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Practical Course for Teachers
GA 294

II. On Language—the Oneness of man with the Universe

22 August 1919, Stuttgart

We shall now have to build up gradually the principles outlined in the last lecture. You will have seen, no doubt, from what was discussed yesterday that much will have to be changed and revised even in the details of instruction.

Now just think back a little on what I brought to your notice in the previous lecture.1Rudolf Steiner: The General Study of the Human Being as the Basis of Pedagogy, Second Lecture. Phil.-Anthrop. Press, Dornach, Switzerland. With my analysis in mind you can really see man as a being with three centres, in which sympathy and antipathy meet. We can then say: “Antipathy and sympathy meet even in the head.” We can simply take as a formula the case of the nervous system being intercepted at a certain point in the head for the first time, so that the sense-perceptions penetrate, and encounter antipathy from the individual. In such a case you see that you must think of each separate system as repeated again in the whole person, for the activity of the senses as such is really a fine activity of the limbs, so that the sphere of the senses is primarily pervaded by sympathy, and antipathy is sent out from the nervous system. If, for instance, you imagine sight, a kind of sympathy develops in the eye itself: the blood vessels of the eye; antipathy radiates through this sympathy: the nervous system of the eye. This is the origin of sight.

But a second, and for us a more important encounter, between sympathy and antipathy, occurs at the centre of the human system. Here, again, sympathy and antipathy encounter one another, so that a meeting between sympathy and antipathy ensues midway in the human system, in the breast-system. Here, again, the whole individual is active; for while sympathy and antipathy meet in us, in our breast we are conscious of their conflict. But you also know that this meeting is expressed in our carrying out—let us say—an instantaneous reflex action on receiving an impression, and in this reflex action we do not think much about it, but we swiftly repulse something or other which threatens us with danger; we repulse it purely instinctively. Other more subconscious reflex movements are then further reflected in the brain, in the soul, and the whole again acquires the character of an image. We accompany with imagery the conflict in action between sympathy and antipathy in our breast-system. In so doing we no longer realize clearly that a meeting between sympathy and antipathy is in question. But the breast is the scene of a process intimately bound up with the whole life of the individual. A meeting between sympathy and antipathy is in progress which is significantly bound up with our external life.

We develop a certain activity of the whole individual which expresses itself as sympathy, as an activity of sympathy. We allow the constant interplay between this activity of sympathy and a cosmic antipathy to take place in our breast-system. The expression of these conflicting sympathetic and antipathetic activities is human speech. And a distinct accompaniment by the brain of this encounter of sympathy and antipathy in the breast is the comprehension of speech. We trace speech with an understanding of it. In speech there are really present an activity which takes place in the breast and a parallel activity which takes place in the head, only that the breast is much more positive in this activity; in the head it has faded into an image. When you speak, you have all the time the breast-activity, and you accompany it at the same time with an image of it, with an activity of the head. You will easily see from this that speech is really built up on a persisting rhythm of sympathetic and antipathetic activity—like feeling. Speaking, too, is primarily anchored in feeling. The thought content of our speech is introduced by our accompanying the content of feeling with the content of knowledge and perception. But we shall only learn to understand speech if we really see it as fundamentally anchored in human feeling.

Now, as a matter of fact, speech is doubly anchored in human feeling: once, in all the feeling with which the individual confronts the world. With what feelings does he confront the world? Let us take a clear feeling, a clear shade of feeling: for instance, astonishment, amazement. As long as we remain in the individual, in this microcosm, with our soul, we experience astonishment, amazement. If we find ourselves able to establish the cosmic link, the cosmic relation, which can be bound up with this feeling-shade of astonishment, this astonishment becomes the sound o.2Extract from Eurythmy as Visible Speech referred to at end of this volume. (see inset)






as in

father )




say )




feet )




light )




how )




joy )




room )

The sound o is really nothing less than the action of breath in us when this breath is caught inwardly by astonishment, by amazement. You can understand the o, therefore, as the expression of astonishment, of amazement.

