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Technology and Art: Their Bearing on Modern Culture

A Lecture given
by Rudolf Steiner
Dornach, 28th December, 1914
GA 275

This is the 1st of 8 lectures given by Rudolf Steiner at in Dornach, in the Winter of 1914 and 1915. The title these lectures were published under is: Art in the Light of Mystery Wisdom, published in German as: Kunst Im Lichte der Mysterienweisheit The translator is Dorothy Osmond. The GA # is 275.

Art is one of the healthiest, most direct ways to arm and strengthen ourselves against the harmful influences of modern life. Steiner depicts here the transforming power of art as it relates to technology.

This is an authorised English translation. It is presented here with the kind permission of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland.

Copyright © 1959
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Technology and Art:

Their Bearing on Modern Culture

R u d o l f   S t e i n e r

A Lecture, hitherto untranslated, given at Dornach on December 28, 1914

[From a shorthand report unrevised by the lecturer. Published by kind permission of the Rudolf Steiner-Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland.]


HE essential aim of the lectures given here recently has been to build a bridge from knowledge yielded by Spiritual Science to a view of life demanded by present conditions, and I should like now to say a little more about this.

“Modern life” — as we call it — makes a strong impact upon those who have been torn away from any direct connection with Nature by life in cities and towns. And it is common knowledge that ever since the onset of this modern life, men have been apprehensive about its effect upon the material as well as the spiritual progress of humanity.

The important thing now is that the impulses we feel coming to us from Spiritual Science should find their place in this modern life. We must come to feel that Spiritual Science is a necessary counter-balance for elements in modern life that have an injurious or even destructive effect upon the divine-spiritual life-forces of man.

When a man who has reached, shall we say, the first stages of initiation is in a position to allow the effects of modern civilisation to work upon himself, he has experiences which inform him more deeply about what this modern life signifies for the human being than external observation can ever do. For example, anyone who has taken even the first steps of the initiate-life lives differently through the experience arising from a night spent in a railway train or in a steamer — especially if the night has been slept through. The difference between one who has reached the first steps leading to initiation and one who has no connection whatever with it is that in the former case the experiences become conscious; the person realises what actually happens to him when he spends a night in a steamer or a railway train — especially if he has been asleep.

Naturally, the influences that play on the human organism from such an experience are just the same in both cases. As far as the effects upon the constitution of man are concerned, there is no difference.

If we are to understand what is really meant by these indications, we must remind ourselves of a familiar truth of Spiritual Science: during sleep the Ego and astral body are outside the physical and etheric bodies. In such circumstances, owing to certain restrictions inevitably imposed upon us by cosmic laws, the Ego and astral body are generally in the immediate neighbourhood of our physical and etheric bodies, so that while we are asleep in a railway carriage we are right inside all the hubbub, the turbulent creakings and rumblings of the wheels and machinery of the train. It is the same in a steamer. We are within all this turmoil; we are caught up in these anything but musical experiences of our environment, and even if only the preliminary steps have been taken towards initiation, one can notice on waking from sleep how the Ego and astral body, as they return into the physical body, bring with them the effects of the strain and pressure caused by the mechanical contrivances in which they were actually involved and which they passed just before waking.

The effects of all the discordant hubbub, the jerking and the dragging, are brought into the physical and etheric bodies, and anyone who has ever woken up with the aftermath of what the machinery in a steamer or a railway train has stirred up in his Ego and astral body — anyone who has carried this over into his waking consciousness — is fully aware how little it conforms with what the Ego and astral body experience as the inner law and order prevailing in the physical and etheric bodies. He really brings with him a frightful pandemonium and tumult — a rattling, jangling tumult — and the effect upon the etheric body is the same as if the physical body were being crushed to pieces in a machine. This is of course a crude simile, but you will not misunderstand it. These things are a quite inevitable accompaniment of modern life, and at the very outset I must utter a word of warning, because what I am proposing to say might easily arouse a certain hidden arrogance which is abundantly in evidence here and there.

