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Metamorphoses of the Soul
Paths of Experience Vol. 1

Schmidt Number: S-1956

On-line since: 15th January, 2008

LECTURE 5
Human Character

Munich, 14th March 1909

The words written by Goethe after contemplating Schiller's skull can make a deep impression on the human soul. Goethe was present when Schiller's body was removed from its provisional grave and taken to the princely vault at Weimar. Holding Schiller's skull in his hands, Goethe believed he could recognise in the form and cast of this wonderful structure the whole nature of Schiller's spiritual being, and he was inspired to write these beautiful lines:


What greater gift can life on man bestow

Than that to him God-Nature should disclose

How solid to spirit it attenuates,

How spirit's work it hardens and preserves. 30 ]


Anyone who understands Goethe's feelings on this occasion will easily turn his mind to all those phenomena where something inward is working to reveal itself in material form, in plastic shapes, as drawing, and so on. We have a most eminent example of this shaping, whereby an inner being reveals itself through outward form, in what we call human character. For human character gives the most varied and manifold expression to the direction and purpose of man's life. We think of human character as having a basic consistency. Indeed, we feel that character is inseparable from a person's whole being, and that something has gone wrong if their thinking, feeling and doing do not make up in some way a harmonious unity. We speak of a split in a man's character as evidence of a real fault in his nature. If in private life a man upholds some principle or ideal, and then in public life says something contrary to it or at least discrepant, we speak of a break in his character, of his inner life falling apart. And we know very well that this can bring a man into difficult situations or may even wreck his life. The significance of a divided character is indicated by Goethe in a remarkable saying that he assigns to Faust — a saying that is often wrongly interpreted by people who believe that Goethe's innermost intentions are known to them:


Two souls, alas, are pent within my breast,

To tear themselves apart, forever striving;

One, in pursuit of passions' crude delights,

Clings close with avid senses to the world;

The other, thrusting earthly dust away,

Aspires to rise to longed-for higher realms. 31 ]


This divided condition of the soul is often spoken of as though it were a desirable achievement, but Goethe certainly does not say so. On the contrary, the passage shows clearly how unhappy Faust feels in that period under the pressure of these two drives, one aspiring towards ideal heights, the other striving towards the earthly. An unsatisfying state of soul which Faust has to overcome — that is what Goethe is describing. It is wrong to cite this schism in human nature as though it were justified; it is something to be abolished by the unified character that we must always strive to achieve.

If now we wish to look more deeply into human character, the facts outlined in previous lectures must be kept in mind. We must remember that the human soul, embracing the inner life of man, is not merely a chaos of intermingled feelings, instincts, concepts, passions and ideals, but has three distinct members — the Sentient Soul, the lowest; in the middle the Intellectual Soul; and finally the highest, the Consciousness Soul. These three soul-members are to be clearly distinguished, but they must not be allowed to fall apart, for the human soul must be a unity. What is it, then that holds them together? It is what we call the Ego in its true sense, the bearer of self-consciousness; the active element within our soul which plays upon its three members as a man plays upon the strings of an instrument. And the harmony or disharmony which the Ego calls forth by playing on the three soul-members is the basis of human character.

The Ego is indeed something of an inner musician, who with a powerful stroke calls one or other soul-member into activity; and the effects of their combined influence, resounding from within a human being as harmony or disharmony, make up the real foundation of his character.

However, that is no more than an abstract description. If we are to understand how character comes out in people, we must enter somewhat more deeply into human life and the being of man. We must show how the harmonious or disharmonious play of the Ego on the three soul-members sets its stamp on man's entire personality as he stands before us, and how personality is outwardly revealed.

Human life — as we all know — alternates between waking and sleeping. At night, when a man falls asleep, his feelings, his pleasure and pain, his joys and griefs, his urges, desires and passions, his perceptions and concepts, his ideas and ideals, all sink down into indefinite darkness; and his inner life passes into an unconscious or subconscious condition. What has happened?

