accustoming ourselves to shaping these ideas of the spiritual world quite differently from those which apply to the physical world. At the same time, however, the study of such things as memory and habit, will help us to unfold insight into the nature of our physical existence.
It is sheer folly to imagine that physical existence is something to be despised. I have pointed out this mistake from many different points of view. Physical existence has its task in human evolution as a whole, just as all other phases of evolution have theirs. It is to our eternal gain that in the course of the evolution of the soul we have a physical body and by means of this physical body pass through certain earthly experiences under the influence of memory and habit. Gradually, by means of repeated earth-lives, we become firmly possessed of these earthly acquisitions. Between death and re-birth, however, we must continually return to the conditions of the Old Moon period of existence. We must surrender as it were the power of memory, as indeed we do directly after death, and give over to the cosmic substance that which we have engraved within our being during earthly existence. And again we must surrender ourselves to the impulses of the higher spiritual Beings in order that by following their impulses we may transform them, in the physical body, into habits.
Here, however, we have reached a point where I will again draw attention to something which on account of its importance can never be over-emphasised.
Memory and habit are acquired during earthly life. Let us first consider memory. Memory may appear to be an acquisition of earthly existence. You know, moreover, that however weak a man's memory may be, it is always possible to develop it. Suppose for a moment that nothing else were to be done in the way of developing the memory than what is absolutely natural, under the influence of the earthly, physical organism which is permeated with mineral substance. If this were the case, memory would unfold in quite a different way. As it is, we do more — as you know, we do much more. It would perhaps be more correct to say that much more is done with us in this matter of training the memory. For one thing we are made to learn by heart, to memorise. At a certain age in our upbringing we are told to learn by heart. There is a difference between acquiring the natural faculty of memory and being set down to do something, else in addition. If we read a poem many times, or if it is often repeated aloud to us, at last we remember it, we know it by heart. Modern methods of education, however, are not content with this. Children are set to work to memorise a poem and are sometimes punished for failing to have committed it to memory when bidden to do so. This is very characteristic of the present phase of evolution.
I must beg you not to misunderstand me. It must not be said that I am denouncing memorising or have demanded its abolition. I am demanding no such thing. Our times are such that certain things must necessarily be memorised, precisely because this present phase of evolution corresponds to a definite phase in the development of the faculty of memory.
But what is it that really happens in the soul when memorising is called to the assistance of the naturally unfolding faculty of memory? It is a case of summoning Lucifer to our aid! It is indeed a Luciferic force which is thus summoned to the aid of memory.
Once more I must beg you not to exclaim: ‘Lucifer! But we must guard against him. From now on our children shall never be allowed to learn by heart!’ Some people have the mistaken idea that they must persistently guard themselves against Lucifer and Ahriman and do everything possible to hold them at a safe distance. But as a matter of fact it is precisely when they are thus on guard that they make it easy for them to approach them!
The Luciferic and Ahrimanic forces have to be reckoned with in cosmic evolution. They must necessarily be part and parcel of world-evolution. The only question is that they shall be kept in their proper place. Consider the special case already mentioned: Why is it that the Luciferic power must be summoned to the aid of memory? In very ancient times of evolution, memory was powerful to an extent undreamed of by men to-day. We, in our day, need a considerable length of time in which to learn a long poem by heart. The ancient Greeks did not need nearly such a long time. Numbers of them knew the poems of Homer from beginning to end. But these ancient Greeks did not memorise in the way we do to-day when we learn something by heart. In those times the power of memory was quite differently constituted.
Now what was really happening in that fourth Post-Atlantean epoch of civilisation? The Græco-Latin age was to a certain extent a recapitulation of the Atlantean epoch itself which has been described in my writings dealing with Atlantis. What had come over from the Old Moon period of evolution as a force enabling man to draw his dreamlike, imaginative experiences after him like the tail of a comet — this force, instead of working outside as a channel of communication with an outer universe, passed into the inner being of man. As a result of this transference from the outer to the inner life, memory in the Atlanteans was like a flashing-up of something which the world at that time gave of itself. In the days of Atlantis there was no need for man to make any great efforts to develop his memory, for it was like an influx into the inner being of a force operating in communication with the outer world. In the fourth Post-Atlantean epoch of civilisation there was a recapitulation of this state of things. In the inner being there was a recapitulation of the operation of a force which in earlier times had worked in constant interplay with the world, without any activity on the part of man himself. Inasmuch as man has passed now into the fifth Post-Atlantean epoch, he must make greater and greater efforts to come into real possession of the power of memory. Because memory has to contribute to man's progress towards individuality and freedom, the power which came spontaneously in the Atlantean age and in its recapitulation, the fourth Post-Atlantean era, has now to be acquired. When something corresponding to an earlier power has to be acquired in a later age, when, for example, memory is helped by means of a force which was formerly there by nature, we always have to do with a Luciferic activity. You see, the memory we now cultivate artificially but which in Greek times was a natural endowment, now becomes Luciferic. This conception of the Luciferic activity helps us to realise the part played by Lucifer in the evolution of mankind. To some extent limits were still set to his working in Greek and Latin times, for he was then still in his right place. Nowadays this is no longer the case. If memory is to be developed in our age, man has to enter into a pact with Lucifer. By dint of his own self-activity man must now do for his memory what was done without any participation on his part during the Græco-Latin era. But for this reason, what happened then without man's participation becomes a Luciferic deed in our age.
