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Philosophy, Cosmology & Religion
GA 215

6. The Transition from the Soul-Spiritual Existence in Human Development to the Sensory-Physical

11 September 1922, Dornach

From the descriptions I have given of inspired and intuitive knowledge it will be evident that it is possible for man to experience the cosmos in his inner nature, his soul and spirit. I was able to indicate yesterday that such an experience occurs during sleep, only that ordinary consciousness is unaware of it. Man experiences cosmically, but in ordinary consciousness he knows nothing of it. One can say that man in his physical sense life experiences himself in his physical and etheric bodies and considers their organs as his inner nature. In cosmic experience—as it occurs in sleep, for example—he experiences as his inner nature a reflection of cosmic beings. Thus, even in the state of sleep man's ordinary inner world becomes in fact an outer world. When he sleeps, he simply has before him as an outer world his physical and etheric bodies, which otherwise constitute his being, and the cosmos which to sense observation constitutes the surrounding world becomes in a certain sense an inner world.

But, during sleep, a continuing desire to return to his physical body exists in man's astral and ego nature. This is especially strong in that deepest stage of sleep which I pointed to yesterday as the sleep in what I have called “fixed star consciousness.” This desire to return to the physical and etheric bodies naturally is connected with the fact that these bodies continue to exist, fully alive, during sleep. Man develops this intense longing to return because of the spiritual moon forces active in the cosmos, as I described yesterday.

If spiritual science, anthroposophy, is to be rightly understood, one must keep clearly in mind that the various relationships must be presented from the greatest number of viewpoints. For instance, someone might hear me say that the reason why a man wants to return into his physical and etheric bodies in the morning is that his soul yearns to do so. Then someone else could say that this return depends upon the moon forces. Both are correct, only that the wish to return is aroused during man's cosmic experience by the moon forces that also permeate his astral and ego organizations between falling asleep and waking. These moon forces, that is their spiritual correlation, cannot function when man is in his pre-earthly existence prior to his descent from the spiritual world and prior to his having taken on his physical body. When he is in a purely spiritual cosmos in his prenatal existence, no such relation to a physical and etheric body is possible, for they are non-existent. During sleep, however, they wait to be ensouled and filled again with spirit by the actual inner human entity.

Such a physical-etheric organism is not present in pre-earthly man, but something else is. At a certain stage of his pre-earthly existence he experiences a kind of cosmos as his , inner world. In a way he feels himself to be a cosmos. But in this prenatal existence, this cosmos differs from the one that surrounds us between birth and death and is perceived by the senses. This cosmos, which is experienced at a certain stage of pre-earthly life, is a kind of cosmic seed of the later physical human organism with which man must clothe himself when he descends to earth existence. Just think of everything earthly man possesses as his physical organism, spread out boundlessly: lungs, liver, heart, etc., all their processes—naturally as forces, not as physical-material organs—spread out into cosmic infinity. Man experiences this in such a way, however, that his soul encompasses this cosmos, having it at the same time as his inner life.

When I say that man experiences his future physical organism as a germ, a seed, there is a difference between using the word germ in one instance for spiritual existence and in another for physical existence. In the latter one means something small that unfolds into a larger organism. But when I say that the cosmic germ of man's physical body is experienced in pre-earthly existence as a cosmos, this germ is immeasurably large, and gradually contracts until at last it is small. Naturally, one must consider that in this case—at least for the spiritual, the pre-earthly existence—the word large is used figuratively in relation to the later word small, for in pre-earthly existence one does not experience space as one does here in the physical world. Everything is experienced qualitatively. Space as we know it in our sense world exists only for this sense world. But in order to illustrate this so that we can take something from human language to characterize these conditions of pre-earthly existence, this distinction can well be made. So, we can say that the cosmic human germ is immense, and gradually contracts more and more, until it finally appears small in man's physical organism.

