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Perceiving and Remembering

By Rudolf Steiner

Bn 165, GA 165

A lecture delivered in Dornach, on January 2nd, 1916. Authorized translation from the German of Notes unrevised by the lecturer.

Lecture 19 of 19 from the lecture series: The Festivals of the Seasons (1928), and lecture 8 of 13 from the lecture series: The Spiritual Union of Humanity through the Christ Impulse. Published in German as: Die Geistige Vereinigung der Menschheit Durch Den Christus-Impuls. From Bn 165, GA 165.

This volume is presented here with the kind permission of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland.

Copyright © 1928
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Lecture 3 of three lectures given at Dornach 31 December 1915 – 2 January 1916 under

Perceiving and Remembering

by Dr. R. Steiner

2 January 1916

Let us think of the human etheric body as it is connected with the physical body. We shall sketch it thus: representing it entirely diagrammatically, and we shall sketch the physical body as a kind of rind of the etheric body, though it must be understood that in reality it interpenetrates the whole human etheric body, except the most external part of the latter. Let this then be the etheric and physical body, and there, belonging to them, as is understood, in the whole system of man, his astral body and ego. Let us now recall that the etheric body of man naturally consists of the different kinds of ether which we have learnt to distinguish.

We recognize these as consisting of:

warmth-outer ether,
chemical-ether [by which the music of the spheres is communicated]
and life-ether.

Let us turn our attention to the light-ether. It is true that the whole etheric body consists of an inner blend — an inwardly organised blend of the four kinds of ether, but we shall only consider today that part of the ether body which is light-ether; and in order to fix our attention on that part of the etheric body which we call the light-ether, we have sketched it above.

Now I have often said that man really only gains consciousness of things from being actually within them with his ego and soul being. It is in the daytime, when we are awake, that the astral body and ego are within the physical and etheric bodies; one may add, as regards that part of them which is not within things. Keeping this in view we say that we have sense perceptions. The cause of this is that the human ego and astral body first receive a revelation of things, and this revelation which remains unconscious, is then reflected on the instruments of the senses and their nerve extensions in the physical body. This has often been explained.

Now we shall inquire today: How does memory come about? How is it that we have remembrance of many things, of objects and experiences that we have passed through? How does it come to pass that we have memory?

Take this case. We meet a man today, whom we first saw five days ago. We remember that we saw him five days ago, that we spoke with him, that he told us his name. We say: we recognize this man. What is it that really takes place in us when we thus remember a man and our former meeting with him?

This is what occurs; the first thing we have to take into consideration is this, that when we met the man five days ago our etheric body experienced certain movements. It is the light part of the etheric body that we are now considering; of course, the other members of the etheric body — the heat, chemical and life parts also vibrate in sympathy, but it is the light part that we are considering today; I will speak of it therefore as the light-body. Our etheric body, then, experienced certain movements, for the thoughts evoked by the man whom we met, revealed themselves within our light-body as movements — as inner light-movements; so that apart from our having perceived the man with our senses, we received impressions [not communicated through the senses] that gave rise to movements in our light-body. Thus the whole result of our meeting with the man consisted in our light-body experiencing all kinds of movements. Picture this vividly to yourselves. While you stood before the man and spoke to him, your etheric light-body was in continual movement. What you said to him, what you felt and thought regarding him, is all disclosed in the movements of your light-body. When, several days after, you see this man again, the fresh sight of him stirs your soul, and this movement causes your etheric body, purely because of its laws of continuity, to reproduce the movements it experienced five days before, when you met the man and exchanged thoughts with him. Very well, we encounter this man again after five days. The etheric light-body, stirred by this meeting, experiences again the same movements which it did at the first meeting; and because man is always with part of his astral body and ego in the outer ether, he feels the movements which stir the outer ether, and thus because of its law of continuity [or persistence] he again becomes aware of what he experienced previously. We have really to picture to ourselves, that during the waking state we are both with our ego and astral body within the outer light-ether; sleep only consists in that part of the astral body and ego, which during the day, when we are awake, is within the physical and etheric body, also withdrawing into the outer ether.

