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The Cosmic Word and Individual Man
GA 224

2 May 1923, Stuttgart

Translated by Adam Bittleston

In present-day anthroposophical life we must begin to develop an art which was one of the arts of the old Mysteries—those Mysteries which were based on a quite different kind of knowledge from that of to-day, and yet possessed in their customs, and in their whole way of conducting affairs, a great deal that has been lost, and must be renewed. The art I mean can be described, quite in accordance with the intentions of the old Mysteries, thus: from words there must be drawn Spirit. But when, in the old Mysteries, they spoke of Word, or Logos, they meant something very much more significant than is generally meant to-day. We have to learn to find again a deeper and deeper meaning in the objects and processes of the world—and in this sentence, once more: Spirit must be drawn forth from words.

To speak of the human being as consisting of physical body, etheric body, astral body, Ego, and so on, is really very abstract. For this reason we have tried on many occasions to describe what is really meant by these members of man's being. It is always possible to go further in such descriptions, and so to approach nearer to spiritual reality. To-day we shall consider the human etheric body, describing what is discovered by super-sensible vision about the real being of this human etheric body. We should not stop at the vague conception conveyed by describing how the etheric body is related to the physical body, how it differs in substance, and so on. Such descriptions are only approximate, and only by developing these approximate descriptions very much further do we penetrate to reality.

We know that when, under earthly conditions, the human being goes to sleep, the etheric body remains within the physical body, and that—as we have always described it—the astral body and the Ego leave this physical body and etheric body. The life of the astral body and Ego is still so weak, at the present stage of their cosmic development, that they are not capable of conscious experience between falling asleep and awakening. We have often discussed, up to a point, the subconscious experiences through which the astral body and the Ego pass during this time.

But to-day we shall look back at what is left behind in bed when a human being is asleep, and in particular at the etheric body. In this way we shall treat the term “etheric body” so as to draw out the Spirit from it, by that art of which I said just now that it was cultivated in the ancient Mysteries. Looking at this etheric body, we shall consider its real nature, as it is beheld super-sensibly, when the human being is asleep.

We see the physical body grow still. We see the human being unable to move his limbs—unable also to pour his will through his bodily form, so as to make use of his senses. The relation of the external world to his senses does not change. But the relation of the senses to the external world changes, inasmuch as the human being becomes inwardly still. Just as externally his arms and legs are still, in his organs of perception his will is not active in the delicate movements of response to the external world which are necessary for sense-perception. But it is a complete mistake to believe that the sense-organs themselves, or more exactly the sites of the sense-organs, are not filled by any activity during sleep. Over its whole extent, the physical body rests—but the human etheric body becomes all the more active and inwardly mobile between falling asleep and awakening. This is a characteristic fact: in the same measure as the functions of the physical body come to rest, at and after the moment of falling asleep, a more and more lively activity of the etheric body begins.

This lively activity of the etheric body streams out, in particular, from the senses. If the super-sensible gaze is directed upon the sleeping human being—that is to say upon the part of the human being present in the physical frame—then it is found that from those places where the sense-organs are located, a continual lively activity streams inwards. This is the life of the etheric body, or vital body during sleep.

For example, from the moment of falling asleep there is a particular process which originates from the region of the human eyes. It is as if, through the influence of light during the waking period, the eye had stored up forces for an activity that develops only after sleep begins. And this is in fact an etheric activity. In the same measure as the influence of light and colour from outside upon the eye is darkened, the eyes themselves begin, like two phosphorescent suns, to irradiate the interior of the physical part of the sleeping human being. The interior space of the human being is illumined by a phosphorescent, glimmering light. It is not surprising that this light, which streams into the interior of the human being, cannot be seen in the ordinary way. External, physical eyes do not see what goes on in the interior of man; there is no organ within the physical body which could immediately perceive this phosphorescent glow.

One of the inner activities of the etheric body in the human being during sleep can be described in this way. Into this there flows a further process. What a man can still observe while he is going to sleep—a kind of humming and singing, a changing murmur within his organism—continues during sleep itself as a music, extraordinarily rich in melody and harmony, which also fills the whole interior of man during sleep. From falling asleep to awakening, this musical activity continues. And the Ego and astral body, which are outside the physical and etheric body, receive strong impressions from this—from what they have left behind, the resounding music in the etheric body. And while it resounds in music, the etheric body is at the same time radiant with light. But the impression made upon the Ego and the astral body remains unconscious.

