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The Luciferic and Ahrimanic in Relation to Man

An Article By
Rudolf Steiner
GA 35

From the journal, Das Reich, Volume 3, Number 3, Luciferic and Ahrimanic in their Relation to Man, is an article from GA# 35, Philosophy and Anthroposophy, in German, PHILOSOPHIE UND ANTHROPOSOPHIE. Gesammelte Aufsaetze 1904–1918. Aufsaetze und neun Auto-Referate nach Vortraegen in verschiedenen Staedten.

This translation has been authorized for the western hemisphere by agreement with the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland. The translator is unknown.

Copyright © 1927
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The Luciferic and Ahrimanic in Relation to Man


WHEN we try to advance along the path of supersensible knowledge to a perception of man's real being, the opposing nature of the activities of thinking and willing becomes more and more apparent. This contrast cannot escape an adequate introspection of even ordinary consciousness, but what is merely indicated in such observation, becomes clearly evident to spiritual-scientific observation. The thinking that is active in ordinary life and is usually applied in scientific research, shows itself to be closely bound up with the processes of the bodily organisation; while all that is of the nature of will reveals ever more strikingly its independence of the body the further its essential nature is penetrated by supersensible cognition.

Since introspection never finds the activities of thinking and willing separated in the everyday course of the soul's life, it is impossible for ordinary consciousness to learn to know them in their real, essential nature. It is always confronted by a thinking in which the will also is active, and a willing, shot through with the activity of thought. Hence it can never decide the shares of thought and will in a state of soul. A consciousness that has been prepared for the supersensible can be so focussed that thinking and willing enter its field of view separately. Only then do we know how closely bound to the bodily organisation is the thinking that is active in the world of sense.

One cannot investigate this connection without directing one's attention to the changing characteristics of man's life in successive periods. When our observation has been sharpened by spiritual-scientific training we perceive the constitution of a child's soul from birth to the change of teeth to be quite different from that between the change of teeth and puberty. And the period from puberty to the early twenties shows again other characteristics. The subsequent course of life also resolves itself into clearly distinguishable periods. The fourth closes with the end of the twenties, the fifth at the middle of the thirties, the sixth at the beginning, and the seventh at the end, of the forties. At the beginning of the fifties that period of life commences in which a division into sections can no longer be carried out in a completely definite way.

The whole range of the soul's constitution in its transformation through the various life periods is revealed with special clearness to the observer of the supersensible, when he directs his attention to the close dependence of thinking on the bodily organisation. To perceive here correctly he must keep strictly to the activity of thought, and separate from it everything that arises through the influence of the will. He then finds that in the first four periods of life the activity of thought, in so far as it develops out of man's own being and is dependent on his bodily organisation, is completely incapable of apprehending the real being of man. In the first three decades of life man could attain to no consciousness of himself that he could grasp by thought if, in his soul life, he were solely dependent on those powers of thought which develop on the basis of the bodily organisation. At the end of the twenties, thinking takes on a totally different character. It becomes capable of placing those thoughts which have been developed in dependence on his bodily organisation in the service of human self-knowledge. This self-knowledge, however, can only have reference to inner experiences falling within this period of life, not to those of earlier periods. Not till the middle of the thirties does man develop an understanding for his inner life by means of the activity of thought which he unfolds on the basis of his bodily organisation. This takes place in a definitely regular way. In the middle of the fourth decade there appears a power of thought capable of grasping the fourth period; at the beginning of the forties one which can grasp the third; at the end of the forties one which can grasp the second, and not till the middle of the forties one that can penetrate the experience of childhood from birth till the change of teeth. This evolution of thought throughout the course of a man's life remains quite unknown to ordinary consciousness. It runs its course quite beneath the threshold of this consciousness, and only with those who have tuned their inner life to a finer self-knowledge does it emerge out of the so-called subconscious into the daily experiences of the soul. The supersensible mode of cognition however raises the subconscious into the field of consciousness. It thus perceives that the self-knowledge acquired by man before the second half of life is not mediated by the activity of thinking, which develops out of his own bodily organisation, but by spiritual forces which enter thinking by way of the will, and which are independent of the human physical organisation. Not before the second half of life can the human organism become the basis for a thought activity which comprehends its own being.

The transformation and maturing of thought here described remain hidden from the ordinary life of the soul. Nevertheless the innermost being of man undergoes such a development. In the second half of life there arises from the bodily organisation a consciousness of the inner experiences of the first half of life. These remain unconscious during the first three decades, unless a force for self-perception, independent of the body, is given to thinking by way of the will.

