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Man and the World of Stars
GA 219
The Spiritual Communion of Mankind

III. From Man's Living Together with the Course of Cosmic Existence Arises the Cosmic Cult

29 December 1922, Dornach

The object of the lectures I gave here immediately before Christmas was to indicate man's connection with the whole Cosmos and especially with the forces of spirit-and-soul pervading the Cosmos. Today I shall again be dealing with the subject-matter of those lectures but in a way that will constitute an entirely independent study.

The life of man, as far as it consists of experiences of outer Nature as well as of the inner life of soul and spirit, lies between two poles; and many of the thoughts which necessarily come to man about his connection with the world are influenced by the realization that these two polar opposites exist.

On the one side, man's life of thinking and feeling is confronted by what is called ‘natural necessity.’ He feels himself dependent upon adamantine laws which he finds everywhere in the world outside him and which also penetrate through him, inasmuch as his physical and also his etheric organisms are part and parcel of this outer world. On the other hand, he is deeply sensible—it is a feeling that is bound to arise in every healthy-minded person—that his dignity as man would not be fully attained if freedom were not an integral element in his life between birth and death. Necessity and freedom are the polar opposites in his life.

You are aware that in the age of natural science—the subject with which I am dealing in another course of lectures1The Birth of Natural Science in World-History and Its Subsequent Development. Course of 9 lectures given at Dornach from 24th December, 1922 to 6th January, 1923. here there is a strong tendency to extend the sway of necessity that is everywhere in evidence in external Nature, to whatever originates in the human being himself, and many representative scientists have come to regard freedom as an impossibility, an illusion that exists only in the human soul, because when a man is faced with having to make a decision, reasons for and reasons against it work upon him. These reasons themselves are, however, under the sway of necessity; hence—so say these scientists—it is really not the man who makes the decision but whatever reasons are the more numerous and the weightier. They triumph over the other less numerous and less weighty reasons, which also affect him. Man is therefore carried along helplessly by the victors in the struggle between impulses that work upon him of necessity. Many representatives of this way of thinking have said that a man believes himself to be free only because the polarically opposite reasons for and against any decision he may be called upon to make, present such complications in their totality that he does not notice how he is being tossed hither and thither; one category of reasons finally triumphs; one scale in a delicately poised balance is weighed down and he is carried along in accordance with it.

Against this argument there is not only the ethical consideration that the dignity of man would not be maintained in a world where he was merely a plaything of conflicting yes-and-no impulses, but there is also this fact, that the feeling of freedom in the human will is so strong that an unbiased person has no sort of doubt that if he can be misled as to its existence, he can equally well be misled by the most elementary sense-perceptions. If the elementary experience of freedom in the sphere of feeling could prove to be deceptive, so too could the experience of red, for instance, or of C or C sharp and so on. Many representatives of modern natural scientific thought place such a high value upon theory that they allow the theory of a natural necessity which is absolute, has no exceptions and embraces human actions and human will, to tempt them into disregarding altogether an experience such as the sense of freedom!

But this problem of necessity and freedom, with all the phenomena associated with it in the life of soul—and these phenomena are very varied and numerous—is a problem linked with much more profound aspects of universal existence than are accessible to natural science or to the everyday experience of the human soul. For at a time when man's outlook was quite different from what it is today, this disquieting, perplexing problem was already a concern of his soul.