In the same way, etheric streams of warmth flow into the interior of man from the whole surface of the skin. The result—with much else that is more remote from what we perceive in the external world as warmth, light, and sound, and is thus difficult to describe—is an immensely beautiful and impressive living and streaming activity of the human etheric body.

Distinct, like an island, there stand out from the general etheric life of the cosmos this particular music, and radiance, and flooding stream of warmth. They stand out for inner reasons—which are rooted in the very existence and being of man himself. They belong to man's individual etheric body. And this flooding warmth, this phosphorescent glow, this resounding music—it is these that detach themselves, a few days after man's death, as etheric body from the astral body and Ego, and flow out into the general cosmic ether.

Many of you may have noticed how, after attending a concert the previous evening, one may wake up with the feeling that the soul has been listening again to the same music; as if the whole concert had been repeated for the soul during sleep. But this is a more complicated process than for the ordinary consciousness it appears to be. In reality the soul is emerging from the impressions of the cosmic music, which resounds in an individualised form in the human etheric body. But when the human being returns into the etheric body, all that I have described as going on in the etheric body is blotted out for consciousness by the perceptive activity of the physical body. And the human soul translates what is really individualised cosmic music into the recently-experienced earthly sounds. They are in a sense the clothing assumed by the cosmic music at the moment of awakening, because it has something in common with the stream of sound received at the concert. Because in the ordinary consciousness man cannot perceive the cosmic music, it is clothed in the sounds taken from earthly experience that are most nearly comparable to it. This is the real experience behind the phenomenon most of you may have met at some time.

You see what complex processes are embraced in the human etheric body. And if the attempt is made to penetrate further—using the methods with which penetration into such realms is possible—then it can be observed that in reality this flowing warmth, this gentle phosphorescent glow, this living music, are an outer revelation of cosmic beings. All that I have described is the external clothing, the revelation, the glory of mighty cosmic beings. And these beings disclose themselves as those we know from anthroposophical writings as the Exusiai. I have often named these Exusiai Revelations, because they live, in accordance with their inner nature, in the shining stream which during earthly sleep flows from the human sense-organs towards the interior of man. In this stream the weaving life of those beings we name Exusiai is revealed.

And now, with the same methods with which one observes these revelations of the human senses, so active in their etheric substance during sleep, these streams can be followed further along their course into the interior of man's organism. If one is looking at some shining object, one can follow the line from the eye towards this object. It is to be found somewhere on this line that leads outwards, the visual line. In the same way you can follow inwards from the senses the streaming, flooding etheric radiance.

There is not so far to go; very soon something different is reached. The mild phosphorescent glow, proceeding from the eyes; the living music, which comes from the region of the organs of hearing; the streaming warmth, which goes inward from the whole surface of the skin—all these become an organically coherent etheric system. (When one observes the waking human being, one sees the etheric body in activity—the physical body of course as well—and this activity is somewhat different from that I have described for sleep; the activity then extends a little outside the physical body.) Now one sees how all that streams and flows and shines inwards, from the senses and from the whole skin, is formed into a shell-like copy of man, but within him, extending to a certain depth. From the eyes, one sees this phosphorescent glow, inwards, changing into something I will describe in a moment. The streaming warmth goes inwards from the skin, attains a certain thickness like a shell, and then forms a kind of etheric organism which is compounded of the living music, the glowing light, the streaming warmth, intermingled with one another. All these, and much else, flow through one another, influence one another mutually, and form an organism—the etheric organism of man. If one contemplates this etheric organism with spiritual vision, and begins to understand its phenomena, one is bound to describe it as consisting simply of the forms of thoughts, of flowing thoughts. What is flowing within it is everywhere Thought.

If one were to follow this inner activity of the etheric body during sleep, in its continual fluctuation, and then draw it at a particular moment, one would draw of course lines, or coloured forms. But to describe the substance of these lines or coloured forms one could only say: it is as if thoughts were starting to flow. What lives otherwise in the activity of thought becomes an ever-changing flood and flow. It is the thought-process of the Universe individualised. This individualised thought-process of the Universe reveals itself as individualised Logos. One cannot really say: this forming of thoughts, which streams and weaves within man, connected with these movements shining in from the senses, is only thought. For it speaks. It speaks indeed a silent language, but one that can be perceived as belonging to the interior of man. It speaks indeed—as all things through the Logos speak to us—in an individual form, expressing in an inner Word, that can be perceived spiritually, the essential being of Man.