Naturally I say this without making the slightest implication, either general or specific, for in speaking of such a thing one immediately opens the way for the passing of judgments. What I mean by this arrogance is that someone may say to himself: “I must guard against exposing my own body to these destructive forces; I must strictly protect myself from all the influences of modern life, retire into a sanctum with the right surroundings and walls painted in colours suitable for spiritual sensitivity, so that none of the adjuncts of modern life may come into contact with my bodily constitution.”

The last thing I want is that what I say should have this effect. All desire to withdraw, to protect oneself from the influences of unavoidable world-karma, emanates from weakness. But it is Anthroposophy alone that can make the human heart and will vigorous enough to develop the force which arms and strengthens us in face of these influences. Any kind of advice to withdraw from modern life, or to engage in a sort of hothouse cultivation of the spiritual life, should never find favour in the sphere of our movement. In a true culture of the spirit there can never be any question of such procedure. Although it is understandable that weaker natures would like to withdraw from modern life into communities where they will be untouched by it, it must nevertheless be emphasised that such an attitude is not the outcome of strength, but of weakness of the soul. Our real task is to strengthen the soul by permeating it with the impulses that come from Spiritual Science and spiritual research, so that it is armed against the influences of modern life, can hold its own in spite of all the surrounding hubbub, and be able to find its way through the tumult and din of the Ahrimanic beings into the spiritual-divine world.

One fact of which I have often spoken must be clearly borne in mind. As human beings we do not sleep only by night. We actually sleep by day as well, only the day-sleep is less noticeable than the night-sleep. In nightly sleep, man's life of thought is dimmed, and because in soul he lives in his thoughts he is naturally more aware of the dimming of the life of thought during nightly sleep. By day it is the life of will that is more wrapped in sleep, and this sleep is not so noticeable because man is less conscious in the life of will.

One result of this is the controversy waged among philosophers on the subject of the freedom and unfreedom of the will. They take no account of the fact that when they are investigating the will they do it as day-sleepers, and being for this reason unable to discover its real nature, they come out with a great deal of preposterous nonsense about free will and unfree will, about indeterminism and determinism. In fact, we are conscious of our life of will to a very small extent indeed during the wide-open consciousness of the day; the will sinks down into the subconscious, into the region belonging exclusively to the astral body.

During waking life, therefore, we are also entangled in all the tumult arising from the products of technical science surrounding us in modern life. In nightly sleep, we sink into this tumult more with our life of thought and feeling; in day-sleep, more with our life of will and feeling.


Now this modern life, as we call it, was not always part of the evolutionary path of mankind. It has existed, in essentials, only since the beginning of the Fifth Post-Atlantean epoch of civilisation. The beginning of this epoch synchronises with that of modern life. How does external culture speak of this phenomenon? External culture, as we know, is proud of what has been achieved. It says, in effect: Through the whole of antiquity and the Middle Ages, men were not capable of studying Nature in a way that could have led to an actual science of Nature; this has been done for the first time in our modern age. Then at last — so it is said — men freed themselves from the old way of observing Nature and now they study the natural world purely in the light of its abstract laws; through knowledge of the laws of Nature, science has also succeeded in achieving an ‘unprecedented’ mastery of the forces of Nature. (This word, ‘unprecedented’, is very popular.) That is modern technical science; it arises because men have come to know the laws of Nature and are able, with the aid of these laws, to shape matter into the machines with which in turn they work upon Nature and upon life. So they fill modern life with products of the mechanical arts and thus create the technical environment characteristic of the present day. The acquisition of genuine natural science and the mastery of Nature and her forces are therefore achievements of our modern age.

This sort of talk is very general. But those who speak in such terms are speaking the language of Ahriman. We will try to translate this language of Ahriman into the true language we endeavour to master through Spiritual Science, in which the words have not only the meaning resulting from observation of external Nature, but also the meaning they receive when the Cosmos is viewed in its totality — in its manifestation as Nature and in its spiritual life at one and the same time.