Lately the world's superficial method of observation has linked speech with something external. People have asked themselves: “What is the origin of the connections between sounds and the meaning of sounds?” People have not realized that everything in the world makes a feeling-impression on the individual. In some manner every single thing reacts upon human feeling, even if often quite delicately, so that it remains half-unconscious. But we shall never have a thing in front of us which we can describe by a word containing the sound o, unless somehow we feel astonishment, even if this astonishment is very subdued. If you say “stove” (German: Ofen) you say a word with o in it, because in “stove” there lies something which excites a subdued astonishment in you. Speech is grounded in this way in human feeling. You stand in a relation of feeling to the whole world and you respond to the whole world with sounds which express the relation of feeling in some way. As a rule, you see, people have only dealt with these things very superficially. They imagined that we imitated in speech the barking or growling of the animal. Accordingly a theory was evolved—the famous “Bow-wow theory”—according to which everything is imitation. These theories are dangerous because they are quarter-truths. When I imitate the dog and say “bow-wow”—that expresses the shade of feeling which lies in “ow”—I transpose myself into his condition of soul. Not in the sense of this theory, but on a detour, by transposing oneself into the condition of soul of the dog, is the sound formed. Another theory supposes that every object in the world conceals a tone; as, for instance, a bell contains its own tone. Based on this conception, the so-called “Ding-dong” theory was evolved. These two theories exist: the Bow-wow theory and the Ding-dong theory. But a person can only be understood by entering into the nature of speech as the expression for the world of feeling, for the relations of feeling, which we develop in response to things.

Another shade of response is that feeling-shade which we experience in the face of emptiness, or blackness, which, of course, is related to emptiness: this is the feeling-shade of fear, the feeling-shade of alarm. It is expressed by u, oo as in room. For fullness, for whiteness, light, and everything related to light or whiteness, including sound related to light, we have the feeling-shade of marvelling admiration, of wonder, of reverence: the a. If we have the feeling that an external impression is to be warded off, that we have, as it were, to avert our gaze from it, to protect ourselves, if, that is, we have the feeling that we must put up a resistance, this expresses itself in e. And if, again, we have the opposite feeling, of indicating, of approaching, of union, this expresses itself in i.

With these (we may go into all details later, as well as into diphthongs) we have the most important vowels, with the exception of one which is less common in European countries and which expresses a stronger emotion than all the others. If you try to produce a vowel by forming a sound in which a, o, u are all sounded, it means a feeling, at first, it is true, of fear, but an identification of oneself, in spite of it, with the former object of fear. The profoundest veneration would be expressed by this sound. The sound, as you know, is especially frequent in Oriental languages, but it also proves that the Orientals are people capable of developing great veneration—whereas it is absent from Occidental languages, because in the Occident we find people whose veneration is not their strongest point.

This survey gives us a picture of inner soul-stirrings expressed in vowels. All vowels express inner soul-emotions as experienced in sympathy with things. For even when we are afraid of a thing our fear is founded on some secret sympathy. We should not have this fear at all unless we had some secret sympathy with its object. In considering these facts you must be careful to take one complication into account. It is comparatively easy to observe that o is connected with astonishment, u with fear and alarm, a with wonder, reverence, e with resistance, i with approach, and aou with awe. But you will find the observation obscured by the facility with which confusion arises between the feeling-shades which you experience on hearing the sound and those you experience in making the sound. They are different. Of the feeling-shades which I have mentioned, you must remember that they are valid for communicating the sound. If, then, you wish to convey some emotion to someone by sound, these observations hold good. If you want to convey to someone that you yourself are afraid, or have had anxiety, you express it by u. One's own fear, and one's desire to excite fear in another person by making the и sound, are not the same feeling-shade. You will much more easily excite the echo of your own fear, if you want to excite fear, by saying to a child, for instance: “U-u-u-!” It is important to consider this in the light of the social significance of speech. If you take it into account you will readily make the above observation.

This experience through the vowels is manifestly a pure inward soul-process. This soul-process, actually the direct outcome of some sympathy, is often encountered by antipathy from outside. This occurs through the consonants, through the accompanying sounds. When we combine a vowel with a consonant, we always combine sympathy and antipathy, and our tongue, our lips, and our palate are really intended solely to function as antipathy-organs, to ward things off. If we spoke only in vowels, in self-sufficing sounds, we should have a simple relation of surrender towards things. We should actually identify ourselves with the flux of things, we should be very unegoistic, for we should develop the deepest possible sympathy with them; we should only draw back in response to the shade of sympathy in our feelings, for instance when we felt fear or horror, but in this very withdrawal sympathy would still be present. In the degree in which the vowels refer to the sound made by ourselves do the consonants refer to the description of the things themselves; the sound of things accompanies them. That is why you will find that the vowels must be sought out as shades of feeling.