Thus when we proceed further inwards from the senses there appears to us: the human speech that is directed inwards. It can really be said: the Ego and astral body of man, which from falling asleep to awakening are outside the physical and etheric bodies, are unconscious, as far as the ordinary consciousness is concerned. But they do experience what is happening. And just as they experience the etheric activity of the senses during sleep, as an inward streaming and flowing, they experience too during sleep the etheric body as individualised Logos. Speech, which otherwise is directed outwards to the ears of our fellow men, is as if transformed, turned inwards etherically. It is as if we were to repeat inwards everything which we have said during the day, from waking to falling asleep—but in the opposite order, beginning with the evening and ending with the morning. In a silent language we repeat all that we have said from morning to evening—but in a way that reveals the whole nature of our soul. In so far as man's essential being is experienced in what is spoken, from morning to evening, this experience is manifested inwardly, from evening to morning, in the resounding, speaking, individualised Logos. And this resounding, speaking, individualised Logos brings to expression at the same time—writing, as it were, into the time-sequence of the etheric, in that gleaming, gently phosphorescent light—the occult script corresponding to everything that works inwardly during the night, as the other side of what is spoken during the day. (The same thing happens during every sleep, even during a daytime nap, but in a more fragmentary way.)

Looking at this still more closely, using the same methods through which the individualised Logos that weaves within man is revealed—seeking the ultimate reality, behind what is fundamentally only appearance—one finds all those hierarchical beings called in the anthroposophical writings Dynamis, who are above the Exusiai.

Thirdly—in this attempt to exercise the art of seeking the real being behind the words—we find the ultimate reality of what I once described as a kind of opposite vertebral column. Perhaps some of you remember how I described the human etheric body many years ago. In the periodical, Luzifer Gnosis, it is described how the streams that compose the etheric body as a whole work together to form a structure that lies towards the front of man, just as in the physical body the bony structure of the vertebral column, and the vertebral canal, lie towards the back. In the physical body we have this vertebral column and vertebral canal, running vertically. And in the etheric body we have a confluence, a radiating together of what I have just described, into a kind of opposite vertebral column—lying in relation to the physical body towards the front. And just as the nerves proceed from the physical vertebral column, and also the rib-bones, for example—in the same way the rays and the streams in the etheric body flow together into this other column. They do not proceed from it, but flow together and work together, with all that they contain, here in the front of the human etheric body.

The result is an exceptionally beautiful and impressive etheric organ. Particularly during sleep, it is revealed in its gleaming and glowing, its resounding and its manifold effects of warmth, its inner language. And beholding it more closely, one can see that this organ permeates what I once described (because these things must be described in vivid pictures) as the various Lotus-flowers. Thus you can realize how through this organ—which develops in this confluence of the etheric body, and connects with the streams of the astral body, forming the Lotus-flowers—man finds his connection with the external astral and cosmic universe.

This, too, is a manifestation. This, too, can be described as an appearance, and its true inner reality must be sought. This reality is found in the Hierarchy which in anthroposophical writings I have called the Kyriotetes.

You have now drawn out from the word “etheric body” its ultimate reality. It is a working and flowing and weaving together of the Exusiai, Dynamis, and Kyriotetes, who individualize their streaming, flowing, resounding, speaking activity, and form the human etheric body.

When we contemplate all that Kyriotetes, Dynamis, and Exusiai have formed and made individual, which shines and warms and sounds and speaks into the human physical body as the individual human etheric body—we have also reached man's astral body. For in this living activity of the Second Hierarchy, which streams from the Cosmos and is individualized in the human being, there is really contained the human astral body itself. This activity shows itself in the etheric body—it exists in the astral body.