As we have often explained, when a man goes to sleep his physical and etheric bodies remain in bed, while his astral body, including the Sentient Soul, Intellectual Soul and Consciousness Soul, withdraw, as does the Ego. During sleep the astral body and Ego are in a spiritual world. Why does a man return every night to this spiritual world? Why does he have to leave behind his physical and etheric bodies? There are good reasons for it. Spiritual Science says that the astral body is the bearer of pleasure and pain, joy and grief, instincts, desires and passions. Yes, but these are precisely the experiences that sink into indefinite darkness on going to sleep. Yet is it asserted that the astral body and the Ego are in spiritual worlds? Is there not a contradiction here?

Well, the contradiction is only apparent. The astral body is indeed the bearer of pleasure and pain, of joy and sorrow, of all the inner experiences that surge up and down in the soul during waking hours, but in man as he is today, the astral body cannot perceive these experiences directly. It can perceive them only when they are reflected from outside itself, and for this to be possible the Ego and astral body must come back into the etheric and physical bodies at the time of awakening from sleep. Everything that a man experiences inwardly, his pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, is reflected by the physical and etheric bodies — especially by the etheric body — as from a mirror. But we must not suppose that this active process, which goes on every day from morning to evening, requires no effort to sustain it. The inner self of man, his Ego and astral body, his Consciousness Soul, Intellectual Soul and Sentient Soul, all have to work on the physical and etheric bodies, so that through the reciprocal interaction of his inner forces and his outer bodies the surging life of the daytime is engendered.

This reciprocal interaction involves a continual using up of soul-forces. When in the evening a man feels tired, this means that he is no longer able to draw from his inner life a sufficiency of the forces which enable him to work on his physical and etheric bodies. When he is nearing sleep and the faculty that required the most intensive play of his spirit into the physical, the faculty of speech, begins to weaken; when sight, smell, taste and finally hearing, the most spiritual of the senses, gradually fade away, because he is no longer able to draw on his inner forces to sustain them — then we see how these forces are used up through the day.

What is the origin of these forces? They come from the nightly condition of sleep. During the period between going to sleep and waking up the soul absorbs to the full the forces it needs for conjuring up before us all that we live through by day. During waking hours the soul can deploy its powers, but it cannot draw on the forces necessary for recuperation. Naturally, Spiritual Science is familiar with the various theories advanced by external science to account for the replenishment of forces used up by day, but we need not go into that now. Thus we can say that when the soul passes back from sleep into waking life, it brings from its spiritual home the forces which it devotes all day long to building up the soul-life which it conjures before us.

Now let us ask: When the soul goes off to sleep in the evening, does it carry anything with it into the spiritual world? Yes; and if we want to understand what this is, we must above all closely observe man's personal development between birth and death. This development is evident when in later years a man shows himself to be riper, richer in experience and wisdom learnt from life, while he may also have acquired certain capabilities and powers that he did not possess in his younger days.

A man does indeed receive from the outer world something that he transforms inwardly, as the following consideration clearly shows. Between 1770 and 1815 certain events of great significance for the development of the world took place. They were witnessed by the most diverse contemporaries, some of whom were unaffected by them, while others were so deeply moved that they became imbued with experience and wisdom and their soul-lives progressed to a higher stage.

How did this come about? It is best illustrated by a simple event in ordinary human life. Take the process of learning to write. What really happens before the moment when we are able to put pen to paper and express our thoughts in writing? A great deal must have happened — a whole series of experiences, from the first attempt to hold the pen, then to making the first stroke, and so on through all the efforts which lead at last to a grasp of the craft of writing. If we recall everything that must have occurred during months or years, and all we went through, perhaps by way of punishments and reproofs, until at last these experiences were transformed into knowing how to write, then we must say: These experiences were recast and remoulded, so that later on they appear like the essential core of what we call the ability to write.