Consonants fbm, etc., must be sought out as imitations of external things. Therefore, in showing you, yesterday, f by the fish, I was right in so far as I imitated the outward form of the fish. Consonants can always be traced back to imitations of external things; vowels, on the other hand, to the quite elementary expression of human shades of feeling about things. Consequently, you literally can understand speech as a meeting between sympathy and antipathy. The sympathies always reside in the vowels, the antipathies in the consonants, the accompanying sounds.

But we can understand speech formation in still another way: what really is that sympathy which is expressed in the “breast-man,” so that he brings antipathy to a standstill and the “head-man” merely accompanies it? It is essentially music exceeding certain limits. An experience of music disintegrates, exceeds a certain limit, “outwits” itself, as it were, becomes something more than a mere musical experience. That is: in the degree in which speech consists of vowels, it contains something musical, but in the degree in which it contains consonants, it contains something plastic, a painter's experience. And speech expresses a real synthesis, a real fusion of musical with plastic elements in man. You can see from this that in speech not only the natures of separate individuals are expressed by a kind of unconscious nuance, but, in fact, the natures of human communities. In German we say “Kopf.” “Kopf” expresses in its whole setting “roundness” form. Thus not only for the human head do we say “Kopf,” but for cabbage “Kohlkopf.” In German we express the form of the head in the word “Kopf.” The Roman did not express the form of the head; he said “caput,” and thereby expressed something psychic. He expressed the comprehending, understanding power of the head. He drew his name for “head” from a quite different source. He indicated on the one hand the sympathy of soul, mind (gemüt), and on the other the fusion of antipathy with the outer world. Just try to get a clear idea from the principal vowel of the source of the difference: “Kopf”—astonishment, amazement! The soul feels some astonishment, some amazement about anything round, because roundness in itself is bound up with all that produces astonishment, amazement. Take “caput:” the “A”—reverence. When a person makes a statement you have to accept its demand to be understood. You have to accept another person's statement in order to comprehend it.

In this way, in taking these things into account, you will be saved from the abstraction of going by what stands in the dictionary: For one language this word, for another language that. But the words of the separate languages have been derived here and there from quite different relations. It is utterly superficial to wish to compare them directly, and translating by the dictionary is really the worst translating. If in German we have the word “Fuss” (foot), that is because in our step we make a void, a furrow (Furche). Fuss is connected with Furche. We derive the name for foot from the action of making a furrow. The Romance languages derive “pes” from standing firm, having a point of stability. This linguistic study, so illuminating in teaching, this linguistic study of meanings, is completely absent in science, and it is easy to answer the question: Why is science still not enriched by things which, after all, could be of real practical help?

The reason is that we are still in the process of working out what is necessary for the fifth post-Atlantean period, particularly for education. If you take language in this way, as expressing something inward in its vowels, as indicating something external in its consonants, you will find yourself easily able to make drawings of consonants. Then you will not only need to use the material I give you in the next lectures, but you will be able to make pictures yourself, and so establish by yourself the inner contact with the children, which is far better than merely assimilation adopting the outer picture.

We have, then, recognized that speech is a relation of man to the cosmos. For man by himself would be content to admire, to be astonished; but his relations to the cosmos demand sound from his admiration, from his astonishment.

Now man is embedded in the cosmos in a peculiar way. It is easily possible from quite superficial comparisons to observe his rooted-ness in it. I say what I am saying now because—as you already saw from my previous lecture—much depends on the nature of our feelings to the growing human being, on our reverence for the growing being as a mysterious revelation of the whole cosmos. It is tremendously important to develop this sense as educators and teachers.