Let us think, to begin with, entirely from the external point of view, of what happens when modern technical science is put into application. What happens is, fundamentally, a performance that takes place in two stages. The first stage consists in destroying Nature's coherence. Quarries are broken up and the stones carried away, forests are maltreated and the wood transported ... many more examples could be given. In short, raw materials are obtained by the destruction, the demolition, of Nature as a coherent whole. At the second stage, what has thus been extracted from Nature and shattered is in turn combined into mechanical devices according to the laws that have been recognised as natural laws. These are the two stages when the outer aspect of the matter is under consideration.

But what of the inner aspect? From earlier lectures we know that when Nature is demolished — the mineral world first and foremost — this demolition is associated with a certain feeling of pleasure experienced by the elemental spirits within Nature. We shall be less concerned with this point to-day. The important thing is that we drive out of Nature the elemental spirits, belonging to the sphere of the progressive Hierarchies, by which the coherence of Nature is maintained. Elemental spiritual beings are present throughout Nature, and when we demolish Nature we drive out the nature-spirits into the sphere of the spiritual. This is always part of the first stage. We demolish physical Nature and thereby release the nature-spirits, chasing them as it were out of the sphere assigned to them by the Jahve-Gods into the realm where they can flit around in freedom and are no longer shackled to their allotted habitation.

The first stage can therefore also be called: Eviction of the nature-spirits. The second stage is when we put together, according to accepted natural laws, what has been extracted from, hacked out of, Nature. When in accordance with a recognised law of Nature, we construct a machine or a system of machinery out of raw materials, we again transfer certain spiritual beings into what is thus produced.

A construction of this kind is by no means devoid of spirit. In producing it we create a soil for other spiritual beings, and the spiritual beings we have now enticed into our machinery belong to the hierarchy of Ahrimanic spirits. In the first stage, therefore, we come upon the nature-spirits which are continually evolving, and drive them forth; in the second stage we unite the Ahrimanic spirits with the mechanical constructions or other products of technical science.

But this procedure in the modern age, when we live in a milieu of applied technology, means that we create a thoroughly Ahrimanic environment for what is asleep in us alike by night and by day. No wonder that when someone who has reached the first stage of initiation brings back with him on waking the effects of what he has lived through amid the hubbub and clatter, he feels it as a destructive element when in his Ego and astral body he comes down into the etheric and physical bodies. For he brings back with him into his very organism the effects of his association with the Ahrimanic elemental spirits. In this third stage, the cultural stage, we cram ourselves through and through with Ahrimanic spirits as the result of the technical science in application around us. That is the inner aspect of the matter.

We will turn now from what we have thus come to know about the occult side of modern life to those earlier times when man's life was such that in sleep he was separated from Nature only by veils easily penetrable in the spirit, while by day he worked in a Nature that was still the habitation of the good spirits of the Jahve-Hierarchy. In those times the souls of men — Ego and astral body — brought into the etheric and physical bodies nature-spirits and nature-forces which quickened the inner life of soul. And the farther back we go in the history of the evolution of humanity, the more do we find a state of things that is nowadays becoming steadily rarer. Men did not in those days fill themselves with the Ahrimanic spirits living in the products of technical science, but with the normally progressing nature-spirits which — if one may put it so — the good Spirits of the Hierarchies have united with all the processes and activities of external Nature.

Now man can reach the position he must occupy if he is to be truly Man only by seeking for it in his inner life, by being able to descend so far into the depths of his soul that he there finds the forces which unite him with the spiritual realities of the Cosmos in which he is embedded. He can be, and indeed already has been, severed from these cosmic realities through sense-perception and intellectual thinking, and now also, as we have seen, because modern life crams him through and through with Ahrimanic spirits.