Spiritual Science shows how this transformation comes about. It is possible only because human beings pass repeatedly through the condition of sleep. In daily life we find that when we are at pains to absorb something, the process of imprinting and retentions is considerably aided if we sleep on it; in that way we make it our own. The experiences we go through have to be united with the soul and worked on by the soul if they are to coalesce and be transformed into faculties. This whole process is carried through by the soul during sleep, and thereby our life is enhanced.

Present-day consciousness has little inkling of these things, but in times of ancient clairvoyance they were well known. An example will show how a poet once indicated in a remarkable way his knowledge of this transforming process. Homer, who can rightly be called a seer, describes in his Odyssey 32 ] how Penelope, during the absence of her husband, Odysseus, was besieged by a throng of suitors. She promised them that she would give her decision when she had completed a robe she was weaving; but every night she undid the work of the day. If a poet wishes to indicate how a series of experiences, such as those of Penelope with her suitors, are not to merge into a faculty — in this case the faculty of decision — he must show how these experiences have to be unwoven at night, or they would unfailingly coalesce.

To anyone imbued with a typical modern consciousness these ideas may sound like hair-splitting, or they may seem to be imposing something arbitrary on the poet; but the only really great men are those, whose work derives from the great world-secrets, and many people today who talk glibly of originality and the like have no inkling of the depths from which the truly great achievements in the arts have been born.

If now we look further at the progress of human life between birth and death, we have to recognise that it is confined within certain narrow limits. We can indeed work at and enhance our faculties; in later life we can acquire qualities of soul which were lacking earlier on; but all this is subject to the fact that we can accomplish nothing that would require us to transform our physical and etheric bodies. These bodies, with their particular aptitudes, are there at birth; we find them ready-made. For example, we can reach a certain understanding of music only if we are born with a musical ear. That is a crude example, but it shows how transformation can be frustrated; in such cases the experiences can indeed be united with the soul, but we must renounce any hope of weaving them into our bodily life.

If, then, we consider human life from a higher standpoint, the possibility of breaking free from the physical body and laying it aside must be regarded as enormously wholesome and significant for our entire human existence. Our capacity to transform experiences into faculties is limited by the fact that every morning, on returning from sleep, we find our physical and etheric bodies waiting for us. At death we lay them aside and pass through the gate of death into a spiritual world. There, unhampered by these bodies, we can carry to spiritual completion those experiences between birth and death that we could not embody because of our corporeal limitations.

When we descend once more from the spiritual world to a new life on earth, then, and only then, can we take the powers we have woven into our spiritual archetype and give them physical existence by impressing them plastically into the initially soft human body. Now for the first time we can weave into our being those fruits of experience that we had indeed garnered in our previous life but could not then carry into physical embodiment. Seen in this light, death provides for the enhancement of life.

Moreover, this comparatively crude work that a man can do on his physical body, whereby he moulds into it what he could not impress on it in his previous life, is not the only possibility open to him. He is able also to imprint on his entire being certain finer fruits of foregoing lives.

When someone is born, his Ego and astral body, including his Sentient Soul, Intellectual Soul and Consciousness Soul, are by no means featureless; they are endowed with definite attributes and characteristics brought from previous lives. The cruder work, whereby the fruits of past experiences are impressed on the plastic physical body, is accomplished before birth, but a more delicate work — and this distinguishes man from the animals — is performed after birth. Throughout childhood and youth a man works into the finer Organisation of his inner and outer nature certain determining characteristics and motives for action, brought by his Ego from a previous life. While the Ego thus impresses itself from within on its vehicles of expression, the fact of its activity and its way of working combine to form the character which a man presents to the world. Between birth and death the Ego works on the organs of the soul, the Sentient Soul, Intellectual Soul and Consciousness Soul, in such a way that they respond to what it has made of itself. But the Ego does not stand apart from the urges, desires and passions of the Sentient Soul. No, it unites itself with these emotions as though they were its own; and equally unites itself with the cognitions and the knowledge that belong to the Consciousness Soul.

