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The Younger Generation
GA 217

Lecture III

5 October 1922, Dornach

Today I shall speak in the most concrete way about the Spirit in order to lay a foundation for the next few days, and I must appeal to you to try to arouse a fundamental feeling for what is here meant by the Spirit.

What is taken into account by the human being today? He attaches importance only to what he experiences consciously, from the time he wakes up in the morning until the time he goes to sleep at night. He reckons as part of the world only that which he experiences in his waking consciousness. If you were listening to the voice of the present and had accustomed yourselves to it, you might say: Yes, but was it not always so? Did human beings in earlier times include in what they meant by reality anything in addition to what they experienced in their waking consciousness?

I certainly do not wish to create the impression that we ought to go back to the conditions in earlier epochs of civilization. That is not my intention. The thing that matters is to go forward, not back. But in order to find our bearings we may turn back, look back, rather, beyond the time of the fifteenth century, before the age I attempted to describe radically to you yesterday. What men of that time said about the world is looked upon today as mere phantasy, as not belonging to reality. You need only look at the literature of olden times and you will find, when men spoke of “salt,” “mercury,” phosphorus and so on, that they included many things in the meaning which people are anxious to exclude today.

People say nowadays: “Yes, in those days men added something out of their own phantasy when they spoke of salt, mercury, phosphorus.”

We will not argue about the reason why this is so anxiously excluded today. But we must realize that people saw something in phosphorus, in addition to what is seen by the mere senses, in the way modern men see color. It was surrounded by a spiritual-etheric aura, just as around the whole of Nature there seemed to hover a spiritual aura, although after the fourth or fifth century A.D. it was very colorless and pale. Even so, men were still able to see it. It was as little the outcome of phantasy as the red color we see. They actually saw it.

Why were they able to see this aura? Because something streamed over to them from their experiences during sleep. In the waking Consciousness of that time man did not experience in salt, sulphur, or phosphorus any more than he does today; but when people in those days woke up, sleep had not been unfruitful for their souls. Sleep still worked over into the day and man's perception was richer; his experience of everything around him was more intense.

Without this knowledge as a basis we cannot understand earlier times. Later on the experience of the ancients in connection with sulphur, phosphorus and so on became a mere name, an abstraction. The Spirit continued as an abstraction in tradition, until, at the end of the nineteenth century, the word spirit conveyed nothing to the mind, nothing by way of experience. External culture, which alleges such great progress, naturally attaches the greatest importance to the fact that the human being acts with his waking consciousness. Naturally, with this he will build machines; but with his waking consciousness he can work very little upon his own nature. if we were obliged to be always awake we should very soon become old-at least by the end of our twentieth year—and more repulsively old than people today. We cannot always be awake, because the forces we need to work inwardly upon our organism are active within us only during sleep. it is of course true that the human being can work at external, visible forms of culture when he is awake, but only in sleeping consciousness can he work upon himself. And in olden times much more streamed over from sleeping consciousness into the waking state.

The great change took place in the middle of the fifteenth century: this trickling of sleep consciousness into waking consciousness ceased. Pictorially I would say: In the tenth and eleventh centuries of western civilization man still grew up in such a way that he felt: Divine-spiritual powers have been performing deeds within me between my going to sleep and waking up. He felt the influx of divine-spiritual forces just as in waking consciousness he experienced the health-bringing light of the sun. And before going to sleep there was in every human being an elemental mood of prayer, full of Nature-forces. People entered sleep—or if they were men of knowledge they at least strove to do so—by giving themselves over to divine-spiritual powers.

The education of those who were destined for the spiritual life was such that this mood was deliberately cultivated. At the end of the nineteenth century those who regarded themselves as the most spiritual men had for a long time replaced this by another method of preparation. I have often witnessed how people prepare themselves for sleep: “I must take my fill of beer to prepare for sleep.” This sounds grotesque. Yet we see it is historically true that vision into the spiritual world through sleep was a deliberate and conscious striving among human beings of past epochs, apart from the fact that the candidates for initiation—the students of those days-were prepared in a sacred way for the temple-sleep in which they were made aware of man's participation in the spiritual world.

