Donate books to help fund our work. Learn more→

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Old and New Methods of Initiation
GA 210

Lecture XIV

19 March 1922, Dornach

Many reasons have led us to consider how the age of intellectualism—which we have often also called the age of the fifth post-Atlantean culture—begins in the transition from the thirteenth to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In this age, human beings come to regard the intellect as the dominant factor in all their endeavours. We have often spoken of the way in which this intellectualism has come to develop in the various realms of inner life. Everything that is characteristic for human evolution has its more inward aspect through which it live:, more expressly in people's feelings, in their views, in their dominant will impulses, and so on. At the same time it also has an outward aspect which manifests in the conditions and circumstances which arise historically in human evolution. In this connection it has to be said that the most significant expression of the intellectualistic age so far has been the French Revolution, that great world-wide movement of the end of the eighteenth century.

For long ages before it took place, much in the life of mankind pointed to ways of striving for the very kind of social community which then came to be expressed so tumultuously in this French Revolution. And since then much has remained of the French Revolution, flickering into life here or there in one form or another in the external social conditions of mankind. Only consider that the French Revolution, in the way it manifested at the end of the eighteenth century, could not have been possible previously. For prior to those days human beings did not seek full satisfaction on this earth with regard to everything they were striving for.

You must understand that before the time of the French Revolution there was never a period in the history of mankind when people expected everything human beings can strive for, in thought, feeling and will, to find an external expression in earthly life. In the times which preceded the French Revolution, people knew that the earth can never provide for every single requirement of man's spirit, soul and body. Human beings always felt that they had links with the spiritual world and they expected this spiritual world to satisfy whatever requirements cannot be satisfied by the earthly world.

However, long before the French Revolution expressed itself in such a tumultuous fashion there were endeavours in many realms of the civilized world to introduce a social order which would allow as many human needs as possible to be satisfied here on earth. The fundamental character of the French Revolution itself was the endeavour to found a social environment which would be an expression here on earth of human thinking, feeling and willing. This is essentially what intellectualism seeks, too.

The realm of intellectualism is earthly existence. Intellectualism wants to satisfy everything that is present in the sense-perceptible physical world. So it wants to organize the social situation here on earth to be an expression of the intellectual element. The endeavour to create in social conditions something which man can strive for here on earth, even goes to the extent of the worship of the goddess of reason—which means, of course, the goddess of the intellect. So we can say: In very ancient times human beings ordered their lives according to the impulses which came to them from initiates and mystery pupils; through them they took into their social order the divine spiritual world itself. Then social conditions moved on to those of, let us say, Egypt, when the social order took in what the kings learnt from the priests about the will of human evolution as it was expressed, for instance, in the stars. Later still, in older Roman times, the times of the Roman kings, the endeavour was made to bring about social conditions based on research into the spiritual world. The meeting of Numa Pompilius with the nymph Egeria is an expression of this.1 Numa Pompilius, 715-672 BC. Roman King. By tradition, the nymph Egeria was his wife and adviser. More and more out of this interweaving of the spiritual with the earthly, social realm came the requirement: Everything on earth is to be arranged in such a way as to be a direct expression of the intellect.

To express this in a diagram you would have to draw a downward curve. The French Revolution comes at the lowest point (see sketch), and from here onwards things had to start moving upwards once more. This upward movement was indeed immediately attempted as a reaction to the French Revolution. Read Schiller's Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man (Aesthetical Essays). There we can see quite clearly, for instance, how he was stimulated by what was expressed in the French Revolution in an external way to seek a new connection to the spiritual world within man's inner being. For Schiller the question arose: If it is impossible to create a perfect social order here on earth, how can human beings achieve satisfaction with regard to their thinking, feeling and will? How can they achieve freedom here on this earth?

