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The Occult Movement in the Nineteenth Century
GA 254

Lecture III

16 October 1915, Dornach

Because other matters have still to be discussed, I will add only a brief episode today to the subjects of which we have been hearing during the last few days. Still more specific details will have to be given tomorrow in connection with the Occult Movement in the nineteenth century and its relation to civilisation and culture. I must, however, insert into the course of our studies a subject that is very important. You will remember certain things I have said in connection with von Wrangell's brochure, Science and Theosophy, and when I repeat them you will realise that from the point of view of Spiritual Science great significance must be attached to the advent of materialism and the materialistic world-conception in the nineteenth century; simply to adopt an attitude of criticism would be quite wrong.

A critical attitude is always the easiest when something confronts one. It is therefore essential to realise that the current in the evolution of humanity which may be called the materialistic view of the world arose in the nineteenth century quite inevitably. It has already been amply characterised, but two aspects may be described which will make its whole significance doubly clear to us.

In the form in which it appeared in the nineteenth century, as an actual view of the world, materialism had never hitherto existed. True, there had been individual materialistic philosophers such as Democritus and others—you can read about them in my book Riddles of Philosophy—who were, so to speak, the forerunners of theoretical materialism. But if we compare the view of the world they actually held with what comes to expression in the materialism of the nineteenth century, it will be quite evident that materialism had never previously existed in that form. Least of all could it have existed, let us say, in the Middle Ages, or in the centuries immediately preceding the dawn of modern thought, because in those days the souls of men were still too closely connected with the impulses of the spiritual world. To conceive that the whole universe is nothing more than a sum-total of self-moving atoms in space and that these atoms, conglomerating into molecules, give rise to all the phenomena of life and of the spirit—such a conception was reserved for the nineteenth century.

Now it can be said that there is, and always will be, something that can be detected like a scarlet thread, even in the most baleful conceptions of the world. And if we follow this scarlet thread which runs through the evolution of humanity, we shall be bound to recognise at very least the inconsistency of the materialistic view of the world. This scarlet thread consists in the simple fact that human beings think. Without thinking, man could not possibly arrive even at a materialistic view of the world. After all, he has thought out such a view, only he has forgotten to practise this one particle of self-knowledge: You yourself think, and the atoms cannot think! If only this one particle of self-knowledge is practised, there is something to hold to; and by holding to it one will always find that it is not compatible with materialism.

But to discover the truth of this, materialism must be recognised as what it really is. As long as man had, as it were, a counterfeit idea of materialism, an idea in which spiritual impulses were still included, he could hold fast to the fragment of spirit he still sought to find in the phenomena of nature, and so forth. Not until he had cast out all spirit through the spirit—for thinking is possible only for the spirit—not until through the spirit he had cast out spirit from the structure of the universe could the materialistic view of the world confront him in all its barrenness. It was necessary that at some time man should be faced with the whole barrenness of materialism. But what is also essential here is to reflect about thinking. That is absolutely indispensable. As soon as we do so, we shall realise that the barren vista presented by materialism had necessarily to appear at some point in evolution in order that men might become aware of what actually confronts them there.

That is one aspect of the matter, but it cannot be rightly understood unless its other aspect is presented. Materialistic picture of the world—space—in space atoms, which are in movement—and this is the All. Fundamentally, it is an outer consequence, a mirage of one side of space and the atoms moving within it, that is to say, those minute particles of which, as we have shown in earlier lectures, genuine thinking will not admit the existence. But ever and again men come to these atoms. How are they found? How does man come to assume their existence?

Nobody can ever have seen atoms, for they are conjectures, inventions of the mind. Apart from the reality, therefore, there must be some instigation which prompts man to think out an atomistic world. Something must instigate the proclivity in him to think out an atomistic world—nature herself most assuredly does not lead him to form an atomistic picture of her! With a trained physicist—and I am not speaking hypothetically here for I have actually discussed such matters with physicists—with a trained physicist one can speak about these things because he has knowledge of external physics. He could never have hit upon atomism! He would have to say—as indeed was the conclusion reached by shrewder physicists in the eighties of last century: Atomism is an assumption, a working hypothesis which affords a basis for calculation; but let us be quite clear that we are not dealing with any reality.—Thoughtful physicists would prefer to keep to what they perceive with the senses, but again and again, like a cat falling on its feet, they come back to atomism.