Remembrance is this: the perception from the outer ether of inner etheric movements; the perception from the outer light-ether of movements in the inner light-body: that is, to remember.

Suppose, for example, that you see two men meet each other. Perhaps the one merely sees the face of the other, but because of this certain movements arise in his etheric body. Then he goes his way. The etheric body retains the tendency to repeat these movements if stirred to do so. Five days later these two men meet again. They perceive each other, the one whose light-body is stirred to make the same movements which it made when he saw the other's face before. This is expressed in his consciousness when he says: I have seen this face before. That is: consciousness perceives the inner movements of the light-ether from the light-ether. This is remembrance purely as an act of perception. We can say: in the external light one perceives the movements taking place in the inner light-body. But we do not see them as light movements. Why do we not see them thus in ordinary life? We do not see them as light movements, because this light-ether body is seated within the physical body, and therefore the movements of the light-ether impinge everywhere on the physical body. Through these impacts, the light movements of the etheric body are transformed into memory pictures. These light movements are not perceptible, it is only through what the memory presents to us through contact with the physical body that we are aware of them.

When the physical body is not there, that is when the body has passed through the gates of death, the ego and astral body are naturally at first far more intensely within the outer ether, till after a few days they leave the outer ether. The inner light-ether is then no longer stirred by impacts on the physical body to conceptions that are only possible in the physical body. Therefore the dead see everything that they have experienced, which the etheric body, now freed from the physical body and no longer restrained by it, throws off and allows to pass before it. During the first few days after death man sees everything pass before him; for the etheric has the tendency continually to repeat and to reproduce from within itself all those movements which the experiences of the physical body had at one time aroused in it. The man's whole life passes before him, set in motion by the vibrations of the ether body. It is seen projected as a mighty picture — one may say that all the etheric movements reflect, as in a panorama, the life just passed on earth.

If it were possible for us always so to control the physical body as we could make ourselves so independent of it — not letting it disturb us — that the etheric body also were set free [as can be done by certain meditations connected with the process described in my book “Knowledge of Higher Worlds” it might be that even in life we might see, not the results of memory — not what arises through the impact of the etheric body on the physical body, but the actual swayings and movements of the etheric body itself. We should be then in the outer ether and look at the movements of our light-body.

Why can we not do this in ordinary life? Why in ordinary life does it happen that when Miss A meets Mr. B, for example, and recognises him; she remembers him — that is, she recalls the memory-picture of him, but she does not in ordinary circumstances, leaving clairvoyance out of the question, see what she otherwise could: the inner movements of her ether body which would give her the inner experience: ‘Thus has my etheric body always been stirred on meeting Mr. B.’ Light would then perceive light, that is, the outer world perceive the inner — because the astral body and ego of Miss A would perceive the tendency to continual movement of her own light-body, and would know how to interpret them so as to say: ‘These are the movements my light-body always experiences when I meet Mr. B.’ The phenomenon would then occur, that through dwelling in the ether — which is what we are always doing with a large part of our ego and astral body — through dwelling in the ether, through perceiving the weaving and flowing in the light-ether, we see our own little organised etheric body with its movements. We perceive light by the light, the light that is ourselves. Why can this not be done in ordinary life? Why is it that we first perceive the results of the impacts of the etheric body on the physical body?

It is because Ahriman and Lucifer are bound up with the earthly world, because Ahriman has shackled the physical body so firmly to the whole being of man, that the etheric body cannot easily free itself; because he has so densely compressed the physical body to the etheric body; and because the spirits that serve Ahriman are always present, they bring it to pass that when man is in the light, his light-body with its movements are darkened, so that he cannot behold them. Demons continually keep the light-body of man in darkness. This is because the organisation of the physical body and etheric body is brought about by Ahriman. We can therefore say [and I shall write this sentence on the blackboard, for it is of great importance]:

“When from out of and by light the human soul is capable of observing what takes place in its own light-body, it has liberated itself from the Ahrimanic forces which otherwise obscure what takes place therein.”