The moment, however, a Luciferic activity sets in, the other side of the balance begins to operate: the Ahrimanic impulse. While on the one side we memorise, calling Lucifer to our aid in this respect, on the other side we make more and more use of the Ahrimanic support to memory, namely, we write things down. I have often said that it was a true conception in the Middle Ages which made men speak of printing as one of the ‘black arts.’
This external method of assisting memory is wholly of an Ahrimanic nature. Again, I do not say that it is right to flee from everything that is Ahrimanic, although in this respect it may perhaps be said that precisely among us too much is done in the direction of summoning Ahriman. There is a tendency to have an exaggerated affection for him!
Influences of Lucifer and Ahriman
Man's task is, however, to cultivate the position of balance and not to believe that he can simply escape from the clutches of Lucifer and Ahriman. Calmly and courageously he must admit to himself that both Beings are necessary for world-evolution, that in his own development he needs both Lucifer and Ahriman in his active life, but that the balance must be maintained in every sphere of life.
Our activities, therefore, must be such that the balance is maintained between Lucifer and Ahriman. It was for this reason too that Lucifer and Ahriman had necessarily to play a part in earthly evolution. At the beginning of the Old Testament there is a significant picture of the influx of the Luciferic forces into world-evolution. Luciferic forces enter earthly evolution by way of the woman, and man is beguiled by way of the woman. This biblical picture symbolises the influx of the Luciferic element which occurred in the age of old Lemuria.
Then, during the subsequent Atlantean age, there came the entrance of the Ahrimanic element into earthly evolution. Just as during the fourth Post-Atlantean period human knowledge had to come to an understanding of the Luciferic symbol, so now, during our fifth Post-Atlantean epoch, as I have said before, it was necessary to place before the soul in an adequate but yet sufficiently indicative form — the opposite symbol. The figure of Faust has Ahriman at his side, as Eve has Lucifer. Lucifer approaches the woman, Eve; Ahriman approaches the man, Faust. And just as the man, Adam, was indirectly beguiled through Eve, so here, the woman, Gretchen, is deceived through the man, Faust. The seduction of Gretchen is the result of deception, because Ahriman is at work. Ahriman is the ‘Lying Spirit’ in contrast to Lucifer who is the ‘Tempter.’ This, then, is how they may be described: Lucifer, the Tempter; Ahriman, the Lying Spirit.
Much exists in the world for the express purpose of guarding mankind from temptation by Lucifer: rules of conduct, maxims, moral precepts, instituted customs and so forth. But there is less to help man to protect himself in the right way from falling prey to the Ahrimanic impulse — namely, untruthfulness.
All that is Luciferic in man has to do with the emotions, the passions. On the other hand, the Ahrimanic influence which asserts itself in human evolution has to do with lying, with untruthfulness. And in our age man must be armed not only against the attacks of Lucifer. It is high time for him to forge his armour against the attacks of Ahriman.
One of the motifs in Faust is that man is overcome by Ahriman, to the point of misunderstanding the word. Goethe shows us in this poem how Faust goes through different Ahrimanic dangers. True, the figure of Mephistopheles is a mixture and often a confusion of both Lucifer and Ahriman. But on the whole, as I have just now shown, Goethe is right to have chosen the figure of Ahriman and not that of Lucifer for his drama. Much of Ahriman is to be found in both the first and the second parts of Faust, up to the point where he plays in the misinterpretation of words. At the end of the second part Faust confuses ‘Ditch’ and ‘Grave.’ The Ahrimanic impulse plays even into the misinterpretation of words. Goethe indicates this with extraordinary subtlety, interweaving it most effectively into the play, instinctively rather than consciously realising the nature of the Ahrimanic impulse in what is untrue and distorted. This is a point of great significance.