So it is, that the harmony or disharmony that a human being has wrought in his soul-members is impressed by his Ego on his exterior being in his next earthly life. Human character, therefore, although it appears to us as determined and inborn, can yet be seen to be developing gradually in the course of his life.

With animals, character is determined entirely at birth; an animal cannot work plastically on its exterior nature. Man has the advantage of appearing at birth with no definite character manifest externally, but in the depths of his being he has slumbering powers brought from previous lives; they work into his undeveloped exterior and gradually shape his character, in so far as this is determined by previous lives.

Thus we see how in a certain sense man has an inborn character, but one that gradually develops in the course of life. If we keep this in mind, we can understand how even eminent personalities can go wrong in judging character. There are philosophers who argue that character is inwardly determined and cannot change, but that is a mistake. It applies only to attributes which derive from a previous life and appear as inborn character. Man's inward centre, his Ego, sends out its influence and gives a common stamp and character to every member of his organism. This character extends into the soul and even into the external limbs of the body. We see this inner centre pouring itself forth, as it were, shaping everything in accord with itself, and we feel how this centre holds the members of the human organism together. Even in the external parts of his physical body the imprint of a man's inner being can be discerned.

In this connection, an artist once gave wonderful expression to something which generally receives only theoretical attention. The work he produced portrays human nature at the moment when the human Ego, the centre which holds the organism together as a unity, is lost, and the limbs, each going its own way, strain apart in different directions. The work I mean seizes precisely this moment, when a man loses the foundation of his character, of his being as a whole. But this work, a great and famous one, has been very often misunderstood. Do not suppose that I am about to level cheap criticism at men for whose work I have the highest respect. But the fact that even great minds can make mistakes in face of certain phenomena, just when they are most earnestly striving for truth, shows how difficult the path to truth really is.

One of the greatest German authorities on art, Winckelmann, 33 ] was impelled by his whole disposition to err in interpreting the work of art known as the Laocoon. 34 ] His interpretation has been widely admired. In many circles it has been thought that nothing better could be said about this portrayal of Laocoon, the Trojan priest who, with his two sons, was crushed to death by serpents. Winckelmann, filled with enthusiasm for this example of the sculptor's art, said that here we are shown how the priest, Laocoon, whose every limb bespeaks his nobility and greatness, is torn with anguish, above all the anguish of a father. He is placed between his two sons, with the serpents coiled round their bodies. Conscious of the pain inflicted on his sons, he himself, as a father, is so agonised by it that the lower part of his body is contracted, as though pressing out the full degree of pain. He forgets himself, consumed with immeasurable pity for his sons.

This is a beautiful explanation of a father's ordeal, but if — just because we honour Winckelmann as a great personality — we look repeatedly and conscientiously at the Laocoon, we are obliged finally to say that Winckelmann must be mistaken, for it is not possible for pity to be the dominating motif in the scene portrayed. The father's head is aligned at such an angle that he cannot see his sons. Winckelmann's view of the group is quite wrong. The immediate impression we get from looking at the figures is that here we are witnessing the quite definite moment when the encircling pressure of the snakes has driven the human Ego out of Laocoon's body, and the separate instincts, deprived of the Ego, make their way into the physical body. Thus we see the head, the lower body and the limbs each taking its own course, not brought into natural harmony with the figure as a whole because the Ego is absent. The Laocoon group shows us, in external bodily terms, how a man loses his unified character when bereft of the Ego, the strong central point which holds together the members of his bodily organism. And if we allow this spectacle to work on our souls, we can come to experience the unifying element which naturally expresses itself in the harmonising of the limbs, and imprints on a man what we call his character.

But now we must ask: If it is true that a man's character is to some extent inborn — if the characteristics given by birth cannot by any effort be altered beyond a certain limit, as every glance at human life will tell us — is it then possible for a man to change his character in a certain way?