At the present time when one considers the development of civilization people do not ask: What has come about in modern mankind from the educational point of view? The question is not asked because people do not think of the whole human being but only of part of him. One has a strange impression if one sees a little further than the nearest spiritual horizon: people believe they at last know the truth about certain things, whereas the men of old were altogether naive. Read any current history of physics and you will find that it is written as if everything before this age were naive; now at last things have been perceived in the form in which they can permanently remain. A sharp line is drawn between what has been achieved today and the ideas of nature evolved in “childish” times. No one thinks of asking: What educational effect has the science that is absorbed today, from the point of view of world-historical progress?

Let us think of some earlier book on natural science. From the modern point of view it is childish. But now let us put aside the modern point of view and ask: What educational effect had such a book at that time and what effect has a modern book? The modern book may be very clever and the older one very phantastic, but if we consider the educational value as a whole, we shall have to admit that when a book was read—and it was not so easy to read books in those days, there was something ceremonial about it—it drew something out of the depths of men's souls. The reading of a book was actually like the process of growing: productive forces were released in the organism and human beings were aware of them. They felt something real was there. Today everything is logical and formal. Everything is assimilated by means of the head, formally and intellectually, but no will-force is involved. And because it is all assimilated by the head only and is thus entirely dependent upon the physical head-organization, it remains unfruitful for the development of the true man.

Today there are people who struggle against materialism. My dear friends, it would be almost more sensible if they did not. For what does materialism affirm? It asserts that thinking is a product of the brain. Modern thinking is a product of the brain. That is just the secret—that modern thinking is a product of the brain. With regard to modern thinking, materialism is quite right, but it is not right about thinking as it was before the middle of the fifteenth century. At that time man did not think only with the brain but with what was alive in the brain. He had living concepts. The concepts of that time gave the same impression as an ant-hill, they were all alive. Modern concepts are dead. Modern thinking is clever, but dreadfully lazy! People do not feel it, and the less they feel it the more they love it. In earlier times people felt a tingling when they were thinking—because thinking was a reality in the soul. People are made to believe that thinking was always as it is today. But modern thinking is a product of the brain; earlier thinking was not so.

We ought to be grateful to the materialists for drawing attention to the fact that present-clay thinking is dependent upon the brain. Such is the truth and it is a much more serious matter than is usually imagined. People believe that materialism is a wrong philosophy. That is not at all true. Materialism is a product of world-evolution but a dead product, describing life in the condition where life has died.

This thinking which has evolved more and more since the fifteenth century and which has entrenched itself in civilization the farther west we go, (oriental civilization in spite of its decadence has after all preserved some of the older kind of thinking) has quite definite characteristics. The farther west we come the more does a thinking, regarded by the orientals as inferior, take the upper hand. It does not impress the oriental at all; he despises it. But he himself has nothing new; all he has is the old kind of thinking and it is perishing. But the European, and more so the American, would not feel at ease if he had to transfer himself into the thinking of the Vedas. That kind of thinking made one tingle and the Westerners love dead thinking, where one does not notice that one is thinking at all. The time has come when people confess that a millwheel is revolving in their heads—not only when someone is talking nonsense but when they are talking about living things. They merely want to snatch at what is dead.

Here is an example which I am only quoting for the sake of cultural interest, not for the sake of polemics. I described how it is possible to see an aura of colors around stones, plants and animals. The way in which I put this in the book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds was such that it made living thinking, not dead thinking, a necessity. A short time ago a professor at a University who is said to have something to do with philosophy, came across this description. To think livingly! Oh, no? that won't do; that is impossible! And there is supposed to be an aura of colors around stone, plant, animal!—He had only seen colors in the solar spectrum and so he thinks that I too can only have seen them in the solar spectrum and have transferred them to stone, plant and animal. He cannot in the least follow my way of describing, so he calls it just a torrent of words. For him, indeed, it is so. He is incapable of understanding it at all. And for a great number of University professors it can be the same. A millwheel is going round in their heads, so away with the head; and then, of course, nothing can possibly come out of it!

