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How the Spiritual World Interpenetrates the Physical
GA 261

How the Spiritual World Interpenetrates the Physical I

9 May 1914, Kassel

One of the repeated objections to the search for spiritual knowledge, in the last third of the nineteenth century, is this: when a man has passed through the gates of death he will see the nature of the spiritual life as lived without the physical body, but while here in the physical body attention must be paid to earthly life; here man should live as if the earth were his sole sphere of activity. A deeper study of Spiritual Science shows us increasingly what a superficial grasp of spiritual life is contained in such a statement. It teaches us that things are not really as though life in a physical body before death were entirely separate from life in the spiritual world after death, as if the one did not contact the other. We shall best come to a common understanding for study, if we consider what we already know of the connection of the spiritual life with physical life. Let us begin by reminding ourselves of what we have learnt from Spiritual Science about the alternating life of man between sleeping and waking. We speak of this rightly when we say: The Ego and astral body are outside the physical body during sleep. This is a sufficient answer for the immediate demand for knowledge, but only one aspect of the full truth; it is as though we were to say: the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening, and is not there in the interval. We know that for the earth this is not the case; we know that during the time the sun is not shining for us it is shining elsewhere, giving its light to other inhabitants of the earth when it is dark for us. It is much the same with the life of the Ego and astral body in. relation to that of the physical and etheric bodies, if we take a wide view of it. True, the Ego and astral body are outside the physical body during sleep, but only partially they are outside the blood and nerve-systems. When we all asleep the sun of our Ego and astral body sets in this way for the blood and nerve-systems; yet from the Ego and astral body outside, the forces radiate while we are sleeping into those organs not connected with the blood and nerves. Our body lives in two spheres. We live in one while awake, when we are ensouled by our Ego and astral body; and in the other when we sleep, in the sphere from which the radiations and force of our Ego and astral body pour into the activities of our body-with the exception of the functions connected with the blood and nerves. Actually during sleep we are in the spiritual world with our Ego and astral body—as it were inserted into it—and just those forces of the astral body and Ego of which man is unconscious in normal human life, stream into his bodily organs when he is asleep. Thus we see the enormous significance of sleep for healthy human life on earth. I will make this clear by a little diagram. Let us take (a) for the sphere of the spiritual world, and (b) our body on earth. I will then shade the part connected with the blood and nerves; the other contains the organs apart from the system of blood and nerves. This cannot really be so sharply divided, for in a certain sense the nerve and blood systems are themselves organs with activities of their own like the other organs; but in so far as they are instruments for the conscious soul-life they may be considered as ensouled and inspired by the Ego and astral body.

Figure 1

This same Ego and astral body are taken into the sphere of spiritual life during the night and they thence radiate their forces into the other organs of the body. Thus we may say: There is in our physical body something that is strengthened and revived by what our soul in its sleeping condition draws into itself from the spiritual world and with which it is permeated by the spiritual world. The sun of our Ego and astral body sets for the nerves and blood, in so far as the Ego is connected with the blood, and the latter is not merely bodily life. It sets for the blood and nerves when the human being sleeps, and shines into the other organs functioning in our body. From this fact we can easily understand that sleep is an important Healer, and that unhealthy sleep may be regarded as one of the most deep-seated causes of illness, especially in relation to certain inner functions of our bodily life. Spiritual Science shows us that the way in which our Ego and astral body leave the blood and nerve-systems during sleep and enter spiritual life, is a matter of great consequence. Such things as I am about to discuss can apparently be refuted easily by so-called external experience, but the Spiritual Scientist must become accustomed to the fact that these refutations are only apparent, and that what is actually derived from the observations of inward processes is true. If the outer facts seem contradictory, we must search and see in how far they are illusion. I will now give a concrete instance, verified by Spiritual Science, which has an important bearing on this point.