Yes, in so far as character belongs to the life of the soul and is not subject to the bodily limitations we encounter every morning on waking from sleep, and so can help to harmonise and strengthen the Sentient Soul, Intellectual Soul and Consciousness Soul. To this extent there can be a development of character during a person's life between birth and death.

Some knowledge of all this is of special importance in education.

Essential as it is to understand the temperaments and the differences between them, it is necessary also to know something about human character and what can be done to change it between birth and death, even though it is in some measure determined by the fruits of a previous life. If we are to make good use of this knowledge, we must be clear that personal life goes through four typical periods of development. In my small book, Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy, you will find further information on these stages; here I can only sketch them in outline.

The first period runs from birth up to the beginning of the change of teeth around the age of seven. It is during this period that external influence can do most to develop the physical body. During the next period, from the seventh year up to the onset of puberty at about the thirteenth, fourteenth or fifteenth year, the etheric body, particularly, can be developed. Then comes a third period when the lower astral body, especially, can be developed, until finally, from about the 21st year onwards, the time comes when a human being meets the world as a free, independent being and can himself work on the progress of his soul.

The years from 20 to 28 are important for developing the forces of the Sentient Soul. The next seven years up to the age of 35 — these are all only average figures — are important for the development of the Intellectual Soul, especially through intercourse with the outer world.

All this may be regarded as nonsense by those who fail to observe the course of human life, but anyone who studies life with open eyes will come to know that certain elements in the human being are most open to development during particular periods. During our early twenties we are particularly well placed to bring our desires, instincts, passions and so on into relation with the impressions and influences received from our dealings with the outer world. We can feel our powers growing through the corresponding interaction between the Intellectual Soul and the world around us, and anyone who knows what true knowledge is, will realise that all earlier acquisitions of knowledge were no more than a preparation for this later stage. The ripeness of experience which enables one to survey and evaluate the knowledge one acquires is not attained, on average, before the thirty-fifth year. These laws exist. Anyone unwilling to recognise them is unwilling to observe the course of human life.

If we keep this in mind, we can see how human life between birth and death is structured. The work of the Ego in harmonising the soul-members, and its necessary endeavour to impress the fruits of its work on the physical body, will show you how important it is for an educator to know how the physical body goes through its development up to the seventh year. It is only during this period that influences from the outer world can be brought in to endow the physical body with power and strength. And here we encounter a mysterious connection between the physical body and the Consciousness Soul, a connection which exact observation can thoroughly confirm.

If the Ego is to gain strength, so that in later life, after the thirty-fifth year, it can permeate itself with the forces of the Consciousness Soul, and through this permeation can go forth to acquire knowledge of the world, it ought to encounter no boundaries in the physical body. For the physical body can set up the greatest obstacles to the Consciousness Soul and the Ego, if the Ego is not content to remain enclosed in the inner life but wishes to go out and engage in free intercourse with the world. Now since in bringing up a child during his first seven years we are able to strengthen the forces of his physical body, within certain limits, a remarkable connection between two periods of life is apparent. What can be accomplished for a child during these years by those who care for him is not a matter of indifference! People who fail to realise this have not learnt how to observe human life. Anyone who can compare the early years of childhood with the period after the thirty-fifth year will know that if a man is to go out into the world and engage in free intercourse with it, the best thing we can do for him is to bring him the right sort of influence during his early years. Anything we can do to help the child to find joy in immediate physical life, and to feel that love surrounds him, will strengthen the forces of his physical body, making it supple, pliant and open to education. The more joy, love and happiness that we can give the child during his early years, the fewer obstacles and hindrances he will encounter later on, when the work of his Ego on his Consciousness Soul should enable him to become an open character, associating in free give-and-take with the outer world. Anything in the way of unkindness pain or distressing circumstances that we allow the child to suffer up to his seventh year has a hardening effect on his physical body, and this creates obstacles for him in later life. He will tend to become a closed character, a man whose whole being is imprisoned in his soul, so that he is unable to achieve a free and open intercourse with the world and the impressions it yields.

