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Man and the World of Stars
GA 219

VI. Spiritualization of Knowledge of Space. The Mission of Michael

17 December 1922, Dornach

I have often referred to the fact that since about the first third of the fifteenth century, human evolution has entered upon a special epoch. It can be said that the age which began approximately in the eighth century B.C. and continued into the first third of the fifteenth century was the age of Græco-Latin culture and that the most recent phase of time in which we are still living today, began at the point I have indicated. Today we will consider the tasks of present-day humanity in connection with this fact.

We know—particularly from the lectures given here lately—that between birth and death man bears in his physical, psychical and spiritual development on Earth the heritage of what he has experienced in pre-earthly existence. And recently we heard in what sense social and moral life is the heritage of that condition between death and rebirth when man lives in intimate communion with the Beings of the Higher Hierarchies. From this communion—it is experienced, as I have described, in rhythmic alternation with another condition—man brings with him the power of love, and this power of love is the foundation of morality on Earth. The other condition is the one in which man withdraws into himself, when, as it were, he lifts himself out of this communion with the Beings of the Hierarchies. And as the heritage of this condition he brings with him to Earth the power of memory, the power of remembrance, which on the one side comes to expression in his egoism, but on the other side predisposes him for freedom, for everything that makes for inner strength and independence.

Until the Graeco-Latin epoch, the faculties that enabled man to shape his civilization from within were in a certain respect still a heritage of pre-earthly existence.

If we go back to still earlier times in the evolution of humanity, to the Old Indian, the Old Persian and the Egyptian epochs, we find evidence everywhere of knowledge, of ideas, which flow as it were out of man's inner being but are also connected with the life between death and rebirth. In the Old Indian epoch man has a clear consciousness that he belongs to the same ‘race’ to which the divine-spiritual Beings of the Hierarchies belong. A man of knowledge in ancient Indian civilization feels himself less a citizen of the Earth than of the world to which these divine-spiritual Beings belong. He feels that he has been sent down to the Earth from the ranks of these divine-spiritual Beings. And he considers that the civilization he spreads over the Earth is there in order that the earthly deeds of man and even the objects and beings of the Earth may conform with the nature of the divine-spiritual Beings to whom he feels himself related.

In the man of ancient Persia this feeling of kinship has already lost some of its former intensity but he too still feels his real home to be what he called the Kingdom of Light, the Kingdom to which he belongs between death and rebirth, and he desires to be a warrior on the side of the spirits of this Kingdom of Light. He wishes to fight against those beings who come from the darkness of the Earth so that the spirits of the Kingdom of Light may not be hampered by these dark beings; he dedicates all his activity to the service of the spirits of the Kingdom of Light. And if we then pass on to the Egyptian and Chaldaean peoples we see how their science is full of knowledge relating to the movements of the stars. The destinies of men are read from what the stars reveal. Before anything is done on Earth, the stars are asked whether it would or would not be justified. This science, according to which all earthly life is regulated, is likewise felt to be a heritage of man's existence between death and rebirth, when his experiences are of a kind that make him one with the movements and laws of the stars, just as here on Earth between birth and death he is one with the beings of the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms.

In the fourth post-Atlantean, the Graeco-Latin epoch, beginning in the eighth century B.C. and lasting until the fifteenth century A.D., men already feel themselves to be true citizens of the Earth. They feel that in their world of ideas between birth and death there are no longer very distinct echoes of experiences in pre-earthly existence. They strive to be at home on the Earth. And yet, if we penetrate deeply into the spirit of Greek and even of early Roman civilization we can say something like the following. The men who are founding science in that age are intent upon learning to know all that goes on in the three kingdoms of Nature upon Earth, but to know it in such a way that this knowledge also has some relation to extra-terrestrial existence. Among the Greeks there is a strong feeling that through the knowledge applied by man on the Earth and in the light of which he regulates his earthly deeds, he should at the same time have a dim remembrance of the divine-spiritual world. The Greek knows that he can gain his knowledge only from observation of the earthly world; but he has a clear feeling that what he perceives in the minerals, in the plants, in the animals, stars, mountains, rivers, and so forth, must be a reflection of the Divine-Spiritual which he can experience in a world other than the world of the senses.

This is the case because in that epoch man still feels that with the best part of his being he belongs to a supersensible world. This supersensible world has, to be sure, become darkened for human observation—that is how man puts it to himself—but during earthly existence too he must strive to illumine it. True, in the Graeco-Latin epoch men can no longer regulate the ordinary deeds of humanity in accordance with the courses of the stars, since their mastery of the science of the stars is not on a par with that of the Chaldaean and the Egyptians; but at all events they still endeavor, rather gropingly, through studying expressions of the will of the divine-spiritual Beings, to bring something of the Divine-Spiritual into the earthly world.