Now just as memory and habit are metamorphoses of different kinds of activity in the spiritual world, so too, other spiritual faculties we may gain are in their turn metamorphoses of something acquired in physical existence. Let us consider something which first appears in physical existence. Memory and habit have been described as transformations, metamorphoses of the spiritual experiences of earlier times. But what emerges for the first time in the physical world is the relation of our ideas with the facts in the external world. The facts and objects are around us and we make images of them in our conceptions and ideas. The agreement of the images in our thought with the facts or objects or events, we then call physical truth.
When we speak of physical truth, this implies that our conceptions fit the facts of the physical plane. In order that this truth-relationship may arise, it is absolutely necessary to live in a physical body and perceive things in the outer world through the physical body. It would be nonsense to imagine that such a relationship to truth could have existed during the epoch of the Old Moon evolution. It is an acquisition of earthly life. It is only because we live in a physical body that this agreement between ideas and external facts can arise at all. But here Ahriman's field of action is opened up for him. In what sense is it thus opened up before him?
From what has been said we can perceive the interplay between the spiritual and the physical world. Ahriman has his own good task in the spiritual world and must, furthermore, send forces from there into the physical world. But he must not enter the physical world! The fact that this realm is denied him makes it possible for ideas we acquire in the physical body to fit the facts in the outer world. If Ahriman introduces into earthly life activities in which he was engaged during the Old Moon period of evolution, he upsets the agreement of our ideas with the outside facts. He should, if I may be allowed to use the expression, ‘keep his fingers off’ the realm in which man makes his ideas harmonise with the outside facts. But this is precisely what Ahriman does not do. If he did, there would be no lying in the world!
I do not know whether it is necessary to prove that lying undoubtedly does go on in the world! But whenever there is lying, it is a proof that Ahriman is at work in the physical world in an unjustified way. This particular activity of Ahriman in the world is something which man has to overcome. It is, of course, easy to say: Although there is much beauty in the world, there is also much that is the reverse of beautiful. A perfect God would have succeeded in so creating human beings that they would never have taken to lying. A perfect God would have said to Ahriman: In the physical world it is not for you to interfere. — God, however, has not succeeded in warding off Ahriman from the world; therefore He is not so perfect after all. — So it might be said. And, as a matter of fact, there is not only Ahriman to reckon with — Ahriman, who feels a certain satisfaction on account of the evil that is in the world. There are also philosophers whose pessimism is derived from observation of the bad characteristics of humanity. There were pessimists among philosophers in the nineteenth century but there were also those who voiced not merely pessimism but out-and-out woe! That too is a view of the world which actually exists and of which Julius Banzen is a typical representative.
Why, then, has Ahriman been allowed access to the physical world! On
previous occasions I have shown how deeply he has entered, taking
as an example an occurrence where a pre-arranged programme, strictly
adhered to, was witnessed, not by a lay audience, but by thirty Law
students and young barristers, men, that is to say, who were being
trained to be judges of the actions of human beings. Everything happened
according to the scheduled programme. But when, after the event, these
thirty young lawyers were asked what had actually happened, twenty-six
of them gave an absolutely incorrect account and the remaining four only
a very approximately correct one. You can see from this example what
kind of relationship actually exists between the ideas in people's mind
and the outer physical facts. Thirty people can be present when a
certain procedure has been carried through according to a pre-arranged
programme and twenty-six of them afterwards give a false account of it.
In such a case we see Ahriman at work literally before our eyes. But
now, suppose Ahriman were not there at all! If he were not there we
should be like innocent lambs, for the impulse would continually be
never to form concepts which did not tally with the facts. We
should only express what we actually observed as fact — but we
should do this of necessity. It would be impossible for us to do
anything else and there would be no question of free spiritual activity.
In order to be able to speak the truth as free beings, the possibility
to he must also be in us. In other words, we must acquire the power to
conquer Ahriman within us at every moment.
Ahriman must be there ‘enticing, working, creating, as the devil.’ Ahriman must be there, but the trouble is that men follow him so closely and do not recognise him as the devil who entices, works and creates, and who must be overcome.
To pull long faces and say: ‘That is certainly Ahrimanic. I cannot allow myself to have any, dealings with it,’ means nothing more or less in many cases than a comfortable surrender to Lucifer without freedom. The whole point is that we shall learn to recognise the impulses which must be overcome, wherever they exist. We need Ahriman on the one side and Lucifer on the other in order to set up the balance between them.