Thus, we must picture to ourselves that in his pre-earthly existence man does not have the same star-filled view of the cosmos as we perceive it from the physical world; he has a cosmos around him that contains soul-spiritual beings. Man feels himself bound up with them, he feels them, as it were, within him. He feels his soul nature spread out far across this cosmos. This cosmos is actually nothing else than his future physical body expanded to a universe. Man experiences his future inner world as a cosmic outer world, which, however, he experiences along with his inner being. Therefore, we can say that this whole cosmos—I would like to call it the cosmos of man—that man experiences as his own, is his own individual existence. At the same time, he experiences the life of other beings, of other human souls and spiritual beings who do not enter physical existence. He lives into these beings, so that he experiences a kind of universe of his own and at the same time a kind of being-together with other beings. I should like to call this being-together with other beings at this stage of pre-earthly existence an active intuition; a real, experienced intuition. What is at other times reproduced in supersensible perception by intuition is a living reality for pre-earthly existence.

Now, in the way I described it yesterday, while man in sleep lives in a replica of the cosmos—being outside his physical as well as etheric organizations which, however, possess finished and completed form—in pre-earthly life he has the developing physical organism as his being, I cannot even say, around, but within himself. Yet, at the same time, man is within as well as outside himself, and his life consists in active soul-spiritual labor on the development of this organism. Whereas, in physical life, we arrange our work so that outer sense-perceptible objects are purposefully transformed and we ourselves are changed with them, in our pre-earthly life we labor to make our physical organism as it should be. We incorporate into it what later in earth life must be present as wisdom-filled cooperation of the physical organs with each other as well as with the soul, and of the soul with the spirit. Before birth, we live in a universe (which is our own being), whose development consists in being molded purposefully to serve as our future earth organism.

In this pre-earthly condition, we possess consciousness because we are present in this universe not only with our perceptions but also with our activity of spirit and soul. Sleep, by contrast, is without consciousness because the physical and etheric bodies are no longer developing but completed, and we cannot work in sleep on what is already finished. But we experience them in the form described by me yesterday. In the pre-earthly condition, everything representing our link with the developing universe, which draws together increasingly so as later to become our physical organism, all this is force, an inner mobility that expresses itself as a form of consciousness differing from that of earth life. It is a bright, clearer state of consciousness than the one that comes into being in our physical existence. With it we are able to experience our own working toward earthly life that is to come. If, here in earth existence, we observe our physical organism externally, or in the way it is seen by anatomy or physiology, we certainly cannot compare it with the grandeur, the glorious majesty of the universe that surrounds us as the world of the stars, the clouds, and so forth. Yet, what has been compressed into this human physical organism is grander, more powerful, more majestic than the physical cosmos around us in earthly existence, when it is seen as the universe by the human soul before it descends to earth. If you think of everything contained in materialized form in the physical body, all that is hidden in man here on earth because it has been compressed and covered over by matter, and you picture all this transposed into the spiritual, then you would have to think of a universe with which our physical cosmos, despite all its stars, suns, etc., cannot in the remotest degree be compared for vastness, grandeur and majesty.

We find our way into earthly existence out of a spiritual, pre-earthly world view having a grand, mighty content. The highest cultural work in which we can ever participate here on earth is but a trifle compared to that in which man shares during his pre-earthly existence. I say shares, because countless spiritual beings of the most varied hierarchies work together with man in creating the wondrous structure of his physical organism. This work, when seen in its essence, is of an inspiring and blissful nature. Truly, nothing small and unimportant is indicated, when, to the question, “What does man do between death and a new birth in pre-earthly existence?”—the answer is: At a certain stage he works with the spirits of the cosmos on the configuration, the inner wisdom-filled structure of a physical human body by preforming it as an universal spirit-germ.1For this concept see especially the cycle given in the Hague in November 1923 translated under the title of Supersensible Man, in the fourth lecture of which Rudolf Steiner explains how the spirit-germ of each organ is created in the different spheres of the cosmos during the life between death and rebirth. Compared to man's earthly existence, this is a celestial, blissful existence. But everything that happens in celestial existence is concealed in immeasurable depths in the physical organism in which man is clothed on earth. Indeed, as far as ordinary consciousness is concerned, these celestial events belong to the most concealed aspects of the human physical organization.

