Memory and Habit
27 August 1916, Dornach
I should like to add something to what I have said on the subject of memory as it exists in our age. As it manifests on Earth, memory is a metamorphosis of other forms of the life of soul which belonged to the Old Moon period of evolution. I said that during that period of dreamy, imaginative vision, man had no need of memory such as he now possesses; he had no need of it because he drew after him, like a comet's tail, impressions (which were inscribed in an objective world) of what he experienced in his dreamlike imaginations. During the Earth period proper this mode of experience disappeared. A different factor then began to operate which we must bear in mind if we are fully to understand the subject. An experience in consciousness can be engraved into the cosmic substance only when it has to some extent been ‘pre-experienced,’ that is to say not experienced for the first time by man, but beforehand. This will show you that all experiences in the consciousness of the Old Moon period were merely after-echoes of what had already lived in the thoughts of the Beings of the Higher Hierarchies. In the thoughts of the Beings of the Hierarchies there lived, in advance, what the Moon-humanity then ‘dreamed.’ The thoughts of the Moon-men came at a later stage — if indeed we can speak of ‘thoughts’ at all in connection with what was really a dreamlike, imaginative consciousness.
A different state of things appears in the Earth period. Human life is no longer so constituted that what a man thinks has already been thought, or remains visible. When he thinks, the thoughts are retained within his own being by the force of resistance offered by his physical body. His thoughts are engraved into his own etheric substance and only after death are they given over to the cosmic substance. Man can then look back, just as in earthly life he could look back on all that he experienced in consciousness. In the period between death and a new birth man lives through what was thus engraved in his ether-body and which, when he has passed through the gate of death, is borne out into the substance of the cosmos where it is destined to undergo a gradual change, inasmuch as in repeated earthly lives he has experienced the whole gamut of Earth-existence. Consider for a moment all that human beings think! Would it not be terrible if every human thought were objectively engraved in cosmic substance and remained there for ever and ever? That, however, is what would happen if man were not able, through repeated earthly lives, either to correct thoughts that are not worthy of permanence or entirely reject and substitute others for them. This is provided for in evolution by the repetition of earthly lives, for man is thus enabled to better what is impressed upon the etheric substance of the cosmos every time he passes through death and he can strive to the end that after his final incarnation on Earth only that will have been given over to the etheric substance of the cosmos which is worthy of permanence.
This is quite a different process from what took place in the dreamy, imaginative consciousness of the Old Moon period, when the thoughts were first evolved by the Beings of the higher Hierarchies and also to some extent by Elemental Beings and then echoed by the humanity of the Moon period. The thoughts evolved in this way remain visible, whereas during the Earth period everything a man thinks (as well as the feelings and impulses of will which are connected with his thoughts) is impressed upon his own ether-body, into his own etheric substance, and only when he has passed through the gate of death is it imparted to the etheric substance of the cosmos. But there it would remain if he were not able, in the course of subsequent incarnations, to correct it in so far as it needs correction.
This holds good for the whole of the normal life of soul during the Earth period, that is to say for the life of soul unfolded in waking consciousness between birth and death, though not for the consciousness which is ours in the period stretching between death and a new birth. The Spiritual Science which from now onwards must flow into human consciousness if humanity is to reach its earthly goal, springs, however, from sources other than those of normal waking consciousness. Spiritual Science must, as you know, come to birth in this earthly existence itself. It cannot be evolved in the life between death and rebirth. It must be acquired during earthly life and from this earthly life it streams out into the world where the dead are living between death and rebirth.
Spiritual Science is not a product of ordinary waking consciousness. It cannot, in its immediate form, be brought over into this world through the event of birth. Spiritual Science must evolve as the outcome of a different outlook, a different mode of thought and perception. Two kinds of consciousness have been described in these lectures: the consciousness of the period of the Old Moon and the consciousness of earthly life — objective consciousness. Memory in these two periods is different in character.
Now the consciousness by means of which man is able to assimilate the content of Spiritual Science is intelligible to healthy human reason. He can absorb it without actual vision of the spiritual worlds, but to bring it down from the spiritual worlds demands a very special kind of consciousness. It is this special kind of consciousness which, if it is understood, will enable man to shape future existence on Earth in the way in which it must be shaped if humanity is not to fall into decadence. Understanding of the in-streaming of the truths of Spiritual Science from the super-sensible into our earthly world must develop if mankind is not to fall into the decadence at the threshold of which it is perceptibly standing in our time.