You will have gathered from the other course of lectures now being given here that the natural scientific thinking of the modern age is by no means so very old. When we go back to earlier times we find views of the world that were as one-sidedly spiritual as they have become one-sidedly naturalistic today. The farther back we go, the less of what is called ‘necessity’ do we find in man's thinking. Even in early Greek thought there was nothing of what we today call necessity, for the Greek idea of necessity had an essentially different meaning. But if we go still farther back we find, instead of necessity, the working of forces, and these, in their whole compass, were ascribed to a divine-spiritual Providence. Expressing myself rather colloquially, I would say that to a modern scientific thinker, the Nature-forces do everything; whereas the thinker of olden times conceived of everything being done by spiritual forces working with purposes and aims as man himself does, only with purposes far more comprehensive than those of man could ever be. Yet even with this view of the world, entirely spiritual as it was, man turned his attention to the way in which his will was subject to divine-spiritual forces; and just as today, when his thinking is in line with natural science he feels himself subject to the forces and laws of Nature, so in those ancient times he felt himself subject to divine-spiritual forces and laws. And for many who in those days were determinists in this sense, human freedom, although it is a direct experience of the soul, was no more valid than it is for our modern naturalists. These modern naturalists believe that necessity works through the actions of men; the men of olden times thought that divine-spiritual forces, in accordance with their purposes, work through human actions.

It is only necessary to recognize that the problem of freedom and necessity exists in these two completely opposite worlds of thought to realize that quite certainly no examination of the surface-aspect of conditions and happenings can lead to any solution of this problem which penetrates so deeply into all life and into all evolution.

We must look more deeply into the process of world-evolution—world-evolution as the course of Nature on the one side and as the unfolding of spirit on the other—before it is possible to grasp the whole meaning and implications of a problem as vital as this; insight can indeed only come from anthroposophical thinking.

The course of Nature is usually studied in an extremely restricted way. Isolated happenings and processes of a highly specialized kind are studied in the laboratories, brought within the range of telescopes or subjected to experiment. This means that observation of the course of Nature and of world-evolution is confined within very narrow limits. And those who study the domain of soul and spirit imitate the scientists and naturalists. They fight shy of taking into account the whole man when they are considering his life of soul. Instead of this they specialize in order to accentuate some particular thought or sentient experience with important bearings, and hope in this way eventually to build up a psychology, just as efforts are made to build up a body of knowledge of the physical world out of single observations and experiments conducted in chemical and physical laboratories, in clinics and so forth.

Yet in reality these studies never lead to any comprehensive understanding either of the physical world or of the world of soul-and-spirit. As little as it is the intention here to disparage the justification of these specialized investigations—for they are justified from points of view often referred to in my lectures—as strongly it must be emphasized that unless the world itself, unless Nature herself reveals to man somewhere or other what results from the interworking of the details, he will never be able to build up from his single observations and experiments a picture of the structure of the world that is confirmed by the actual happenings. Liver cells and minute activities of the liver, brain-cells and minute cerebral processes can be investigated and greater and greater specialization may take place in these domains; but these investigations, because they lead to particularization and not to the whole, will give no help towards forming a view of the human organism in its totality, unless from the very beginning a man has a comprehensive, intuitive idea of this totality to help him in forming the separate investigations into a unified whole. In like manner, as long as chemistry, astro-chemistry, physics, astro-physics, biology, restrict themselves to the investigation of isolated details, they will never be able to give a picture of how the different forces and laws in our world-environment work together to form a whole, unless man develops the faculty of perceiving in Nature outside something similar to what can be seen as the totality of the human organism, in which all the separate processes of liver, kidneys, hearts, brain, and so forth, are included. In other words, we must be able to point to something in the universe in which all the forces we behold in our environment work together to form a self-contained whole.

Now it may be that certain processes in the human liver and human brain will not for a long time to come be detected with enough accuracy to be accepted by biology. But at all events, as long as men have been able to look at other men, they have always said: The processes of liver, stomach, heart, etc. work together within the boundary of the skin to form a whole. Without being obliged to look at each and all of the separate details, we have before us the sum-total of the chemical, physical and biological processes belonging to man's nature.

Is it possible also to have before us as a complete whole the sum-total of the forces and laws of Nature that are at work around us? In a certain way it is possible. But in order not to be misunderstood I must emphasize the fact that such totalities are always relative. For instance, we can group together the processes of the outer ear and then have a relative whole. But we can also group together the processes in that part of the organ of hearing which continues on to the brain and then we have another relative whole; taking the two groups together, we have another, greater whole, which in turn belongs to the head, and this again to the whole organism. And it will be just the same when we try to comprehend in one complete picture the laws and forces that come primarily into consideration for man.