Think of this whole activity, in which man is interwoven during sleep. For during sleep he is interwoven, unconsciously, with the activity of the Second Hierarchy. When he has gone through the gate of death, man needs this whole activity. For he must live on within it, when he has laid aside the etheric body as such; when after some days this sounding, this living music, this gently phosphorescent glow, these streams of warmth, have flowed away. When all this has flowed into the cosmic Universe, when one has observed the glow extending more and more widely, but growing fainter and fainter, and the music growing softer.... Really this should be described differently. When these regions are described it becomes natural to explain a thing by its polar opposite. It would correspond better to the perceptions of one who has died if I were to say: what is at first like a silent resounding—but one that is perceptible within man—becomes louder and louder, spreading outwards. But just because it grows louder this is perceived as a fading away of the inner etheric music; it can no more be perceived by the being of soul and spirit, who for the earth has died. For this being no longer has physical ears—and physical ears would be needed.

It is similar with the other experiences of man in the first days after death. Then he feels himself in his astral body. But again it is only the external side, a word, if one says: Man is now in the Soul-World. I have described it in this way in my book Theosophy, in accordance with the perceptions of the soul-organ most immediately accessible by man. But for the universal, cosmic intelligence, developed in cosmic realms, this region reveals itself as an interwoven activity of the beings of the Second Hierarchy.

Observe what sort of existence it is, at first, within the activity of the Second Hierarchy after death. Between birth and death the human being lives on earth, alternating between waking and sleeping. During waking, although his soul is woven into the activity of Exusiai, Dynamis, Kyriotetes, he is compelled to plunge down continually into the forms of the physical body. During sleep he lives with the etheric body, but this, too, imposes an individual quality on the activity of the spiritual beings, in accordance with the forms of the physical body. Thus the work of the Second Hierarchy has to absorb what the human being is, morally—whether he is good or evil, devoted to error or to truth. The activities appropriate to the beings of the Second Hierarchy are individualised according to what man is, as good or evil earthly man, as earthly man living in truth or in error. But account must be taken of what these beings of the Second Hierarchy, according to their own essential nature, purpose to do for the being of man.

Let us assume that a human being has a relation to a particular Being belonging to the Hierarchy of the Dynamis. Through this is developed, with the help of an Archangel as intermediary, the faculty of speech in man's organism. But in the development of this faculty the work of the Dynamis is in a sense dislocated, and distorted into triviality. And when a human being uses his words to say something evil, something filled with hatred, this work of the Second Hierarchy is violently dislocated. And it must be restored again. The human being must not live on after death in those forms which he has given to all I have described through his moral or immoral being. He must strip them off, and find his way into the living work of the Second Hierarchy. This stripping off of the dislocations, of the trivializations—this stripping off of those uses of the work of the Second Hierarchy which distort it into its opposite—this is accomplished by all that I have described as the passage of man through the Soul-World. And then man has ascended to what I spoke of in Theosophy as the World of Spirits, when he can follow with his own Ego-being, with his innermost being of soul and spirit, those activities which correspond to the Being of the Dynamis and Kyriotetes.

You see—in this way, through the art that seeks out the reality in words, the Being of Man can be described once again. We get nearer and nearer to a real picture of this Being. Just as one might indicate on the blackboard the distribution of the figures in a picture by Raphael, say the Sistine Madonna, with a few characteristic strokes—the words physical body, etheric body, astral body and Ego are only an indication. The reality is living activity, inwardly full and rich; and in this activity the Beings of the Cosmos, in realm's of body, soul, and spirit, are revealed. In the end one comes always to Beings.

If anything is described as if it were vaguely extended in Space or swimming in Time, or as a Physical World, Etheric World, and so on—it is the manifestation which is being described. It is like describing a swarm of gnats seen in the distance, so that the particular gnats cannot be distinguished, only a grey patch in the air. In the real world, what are at first called etheric body, astral body, are such grey patches. If one looks closely at these grey patches in the physical air, one discovers the particular existing gnats. If one looks closely at these spiritual grey patches, “etheric body”, “astral body”, one always discovers Beings.

To Beings one must come at last in all understanding of the world. For Beings alone are real. Anything comes into existence only through the co-operation of Beings—presenting then an unreal appearance to unclear vision. Just as in the unreal grey cloud the gnats are the real, particular beings—everywhere in the world it is particular Beings that are at work, and the rest is illusion, arising from the co-existence of Beings. Physical matter, too, is an illusion of this kind—something of the nature of a Being underlies everything. Men must understand this again, in order not to speak of something that is not really there: of Matter—or (which is no better) of Spirit in general—in order to learn to speak about beings, individual Beings of the universe.

