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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Youth's Search in Nature
GA 217a

17 June 1924, Koberwitz

Translated by G. Karnow and A. Wulsin


Rudolf Steiner's report in the weekly journal of the Anthroposophical Society, No. 25, June 29, 1924: "A number of younger members of our Society also participated in the agricultural course. At the end of the conference they still felt the need to gather together as a group. This took place during the early morning hours of June 17. In this gathering the younger friends spoke out of the depths of their hearts about their longing to approach—in their creative life and in their work—the insights out of the spiritual realm that unite the human being with the active forces of nature. It was an exchange out of the innermost soul of youth, wishing to move beyond fruitless materialism that does not unite with nature but rather separates man from her and condemns his work to fruitlessness. In this gathering I was allowed to point to paths on which this longing needs to move in order to arrive at a goal."


The youth movement today is again searching for nature; anthroposophical youth is also searching for nature, but it is searching for the spirit in nature. This searching lives as a kind of call to the spirit in the hearts of those in this youth movement. This call to the spirit, however, was very little met in the civilizations stemming from earlier centuries, for humanity since the fifteenth century, through its particular world karma, had gradually to lose the spirit.

The spirit in nature can be lost most easily when one is already on the way to losing the spirit generally, for you must remember that death is the fundamental condition of nature's becoming. You must not forget that what is living, in order to exist, always needs the dead. You have only to think that in all living substance must be imbedded, as a bony or other form of scaffolding, that which was received out of the universe as the dead.

During our whole earthly life, therefore, we carry death within ourselves, in that we have to contain unliving, dead substance. We must have dead substance. It was known in ancient times that it is precisely this death element through which the living can gain revelations of the spiritual. From ancient Roman times there still resounds a phrase like, In sale sit sapienta (Wisdom rests in the salt.).

It was felt in the times when traditions of an ancient, instinctive clairvoyant wisdom still existed that in the dead salt, out of which the bones and other scaffolding are built, must be seen what differentiates the human being from other beings—those who, through the lack of such a lifeless scaffolding within, are unable to take into themselves enough spiritual light, sapienta (wisdom). We live again in a time of transition, however, in which the young person feels that even in nature around him he would find the death of the spirit if he were to approach this nature in the style of the last century, with the traditions of the last century.

Nature builds itself a wisdom-bearing crystal. This wisdom-bearing crystal can delight us when we wander out into nature. At the same time, however, we must be clear that the gods had to die—not an earthly death but the death of transformation, which means the transition into the unconscious—in order to be reborn in the light-reflecting forms of the crystal. Today, when we look out into what is dead, we must bring into our feeling again the fact that there, shining through to us, is the life of the gods that for thousands of years has lain unconscious in nature. We must find within our souls the possibility of sensing and feeling this light that can approach us from the sun, and also everywhere in nature, as the light of the gods, quickening our hearts.

Today let us try to feel this divine soul world, resting for thousands of years in all of the heaven-reflecting nature around us. The soul has much to search for here. The youth of today is searching for an ancient knowledge of humanity, the ancient knowledge that already in the period of ancient Saturn was connected with humanity and that, when the periods of Sun and Moon came, entered a kind of world sleep, a kind of resting consciousness, in order to form out of its own spirit-substance the foundation for earthly nature. The soul can only sense but cannot really penetrate through this earthly nature to the spirit, and thus earthly nature, even in summer, appears to the heart that feels young today like a snow-mantle of sparkling bright spirit crystals; yet it carries within itself death—which means unconsciousness—and challenges the soul to feel deep beneath this icy soul-mantle the fiery, living workings of the word, stemming from ancient times, radiating from the center of the earth out to earthly nature.

This appears complicated when expressed in this way, but it is actually very simple when it is sought for by youth today. When the call to nature sounds forth from somewhere, it arises from the souls of the youth. They wish to have a memory, a uniting with the divine source of everything earthly and starry, and this is what can be sensed when today's youth again searches for nature. In the searching of today's youth for nature and spirit there resides something of the deepest world karma, which actually can be comprehended only with great solemnity of soul.