The living human being, however, demands a living kind of thinking and this demand is in his very blood. You must be clear about this. You must get your head so strong again that it can stand not only logical, abstract thinking, but even living thinking. You must not immediately get a buzzing head when it is a matter of thinking in a living way. For those whose characteristic was pure intellectualism had dead thinking. The purpose of this dead thinking was the materialistic education of the West. If we look into it, we get a very doubtful picture.

The earlier kind of thinking could be carried over into sleep when the human being was still an entity. He was a being among other beings. He was a real entity during sleep because he had carried living thinking with him into sleep. He brought it out of sleep when he woke up and took it back with him when he fell asleep. Modern thinking is bound to the brain but this cannot help us during sleep. Today, therefore, according to the way of modern science, we can be the cleverest and most learned people, but we are clever only during the day. We cease to be clever during the night, in face of that world through which we can work upon our own being. Men have forgotten to work upon themselves. With the concepts we evolve from the time of waking to that of sleeping we can only achieve something between waking and sleeping. Nothing can be achieved with the real being of man. Man must work out of the forces with which he builds up his own being. During the period when he has to build himself up, when he is a little child, he needs the greatest amount of sleep. If ever a method should be discovered for cramming into babies all that is taught to seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds, you would soon see what they would look like! It is a very good thing that babies are still provided for from the mother's breast and not from the lecturing desk. It is out of sleep that man must bring the forces through which he can work upon his own being.

We can carry into sleep nothing from the concepts we evolve through science, through external observation and experiments and the controlling of experiments; and we can bring nothing of what is developed in sleep into these concepts of the material world. The spiritual and the intellectual do not get on well together unless united in the world of full consciousness. Formerly this union was consummated, but in a more subconscious way. Nowadays the union must be fully conscious, and to this human beings do not wish to be converted.

What happened when a man of earlier times passed with his soul into sleep? He was still an entity, because he had within him what hovers around material things. He bore this into sleep. He could still maintain his identity when in sleep he was outside the physical body and in the spiritual world. Today he is less and less of a real entity. He is well-nigh absorbed by the spirituality of Nature when he leaves his body in sleep. In true perception of the world, this is at once evident to the soul. You should only see it!—well, you will be able to see it if you will exert yourselves to acquire the necessary vision. Humanity must attain this vision, for we are living in an age when it can no longer be said that it is impossible to speak of the Spirit as we speak of animals or stones. With such faculties of vision you will be able to see that even though Caesar was not very portly in physical life, yet when his soul left his body in sleep it was of a considerable “size”—not in the spatial sense, but its greatness could be experienced. His soul was majestic. Today a man may be one of the most portly of bankers, but when his soul steps out of his body in sleep into the spirituality of Nature, you should see what a ghastly, shrunken framework it becomes. The portly banker becomes quite an insignificant figure! Since the last third of the nineteenth century humanity has really been suffering from spiritual under-nourishment. The intellect does not nourish the Spirit. It only distends it. That is why the human being takes no spirituality with him into sleep. He is well-nigh sucked up when with his soul as a thin skeleton, he stretches out into the world of spiritual Nature between sleeping and waking.

That is why the question of materialism is far from theoretical. Nothing is of less importance today than the theoretical strife between materialistic, spiritualistic and idealistic philosophy. These things are of no reality, for the refutation of materialism achieves nothing. We may refute materialism as often as we like, nothing will come of it. For, the reasons we bring in order to refute it are just as materialistic as those we quote for or against idealism. Theoretical refutations achieve nothing one way or the other. But what really matters is that in our whole way of looking at the world we have the Spirit once again. Thereby our concepts will regain the force to nourish our being. To make this clear, let me say the following.