Now take, again, from a rather wider point of view the significant fact that the human being takes 18 breaths in a minute. How many breaths does he take in a day? 18 ×60 ×24 = 25,920 breaths in a day. But I can also calculate it by taking the number of breaths in 4 minutes, that is, 72. I should then, instead of multiplying 24 by 60, only have to multiply 6 by 60, that is multiply by 360 the number of breaths in 4 minutes, and my result would still be 25,920 breaths in a day (360 ×72 = 25,920). We can say: Every 4 minutes the process of breathing—breathing in, breathing out, breathing in, breathing out—is, as it were, a little day, and in multiplying this number by 360, the sum 25,920 is like a year in comparison, and the day of 24 hours is a “year” for our breathing. Now take our larger breathing-process which takes place in our daily alternation from waking to sleeping. What do waking and sleeping really mean? The meaning of waking and sleeping is that we are “breathing something in” and “breathing something out.” We breathe out the ego and the astral body when we fall asleep, and we breathe them in again when we wake up. We do this within the space of 24 hours. If we take this day, to have a corresponding year we must multiply it by 360. That is, in the course of a year we accomplish in this breathing something similar to the little day-long breathing-process in which we multiplied the breath of 4 minutes by 360: if we multiply by 360 the time between waking and sleeping which is passed in a day, we have the time spent between waking and sleeping in a year: and if, further, we multiply one year by our average span of life, that is by 72, the result is again 25,920. Now really you already have a twofold breathing-process: our fourfold breathing in and out, occurring 72 times, and making 25,920 times in a day; our waking and sleeping, occurring every day, 360 times in a year, and 25,920 times in our whole life. Then you have a third breathing-process, if you follow the sun in its revolution. You know that the point at which the sun rises every spring appears to proceed gradually every year, and the sun takes in this way 25,920 years to go round its whole orbit: here, too, then, in the “Platonic cosmic year” (Precessional Period), the same number 25,920.

How is our life poised in the world? We live 72 years on an average. Multiply this number by 360, and again you get 25,920. So you can visualize that the “Platonic year,” the sun's revolution round the worlds, which takes 25,920 years, has for its day our human life, so that we, in our human life, can look on the process which takes a year in the whole universe, as one breath, and can understand our human span of life as a day in the great year of the universe, so that again we can reverence the minutest process as a reflection of the great cosmic process. If you look at it more closely, the “Platonic year,” that is the course which is completed in the “Platonic year,” is a reflection of the entire process, which, since the old Saturn-evolution, through sun, moon, and earth-evolution, etc., up to Vulcan, has been taking place. But all the processes which take place in the way I have described are arranged as breathing-processes in terms of the number 25,920. And the process which takes place with us between waking and sleeping expresses again the process which took place during the moon-evolution, which is taking place during the earth-evolution, and which will take place during the Jupiter-evolution.3See Rudolf Steiner, Occult Science, World-evolution and Man, Philosophical-Anthroposophical Press of the Goetheanum, Dornach, Switzerland. It is an expression of our kinship with what is beyond earth. And our minutest breathing-process, which takes four minutes, expresses the force which makes us earthly beings. We must say, then: “We are earthly beings through our breathing-process; through our alternation from waking to sleeping we are moon, earth, and Jupiter beings; and through the interplay of our life's course with the conditions of the cosmic year we are cosmic beings. In the cosmic life, in the whole planetary system, one breath embraces a day of our existence; our seventy-two years of life are one day for that Being whose organs form the planetary system.” If you rise above the illusion that you are a limited being, if you comprehend what you are, as a process, as an interplay in the cosmos, what you are in reality, you can then say: “I myself am a breath of the cosmos.”

You may understand this in such a way that its theoretical aspect remains a matter of complete indifference to you, and it is simply a process about which once in a while you were quite interested to hear, but if you retain from it a sense of infinite reverence for what is mysteriously expressed in every human being, this sense will deepen within you to form the necessary inspiration for teaching and education. We cannot, in the education of the future, proceed by introducing into the process of education the external life of the adult. The scene is fearful to contemplate if in future people are to assemble in parliaments on a basis of democratic election, in order to decide the manifold question of teaching and education, acting on the opinions of those whose sole claim to a thorough realization of the situation is their democratic sense. If the situation were to develop as it promises now in Russia, the earth would abandon her appointed task, would be withdrawn from its fulfilment, would be unseated in the universe, and be frozen up.