Just think how in an earlier time—today we call it the time of Rousseau (we have a parallel back-to-nature movement in Germany in the Sturm und Drang period1Sturm und Drang, (Storm and Stress), German literary movement of the late 18th century that exalted nature, feeling, and human individualism and sought to overthrow the Enlightenment cult of Rationalism. Goethe and Schiller began their careers as prominent members of the movement. that preceded Goethe and Schiller, though much wider circles than merely literary ones were involved)—let us think back to how the call to nature in this time sounded in an abstract, literary sort of way through broad areas of civilization. Just think of those warm, intense calls to nature issuing from the soul of Rousseau. Yes, many today will still be gripped if they listen to these calls. What has followed these calls to nature, however? "Nature, we want nature again," these young people were calling.

Goethe himself ominously called out in the cautious manner of the aged, "Nature! We are surrounded and embraced by her; unbidden and unwarned, she receives us into the circle of her dance." Goethe did not want to allow to enter consciousness what appeared as the call for nature among the Rousseauists. If we try to imagine ourselves as the Goethe of that time, how he felt in relation to nature and how he approached the calls of the others, we can still experience today something like a slight shiver running over us. We can feel the shudder he felt in encountering this call for nature. This call seemed to Goethe to be something that was itself unnatural, and he wanted to be received into the dancing circle of nature without being bidden; he felt that nature neither bids nor warns.

Then in the nineteenth century came the fulfillment of this call for nature. It was the knowledge, the so-called knowledge, of nature, the ever-resounding call for nature in the most rigid, materialistic sense, not only in relation to knowledge but in relation to all of life. A horrible fulfillment of Rousseauism thus emerged in the nineteenth century, as if a kingdom of demons began to snicker when the people around Rousseau and others were calling for nature, and then laughed with scorn when nature was allowed to approach humanity in an Ahrimanic form, in the most outward Ahrimanic form.

This is the background, and when we look into the middle ground the mood of tragic karma appears, a mood in which something lying deep in the souls of the youth today can be raised into full consciousness only with the greatest inner soul difficulties, something that since the end of Kali Yuga has been lying there dormant. This call to nature must be found again, the ancient working of the gods that is present in everything that in nature is earthly, watery, airy, and fiery and that above nature illumines and weaves and lives. This ancient spirit of nature must be found. But how can we avoid a rain of wild demons? How can we avoid what followed the call for nature in the nineteenth century like a shower of wild illusions? This must not happen. The twentieth century must not become a materialistic one! Thus the voice of karma calls in the souls of the young people today: if you allow the twentieth century to become as materialistic as the nineteenth century has been, you will have lost not only your own humanity but that which is human in the entire civilization. This is what one who is able to hear such voices can feel again and again in the most manifold ways, where circles of young people gather today. It is this that makes many members of these youth movements so certain in their vague feeling. You can experience these young souls as vague, uncertain, shifting from one path to the other—and at the same time there arises out of this uncertainty and vagueness a certainty, not yet completely light-filled but carrying a certain strength within itself.

This strength may not be broken, it must not be broken. Anthroposophy would like to contribute something toward this, because it believes that the concrete spirit can be perceived in all the particulars of life—in the roots of the plants, in the deeds of the light above the plants, and in the soul-blessing of warmth penetrating the plants—because it believes that what has been given to humanity as animality can be experienced as an admonishing call. It believes that there is much to be healed in this animality. The animals are on earth for the sake of the human being. In order to relate to the animals in the right way, as to all nature, it is necessary to sense and feel and finally even know in all nature the individual spiritual beings.

This can also be felt today if previously one has recognized the necessity not merely to speak in a general way about the spirit but to search for the working of the spirit right into the individual details of agricultural activities and other activities concerning nature. I therefore felt the deepest sympathy in my soul when you proposed that we exchange a few thoughts today.