This is the tragedy of materialism that it believes it can know matter and speaks always of matter and its laws. But in all matter, there lives spirit, but not only in such a form that we can uncover it in the present; it lives in such a way that to discover it we must look back into very different ages and states of experience. What materialism knows the least about is the material human organism. Not until materialism came into being did the complicated material structures of physical earth existence become as concealed as they now are from the otherwise admirable natural science of the present time. We shall now proceed to discuss other aspects of man's pre-natal existence.

The stage of pre-earthly experience I have just described can also be characterized by saying that man experiences his given environment, which is at the same time his own being, as an existence he has in common with the spiritual universe.

That universe, however, is an association of living spiritual beings, among whom man experiences himself as soul and spirit. This consciousness, alive and luminous in the highest degree, begins to dim, to fade at a definite point in time. It is not that it is then experienced as a weak consciousness but compared to the clarity and intensity it possessed during a certain stage of pre-earthly existence, it dims down. If I should describe by an imagination what a significant and intense experience it is, I would express it like this. At a certain point of pre-natal existence, man begins to say to himself: Along with my own being I have seen other spiritual-divine beings around me. Now it appears to me as if these divine beings are beginning to cease to show their complete form to me. It now seems to me as if they were assuming an external figurativeness in which they envelop themselves. It appears to me as if they were becoming star-like—like the stars I learnt to know through physical sight when I was last on earth. They are not yet stars, but spirit beings which seem to be on their way to star-existence.

It is a feeling as if the real spirit world withdraws a little from the human being, then retreated more and more until only a replica of it stood before him as a cosmic revelation of this spirit world. Instead of the intuitive, active life with the spiritual world, it is as if we were becoming inspired by a cosmic replica of this spiritual world.

Parallel with this vision goes an inner soul experience that man must undergo, as it were, in which the spiritual world in its primal aliveness withdraws and bestows only a revelation of itself to him. This awakens in his soul in pre-earthly existence an experience that, if I may borrow a word from earth life, I could call a sense of privation which expresses itself—again describing it in earthly terminology—as a longing for what he is about to lose. In the first stage something he once possessed is in the process of being lost, but it has not yet been lost. To the extent that man feels that he is losing it, a sense of privation and a desire to have it back arises inwardly. It is at this stage of pre-earthly existence that the human soul becomes accessible to the spiritual moon forces of the cosmos. The sense of privation and longing just spoken of prepare the soul to be accessible to them.

Earlier, these spiritual moon forces seemingly did not exist for them. Now, as the spiritual cosmos begins to fade away, a connection arises between what vibrates through the universe as moon forces and the forces of desire that the cosmos, which previously appeared to man as inwardly and spiritually alive, changes into a mere revelation to the degree that the earlier active, living intuition becomes an active living inspiration, to this extent the moon forces cause an inner individual being of man to appear. As a consequence, he no longer feels himself to be in an universe where subject and object do not really exist for him and everything is subjective. Hitherto, he has lived within other beings. Now, subject and object once again begin to have some significance for him. He has a feeling that he exists subjectively as an individual soul, something that the moon forces bring about for him. At the same time, he now begins to sense the revelation of the cosmos as an objective outer world.

To make use again of an earthly way of expressing what is actually present in this pre-earthly existence, I could say that in this human soul, gifted with inwardness by the moon forces, something like the following thought springs to life: I must possess it, this physical body, toward which everything has tended, which I myself along with others worked on as on a cosmic, spiritual germ. In this way man becomes ready to descend to earth existence. The sense of privation and longing linked with the moon forces prepare him for desiring earthly existence, to wish he were down on earth. This wish is the after-effect of his earlier work on the universal, cosmic part of the physical body. I said already yesterday that the moon forces always represent the element that prepares man for another earth life. During sleep it is these forces which impel him back into earth life. As I said, in a certain stage of his pre-earthly existence man is unconnected with these moon forces, but then he penetrates them. To the same degree, the tendency arises in him to turn again to the life on earth. Even though the earthly physical body and etheric organism are not yet there, within him are contained the after-effects of what he himself worked on and brought about as the cosmic-spiritual preliminary stage of the earthly body. After the translation I shall proceed at once to discuss the additional processes leading to earth life.