A first complete whole of this kind is the cycle of day and night. Paradoxical as this seems at first hearing, in this cycle of day and night a number of natural laws around us are gathered together into one whole. During the course of a day and night, processes are going on in our environment and penetrating through us which, if separated out, prove to be physical and chemical processes of every possible different kind. We can say: The cycle of the day is a time-organism, a time-organism embracing a number of natural processes which can be studied individually.

A greater ‘totality’ is the course of the year. If we review all the changes which affect the earth and mankind during the course of the year in the sphere surrounding us—in the atmosphere, for example—we shall find that all the processes taking place in the plants and also in the minerals from one Spring to the next, form in their time-sequence an organic whole, although otherwise they reveal themselves to us and also to different scientific investigations as separate phenomena. They form a whole, just as the processes taking place in the liver, kidneys, spleen and so forth form a whole in the human organism. The course of the year is actually an organic whole—the expression is not quite exact but words of some kind have to be used—the year is an organic sum-total of occurrences and facts which it is customary in natural science to investigate singly.

Speaking in what sounds a rather trivial way, but you will realize that the meaning is very profound, we might say: if man is to avoid having to surrounding Nature the very abstract relationship he adopts to descriptions of chemical and physical experiments, or to what is often taught today in botany and zoology, the time-organisms of the course of the day and the course of the year must become realities for him—realities of cosmic existence. He will then find in them a certain kinship with his own constitution.

Let us begin by thinking of the cycle of the year. Reviewing it as we did in the lecture before Christmas, we find a whole series of processes in the sprouting, growing plants which first produce leaves and, later on, blossoms. An incalculable number of natural processes reveal themselves from the life in the root, on into the life in the green leaves and in the colored petals. And we have an altogether different kind of process before us when we see, in Autumn, the fading, withering and dying of outer Nature.

The cosmic happenings around us form an organic unity. In Summer we see how the Earth opens out all her organs to the Cosmos and how her life and activities rise towards the cosmic expanse. This applies not only to the plant world but to the animal world too in a certain sense—especially to the lower animals. Think of all the activity in the insect world during the Summer, how this activity seems to rise up from the Earth and is given over to the Cosmos, especially to the forces coming from the Sun. During Autumn and Winter we see how everything that from the time of Spring onwards reached out towards the cosmic expanse, falls back again into the earthly realm, how the Earth as it were gradually increases her hold upon all growing life, brings it to the stage of apparent death, or at least to a state of sleep—how the Earth closes all her organs against the influences of the Cosmos. Here we have two contrasting processes in the course of the year, embracing countless details but nevertheless representing a complete whole.

If with the eyes of the soul we contemplate this yearly cycle, which can be regarded as a complete whole because from a certain point it simply repeats itself, recurring in approximately the same way, we find in it nothing else than Nature-necessity. And in our own earthly lives we human beings follow this Nature-necessity. If our lives followed it entirely we should be completely under its domination. Now it is certainly true that those forces of Nature which come especially into consideration for us as Earth-dwellers are present in the course of the year; for the Earth does not change so quickly that the minute changes taking place from year to year make themselves noticeable during a man's life, however old he may live to be.—So by living each year through Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, we partake with our own bodies in Nature-necessity.

It is important to think in this way, for it is only actual experience that gives knowledge; no theory ever does so. Every theory starts from some special domain and then proceeds to generalize. True knowledge can only be acquired when we start from life and from experience. We must not therefore consider the laws of gravity by themselves, or the laws of plant life, or the laws of animal instinct, or the laws of mental coercion, because if we do, we think only of their details, generalize them, and then arrive at entirely false conclusions. We must have in mind where the Nature-forces are revealed in their cooperation and mutual interaction—and that is in the cyclic course of the year.

