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The Building at Dornach

The Building at Dornach: Lecture I

Schmidt Number: S-2962

On-line since: 15th February, 2014

Lecture I

October 10, 1914

In the lectures which it has been my lot to deliver, I have often drawn attention to an observation which might be made in real life, and which shows the necessity of seeking everywhere below the surface of life's appearances, instead of stopping at first impressions. It runs somewhat as follows. — A man is walking along a river bank and, while still some way off, is seen to pitch headlong into the water. We approach and draw him out of the stream, only to find him dead; we notice a boulder at the point where he fell and conclude at first sight as a matter of course that he stumbled over the stone, fell into the river and was drowned. This conclusion might easily be accepted and handed down to posterity — but all the same it could be very wide of the mark. Closer inspection might reveal that the man had been struck by a heart-attack at the very moment of his coming up to the stone, and was already dead when he fell into the water. If the first conclusion had prevailed and no one had made it his business to find out what actually occurred, a false judgment would have found its way into history — the apparently logical conclusion that the man had met his death through falling into the water. Conclusions of this kind, implying to a greater or lesser degree a reversal of the truth, are quite customary in the world — customary even in scholarship and science, as I have often remarked.

For those who dedicate themselves heart and soul to our spiritual-scientific movement, it is necessary not only to learn from life, but incessantly to make the effort to learn the truth from life, to find out how it is that not only men but also the world of facts may quite naturally transmit untruth and deception. To learn from life must become the motto of all our efforts; otherwise the goals we want to reach through our Building [ Note 1 ] as well as in many other ways will be hard of attainment. Our aim is to play a vital part in the genesis of a world-era; a growth which may well be compared with the beginning of that era which sprang from a still more ancient existence of mankind — let us say the time to which Homer's epics refer. In fact, the entire configuration, artistic nature and spiritual essence of our Building attempts something similar to what was attempted during the happenings of that transitional period from a former age to a later one, as recounted by Homer. It is our wish to learn from life, and, what is more, to learn the truth from life.

There are so very many opportunities to learn from life, if we wee willing. Have we not had such an opportunity even in the last day or two? Are we not justified in making a start with such symptoms, particularly with one that has so deeply moved us? Consider for a moment! [ Note 2 ] On Wednesday evening last, many of our number either passed by the crossroads or were in the neighbourhood, saw the wagon overturned and lying there, came up to the lecture and were quite naturally, quite as a matter of course, aware of nothing more than that a cart had fallen over. For hours, that was the sole impression — but what was the truth of the matter? The truth was that an eloquent karma in the life of a human being was enacted; that this life so full of promise was in that moment karmically rounded off, having been required back in the worlds by the Spiritual Powers. For at certain times these Powers need uncompleted human lives, whose unexpended forces might have been applied to the physical plane, but have to be conserved for the spiritual worlds for the good of evolution. I would like to put it this way. For one who has saturated himself with spiritual science, it is a plainly evident fact that this particular human life may be regarded as one which the gods require for themselves; that the cart was guided to the spot in order that this karma might be worked out, and overturned in order to consummate the karma of this human life. The way in which this was brought home to us was heartrending, and rightly so. But we must also be capable of submerging ourselves in the ruling wisdom, even when it manifests, unnoticed at first, in something miraculous. From such an event we should learn to look more profoundly into the reality. And how indeed could we raise our thoughts more fittingly to that human life with which we are concerned, and how commemorate more solemnly its departure from earth, than by forthwith allowing ourselves to be instructed by the grave teaching of destiny which has come to us in these days.

Yet it is a human trait to forget only too promptly the lessons which life insistently offers us! It is on this account that we have to call to our aid the practice of meditation, the exercise of concentrated thinking, in order to essay any comprehension of the world at all adequate to spiritual science; we must strive continually towards this. And I would like to interpose this matter now, among the other considerations relative to our Building, because it will serve as an illustration for what is to follow concerning art. For let us not hold the implications of our Building to be less than a demand of history itself — down to its very details.

In order to recognise a fact of this kind in full earnest, it must be our concern to acquire the possibility, through spiritual science, of reforming our concepts and ideas, of winning through to better, loftier, more serious, more penetrating and profound concepts and ideas concerning life, than any we could acquire without spiritual science.