And Schiller answered this question by saying: If human beings live logically, in accordance with the dictates of reason, they are servants of the dictates of reason and not free beings. If they follow their physical urges and instincts alone, then in turn they are following the dictates of nature and are unfree. He then came to say: The human being is actually only free when he is working artistically or when he is enjoying something artistic. The achievement of freedom in the world can only come about when the human being works artistically or enjoys art. Artistic activity balances what is otherwise either a dictate of reason or a dictate of nature, as Schiller puts it. Living in the artistic realm, the human being feels the compulsion of thoughts less with regard to an artistic object than he does in the case of logical research. Similarly, what comes to him from the object of art through his senses is not a sensual urge. The sensual urge is ennobled by the spiritual seeing of something artistic. So inasmuch as a human being is capable of working artistically he is also capable of unfolding freedom within earthly existence.

Schiller seeks to answer the question: How can man as a social being achieve freedom? And the conclusion he reaches is that the human being can only achieve freedom if he is a being who is receptive to art. He cannot achieve freedom by being devoted to the dictates of reason or the dictates of nature.

At the time when Schiller was writing his Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man (Aesthetical Essays) this came to expression in a wonderful way in the interaction between Goethe and Schiller. This is shown in the way Schiller perceived how Goethe was rewriting his Wilhelm Meister at that time. Schiller was full of enthusiasm for this way of writing and for this depiction of inner freedom, because Goethe as an artist was a creative spirit—not in his intellect but in the freedom of his thoughts—yet one who, on the other hand, still remained within a sensual experience of art. Schiller sensed this. He felt that Goethe in his artistic activity was as free as is a child at play. We see how Schiller is enthused by a free human artistic activity which is reminiscent of a child at play. His enthusiasm led him to say in one of his letters to Goethe: The artist is the true human being; in comparison even the best philosopher is a mere caricature.2 Letter to Goethe of 7 January 1795. But his enthusiasm also led him to say: The human being is only truly human when he is at play, and he only plays when he is truly human.3 Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man, Letter 15. Frivolous or merely entertaining play is not meant, but artistic activity and artistic enjoyment. The human being dwells within artistic experience, which means that the human being becomes truly free: This is what Schiller is saying.

At the point where the line starts to curve upwards from what had been—with regard to a social order—the goal of the French Revolution, towards something for which human beings have to wrestle inwardly and which cannot be given to them by institutions of the state; at this point, what price was the human being willing to pay for this social freedom? He was prepared to pay the price that it could not be given to him through logical thinking and that it could not be given to him through ordinary physical life, but that he could receive it only in the exclusive activity of artistic experience.

These feelings were indeed engraved within the best spirits of that age, in Schiller in a theoretical form, and in Goethe too, who actually practised this life in freedom. Let us look at the characters Goethe created out of life itself in order to reveal genuine humanity, the true human being. Look at Wilhelm Meister. Wilhelm Meister is a personality through whom Goethe wanted to depict the true human being. Yet seen from an overall view of life he is actually a layabout. He is not a person who is seriously searching for a world view which includes the human soul. Neither is he someone who can manage to hold down a job in external life. He loiters his way through life. This is because the ideal of freedom striven for in the work of Goethe and Schiller could only be achieved by people who had removed themselves from a thoughtful and hard-working way of life. It is almost as if Schiller and Goethe had wanted to point to the illusion of the French Revolution, to the illusory belief that something external, like the state, might make human beings free. They wanted to point out that human beings can only wrestle for this freedom within themselves.

Herein lies the great contrast between Central Europe and Latin western Europe. Latin western Europe believed in an absolute sense in the power of the state, and it still believes in it today. In Central Europe, on the other hand, came the reaction that the human ideal can only be found within. But the price for this would have to be the inability to stand squarely in life. Someone like Wilhelm Meister had to disentangle himself from life.

So we see that at the first attempt it proved impossible to find full humanity within a true human being. Naturally, if everybody is to become an artist so that, as Schiller put it, society can become entirely aesthetic, this may be all very well, but such an aesthetic society would not be very good at coping with life. I cannot imagine, for instance—let me be really down to earth for a moment—how in such an aesthetic society the sewers will be kept clear. Neither can I imagine how in this aesthetic society certain things will be achieved which ought to be achieved in accordance with strictly logical concepts. The ideal of freedom shone before mankind, but human beings were unable to strive for this ideal of freedom when they stood fully within life. It became necessary to search once more for an impetus upwards to the super-sensible world, but now this had to be done consciously, just as in former times there had been an atavistic downward impetus. A new upward impetus into the spiritual world had to be sought. It was necessary to hold on to the ideal of freedom but, at the same time, the upward impetus had to be sought. First it had to be made possible to secure freedom for human activity, for active involvement in life. It seemed to me that the only possible way was that described in my Philosophy of Freedom.4 Rudolf Steiner, Philosophy of Freedom, Rudolf Steiner Press, London 1988.