Now even supervisial study shows that man is relatively free in his relation to the course of the year, but Anthroposophy shows this even more clearly. In Anthroposophy we turn our attention to the two alternating conditions in which every human being lives during the 24 hours of the day, namely, the sleeping state and the waking state. We know that during the waking state the physical, etheric and astral bodies and the Ego-organism form a relative unity in the human being. In the sleeping state the physical and etheric bodies remain behind in the bed, closely interwoven, and the Ego and the astral body are outside the physical and etheric bodies.

If with the means provided by anthroposophical research—of which you will have read in our literature—we study the physical and etheric bodies of man during sleep and during waking life, the following comes to light. When the Ego and the astral body are outside the physical and etheric organism during sleep, a kind of life begins in the latter which is to be found in external Nature in the mineral and plant kingdoms only. And the reason why the physical and etheric organisms of man do not gradually pass over into a sum-total of plant or mineral processes is simply due to the fact that the Ego and astral body are within them for certain periods. If the return of the Ego and astral body were too long delayed, the physical and etheric bodies would pass over into a mineral and vegetative form of life. As it is, a tendency to become vegetative and mineralized commences in man after he falls asleep, and this tendency has the upper hand during sleeping life.

If with the insight afforded by anthroposophical research, we contemplate the human being while he is asleep, we see in him—of course with the inevitable variations—a faithful copy of what the Earth is throughout Spring and Summer. Mineral and vegetative life begins to bud in him, although naturally in quite a different way from what happens in the green plants which grow out of the Earth. Nevertheless, with one variation, what goes on during sleep in the physical and etheric organism of man is a faithful image of the period of Spring and Summer on the Earth. In this respect, the organism of man of the present epoch is in tune with external Nature. His physical eyes can survey it. He beholds its sprouting, budding life. As soon as he attains to Inspiration and Imagination, a picture of Summer is revealed to him when physical man is asleep. In sleep, Spring and Summer are there for the physical and etheric bodies of man. A budding, sprouting life begins. And when we wake, when the Ego and astral body returns, all this budding life in the physical and etheric bodies withdraws and for the eye of seership, life in the physical and etheric organism begins to be very similar to the life of the Earth during Autumn and Winter. When we follow the human being through one complete period of sleeping and waking life, we have before us in miniature an actual microcosmic reflection of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. If we follow man's physical and etheric organism through a period of 24 hours, contemplating it in the light of Spiritual Science, we pass, in the microcosmic sense, through the course of a year. Accordingly, if we consider only that part of man which remains behind in the bed when he is asleep or moves around when he is awake during the day, we can say that the course of the year is completed microcosmically in him.

But now let us consider the other part of man's being which releases itself in sleep—the Ego and astral body. If again we use the kinds of knowledge available in spiritual investigation, namely Inspiration and Intuition, we shall find that the Ego and astral body are given over while man is asleep to spiritual Powers within which they will not, in the normal condition, be able to live consciously until a later epoch of the Earth's existence. From the time of going to sleep until the time of waking, the Ego and astral body are withdrawn from the world just as the Earth is withdrawn from the Cosmos during Winter. During sleep, Ego and astral body are actually in their Winter period. So that in the being of man during sleep there is an intermingling of conditions which are only present at one and the same time on opposite hemispheres of the Earth's surface; for during sleep man's physical and etheric bodies have their Summer and his Ego and astral body their Winter.

During waking life, conditions are reversed. The physical and etheric organism is then in its Winter period. The Ego and astral body are given over to what can stream from the Cosmos to man in his waking state. So when the Ego and astral body come down into the physical and etheric organism, they (i.e. Ego and astral body) have their Summer period. Once more we have the two seasons side by side, but now Winter in the physical and etheric organism, Summer in the Ego and astral body.