From this standpoint let us ask the downright question What then is history, and what is it that men so often understand by history? Is not what is so often regarded as history nothing more at bottom than the tale of the man who is walking along a river's bank, died from a heart attack, falls into the water, and of whom it is told that he died through drowning? Is not history very often derived from reports of this kind? Certainly, many historical accounts have no firmer foundation. Suppose someone had passed by the cross-roads between 8 and 9 o'clock last Wednesday evening and had had no opportunity of hearing anything about the shattering event which had taken place there: he could have known nothing, only that a cart had been overturned, and that is how he would report it. Many historical accounts are of this kind. The most important things lying beneath the fragments of information remain entirely concealed; they withdraw completely from what is customarily termed history. Sometimes possibly one can go further and say that external reports and documents actually hinder bur recognition of the true course of history. That is more particularly so if — as happens in nearly every epoch — the documents present the matter one-sidedly and if there are no documents giving the other side, or if these are lost. You may call this an hypothesis but it is no hypothesis, for what is taught as history at the present time rests for the most part upon such documents as conceal rather than reveal the truth.

The question might occur at this point: How is any approach to the genesis of historical events to be won? In all sorts of ways spiritual science has shown us how, for it does not look to external documents but seeks to discern the impulses which play in from the spiritual worlds. Hence it naturally cannot describe the outward course of events as external history does, It recognises inward impulses everywhere. Moreover, the spiritual investigator must be bold enough, when tracing these impulses on the surface, to hold fast to them in the face of outer traditions. Courage with regard to the truth is essential, if we would take up our stand on the ground of spiritual science, The transition can be made by attempting to approach the secrets of historical “coming into being” otherwise than is usually done.

Consider all the extant 13th and 14th century documents about Italy, from which history is so fondly composed. The tableau, the picture, obtained by thus assembling history out of such documents brings one far less close to the truth one can get by studying Dante and Giotto, and allowing what they created out of their souls to work upon one. Consider also what remains of Scholasticism, of its thoughts, and try to reflect upon, to reproduce in yourself, what Dante, Giotto and Scholasticism severally created — you will get a truer picture of that epoch than is to be had from a collection of external documents. Or someone may set himself the task of studying the rebellion of the Protestant spirit of the North or of Mid-Europe against the Catholicism of the South. What can you not find in documents! Yet it is not a question of isolated facts, but of uniting one's whole soul with the active, ruling, weaving impulses at work. You come to know this rising up of the Protestant spirit against the Catholic spirit through a study of Rembrandt and the peculiar nature of his painting. Much could be brought forward in this way.

And so it comes about that historical documents are often more of a hindrance than a help. Perhaps the type of history bookworm who subsists upon documentary evidence would be elated by a pile of material on Homer's life, or Shakespeare's. From a certain point of view, however, one could say: Thank God there is no such evidence! We must only be wary not to exaggerate a truth of this kind, not to press it too far. We must indeed be grateful to history for leaving us no documents about Homer or Shakespeare. Yet something might here be maintained which is one-sidedly true — one sided, but true, for a one sided truth is nevertheless a truth. Someone might exclaim: How we must long for the time when no external documents about Goethe are available.

Indeed, with Goethe it is often not merely disturbing, but an actual hindrance, to know what he did, not only from day to day but sometimes even from hour to hour. How wonderful it would be to picture for oneself the experience undergone by the soul of a man who at a particular time of life spoke the fateful words:

“ I've studied now Philosophy
And Jurisprudence, Medicine,
And even, alas! Theology,
From end to end, with labour keen;
And here, poor fool! with all my lore
I stand, no wiser than before.”

“Faust”, Part I,
(Tr. Bayard Taylor)

If one wished to find the answer oneself in the case of such men, one might well yearn for the time when all the Leweses, and so on, whatever their names may be, no longer tell us what Goethe did the livelong day in which this or that verse was set down. And what a hindrance in following the flight of Goethe's soul up to the time in which he inscribed these words:

“The sun-orb singe, in emulation
‘Mid brother spheres, his ancient round. . .”

What a hindrance it is that we are able to refer to the many volumes of his notebooks and correspondence, and to read how Goethe spent this period. This view is fully justified from one angle, but not from every angle; for although it is fully justified in the case of Homer, Shakespeare, and so on, it is one sided with regard to Goethe, since Goethe's own works include his “Truth and Poetry” (“Dichtung und Wahrheit”). An inherent trait of this personality is that something about it should be known, since Goethe felt constrained to make this personal confession in “Truth and Poetry”. Hence the time will never come when the poet of “Faust” will appear to humanity in the same light as the poet of the “Iliad” or the “Odyssey”. So we see that a truth brought home to us from one side only can never be given a general application; it bears solely on a particular, quite individual case.