It is only by descending into the depths of his own inner life that man comes into connection with the divine-spiritual Beings who work for his good, the normally evolving Beings of the spiritual Hierarchies. This coming together with the spiritual Hierarchies for whom we have in truth been spiritually born, this community with them, is rendered very much more difficult for man by the fact that the world is becoming more and more steeped in the milieu created by modern technical science. Man is as it were torn out of the spiritual-cosmic setting, and the forces he must unfold in order to be linked with the spirit-and-soul of the Cosmos are stifled and suppressed within him.

Therefore one who has already taken the first steps on the way to initiation perceives that everything which permeates modern life in the form of machinery and the like presses into the life of the human spirit-and-soul in such a way that a great deal is killed, destroyed. And he becomes aware that this destruction makes it particularly hard for him to develop those inner forces which bring him into connection with the lawful — please do not misunderstand the word — the lawful spiritual Beings of the Hierarchies.

If while in a railway carriage or steamer someone who has taken the first steps towards initiation wants to find his way into the spiritual world in meditation, he naturally makes efforts to develop the power of vision and seership which will bear him thither; but he perceives how the Ahrimanic world fills him with everything that opposes this striving to reach the spiritual world, and the battle then waged is intensely fierce. It is an inner battle, producing in the etheric body an experience of being crushed, hacked to pieces. Naturally, those who have taken no steps on the way to initiation are also involved in this battle, the only difference being that those who have taken these steps are consciously aware of what is happening. Everybody is obliged to undergo the battle; in its effects it is experienced by everybody. There would be no greater fallacy than to say: We must rebel against what technical science has brought to us in modern life, we must protect ourselves from Ahriman, we must withdraw from this modern life.

In a certain respect such an attitude would be an indication of spiritual cowardice. The real remedy lies, not in allowing the forces of the soul to weaken and to withdraw from modern life, but in so strengthening these forces that its pandemonium can be endured. World-karma demands a courageous attitude to modern life, and that is why genuine Spiritual Science calls at the very outset for effort, really strenuous effort on the part of the human soul.

One hears it said so often: The literature of Spiritual Science available to us is written in such a difficult style; it demands such effort and such intense development of the forces of the soul if any real headway is to be made. “Well-meaning” people — the adjective in inverted commas — are always coming forward with the suggestion that difficult passages should be simplified for their fellow-men; they want to trivialise — this I say without inverted commas — what is written in a rather difficult style.

But it is of the very essence of Spiritual Science that activity should be demanded of the soul; that Spiritual Science should not be easy to master. For in Spiritual Science it is not a matter merely of absorbing what is said about one thing or another, but of how things are absorbed — by dint of effort and activity of the soul. What Spiritual Science has to offer must be assimilated with sweat of the brow. That is a sine qua non in the whole business — forgive the colloquialism.

To try to escape from the difficult concepts and ideas presented in Spiritual Science indicates that its very essence has been misunderstood. And how many there are who try to escape ... how many prefer to dream (the Lord giveth to His own in sleep!), how many would far rather let things be conjured before them in all kinds of dream-images of the spiritual world than acquire knowledge through activity and effort of the soul. We know well that many people are much happier to have some kind of visionary experience than to grapple with difficult chapters of Spiritual Science in a book that can speak to those forces in the human soul which in ordinary daily life are wrapt in slumber, that kindles to life what is otherwise unconscious in man and so transports him into the living reality of the spiritual world.

To face the waking life of day with dullness and lethargy, to linger in vague obscurities, is not the right way; the right way is to strive with activity of soul to follow and master the development of the thoughts and ideas presented in Spiritual Science. For when we grasp these trains of thoughts and ideas by dint of bold, determined effort, we reach the stage where mere theorising, mere cogitation and intellectual acceptance of what they contain, change into vision — and we are actually within the spiritual world. But a real understanding of modern life makes it evident that through the milieu of applied technical science we pass into an Ahrimanic sphere and allow ourselves to be filled with Ahrimanic spirituality.


