Man as Symphony of the Creative Word
Part Three. The Plant-World and the Elemental Nature-Spirits
The World-Word is not some combination of syllables gathered from here or there, but the World-Word is the harmony of what sounds forth from countless beings.
3 November 1923, Dornach
Yesterday I spoke to you about the other side of nature-existence, about those super-sensible and invisible beings which accompany the beings and processes visible to the senses. An earlier, instinctive vision beheld these beings of the super-sensible world as clearly as we behold the world of the senses. Today, these beings have withdrawn from human view. It is only because this company of gnomes, undines, sylphs and fire-beings is not perceptible in the same way as animals, plants and so on, only to this is it due that man, in the present epoch of his earth-evolution, is not in a position to unfold his soul-spiritual being without the help of his physical and etheric bodies. In the present situation of earth evolution man is obliged to depend upon the etheric body when making use of his soul, and upon the physical body when making use of his spirit. The physical body, which provides the instrument for the spirit, the sense-apparatus, is not adapted to entering into connection with the beings which exist behind the physical world. It is the same with the etheric body, which man must use to develop his soul-being. Through this, if I may put it so, half of his earthly environment escapes him. He passes over everything connected with these elemental beings about which I spoke yesterday. To this world the etheric and physical bodies have no access. We gain an idea of what actually escapes the man of today when we realize what such gnomes, undines, and so on, actually are.
We have, you see, a whole host of lower creatures — lower at the present time — those beings which consist only of a soft mass, which live in the fluid element, and have nothing in the way of an articulated skeleton to give them inner support.
They are creatures which belong to the latest phase of earth-development; creatures which only now, when the earth has already evolved, develop what man — the oldest earth-being — already developed in his head-structure during the time of ancient Saturn. These creatures have not progressed so far as to form within themselves that hardening of the substance which can become the supporting skeleton.
It is the gnomes which, in a spiritual way, make good in the world what the lower orders of the animals up to the amphibians lack. This applies also to the fishes, which have only indications of the skeleton. These lower animal orders only become complete, as it were, through the fact that gnomes exist.
And just because the conditions of the beings in the world are very different, something arises between these lower creatures and the gnomes which I yesterday called antipathy. The gnomes do not wish to become like these lower creatures. They are continually on the watch to protect themselves from assuming their form. As I described to you, the gnomes are extraordinarily clever, intelligent beings. With them intelligence is already implicit in perception; they are in every respect the antithesis of the lower animal world. And whereas they have the significance for plant-growth which I described yesterday, in the case of the lower animal world they actually provide its completion. They supply what this lower animal world does not possess. This lower animal world has a dull consciousness; the gnomes have a consciousness of the utmost clarity. The lower creatures have no bony skeleton, no bony support; the gnomes bind together what works as the force of gravity and make their bodies from this volatile, invisible force, bodies which are, moreover, in constant danger of disintegrating, of losing their substance. The gnomes must ever and again create themselves anew out of gravity, because they continually stand in danger of losing their substance. Because of this, in order to retain their own existence, the gnomes are constantly attentive to what is going on around them. As far as earth-observation goes no being is more attentive than a gnome. It takes note of everything, for it must know everything, grasp everything, in order to preserve its life. A gnome must always be wide awake; if it were to become sleepy, as men often do, this sleepiness would immediately cause its death.
There is a German saying of very early origin which aptly expresses this characteristic of the gnomes, in having always to remain attentive. People say: Pay heed like a goblin. And goblins are in fact the gnomes. So, if one wishes to make someone attentive, one says to him: Pay heed like a gnome. A gnome is really an attentive being. If one could place a gnome as an object lesson on a front desk in every school classroom, where all could see it, it would be a splendid example for the children to imitate.
The gnomes have yet another characteristic. They are filled with an absolutely unconquerable lust for independence. They trouble themselves little about one another and give their attention only to the world of their own surroundings. One gnome takes little interest in another. But everything else in this world around them, in which they live, this interests them exceedingly.