Yet the matter must he grasped still more profoundly. Spiritual science tries to do this. By pointing out certain symptoms, I have repeatedly endeavoured to show that modern culture aspires towards spiritual science. In my “Rätsel der Philosophie”[ Note 3 ]I have tried to show how this is particularly true of philosophy. In the second volume you will notice that the development of philosophy presses on towards what I have sketched in the concluding chapter as “Prospect of an Anthroposophy”. That is the direction taken by the whole book. Of course this could not have been done without some support from our Anthroposophical Society, for the outer world will probably make little of the inner structure of the book as yet.

I said that Goethe must be regarded differently from Homer. On the same grounds I would like to add: Do we then not come to know Homer? Could we get to know him by any better means than through his poems, although he lived not only hundreds but even thousands of years ago? Do we not get to know him far better in that way than we ever could from any documents? Yes, Homer's age was able to bring forth such works, through which the soul of Homer is laid bare. Countless examples could be given. I will mention one only one, however, which is connected with the deepest impulses of that turning-point during the Homeric age, much as we ourselves hope and long for in the change from the materialistic to the anthroposophical culture.

We know that in the first book of the Iliad we are told of the contrast between Agamemnon and Achilles: the voices of these two in front of Troy are vividly portrayed. We know further that the second book begins by telling us that the Greeks feel they have stood before Troy quite long enough, and are yearning to return to their homeland. We know, too, that Homer describes the events as if the Gods were constantly intervening as guiding divine-spiritual powers. The intervention of Zeus is described at the beginning of this second book. The Gods, like the Greeks below, are sleeping peacefully; so peacefully, indeed, that Herman. Grimm, in his witty way, suggests that the very snoring of the heroes, of the Gods and of the Greeks below, is plainly audible. Then the story continues:

“Now all other gods and chariot-driving men slept all night long, only Zeus was not holden of sweet sleep; rather was he pondering in his heart how he should do honour to Achilles and destroy many beside the Achaians' ships And this design seemed to his mind the best, to wit, to send a baneful dream upon Agamemnon son of Atreus. So he spake, and uttered to him winged words: ‘Come now, thou baneful Dream, go to the Achaians' fleet ships, enter into the hut of Agamemnon son of Atreus, and tell him every word plainly as A charge thee Bid him call to arms the flowing-haired Achaians with al' speed, for that now he may take the wide-wayed city of the Trojans. For the immortals that dwell in the halls of Olympus are no longer divided in counsel, since Hera hath turned the minds of all by her beseeching, and over the Trojans sorrows hang.’

So spake he, and the Dream went his way when he had heard the charge. With speed he came to the Achaeans' fleet ships, and went to Agamemnon son of Atreus, and found him sleeping in his hut, and ambrosial slumber poured over him. So he stood over his head in seeming like unto the son of Neleus, even Nestor, whom most of all the elders Agamemnon honoured.”[ Note 4 ]

Zeus, then, sends the Dream down from Olympus to Agamemnon. He gives the Dream a commission, The Dream descends to Agamemnon, approaching him in the guise of Nestor, who we have just learned, is one of the heroes in the camp of the allies.

“In his likeness spake to him the heavenly Dream: ‘Sleepest thou, son of wise Atreus tamer of horses? To sleep all night through beseemth not one that is a counsellor, to whom peoples are entrusted and so many cares belong. But now hearken straightway to me, for I am a messenger to thee from Zeus, who though he be afar yet hath great care for thee and pity. He biddeth thee call to arms the flowing-haired Achaians with all speed, for that now thou mayest take the wide-wayed city of the Trojans. For the immortals that dwell in the halls of Olympus are no longer divided in counsel, since Hera hath turned the minds of all by her beseeching, and over the Trojans sorrows hang by the will of Zeus. But do thou keep this in thy heart, nor let forgetfulness come upon thee when honeyed sleep shall leave thee.’ ”