The most terrible catastrophe would have befallen earth-evolution if in earlier times provision had not been made in advance for what, in accordance with world-karma, modern humanity is bound to experience under the sway of this Ahrimanic spirituality. Life proceeds, by necessity, in a perpetual pendulum swing. It swings out to one side or the other, like a pendulum. Nobody can say with truth that he is protecting himself from Ahriman, for there are no means whereby he could do so. And if anyone were to long to retire permanently into a sanctum with suitably coloured walls, as far away as possible from anything like a factory or a railway, and thus withdraw completely from modern life — even so there are many other ways whereby the Ahrimanic spirituality can be led into his soul. He may tear himself away from modern life, but modern spirituality finds access to him nevertheless.

The catastrophe has been warded off from human evolution by something of which I spoke in a lecture-course at Munich. [The Secrets of the Threshold. Lecture VI. (August, 1913.)] All these things must be taken together, for that too is necessary if modern Spiritual Science is to become living reality. Mankind has been given art — art which also draws its raw materials from Nature, pulverises them, and at the second stage assembles them together again into a new creation, breathing into it a certain life, even if only an imaged life. This life, given by the art-impulses of the past, is adapted to permeate the things of the material world with a spirituality of a more Luciferic character — with “beautiful semblance”; whatever works upon man in the form of art leads him out of the material into the spiritual, but by way of the material life. Lucifer is the Spirit who wants always to flee from the material and transport man in an unlawful way into the spiritual life. That is the other swing of the pendulum. It is only because in the present incarnation we are obliged to live in the milieu created by technical science that it is possible to come into connection with the Ahrimanic spirituality, into connection with what in earlier incarnations could be submerged in a more essentially artistic element. In this way we set over against certain Luciferic forces the Ahrimanic forces of to-day, and so we establish a balance, whereas formerly the pendulum of life swung now to the one side, now to the other.

Spiritual Science must necessarily desire that men should not live through in the drowsiness of sleep and dream what world-karma ordains for them. Those who do not want to know anything of Spiritual Science sleep and dream their way through all the influences of Ahrimanic and Luciferic life. They are exposed to these influences and to their effects, although they are entirely unaware of it.

But life cannot make progress along these lines. It can make progress only if there is consciousness of these things, and the purpose of Spiritual Science is to ensure that men shall not make their way through the world in the drowsiness of sleep and dream, but shall be aware of the nature of the environment in which they are living.


This also requires attentiveness to subtle distinctions used in presenting Spiritual Science. These subtle distinctions are often unheeded, as I know when I read transcripts of lectures I have given. I find that points I regard as important often do not appear in the transcripts. To take an example from something I said a moment or two ago: I used a sentence in which I said that Spiritual Science “must necessarily desire” — not “desires” — something. That is a turn of phrase which comes quite naturally and spontaneously to one who speaks out of the essence of Spiritual Science; for Spiritual Science leads as a matter of course to a more impersonal grasp of the truths of spiritual life than the other sciences do. Speaking in the style of the other sciences, one would say: Spiritual Science “desires” or “wants” this or that. Spiritual Science itself speaks of what it must necessarily desire. And I say: this is how I am bound to express such-and-such a thing; not, this is how I express it.

There is a very great deal in subtle distinctions such as these and they should not be overlooked. We must begin to be convinced that Spiritual Science reaches into the innermost forces of the human soul and is also able to transform them; hence it is unfitting to approach Spiritual Science with the same kind of thinking that is customary in external life. There is really very little consciousness of the things I am referring to here, as can be observed from certain glaring symptoms in the procedures of ordinary science and scholarship.