On the Earth, Summer and Winter cannot be intermingled. But in man, the microcosm, Summer and Winter intermingle all the time. When man is asleep his physical Summer mingles with spiritual Winter; when he is awake his physical Winter mingles with spiritual Summer. In external Nature, Summer and Winter are separated in the course of the year. In man, Summer and Winter mingle all the time from two different directions. In external Nature on Earth, Winter and Summer follow one another in time. In the human being, Winter and Summer are simultaneous, only they interchange, so that at one time there is Spirit-Summer together with Body-Winter (waking life), and at another, Spirit-Winter together with Body-Summer (sleeping life).

Thus the laws and forces in external Nature around us cannot neutralize each other in any one region of the Earth, because they work in sequence, the one after the other in time; but in man they do neutralize each other. The course of Nature is such that just as through two opposing forces a state of rest can be brought about, so can an untold number of natural laws neutralize and cancel out each other. This happens in the human being with respect to all laws of external Nature, inasmuch as he sleeps and wakes in the regular way. The two conditions which appear as Nature-necessity only when they succeed each other in time, are coincident and consequently neutralized in man—and it is this that makes him a free being.

Freedom can never be understood until it is realized how the Summer and Winter forces of man's spiritual life can neutralize the Summer and Winter forces of his outer physical and etheric nature.

External Nature presents to us pictures which we must not see in ourselves, either in the waking or in the sleeping state. On no account must this happen. On the contrary, we must say that these pictures of the course and order of Nature lose their validity within the constitution of man, and we must turn our gaze elsewhere. For when the course of Nature within the human being no longer disturbs us, it becomes possible for the first time to gaze at man's spiritual, moral and psychic make-up. And then we begin to have an ethical and moral relationship to him, just as we have a corresponding relationship to Nature.

When we contemplate our own being with the aid of knowledge acquired in this way, we find, telescoped into one another, conditions which in the external world are spread across the stream of time. And there are many other things of which the same could be said. If we contemplate our inner being and understand it rightly in the sense I have indicated today, we bring it into a relationship with the course of time different from the one to which we are accustomed today.

The purely external mode of scientific observation does not reach the stage where the investigator can say: In the being of man you must hear sounding together what can only be heard as separate tones in the flow of Time.—But if you develop spiritual hearing, the tones of Summer and Winter can be heard ringing simultaneously in man, and they are the same tones that we hear in the outer world when we enter into the flow of Time itself. Time becomes Space. The whole surrounding universe also resounds to us in Time: expanded widely in Space, there ring forth what resounds from our own being as from a centre, gathered as it were, in a single point.

This is the moment, my dear friends, when scientific study and contemplation becomes artistic study and contemplation: when art and science no longer stand in stark contrast as they do in our naturalistic age, but when they are interrelated in the way sensed by Goethe when he said that art reveal; those secrets of Nature without which we can never fully understand her. From a certain point onwards it is imperative that we should understand the form and structure of the world as artistic creation. And once we have taken the path from the purely scientific conception of the world to artistic understanding, we shall also be ready to take the third step, which leads to a deepening of religious experience.

When we have found the physical forces and the forces of soul-and-spirit working together in the inner centre of our being, we can also behold them in the Cosmos. Human willing rises to the level of artistic creative power and finally achieves a relationship to the world that is not merely passive knowledge but positive, active surrender. Man no longer looks at the world abstractly, with the forces of his head, but his vision becomes more and more an activity of his whole being. Living together with the course of cosmic existence becomes a happening different in character from his connection with the facts and events of everyday life. It becomes a ritual, a cult, and the cosmic ritual comes into being in which man can have his place at every moment of his life. Every earthly cult and ritual is a symbolic image of this cosmic cult and ritual—which is higher and more sublime than all earthly cults.

If what has been said today has been thoroughly grasped, it will be possible to study the relationship of the anthroposophical outlook to any particular religious cult. And this will be done during the next few days, when we shall consider the relationship between Anthroposophy and different forms of cult.