(A discussion followed here.)


You see, this is the situation. What is it that continually makes those who have already found their way into the anthroposophical spiritual movement feel somehow uncertain? What makes them believe that strong support must be sought in order to find the way to what they are seeking? The reason for this is actually that the young people, who feel with all their hearts that we must seek the path to the human being in a new way, different from what has come to us from the wisdom of past centuries, are again and again—mostly due to outer conditions—thrown back into the old tracks. It has not been possible for the soul to perceive clearly what, in our time since Kali Yuga, must be revealed only unclearly, to perceive the hidden seeking of humanity that is not openly revealed in our time: to find the way into nature out of "nature" itself, to find the way into the spirit out of the "spirit" itself.

Our dear friend, Dr. Ritter, spoke of how he had been a peasant's child and how he had grown out of this peasantry. This process of growing out of the peasantry could be experienced in its archetypal significance in a time that unfolded when people like you were not yet even lying in your cradles. This time of uncertainty had already begun. Basically, you see, the life of the peasant, as it has unfolded over the course of the centuries, is only a myth today. This life is actually quite different, regarding the soul, from natural science and the so-called civilization that has become so remote from all existence. The peasant was really more spiritual than today's scholars. In the 1860's and 70's it could already be sensed how a kind of living spirituality within the peasantry was slowly dying out.

It could often be seen how the peasants were seized by the impulse to send their sons to the university. This was already the first sign of such peasant abstractions, this idea that arose in the last third of the nineteenth century. This is already quite different from the way it was earlier with the peasantry, who truly lived in harmony with nature. Certainly the peasants' sons also studied then, but not in the same sense as later, not as they did in the last third of the nineteenth century. Looked at from the peasants' viewpoint, their sons did not study but became priests. To become a priest united one with the consciousness of the peasant. To become a priest united one with the consciousness through which the way to the spirit is sought. It was this search for the spirit that the peasant wanted when he put his son through educational institutions. In the last third of the nineteenth century, however, these educational institutions gradually became poor in spirit, empty of spirit. At the same time the consciousness of the peasant also changed: his son must attend the university—and in relation to this another experience arose. The son, who becomes a stranger to us, enters a totally different life; he no longer belongs to us.

One can only suggest these things, for they would be able to be understood correctly only in life. In the overall coarsening of life toward the end of the nineteenth century there arose within the peasantry a kind of aversion to, and sometimes even hatred for, everything spiritual. I still remember a charming picture from a peasant's calendar, which was surely conceived by a journalist but which arose out of the mood of the 1860's and 70's. In a certain region of Central Europe a peasants' union was founded. The peasants banded together, and the representative of such a peasant union, depicted in this picture with a tassel cap pulled far down over his ears, was saying, "No lawyer, no teacher, is allowed to enter this union of peasants." This was the consciousness, you see: it was no longer known what to do with learning in all areas, even the area of theology. It was felt to be very clever to exclude ordinary learning from this union.

This really expressed an outlook that, toward the end of the nineteenth century, produced human beings who actually were only "images." Human beings actually became mere images. There were no longer human beings walking on the earth; with a few exceptions there were only images. And when the turn of the century came, the civilized world was populated not by human beings but by images. The time came when what should have been truth was changed in a strange way into its opposite. At times it was painful to see the things that were presented as truths. The teaching arose that even encouraged over-population in individual regions. It was said that if many people were born it was a sign that all was going well—in this way the increase in population was encouraged. This increase in population was understood as expressing true progress. if you looked at the matter spiritually, however, you had to say that through the influence of such a world conception more and more souls came to the earth from the spiritual world really before their time—beings who actually were spiritually premature and basically did not find the earth. The human beings of the last third of the nineteenth century did not find the earth at all. They were on the earth without finding the content of their being, and they went about like appendages of their intellects. That was what was so horrible, that human beings walked about like appendages of their intellects, not like human beings!

