Earthly Knowledge and Heavenly Wisdom
IV. Earthy Learning and heavenly Wisdom: Human Beings as Citizens of the Universe and Hermits on the Earth I
9 February 1923, Dornach
Our previous talks were primarily devoted to showing how we can become aware of our place in the evolution of humanity. Even people who do not want anything to do with knowledge of spiritual worlds have some awareness of our relationship to the cosmos. Today, let us look more closely at a popular opinion about this. Even people who base all their views of the universe on outer, sensory phenomena and their interpretation by the intellect will admit that human consciousness has changed over the course of the past centuries. In particular, people point to the tremendous change caused by the emergence of the Copernican world view. 1See Lecture Two, note 8
The world view prevailing during the centuries preceding the Copernican world view — for example, in the era of scholasticism, which I have talked about recently — saw spiritual forces and beings present within the world of the stars. The scholastics spoke of the inhabitants of the stars who belong to hierarchies above ours in the evolution of beings. People at that time looked out into the universe, to the planets of our planetary system and to the other stars, and were aware that more than etheric-material light was streaming down. They knew that when they looked up to the stars, the spiritual beings embodied there were looking down into their souls.
Then all this changed, and when people nowadays look up at the planets and the other stars, they see above all material bodies that are permeated by ether and are floating freely in space and sending out light. It would not occur to modern people that spiritual beings of the higher hierarchies are looking at them from the stars. For modern people, the universe is devoid of soul and spirit.
In ancient times, people believed that spiritual life on earth was closely connected with that of the whole universe. To them, the creative forces in the spiritual beings of the stars were connected with the soul-spiritual and physical development of human beings on the earth. For example, in the rays of light coming to the earth from Saturn, they saw the forces stream down that influence human beings and give them the capacity to remember. They knew Jupiter was connected with spiritual beings of higher hierarchies who worked upon human beings, enabling them to develop their power of imagination. Concerning Mars, people believed that the forces of the spiritual beings of that planet endowed them with the power of reason. This is how people in earlier epochs of our evolution looked at the starry sky; to them the starry sky was the origin of what they perceived in themselves in body, soul, and spirit. They felt connected with beings of higher hierarchies, who were outwardly visible in the stars.
This view of the world disappeared with the emergence of the Copernican world view. Understandably, people had earlier considered the earth a gift of the whole cosmos because they saw that it was under the influence of an infinite number of spiritual life forces from the cosmos. For them, the earth was the focal point of the workings of countless beings. People in those times felt themselves to be citizens of the earth and at the same time citizens of the universe.
They looked up to their gods and worshipped them, and they believed that it had been the gods' intention to determine the course of human evolution on earth. They could understand the earth in its history and as the dwelling place of human beings on the basis of what they knew about the cosmos, the universe. In other words, their explanation of the earth was based on the heavens, and they believed that the gods had intended and planned the processes around them with which they knew themselves to be closely connected.
As a result of the Copernican world view, people in modern times have a very different picture of the world. They feel that the earth is an insignificant celestial body orbiting the sun. Consequently, they cannot help calling the earth a speck of dust in the universe. Based on physical size, their only criterion, people now consider all the other heavenly bodies more important than the earth. In physical size, our earth is no match for most other heavenly bodies. Thus, people see the earth only as a speck of dust in the universe, and they feel themselves to be insignificant in the cosmos, too. After all, spiritual forces no longer connect them to the universe. They find it impossible to believe that what happens on this unimportant speck of dust could in any way be connected with plans of divine beings in the cosmos. In fact, we could say that everything people used to see on earth by virtue of knowing that the heavens were inhabited by spiritual beings and forces has been lost in modern times. The universe became devoid of soul and spirit. The earth shriveled up into an insignificant bit of dust in a world without soul and spirit.
We must look at this change in the picture of the world not only from the theoretical point of view but from that of human consciousness itself. People had a different understanding of themselves when they still saw themselves as living on an earth on which countless spiritual beings worked, manifesting and realizing their plans in human beings. Obviously, believing the universe devoid of spirit, filled only with globe-shaped, moving celestial bodies, and studying their movement and emission of light will have a different effect. Imagine what it must feel like to live on one of the smallest of the heavenly bodies in a universe devoid of soul and spirit!