Here is one example from many that could be given. Modern theology, irreligious theology, has taken particular pride in having discovered certain similarities between sayings and precepts in the New Testament and sayings and precepts in the Old Testament and in Pagan religions. [Cf. J. M. Robertson, Christianity and Mythology, Part III, “The Gospel Myths,” pp. 415-21. See also Rudolf Steiner's lecture on “Apollonius of Tyana,” printed in Anthroposophical Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Spring, 1958).] For example, the origin of each separate sentence in the Lord's Prayer has been traced back, and it is said: this particular sentence is already to be found here, this other sentence there, and so on. ... At first hearing this may seem plausible; but the moment we approach the Mystery of Golgotha in the light of a spiritual contemplation of world-history, we realise that all these things have a new setting. What is important is not the discovery that all the sentences were already there in an earlier age, but to realise that the circumstances in which they were uttered give them a new shade of meaning. This shade of meaning is always different in the Old Testament and the New Testament. What came to pass through the Mystery of Golgotha takes effect in very subtle, intimate ways. The words themselves are often still the same, the verbal sequence, too; but the nuances and shades of meaning are different. That is the essential point.

There is tremendous significance, for example, in the fact that in the development of language the Ego-concept, the concept of ‘I’, is entirely different — more and more different the farther back we go into pre-Christian ages — from what it afterwards became, in the time from the Mystery of Golgotha onwards. The way of giving expression to the ‘I’ changes, as can be perceived in the very configuration of language. For example, when the ‘I’ in many languages is part of the verb itself, this is an entirely different matter from when it is separated from the verb and uttered separately.

The important thing is that we should work our way through Spiritual Science to an understanding of life, that we should reach the stage of consciously perceiving the influences brought to bear upon our human constitution of spirit, soul, and body. The relation between man and his mechanised environment, as I described it just now, is of course only in its initial stages. The conditions prevailing to-day began to develop about four centuries ago. And the 19th century, with all its pride of achievement, made a tremendous stride in this Ahrimanic infiltration of human life. But in the future, too, great strides will be taken in the same direction. We have been involved in the process for some four hundred years; it takes effect by slow degrees, and to-day it has already reached a certain peak for all those people — and they are numerous among our contemporaries — who as the result of segregation in towns and cities have hardly any connection left with the true nature-spirits. I once said as a figure of speech that to be able to distinguish oats from barley is essential for a man's evolution. But there are many town and city dwellers to-day who cannot do so. They may perhaps be able to distinguish the grown plants, because that is easy in the case of oats and barley, but they cannot distinguish the seeds.

Now the process of evolution is such that whenever a step forward is taken, this advance is always linked with another experience which occurs at another stage, as it were, of a parallel stream. And this has actually happened. In coming nearer to Ahriman as the result of the mechanisation of life, modern man has come nearer to Ahriman in still another way. When the crude conception of history engendered by materialism is replaced by a spiritual conception of history, what Spiritual Science has to say about this subject will certainly be understood.

In the age prior to the last four centuries, not only was man's relation to his surroundings different from what it is to-day, but he was quite differently related to something that comes to manifestation actually in himself: he was related in a different way to his speech, his language.

Speech is by no means only what modern materialistic science conceives it to be; in speech there is something that is connected in many ways with a realm of not fully conscious human experiences, something that takes place in the subconscious regions and therefore teems with spiritual beings. Spiritual beings live and are active in human speech, and when man formulates words, elemental spiritual beings press into them. On the wings of words, spiritual beings fly through the area where men are conversing with one another. That is why it is so important to pay attention to certain subtleties of speech, and not to give way to the arbitrariness of passions and emotions when speaking.

Right on into the 15th/16th centuries, man's connection with his speech was such that he still had some living experience of the elemental spirituality in speech. He perceived something of this elemental spirituality which was still actively at work, for in many respects speech is more ingenious, more spiritual in fact, than the individual human being. Even to-day it can sometimes be noticed how men slip from the materialistic frame of mind into a feeling of the ingenious spirituality of speech and language.