The twentieth century thus began, in which numerous souls were born who in turn, as others previously had walked about as shadows, as images, estranged from nature, felt the deepest deprivation regarding these human images and had to seek again that which is truly human.

Every conceivable outer social institution has been retained, however, and young people experience this as a kind of soul-depressing influence. If we were already in a position, through anthroposophy, to form the outer life as we are able to awaken souls, many things would be quite different. It would not always be necessary to speak about anthroposophy needing now to become "concrete"; rather it would be experienced that anthroposophy would be able to become world-forming if outer powers were not trying to prevent it.

Just think how we develop today, especially how we develop in our youth. Yes, Dr. Ritter had the possibility in the course of his early development to experience such a great agricultural estate as Koefering, which still retained its spiritual nature, while all around it the world was wallowing in materialism. This is indeed a phenomenon. There will always be such phenomena, however, in which you will find an outer refuge for precisely what youth is seeking. Anthroposophy must be somewhat like this, standing in the background, because, in a different way, it is not the intellect that is striven for in anthroposophy; one does not study, but rather one becomes, in the best sense of the word, a "priest," if one wants to learn. And if one can look at this transition that has taken place so unusually rapidly—the transition from the old way of becoming a priest, which has become a lie, to this new way of becoming a priest—something quite special can be encountered. It is a very unusual path—what has taken place in Koefering, for example—which you will understand much better if I describe it to you so that you can comprehend it in your own way: it is the path from the anthroposophical formation of the estate owner's being to the anthroposophical formation of the whole estate.

We must learn to understand in our hearts what it is that transforms the merely intellectual conception of the spirit, which remains estranged from nature, into the spirit that has been truly worked for, which finds its path again into the world of facts concerning nature. Therefore I have tried in this course to find my words, as it were, out of actual experience. Today you can find the spirit in no other way than by finding the possibility of clothing it in words given by nature, and through this even the sensations will grow strong again. Just think, you transform what you are already able to know today—for the time of Michael is here—transform what apparently lives only iii ideas into real devotion. Then you will be on the best path. You are on the best path of all if you transform things into devotion. Just think what everything could become in that case! Meditating means to transform what one knows into devotion, to transform the single, concrete things. If you express such things, of course, as I have done many times, you lay yourself open to being called audacious.

Those who have become old in the twentieth century—not in a spiritual but in a conventional sense—will not experience the deep feeling man can have if he is compelled to look upon the human brain as something that has developed (though in a somewhat different direction) in the same way as dung. You must sense these penetrating forces in the human being, however: the brain forms itself like a dung heap. Feel how, in manuring, this dung substantiality is returned to the world-creating forces, so that the spirit can receive it there in a much higher sense than the human spirit can receive what is given to it as material substance from within.

Let us look now at this human being: he takes in outer material substance and has no inkling of what he is taking in with the plant, what he is taking in from outside with the cultivated plants. He is ignorant about what he takes in from outside. And now it begins to work within him through the power of the gods. It has already begun to work when he transforms what he takes in from outside into taste on the tongue. Of this process, by which things are transformed, he still retains something of mere sense experience. Then it leaves his consciousness, and a mighty, wisdom-filled process sets in. Everything is transformed within the human being, making it possible for us to be able to grasp the spirit. What we thus work over unconsciously finally ends up in the dung heap that fills our brain. Let us learn to think that as human beings we are urged to offer this dung to the world in the right way, that we do not use it in such a way as to want to transform compressed dung into little machines for children! It is mainly in this way that the human being of the present day uses his brain. He does not manure the fields of the spirit with his brain so that the spirit might work in them; he makes mechanisms out of everything. You see, you must know what the brain is intended for—to manure the fields of the spirit for the gods that come down to human beings—and you must thereby acquire the chaste reverence that can arise out of such an inward contemplation of these matters. If you thus learn to intimate what takes place in the unconscious and in the subconscious and then begin to take up nature, formed in accordance with the image of man, into your knowledge, thereby beholding nature really in connection with the dung, you can see how within nature—slowly, gradually—there rises into consciousness something that otherwise works unconsciously within the human being. Then you learn truly to renew out of yourself what has endured for a long time only as tradition, what was belief and, like so many things that had to be propagated out of the ancient clairvoyant age—still penetrated by nature—lives unintelligibly in Roman sayings such as, "Naturalia non turpia sunt" ("All things in nature are beautiful"). If they do not appear beautiful, it is only because man cannot see their beauty, cannot sense their fragrance.