Now, I really do not find any very great difference between those people who call themselves materialists and those who in little sectarian circles call themselves, let us say, theosophists. For the way in which the one makes out a case for materialism and another for theosophy is by no means essentially different. It comes down to whether people want to make out a case for theosophy with the kind of thinking entirely dependent upon the brain. If this is so, even theosophy is materialistic. It is not a question of words, but whether the words express the Spirit. When I compare much of the theosophical twaddle with Haeckel's thought, I find the Spirit in Haeckel, whereas the theosophists speak of the Spirit as if it were matter, but diluted matter. The point is not that one speaks about the Spirit but that one speaks through the Spirit. One can speak spiritually about the material, that is to say, it is possible to speak about the material in mobile concepts. And that is always much more spiritual than to speak un-spiritually about the Spirit.

However many come forward today with every possible kind of logical argument in defense of the spiritual view of the world; this simply does not help us, does not help one bit. During the night we remain just as barren if during the day we ponder about hydrogen, chlorine, bromine, iodine, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, silica, potassium, sodium and so on, and then evolve our theories; as if we ponder about the human being consisting of physical, etheric, and astral bodies. It is all the same so far as what is living is concerned. To speak in a living way about potassium or calcium, to treat chemistry as really alive, this is much more valuable than a dead, intellectual theosophy. For theosophy too can be taught in a dead, intellectual way. It does not really matter whether we speak materialistically or intellectually, what matters is that the Spirit shall be in what we say. The Spirit must penetrate us with its livingness. But because this is no longer understood, it is very disagreeable when anyone takes this seriously.

I did this in one of my last Oxford lectures, and to make myself quite clear I said: It is all the same to me whether people speak of spiritism, realism, idealism, materialism or anything else When I need language to describe some external phenomenon I use materialistic language. This can be done in such a way that the Spirit too lives within it. If one speaks out of the realm of the Spirit, what one says will be spiritual although the language may have materialistic form. That is the difference between what is cultivated here as Anthroposophy and what is pursued in other places under similar names. Every other week books against Anthroposophy are brought out. They contain statements which are supposed to be leveled against what I have said, but what they attack is always quite new to me for as a rule I have never said such things. They collect all sorts of rubbish and then write voluminous books about it. What they attack has usually nothing whatever to do with what I actually say. The point is not to fight materialism but to see to it that the concepts come out of the world of the Spirit, that they are really experienced, that they are concepts filled with life. What is here presented and accepted as Anthroposophy is quite different from what the world says about it.

People fight today against Anthroposophy—and sometimes also in defense of it—quite materialistically, un-spiritually, whereas what really matters is that experience of the Spirit should be made a reality in us. People easily get muddied, for when one begins to speak of spiritual beings as one speaks of plants and animals in the physical world, they take one for a fool. I can understand that; but there is just this, that this folly is the true reality, indeed the living reality for human beings! The other kind of reality is good for machines but not for human beings.

This is what I wanted to say quite clearly, my dear friends, that in what I intend here and have always intended, the important thing is not merely to speak about the Spirit, but out of the Spirit, to unfold the Spirit in the very speaking. The Spirit can have an educative effect upon our dead cultural life. The Spirit must be the lightning which strikes our dead culture and kindles it to renewed life. Therefore, do not think that you will find here any plea for rigid concepts such as the concepts physical body, etheric body, astral body, which are so nicely arrayed on the walls of theosophical groups and are pointed out just as, in a lecture room, sodium, potassium and so on are pointed to with their atomic weights. There is no difference between pointing at tables giving the atomic weight of potassium and pointing to the etheric body. It is exactly the same, and that is not the point. Interpreted in this way, Theosophy—or even Anthroposophy—is not new, but merely the latest product of the old.

The most incredible twaddle is heard when people suddenly feel themselves called upon to uphold the spiritual. I do not mention these things for the sake of criticism, but as a symptom. I will tell you two stories; the first runs as follows. I was once at a meeting in the West of Europe on the subject of theosophy. The lectures had come to an end. I fell into conversation with someone about the value of these lectures. This personality who was a good disciple of theosophical sectarianism told me of his impression of the lectures in these words: “There are such beautiful vibrations in this hall.” The pleasant sensation, you see, was expressed in terms of vibrations—in other words, materialistically.