In places of the Oracles and in Temples, men sought to ascertain the will of the Gods from priestesses and prophetesses, as you know from history. And we see how these endeavors to ascertain the will of the divine-spiritual Beings with whom man himself is one during pre-earthly existence, were also customary in other regions of Europe at the time when Graeco-Roman culture was in its prime in the South. In the Germanic regions of Middle Europe, for example, priestesses and prophetesses were highly venerated; pilgrimages were made to them and in ecstatic states of consciousness, the will of the Gods was made known to men so that their deeds on Earth might be in conformity with this will. We can see quite clearly how up to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries—although the urge is by then less intense—man strives to formulate the knowledge he seeks in such a way that it contains within it the will of the divine-spiritual world. Through these centuries of the Middle Ages, right up to the twelfth and thirteenth, we can find places which at that time were still considered sacred and later became our laboratories—we can find places where the so-called alchemists were investigating the forces of substances and of Nature-processes; we can peruse writings which still give a faint picture of the kind of thinking that was applied in those old centres of research and we shall everywhere discover evidence of the striving to bring the substances themselves into such combinations or mutual interaction that the Divine-Spiritual can work in the phial, in the retort.

In Goethe's Faust there is an echo of this attitude of soul, in the scene where Wagner is working in his laboratory to produce Homunculus. It is really not until the turn of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in Western civilization that the desire arises in man to lay the foundations of a science in complete independence, without bringing his ideas into any direct connection with a divine-spiritual will by which the world is ruled. A purely human form of knowledge arises for the first time during this period; it is knowledge that is emancipated from the divine-spiritual will. And it is this purely human knowledge, emancipated from the divine will of which the science of Galileo and Copernicus is composed. It is science through which the universe is presented to man in the abstract picture current today, the picture of a vault—as Giordano Bruno was the first to envisage—with the stars circling in it as purely material bodies, or even in a condition of rest taking their share in cosmic happenings. This picture of the universe makes us imagine that a vast mechanism works in upon the Earth from cosmic space. And even in the investigation of earthly things people confine themselves fundamentally to what can be calculated and measured and so be part of an abstract mechanism. This, however, is a world of conceptions and ideas which man can spin out of himself with the help of external observation and experiment, where the physical substances alone are believed to affect each other, the Nature-processes to become manifest and where the Divine-Spiritual is no longer sought in the world of Nature.

There is a vast difference between this conceptual world and the kind of thought that preceded it in human evolution. It is only since the first third of the fifteenth century that man's concepts and ideas have become purely human. And it is the spatial with which man has mainly concerned himself since this period began.

If you go back still farther to the times of the Old Indian, the Old Persian, the Egypto-Chaldaean culture, everywhere you will find that world-conceptions refer to World Ages. They point back to an ancient epoch when mankind still had intercourse with the Gods, to a Golden Age. They point back to another epoch when man still experienced on Earth at least the sun-reflection of the Divine—a Silver Age, and so on. Time and the course of Time play a conspicuous role in the world-pictures of early evolutionary phases. Likewise, when you consider the Greek epoch, and indeed the world-picture that was current at the same time in the more Northerly and Middle European regions, you will find that everywhere the idea of Time plays an essential part. The Greek points back to that primeval Age when cosmic happenings are the outcome of interaction between Uranus and Gaia. He points to the next Age, to Chronos and Rhea, then to the Age when Zeus and the other Gods known in Greek Mythology rule the Cosmos and the Earth. And it is the same in Germanic Mythology. Time plays the most essential role in all these world-pictures.

A much less important part is played by Space. The spatial element is still obscure in the Norse and Germanic world-pictures with the World Ash, the Giant Ymir and so forth. That something is taking place in Time is quite clear, but the idea of Space is only dimly dawning; it is a factor of no great significance. It is not until the age of Galileo, of Copernicus, of Giordano Bruno, that Space actually begins to play its great role in the picture of the universe. Even in the Ptolemaic system which admittedly is concerned with Space, Time is a more essential factor than it is in the world-picture familiar to us since the fifteenth century, in which Time actually plays a secondary part. The present distribution of the stars in cosmic space is taken as the starting-point and through calculation conclusions are reached as to what the world-picture was like in earlier times. But the conception of Space, the spatial world-picture, becomes of chief importance. And the result is that all human judgments are based on the principle of Space. Modern man has elaborated this element of Space in his external world-picture, elaborated it too in all his thinking. And today this thinking in terms of Space has reached its zenith.