Human life changes with respect to many things, but certain fundamental facts of life remain constant for long periods. In the Middle Ages there existed a certain fear, the so-called fear of spirits, of all sorts of elemental beings and ghosts; this we now call mediaeval superstition. In our day the object has changed, but not the fear; for just as the people of the Middle Ages were afraid of ghosts-—those of the present time are afraid of bacilli and similar things. It might be said that ghosts are more respectable and more to be feared than bacilli. The change has come about through the fact that formerly people were of a more spiritual disposition; they were afraid of the elemental spirit-beings; while now as the disposition is more materialistic, the spirits must be of a physical nature. This corresponds better with the age of materialism. What I wanted to say, however, is that Occult Science reveals the fact that bacilli are nourished in the human body if they are to thrive. Human beings do cultivate them. Of course everyone in the present time will say that it would be silly to breed bacilli. This is not a question of principle of any kind, but of looking at things from the right standpoint. It cannot be denied that, as Spiritual Science teaches, an Ego and astral body which have been fed on materialistic ideas alone, and have rejected all spiritual conceptions and wished to have nothing to do with them, when they leave the body during sleep, send into the bodily organs forces from the spiritual spheres which are just what the bacilli need. Nothing better can be done for the rearing of bacilli than to carry crude material ideas into sleep-life; thereby calling forth Ahrimanic forces which stream into the body and become the cultivators of bacilli.

To form a proper judgment of all this, we must understand clearly that the moment we turn to the study of spiritual life, we immediately have to consider what is called human fellowship. For a common co-operation in fellowship is effectual in a far greater measure when working at spiritual matters than when only concerned with the physical plane. We might say that in order to have no harmful bacilli in our bodies, it is best to apply the remedy of falling asleep with spiritual thoughts in our minds. Perhaps that might become a remedy, if it were to be medically proved, so that the most materialistic people in times to come would allow spiritual thoughts to be prescribed for them; and something contributing to spiritual life might be hoped for in this way. But the matter is not so simple, for the importance of communal life really begins when we touch spiritual matters, and there we can say: it is perhaps of no advantage to the individual to cherish spiritual ideas if all those around him are breeding bacilli by their materialistic thinking; here the one breeds for the other. This is an important fact and we must bear it in mind. Therefore I must again emphasize what I have already told you, that Spiritual Science can only be fruitful in its service to humanity when it does not merely serve the individual. It is not enough for the individual to accept it; Spiritual Science must patiently wait until it can become a factor in civilization, until it grips the heart and soul of the many; then we shall see what it can do for man.

There is, however, something which affects the Ahrimanic beings in the bacilli just as strongly. I say Ahrimanic beings, for I can easily show you the difference between Ahrimanic and other beings—and even externally it can be easily seen. Around us we see Nature with her many creatures; all that lives outside in Nature draws its life from the good, wise and progressive beings. Everything having its existence in other organisms and preferring to thrive therein belongs to the creatures of a Luciferic or Ahrimanic order. All parasites are of Luciferic or Ahrimanic origin; if we remember this we can easily distinguish the differences in the nature-kingdoms. There is something, as I said, very helpful for Ahrimanic creatures when they infest the human body. Suppose we are living at the time of an epidemic or plague. Naturally at such a time we must look after others, and a strong human fellowship or co-operation comes into being, for the karmic conditions may actually be such that the one who in his individual life seems least likely to have the illness, falls a prey to it. Nevertheless—we must not be deceived by appearances—what I am going to say is generally true. If we are living among the sick or dying and have to absorb these pictures that are around us and then fall asleep with these pictures in our minds and if nothing is linked with them but selfish fear, the imaginations arising from these pictures in the soul during sleep become filled with this selfish fear, and that enables injurious forces to enter the human body. Imaginations of fear are really the fostering forces for the Ahrimanic enemies of man. When a noble disposition is present, so that egotistic fear retires and loving help for others prevails, and we pass into the sleep life, not with fearful imaginations but with the effects produced by loving help, this means destruction for the Ahrimanic enemies of humanity. It is quite true that by the encouragement of such an attitude we could put an end to epidemics, if we regulated our conduct accordingly.

Here I may indicate how some day (but it cannot be yet) the results of knowledge of spiritual life will be seen in the social life of humanity: human souls will become strong through spiritual knowledge, and those whose disposition is to accept spiritual Knowledge will work healingly on material life on earth.

Hence we see how unjustifiable the objection is, that while living on earth we need not bother about spiritual life. A great deal depends upon the kind of spiritual life we take with us into sleep while here on earth, for by it we mold our souls into good or bad instruments for the sending forth of forces from the spiritual world into those organs of the body which are not used as instruments by the soul in the day consciousness, but which function physically and chemically beneath the threshold of consciousness. Those functions which do not belong to the activity of nerves and blood in the human being but are simply of an organic nature-physical and chemical activity—those are not life functions such as obtain in the plant and mineral kingdoms, but functions into which the forces of the spiritual world flow during sleep. Therefore we see the importance of being able to carry spiritual knowledge into sleep life, and we realize the attitude of mind it creates. If there still is doubt as to the inter-working of the spiritual and physical worlds, we may, among other things, make the following remarks.