What might a soul wishing to attain this long and pray for? It might thus address certain powers that are in the spiritual world and which it recognizes.

‘Oh, ye Powers in the spiritual world, let me in my physical body be conscious in the world of Light, let me be in the Light so as to perceive my own light-body, and let not the power of the Ahrimanic forces be too strong for me, so as to prevent me from beholding what takes place in my light-body.’

Once more I will repeat what a soul by whom these Powers are to some extent recognised in the spiritual world, might say in longing, in a kind of prayer:

‘Oh, ye Powers, let me consciously, in the light, from out of and by the light behold the occurrences within my own light-body; weaken and take away the power of the Ahrimanic forces which obscure them. Let me consciously by the light perceive my own light, and remove the force that hinders me from seeing the light from out of and by the light.’

What I have just repeated to you is not simply an invented prayer, but it was thus that Christ taught those to pray who were able to understand Him after He had passed through the Mystery of Golgotha, during that time when He still lingered among His most intimate disciples.

This belonged to the understanding, to the Gnostic understanding that such disciples of Christ could still evoke at that time and which, as I have explained to you, disappeared about the time in which the Mystery of Golgotha took place.

Those souls which were so intimately associated with the Christ could raise their eyes to this power — who for them was the Christ — and pray Him that it might be possible for them by the light to perceive their own light-essence; pray Him to restrain the opposing Powers of Ahrimanic nature, that their vision might not be obscured and darkened, and that they might see the light-movements of their light-body. These things were learnt by the intimate disciples of Jesus Christ during the time I have indicated. They were well aware how all things I have mentioned were brought about, and were instructed in all these matters during the time that Christ held intercourse with them after the Mystery of Golgotha.

Among the fragments that remain of ancient Gnostic wisdom I have mentioned the Pistis-Sophia script. I shall now read you an extract from it as follows:

‘I will extol thee, O Light, for I desire to come to thee.’

‘I will extol Thee, for Thou art my Saviour.’

‘Leave me not in chaos (when I am withdrawn from the physical body). Leave me not in chaos, O Light of Heaven, for it is Thou whom I have glorified.’

‘Thou hast endowed me with thy Light and saved me; Thou hast led me to the upper Gods of Chaos (consciously, when out of the physical body). May the offspring of evil now be driven out (of Ahriman, but Ahriman is not written there), who follow me, and may they sink down among the lower Gods of Chaos; and let them not come near the upper Gods, that they may behold me. May great darkness cover them and black darkness come over them; and do not let them behold me in the Light of Thy Power, which Thou hast sent me to save me, so that they may not again have power over me. The determination that they have made, to take my strength, let it not take effect nor let them gainsay me to take from me my light. Take theirs rather than mine. They have desired to take away all my light, and have not been able to do so, for Thy Light-force was with me. Because they decreed, without Thy command, to take away my light, Thou has not allowed them to take it. Because I have believed in the Light I shall not fear. The Light is my Saviour, I shall not be afraid.’

When we fear, we must think of Ahriman as we saw him in one of the Mystery Plays.

Look at this fragment of the Pistis-Sophia. Does it not appear as if it had been saved on purpose to enable us to speak somewhat as follows: Behold, you opponents of the new Spiritual Science. Does not this new Spiritual Science say: that by the light, the light-movements of the light-body can be seen, when the opposing Ahrimanic demons do not prevent it. There was once a time when this was already known; and the Pistis-Sophia presents a physical evidence of that time. For what I have read to you really speaks of nothing else than that power that I have interpreted for you from the activities of the light-body, and the sojourning of the soul within this light-body. It is not possible to understand this fragment of the Pistis-Sophia unless you understand what I have just explained to you. Therefore those who come across this script of the Pistis-Sophia and attempt to read it have to admit to themselves that they do not understand it at all. They are not humble enough to be able to do so.