Think how difficult it is for a man of the present day to follow an exposition purely of Time. He is happy if Space is brought in at least to the extent of drawing something on the blackboard. But if the feeling of Space is conveyed by means of photographs, then the modern man is verily in his element! “Illustration”—and by this he means expression in terms of Space—is what man of today strives to achieve in every exposition. Time, inasmuch as it is in perpetual flow, has become something that causes him discomfort. He still attaches value to it in music; but even there the tendency towards the spatial is quite evident.

We need only consider something that has become a definite feature of modern life and this mania of modern man to cleave to the spatial is at once apparent. In the cinema he is utterly indifferent to the element of Time in the picture. He is content with the merest fraction of the Time element and is entirely given up to the element of Space.

This orientation of the soul to the spatial is very characteristic of the present time and whoever observes modern culture and civilization with open eyes will find it everywhere.

On the other hand, in anthroposophical Spiritual Science we are striving, as you know, to get away from the spatial. To be sure, we meet the desire for it in that we too try to give tangible form to the spiritual, and that is justifiable in order to strengthen the faculty of ideation. Only we must always be conscious that this is purely a means of illustration and that what is essential is to strive, at least to strive, to transcend the spatial.

Space ‘devotees’ among us often cause difficulties by making diagrams of the consecutive epochs of Time, writing “First Epoch with Sub-Epochs,” and so on. Then follow a great many captions and what is sequential in Time is dragged into a spatial picture.

Our aim, however, is to transcend the spatial. We are striving to penetrate into the temporal and also into the super-temporal, into the element that leads beyond what is physically perceptible. The physically perceptible exists in its crudest form in the world of Space and there thought is led in a certain direction. I have often spoken of the real intentions of anthroposophical Spiritual Science. It certainly does not belittle, let alone reject, the mode of thinking engendered in the age of Galileo, Copernicus, Giordano Bruno. The validity of this mode of thinking in which, as you know, Space is the essential element, is fully recognized by anthroposophical Spiritual Science. Therefore it ought to be able to shed light into every domain of scientific thought. It must not adopt an amateurish attitude to these domains of scientific thought but must shed light into them by its way of looking at things.

But over and over again it must be stressed that anthroposophical Spiritual Science is endeavoring to guide back again to the Divine-Spiritual this purely human knowledge that is based almost entirely on the element of Space and is emancipated from the Divine-Spiritual. We do not hark back to ancient conditions but we desire to guide the modern attitude of soul into the spiritual, away from its preoccupation with what is purely spatial and material. In other words, we want to learn to talk about spiritual things, as people in the Galileo-Copernican age grew accustomed to talk about substances, about forces. With its methods of study and observation, this Spiritual Science is to be a match for the kind of knowledge that has been developing in connection with the things and processes of the material world since the first third of the fifteenth century. Its aim is the attainment of spiritual knowledge that is related to this Nature-knowledge, although since the former is concerned with the supersensible, the contrast is very apparent.

Inwardly considered, what is it that we are seeking to achieve? If we transfer ourselves in thought into the position of the divine-spiritual Beings in whose ranks we live between death and rebirth, and discern how they direct their gaze downwards, and through the various means I have described observe the course of events on Earth, then we find that these Beings looked down to the Earth in the earlier ages of human evolution—in the Old Indian, Old Persian, Old Chaldaean-Egyptian epochs—and beheld what men were doing, what views they held of Nature and of their own social life. And then—if I may put it so—the Gods were able to say to themselves concerning the deeds and thoughts of men: Their deeds and their thoughts are a result of their memory of, or are an echo of, what they experienced among us in our world.—In the case of the Chaldaeans or Egyptians it was still quite evident that the primary wish of men below on the Earth was to carry out what the Gods above had thought or were thinking. When the Gods looked down to the Earth they beheld happenings that were in keeping with their intentions; and it was the same when they looked into the thoughts of men—as Gods are able to do. Since the first third of the fifteenth century this has changed. Since then, the divine-spiritual Beings have looked down to the Earth, and especially when they look down at the present time, they find that things everywhere are fundamentally alien to them, that men are doing things on the Earth which they themselves have planned in accordance with the phenomena and processes of earthly existence. And to the Gods with whom men live between death and rebirth, this is an entirely alien attitude.