Try once to bring together what has lived as the attitude in ancient times with what has lived as the attitude in recent times. Let us look at the whole realm of Western culture. A large part of how one imitates nature consists of the fact that one washes. Certainly it is very good to wash, but by the way in which washing is done in these European-American regions, everything that is nature is simply washed away. In this washing man anesthetizes himself. We may recall how in Egypt there was also a great deal of washing. The Egyptian process of washing was still something that later in Greece was forgotten and was recalled only when they spoke of catharsis.

All this gives us the consciousness that when we go out into nature, to the surface of the earth, we are deep in the belly of cosmic being. We may then also regain that feeling which I actually still experienced when, as a very small child, I associated with miners, not with coal-miners but with those mining for metals. There were still some among them who knew that if you descend into the earth you meet spiritual beings that you cannot find on the surface of the earth. You meet there the organs with which the earth dreams and thinks about the universe. With those people, thinking was still something that lived within the earth. They still knew that if you look up, you see abstract stars, but if you become acquainted with what lives beneath the earth, then you see in the universe something you could call pictures, but pictures that spring forth, that are truly living. Thus at the end of Kali Yuga a person lived in a hopelessly dead knowing, from which he began to grow into something more related to the realm of feeling. If we are able to do this, we will gradually free ourselves from the shackles with which our time has fettered the abstract human being.

Therefore I must indicate again and again what can unite you as young people in a very special, intense way. What unites you is that you say to yourselves the following. Anthroposophy appeared among people who developed out of the godless thinking in their surroundings. These people then met anthroposophy, but they abstracted anthroposophy also. So it happened that anthroposophy was well understood by the older people around the turn of the century, but in a somewhat abstract way. They actually understood anthroposophy, and it is not just chance but a karmically necessary phenomenon that in the history of our anthroposophical development there was a period in which people were coming to us who in some way or other had already retired, who had left the surrounding world and entered a retired existence. Now, what do you believe had to be experienced again and again if one were responsible for anthroposophy? As long as people were stuck in their professions they said, "I can probably be of more use to anthroposophy if I am not an anthroposophist. I feel quite connected to it, but I cannot be an anthroposophist." And so they came—and even then often in a strange, inward way—only when they had retired. We have seen many people come into these circles in this way, and we have lived through it as a kind of tragedy.

Then there came the time when these older members should have worked actively. The twentieth century began, then the very difficult time of the second decade of the twentieth century, when those in their late middle age should have been active. This failed to happen. Those in late middle age were somehow dangling between passing their doctoral examinations—and this could also happen with proletarians and peasants—and not yet having arrived at receiving their certificate of retirement. All of life just remained dangling; there was no sense of direction. Those within anthroposophy thought that deeds had to emanate out of anthroposophy.

Then the necessity arose to take up the question of the threefold social order, to create a threefold nature in the economic life, in life as such, where spirit-nature could have lived. And this also would have come about if the threefold social order had gripped people's hearts—but this failed to happen. One worked with people who were somehow dangling between their matriculation diplomas and retirement certificates. This is the tragedy of these people.