Mention has often been made of these things since I gave the lectures on the Theosophy of the Rosicrucian in Munich,1In 1907. and if you have studied what has been elaborated through the years, you will know that the rudiments of the physical body were imparted to man on Old Saturn, that he then passed through the Old Sun and Old Moon evolutions, and then, during the Old Moon period received into his organism, into what existed of his physical organism at that time, his nerve-system.

It would, however, be quite erroneous to imagine that during the Old Moon epoch the nerve-system was similar to what presents itself today to an anatomist or physiologist. In the Old Moon epoch the nerve-system was present as archetype only, as Imagination. It did not become physical, or better said, mineral in the chemical sense, until the Earth-period. The whole ramified nerve-system we now have in our body, is a product of the Earth. During the Earth's development, mineral matter was incorporated into the imaginative archetypes of our nerve-system, as well as into the other archetypes. That is how our present nerve-system came into being.

The materialist says: With this nerve-system I think, or I perceive. We know that this is nonsense. To get a correct idea of the process, let us picture the course of some nerve in the organism (see diagram). But now let us follow different nerves which run through the organism and send out ramifications, like branches. A nerve has, as it were, a stem from which branches spread out; these branches come into the neighbourhood of others and then still another filament continues on its way. (The diagram is, of course, only a very rough sketch.)

Figure 1

Now how does man's life of soul take its course within this nerve-system? That is the question of primary importance. We can form no true conception here if we consider the day-waking consciousness only; but if a man thinks of the moment when, together with his ego and astral body, he slips out of the body and therefore also out of the nerve-system, and especially of the moment when he slips into the body again on waking, he will have a peculiar experience. During sleep, in his ego and astral body he has been outside his nerves; he slips into the nerves again and is actually within them during his waking life; in the act of waking he feels himself streaming, as it were, from outside into the nerves.

The process of waking is much more complicated than can be conveyed in a diagram.—Through the day, together with his soul, man is within his body, filling it to the uttermost limits of the nerves. It is not as though the physical body were filled with a kind of undifferentiated mist; the organs and various organic structures are pervaded individually. As he passes into the different organs, man also slips into the sensory nerve-filaments, right to the very outermost ramifications of the nerves.

Let us try to picture it vividly.—Again I will make a sketch but can draw it only as a kind of mirrored reflection. I can draw it only from the outside, whereas in reality it ought to be drawn from within. Suppose here (diagram, p. 56) is the astral body and here the sensory “antennae” extending from it.—What I am drawing is all astral body.—It sketches certain antennae into the nerve fibres.

Now suppose the sleeves of my coat were sewn up and I were to slip my arm into the coat—suppose I had a hundred arms and were to slip them in this way into what would amount to sacks. With these hundred arms I should come up against the places where the sleeves are sewn up. In the same way I slip into the physical body, right to the ends of the nerve-fibres. As long as I am in the act of slipping in, I feel nothing; it is only when I reach the point where the sleeves are sewn up that I feel anything. It is the same with the nerves; we feel the nerve only at the point where it ends. Throughout the day we are within the nerve-substance, touching our nerve-ends all the time. Man does not realise this consciously but it expresses itself in his consciousness willy nilly. Now man thinks with his ego and astral body and we may therefore say: Thinking is an activity that is carried over by the ego and astral body to the etheric body. Something from the etheric body also plays a part—its movement at any rate. The cause of consciousness is that in acts of thinking I continually come to a point where an impact occurs. I make an impact at an infinite number of points but I am not conscious of this. It comes into consciousness only in the case of one who consciously experiences the process of waking; when he passes consciously into the mantle of his nerves he feels as if he were being pricked all over.