Let us imagine that some sort of climatic change were to corrupt the whole ground of the earth, so that nothing good for food could grow on it; we should then discover how important the earth's mineral and plant kingdoms are for man. If the earth were to decay under our feet, we should realize how much we need the lower kingdoms of earth, that human life may be sustained. What the ground and fruits are for our physical life that we are, as living beings with the activities of our souls, for those who have passed through the gates of death. It is a fact that the dead living in their sphere have need of a ground from which they may gather fruits. The following illustration will give an idea of this: Let us think of a crowd of people asleep, all filled with conceptions belonging to earthly life alone, materialistic ideas. This ground which they form for the dead, is just as sterile for them as waste, corrupt ground would be to us. The dead feel this as a region in which they starve.

Every spiritual conception which we take into our soul and carry into sleep helps, while we sleep, to create part of the ground needed by the dead, even as the mineral and plant kingdoms are needed by us. In a certain sense souls filled with spiritual ideas during sleep, form the fruitful spiritual basis for the nourishing of the dead; and we take away the nutriment which the dead need and which must be gathered on our earth, if we allow our souls to become desolate, i.e., empty of spiritual ideas—and conceptions. Here we see still more clearly the importance of cosmic spiritual knowledge, and its fruitfulness for the spiritual world itself. Just as our sleeping souls provide the ground from which the dead draw their sustenance, so, if we knowingly cause spiritual concepts to pass through our souls that helps the dead in their power of perception. For this reason I have advised those who have been bereaved to read to their dead. If we call them to mind, and read in thought something from Spiritual Science, or cause any other spiritual thoughts quietly to pass through our souls, our dead will perceive these. They observe them and are nourished by the unconscious after-effects of the spiritual ideas. Their own consciousness is refreshed or revived by means of what has been read to them. Here again we see constant intercourse between the physical and spiritual worlds. It may easily be suggested that the dead are in the spiritual world and that this method of reading can be of no use to them. Yes! They are in the spiritual world, but the concepts of Spiritual Science have to be formed on earth, and nowhere can they be conceived except in the minds of men on earth: the dead are indeed in a spiritual world and precisely there can these conceptions reach them and sustain them, and we enhance their consciousness if from earth we send these to them. As the most intimate connections exist between the dead and those amongst whom they have lived, the best persons to read to them are those who were friends and helpers before they died, or who have been closely related to them. If you cultivate such thoughts about the connections of the physical with the spiritual world, you will actually experience a new disposition, which truly in the greatest sense of the word must be called the religious disposition of the future. From such spiritual-scientific studies as have just been given, a disposition will be developed which in the highest sense deserves to be called religious, for he who thus acknowledges the spiritual world will build upon the foundations of the Divine Wisdom streaming through the Cosmos.

It is tremendously important that we should acquire this feeling of the ruling Wisdom in the Cosmos and that we should fill ourselves with it. When humanity is permeated by this feeling, it will, with a deep genuine confidence in the wise ruling Wisdom of the Universe, accept its destiny and all the strokes of destiny which are so hard to bear. When we observe the spiritual worlds in which the dead live, we can often see how much easier it is for the dead when the friends they left behind on earth are permeated with this ruling Wisdom of the Universe. Weeping over the dead is, of course, quite natural; but if we cannot put an end to our weeping it looks as though we doubted the ruling Wisdom of the Universe; and he who can look into spiritual worlds knows, that those who long for their dead to be here and not in the spiritual world, are doing the greatest harm to them. We very much help the dead in their life after death if we accept our destiny, and think of the dead as having been taken from us at the right moment by a good ruling Wisdom, because they were needed for other spheres of existence beyond earth. In the future much will depend on people helping more (not less) in all that touches the sorrows of humanity, having a clear knowledge that destiny is ever at work, and that if through Karma even death has befallen those who belong to them, this had to be. This must not prevent us, as long as a person is living, from doing all that is possible to help him when he is ill if he is amenable to treatment, but as human beings, we may not presume to go beyond what is allotted to us as such. We must be sure that the ruling Wisdom of the Universe is wiser than we are. This is all commonplace and trivial, but it is too little spoken of to-day. Great happiness would come to both the living and dead, if this knowledge were more generally circulated; if it could enter as a conviction into men's souls, if they could think of the dead as living, as having experienced a transformation of life, and not think of them as having been taken from them.