Again, there are connections between the etheric body and the second period of life, and therefore with the Intellectual Soul. The play of the Ego on the Intellectual Soul releases forces which can either endow a man with courage and initiative or incline him to cowardice, indecision, sluggishness. Which way it goes depends on the strength of the Ego. But when a man has the best opportunity to use the Intellectual Soul for strengthening his character through intercourse with the world, between the ages of 28 and 35, he may encounter hindrances in his etheric body. If during the period from the seventh to the fourteenth year we supply the etheric body with forces that will prevent it from creating these hindrances in later life, we shall be doing something for his education that should earn his gratitude.

If during the period from seven to fourteen in a child's life we can stand towards him as an authority, and as a source of truth whom he can trust, this is particularly health-giving. Through this relationship, we, as parents or teachers, can strengthen his etheric forces so that in later life he will encounter the least possible obstacles in his etheric body. Then he will be able, if his Ego has the disposition for it, to become a man of courage and initiative. If we are aware of these hidden connections, we can have an enormously health-giving influence on human beings while they are growing up.

Our chaotic education has lost all knowledge of these connections; they were known instinctively in earlier times. It is always a pleasure to see that some old teachers knew of these things, whether by instinct or by inspiration. Rotteck's old World History, for example: it was to be found in our fathers' libraries and it may now be out of date here and there, but if we approach it with understanding we encounter a quite individual method of presentation which shows that Rotteck, who taught history in Freiburg, had a way of teaching which was the very reverse of dry or insipid. We have only to read the Foreword, which is quite out of the ordinary in spirit, to feel: here is a man who knows that in addressing young people of this age — from 14 to 21, when the astral body is developing — he must bring them into touch with the power of great, beautiful ideals. Rotteck is always at pains to show how we can be inspired by the great thoughts of the heroes and to kindle the enthusiasm that can be felt for all that men and women have striven for and suffered in the course of human evolution.

This approach is entirely justified, for the influence thus poured into the astral body during these years is of direct benefit to the Sentient Soul, when the Ego is working to develop a person's character through free intercourse with the world. All that has flowed into the soul from high ideals and enthusiasm is imprinted on the Sentient Soul and embodied accordingly in character.

Thus we see that because the physical, etheric and astral bodies are still plastic in young people, this or that influence can be impressed on them through education, and this makes it possible for a man to work on his character in later life. If education has not helped him in this way, he will find it difficult to work on his character and he will have to resort to the strongest measures. He will need to devote himself to deep meditative contemplation of certain qualities and feelings in order to impress them consciously on his soul. He must try, for example, to experience inwardly the content of those religious confessions which can speak to us as more than theories. He must devote himself again and again to contemplation of those great philosophies in the widest sense which in later life can lead through our thoughts and feelings into the great, all-embracing cosmic secrets. If we can immerse ourselves in these secrets, ever and again willingly devoting ourselves to them; if through daily prayer we make them part of ourselves, then through the play of the Ego, we can re-mould our characters in later life.

In this connection the essential thing is that the qualities acquired by and embodied in the Ego are imprinted on the Sentient Soul, the Intellectual Soul and the Consciousness Soul. Generally speaking, man has little power over his external body. We have seen how he encounters a boundary in his physical body, with its innate pre-dispositions. Nevertheless, observation shows that in spite of this limitation, man can do some work on his physical body between birth and death.

Who has not noticed that a man who devotes himself for a decade to knowledge of a really deep kind — knowledge that does not remain grey learning but is transformed into pleasure and pain, happiness and sorrow, thus becoming real knowledge and uniting itself with the Ego — who has not noticed that such a man's physiognomy, his gestures, his entire behaviour have changed, showing how the working of the Ego has penetrated right into his external physique!

However, the extent to which the outer body can be influenced by powers acquired between birth and death is very limited. For the most part man has to resign himself to keeping them for his next earthly life.