Now I told you that the human body forms a hindrance to our perceiving such folk as these. The moment this hindrance is removed, these beings are there, just as are the other beings of nature for ordinary vision. Anyone who comes so far as to experience in full consciousness his dreams on falling asleep is well acquainted with these gnomes. You need only recall what I recently published in the “Goetheanum” on the subject of dreams. I said that a dream in no way appears to ordinary consciousness in its true form, but wears a mask. Such a mask is worn by the dream when we fall asleep. We do not immediately escape from the experience of our ordinary day consciousness. Reminiscences well up, memory-pictures from life; we perceive symbols, sense-pictures of the inner organs — the heart as a stove, the lungs as wings — all in symbolic form. These are masks. If someone were to see a dream unmasked, if he were actually to pass into the world of sleep without the beings existing there being masked, then, at the moment of falling asleep, he would behold a whole host of goblins coming towards him.
In ordinary consciousness man is protected from seeing these things unprepared, for they would terrify him. The form in which they would appear would actually be copy images of all those qualities in the man which work as forces of destruction. He would perceive all the destructive forces within him, all that continually destroys. These gnomes, if perceived unprepared, would be nothing but symbols of death. Man would be terribly alarmed by them, if in ordinary consciousness he knew nothing about them, and was now confronted by them on falling asleep. He would feel entombed by them — for this is how it would appear — entombed by them over yonder in the astral world. For it is a kind of entombment by the gnomes which, seen from the other side, takes place on falling asleep.
This holds good only for the moment of falling asleep. A further complement to the physical sense-world is supplied by the undines, the water-beings, which continually transform themselves, and which live in connection with the water just as the gnomes live in connection with the earth. These undines — we have learned to know the role they play in plant-growth — also exist as complementary beings to those animals which stand at a somewhat higher stage, which have assumed a more differentiated earthly body. These animals, which have developed into the more evolved fishes, or also into the more evolved amphibians, require scales, require some sort of hard external shell. The forces needed to provide certain creatures with this outer support, this outer skeleton — for these forces the world is indebted to the activity of the undines. The gnomes support spiritually those creatures which are at a quite low stage. Those creatures which must be supported externally, which must be clad in a kind of armour, they owe their protective sheath to the activity of the undines. Thus it is the undines which impart to these somewhat higher animals in a primitive way what we have in the covering of our skull. They make them, as it were, into heads. All these beings which are invisibly present behind the visible world have their great task in the economy of existence. You will always notice that, where materialistic science wishes to explain something of the kind I have just developed, there it breaks down. It is not in a position, for instance, to explain how the lower creatures manage to propel themselves forward in an element which is scarcely harder than they are themselves, because it does not know about the presence of this spiritual support from the gnomes which I have just described. Equally, the formation of an armour-like sheath will always create a difficulty for purely materialistic science, because it does not know that the undines, in their sensitivity to, their avoidance of their own tendency to become lower animals, thrust off from themselves what then appears upon the somewhat higher animals as scales or some other armour-like covering.
Again, in the case of these beings, it is only the body which hinders the ordinary consciousness of today from seeing them just as, for example, it sees the leaves of plants, or the higher animals.
When, however, man falls into a state of deep, dreamless sleep, and yet his sleep is not dreamless, because through the gift of inspiration it has become transparent, then his spiritual gaze perceives the undines rising up out of that astral sea in which, on falling asleep, he was engulfed, submerged by the gnomes. In deep sleep the undines become visible. Sleep extinguishes ordinary consciousness, but the sleep which is illumined by clear consciousness has as its content the wonderful world of ever-changing fluidity, a fluidity which lends itself in every possible way to the metamorphoses of the undines. Just as for day consciousness we have around us beings with firm contours, a clear night consciousness would present to us these ever-changing beings, which themselves well upwards and sink down again like the waves of the sea. All deep sleep in the environment of man is filled with a moving sea of living beings, a moving sea of undines.
Matters are otherwise with the sylphs. They, too, provide a completing element to the being of certain animals, but now in the other direction. The gnomes and undines add what is of the nature of the head to those animals where this is lacking. Birds, however, as I described to you, are actually pure head; they are entirely head-organization. The sylphs add to the birds in a spiritual way what they lack as the bodily complement of their head-organization. They complement the bird-kingdom in regard to what corresponds to the metabolic limb-system in man. If the birds fly about in the air with under-developed legs, so much the more powerfully developed is the limb-system of the sylphs. They may be said to represent in the air, in a spiritual way, what the cow represents below in physical matter. This is why I could say yesterday that it is in connection with the birds that the sylphs have their ego, have what connects them with the earth. Man acquires his ego on the earth. What connects the sylphs with the earth, that is the bird-kingdom. The sylphs are indebted to the bird-kingdom for their ego, or at least for the consciousness of their ego.