To one who has attained by supersensible knowledge the insight here described there is also revealed in the course of his investigation a perception of the processes which are independent of the body, and by means of which self-perception by way of the will is made possible in the first half of life. His spiritual gaze is directed to the experiences of the soul in a supersensible world before birth (or conception). These experiences result from a totally different co-operation of thought and will from that existing in the life of the senses. This co-operation develops on the basis of a totally different constitution of the activities of thinking and of willing from that existing in sense life. These thoughts are active in themselves and partake of the nature of will, and will is, by its own nature, permeated by thought. In life pertaining to the senses, thoughts are only as shadows of what they reveal themselves to be in the supersensible; and the will activity in the sense world is like a radiating force deprived of light, compared with its true nature as it can be known in the supersensible. The co-operation of thought endowed with will, and will laden with thought, cannot take place on the basis of the bodily organisation. Now what takes place in the soul through the co-operation of thought and will before her entrance into the sense life, does not cease to work on her entrance. It continues to work. Beside the stream of soul life which runs its course in dependence on the bodily organisation there flows another, which is a continuation of soul and spiritual experiences free from the body. This stream gives to man in the first half of sense life the power of self-perception. It dries up in middle life. In its stead there develops for self-perception a power of thought on the basis of the bodily organisation.

An essentially different view presents itself to the consciousness trained in supersensible knowledge when it is directed, not to thought activity, but to will activity in the course of sense life. For such perception everything dependent on will is seen more and more free of the bodily organisation. To supersensible consciousness it becomes clear that the true nature of will cannot become apparent in the sense world. That man, even when he has not consciously developed supersensible insight, experiences will, rests on the fact that in everything pertaining to will something supersensible is woven into ordinary consciousness. Into every human consciousness the will intrudes as an immediately perceptible element, even when this consciousness, by its own constitution of soul, darkens insight into the supersensible world. Man would never even form a word for will, if he had not in his soul-life a perceptible supersensible element. For the powers which develop in the sense world, and for the sense world, the will would be something completely unknown. One who speaks of the development of super-sensible cognition maintains in truth nothing else than that those soul capacities which are already active in the perception of will experiences, can be expanded, concentrated and heightened, so that they are capable of attaining to a perception of another world-content in the same way as they perceive will.

Every science of the soul that seeks to investigate only by the means of cognition of ordinary consciousness must confront perceptions which, it must confess if it understands itself — are impenetrable for ordinary consciousness. For the life of the soul may be compared to a knot which is entangled with various threads at the point where they meet. Its essential nature can only be understood when one is willing to follow the threads outside the knot to their origin and destination. The above exposition speaks of an experience within the soul communicated by the bodily organisation, and of one interwoven with it, which is only to be apprehended by supersensible means of cognition. If this latter experience is, on account of its essential nature, hidden from ordinary consciousness, the other remains still more unknowable, because, in order to become known, it must be disentangled from that part which can only be grasped supersensibly.

Viewed in their detachment, these two elements of the soul life show that this is no steady forward flow; rather it is a striving for equilibrium between two movements. An activity more of the nature of thought and bound to the body would force it into the one, while an activity more of the nature of will and purely supersensible would force it into the other. If one perceives how the soul stands in the struggle between these two streams, then, through this observation, one gains a deeper insight into something else working into the life of the soul.

This observation shows that in the middle of sense life a minimum of that force is present which does not develop on a bodily basis, but which is given to man out of the supersensible world by way of the will. In this period of life the soul develops a strong subconscious inclination towards identification with the physical organisation. This inclination, though subconscious, works instinctively into consciousness. The soul then strives through the forces of her own being to turn away, to a certain extent, from the spiritual world in which she lived before her entrance into sense existence. Now against this striving there works another force which is not originally related in its own being to the forces of man's soul, but which, during the course of the world, attains an influence over the soul. This force is not only active in the middle period of man's life but through his whole life. Only in middle life it makes itself especially noticeable by hindering the turning away from the spiritual world. In general this force comes to expression in the constitution of the soul in a certain tendency toward what may be described as unjustified pride. It is active when a man considers himself more highly endowed than corresponds to his stage of evolution. And it is also active when, for example, man is impelled to an action that is, in its moral aspect, contrary to his nature as man. It may seem strange that a force which prevents man from turning away from the spiritual world can at the same time be a source of deviation from the good. But supersensible knowledge shows, just as sense knowledge does, that there are forces in the world whose effect, in one direction necessary and beneficial, can in another direction turn into the contrary. According to the use of the word in earlier views of the world the force here described can be called the “Luciferic.” But one must not attach to this idea only those feelings of antipathy which have been rightly linked to it on account of one aspect of the Luciferic nature. In a certain sense the justification for the appearance in the course of the world of such a force, whose activity has also evil consequences, must be sought in its necessity for the evolution of man.