On the other hand, the various attributes brought over from previous lives can be enhanced by working on them between birth and death, if the faculty for doing so has been acquired.

Thus we see how character is not confined to the inner life of the soul, but penetrates into a man's external physique and limbs. It finds expression, first, in his gestures; second, in his physiognomy; and third, in the plastic formation of the skull, the origin of what we call phrenology.

How, then, does character achieve this outward expression in gesture, physiognomy and bone-formation? The Ego works formatively first of all in the Sentient Soul, which embraces all the instincts, desires, passions — in short, everything that belongs to the inner impulses of the will. The note sounded by the Ego on this member of the soul is manifest externally as gesture, and this play of gestures, springing from a man's inner being, can tell us a great deal about his character.

When the Ego is active chiefly in the Sentient Soul, the note it sounds there resonates in the Intellectual Soul and the Consciousness Soul, and this, too, is evident in gesture. The coarser elements of the Sentient Soul come to expression in gestures connected with the lower part of the body. If, for instance, a man pats his stomach with a feeling of satisfaction, we can see how his character is bound up with his Sentient Soul, and how volitions connected with his higher soul-members come to expression hardly at all.

When, however, the activity of the Ego resonates in the intellectual Soul, we can often observe a gesture related to the organ which serves the Intellectual Soul as its chief means of outer expression. Speakers who have the so-called “breast-tone of conviction” are given to striking themselves over the heart. They are men who speak with passion and are not concerned with objective judgment. Here we have the passionate character who lives entirely in the Sentient Soul but has so strong an Ego that his emotions resonate in the Intellectual Soul; we recognise him by his expansive attitudes. For example, there are popular speakers who thrust their thumbs into their waistcoats and swell out their chests when they are facing an audience. Far from being objective, they speak directly out of the Sentient Soul, putting into words their personal egoistic feelings and reinforcing them with this gesture — thumbs in waistcoat.

When the note struck by the Ego in the Sentient Soul resonates in the Consciousness Soul, we see a gesture bearing on the organ which gives the Consciousness Soul its chief outer expression. If a person finds it particularly difficult to bring his inner feelings to the point of reaching a decision, he will lay a finger on his nose — a gesture indicating how hard it is for him to fetch up a decision from the depth of his Consciousness Soul.

When someone lives chiefly in the Intellectual Soul, this is apparent in his physiognomy and facial expression. The experience of the Intellectual Soul lies closer to man's inner life and is not subject to the outer pressure under which he might sigh like a slave. He feels it to be more his own property, and this is reflected in his face. If a man is indeed capable of living in the Intellectual Soul, but presses down its content into the Sentient Soul, if any judgment he forms gets hold of him so strongly that he glows with enthusiasm for it, we can see this expressed in his sloping forehead and projecting chin. If something is actually experienced in the Intellectual Soul and only resonates in the Sentient Soul, this is expressed in the lower part of the face. If a man achieves the special virtue of the Intellectual Soul, a harmony between inner and outer, so that he neither secludes himself in inward brooding nor depletes his inner life by complete surrender to outer impressions, and if his Ego's work in the shaping of character is accomplished chiefly through the Intellectual Soul, then all this will be manifest in the middle part of his face, the external expression of the Intellectual Soul.

Here we can see how fruitful Spiritual Science can be for the study of civilisations: we are shown how successive characteristics are imprinted on successive peoples. Thus the Intellectual Soul made its imprint particularly on the ancient Greeks, among whom we can discern the beautiful harmony between inner and outer that is the characteristic manifestation of the Intellectual Soul. And here, accordingly, we find the Greek nose in its perfection. True it is that we cannot fully understand these things unless we relate them to their spiritual background.

Again, when someone carries the content of the Intellectual Soul into the realm of cognition and experiences it in the Consciousness Soul, the outward sign of this is a projecting forehead, as though the working of the Ego in the Intellectual Soul were flowing up into the Consciousness Soul.

