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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Wisdom of Man, of the Soul, and of the Spirit
GA 115

Preface by Marie Steiner

When Rudolf Steiner, in 1909, delivered the lectures published here in book form before the General Assembly of the German Section of the Theosophical Society in Berlin, he intended them, as he expressed it, as a strengthening of the foundations of the European spiritual-scientific movement that he led. Such a strengthening, substantiated by cognition and minutely verified, had become indispensable in view of certain trends on the part of the Anglo-Indian theosophical movement that, fed on oriental occultism, failed to grasp the true spiritual life of the Occident in its essence and content. It saw the aberrations of materialistic civilization without understanding their deeper significance. It believed it could lead Europeans back to the sources of primeval wisdom, ignoring the historical evolution of Western peoples and their own particular tasks. It set up the ideal of an unworldly theosophy, a God-wisdom such as was sought with profound devotion and sacrificial ardor, through meditation and deeply spiritual ecstasy, by the German mystics in the Middle Ages and in the early dawn of modern times. But this goal was unattainable for the great masses of humanity; it could not be popularized without becoming shoddy.

True, the homeless souls of our day, suffocating in the close atmosphere of materialism, found hope in this oriental theosophy, but the path they discovered proved to be a blind alley. Critical European thinking with its demand for analysis and synthesis could not be satisfied with endless dogmatizing and the recounting of wonderful happenings; it wanted a consistently thought-out sequence of cause and effect, of becoming and dying within a series of ascending metamorphoses, up to the goal of higher development. The intensified Western sense of personality could not simply accept the statement of a cycle of events run off in an endless monotony of repetition, lacking all deeper significance, aiming only at the ultimate liberation from existence. As the European felt it, Creation would reveal itself by sending forth rays to a focal point, unite with it, and emerge in new raiment with added import, endlessly evolving new shapes and forms of life. This focal point of all evolution could be envisioned only in the power of the ego. Divine ego had permeated life; then came the time for the human ego—that drop from the ocean of the divine ego-being—to possess itself. Through transformation and according to laws governing earth-life, it had to be shaped and harmonized, to return eventually as an individual ego to the divine ego, retaining all it had achieved, in freedom uniting its will with the divine will, guided by knowledge and clear vision to a desire for this most exalted reunion. The human ego cannot escape from itself, cannot extinguish itself. It must seek and purify itself in eternal striving; during this process of awakening it must gradually redeem and lead back to the spirit the world of dross sloughed off during billions of years of ever new transformations. Failing this, it will fall a prey to the world of demons who will cast it back among the dross.

The task of present-day man is to seize hold consciously of this ego, which for eons has worked upon its sheaths and its essence. With the help of such remnants of the power of thought as remain after centuries of abstract thinking, and after the obscuration suffered by its living force through the shortsightedness of a mind fed on mere sense illusions, it must win back to itself; this task lends highest significance to human life that appears again and again in new incarnations. This is the path by which man, entrusted by Divinity with his freedom, gradually transcends the limits of an earth-bound mind and reaches his highest goal: to become once more the expression of the divine ego by returning to the spirit. It is the task of the Occident to lead the individual ego toward this goal by way of tireless research and free personal activity. Not flight from individualism expressed in personality, as Buddhism defines the principle of redemption, and as Neo-Buddhism tries seductively to dangle it before a weary Occident. No; it is a question of liberating the individual ego, for the time being enmeshed in personality; of the awakening of its own powers strengthened through active effort, so that it may become a fully conscious instrument of the divine will, which it recognizes—an instrument capable of collaborating with this divine will toward the divine goal. In spite of its connection with a theosophical current looking to the past and fraught with orientalism, anthroposophy has set up and clearly defined this way as indispensable. At the decisive turning point in human evolution—there where the descent of the divine ego to the human ego halted and the reascent commenced—anthroposophy points to the light streaming from the Mystery of Christ's human incarnation and His death of sacrifice.