I once gave a very clear, though simple, example of how, through his inner feeling, men can depart from the role played by materialism in the present age. This still happens with many people, but they are not actually conscious of it. When, for example, somebody journeying along the Rhine speaks of the “ancient Rhine,” what does he mean by this? Surely such an expression must be prompted by some kind of feeling. But what does he exactly mean? I hardly think that when people speak of the “ancient Rhine” they can be thinking of the river-bed, the indentation in the earth, which would be the only permanent feature — but what else the “ancient Rhine” is supposed to be, nobody knows, for the water is certainly entirely new; it is flowing onwards all the time, and if, apart from the river-bed, you try to find something that is ancient ... well, you will not be able to find it. The “ancient Rhine” ... speech is more ingenious than man, for naturally what speech indicates here, although men are not conscious of it, is the River God of the Rhine. The elemental being belonging to the Rhine is quite adequately designated by the expression the “ancient Rhine.”

That is only a simple example. Speech is full of this spirituality, of this belief in spirituality. And a feeling — at least for this connection with spirituality through speech — still lay in the nature of the human soul in all the peoples of Europe during the Fourth Post-Atlantean epoch of civilisation and on into the modern age, into the 15th and 16th centuries.

If this is not perceived, there can be no true feeling for the opening of the Gospel of St. John: “In the Beginning-was the Word.” This sentence was born of the consciousness that through the word as a power in the whole human organism and in human life, man is connected — in the first place through elemental spirituality — with the world lying behind the world of the senses.

When with the means afforded by Spiritual Science we study life in the Middle Ages and on into modern times, we find, if we can look into men's souls, that their relation to speech was quite different during the Fourth Post-Atlantean epoch, even in its final phase which lasted into the 14th or 15th century. Men still heard undertones, actual undertones, in every word and utterance. No credence is given to this to-day because the spoken word is heard as physical sound only. But until the 14th or 15th century something spiritual resounded together with the spoken sound, rather as though the same sound was reverberating in a lower octave. So when man spoke or heard others speaking, something as yet undifferentiated in one language or another sounded forth, something having a universal human quality. One can say: Now that the separate languages are in full flower, they are experienced as a kind of sound-vibration in the ear, and the sound is experienced as something that carries meaning. In earlier times it was different: speech was bathed in an element that resounded in and together with it, and was not differentiated into separate languages.

The boundary between the two forms of experience was established during the 15th/16th century. Humanity was wrested away from the genii of speech.

Without enquiring into this silencing of the undertones once heard in speech, nobody can understand the jolt that was given to humanity during the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries. Something of real significance was then lost to man. In the very events of the times — whether warlike or peaceable — it was a factor in everything experienced by the human soul prior to these centuries, when the undertones in speech were still perceived. Hence the whole of history before this period has a different stamp from that of later history. In the study of Spiritual Science, spiritual ears must be trained to detect how completely the ring of events even in the Middle Ages differed from that of events to-day, because the souls of men responded in a quite different way to the experiences then available to them.

As an example, I will single out the Crusades as an experience in the souls of men. In the form in which they took their course in the Middle Ages they are conceivable only when it is realised that the spiritual undertones in speech were an immediate reality. The cry that rang out from Clermont [From the Council of Clermont, 1095.], “It is God's Will”, “Dieu le veut,” would certainly not have the effect upon the men of Middle and Western Europe to-day that it had upon the men of the Middle Ages. But this can be understood only in the light of what has just been said.

A significant phenomenon in modern civilisation is also connected with this — indeed, the whole configuration of modern history is connected with it. Try to let this factor of the intimate experience of the undertones in speech flow into your conception of history and then you will discover why, during the period indicated, new groupings are formed among the nationalities of Europe. Previously, these nationalities had quite different relations with one another, and in establishing these relations they were prompted by quite different impulses. How the single nationalities form alliances in particular territories of Europe, how they are grouping themselves to this day — all this is connected with impulses upon which an entirely false interpretation is placed if — going backwards from the present time — the birth of the nations is sought in the Middle Ages or in antiquity without taking account of the fact that a momentous step was inevitable in the life of the human soul.