If human beings can achieve the impetus to rise up to an inner constitution of soul which enables them to find moral impulses in pure thoughts, in the way I have just described, then they will be free beings even though they remain squarely within full, everyday life. This is why I had to introduce into my Philosophy of Freedom the concept of moral tact, which is otherwise not found in moralizing sermons, the concept of acting as a matter of course out of moral tact, by means of which moral impulses can flow over into habitual deeds.

Consider the role played by tact, by moral good taste, in my Philosophy of Freedom. There you see that in an aesthetic society true human freedom is only applied to the feelings, whereas it actually ought to be brought also into the will, that is, into every aspect of the human being. A human being who has achieved a soul constitution in which pure thoughts can live in his will as moral impulses, can enter fully into life, however burdensome it may be, and he will be able to stand in this life as a free being in so far as this life calls for actions, deeds.

Furthermore, with regard to the dictates of reasoning, that is, the grasping of the world in thoughts, a way also had to be sought of finding what it is that guarantees freedom for the human being, independence from external compulsions. This could only come about through anthroposophical spiritual science. Learning to find their way into what can be experienced in spirit with regard to cosmic mysteries and cosmic secrets, human beings live in thoughts with their humanness into a closeness with the inner spirit of the world. Through freedom they achieve knowledge of the spirit.

What is going on here is best demonstrated by the way in which people, with regard to this, are still strenuously resisting becoming free. This is a point of view from which opposition to Anthroposophy can very well be understood. Human beings do not want freedom in the spiritual realm. They want to be compelled, led, guided by something. And since every individual is free either to recognize or deny the spirit, most deny it and choose instead something which they are not free either to recognize or deny.

No free decision is required to recognize or deny thunder and lightning, or the combination of oxygen or hydrogen in some laboratory process. But human beings are free to recognize that angeloi and archangeloi exist. Or they can deny their existence. But those who truly possess an impulse for freedom come through this very impulse for freedom to the recognition of the spiritual in thinking. In Schiller's Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man (Aesthetical Essays), in the whole of Goethe's creative work, the achievement of human freedom through inner effort and struggle was first attempted. But this can only be achieved if we recognize that to our freedom in the realm of artistic experience must be added a free experience in the realm of thinking and a free experience in the realm of the will. These are things which must be properly developed.

Schiller simply took what the age of the intellect had to offer. In Schiller's time art still arose out of this intellectualism. Within this, Schiller still discovered human freedom. But what intellectualism has to offer in the realm of thinking is something unfree, something which is subject to the dictates of logic. And Schiller failed to recognize the possibility that freedom might also hold sway here, just as little as it might hold sway in deeds, in ordinary, hard life. What we have had to achieve through the introduction of anthroposophical spiritual science is the recognition that freedom can also be recognized in the realm of thinking and in the realm of the will. Schiller and Goethe recognized freedom solely in the realm of feeling.

But the path to a full recognition of human freedom can only be trodden if human beings are able to achieve an inner vision of the connection between the spiritual realm they can experience in their soul, and the realm of nature. So long as two abstract concepts, nature and spirit, are seen by human beings as being mutually exclusive, it will not be possible for them to progress to a proper conception of the freedom I have been describing. But even those who do not work their way towards life in the spiritual world, by means of meditation, concentration exercises and so on, can certainly experience something, if they are willing to recognize, simply with their healthy commonsense, what has been found through Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition. Simply by reading in books or hearing in lectures what is brought to the fore in the world through Imagination—and provided they remain alert—people will soon need to approach these revelations from the spiritual world in a way that differs from their approach, say, to a book on physics or chemistry, or on botany or zoology, even though this different approach can just as much take a course which follows ordinary healthy common sense.