This is something, however, that we must possess — this humility, this great modesty as regards the things contained in it, so that we feel constrained to say to ourselves:

‘Here is a fragment of the Pistis-Sophia, which says, “I will extol Thee, O Light! for I desire to draw near unto Thee. I will extol Thee, O Light, for Thou art my Saviour.” Reading it thus I do not understand it’ — but one must have such humility, such modesty, that one will not desire to understand it until one has called forth in one's self the possibility of understanding it. It is precisely in our age that such humility is hardly to be found.

The explorers who discover such writings among ruins and wreckage are frequently the least endowed with this modesty. They either explain what they find in the most trivial way saying, ‘The light spoken of here is a nebulous conception intended to be taken allegorically.’ Or else they say: ‘Those who wrote this long ago were at a childish stage of human evolution; we have made splendid progress since then! [You will remember what I said of this yesterday] We have indeed made such magnificent progress that it is easy for us to realise that these forefathers of ours with all their wisdom, were but at a childish stage.’ It is not so much a question in our day of not being able to understand, but above all that we cannot so easily come by a certain attitude of soul, which is necessary if spiritual knowledge is really to be attained.

This attitude of soul is that which existed in the Mysteries, and it consisted in a man's developing within him the feeling that it is not possible for a matter to be understood without first preparing the soul for it — without preparing ourself for the understanding of it. In our day a far more prevalent attitude of soul is that a clever man [and in his own opinion every grown man is very clever today] that the clever man can form an opinion regarding any matter. But the world is profound; and all that is connected with the hidden things of the world is also profound. Because of this belief in his own cleverness which every grown man has today, he simply ignores the most profound problems of the world; and when these mysteries are mentioned or written about they are treated with scorn, are flung aside into the obscurest corner and labeled — fanaticism and superstition, or even worse.

It is needful to see these facts clearly, for it is very important to recognize how at present those who do not desire to understand, spread scorn and derision on all that can only be reached by a soul that has first prepared itself with meekness and humility — with meekness and humility as regards knowledge. It is not only the knowledge of spiritual truths that is primarily wanting in our time, but rather that attitude of soul which shows true striving after knowledge.

The world now knows, however, that there are a few men — who will be more and more numerous — who recognise this very clearly, and note carefully and with interest, that therein lies the main driving force of true progress. One must first know what must happen and recognise clearly and without any illusion, that those who have already covered all true effort after knowledge with scorn and ridicule will attempt to interfere with everything that still has to enter into the spiritual development of mankind. It is now sought to fill mankind from childhood with materialistic ideas. This materialistic training lords it even over the tender souls of your children; materialistic schools are forced upon them, which, less through the content of their teaching than through their whole nature, imbue the children's souls with materialism.

In accordance with the illusion of the times, people veil this domination by saying: This is demanded by the age of liberty and freedom! What people call freedom in the age of materialism is the very opposite of all freedom; but things are so arranged that people hardly notice it. Those who have some insight into how things are do no more than combat this bondage by that which must be forbidden, others again cast sheep's eyes at those in power and seize in their grasp everything that ought to be as free as the flowers that grow in the fields.

It is necessary that we should possess that really fine attitude of mind that can only come from Spiritual Science. Then before all else, it is clear to us that what should be inculcated during the tender years of childhood into the human soul is not to be found on the path followed by the methods of thought of the outer materialism of today. We must not allow ourselves to be deceived by words, this we must understand. Further, it is necessary that we should free ourselves from the whole ‘aura’ of prejudice met with everywhere; that we should feel truly within us that attention of mind which springs from Spiritual Science and frequently ask ourselves what is within our souls from the whole essence of Spiritual Science and what is to be found there merely because we have received those forces of thought prevalent in the world today?