When an alchemist in his laboratory was endeavoring to ascertain the divine-spiritual will through the combination and separation of the Elements, a God would have beheld something akin to his own nature in what the alchemist was doing. If a God were to look into a modern laboratory, the methods and procedure adopted there would be intensely alien to him. It can be said with absolute truth that since the first third of the fifteenth century, the Gods have felt as if the whole human race had fallen away from them in a certain respect, as if men down on the Earth were engaged in self-made trivialities, in things which the Gods are unable to understand,—certainly not the Gods who still guided the hands and minds of men in their scientific pursuits in Graeco-Latin times. These divine-spiritual Beings have no active interest in what is done in modern laboratories, let alone in modern hospitals. I was obliged on a previous occasion to say that when the Gods look down through windows, as I called them, what interests them least of all on Earth is the kind of work carried out by professors. What goes to the very heart of one who has genuine insight into modern Initiation Science is that he is obliged to say to himself: In recent times we men have become estranged from the Gods; we must seek again for bridges to connect us with the divine-spiritual world.—And it is this that quickens the impulse for anthroposophical Spiritual Science. Its desire is to transform the scientific ideas and concepts that are unintelligible to the Gods in such a way that they are spiritualized and are thus able to provide a bridge to the Divine-Spiritual.

It should be realized that light, for example, is something in which divinity is present. This was strongly felt in ancient Persian culture, but today when, for example, attempts are made to indicate by all sorts of lines how the rays from a lens are broken, this is a language that the Gods do not understand; it means nothing at all to them. All these things must be approached by an attitude of soul that enables the bridge to the Divine to be found once again. To realize this means a great deepening of insight into the kind of task that is incumbent upon the present age in the matter of transforming and metamorphosing our unspiritual ideas.

A cosmic truth of deep significance underlies these things. The conception of Space is an entirely human conception. The Gods with whom man lives together in the most important period of his life between death and a new birth have a vivid conception of Time but no conception of Space such as man acquires on Earth. This conception of Space is entirely human. Man really enters into Space for the first time when he descends from the divine-spiritual world into the physical world of the Earth. True, as seen from here, every thing appears in spatial perspective. But thinking in dimensions, if I may put it so, is something that belongs entirely to the Earth.

In Western civilization this conception of Space has become ingrained in man since the fifteenth century. But when through the spiritualizing of purely spatial knowledge, bridges to the divine world have been found again, then what man has gained from the science of Space—in the very period when he has emancipated his thought most drastically from the divine world, i.e. since the fifteenth century—all the spatial knowledge he has gained will become important for the divine-spiritual world as well. And man can conquer a new portion of the universe for the Gods if he will but bring the spirit again into the conception of Space.

You see, what I have described in the book Occult Science—the periods of Old Saturn, Old Sun, Old Moon, Earth and the future periods of Jupiter, Venus, Vulcan—is only present to the Gods in the sequence of Time. Here on Earth, however, it all lives itself out in terms of Space. We are living today in the Earth period proper but in happenings on the Earth there still linger the echoes of the periods of Old Moon, Old Sun and Old Saturn.

If you will steep yourselves in the description of the Old Saturn period given in Occult Science, you will say: The Saturn period is past but the effects of its warmth are still present in our earthly existence. Saturn, Sun, Moon, Earth are within one another; they exist simultaneously. The Gods see them in the sequence of Time. Although in earlier ages, even during Chaldaean times they were seen in their succession, now we see them within one another, spatially within one another. Indeed this leads very much farther and if we study these things in detail, we shall discover what really lies behind them.

Imagine that you stretch out your left hand. The Divine lives in everything terrestrial. In your muscles, in your nerves, lives the Divine. Now with the fingers of your left hand you touch the fingers of your right hand—this can only be done in Space. The fact that you feel your right hand with your left, your left hand with your right—this is something which the divine-spiritual Beings do not follow. They follow the left hand and right hand up to the point of contact, but the feeling that arises between the two is an experience which the faculties possessed by the Gods do not make possible; it is something that arises only in Space. Just as little as the Gods behold Saturn, Sun, Moon and Earth simultaneously but only in succession, in Time, so they have none of the purely spatial experiences known to man. When you look with your left and right eyes and have the lines of vision from right and from left, the activity of the Gods is present in the vision from the right eye and again in the vision from the left eye, but in the meeting of the two lines of vision lies the purely human element. Thus we experience as men, because we have been placed into the world of Space, something that is experienced in a state of emancipation from the activity of the Gods.

You need only extend this imagery of the right and left hands to other domains in the life of earthly man, and you will find a great many human experiences that fall right away from the Gods' field of vision. It is really only since the first third of the fifteenth century that man has brought ideas of a purely human kind into these domains. Hence human thinking has become less and less intelligible to the Gods when they look down to the Earth. And with this in mind we must turn our attention to that most important event in the last third of the nineteenth century which may be characterized by saying that the rulership of the Spiritual Being known as Gabriel was succeeded by the rulership of that other Spiritual Being known as Michael.