If, however, someone lives in close unity with his Ego, so that the character of the Ego is impressed on the Consciousness Soul, he can then carry the note sounded by the Ego in his Consciousness Soul down into his Intellectual Soul and his Sentient Soul. This goes with a higher stage of human development. Only the Consciousness Soul can be permeated by high moral and aesthetic ideals and by great, wide-ranging conceptions of the world.

All this has to come to life in the Consciousness Soul, but the forces engendered by the Ego in the Consciousness Soul on this account can penetrate down into the Sentient Soul, where they are fired with enthusiasm and passion and with what we may call the inner warmth of the Sentient Soul, This comes about when a man can glow with enthusiasm for some knowledge he has gained. Then the noblest aspiration to which man can rise at present is carried down into the Sentient Soul. And the Sentient Soul itself is enhanced when permeated by forces from the Consciousness Soul. But what the Ego can accomplish for a character — ideal through its work in the Consciousness Soul may encounter obstacles caused by inborn pre-dispositions, so that it cannot be impressed on the physical body. Then we have to practise resignation; the work of the Ego in the Consciousness Soul may give rise to a noble quality of soul, but this cannot come to expression in the physical body during that single life-time. But the ardent passion for high moral ideals that a person has experienced in the Sentient Soul can be taken through the gate of death and carried over into his next life as a most powerful formative force. We can see how this comes to expression in the contours of the skull, showing that what a man has made of himself penetrates into his very bones.

A study of the contours of the skull can indeed throw some light on character, but always in a strictly individual context. It is absurd to suppose that phrenology can lay down general schemes and typical principles that will be universally valid. Everyone has a phrenology that applies to himself alone, for his skull is shaped by forces derived from his previous life, and in every individual this must be recognised. Only abstract theorists addicted to diagrams would think of founding a phrenology on general principles. Anyone who knows about the formative forces that work into man's very bones would speak only of recognising their effects in individuals. The formation of the skull is different with everyone and can never be accounted for in terms of a single earthly life. Here we touch on what is called reincarnation, for in the contours of the skull we can discern what a man has made of himself in previous lives. Here reincarnation becomes a palpable fact. We need only know where to read the evidence for it.

Thus we see how the effects of human character have to be followed from their origin all the way into the hardest structures, and then human character stands before us as a wonderful riddle. We have begun to describe how the Ego impresses character into the forms of the Sentient Soul, the Intellectual Soul and the Consciousness Soul. Then we saw how this work by the Ego has results which make their mark on man's external physique and are manifest in gesture and physiognomy and even in the bones. And since man is led from birth to death and on again to a new birth, we saw how his inner being works on the outer, impressing character both on the inner life and on the physical body, which is an image of the inner life. Hence we can very well understand the deep impression made on us by the Laocoon, where we see the bodily character failing asunder into the several limbs; we see, as it were, the character, which belongs to the very essence of man, vanishing in the outward gestures of this work of art. Here we have plain evidence of the working of inner forces in the material realm, and of how the dispositions brought from earlier lives are determining factors in any given life; and we see how the spirit, by breaking life asunder, brings to expression in a new life the character acquired as the outcome of a previous one.

We can now enter into Goethe's feelings when he held Schiller's skull in his hand and said: In the contours of this skull I see how the spirit sets its stamp on matter. This form, full of character, calls up for me the voice that I heard sounding through Schiller's poems and in the words of friendship he so often spoke to me. Yes, I see here how the spirit has worked in the material realm. And when I contemplate this piece of matter, its noble forms show me how previous lives prepared the radiance that shone out so powerfully for me from Schiller's mind.

So we are led to repeat as our own conviction the words written by Goethe after contemplating Schiller's skull:


What greater gift can life on man bestow

Than that to him God-Nature should disclose

How solid to spirit it attenuates,

How spirit's work it hardens and preserves.





Last Modified: 15-Nov-2017
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