If we only observed a little of this connection between the physical and spiritual worlds, we should see the manifold ways in which the one world is intimately linked with the other, and that the affairs of the physical world only become clear when observed in the light of the spiritual world. If with reference to anything that happens to us in the physical world we could but succeed in finding the spiritual causes of some stroke of fate or misfortune, we should look beyond it, and understand that what seems supremely sad may be understood at the fount of Cosmic Wisdom. We must emphasize this over and over again. It does not alter the fact that much suffering may come to us; but it does alter our attitude to it, we do not sink under it and shut ourselves egotistically in our sorrow, or withdraw from the world's life, which we certainly ought not to do. Many other things are similarly linked together and precisely these significant incidents teach us the falsity of the saying that we need not trouble about the spiritual life during our physical life on earth. For the bringing of spiritual ideas, feelings and convictions into physical earth-life is of great importance. Let me now add some examples to what I have told you to-day. Examples will show us clearly the truth of what I have been saying.

A person well-known to some of the members of our Society died before attaining middle age. If a person dies early in life, about the beginning of the thirties, it is often asked: What is the meaning of this? Why should a person be cut off from earth life in the first third of his physical life on earth? When we traced this person back, to describe what she was as an individual, we came to an earlier incarnation about the third or fourth century after Christ, in which she had acquired certain forces, of which we may say that, civilization being as it was at that time, these and similar soul-capacities did not really belong to that period. The time had not arrived when the talents then acquired by the soul of this individual could be used. She was born again in a new life, became one of our members and died before the first half of her life, the ascending part, had been completed. In this case we could immediately see, on studying the whole connection of the physical with the spiritual, that this person was one of the most important and significant workers with us in all our Cosmic work.

Materialism is rampant in our times, it puts its stamp on earth-life more than we realize. In our day particularly, materialism is so strong that those beings of the higher Hierarchies whose task it is to carry on the progress of Cosmic evolution actually cannot rescue all the souls who have to-day become materialistic. These must not be left behind, they must be saved; yet their salvation can only be accomplished by the death of certain souls at an early age, who take with them into the spiritual world the forces which would otherwise have been used in the course of their earth-life, and which they then transmute so that they may help the beings of the higher Hierarchies who are working for the redemption of the materialistically-minded souls. Persons who have thus died early in life, are a wonderful help to the higher beings. Now in the case of the soul to which I am referring, something special resulted. She brought with her into her latest incarnation the powers which could not be fully used in her earlier life, poured them as it were into her body, which became weak and ill because of the penetration of these forces. The soul was too powerful for the body; it really contained very great powers. This person died at the above mentioned early age, and, with the forces which instead of being weakened by age remained at their youthful strength, she passed through the gates of death into the spiritual world, still possessing the fund of strength which would have served a long life in that incarnation, and filled to overflowing with earthly force would have so poured itself into the body, as to bring the same into relationship with the external world. Instead she was able to take up spiritual ideas enthusiastically and thus to bring a great supply into the spiritual world. When we trace this individual, who was dear to a large number of our friends, we may learn a great deal from her. What we see in her is, that at a definite time (in this case about the Third or Fourth Century A.D.) certain forces appeared on the path of human evolution which could not be brought to fulfillment then, and that the work to be done through these forces must be taken up later—we have to look back to what belongs to an earlier period and is preserved by certain individuals for a later life. Now when we look for this individual during her life after death we observe direct results—we see that the powers which have lain dormant for a time, reserved for a coming period, now burst forth and are preparing for humanity's future. Thus we see how a later life must be linked with an earlier one, when talking of human evolution. We could not know certain things, of which it may be said that what had existed in the third and fourth epochs had to be revived in the fifth post Atlantean times, unless we could see into the spiritual worlds and say: ‘There we see an individuality who, by means of a short life on earth, acquired faculties which shine forth like a revival of something that has been lost to human life.’ A great inflow of strength comes to the spiritual investigator on observing such individuals in their life after death.