Yet, this view of the world was necessary in the course of evolution. What people in ancient times knew about the heavens and their inhabitants, the divine-spiritual beings, was inspiration — it was the imagination of an ancient, dreamlike clairvoyance. This clairvoyance had descended into human beings out of the universe. We have to get a clear picture of these things. In ancient times, people saw divine-spiritual forces at work in Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars because revelations from these heavenly bodies entered into human beings and were reflected within them. Based on the cosmic influences within themselves, people knew what streams down upon the earth from the cosmos. They understood the earth on the basis of what the heavens had given them. People in those days looked up to their gods, and that is how they knew who they were on the earth.
The modern picture of the world tells us none of this. According to the modern world view, the earth has shriveled up into a speck of dust in the universe, and human beings are small, insignificant creatures upon it. The gods of the stars no longer tell us anything about plants, animals, and the other kingdoms of the earth. Now we have to focus our senses on all that exists in the mineral, plant, animal, and human kingdoms, on what lives in winds and waves, clouds, lightning, and thunder. We can no longer receive any revelations about things on earth except those our senses give us. And we can arrive at conclusions about what exists in the universe only on the basis of what the sensory phenomena on earth have revealed to us in a sensory, intellectual revelation.
This is the profound change human beings have undergone in the fifth post-Atlantean epoch, the age of the development of the consciousness soul. The forces people at one time received from the universe that lit up again in their souls had to be squeezed out of them. Only then could they come to the realization that they live on a speck of dust in the universe, and that this universe does not give them any indications of a soul-spiritual element living within them. They had to understand that if they wanted to experience spirit and soul in themselves, they had to squeeze it out of their own being. In other words, they had to renounce the revealing forces coming to them out of the universe. Instead, they had to fill their souls out of their own efforts and activity. They could only hope that there was something living in what poured out of their souls, something that would throw light on the universe from the other direction, so to speak, namely, based on the human being.
In former times, it was possible for people to learn about themselves through the revelations the universe gave them. They could see themselves as children of the heavens because the heavens were telling them that this is what they were. In modern times, people have become more or less earth hermits — they live a lonely life on a speck of dust in the universe. They have to muster all their strength to develop in their solitude within themselves what can unfold in them; they have to wait and see whether what is revealed within them will indeed give them knowledge about the universe.
For centuries, these inner revelations told people nothing about the universe. They described the mineral kingdom according to its dimensions in space and time. Then they analyzed the way it functions in geology. They described the outer sense-perceptible processes and how they take place; for example, how the plants spring up from the mineral soil of the earth. They also studied the sense-perceptible processes that take place inside animals and the human physical body. People investigated everything on earth to see what their senses could tell them about life on earth. But, above all, their senses told them nothing about their own soul and their own spirit. Out of the frame of mind accompanying the realization that human beings are hermits on the earth, living on a speck of dust in the universe, had to come the impulse to develop true humanness in free inner development. In fact, human beings had to confront the big question: "Is there really nothing in the environment our senses can see, hear, and feel and our intellect can understand that goes beyond what our senses tell us?"
Human beings have developed science. Yet, no matter how interesting this science may be, it does not say anything about human beings; it aims rather at abstract, dead concepts that lead to natural laws. All this does not take human beings into account. After all, human beings are not merely the point where all these abstract ideas meet, in other words, a container for all the laws of nature! For these natural laws have nothing of a soul or spirit nature about them although they were formulated by the human spirit.
The young Goethe especially felt the mood that accompanies this outlook at a significant time in the development of our world view. 2Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749-1832, leading German poet and playwright. Also wrote extensively on botany, optics, and other scientific topics. He expressed his feelings in the first version of his drama Faust. 3Faust (1808-32), a drama in verse, is Goethe's masterpiece. Goethe presents Faust there as a man who is aware of the purpose of human beings in the cosmos and who wants to feel himself a spirit and soul among other spirits and souls. Yet, Faust feels thrown back by the world without spirit and soul. So he turns to ancient revelations of mysticism and magic, opening an old book where he finds descriptions of the beings of the higher hierarchies living in the stars and their movements — a book that talks about heavenly forces rising and descending, handing each other their golden urns. 4Faust, Part I, Night, lines 501-09. Trsl. by Stuart Atkins (Cambridge, MA: Suhrkamp/Insel Publishers Boston, 1984). All quotations from Faust in this volume are taken from this translation.
Such views existed at one time, but in the period in which Goethe places Faust they no longer spoke to people. So Faust turns from them just as Goethe turned from the ancient explanation of the universe, which saw soul and spirit in everything. Instead, Faust turns to the sign of the Earth Spirit. We then read the strange words spoken by the Earth Spirit:
In the tides of life, in action's storm,
I surge and ebb,
As cradle and grave,
as unending sea,
as constant change,
as life's incandescence,
I work at the whirring loom of time
and fashion the living garment of God. 5Faust, Part I, Martha's Garden, lines 3438-39 and 3456-57.