Now when someone has slept through the night, has had around him the astral sea, consisting as it does of the most manifold undine-forms, and then wakes up with an awakening dream, then again, if this dream on awakening were not masked in reminiscences of life or sense-pictures of the organs, if he were to see the unmasked dream, he would be confronted by the world of the sylphs. But these sylphs would assume for him a remarkable form; they would appear much as the sun might if it wished to send to men something which would affect them adversely, something which would lull them spiritually to sleep. We shall hear shortly why this is the case. Nevertheless, if someone were to perceive his dream on awakening unmasked, he would see in it an inflowing, an actual inflowing of light. He would also experience this as unpleasant, because the limb-system of these sylphs would, as it were, spin and weave around him. He would feel as though the light were attacking him from all sides, as if the light were something overwhelming, something to which he was extraordinarily sensitive. Here and there, perhaps, he might also feel this as a caress of the light. But in all these things I only wish to indicate to you how the light, with its upholding, gently touching quality, actually appears in the sylph-form.
And when we come to the fire-beings, we find that they provide the completing element to the fleeting nature of the butterflies. A butterfly itself develops as little as possible of its actual physical body; it lets this be as tenuous as possible. It is, on the contrary, a creature of light. The fire-spirits appear as beings which complement the butterfly's body, so that we can get the following impression. If, on the one hand, we had a physical butterfly before us, and pictured it greatly enlarged, and on the other side a fire-being — they are, it is true, rarely together, except in the circumstances which I mentioned to you yesterday — then, if these two were welded together, we would get something resembling a winged man, actually a winged man. We need only increase the size of the butterfly, and adapt the size of the fire-spirit to human proportions, and from this we would get something like a winged man.
This shows you again how the fire-spirits are in fact the complement to those creatures which are nearest to what is spiritual; they complement them, so to say, in a downward direction. Gnomes and undines complement in an upward direction, towards the head; sylphs and fire-beings complement the birds and butterflies in a downwards direction. Thus the fire-beings must be brought together with the butterflies.
Now in the same way that man can, as it were, penetrate through the sleeping-dream, so can he also penetrate through waking-day life. But here he makes use of his physical body in quite a robust way. This, too, I have described in articles in the “Goetheanum”. Here also man is totally unable to perceive how, in his waking life, he could continually see the fire-beings, in that the fire-beings are inwardly related to his thoughts, to everything which proceeds from the head-organization. But when a man has progressed so far that he can remain completely in waking consciousness, but nevertheless stand in a certain sense outside himself, viewing himself from outside as a thinking being, while standing firmly on the earth, then he will become aware how the fire-beings form that element in the world which, when we perceive it, makes our thoughts perceptible from the other side.
Thus the perceiving of the fire-beings can enable man to see himself as thinker, not merely to be the thinker and, as such, call up the thoughts, but actually to behold how the thoughts run their course. Only then do the thoughts cease to be bound to the human being; then they reveal themselves as world-thoughts; they work and weave as impulses in the world. Then one notices that the human head only calls forth the illusion that thoughts are enclosed inside the skull. There they are only reflected; their mirrored images are there. What underlies these thoughts belongs to the sphere of the fire-beings, one sees in these thoughts not only the thoughts themselves, but the thought-content of the world, which, at the same time, is actually an imaginative content. This is the force which enables us to arrive at the realization that thoughts are world-thoughts.
I venture to add: When we behold what is to be seen upon the earth, not from the human bodily nature, but from the sphere of the fire-beings — that is, from the Saturn-nature which has been carried into the Earth — then we gain exactly the picture of the evolution of the earth which I have described in “Occult Science — an Outline”. This book is actually so composed that the thoughts appear as the thought-content of the world, seen from the perspective of the fire-beings.