If I am to speak further in the way I have thus far been characterizing the relationships of man's total life as perceived by inspired and intuitive perception, I must say now that what man experiences in full clear consciousness during pre-earthly existence, as I described it at the beginning of today's lecture, is what he experiences later in earth life as his religious disposition. This natural tendency consists of these experiences as they are reflected in his feelings and heart (Gemüt), the feeling of his connection with the divine foundation of the world. If therefore man as a soul being in pre-earthly existence wished to explain to himself how this soul nature places itself here in earthly existence, then, in the moment when he passes from sharing in the living-spiritual cosmos to the experience of mere revelation under the influence of the moon forces, he would have to say: I pass from an existence saturated with divine activity to a cosmic existence. Under the influence of the moon forces, I now begin to draw together that brilliant cosmic consciousness I previously developed out of the whole universe into a more inward consciousness.

I said, the brilliant cosmic consciousness grows dim, but the more it fades the more does a subjective consciousness arise in man's soul to which the cosmic revelations appear as something objective. So we can say that man passes over into an inspiration in which he knows himself as a member of the cosmos. In this second stage of pre-earthly existence he experiences cosmology.

What man bears within him on earth as a striving for cosmological wisdom is an after-effect of these experiences of pre-earthly existence that I have just described, in the same way that the religious consciousness is an after-effect of the earlier stage of divinely permeated consciousness. These things are lived through in pre-earthly existence. They have their after-effects in earthly existence in which they appear as the religious and cosmological endowments of the human soul. Every night, as I described yesterday, they are renewed afresh. They are present as man is born into earthly life; he brings them along as endowments. The sequences of day and night cause them to become dim, but each night man's cosmological inclinations are stimulated again by the experience of the world of planets and stars. In the same way, his God-permeated nature is kindled during the last stage of sleep as I have already indicated. Therefore, one could say that if man desires to come to a religious life founded on knowledge, and to a cosmology grounded in knowledge, he must be able in fully conscious earthly life to call forth pictures of what is experienced in pre-earthly existence, as has been described.

In the stage when man is seized by the moon forces, when the outer universal world, which earlier was the universe of his own physical body, now appears only as a revelation—in that moment there occurs what I may call the loss of his connection with what earlier was his own human universe. Man loses this universal germ of his physical body on which he had worked so long. At a certain stage of pre-earthly life, he no longer possesses it. Instead, he has an inner being, called into existence by the moon forces, shot through and permeated by the desire for earth life, and he is surrounded by images of a spiritual cosmos. If he reaches out spiritually for these pictures he pierces right through them. Their reality is no longer there, at a certain stage of his experience in pre-earthly existence, reality has been lost to his soul. The soul no longer has the reality of this, man's universe, around and within it. Shortly thereafter—after the loss of this universal reality—earthly conception of the physical body takes place. The physical body is now taken over, drawn together out of the spiritual universe and further developed within the course of physical, hereditary evolution. What man worked upon cosmically for a long time in the spiritual world falls away from him and reappears again as conception of the physical human body takes place on earth. The processes that man has undergone spiritually above and in which he collaborated now find their physical continuation on the earth below. For the time being man remains unconscious of this physical continuation in his prenatal spiritual existence, for it takes place below on the earth. His spiritual-physical organism has streamed down to the earth and contracts into the tiny physical human body. The whole majestic universe is drawn together and permeated and penetrated by what physical heredity contributes. What man previously had as reality now surrounds him only in pictures; it is a cosmic recollection of the cosmic reality of work done on the physical organism.

In this prenatal period of his pre-earthly experiences when man is surrounded by the cosmic pictures of his human universe in which reality is no longer contained, he becomes ready to draw the etheric element into these pictures from all directions of the cosmos—for the cosmos also includes an etheric nature and is in this respect an etheric cosmos. Out of the cosmic ether man now draws etheric elements into his cosmic picture world. What is within him only as cosmic memory, he fills with world ether, draws it together and so forms his etheric organism. He does this at the time his Physical organism has fallen away from him, finding its continuation below, through conception, in the stream of physical heredity. Thus, man clothes himself in his etheric organism.