I once knew an interesting man who had become conscious of this in an abnormal way. He was a distinguished mathematician, conversant with the whole range of higher mathematics at that time. He was also, of course, much occupied with the differential and integral calculus. The “differential” in mathematics is the atomic, the very smallest unit that can be conceived—I cannot say more about it today. Although it was not a fully conscious experience, this man had the sensation of being pricked all over when he was engrossed in the study of the differential calculus. Now if this experience is not lifted into consciousness in the proper way, by such exercises as are given in the book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds. How is it achieved?—very strange things may occur. This man believed that he was feeling the differentials all over him. “I am crammed full of differentials”, he said. “I have nothing integral in me.” And moreover he demonstrated in a very ingenious way that he was full of differentials!

Now try to envisage these “pricks” vividly. What does a man do with them if they do not reach his consciousness?

Figure 2

He projects them into space, fills space with them—and they are then the atoms. That, in truth, is the origin of atomism. If there is a mirror in front of you and you have no idea that it is a mirror, you will certainly believe that there, outside, is another collection of people. In the same way man conceives that the whole of space is filled with what he himself projects into it. This entire nerve-process is reflected back into man owing to the fact that he comes up against it (as a kind of barrier). But he is not conscious of this and so he conceives of the whole of surrounding space as being filled with atoms: the atoms are ostensibly the pricks made by his nerve-endings. Nature herself nowhere obliges us to assume the existence of atoms, but the human constitution does. At the moment of waking man dives down into his own being and becomes inwardly aware of an infinite number of spatial points within him. At this moment he is in exactly the same position as when he walks up to a mirror, knocks up against it—and realises then that he cannot get behind it. Similarly, at the moment of waking a man comes up against his nerve-endings and knows that he cannot get beyond them. The whole atomic picture is like a reflecting-screen. The moment a man realises that he cannot get behind it, he knows how things are.

And now think of a saying of Saint-Martin which I have quoted on previous occasions. What does a natural scientist say? He says: Analyse the phenomena of nature and you find the atomic world! We, however, know that the atomic world is simply not there; the truth is that our nerve-ends alone are there. What then, is there where the atomic world is conjectured to be? Nothing is there! We must remain at the mirror, at the nerve-ends. Man is there; and man is a reflecting apparatus. When this is not recognised, all kinds of things are conjectured to lie behind him. The materialistic view of the world arises, whereas in reality, it is man who must be discovered. But this cannot happen as long as it is said: Analyse the phenomena of nature—for this results in atomism. It should rather be said: Try to get beyond what is mere semblance, try to see through semblance! And then it will not be said: ... and you find the atomic world, but rather, and you find man! And now call to mind what Saint-Martin said as a kind of prophecy without fully understanding it himself: “Dissipez vos ténèbres materiels et vous trouverez l'homme.” This is exactly the same thing, but it can only be understood with the help of what we have here been considering.

Through the way in which we are bringing Spiritual Science into connection both with Natural Science and also with its errors, we are fulfilling a longing that has existed ever since there were men who had some inkling of the fallaciousness of the modern materialistic view of the world.—When we think of the intrinsic character of our own conception of the world, the fact of untold significance that strikes us is this: Spiritual Science is there because it has been longed for by those who have had a feeling for the True, for the Truth which alone can bring that of which modern humanity stands in need.

In the lecture tomorrow I shall show you why error was bound to arise when the attempt with Spiritualism was made in the nineteenth century. I have indicated to you in many ways that it was a matter of suggestions exercised by living men, whereas it was believed that influences were coming from the dead. The dead can be reached only by withdrawing into those members of man's psychic being which can be lifted out of the physical body. The life of the human being between death and a new birth can be known only through what can be experienced outside the physical body; therefore mediums—using the word in its real meaning—cannot be used for this purpose. More about this tomorrow, when what is said will also be connected with the subject of the life after death.