You see, these things have in themselves a deep and real significance. But they also have a deep and real significance for man. Take the gnomes and undines: they are, so to say, in the world which borders on human consciousness; they are already beyond the threshold. Ordinary consciousness is protected from seeing these beings, for the fact is that these beings are not all benevolent. The benevolent beings are, for instance, those which I described yesterday as working in the most varied ways upon plant-growth. But these beings are not all well-disposed. And in the moment when man breaks through into the world wherein they live and are active, he finds there not only the well-disposed beings but the malevolent ones as well. And so one must first form a conception as to which of them are well-disposed and which of them malevolent. This is not so easy, as you will see from the way I must describe the malevolent ones. The main difference between the ill-disposed beings and the well-disposed is that the latter are always drawn more to the plant and mineral kingdoms, whereas the ill-disposed are drawn to the animal and human kingdoms. Some, which are even more malevolent, also desire to approach the kingdoms of the plants and the minerals. But one can gain quite a fair idea of the malevolence which the beings of this realm can have, when one turns to those which are drawn to human beings and animals, wishing in particular to consummate in man what is allotted by the higher hierarchies to the well-disposed beings for the plant and mineral world.
You see, there exist ill-disposed beings from the realm of the gnomes and undines, which make for human beings and animals and bring it about that what they should really impart only to the lower animals appears physically in human beings. Certainly, these things are already present in man, but their aim is that this element should be manifested physically in human beings as well as in animals. Through the presence of these malevolent gnomes and undine-beings, animal and plant life of a low order — parasites — exist in human beings as well as in animals. These malevolent beings are the begetters of parasites. The moment man crosses the threshold of the spiritual world, he at once meets the subtleties of this world. Snares are everywhere, and he must first learn something from the goblins — namely, to be attentive. The spiritualists can never manage this! Everywhere there are snares. Now someone might say: Why then are these malevolent gnome and undine-beings there, if they engender parasites? Well, if they were not there, man would never be able to develop within himself the force to evolve the structure of his brain. And here we meet something of extraordinary significance.
I will sketch this for you in a diagram. If you think of the human being as consisting of the metabolic-limb-man, of the breast-man, that is, the rhythmic system, and then of the head-man, that is the system of nerves and senses, there are certain things about which you must be quite clear. Here below processes are taking place — let us leave out the rhythmic man — and here above processes are again taking place. If you look at the processes taking place below as a whole, you find that in ordinary life their essential function is usually disregarded. These processes are those of excretion — through the intestines, through the kidneys, and so on — all of them having their outlet in a downwards direction. They are mostly regarded simply as excretory processes. But this is a misinterpretation. Excretion does not take place merely for the purpose of elimination, but to the same degree in which the products of excretion appear, something appears spiritually in the lower man which resembles what the brain is physically above. What occurs in the lower man is a process which is arrested halfway in regard to its physical development. Excretion takes place because the process passes over into the spiritual. In the upper man the process is completed. What below is only spiritual, there assumes physical form. Above we have the physical brain, below a spiritual brain. And if what is eliminated below were to be subjected to a further process, if the changes in its condition were to be continued, then its final metamorphosis would be preliminary to the human brain.
The human brain-mass is the further evolved product of excretion. This is something which is of immense importance, in regard to medicine for instance, and it is something of which doctors in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were still fully aware. Of course today people speak in a very derogatory manner — and rightly in many respects — of the old “quack-apothecaries”. But this is because they do not know that their potions still contained “mummies” of the spirit.
Naturally this is not intended as a glorification of what has figured as “quackery” in the past centuries, but I am drawing attention to many truths which have connections as deep as those which I have just cited.
It is a fact that the brain is a higher metamorphosis of the products of excretion. Hence the connection between brain illnesses and intestinal illnesses, and their cure.
You see, because gnomes and undines exist, because there is a real world in which they live, the forces are present, which, proceeding from the lower man, do indeed give rise to parasites, but yet, at the same time, bring about in the upper man the metamorphosis of the products of excretion into the brain. It would be absolutely impossible for us to have a brain, if the world were not so ordered that gnomes and undines can exist.
What holds good for gnomes and undines in regard to the destructive forces — for destruction, disintegration, also proceed in their turn from the brain — this holds good for sylphs and fire-beings, in regard to the constructive forces. Here again the well-disposed sylphs and fire-beings hold themselves aloof from men and animals, and busy themselves with plant-growth in the way I have described; but there are also those which are malevolent. These ill-disposed beings are above all concerned in carrying what should only have its place up above in the regions of air and warmth down into the watery and earthy regions.
Now if you wish to study what happens when these sylph-beings carry what belongs up above down into the watery and earthy regions, look at the belladonna. The belladonna is the plant, which, if I may put it so, has been kissed in its blossoms by the sylphs, and in it what could be beneficent juices have been changed into juices which are poisonous.