In order that man might consciously achieve his human status, might learn to know the world and himself, might become ripe to grasp the concept of Divinity, this anthroposophical middle way from earth to the Divinity had to be cleared. The human being—of the earth, earthy, and torn two ways—can grasp this way only by the greatest effort of all the forces of his being. The attainment of communion with God by isolated, surpassing pioneers transcending their epoch—that does not suffice. If all humanity was to be led toward this goal, and thus the imminent danger of sinking into the subhuman be escaped, it was necessary for one to come who was able to point out this middle way and render it practicable for others: the way from the human to the divine Being, through the “Know thyself.”

The time has come for all humanity to become conscious of the old Mystery word. To bring this about, human personality, torn from its roots, had to undertake the long and arduous pilgrimage through the rough scrub of critical thinking by an intellect divorced from the spirit, down into the aberrations of materialistic obtuseness, and up to the portal of our mighty technical discoveries, at which the powers of the underworld are already knocking. This is the realm of the elementals opening up between spirit and nature. It is sending up forces whose incalculable, demoniacal efficacy remains un-dreamed of by the discoverers of their first manifestations; they will not be able to gauge it until they learn to penetrate the world of spirit. To do this they must first learn to know the human being—themselves. Anthroposophy can lead us to this goal by the path of serious work; without it we will know neither the abyss nor heaven, both of which are hidden in the human being. Know man; only then will you be able to travel the path that redeems hell and attains to heaven.

This road to a comprehension of the world and of man through knowledge starts in the cool region of philosophical thinking, which must confront life's enigmas with clearly defined concepts. Those whose souls are winged by the grace of direct feeling may find this road arduous and almost superfluous, yet it is a necessary one in our time. Mystical contemplation alone can no longer satisfy us in our search for life's purpose.

Rudolf Steiner smoothed this road by first creating the atmosphere that warms our heart and lifts up our spirit, thus clearing our vision for the heights of true theosophy and the wisdom of the Gospels. But he did not save us the effort, the climb up those steep steps to the peaks of knowledge. That is proved by the expositions set forth in this book. They are a vital component part of those publications of Rudolf Steiner that deal with the theory of knowledge, and they are important as well for a realistic establishment of the historic events that constitute the frame of his work.

Rudolf Steiner had already been active for seven years along the lines of the anthroposophic spiritual current that he had inaugurated. He had been called, begged for assistance, by members of the theosophical movement who felt strongly that something more was necessary to quench their thirst for knowledge—above all, an access to Christianity that could satisfy their thinking and their feeling. Rudolf Steiner was ready to give this, to illuminate the Occident's task in this spirit. It was upon these conditions—the assurance, on the part of the leading theosophists, of a totally non-dogmatic freedom of action and speech—that he consented to become the leader of the German branches. In this way seven years passed, the last two of which were darkly overcast by a suddenly arising dogmatic intolerance among the leaders of the Anglo-Indian current, who in no uncertain terms evinced their intention to render the spirit of the Occident pliant to their will. Rudolf Steiner wished to meet such difficulties solely on a basis of the forces of cognition, and in the general assemblies of the German Society he aimed to provide for his listeners ever firmer foundations for comprehending each case in point. At the same time he stressed the cyclical course of events that stems from something deeper than is apparent to superficial thinking. Probably none but a blunt-minded materialist will still refuse to see the cyclic significance of the number seven, which keeps recurring in countless images, symbolizing what is transitory, and playing so great a rôle in the evolution, not only of man but of humanity, as well as in its reflections, the historical events.

The unfolding of the consciousness soul in man commences as a rule after the completion of his twenty-eighth year, and something similar takes place in the organism of a human community. Now, as we are publishing these lectures, delivered over a period of three years before the General Assemblies of the Society, it is not without interest to continue with the indications given by Rudolf Steiner in the opening words of the first lecture. He said that the seventh anniversary of the founding of the Society furnished the right occasion for a more comprehensive presentation of anthroposophy, such as he would endeavor to give in the ensuing lectures, and he reminded his hearers that at the Foundation meeting, seven years before, he had already spoken on the subject of “Anthroposophy,” thus indicating the direction his work was to take.