Without developing any great inner activity it is possible to absorb everything written today in a book about botany or zoology. But it is not possible to absorb what I have described, for instance, in my book Occult Science, without inner energy and activity such as that needed also for ordinary healthy common sense. Everything in this book can be understood, and those who maintain that it is incomprehensible are simply unwilling to think actively; they want to absorb it as passively as they absorb a film in the cinema. In the cinema there is certainly no need to think very much, and it is in this manner that people today want to absorb everything. What they find in the laboratory can also be absorbed in this way. But what is said in my book Occult Science cannot by absorbed in this way. Occasionally some professorial souls do attempt to absorb it in this way. In consequence, they then make the suggestion that those who perceive such things ought to be examined in psychological laboratories, as they are called today. This suggestion is just as clever as requiring someone who solves mathematical problems to be examined in order to ascertain whether he is capable of solving mathematical problems. To such a person it is said: If you want to find out whether these mathematical problems have been solved correctly, you will have to learn how to solve them, and then you will be able to check. Only if he were stupid would he retort: No, I don't want to learn how to check on the solutions; I shall go to a psychological laboratory in order to find out whether they are correct! These are the kinds of demands made today by some professorial souls, and their words are taken up by all sorts of ‘generals’5 This is a reference to speeches given by General von Gleich. and repeated parrot-fashion with evil intent. Such demands are foolish and stupid, but this does not prevent them from being made with the greatest aplomb.

But those who enter with inner activity into what comes from Imagination will certainly find that something bears fruit in their soul. It is not insignificant for the soul when an effort is made to understand something that has been discovered through Imagination. For instance, it is extremely difficult today to make medicines effective for the treatment of illnesses. But someone who has made the effort to understand something given through Imagination will have reactivated his vital forces to such an extent that medicines will once more be effective for him—provided they are the right ones—because his organism will no longer reject them.

It is stupidly suggested nowadays that anthroposophical medicines are supposed to heal people spiritually through hypnosis and the power of suggestion. You can read this in all manner of magazines which refer to remarks I have made on my lecture tours in recent months. But this is, in the first instance, not the point. The point is that today's medical knowledge needs to be advanced positively through spiritual knowledge. Of course it is not possible to heal somebody by inoculating him with an idea. Yet spiritual life, taken quite concretely, does have significance for the effectiveness of medicines. If a person endeavours to understand something given through Imagination, he makes his organism more receptive to medicines—provided they are the ones needed for his illness—than is the organism of a person who remains in the thought structure of today's external intellectualism, that is, of today's materialism.

Mankind needs to take in what can be given by Imagination, if only for the reason that the human physical body will otherwise succumb more and more to a condition in which it cannot be healed if it falls ill. Healing always requires assistance from the element of spirit and soul. All the processes of nature find expression not only in what takes place on the sense-perceptible plane. These processes on the physical plane are everywhere steeped in the element of spirit and soul. To make a sense-perceptible substance effective in the human organism you need the element of soul and spirit. The whole process of human evolution requires that the soul make-up of human beings should once more be filled with what can be grasped by soul and spirit.

It is true to say that amongst human beings there is certainly much longing for soul and spirit. But for the most part this longing remains within the unconscious or the subconscious realm. Meanwhile, what remains within human consciousness is no more than a mere remnant of intellectualism, and this rejects—indeed resists—anything spiritual. The manner in which spiritual things are resisted is sometimes quite grotesque. Before a performance of eurythmy I usually explain that eurythmy is based on an actual, visible language. Just as the language of sounds develops out of the way the physical organism is arranged, so it is with the visible language that is eurythmy. Just as—sound for sound—all vowels, all consonants struggle to be born out of the experience of the human organism, so in eurythmy is sound for sound gathered together, resulting in genuine language. You would think that on being introduced to eurythmy people might endeavour to find their way into the fundamental impulse which tells us that eurythmy is a language, is speech.