Once, in the old Mysteries, they knew how to speak about the Beings of the universe. They knew that realities could not be described by talking either of Matter or of what is called Spirit in the ordinary consciousness—a grey spirituality, conceived pantheistically as present in all things. They knew that if one wants realities, one must have particular Beings. But consciousness of these Beings has gradually been lost—to the same degree that in Man himself the equality of individual being has developed more and more. As I have often said, Man has become more and more intellectual ever since the first third of the fifteenth century. What he knows about himself becomes more and more abstract. But behind this abstract life there is a being living more and more within itself; increasingly rich in inner spirituality. Man lost the dreamy consciousness he once possessed of the Beings of the universe, in becoming a self-apprehending being himself. He must realize again that only when we can point to individual Beings in the universe do we grasp realities.

It was the necessary course of human evolution to see Being everywhere in ancient times, but in a dreamy consciousness. Then the time came, when things were felt in the following way. The realities consist of all these Beings, living in the Cosmos: Kyriotetes, Dynamis, Exusiai, Archai, Archangeloi, Angeloi, human Egos, animal group-souls, the cosmic souls of the plants and so on. Not even the animals, as they live on earth, are realities; they too are illusion; the realities are the group-souls. The whole plant world on earth is no reality; the earth-soul is the reality. Plants are only as hair upon the earth organism, like the hair upon our own organism. Men knew that all these Beings I have named existed in the universe, and shine out, manifesting themselves, revealing themselves in speech. They knew that this expression in speech proceeded from their essential being. And that universal resounding, which arises from the confluence of what is spoken by the particular Beings in self-revelation, this is the Logos. But to begin with, the Logos was also only an Appearance. Only because Christ united this appearance, and made it concrete in His own Being, was through the Mystery of Golgotha the apparent Logos born upon earth as real Logos.

We must understand the connection of these things. Then the particular Beings can be described spiritually—how they shine, with gentle phosphorescence, and resound: how they spread streaming warmth, how they speak out their own essence. For each particular Being a full spiritual Form can be found in this way. And these full spiritual Forms are the only real things in the universe. In the old dreamy consciousness they knew a great deal about these realities. But this knowledge has shrunk more and more. Once it was known: Form shines out in this way from a certain Being who is reckoned among the Kyriotetes, in this way from human Egos, in this way from Angels, and so on. All this shrank, and contracted at last into a point, because the realities were seen less and less.

Originally they knew very well how the manifestations of the Exusiai, for example, differ from the manifestations of the human Egos, or these from the manifestations of the group-souls of the animals or of the plant Earth-soul. The differences were known, but gradually they fell into unconsciousness. A time came, when there was only the feeling: Yes, there are such realities, everything else is not real ... Space is not real, Time is not real, Matter is not real, Spirit in vague generality is not real—but cosmic individualities are real. But they could no longer be distinguished. And so they were described with the uniform word Monad. Leibnitz and Giordano Bruno spoke of Monads in this way. These Monads were the Realities I have spoken of, shrivelled up small. And no distinction was made between one Monad and another—or at most by tacking on an attribute to the word: the Monads of the Exusiai, the Monads of men, the Monads of animals, and so on.

And at last men lost the power even to speak about the Monads—to which the great German thinker ascribed a conceptual faculty, because he felt that spirit did indeed live in what had shrunk to the Monad. We have not only to remember that the Monad is something living; if human civilization is not to fall into decay, but develop further, we must not only remember the Monads, but we must understand once more, and now with a clear, enhanced consciousness, that all true reality consists in living, ensouled spirit-beings. And what is sketched first with a few lines—physical body, etheric body, astral body—must be brought to life, in the way we have done today.

And so one reaches the point of seeing man's soul and spirit-nature interwoven with the Beings of the second Hierarchy. One observes how man goes from earthly life to earthly life, and how from life to life a compensating cosmic Justice, a Karma, is at work. And here, too, considering this power at work in the Cosmos, one need not stop at the abstractions “Karma”, or “universal Justice”, or “moral world order”—but can go on to the realities.