This, then, is what takes place. Zeus, the presiding genius in the events, sends a Dream to Agamemnon in order that he should bestir himself to fresh action. The Dream appears in the likeness of Nestor, a man who is one of the band of heroes among whom Agamemnon is numbered. The figure of Nestor, whose physical appearance is well-known to Agamemnon, confronts him and tells him in the Dream what he should do. We are further told that Agamemnon convenes the elders before he calls an assembly of the people. And to the elders he recounts the Dream just as it had appeared to him:

“Hearken, my friends. A dream from heaven came to me in my sleep through the ambrosial night, and chiefly to goodly Nestor was very like in shape and bulk and stature. And it stood over my head and charged me saying: ‘Sleepest thou, son of wise Atreus tamer of horses?’ ”

(Atreus' son then tells the elders what the Dream had said. None of the elders stands up excepting Nestor alone, the real Nestor, who utters the words:)

“My friends, captains and rulers of the Argives, had any other of the Achaians told us this dream we might deem it a false thing, and rather turn away there from; but now he hath seen it who of all Achaians avoweth himself far greatest. So come, let us call to arms as we may the sons of the Achaians ...”

Do we not gaze unfathomably deep into Homer's soul, when we know — are able to know, to perceive, by means of spiritual science — that he can recount an episode of this kind? Have we not described how what we experience in the spiritual world clothes itself in pictures, and how we have first to interpret the pictures, how we should not permit ourselves to be misled by them? Homer spoke at a time when the present clairvoyance did not yet exist; at a time, rather, when the old form of clairvoyance had just been lost. And in Agamemnon he wanted to portray a man who is still able to experience the old atavistic clairvoyance in certain episodes of life. As a military commander he is still led to his decisions through the old clairvoyance, through dreams. We know what Homer knows and believes and how he regards the men he writes about; and suddenly, in pondering on what is described in this passage, we see that the human soul stands here at the turning-point of an era.

Yet that is not all. We do not only behold in Agamemnon, through Homer, a human soul into which clairvoyance still plays atavistically, nor do we only recognise the pertinent description of this clairvoyance; but the whole situation lies before us in a wonderfully magical light. Homer is humorous enough to show us expressly that it is Nestor who appeared to Agamemnon; the same Nestor who is subsequently present and himself holds forth, Now Nestor has spoken in favour of carrying out the Dream's instructions. The people assemble; but Agamemnon addresses them quite differently from what is implied in the Dream, saying that it is a woeful business, this lingering before Troy: “Let us flee with our ships to our dear native land”, he exclaims. So that the people, seized by the utmost eagerness, hasten to the ships for the journey home. Thus it rests finally with the persuasive arts of Odysseus to effect their about-turn and the beginning of the siege of Troy in real earnest. Here, in fact, we gaze into Homer's soul and discern in Agamemnon a lifelike portrayal of the transition from a man who is still led by the ancient clairvoyance to a man who decides everything out of his own conclusions. And so with an overwhelming sense of humour he shows us how Agamemnon speaks to the elders while under the influence of the Dream, and later how he speaks to the crowd, having bade farewell to the spiritual world and being subject now, to external impressions alone. Homer's way of depicting how Agamemnon outgrows the bygone age and is placed on his own feet, on the spearhead of his own ego, is wonderful indeed. And he further implies that from henceforward everything must undergo a like transition, so that men will act in accordance with what the reason brings to pass, with what we term the Intellectual or Mind Soul, which must be ascribed pre-eminently to the ancient Greeks. Because Agamemnon is only just entering the new era and behaves in a quite erratic and contradictory way, first in accordance with his clairvoyant dream and then out of his own ego, Homer has to call in Odysseus, a man who reaches his decisions solely under the influence of the Intellectual Soul. Wonderful is the way in which two epochs come up against each Other here, and wonderfully apposite is Homers picture of it!

Now I would ask you: Do we know Homer from a certain aspect when we know such a trait? Certainly we know him. And that is how we must come to know him if we want rightly to understand world-history — an impossible task if nothing but external documents were available. Many other traits could be brought forward, out of which the figure of Homer would emerge and stand truly before us. We can come close to him in this way, as we never could with a personality built up only from historical documents. Just think what is really known of ancient Greek history! Yet through traits of this kind we can approach Homer so closely that we get to know him to the very tip of his nose, one might say! At one time there were men who approached Homer in this way, until a crude type of philology came in and spoilt the picture. Thus does one know Socrates, as Plato and Xenophon depict him; so also Plato himself, Aristotle, Phidias. Their personalities can be rounded off in a spiritual sense. And if we thus hold these figures before our mind, a picture arises of Hellenism on the physical plane. To be sure, one must call in the aid of spiritual science. As the sun sheds its light over the landscape, so does spiritual science illumine for us the figure of Homer as he lived, and equally of Aeschylus, Socrates, Plato, Phidias.