If the time of physical life on earth were ever so bad, if ever so many enemies were to arise against Spiritual Science, and if danger threatened on all sides, it would certainly be a sad and desperate outlook; but there is one thing which may always be a comfort for the future of Anthroposophy, that is, that in those who have died, in such a way as the person above mentioned, we have the best helpers for our earth, the most powerful fellow-workers. This is a case in which a short life on earth served for the gathering of strength with which to take possession of certain fruitful forces requisite for a later period on the path of human evolution. The wise ruling Cosmic powers far surpass in Wisdom all that we, with our merely earthly wisdom, can comprehend. Naturally such fruits of a shortened earth-life can only result when life is shortened in a purely natural way. In anthroposophical circles it should not be necessary to mention that such results do not occur in cases of suicides, and would be quite impossible.

Now, having said all this, I shall give you another concrete example in reference to a member who has not long since passed from our midst, who had a very long illness, which was connected in a remarkable way with his condition of soul, a lively intellectual person, a renowned poet in his earth life and as we can clearly see, a much more important individual than we had deemed while observing his life on earth. After a life lived in sickness of body and long years of suffering, how strangely the fruits of his suffering on earth, after a relatively short period, reveal themselves in the spiritual world; though only in their beginning. That I may make you understand what I want to say, I should like to lead up to the right concept by means of a comparison.

With deep feeling we can admire nature—a scene in nature or a group of people-but we do not on that account lose anything when a clever artist comes along and depicts the scene as his own soul sees it. We then find in the picture created by the artist something which he has placed alongside nature. We know that we have gained by having looked at Nature through another's soul as well, if we can observe nature side by side with it. Why do I say this? To make use of an illustration: we can go into the spiritual world, we can observe things there; yet it is of great importance to observe something else besides. The person to whom I am referring, who died after a life of much suffering on earth, had during his long illness formed for himself a world of Cosmic imaginations, as it were lifting them up out of a sick body gradually approaching death. In the measure in which the body became more sick and incapacitated, there arose from it this world of Cosmic imaginations. That person then passed through the gates of death, and his imaginations are beginning to shine out in wondrous beauty so that in the spiritual world they can be perceived as a wonderful spiritual work of art, as if created out of the Cosmos. They had their origin in the sick body, and were carried from the sick body into the spiritual world; and for those who are able to see the spiritual worlds in other ways they provide a far richer gain in spiritual knowledge than can be acquired by direct spiritual observation; as in a work of art one sees the world as another soul sees it, side by side with what one sees oneself. The above-mentioned person absorbed spiritual conceptions with great devotion, and was even able to put into his poems much of that which comes to the human soul when it grasps the Mystery of Golgotha in a truly Anthroposophical way, when we allow ourselves to be permeated with the thought of the Christ Whom we have learnt to know through Anthroposophy. For we then so recognize Him in our nature, that we really live according to the Pauline saying ‘Not I, but Christ in me contemplates the Universe.’

These truly Rosicrucian Christian thoughts flowed into the later poems of this personality. While his conscious earth-life was occupied with such poetry and creating these poems, his subconscious powers were molding this world of Cosmic imaginations which really consumed the body by the strength of their inner life, but which so worked that to this person in the spiritual world is probably allotted a task about which I will not speak further now. In any case it must be said that behind this conscious life lies another which passes through the gates of death and so manifests that we know it had already been prepared during earth-life through the disposition which is the result of Spiritual Science, and which has turned into beautiful tableaux of Cosmic imaginations which radiate toward the exploring spiritual investigator, and explain much that perhaps would not otherwise have been so easy to discover, but which will continue to work in the tasks which will be allotted to such an individual.

We must regard such results of Spiritual Science with awe and deep reverence. For if in past times the religious sense of the soul had to be aroused through feeling, in the times in which we now live spirituality must be kindled more and more in man through the inter-working of the physical and spiritual worlds, we must become more and more concrete in our spiritual life. In the future, humanity cannot be prevented from seeking the spiritual in a concrete way, and from thinking about how a human individual continues to work on after death with the forces which, as in this case, were prepared before he had passed through the gates of death.

What depths will be found in human life, how noble will be the feelings with which one human being confronts another I They will in the true sense of the word be moral, and filled with the Divine essence which will then be weaving and working in human life, when the thoughts which speak of the dead in as concrete a way as we now speak of the living, find a home in the hearts of men.

We must think of all this, that we may gain in our hearts and souls a proper sense of the mission and work of Anthroposophy in the future.

I should like you to ponder over the things I have said in the last part of this lecture, regarding them as really springing from that attitude towards Spiritual Science which can only speak of such matters in sacred modesty and with deep reverence, and with this feeling I should like to leave in your souls what I have said.

Tomorrow I shall tell you of other facts, for the stimulation of Spiritual Science in your hearts.