The time is now ripe for man to extract what is necessary for education from his knowledge of the relation of man to the cosmos. We must permeate our whole education with this feeling: the growing being stands before us, but he is the continuation of what has taken place in the super-sensible before he was born or conceived. This feeling must arise from a knowledge such as we have just applied in the consideration of vowels and consonants. This feeling must permeate us. And only when, in actual fact, this feeling permeates us, shall we really be able to distinguish rightly. For do not imagine that this feeling is unfruitful! Man is so organized that with rightly directed feeling he can himself from these feelings derive his own guiding forces. If you do not achieve this vision in which every human being is a cosmic mystery, you can alternatively only get the feeling that each human being is a mere mechanism, and the cultivation of this feeling that the human being is a mere mechanism would, of course, mean the collapse of earthly civilization. The rise of this civilization, on the contrary, can only be sought in the permeation of our impulse for education by the experience of the cosmic significance of the whole being. We only acquire this cosmic feeling, however, as you see, by looking on the contents of human feeling as pertaining to the time between birth and death, and by regarding our human thinking as an indication of pre-natal processes, and on the human will as an indication of life after death, of the embryonic future or the embryo-to-be. In the threefold human being before us we have first the pre-natal experiences, then the experiences between birth and death, and thirdly what is after death; only that the pre-natal experiences loom into our life in the form of pictures, whereas what is after death is already present in us before death, like a seed.

Again, only through these facts do you get an idea of what really happens when one human being enters into a relation with another. If you read the old authorities on the art of teaching, for instance Herbart, so excellent for bygone times, you always have the feeling: They are operating with concepts with which they cannot approach reality at all; they remain outside reality. Only think how sympathy, rightly cultivated in the earthly sense, penetrates all willing. What lies in us as a seed of the future, as a seed of the after-death, through the will, prevails through love and sympathy. Because of this all that is involved in the will—so that it can be rightly checked or cultivated—must be pursued in education with quite peculiar love. We shall have to assist the sympathy already present in the individual by appealing to his will. What, then, will have to be the real impulse prompting the education of the will? It can be no other than the cultivation of our own sympathy with the pupil. The better the sympathies we cultivate with him, the better will be our educational methods.

And now you will say: “But as the education of the intellect, because it is permeated by antipathy, is the opposite of the education of the will, we should have to cultivate antipathies if we wish to educate the pupil from the point of view of his reason, his intellect!” And that is true; only you must understand it rightly. You must establish these antipathies on the proper footing. You must try to understand the pupil himself correctly if you wish to educate him correctly for the life of ideas. Your understanding itself contains the element of antipathy, for this is inherent in it. By understanding the pupil, by trying to penetrate into the feeling-shades of his being, you become the educator, the teacher, of his reason, of his perception. Here already reside the antipathies, but you make them good by educating the pupil. And you can rest assured: We are not brought together in life unless our meeting is conditioned beforehand. What appear to be external processes are really always the external expression of something inward, however extraordinary this may seem to the superficial view of the world. The fact that you are here to instruct and educate the Waldorf children and all that they represent, certainly points to the Karmic kinship of this group of teachers with just this group of children. And you are the right teachers for these children because you have formerly developed antipathies for these children, and you free yourself from these antipathies by educating the reason of these children now. And we must cultivate sympathies in the right way by producing the right kind of will-training.

Be clear, then, as to this: You can best try to penetrate to the dual being, “man,” by the methods tried in our discussion of training.4See The Art of Education, periodical of the pedagogy of Rudolf Steiner, fifth year, numbers 5 and 6. But you must try to penetrate to every side of the human being. By following out the methods practised in our teachers' training course,5The discussion was on the study and treatment of children's temperaments. you will only become a good educator for the child's life of ideas. You will be a good teacher for the child's life of will if you try to surround each individual child with sympathy, with real sympathy. These things belong to education, too: antipathy, which enables us to comprehend; sympathy, which enables us to love. Because we have a body, and through it centres at which sympathy and antipathy meet, these insinuate themselves into that social human intercourse which is expressed in education and teaching. I beg you to feel this through and through.