Of course it is perhaps not immediately obvious as to what is meant. But with serious intent it is not too difficult to find one's way quite quickly into what is meant. The other day someone read something really funny in a review of a eurythmy performance. The critic pointed out that the impossible nature of this eurythmy performance was revealed in the fact that the performers first gave a rendering of some earnest, serious items, and that they followed these with some humorous pieces. The extraordinary thing, said this witty critic, was that the humorous items were depicted with the same gestures as the serious ones. That is the extent to which he understood the matter. He thought that humorous things ought to be shown with sound gestures that are different from those used to depict serious matters. Now if you take seriously the fact that eurythmy is a visible language, then what this critic says would amount to saying that any language ought to have one set of sounds for serious things and another for humorous things! In other words, somebody reciting something in German or French would use sounds such as I or U, or whatever, but that on coming to a humorous item they would use other sounds. I don't know how many people noticed what utter nonsense this critic was writing in one of Germany's foremost newspapers; but this is what he was saying in reality. This shows that in such heads every capacity for thinking clearly has ceased; they are entirely unable to think any more.

This is the final consequence of intellectualism, which is gaining ground today in all realms of life. People begin by allowing their thoughts to become the dead inner content of their soul. How rigid, how dead are most thoughts which are produced these days; how little inner mobility they have, how much are they parroted from models created earlier on! There are extraordinarily few original thoughts in our present age. But something that has died—and thoughts today are mostly thoughts that have died—does not remain constantly in the same state. Look at a corpse after three days, after five years or after forty years. It goes on dying, it goes on decomposing. If somebody states that a eurythmy performance is impossible because it uses the same gestures for humorous and for serious items, this is a thought that is decomposing. And if this is not noticed it is simply because people are incapable of schooling their common sense by means of inspired truths such as those arising out of Anthroposophy. If people school their common sense by means of inspired truths, even if they do not undertake any spiritual development, then they acquire a delicate sense for the living truth, and for what is healthy and unhealthy in human thinking and in human endeavour. And then—if you will pardon my saying so—statements such as the one I have just quoted begin to stink. People acquire the capacity to smell the stench of such decomposing thoughts. This capacity, this sense of smell, is for the most part lacking amongst our contemporaries. Most of them do not notice these things, they read them without taking them in.

It is certainly necessary to look very thoroughly into what mankind needs. For human beings definitely need that freedom of thinking in their soul constitution which can only become possible if they raise themselves to a position in which they can take in spiritual truths. Without this we come to that decline of culture which is clearly to be seen all around us today. Healthy judgment, the right immediate impression—these are things which mankind has for the most part already lost. They must not be allowed to get lost, but only if human beings can press through to an acceptance of spiritual things will they not be lost.

We must pay attention to the fact that human beings can find in Anthroposophy a meaningful content for their lives if they turn with their healthy common sense to what can be won through Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition. By opening themselves to what can be discovered, for example, through Imagination, they can recapture that inner vitality which will make them receptive to medicines. Or, it may be that they will also become free personalities who are not prone to succumb to all sorts of public suggestions.

By entering in a living way into the truths revealed by Inspiration, they can gain a sure sense for what is true or false. And they can become skilful in putting this sure sense into practice in the social sphere. For instance, how few people today are able to listen properly! They are incapable of listening, for they react immediately with their own opinion. This capacity to listen to other human beings can be developed most beautifully by entering in a living way into the truths given by Inspiration.

And by entering in a living way into the truths given by Intuition, human beings can develop to a high degree something else which they need in their lives: a certain capacity to let go of their own selves, a kind of selflessness. Entering in a living way into the truths given by Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition, this gives human beings a meaningful content for their lives.

Of course, it is easier to say that people can gain a content for their lives out of what Ralph Waldo Trine6 Ralph Waldo Trine, 1866-1958. In Tune with the Infinite, London 1915. promises. It is easier to say they need only read the content of something in order to gain a content for their lives, whereas it is more difficult to obtain a content for life in an anthroposophical way. For along this path you have to work; you have to work in order to enter in a living way into what research reveals through Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition. But then it becomes a content for life which unites intensely with the personality and with the whole human being. This secure life content is what is given by what wishes to enter the world as Anthroposophy.