Beginning with the etheric body, a description can ascend to the second Hierarchy, and therewith describe the human astral body as well. Just in the same way, one can begin with the astral body, and take hold of Thinking, Feeling, and Willing in the astral body, as they fade away at the moment of falling asleep, and go out with the astral body. If one begins there, and looks for the realities, one finds the following.

In our human Thinking there lives the activity of the Angels. In our human speech, which springs from Feeling, there lives for man as he sleeps during the night the activity of the Archangels. And in what is revealed in waking life through human movement of the limbs, through all that is imbued with Willing—and which also goes on in the astral body—there lives during the night, when the astral body is outside, the world of the Archai.

But what lives outside in this way, these super-sensible activities of Archai, Archangels, and Angels, which are reflected in the waking human being in Willing, Feeling, and Thinking—these must be harmonized with the etheric and physical bodies. The physical body must be formed in such a way that it can become the organ of thought, of speech, and of movement. One sees then how the activity of the Kyriotetes, Dynamis, and Exusiai passes over into a still higher activity: that of the Thrones, who bring human Willing into accord with the physical human organism, the human metabolism and limbs. Then we come to the Hierarchy of Cherubim, who bring the human faculty of speech into accord with its physical basis. In all that serves speech or song in the organism, or anything similar to speech—the Cherubim bring the human life of Feeling into accord with the organs of speech. And now the faculty of Thought must also have its physical organ in the human nerves and senses. It is the Seraphim who bring Thinking into accord with the nerves and senses of man. Speech, and all that is connected with it, is brought into accord with Thinking and Feeling by the Cherubim.

Thus we see, when we have threefold Man before us:—

In the organism of nerves and senses, in the basis of Thinking, the creating Seraphim.

In all that is the rhythmic man, which must as physical organism be brought into harmony with the faculty of speech—in all this we see the creating Cherubim.

In all that is expressed in the movement of the human limbs, in all activities of Will, for which the inner structure of metabolism and limbs must be present in man, harmony is accomplished by the Thrones.

From this we see how the physical human form dissolves into appearance, and behind it there stand as realities: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones. We are always looking into the activity of the Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones, when the human Ego is interwoven with its inner activity, when man in waking life moves, speaks, feels, and thinks.

In this way we can find again a renewed Mystery wisdom for men; a Mystery wisdom which once more exercises the art of releasing Spirit from the word—of finding real Being in what is at first only sketched in a few lines as physical Man, etheric Man, astral Man. Real Being consists always in individual Spirits, who bear in experience within them what is of the nature of Soul, and who create what is outwardly manifest, the physical. Only existent Spirit-individualities are real. Their expression as Soul comes about because these individual Spirits experience themselves inwardly, and each other in mutual stimulus. That a physical world exists is because these Spirits (who have been rendered abstract as Monads and then have disappeared altogether from human observation) reveal themselves in creation, according to their various stages of existence. We can go back from the created world, which is really nothing but the outer Glory of creating Beings, to the world of experience, of Soul—which is the self-experience of the world of individual Spirits. And when we go on to the true reality, we come to the individual Spirits themselves, of whom the Universe is the revelation and the life.

As long as man stands upon Earth, he lives among the revelations of the individual Spirits. Between death and a new birth he must behold and pass through in full reality the individual Spirits in their own immediate forms. And in order to complete his development he must achieve the passage from the beholding of the spiritual realities in their true form to the order of Earth, in which he does not behold the individual Spirits, but in which they show themselves as it were only from outside, in their outer garments.

But if earthly life is not to fall into complete decay, man must learn once more to behold, and to know, and to understand, through the outer garment, the individual Spirits belonging to a higher world. Then man will see how his whole life consists in a struggle and effort among all that is outer garment of the Divine, and in a life within the Being of the Divine. But he can achieve a right existence within the Being of the Divine only if he develops himself more and more in the true beholding of the outer garment. He must learn to penetrate to the Being through the outer garment. He must not stop at the outer description, but press on to the inner life.

When once this is attempted by a considerable number of human beings, there will be the dawn of a future Earth-evolution, and of the metamorphosis of earthly being into the forms of Jupiter, Venus, and Vulcan. The Anthroposophical Society must unite human beings who feel themselves today as the nucleus of what must spread to wider and wider circles in human civilisation, that progress in the evolution of mankind may really come about, and that earthly life may not fall into decay.