In the last third of the nineteenth century the Spiritual Being we call Michael became the Ruler, as it were, of everything of a spiritual character in human events on the Earth. Whereas Gabriel is a Being orientated more to the passive qualities of man, Michael is the active Being, the Being who as it were pulses through our breath, our veins, our nerves, to the end that we may actively develop all that belongs to our full humanity in connection with the Cosmos. What stands before us as a challenge of Michael is that we become active in our very thoughts, working out our view of the world through our own inner activity. We only belong to the Michael Age when we do not sit down inactively and desire to let enlightenment from within and from without come to us, but when we co-operate actively in what the world offers us in the way of experiences and opportunities for observation. If a man carries out some experiment, it does not fundamentally involve activity; there is not necessarily any activity on his part; it is just an event like any other event in Nature, except that it is directed by human intelligence. But all happenings in Nature have also been directed by intelligence! How is man's mental life nowadays affected by experiments? There is no active participation, for he simply looks on and tries to eliminate activity as much as possible; he wants to let the experiment tell him everything and regards as fanciful anything that is the outcome of his own inner activity. It is precisely in their scientific ideas that men are least of all in the Michael Age.

But humanity must enter into the Michael Age. If we put the question to ourselves: What does it actually mean in the whole cosmic setting that Gabriel should have passed on the sceptre to Michael?—then we must answer: It means that of all the Beings who spiritually guide humanity, Michael is the Spirit who is the first to draw near to what men here on Earth are doing as the result of this emancipation of knowledge since the first third of the fifteenth century. Gabriel stands in utter perplexity before the ideas and notions of a cultured man of the modern age. Michael, who is closely connected with the forces of the Sun, can at least instil his activity into such thoughts of man as can be impulses for his free deeds. Michael can work, for instance, into what I have called in Occult Science, free, pure thinking, which must be the true impulse for the individual will of man acting in freedom in the new age. And with the deeds of man which spring from the impulse of love, Michael has his own particular relationship.

Hence he is the messenger whom the Gods have sent down so that he may receive what is now being led over from knowledge emancipated from spirit into spiritualized knowledge. The science which as anthroposophical Spiritual Science again spiritualizes spatial thinking, lifts it again into the supersensible—this Spiritual Science works from below upwards, stretches out its hands as it were from below upwards to grasp the hands of Michael stretching down from above. It is then that the bridge can be created between man and the Gods. Michael has become the Regent of this Age because he is to receive what the Gods wish to receive from what man can add to the Time-concept through the Space-concept—for this augments the knowledge possessed by the Gods.

The Gods picture Saturn, Sun, Moon, Earth, in the succession of Time. If man rightly develops the latest phase of his life of thought, he sees this in terms of Space. The Gods can picture the outstretching of the left and of the right hand, but the actual contact is a purely human matter. The Gods can live in the line of vision of the left eye, in the line of vision of the right eye. Man envisages in terms of Space how the vision of the left eye meets that of the right eye. Michael directs his gaze down upon the Earth. He is able, by entering into connection with what men develop in pure thought and objectify in pure will, to take cognisance of what is acquired by the citizens of Earth, by men, as the fruit of thinking in terms of Space, and to carry it up into divine worlds.

If men were merely to develop Space-knowledge and not spiritualize it, if they were to stop short at Anthropology and were not willing to advance to Anthroposophy, then the Michael Age would go by. Michael would retire from his rulership and would bring this message to the Gods: Humanity desires to separate itself from the Gods.—If Michael is to bring back the right message to the world of the Gods, he must speak to this effect: During my Age, men have raised to the Supersensible what they have already developed in the way of thinking purely in terms of Space; and we can therefore accept men again, for they have united their thought with ours.—If human evolution proceeds in the right way, Michael will not have to say to the Gods: Men have become accustomed to stare at everything spatially; they have learnt to despise what lives only in Time.—If human beings are resolved to achieve their earthly goal, Michael will say: Men have made efforts to bring Time and the Supersensible again into the Spatial; therefore those who are not content merely to stare at the Spatial, who are not content to accept everything in such a material form as was customary at the beginning of the twentieth century, can be regarded as having linked their lives directly to the life of the Gods.—

If we genuinely pursue Anthroposophy in the light of Initiation Science, it means that we concern ourselves with cosmic affairs, with affairs which humanity has to work out in harmony with the world of the Gods. And in the present age very much is at stake; it is a matter of whether we shall or shall not sow the seed for true communion in the future with the divine-spiritual world.

When you realize the tremendous significance of this issue, you will be able to measure the earnestness and inner steadfastness needed by the soul if Anthroposophy is to be the content of its life of thought.