It was impossible to go further. And now there exists this abyss between those who have retired and those who no longer value such diplomas and retirement certificates, who no longer have much respect for the doctoral examinations but just take them as a matter of course and who no longer take pride in them as people did in the 1860's and 70's, when people thought that it was not possible to see an individual in his spirit- permeated blood but only hanging somewhere on the wall, framed as a diploma. Such an attitude is no longer present, and I am often led to think, when I meet the youth of today, of an old friend of mine. He was already in his late fifties when I met him, and he had attained a modicum of success in a small town. When he reached age sixty-four, he connected this old age in a strange way with his youth, for when he had been eighteen he had fallen in love with a girl and become engaged to her, and now in his old age he wanted to marry her. The church in which his birth had been registered, however, had burned down, and so he could not get the birth certificate anymore and had to forego his marriage; this was still the time when a person had to be recorded somewhere, and he had to show papers everywhere to prove that he existed. It did not matter then if one existed; it only mattered whether it was recorded somewhere that one existed! The youth today are no longer able to believe in the same way what a doctoral diploma stands for—what any kind of certificate stands for—because they no longer believe that the one who has written it really knows anything.

Then came the time when in the depths of these young souls, particularly among the proletarians, a warm, eager striving began to unfold. At the same time, however, this youth felt a tremendous abyss separating them from the older generation. This abyss truly exists in all those who at the beginning of the twentieth century were between age twenty-five and forty-eight. If at the turn of the century one was between twenty-five and forty-eight years of age, there was little chance of remaining human. One just appeared human outwardly, by virtue of one's clothes. Late middle age already formed a kind of abyss.

With the youth of today it does not amount to much when anthroposophy is transformed more and more into abstractions, when it is transformed into ideas, concepts, and even science. Now the young people who come want to experience, to live everything in deeds, in the true understanding of nature. One cannot remain with that, however. I would like to emphasize this especially strongly. It has been said that the sword of Michael has been forged, but this is connected with something else. It has to do with the fact that in the occult part of the world there remains what must be prepared of this sword of Michael, which is really to be carried, in the forging, to an altar that is not outwardly visible, that must lie beneath the earth, that really must lie beneath the earth.

To get to know the powers of nature beneath the earth leads to the understanding that the sword of Michael, as it is being forged, must be carried to an altar that lies beneath the earth. There it must be found by receptive souls. It depends on your help, on your contribution, for this sword of Michael to be found by more and more souls. And it is not enough for it to be forged; something is really achieved only when it is found. You must have the strong but at the same time the modest self-conviction as young people that you are karmically called upon to carry the sword of Michael out into the world, to search for it and find it. Then you will have received what you are searching for in gatherings such as the one today. Then you will also be able to recognize what I had to say to you about anthroposophy, about all the difficulties of those people who were dangling between their doctoral examinations and retirement certificates. And you will recognize it in a truly instinctive-pictorial way, so that the spirit of abstraction, that frightful Ahrimanic spirit, is not able to touch you too. Think in mighty pictures of the fact that two words have connected themselves with the striving of youth—words that in the nineteenth century were no longer understood. If one hears Wandervogel (Wander-bird) one wonders, does a well-traveled person today actually know what in ancient times this wandering was, what the wanderer was? We must return to a pictorial experience of the soul. Does the human being today still know what a person had to go through when meeting the birds, what Siegfried had to go through in order to understand the language of the birds? Wandervogel: Wotan, Siegfried—this is something that must be felt again, must be understood. One must first find the way from the abstract conception of Wandervogel to Wotan, who weaves in wind and clouds and waves of the earth-organism, to the hidden language of the birds, with which one must become acquainted by reviving in oneself the Siegfried-recollection and the Siegfried-sword, which was only the prophetic precursor of the sword of Michael.

The way must be found from the wanderer to Wotan, how with opened hearts one can believe again in the hidden language of the birds. You can feel this path from the Wandervogel to Wotan, to Siegfried, and if you can feel this deeply in your souls you will also find the possibility of experiencing nature and knowing about these things. And then if you are still able to dream a little, you will be able to live with the heavenly dreams in nature.

This is something that we should not reflect on a great deal at first but that we can sense and permeate with feeling. If you do this, you will form a community in accordance with your heart—a community in which step by step you will find what you are seeking. Let us keep this alive in our consciousness!

Let it fill our souls!