The second seven-year cycle that followed witnessed the expression of the spiritual struggle arising from the refusal of the orientalizing Anglo-Indian Theosophical Society to abandon its intention of winning over the Occident to its spiritual creed. When it was no longer possible to pass up the ramparts of Christianity with a shrug, the Society created from its midst an Ersatz-savior for the souls longing for Christian truth: the Indian lad, Krishnamurti. This led to the secession of the more serious members of the theosophical movement, and to the independent Anthroposophical Society.

In 1916, at the termination of Rudolf Steiner's second cycle of activity in behalf of the spiritual rejuvenation of the Occident in a manner according with its own premises, Europe was ablaze in the abysmal flames of the world war. Upon the hills of Dornach, in Switzerland, arose the Goetheanum, center of activity for the representatives of nineteen nations who gave what they had in the name of humanity. This gave a strong impetus to the artistic element, while other departments of the work suffered through the obstacles imposed by the war. In view of her fourteen years' collaboration with Rudolf Steiner in building up the Society, the writer of these lines may be permitted to mention that this was the occasion of her resignation from the leadership of the Anthroposophical Society, and that from then on she devoted herself more intensively to the artistic tasks. Along with this step, Rudolf Steiner, as whose executive it had been the writer's privilege to serve, transferred the leadership of the Society to the Vorstand officiating in Germany. This arrangement lasted until Christmas, 1923, when he founded the Society anew under the name of the General Anthroposophical Society, with its seat at the Goetheanum in Switzerland, and he undertook the leadership himself, with a Vorstand recruited in Dornach.

By Christmas, 1930, the fourth seven-year cycle had run its course. Rudolf Steiner had departed this earth shortly after that memorable refoundation, over which he was destined to preside but one year. Then Albert Steffen, the great poet and dramatist, became the recognized Head of the Anthroposophical Society. Albert Steffen who, together with those responsible for carrying on the spirit of the movement as it had been entrusted to them by Rudolf Steiner, suffered a period of harrowing inner struggle before this apparently obvious step could be taken. Spiritual necessities, as manifested in their earthly reflection, create many trials that must be converted into forces of consciousness. It is along such paths that we can achieve an individualized community-consciousness, and the fourth seven-year cycle was characterized by a struggle for just that end.

Now we have entered the fifth epoch of our anthroposophic life. May it see the grasping of this community-consciousness by wide-awake ego forces, in order that the purpose may be fulfilled that is inseparably linked with the anthroposophical movement for the spiritualization of humanity! Anthroposophy is a way of cognition that would lead the spiritual nature of man to the spiritual nature of the universe.

This way is that of a modern science of initiation. It is not our intention to found a new religion, but rather, we aim to serve as the advance guard of a crusade to enkindle in man the rousing force of the ego. In the face of all struggles and difficulties, we as anthroposophists strive for wisdom in truth.

These lectures on Anthroposophy as here published are reproduced, more than is usually the case, in a certain abbreviated form, for no shorthand version was available—only longhand notes. In spite of this fact, no anthroposophist will fail to recognize the value of these expositions. The two cycles on Psychosophy and Pneumatosophy are here given accurately from shorthand reports. The question of omitting the poems arose. [Cf. footnote, pp. 67 and 118.] They have but a loose connection with the text and in a sense were called forth by the occasion of the General Assembly. This, however, would have necessitated an adaptation of the text, and that was above all things to be avoided. As it is, the character of the original has been retained intact. In addition to its spontaneity it thus has a certain historical value, and this will also serve as an excuse for the inevitable deficiencies in the notes.

Thus, we offer this book to the public as an expression of the living word of that leader of humanity, so little understood, so greatly feared by his adversaries, who was the embodiment of kindness, wisdom and active force in our midst, and who created the conditions for the regeneration of Europe.