Try for a moment to visualise Lycurgus, Solon or Alcibiades as a part of Greek history. How do they present themselves? As nothing but spectres. Whoever has any understanding of an Individuality in the true sense must recognise that in the framework of history they are just like spectres, for the features that history sets itself to portray are so abstract as to have a wholly spectral quality. Nor are the figures of later ages which have been deduced from external documents any less spectral in character.

I am saying all this in the hope that gradually — yes, even in things that people treat as so fixed and stable that the shocks of the present time are treated as mere foolishness — spiritual science in the hearts of our friends may acquire the strength and courage to bring home an understanding that a new impulse is trying to find its way into human evolution. But for this we shall need all our resources; one might say that we shall need the will to penetrate into the true connections that go to make up the world, and the power of judgment to perceive that the true connections do not lie merely on the surface. In this regard it is of surpassing importance that we should learn from life itself. For very often — to a far greater extent than one might at first suppose — error finds its way into the world through a superficial reliance on the external pattern of facts, which really can do nothing but conceal the truth, as we saw in the cases described. In the field of philosophy particularly, it is my hope that precisely through the mode of presentation in the second volume of the “Rätsel der Philosophie” many will find it possible to recognise the connection between the philosophic foundations of a world-conception, as presented in the “Philosophy of Spiritual Activity” and the “Outline of Occult Science”. If on the one hand we are looking for a presentation of the spiritual worlds as this offers itself to clairvoyant knowledge, then on the other hand there must be added to the reception of this knowledge a penetration of the soul with the impulses which arise from the conviction, that man does not confront the truth directly in the world, but must first wrest the truth from it. The truth is accessible only to the man who strives, works, penetrates into things with his own powers; not to the man who is ready to accept the first appearances of things, which are only half real. Such a fact is easily uttered in this abstract form, but the soul is inclined over and over again to back away from accepting the deeper implications of what is said.

I believe many of those who have tried to enter into spiritual science with all the means now at their disposal will understand how in our Building, for example, the attempt has been made through the concord of the columns with their motifs and, with everything expressed in the forms, to enable the soul to grow beyond what is immediately before it. For a receptive person, beginning to experience what lies in the forms of the Building, the form itself would immediately disappear, and, through the language of the form, a way would open out into the spiritual, into the wide realms of space. Then the Building would have achieved its end. But in order to find this way, much has still to be learnt from life.

Is it not a remarkable Karma for all of us, gathered here for the purpose of our Building, to experience through a shattering event the relationship between Karma and apparently external accident? If we call to our aid all the anthroposophical endeavours now at our disposal, we can readily understand that human lives which are prematurely torn away — which have not undergone the cares and manifold coarsenings of life and pass on still undisturbed — are forces within the spiritual world which have a relationship to the whole of human life; which are there in order to work upon human life. I have often said that the earth is not merely a vale of woe to which man is banished from the higher worlds by way of punishment. The earth is here as a training-ground for human souls. If, however, a life lasts but a short while, if it has but a short time of training, then forces are left over which would otherwise have been used up in flowing down from the spiritual world and maintaining the physical body. Through spiritual science we do not become convinced only of the eternality of the soul and of its journey through the spiritual world, but we learn also to recognise what is permanent in the effect of a spiritual force by means of which a man is torn from the physical body like the boy who was torn from our midst on the physical plane. And we honour, we celebrate, his physical departure in a worthy manner if, in the manner indicated and in many other ways, we really learn, learn very much, from our recent experience, Through Anthroposophy, one learns to feel and to perceive from life itself.



1. The First Goetheanum, later destroyed by fire.

2. Note by translator: A seven-year old boy was smothered by an overturned horse-drawn removal van, quite unnoticed since darkness had already set in. The boy, who was in the habit of running an errand for his mother at this hour, normally went another way.

3. Riddles of Philosophy

4. The Iliad, Book II. (Macmillan, 1949)

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