However, Goethe shows clearly that there is something wrong about the Earth Spirit appearing to Faust; he has Faust collapse under its influence. As a result, Faust is then exposed to the influence of Mephistopheles. We will have to take a kind of heretical view of much that has been said and written about Faust when we consider the Earth Spirit's monumental and terse words from the point of view of a concrete picture of the world and are sufficiently unbiased to come to the same judgment as Goethe did in his feelings. After all, Goethe did not stop writing after the scene with the Earth Spirit, but continued with the play. In other words, much of what is said about Faust definitely does not represent Goethe's actual opinion. It is mind-boggling to think of all the things that have been said about Faust.
People keep quoting the words Faust says to the sixteen-year-old Gretchen later on in the course of the play: "Encompassing all, sustaining all.... Feeling is everything, name is but sound and smoke." 6Faust, Prologue in Heaven, lines 243 — 44. And they feel so tremendously philosophical, quoting all those things that are supposed to express one's own soul concepts, even though these are words with which Faust charms a teenage girl. Isn't it embarrassing to hear these charming words for a teenage girl quoted as the quintessence of a world view by people who think themselves clever? That is what unbiased observation reveals — though it is heretical.
Similar things have happened with the terse yet monumental words of the Earth Spirit: "In the tides of life, in action's storm" and so on. They are beautiful words but very general; we find in them a sort of sensory-nebulous mystical pantheism. It makes us feel hazy, doesn't it, to be confronted with these lines:
In the tides of life, in action's storm,
I surge and ebb,
As cradle and grave,
as unending sea,
as constant change,
as life's incandescence,
I work at the whirring loom of time
and fashion the living garment of God.
These lines contribute nothing to give us the faculty for concrete insight into the universe. Goethe certainly felt this, especially later on, for he did not stop at this point but wrote the "Prologue in Heaven." When we read this prologue — " In ancient rivalries with fellow spheres the sun still sings its glorious song, . . ." 7This is Steiner's paraphrase of Faust's lines in Faust, Part I, Night, lines 449-50. — it reminds us much more of the heavenly forces rising and descending, passing their golden urns from hand to hand, than of the rather nebulous flowing and weaving of the Earth Spirit.
Goethe turned away from focusing on the Earth Spirit — we can't say from idolizing it, but it was something like that. In his later, more mature years, Goethe no longer considered the Earth Spirit the only one he could turn to in the character of Faust. Rather, he returned to the spirit of the great world, the spirit of the universe. Even though the Earth Spirit's words in the first version of Faust are beautiful and monumental, they are akin — so as not to be impolite I will call it a distant kinship — to the "Encompassing all, sustaining all" of Faust's words to young Gretchen. Why should these words not be beautiful, in spite of all this? Of course, one has to try to speak as beautifully as possible particularly to advise and charm teenage girls! So, why shouldn't Faust's words here be beautiful? However, we must realize that as a mature man Goethe no longer believed nebulous pantheism could give people a true awareness of the cosmos.
Considering Goethe's concrete way of looking at the world — concrete at least to a certain extent — we know that he would not have been able to write the role of Faust as he did if he had intended him as a representative of Western civilization in the eleventh or twelfth century. He would then have had to take another figure, whom he could never have characterized the way he did Faust. In that case, Faust would not have put away the book of Nostradamus and turned from the spirit of the great world to the Earth Spirit, for in those days people were aware that understanding themselves rightly meant seeing themselves as children of the heavens who learn about their own being from what the spirits of the heavens tell them. 8Michel de Nostradame, or Nostradamus, 1503-1566, French physician and astrologer. Published book of rhymed prophecies under the title Centuries (1555). Some of his prophecies were correct.
Faust, however, represents humanity in the sixteenth century, that is, in the fifth post-Atlantean epoch when people began to think of themselves as earth hermits living on a speck of dust in the universe. Thus, the young Goethe would not have been honest if he had had Faust turn to the spirit of the great world. As a representative of humanity, Faust could not have done that, for human beings at that time were no longer conscious of any connection to the heavenly forces, which rise and descend and hand each other their golden ums — in short, to the higher hierarchies. That connection had become obscured and virtually disappeared from consciousness altogether. Faust had to go by what he as an earth hermit could be connected to, that is, the Earth Spirit.