If as they make their way from the spiritual into the physical world the truths of Spiritual Science are to fulfil their task in the future evolution of mankind, a certain insight into them must be acquired. The ordinary memory which functions in our waking consciousness ceases in a certain respect when we really begin to find our bearings in the spiritual world. Memory is something which, as you know, has in a way actually to be overcome in the consciousness that is able to penetrate to the mysteries lying on the other side of the Threshold. A new factor comes into play. That which has been consciously experienced must not, of course, be ignored, but this new factor is that a sentence or an utterance which, in the sense of Spiritual Science, has a true spiritual content, does not merely remain in a man's own ether-body until his death but is immediately engraved into the spiritual ether of the cosmos. An utterance which really voices a spiritual truth penetrates into and finds its place in the cosmic ether. In ordinary waking consciousness the thought is engraved first on a man's own ether-body and remains with him until he is able to correct it. Wrong thoughts, therefore, are corrected as karma takes its course. A thought which truly expresses the Spiritual is engraved into the cosmic ether. This is something that must be more and more understood. The process of world-evolution itself needs what can now be inscribed in the cosmic ether through Spiritual Science. Some people may say: ‘If this is what happens I prefer to leave Spiritual Science alone for then I need not fear that what I think will immediately be engraved into the etheric substance of the cosmos.’ — During the Græco-Latin epoch of civilisation, such a statement might have had some meaning. In our age it has none, for although what I said earlier, namely that man can correct what is inscribed within his own being, is true, we cannot say the same of what happens under the influences of Lucifer and Ahriman. In the future, Lucifer and Ahriman will only be overcome when man has succeeded in setting up the balance between them. From our fifth Post-Atlantean period onwards, all that men produce out of themselves is capable of rectification. But under the influence of Lucifer and Ahriman, if men do not learn how to be on their guard, those thoughts and actions which have been influenced by Lucifer and Ahriman will be engraved into the etheric substance of the cosmos. Human thought and human action will be borne out into the ether just as the fruits of Spiritual Science are borne out into and inscribed into the ether.
There are fine distinctions here between what is engraved only into our own being, the content of. Spiritual Science which is in any case inscribed into the cosmic ether, and what is inscribed there because Lucifer is working as the Tempter and Ahriman as the Lying Spirit.
Constantly to repeat the phrase that one must be on perpetual guard against the influences of Lucifer and Ahriman is of no value whatever. If, however, we are to realise the necessity for and the mission of Spiritual Science, we must face this question with all its implications, fairly and squarely: What do those who have insight into the need for Spiritual Science to-day realise to be the great issue at stake? Very much depends upon a knowledge that we are actually now passing over into and preparing the period of world-history in which all that we ourselves think will be carried into the cosmic ether. If we seriously consider what this means, a sense of responsibility will arise in regard to everything that happens in our world of thought, a sense of responsibility for what we think. People are so apt to believe that thoughts have no objective significance — and up to a certain period of time which has now come to an end, this was, as a matter of fact, the case. But in our own age, downright untruth is taken hold of by Ahriman and imprinted upon the cosmic substance. This indicates the attitude which it behoves us to adopt to our thoughts. If people do not quite understand what has here been said, they may feel perturbed. But it need not be so if they will think about the matter coolly and collectedly. There is no need to get into a panic and say: ‘I must feel an awesome sense of responsibility for all my thoughts.’ But in the immediate future and indeed for many thousands of years to come it will be very necessary to acquire this sense of responsibility for our thoughts. And we may take this to apply to thoughts which have come to the point of being put into words and thus communicated to others.
So long as we have not actually formulated a thought to the point where it can become a communication, this thought has not reached the stage where Ahriman can do very much with it. But the moment we consider the thought ripe for the telling, and are ready to communicate it, Ahriman is on the alert to seize the thought and bear it out into the cosmic substance. In addition to taking care that our thoughts shall be formulated in a way that enables us to take full responsibility for them, we must learn to regard the process of thinking as a searching and a seeking. As a heritage from the fourth PostAtlantean period, and as an immature product of the fifth period, we are still too firmly convinced to-day that we can immediately formulate every thought. The faculty of thinking is not bestowed upon us for the purpose of immediately formulating thoughts but rather in order that we may seek out and collect the facts, turning them round, and round in our minds and viewing them from every angle. As human beings now are they like best to form their thoughts instantaneously and then with all possible speed utter them or write them down on paper so that they may be rushed into the world. The gift of thinking was not bestowed upon us for the purpose of a precipitate formulation of thought but for the purpose of searching and seeking. Thinking as such should be regarded as a process which should remain such for as long as possible. And when a thought has been formulated it should be held in abeyance until we can feel assured that the facts have been turned over and over and looked at from every possible angle.