Now everything that lives in the soul as a sense of privation and desires, as longing for earthly life, passes along into the etheric organism, which is accustomed to being united with a physical, bodily organization since it permeates the physical organization of the cosmos. From all this arise the forces that draw man down again into what he was unaware of earlier when he had cosmic consciousness. Now, the soul-spiritual human being, clothed in the etheric body, strives by its own wish down toward what his physical organism has become on earth, which he himself prepared in the first place in its spiritual form. This, then, after the above-described experiences, brings about the union of the soul-spiritual with the physical body. The remaining points that can be mentioned will be added in the last brief consideration.

I believe it has become clear where the boundary exists between that of what the human soul is aware and that of what the human soul is unaware in a pre-earthly sense during the last stage of prenatal experience which directly precedes earthly experience. The human soul is conscious of the subjective element that the moon forces have brought about in the soul; it is conscious of the universal tableau that is now merely present in pictures like a cosmic memory of the work done on man's universe; it is conscious of how the forces draw together out of the world ether to create the human etheric organism. It remains unconscious of everything that happens on the earth below in the physical human organism, which only now has come into form through its physical metamorphosis, and through conception will develop further in the line of physical heredity. But, as I indicated, there is a union of the last cosmic consciousness with what is unconscious; a submerging into this unconsciousness.

With this, the cosmic consciousness is extinguished, and in a tiny infant there appears something like an unconscious memory of what has been experienced in pre-earthly exis tence. An unconscious but active memory then works intensively upon the baby's development, using the undifferentiated, or little differentiated substance of the human brain and the rest of the organism. Already during the embryonic stage, during which the uniting process mentioned gradually takes place, and also later, after birth, man works like a sculptor on the formation of the brain and the remaining organs. This unconscious but active memory of pre-earthly life works on the organism most intensively in a child's first years. While what is most essential has been previously prepared and then is realized in its after-effects, much is still to be worked into this cosmic-physical, spiritual organism condensed into a physical human body. This is a contradiction but must be understood in the context in which I have described it for you today. Much is still to be worked into this organism. It is therefore the unconscious but active memory that works in the infant as an inner human, sculpturing element.

If the consciously experienced last stage of pre-earthly life could be brought into earth life, the pure philosophy of ideas would have its supersensible content. For just that cosmic etheric element that plays into the images of the human organism is what yields a truly alive philosophical conception. But, even so, in spite of its lively quality, something in this philosophical conception is lacking. It corresponds, after all, to a stage of pre-earthly experience where man is particularly estranged from his physical organism, when he is unconscious of it. This lends a somewhat otherworldly quality to even the most alive philosophy, for instance the kind that arises out of the dreamlike clairvoyance of primeval times. Because philosophy, if it is alive, corresponds an experience which earth life escapes, it always has a strong desire to comprehend earthly activities but feels itself hovering above earthly existence. Philosophy always has an idealistic quality, which implies that it is based on something not of this earth, particularly when it is inwardly alive. Actually, it is only in the last stage of pre-earthly existence that a man is a philosopher. It would be necessary to recall here in earth life what is spontaneously present in his conscious experience in that last period. There, man is a true philosopher, as earlier he was a true cosmologist when confronting the cosmic revelations, when the cosmic beings had already withdrawn from him; and he was a true perceiver of religion in the first pre-earthly stage I described today. But since an unconscious but active memory appears in the infant, it was also possible for me to say here: If you could include in the philosophy of ideas and bring to full consciousness what appears unconsciously in an infant, philosophy would arise. That is quite natural, because what an infant experiences is the unconscious memory of what the soul experiences in the last stage before its union with the physical body.

Therefore, religious insight, cosmology and philosophy must be gifts out of the supersensible world if they are to be right. Only if they become this again, and are recognized as such by man, will they fully satisfy humanity's spiritual needs.

Today I have sought to describe for you those matters connected with the mystery of birth. In the following days I will have to present the other side, the matters that are connected with the mystery of death, in order gradually to round out the picture that should represent for us how what is of the greatest spiritual value here in earth life must be a reflection, a replica, an effect of what man can experience, perceive and know in supersensible existence, because he is not only an earthly sense being but a soul-spiritual, supersensible being and therefore belongs also to the world of soul and spirit. And if he is to feel himself fully as man in human life at every stage of sense experience, he must also include knowledge of the supersensible in his life on earth.