In contrast to this force there stands another, which though not originally inherent in man's nature, is likewise active in it in the course of the world. If the Luciferic element were fully active without such opposition, it would, on the entrance of the soul into sense life, overcome the attraction of man's being for this life, and man would not enter it at all. In that moment when this turning away of the human soul from sense life is possible, the Luciferic is overcome by another force which draws the soul towards sense life more strongly than its own being would. For the same reason that we give the opposing force the name “Luciferic” we can call this other the “Ahrimanic.” And, like the Luciferic, the Ahrimanic has also its dark side. In it lies the origin of the aberrations of thought, as in the Luciferic the erring of will. For the Ahrimanic, too, is active in man's soul not only in the beginning but through the whole course of life.

An idea of the relation in which man as a cognitive and active being stands to the world, can only be gained if it is sought for on the basis of insight into the above forces working within his life. Knowledge of the world of nature is mediated entirely by the bodily organisation. The processes of nature are extended through the activity of the senses and the contiguous nervous system, into the interior of the body. The behaviour of the body as a whole towards the natural processes running into it may be compared to a mirroring. The body produces images of the events and the soul confronts these images as one who stands before a mirror and observes the image he produces. A science of the soul which rejects supersensible knowledge must always encounter an epistemological difficulty when it tries to comprehend how bodily processes produced by nerve and sense stimulation are transposed into soul experiences. This difficulty cannot be overcome by philosophic considerations which only take account of the manifestations of ordinary consciousness. For it arises from this: between the bodily processes perceptible to ordinary consciousness and the soul-being of which this consciousness can gain a knowledge, there exists no connection. Neither can anything in the bodily processes reveal itself to ordinary consciousness which would render these processes capable of producing mirror-images which could be grasped spiritually; nor can it perceive how the soul cognises such images. To supersensible perception, however, it is revealed that these same Ahrimanic forces which draw the soul towards the bodily organisation, are also active spiritually in the world of nature outside man. They are active as spiritual forces in the bodily organisation in the mirroring process described above, which is therefore a spiritual process within the material of the body; and they, through their activity in the soul, make her capable of experiencing images. All knowledge of Nature is mediated by Ahrimanic activity.

In his actions man experiences free will. This is a fact of consciousness. It can only be repudiated by one who closes his eyes to a patent fact. It cannot be understood by one who desires to comprehend everything according to the pattern of scientific ideas, for free will does not belong to the realm of Nature. Thinkers who would only admit the laws of Nature in the world decide against the acceptance of free will, not because they do not perceive it, but because they do not comprehend it. The essence of free will — like all that partakes of the nature of will — can only be grasped by supersensible perception. In relation to the sense world the human soul can only receive free will and make it part of her own being by being held back in the spiritual sphere by the Luciferic forces, even while she sojourns in the sense world with a part of her being. The same force which in the middle period of man's life saves him from becoming identified with the bodily organisation, fashions his free will. Through this force his life is lifted out of the realms of purely natural connections in which his bodily organisation places him. Supersensible perceptions of what is Ahrimanic and Luciferic show us clearly that man, according to his supersensible being, belongs to a different realm of the spiritual world from these two forces. It is further apparent that each of these two forces is opposed to the direction man's being should take in the world order; that, however, the pursuit of this direction through the state of equilibrium possible between these two kinds of forces, is the condition of man's evolution to ever higher stages of existence. From the foregoing exposition it may be seen that assimilating natural knowledge and making it one's own, and the development of free will, are results of the passage through this state of equilibrium.