Very much will depend upon whether a sufficient number of human beings can realise and understand the significance of what has just been said. It is impossible to imagine how greatly sinned against is the maxim that thought should be a process of seeking and that thoughts should be held in abeyance for as long as possible. This maxim is so sinned against that our world is entangled in a tissue of lies and lying is becoming more and more a habit. But this tendency to lying is leading mankind straight into decadence; there is a constant swinging backwards and forwards between Lucifer and Ahriman. On the one hand, untruth is spoken — either with deliberate ill-will or out of irresponsibility — but after all, as soon as these two words, ‘ill-will’ and ‘irresponsibility’ are spoken, they indicate that Lucifer is associated with the Lying Spirit. This is an easy way of approach for Lucifer! And lying, in turn, gives rise to passion. We lose the power to maintain the balance between what we feel and will on the one side, and what we think on the other.
It is very, very necessary that we should realise in clear consciousness how infinitely widespread to-day is the opposite tendency to what is demanded by the future, namely, a stern sense of responsibility for the truth. Of recent years this sense of responsibility has been vanishing before our eyes in a most terrible way. The most important thing of all is to be on the alert, for in their waking consciousness men do not realise how strong is the tendency to say what is not really true.
The truth — as those who carry out experiments know well — can only be arrived at when the matter has been looked at from every possible angle, considered in every possible light, and judgment held in abeyance for as long as possible.
No precipitate declaration of views, no hastily expressed opinion can be the truth. Such tendencies have the result of driving humanity further and further into decadence. Many people tell lies with the utmost glibness: but the worst thing of allis the unconscious and subconscious lying which is the outcome of Luciferic temptation — where a half, a quarter, an eighth or sixteenth of the truth is uttered. It may be that 98 per cent of truth is spoken but yet the dynamic force inherent in the two remaining fractions turns everything to evil.
And here we must take into consideration the fact that people lay so much stress nowadays on knowing everything. They never pause to meditate, nor do they attempt to use their faculty of thinking as an instrument for seeking. No! they must immediately formulate their thoughts. Of course it does occur to people now and then that a great deal of lying goes on in the world. No great insight is needed to discern this, especially in our times. We should, however, also realise that while the generalisation holds good that a great deal of lying goes on, we ourselves must take the path of thought which will from every aspect shed light upon the truth about the amount of lying. Otherwise it may happen that an actual truth, too hastily or inaccurately grasped, becomes the very reverse. A day or two ago I happened to read an article on the subject of the lying that is going on in the world at the present time. No great talent is needed to characterise the lies which hum through the air nowadays, but I can really think of nothing more inherently untruthful than this very article. The whole of it is one mass of lies, in spite of the fact that what is said is, in a certain sense, true. I am not saying this in order to denounce the article in question; what matters is that people shall wake up to the necessity of going more deeply into things, of examining them from every possible angle, and of avoiding hasty opinions.
Of all things in the physical world we need, first and foremost, this sense for truth; we need it over against the spiritual world which gives us a true understanding of the impulses of Spiritual Science; and we need it for the life we shall lead when we have passed through the gate of death. This attitude to truth is all essential, for without it there is no possibility of understanding our environment in the time between death and a new birth, or of understanding what we have to face in the spiritual world.
You see, therefore, that Spiritual Science must change man's attitude towards truth in the future evolution of the Earth. In many respects things that are happening at the present time are terrible indications of the downward path in contrast to the upward path which we must seek and find. For inasmuch as we have still to live through the rest of the Earth period and through the periods of Jupiter, Venus and Vulcan, very much that comes into being within our life of soul will be inscribed in the cosmic substance. This, then, is what I wanted to say on the subject of the metamorphosis of memory.
Of the metamorphosis of habit let me say the following. When we look back and perceive that from which habit has evolved and realise what habit was among the humanity of the Old Moon period, we say that impulses were poured into men by the Beings of the spiritual Hierarchies. In the Old Moon period there was no such thing as habit. Habit is a principle of the Earth period. But now that we have already passed the middle of this period we must prepare what is necessary for evolution in the future.
Through habit we tear ourselves away from the Beings who send down their impulses from the spiritual world. And through habit, the foundations are laid for free spiritual activity.
We must, however, now enter into a different relationship with the Beings of the higher Hierarchies. During the Old Moon period and on into the early part of the Earth period proper, we were unconsciously dependent upon these spiritual Beings. The Beings of the higher Hierarchies and also certain elemental Beings sent their impulses into us. Now we are making ourselves free. As a residuum of this, a kind of relic, there remains the faculty of imitation in early childhood. But we must develop this living in habit to a further stage, to the stage where habit functions not only in external action but in moral conduct as well. NoteNumSee Chapters IX and XII in, The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity. What is this life of habit in reality? Within us we have a relic of our old connection with the spiritual Beings of the Hierarchies, which we only dimly perceive in our ordinary waking consciousness. An unknown world is there. Through the gateway of the senses we pass out of this unknown world into the physical world in which we live. The original source of our being lies in the world behind the veil of the sense-world, in the world which Spiritual Science reveals to us. We bear within us a relic of this world, although we do not realise it in our ordinary Earth-consciousness. We lived in the spiritual world with Beings of the higher Hierarchies until the end of the Moon period and during the early part of the Earth period. We left this spiritual world through the gateway of the senses. But we did not lose all sense of kinship with the Beings of the Hierarchies. A subconscious remnant still lives within us — for example, in conscience. Conscience is verily a legacy from the spiritual world. Gradually, as we learn again to understand the universe, as we unfold spiritual understanding, moral principles will arise which will illumine with the light of spiritual comprehension the instinctive morality that proceeds from conscience. A morality filled with a stronger and stronger light of understanding will emerge, if, that is to say, men seek for it.