In raising subjects which really call for many lectures, I can give indications only. The most important thing of all must be left to your own meditation, which will discover to what such intimations can lead. What I should like to have achieved is to have given some idea of how the bridge can be built from Spiritual Science to vision and understanding of life; of how Spiritual Science can lead us consciously to a sure footing amid the realities of the modern world.

When the true foundations of these matters are indicated, it will be quite evident that this modern age of ours needs a great deal that must act as an impulse of renewal over against the old. If world-karma places us to-day in a strongly Ahrimanic milieu, so that we must strengthen our forces of soul in order to find the path into the spiritual world through all the obstacles presented by this Ahrimanic spirituality, the soul needs means of support different from those available in former times. And this is connected with the fact that art, too, must take different paths in all its branches.

To souls less exposed to Ahrimanic influences, art was bound to appeal differently than it can do to modern souls who are far more vulnerable to them. With our Building, [The first Goetheanum.] the aim has been to take the very first steps — nothing even remotely approaching perfection but the very first steps — towards a new form of art. The attempt that has been made to create in this Building an art calling for activity on the part of the soul is connected with the whole conception we must have of modern life — but it must be a spiritual conception. Recall to your minds the shockingly homely simile I used a few weeks ago in reference to the Building. I said: “How does the effect that should be made by our Building compare with that made by earlier buildings, by ancient works of art in general?”

An ancient work of art made its effect through its forms and colours; the forms and colours in the space they occupied worked upon the eye; the colours on the wall areas produced the impression. I said that in our Building it is not meant to be so, but that our Building — and here comes the shockingly homely simile — is intended to be rather like a cake-mould which is not there for its own sake but for the cake's sake. The point is that what is inside the mould is given shape, and when the mould is empty, it is obvious that it has been there for some purpose — namely, for the cake. What the mould makes of the cake — that is the real point. And in respect of our Building, the thing of importance is what the soul experiences in its deepest foundations when, lingering in this Building, it flows out to the boundaries of the forms.

So the work of art is brought to life entirely through the influence of the forms. This, in fact, is the work of art: not the Building itself, but the experience induced in the soul by the forms of the Building as the soul flows around them. The work of art is, as it were, the cake; the Building is simply the mould. And that is why we had to try to work according to an entirely new principle.

The painting, too, that will be found in the Building will not be there in order to make its effect as painting — as was the case in earlier art, but so that the soul's experience, when it encounters the (impact of the painting, may itself become a work of art. A transformation is thereby brought about — I can merely hint at these things — the transformation of an old into a new principle of art which can be designated by saying: When carried to a further stage, the plastic-pictorial element becomes a kind of musical experience. And there is also the opposite direction: from the musical to the plastic-pictorial.

These are not matters arbitrarily created by the human soul; they are connected with the innermost impulses that are our lot in the first third of the Fifth Post-Atlantean epoch. These things are ordained for us by the spiritual Beings who guide and direct this phase of evolution.

A beginning must everywhere be made. When people come and find much that is imperfect in our Building, they may rest assured that those who are actually working there will find many more imperfections than the critics find — many, many more. Expression will have to be given to things that entirely escape anyone who is merely an onlooker. But leaving that aside, the important point is that a beginning shall be made, as is the case when anything at all is to be achieved. It is not a matter of the degree of perfection with which we can express what we have to aim at, but of doing, of making an actual beginning with, the things that must here be brought to life — great though the imperfections are bound to be. Everything new that comes into the world is imperfect by comparison with the enduring achievements of the past. These are in full flower, and the new is still in infancy — that is of course quite obvious.

In the lecture to-morrow [Art in the Light of Mystery-Wisdom.], I will start from this theme of renewing a truly artistic conception of the world and its connection with the cultural life of to-day.

Translated by Dorothy Osmond

Last Modified: 15-Nov-2017
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