A spiritual-scientific survey of the historical life of man shows that this life is also influenced in two opposing directions by both these forces, and is a striving for equilibrium between them. But in successive epochs there is an alternating preponderance of the Ahrimanic and the Luciferic impulses. After a period in which humanity is exposed predominantly to the Luciferic force, and in which it strives out of its own soul life to withstand this force, there always follows an epoch in which the working of the Ahrimanic has to be striven against. Such an Ahrimanic epoch holds sway in recent times. We owe to it a considerable extension of natural knowledge, and a mode of life by which man attains an especial perfection in the control of natural forces. But through a one-sided leaning in that direction he has withdrawn himself from the forces which accord with his own true being. And if he made no opposition to his inclination towards the Ahrimanic, the Luciferic impulses would take the place of man's own essential forces and cause a deviation of the historical stream in their direction. In the earlier ages in the evolution of mankind, the balance between the two impulses was kept by a kind of spiritual instinct. In modern times the place of this instinct must be taken by a conscious seizing hold of the forces which work on the soul. Progress in the historical development of mankind can be perceived in just this: the older instinctive spiritual life becomes transformed into a constitution of soul ever more ruled by consciousness. This transformation of the unconscious — half conscious — into conscious soul-life proceeds according to laws inherent in historical evolution. To prevent the result of this transformation from being deviated in an Ahrimanic direction the supersensible world must be grasped by man in a free act of will. For while outside man's soul the Ahrimanic and the Luciferic are forces opposing one another, within the soul a too strong influence of the conscious life by the Ahrimanic, prepares the ground for the attacks of the Luciferic. And if man is permeated by the Luciferic he develops a special tendency to allow his conscious soul-life to be pervaded by the Ahrimanic also. At the commencement of the fully conscious soul life of modern times man was in an epoch in which the Ahrimanic impulses were powerful. In consequence of this, it is necessary by the cultivation of a proper attitude of soul to withdraw oneself from the Luciferic tendencies thus introduced. This can only take place when a striving for supersensible cognition prevents the soul forces, which can serve this striving, from being gripped by Luciferic forces.

It is insight into all these relations which causes one who fully grasps them to regard supersensible cognition in the present time as a necessity in the course of human evolution. But one with this insight also understands that misunderstanding and opposition can arise in face of this knowledge. These arise directly from the duality of the human personality which becomes very evident through this insight. The Ahrimanic impulse of modern times seizes the conscious soul-life. Then, through this, in the unconscious part of soul-life, certain impulses stir which resist the inclination to supersensible knowledge. An unconscious fear of the supersensible arises. It is none the less active because it is unconscious. But for the conscious soul life it disguises itself in all sorts of self-deceptions which it produces in man. In this soul-life thoughts appear purporting to be logical reasons against the possibility — even against the blessings — of supersensible knowledge, thoughts to which man only gives his consent on account of his unconscious fear of this knowledge. He sees reasons which are in truth no reasons, and knows nothing of the fear which in reality governs him. Moreover, through the Ahrimanic impulse which forces man to sense existence, a certain want of interest in the supersensible as well as fear, makes itself felt. This prevents man from following up the deeper spiritual connections in the realm of Nature which, through their own being, lead away from mere sense perception towards the supersensible. Man would limit himself to the purely material and external side of natural facts. He would order his life according to this outer side. He does not notice that it is only his want of interest that drives him away from the perception of spirit in nature. He surrenders himself to the belief, caused by this want of interest, that the supersensible is either to be denied altogether or must only be thought of as beyond the bounds of human cognition. To counteract this unconscious fear and lack of interest, he who applies himself to supersensible knowledge has to develop the forces of his soul, while his opponents believe that they are fighting on the side of logical reason and that man should remain modestly within the bounds of cognition.

In addition to this there is the misunderstanding which arises because, owing to the contradictory nature of the Ahrimanic and the Luciferic, wrong inferences are drawn concerning the behaviour of these impulses towards the nature of man. People think — many only pretend to think — that by consciously opposing by supersensible cognition the Ahrimanic character of a mere natural knowledge, man must be led into the Luciferic. Whoever maintains this, lacks the understanding that the super-sensible knowledge which man develops out of his own innermost being cannot only never lead into the Luciferic element, but directly prevents such a downfall, which would inevitably take place if a one-sided Ahrimanic impulse usurped the place of consciousness. For this would deliver over to the Luciferic the strivings after the supersensible which are not seized by man's own being. With these indications we have pointed out the obstacles which oppose man's turning towards supersensible cognition. These arise from a certain self-deception and intentional, or half-intentional, misunderstanding of human nature. If attention is directed to these obstacles by a calm and collected soul life, the possibility of such cognition will easily be found, for this knowledge reveals its truth through itself when its revelations are not opposed by the human soul in the way indicated.

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