Because this is so, we speak to-day in so many ways of abstract ideals, of the great abstract ideals of Truth, Beauty, Goodness. But remember what I have said on previous occasions: that Truth, Beauty and Goodness correspond to Beings in the spiritual world! It is to these Beings of the Hierarchies and not merely to abstract ideals of Truth, Beauty and Goodness that the human soul will evolve, although in our present human activities we simply follow after abstract ideals. From idealism we must evolve to the point where we become aware of our connection with a living spiritual world from which must flow the impulses for what happens here in the physical world. Spiritual Science must work in such a way that men shall receive from it the impulses for what ought to come to pass in the physical world.
Think for a moment of all the things that are said in this fifth Post-Atlantean period about the future of mankind, about what ought to be done. Much of it is good and I am not criticising it. But it is, after all, nothing but a search for abstractions. Moral ideals, national-economic ideals, all kinds of other ideals — they are nothing but abstractions compared with the living knowledge which Spiritual Science has to offer in regard to what ought to come to pass in the world. Think what it means to realise that the Hierarchy of the Angels will help us to fulfil our tasks and shape the world as it should be shaped! If you will take what is to be found in the different lecture-courses about the future evolution of humanity and compare this with the abstract moral ideals set up elsewhere, you will find the difference between what is living and what is abstract and dead. What is needed is a living consciousness that the world does not merely consist of mineral, plant, animal and man who invents all kinds of ideals for shaping the world, but rather that after mineral, plant, animal, man, come the Angels, Archangels and Archai, and the other spiritual Beings — a living, unbroken choir onwards into the heights of the spiritual world! And from this living choir of Being a stream of life is pouring once again into human evolution.
Not until a real understanding of these things awakens can there be anything but abstract ideals. Thoughts — what are thoughts? As if thoughts could have any creative impulse in them if they were not the thoughts of the Angels or the Archangels! This consciousness of living connection with the goal of the world will come. Truth will become more moral because man will feel a moral responsibility towards it. And morality will become a wisdom-filled knowledge because man will know what Being he is serving in his deeds.
The essence of what I have just said represents the true conception of the Christ-Principle for our times. The forces which have been drawn from the Christ-Principle up to our day have not been able to prevent the modern age from falling into decadence in very many respects. But Christ, as I have said more than once, did not say: ‘I am here now and only now, therefore write down as quickly as possible something of what you know about Me and let men believe that until the end of time!’ — It is only a short-sighted theology, such as theology is at the present day, that teaches in such a way. Its teachings are indeed in many ways presented as though Christ had actually said: ‘I have done these things and now write it down quickly. Nothing must be added. This and this alone is to be taught until the Earth comes to an end.’ — This conception is based upon such untruth that even those who act in accordance with it do not venture to express it in words!
There is no greater untruth than that which lies at the basis of the impulses upon which men act to-day. For the Christ said: “I will be with you always, even unto the end of earthly time” — which means that His revelation will always be open to us. At the beginning of Christendom this revelation formed the content of the Gospels; to-day it is the content of Spiritual Science which wells up from the same source.
Those who wrote down what could be written at the beginning of the Christian era did not say: ‘This we have written and there is nothing else to be said.’ No, indeed! They said: “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.”
The forces which pulse through Spiritual Science will serve to unfold an understanding of Christ which in the present age could be unfolded by nothing else. Truly it is a need of the present age that attention should be drawn to the attitude which men must adopt in regard to the thoughts and impulses underlying their actions. Much has been written about this, but for the most part it is lacking in substance, for the reason that people prefer nowadays to take an altogether different path. They want to get through their thinking quickly and not to make it a path to a goal which can only be attained after long, long journeying. Only when finally some relation to truth has actually been gained does the time come when we know that if a matter has been considered and tested from every angle we may have got to the truth of it, but even then we need never cease to study it from still other points of view.
This is the earnest warning with which Spiritual Science should speak to our souls. And it is in order that the consciousness of this task may be aroused that our Building stands there. It stands there to provide a starting-point, imperfect though it may be, in order that these things may penetrate into the hearts and souls of men. It is of course necessary that everything that can possibly be done shall be done, for in these times the opposing factors are many and strong.