Perhaps as yet we can do nothing in our age to stem the course of the unfree materialistic tone of the day. But at least we must learn to feel it a bondage. Here it is that a beginning must be made. We must not be taken by illusion. For, if the world proceeds in its evolution according to the wishes of this materialistic impulse we shall gradually enter an evolution in which not only will anyone be forbidden to do anything for the health of humanity unless he is certificated, but no one will be allowed to say a word regarding science of any kind, except one who has taken a vow to speak only of such things as are patented with the stamp of the materialistic order of thought. At present the constraint of the things forbidden is not much felt. But a time is coming when, just as every effort for the healing of mankind that is not stamped and certificated will be forbidden, so every word will be forbidden that is said otherwise than in the form patented and guaranteed by the materialistic powers.

If people do not perceive the whole course of what is coming about, they will enter full-sail into this future ‘freedom.’ This will consist in promulgated laws forbidding people to teach differently from what is taught in a recognized school. Everything will be forbidden that recalls in the most distant way what, for instance, is taking place amongst us here. Because people do not see how the course of evolution is tending, they do not realize this.

It is true very little can be done in our day; but in our thoughts we must make a beginning by realising the trend of events — wherever we can, we must make a beginning. No matter how such remarks as these are received, I had to give expression to them at this turning point of the year; for the Festival of the New Year is a kind of sign marking the progress of time generally; and at this season we can best be made aware of what is contained in time as it runs its course. It cannot be sufficiently, or too frequently impressed on you, how dependent man is today on the opinions that whirl around him — what whirl about more especially when they are made permanent with foul printers' ink in the newspapers, and this printers' ink possesses infinitely active magical powers as regards all that is believed by people throughout the world. It is interesting to note what takes place when these gentlemen are not quite united among themselves. For then there occurs what overwhelms all thinking souls, things called into being by this black printers' ink which work dreadful magic in the masses of mankind today. Naturally there are always some who believe what one paper says, and others, again, who hold as irrefutable what is scribbled in another paper. They are divided among themselves. It is thus easy to see where the real fault and blame should lie. I will not say much on the subject, myself. You can read in Dr. Ed. Engel's book on the “Psychology of Newspaper Readers”: what he has to say on this matter. He says,

‘The reader of newspapers is a much muddled person. His countless valuable qualities disappear behind two: He believes everything and he forgets everything. On these two principal qualities, possessed by all newspaper readers, is founded the secret of the daily press as it exists today. Most people read but one paper, and believe what they see there. Their ideas regarding the world in the evening are the creation of what they read in the morning. When they meet other people who have read other papers and who put forward their opinions, they consider them either mad or paradoxical. Newspaper editors thoroughly understand the soul of their readers, they nurse the beliefs of their readers with tender care. A newspaper never brings to the mass of its readers a proof of what it has to communicate; even in the not uncommon case of a false presentation of facts having led to the publication of something completely foolish, they defend themselves, sheltering themselves behind the infallibility of their paper. They are, of course, obliged to publish the truth a few days later. The second quality of their readers, that of forgetfulness, then comes in usefully!’

When we come to think what a power newspapers have in the 19th century and the large share the belief in them has had in the decline of our culture, it is quite time the whole wretched business was put clearly before you. What often depresses one is, that the method of communication that we have chosen, and which should be a very different one, has to be preserved by printing. This indeed cannot be otherwise, for the Black Art is present there, and the White Art must of course reckon with this Black Art which finds expression in printed matter. We must have books, and lectures, but we ought to be awake to the fact that care must be taken that things which are now entrusted to print should not be cast abroad in the world in the same way as that which whirls through the minds of mankind on the wings of the newspapers of today.

I wish to make you realise that this is a serious matter. That is why I have permitted myself to join these observations to what I said today and yesterday in connection with great mysteries of existence, such as that of the human Earth-year, and the possibility of beholding the Light by man by the Light.

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