Another time people pestered me about some discovery that had been made on the spiritual plane. It was stated that repeated earth-lives—which as a matter of fact can only be revealed to the soul by genuinely spiritual perception—must also be perceived in an earthly guise, must be clothed in terms of materialistic thinking. So these people began to speak of the “permanent atom” which goes through all earth-lives. They said: If I am now living on the Earth, and come back again after hundreds of years, the atoms will be scattered to the four winds—but one single atom goes over into the next earth-life. It was called the “permanent atom”. Quite happily the most materialistic ideas were being introduced into the truth of repeated earth-lives, into a truth that can only be grasped by the Spirit. As if it could profit anyone to have a single atom say from the fourth or filth century going around in his brain! Surely it is the same as if a surgeon in the world beyond had managed to equip me in this life by having preserved my stomach from a former incarnation and inserted it in my present body. In principle, these things are exactly the same.

I am not telling you this as a joke, but as an interesting symptom of people who, wanting to speak of the Spirit, talk of the pleasant sensation coming from spiritual “vibrations” and have only absorbed through imitation what others have known about repeated earth-lives, clothe this in such a way that they talk about the permanent atom. Books have been written by theosophists about this permanent atom—books with curious drawings showing the distribution of hydrogen, oxygen, chlorine and so on. And when one looks at them they seem no less outrageous than the sketches which materialists have made of the atoms. It does not matter whether we say: This is spiritual, or that is material. What matters is to realize the necessity of entering the living Spirit. I do not say this in a polemic sense but to make it clear to you.

The following is characteristic. There lives at the present time a very gifted Benedictine Father Mager, one of the finest minds in the Order—and the Benedictines have exceedingly fine minds. Mager has written an extremely interesting little book on “The Behaviour of Man in the Sight of God.” It belongs, in thought, to the time when Benedict founded his Order. Had it been written then it would have been quite in accordance with the times. When someone writes a book about the “Behaviour of Man in the Sight of God” one can admire it. And I do admire it. The same priest has, however, also given his opinion on Anthroposophy. And now he becomes the densest of materialists. It is really terribly difficult for one to force one's way into such a rigid kind of thought in order to describe the statements made by this priest. What he censures most is that the perception in Imaginative knowledge, which I put first, is of such a nature that for Father Mager it amounts to a lot of pictures. He gets no farther. And then he says, in accordance with his scientific conscience, that Anthroposophy materializes the world. He takes violent exception to the fact that Anthroposophy materializes the world, in other words, that Anthroposophy does not confine itself to the unreal, abstract concepts he loves—for this Father loves the most abstract concepts. Just read any Catholic philosophy and you will find—Being, Becoming, Existence, Beauty and so on—all in the most abstract form. Whatever you do, don't touch the world! And the Father notices that Anthroposophy contains living concepts which can actually come down to real things, to the real world. That is an abomination to him.

One ought to answer him: If knowledge is to be anything real, it must follow the course taken by God in connection with the world. This course started from the Spiritual and was materialized. The world was first spiritual and then became more and more material, so that real knowledge must follow this course. It is not sought for in Anthroposophy, but one comes to it. The picture slips into reality; but Father Mager condemns this. And yet it is exactly what he must himself believe if he wants to give his faith a reasonable content. But he calls it in our case the materialization of knowledge.

Of course, there is no satisfying those who insist: For heaven's sake no living concepts, for they will slip into reality, and concepts must be kept away from that! In such cases we can only have concepts belonging to waking consciousness and none that is capable of working upon man from the spiritual world. And that is exactly what we need. We need a living evolution and a living education of the human race. The fully conscious human being feels the culture of the present day to be cold, arid. It must be given life and inner activity once again. It must become such that it fills the human being, fills him with life. Only this can lead us to the point where we shall no longer have to confess that we ought not to mention the Spirit, but it leads us to where the good will to develop within us the inclination not for abstract speaking, but for inward action in the Spirit that flows into us, not for obscure, nebulous mysticism, but for the courageous, energetic permeation of our being with spirituality. Permeated by spirit we can speak of matter and we shall not be led astray when talking of important material discoveries, because we are able to speak about them in a spiritual way. We shall shape into a force that educates humanity what we sense darkly within us as an urge forward. Tomorrow, we will speak of these things again.