Here you have what may be called a displacement of spheres. It is right when the sylphs develop their enveloping forces up above, as I have already described, where the light touches the surface in a formative way — for the bird-world needs this. But if the sylph descends, and makes use below of what it should employ up above in the plant-world, a potent vegetable poison is engendered. Parasitic beings arise through gnomes and undines; through sylphs the poisons which are in fact a heavenly element which has streamed down too deeply on to the earth. When men or certain animals eat the belladonna, which looks like a cherry, except that it conceals itself in the calyx (in the very way it is pressed down you can see what I have just described) — when men or certain animals eat the belladonna, it is fatal to them. But just look at the thrushes and blackbirds; they perch on the belladonna and get from it the best food in the world. It is to their region that what is present in the belladonna belongs.
It is a remarkable thing that animals and man, who in their lower organs are in fact earth-bound, should experience as poison what has become corrupted on the earth in the belladonna, whereas birds such as thrushes and blackbirds, which should really get this in a spiritual way from the sylphs — and indeed through the benevolent sylphs do so obtain it — should be able to assimilate it, even when what belongs up above in their region has been carried downwards to the earth. They find nourishment in what is poison for beings more bound to the earth.
Thus you get a conception of how, on the one side, through gnomes and undines what is of a parasitic nature strives upwards from the earth towards other beings, and of how the poisons filter downwards from above.
When, on the other hand, the fire-beings imbue themselves with those impulses which belong in the region of the butterflies, and are of great use to them in their development — when the fire-beings carry those impulses down into the fruits, there arises within the species of the almonds, for instance — what appears as the poisonous almonds. This poison is carried into the fruit of the almond trees through the activity of the fire-beings. And yet the fruit of the almond could not come into existence at all if beings from this same world of the fire-beings did not in a beneficial way burn up, as it were, what is the edible part in other fruits. Only look at the almond. With other fruits you have the white core in the centre and around it the flesh of the fruit. With the almond you have the kernel there in the centre, and around it the flesh of the fruit is quite burnt up. That is the action of the fire-beings. And if this activity miscarries, if what the fire-beings are bringing about is not confined to the brown burnt-up shell, where it can still be beneficial, but something of what should be engaged in developing the almond-shell penetrates into the white kernel, then the almond becomes poisonous.
And so you have gained a picture of those beings which are just on the boundary of the world lying immediately beyond the threshold, and of how, if they carry their impulses to their final issue, they become the bearers of parasites, of poisons, and therewith of illnesses. Now it becomes clear how far man in health raises himself above the forces that take hold of him in illness. For illness springs from the malevolence of these beings who are necessary for the upbuilding of the whole structure of nature, but also for its fading and decay.
These are the things which, arising from instinctive clairvoyance, underlie such intuitions as those of the Indian Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Brahma represented the active Being in world-spheres which may legitimately approach man. Vishnu represented those world-spheres which may only approach man in so far as what has been built up must again be broken down, in so far as it must be continually transformed. Shiva represented everything connected with the forces of destruction. And in the earlier stages of the flower of Indian civilization it was said that Brahma is intimately related to all that is of the nature of the fire-beings, and the sylphs; Vishnu with all that is of the nature of sylphs and undines; Shiva with all that is of the nature of undines and gnomes. Generally speaking, when we go back to these more ancient conceptions, we find everywhere the pictorial expressions for what must be sought today as lying behind the secrets of nature.
Yesterday we studied the connection of this invisible folk with the plant-world; today we have added their connection with the world of the animals. Everywhere beings on this side of the threshold are interlocked with those from beyond it; and beings from beyond the threshold with those on this side. Only when one knows the living inter-working of both these kinds of beings does one really understand how the visible world unfolds. Knowledge of the super-sensible world is indeed very, very necessary for man, because in the moment when he passes through the gate of death he no longer has the sense-world around him, but now the other world begins to be his world. At his present stage of evolution man cannot find right access into the other world unless he has recognized, in physical manifestations the written characters which direct him over into this other world; if he has not learned to read in the creatures of the earth, in the creatures of the water, in the creatures of the air, and, indeed, in the creatures of the light, the butterflies, what leads him to the elemental beings which are our companions between death and a new birth. What we see of these beings here between birth and death is, so to speak, their crude, dense part. We only learn to recognize what belongs to them as their super-sensible nature when, with insight and understanding, we transfer ourselves into this super-sensible world.