Faust's turning to the Earth Spirit is something tremendously grandiose in Goethe's work. It represents the change in human consciousness that took place in that epoch — the change away from the darkened heavenly forces to the Earth Spirit, a change indicated by the spirit who went through the Mystery of Golgotha. For the spirit who went through the Mystery of Golgotha united himself with the earth. By connecting himself with human evolution on the earth, this spirit gave human beings the strength to look to the spirits of the earth when they could no longer look up to the heavenly spirits. And now the spirits of the earth speak within us. In ancient times, the stars in their movements revealed the heavenly words to human souls who then could interpret and understand these heavenly words. Now, however, people have to turn to their relationship to the earth, that is, they have to ask themselves whether the genius of the earth is speaking within them.
Goethe could draw nothing more than nebulous and mystically pantheistic words from the Earth Spirit. It is right and tremendously significant that Faust turns to the Earth Spirit, but it is even more impressive that Goethe does not let that spirit say anything that can fully satisfy Faust or us. That the Earth Spirit can only stammer out the world mysteries in mystical, pantheistic formulas instead of presenting them in a clear, distinct way confirms how ingeniously Goethe made Faust a part of the epoch in which he saw Faust and himself living.
Yet, we must sense in Goethe's beautiful presentation of Faust's relationship to the Earth Spirit that this spirit will gradually become ever more understandable for human beings. We will see it in ever sharper outlines when we allow the activities of our own soul, the workings of our own spirit, to reveal to us what is in the heavens. In the ancient past, the heavens revealed to human beings what they needed to know for life on the earth; now people turn to the earth because it is, after all, a creation of the heavens. And by getting to know the genius or spirits that have their dwelling on earth we can learn something about the heavens.
This is the approach I took in my book An Outline of Occult Science. 9See Lecture Two, note 9. There I put down everything we can know from within ourselves. In fact, much of the contents of this book was taken from the Earth Spirit. This spirit, however, speaks about the Saturn epoch, the Sun epoch, the Moon epoch, and the Jupiter and Venus epochs of the earth. 10These names do not refer to present-day planets but to ancient evolutionary stages and are therefore capitalized. The Earth Spirit tells us what it has preserved of the universe in its memory. In ancient times, people looked out to the heavens to gain insight into the earth, but now they look into their own inner being and listen to what the Earth Spirit has to say there out of its cosmic memory. Thus, through understanding the Earth Spirit, people gain insight into the macrocosm. Of course, if we properly appreciated the significance of spiritual science and spiritual insight, then we would have to present Faust's conversation with the Earth Spirit differently than Goethe did — though Goethe's way was brilliant and ingenious at his time.
Nowadays the Earth Spirit would not speak in such general, abstract terms that express something that could just as well be a flowing wave of water. It is so mystically obscure because this flowing wave of water also sits at a loom and weaves! I know, of course, that many people love to have such vague things stirring in their soul. However, these vague things do not help us achieve the inner conscious solidity we need. Lines such as "Encompassing all, sustaining all" and "in the tides of life, in action's storm" always carry an element of reverie or intoxication; here we are always a bit beside ourselves, so to speak, and not completely anchored within ourselves. Granted, it gives people a pleasurable feeling to be a bit beside themselves,- some would even prefer to be completely beside themselves all the time and to learn about the world from all sorts of ghosts.
I say this to point out that we cannot help but turn to the Earth Spirit that lives within us. After all, if we accept the modern ideas of the natural sciences as they are presented to us in our civilization, then what they give us remains abstract and leaves human consciousness cold. But if we start wrestling with these concepts, even with the abstractions of Haeckel, something quite concrete will emerge that can be experienced directly. 11Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel, 1834-1919, German biologist and philosopher. First German advocate of Darwin's theory of evolution; formulated dictum "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny"; proposed that all nature is a unity, with life originating in crystals and evolving into the human species. Then the great realization will come to us that the indifferent ideas of natural science are only a mask. We will have to reach the point where we realize it is the genius of the earth that is telling us what we get there. We have to listen with our whole soul to what we hear at first only with our abstract intellect. And then we will understand in a concrete way what the Earth Spirit is saying.
Thus, we see how people in this age of the development of the consciousness soul have to struggle for an awareness of the world. We have to understand these things with our emotions so that we will approach the anthroposophical world view with our feelings, with our heart's blood, so to speak. It is this world view and not just isolated ideas about the world that modern people need to adopt if they want to understand themselves with the right feelings and thoughts according to my indications here.